We endorse Deborah Ross for Senate

North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross makes a comment during a live televised debate with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.
North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross makes a comment during a live televised debate with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. AP

As chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Richard Burr is at the center of the debate over how to contain terrorism without compromising American values. The two-term Republican senator from the Winston-Salem area also has the clout to see that North Carolina’s interests are well served in Washington, D.C.

Yet for all his rank and seniority, Burr, 60, is a remarkably low-profile figure both here and there. It might be because he is not drawn to the pomp or celebrity of his office. He’s well known for driving an old VW Thing around Capitol Hill. He also takes a relaxed approach to campaigning. This year, he waited to hit the trail until the Senate’s October recess.

In some ways this is refreshing. Washington could use more politicians who focus on their work instead of themselves. But after 12 years in the Senate, Burr’s impact is similarly low key. Polls show a third of North Carolina voters have no opinion on him. His record was lackluster until he became intelligence committee chairman following the 2014 election. Then it became troubling.

The intelligence committee should monitor the CIA and other agencies that operate away from public scrutiny. Instead, Burr has shielded the secretive agencies and withheld from public view the results of the intelligence committee’s investigation into the CIA’s torture of detainees.

He also continues to support Donald Trump for president, despite a letter from 50 prominent Republican foreign policy and national security experts who warned that, if elected, Trump would endanger national security as “the most reckless president in American history.”

At the time he became chairman, Burr had a zero percent rating from the American Civil Liberties Union. Fittingly, he has drawn a strong Democratic challenger in Deborah Ross, a Raleigh attorney and former head of the ACLU of North Carolina. A senior senator who has placed freedom second to security is facing a challenger who knows that respect for individual liberties is what makes the nation strong.

Libertarian Sean Haugh is also seeking the U.S. Senate seat.

After leaving her ACLU post, Ross, 53, served five terms in the state House representing a Wake County district. Most recently, she served as legal counsel for GoTriangle, the region’s transit agency. Ross entered the race after more prominent Democrats declined, and she has taken Burr by surprise with her energetic campaigning and her pride in being a civil liberties advocate. In an embarrassing but predictable response, Burr has tried to make that advocacy an issue by focusing on Ross’ role in trying to make sex offender registries more just and more protective of victims.

Ross has dismissed Burr’s attempts to distort her record. “People are smarter than these ads,” she says. “People like someone who is going to stick up for what’s right.”

In this Senate race, voters have a choice of vivid clarity. Burr and Ross differ on virtually every key issue. To name a few, Ross supports the Affordable Care Act, more regulation of the financial industry, increased efforts to halt climate change, more federal spending to spur growth, the Iran nuclear deal, tighter gun controls, a higher minimum wage, increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy and holding hearings to consider Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Burr does not.

Ross has rightly focused on Burr’s comfort in office and his distance from the everyday concerns of North Carolinians. As she has campaigned across the state, she has encountered widespread dismay over the direction the state has taken under Republican leadership and the gridlock in Congress because of the GOP’s relentless opposition to President Obama.

As a former leader of the ACLU, as a progressive and effective state lawmaker and as a dynamic candidate, Ross has demonstrated that she will fight for what’s right and what’s needed, not what’s popular or what’s easy. North Carolina needs her smarts, her energy and her courage in the U.S. Senate. We urge you to put her there.