Republican incumbent Chris Malone faces a challenge from political newcomer and Democrat Brian Mountcastle in Wake County’s House District 35, where the candidates paint different pictures of how well the state, and northeastern Wake in particular, is faring.
The district stretches from booming Wake Forest to the far eastern reaches of the county, where economic growth hasn’t come so easily and school performance and resources often lag those in Raleigh and western Wake.
Malone, 57, says things are looking up as the state “climbs out of the hole” left by the economic recession.
“We’re getting there, and I’m very happy with the direction we’re headed in,” he said.
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But Mountcastle, 37, isn’t impressed.
“We’ve had a bad economy for the last five, six, seven years, but what are we doing to get ourselves out?” he said. “And as a state, I don’t see us doing anything but bickering and arguing at the General Assembly and executive level.”
He also isn’t impressed by Malone, a former Wake Forest town commissioner and member of the Wake County school board, who won his House seat in 2012.
“I don’t see Mr. Malone taking a position on his own for anything politically. I really see him staying on the party line,” Mountcastle said.
Mountcastle said his frustration propelled him, a political novice who describes himself as “middle of the road,” into the race.
Mountcastle, a longtime unaffiliated voter, registered as a Democrat last year to give himself a shot at winning.
By the end of the second quarter, Malone had $43,597 in individual contributions, according to campaign finance reports. Mountcastle had raised $10,990 in individual contributions during the same time.
Mountcastle said he hasn’t been asking for money from voters directly, preferring that they get to know him and decide on their own to donate.
Malone, a case manager with G4S Compliance and Investigations, was elected to the school board in 2009 and was part of a Republican majority that lasted until the 2011 elections.
Malone’s 2012 campaign for his House seat was complicated in its closing weeks when a Cary police report surfaced that showed Debra Goldman, a fellow Republican on the school board, had accused him of a theft two years earlier at her home. Malone was cleared by police, but the report also said he told investigators he had been involved in a romantic relationship with Goldman. Both were married; Malone remains married.
Malone went on to win the election, capturing 51 percent of the vote. He did not have a primary challenge this year.
The district’s voters are 34.3 percent registered Democrats, 35.5 percent Republicans, 29.7 percent unaffiliated, and fewer than 1 percent Libertarian.
Good for business
While in office, Malone said he has focused on ways to make the state more hospitable to businesses while finding more money for priorities such as education.
“Good businesses need good, well-educated employees,” he said. “And if you want to have more money for education, you need to have lots of businesses.”
Malone supported the legislature’s tax overhaul that compressed three personal income tax brackets to a flat 5.8 percent and reduced the corporate tax rate from 6.5 percent to 6 percent.
He also agreed with state officials’ decision not to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. He said the program already is not functioning as intended and state government would take on too much cost under the expansion.
Malone supported the teacher pay raise package the legislature passed this year but thinks the structure may need to be tweaked, including possible changes to the step program and longevity pay.
Education bully pulpit
Mountcastle, a construction manager at Weingarten Realty, is unhappy with education funding at the state level, especially when he looks at how financial resources are distributed locally in eastern Wake. More spending should mean better opportunities for everyone, he says.
A seat in the House is a chance to boost education funding but also to reach a broader audience of people interested in education, he said. It’s a more prominent platform than what he has access to as a parent and resident.
“Being a leader at the state level gives you the opportunity to tell the citizens about the inequities (statewide), not only in Wake County,” he said.
Mountcastle also wants the legislature to focus more on the needs of middle-class taxpayers.
“I think the changes to the tax policy didn’t help middle class workers, and I think that’s where we have to pay attention,” he said.
Mountcastle said his other top priorities if elected would include expanding business and industry at the local level and investing in transportation improvements.
Mountcastle has supported Republicans in the past, including U.S. Rep. George Holding. He said he registered as a Democrat because the party represents people of all backgrounds and income levels, but he doesn’t feel beholden to any party.
“A Republican doesn’t mean you’re wrong. A Democrat doesn’t mean you’re right,” he said. “To me, it’s about finding the middle ground.”