Chapel Hill News

Senate District 23 candidates offer their ideas

CORRECTION: This article about the race for former Sen. Ellie Kinnaird's District 23 seat in Orange and Chatham counties incorrectly stated that candidate Amy Tiemann grew up on a farm. Tiemann's family has a long history of farming, but she did not grow up on a farm.

CHAPEL HILL -- Orange and Chatham voters learned a little more Wednesday about seven Senate District 23 candidates vying to replace former state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, who resigned recently over the Republican legislative agenda.

Kinnaird plans to spend her time supporting other candidates and helping voters meet the state’s strict new voter ID law. Her seat has attracted former state Rep. Alice Bordsen, who represented Alamance County; worker’s compensation attorney Heidi Chapman; retiring Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton; state Rep. Valerie Foushee; attorney M. Lynette Hartsell; former Carrboro Mayor Jim Porto; and author and educator Amy Tiemann.

A four-member N.C. Senate District 23 Democratic Party Executive Committee will pick a new senator Sept. 8 at the Chatham Community Library in Pittsboro. The committee has two Orange County members – Samantha Cabe and Wanda Hunter – who share 446 votes, and two Chatham County members – George Lucier and Don Knowles – who share 212 votes. The number of votes is based on each county’s population in the 2010 Census, with one vote allotted for every 300 residents.

If Foushee is elected, the party’s four-member House of Representatives District Executive Committee, which covers Orange and Durham counties, would appoint her successor.

At a meeting Wednesday night, each committee member asked questions about current issues, such as education, prison reform, rural needs and how the candidates plan to rebuild and change state government, before turning the mike over to the public.

Bordsen said the best person for the job will be able to wrap up Kinnaird’s term, her work on several bills and meet district residents’ needs. It’s not as important to rebuild the party, she said. Kinnaird spoke briefly at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting in support of Bordsen, her longtime friend and legislative colleague.

Chilton, Foushee and Chapman said the focus should be educating voters, recruiting viable Democratic candidates and helping raise campaign dollars.

Hartsell said Democratic lawmakers also need to find their backbone, rebrand and stop being a marginalized party, while Porto suggested making “Republican” a dirty word. Tiemann echoed many of those thoughts, adding that the party’s values should include loyalty, fairness and liberty.

The candidates agreed that communication is key to serving the district’s rural residents. Many are registered Republicans, although they don’t necessarily approve of the way Republicans in Raleigh are running the state, the candidates said. Foushee noted that health, human services and economic development, especially agriculture, also are important issues for rural residents.

Tiemann and Hartsell, who grew up on farms, said they would find common ground by tapping into their own experiences. Rural folks need to know you care, Tiemann said. Chapman agreed with Hartsell that it’s about having a conversation and listening to people. There also are common values on which everyone can agree, Porto said.

Chilton, who works with the housing nonprofit Empowerment Inc., cited the connections he made helping build affordable homes in both counties, plus his knowledge of the region and its history.