Three Sets of Down Ballot Races That Offer Stark Choices
Most voters have followed the top of the ticket races, like President, Governor, and US Senator, but there are three sets of down ballot races which have gotten less attention that offer very stark contrasts on public policy going forward. Left wing "progressives" are spending large amounts of out of state money to try to take over the state legislature, which could dramatically shift state policy to the left. Our state appellate courts have already taken a hard left turn, but this election offers a number of races that could help restore some balance. On the county commission, the choice is between the current coalition of "progressive" Democrats plus liberal Republicans, or a new majority of conservative Republicans. Any of these sets of races could go either way.
In the local legislative races, Beaufort County's first term conservative Representative Keith Kidwell is already a force to be reckoned with in Raleigh, and is running strong for reelection. The State Senate race covering Beaufort County, however is a pick-up opportunity for conservatives. Republicans ran a very close race two years ago against an entrenched Democrat incumbent, but it is now an open seat, and the GOP has a strong candidate in Vance County Commission Chairman Tommy Hester, a real estate developer. Hester faces liberal Bertie County Commission chairwoman Ernestine Bazemore, who is a career educator.
The legislature elected this year will be responsible for redistricting, and if Democrats get control, gerrymandering for both Congress and the legislature would be almost certain. Today's legislative Democrats have moved far to the left, and a Democrat majority would likely produce a dramatic lurch to the left on a wide range of policies, as recently happened in Virginia, including major tax increases, gun control, sanctuary policies for criminal illegal aliens, and crippling of law enforcement. Many of the Democrat legislative candidates recently signed a pledge to defund the police.
North Carolina's Supreme Court is now one of the most liberal in the country, with only one conservative Justice remaining, facing six liberals or ultra-liberals. With three seats up this year, voters have an opportunity to restore some balance and change it to three conservatives and four liberals. The present Supreme Court majority has thrown judicial restraint and strict construction out the window.
For Chief Justice, the court's longest serving Associate Justice conservative Paul Newby is facing off against the second most liberal member of the court, Cherie Beasley, who was appointed Chief Justice by liberal governor Roy Cooper last year. The philosophical differences between these two candidates could not be more stark.
For the two open Associate Justice seats, including the one now held by Newby, Republicans are offering conservative Court of Appeals Judge Phil Berger, Jr., who is also a former District Attorney, and moderate-conservative law professor and former State Senator Tamara Barringer. Berger faces liberal Court of Appeals judge Lucy Inman, a board member of the gun control organization North Carolinians Against Gun Violence. Barringer faces liberal Cooper appointee Mark Davis.
While Republicans are not as badly outnumbered on the Court of Appeals, the races for those seats also feature conservative Republicans, including incumbent Chris Dillon, against liberal Democrats, some of them Cooper appointees. All of the Republican candidates are experienced trial court judges. Fortunately, party affiliation will be printed on the ballot this year to give voters more information. The judges are at the end of the ballot but are critically important since Democrats so often try to sue to get their way when they lose in the legislature.
The third set of races that could dramatically alter the political landscape are for Beaufort County Commissioner, where under the straightjacket of the "limited voting" system, each voter only gets one vote in the race to fill four seats. What is at stake is whether the coalition between Democrats and liberal Republicans that has been regularly raising taxes will continue or be replaced by a genuine Republican majority. With the liberals pushing a huge spending increase for a new jail, taxpayers need to pay very close attention to this race.
The race includes four candidates running under the Republican label, Tandy Dunn, Randy Walker, Hood Richardson, and John Rebholz. Richardson is a long serving incumbent and Rebholz was recently appointed to the commission to fill the vacancy left by the untimely death of Commissioner Gary Brinn. On the Democrat side, long time incumbent progressive Jerry Langley and political newcomer John Carbone, also a progressive, are running.
While Carbone's candidacy will likely weaken Langley, the probable result is election of three from the Republican list plus Langley, which would give the commission a nominal 5 to 2 Republican majority. However that paper majority has been frustrated in recent years by Langley cutting deals with some of the more liberal Republicans to thwart the GOP majority and make himself kingmaker.
The key question will be which of those from the Republican list will prevail. The three seats not up this year include one conservative Republican, one Democrat, and one Langley-allied Republican. Election of Langley plus a Langley-allied Republican this year would keep the current tax and spend majority. Langley is the major proponent of an expensive new jail, and he makes no bones about the fact that he would like to find a scheme to deny voters a bond referendum vote on borrowing the money for it.
Commissioner Richardson and candidate Tandy Dunn are both rock ribbed Republicans who make standing up for the taxpayers a key part of their agenda. Richardson is an engineer and surveyor while Dunn is a former law enforcement officer who now works in management in the private sector. Both are NC natives. They both advocate Republicans asserting their majority and an end to the coalition with Langley's progressives.
Appointed Commissioner Rebholz retired to Beaufort County after working for a major corporation up north, and has served as homeowners association president at Cypress Landing. One of his first votes after his appointment was to support progressive Democrat Langley for the office of commission vice chairman over conservative Republican Stan Deatherage. Rebholz can be expected to continue his alliance with Langley if he is elected and that would cement the Langley alliance's control of the county commission for another two years. Rebholz is also the commissioner who offered the motion for a study committee on a new jail, stacked with interest groups expected to favor a new jail.
The remaining candidate, Randy Walker, is much in the mold of the late Commissioner Gary Brinn, who could talk to both the conservative Republicans and the more liberal group as well. Walker runs a long established family owned business in downtown Washington and has the unique perspective of having had the contract to videotape commission meetings for many years up until recently, so he has sat and watched more county commission meetings than most non-incumbent candidates. Walker's wife currently serves as Republican chairwoman of the Beaufort County School Board. Like Brinn, Randy Walker is generally taxpayer-friendly.
Gun rights voters will also remember that the replacement of Brinn with Rebholz led to the failure of the effort to enable concealed carry by trained and vetted permit holders in county buildings. Richardson, Brinn, and Waters has voted for this previously, and Deatherage was back on the commission and made the motion. Brinn's illness led the vote to be postponed and when Rebholz was appointed after Brinn's death, he joined Langley, Evans, and Booth in voting it down.
With the weird limited voting system, each candidate is in effect running against all the others, and voters have to figure out tactically where their one vote would count best.