Democrats want to capitalize on open Lt. Gov. seat
Six Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination in the lieutenant governor’s race; one of nine Republicans also seeking the seat left vacant by Republican Dan Forest’s run for governor will face off with the winning Democrat in November.
The Smoky Mountain News: There's not a lot of formal power in the lieutenant governor's office, but there is some tremendous opportunity there. What sort of issues would you push if you were to be elected lieutenant governor?
Chaz Beasley: If you think of it as though the power is limited, then you'll behave in a way that's limited in what you can do, but if you think about the capability and possibilities that the position has, then you'll think big and you'll figure out how to use the position to do big things.
For example, the lieutenant governor is on the state Board of Education and on the state Board of Community Colleges, which means that for education policy, you actually play a really critical role. I mean, I was born and raised here in North Carolina. I was raised by a single mom in Alexander and Catawba counties. My parents actually met at Western Carolina University. I was able to spend a lot of time with my dad's side of the family growing up, so I actually spent a good portion of my life in the mountains and in the foothills. We didn't have a ton of a ton of money, but I did have a great public school and that was what allowed me to go to Harvard and then to Georgetown for law school.
Education was transformative for me and I believe that as lieutenant governor, we need to have somebody at the table that's lived the experience just like the typical North Carolinian. I think that we need to have people appointed to those boards that have lived experience.
Yvonne Holley: I'm not trying to be something, I'm trying to do something. I'm one of those children of the Civil Rights era. I was one of the first to integrate schools, I was the first at a lot of things where the responsibility and the issues were always bigger than me as an individual, so I always worked for the community and the greater good. I've been very diligent in the General Assembly. I've been successful in working across the aisle on some things, particularly food deserts, the communities that don't have access to nutrient-rich foods. I've been successful in that. I'm working on housing and homelessness.
So the lieutenant governor has three primary duties. There's some other committees they sit on, but the state Board of Education is one and the state Board of Community Colleges is the other.
And, they preside over the Senate. I will preside over the Senate and make sure everybody's voice gets heard. I won’t get into the dirty game playing that has been done in the past. I don't play that way. I make sure everybody gets their voice heard.
The state Board of Education – of course I am for public education. I believe we need to strengthen that. We need to bring our teachers up to some national pay and for not just teachers, but for all of our staff that work in our educational system.
The board of Community Colleges, well that's workforce development. I've been huge in working on the commerce committee trying to get our community colleges to do training that brings our students into the 21st century so that when these jobs come to North Carolina they are prepared.
Bill Toole: It has to do with vision for North Carolina and a vision for what each person thinks the office should be used for. My view is that the office is not ceremonial but it has a real power of persuasion. It's a bully pulpit where we can talk about important statewide issues like public education, healthcare and the environment. It is a position that by [state] Constitution has the authority to the sit on the state Board of Education, the Council of State, the Community College board.
But it isn't limited to those positions. I feel strongly that, while one has the ability to work inside the halls of Raleigh, I think I would like to take it out on the road and and reach out to folks in the communities where they live and talk about the policy issues on the ground.
Terry Van Duyn: Well, education is probably the biggest one, but also health care. What we're starting to understand is, you hear it called different things like social determinants of health. There is a report that came out of the legislature on economic development on whether or not we need to re-look at incentives, and what that report said was that in order to draw businesses that will create the jobs that North Carolinians need, we can't just offer incentives. We have to make sure that these communities are affordable in terms of housing, are healthy because they have access to quality health care and have an educated workforce.
What I’m trying to say is that you can't look at just economic development or just education or just health care. They're all part of what makes a community strong and what makes North Carolina strong. We need to be advocating for all of those things everywhere.
The teachers, I thought, set a great example this year when in their legislative agenda, it didn't start out with a raise for them. It started out with a raise for non-instructional people, but it also included Medicaid expansion because they see what happens with families that don't have access to healthcare. The governor has in his mission statement that North Carolina be healthier, be the best educated and have more money in their pocket. I appreciate his vision and I want to amplify that vision on every board. So we have to realize that we need to work on all of these things.
SMN: What separates you from the other five Democrats in your primary?
Holley: I'm a collaborator and a people person. I am the one that can pull it together. I have life experiences being a child of the Civil Rights era. I'm equally as comfortable a room of all white people as I am a room of all black people, and I'm equally as comfortable in an urban area as I am a rural area. I love people and I like the differences that we have. Those are the kind of things that I can bring to the table. And I believe that people are going to want these issues to be addressed and they're going to see somebody who's willing to do it.
Toole: There are good candidates in this race. The difference is, is I'm the only candidate talking specifics about how we can improve public education, for example, how we need to put teacher’s assistants in every classroom from pre-K through third grade, how we need a modern vocational system in our high schools – that has been eviscerated, and we need to put it back.
I'm the only candidate who's saying that we need to have psychologists and social workers and nurses in every school to help deal with the fact that teen suicide is the leading cause of death among teens in North Carolina, second only to auto accidents, and to address the fact that one out of four of our teens are coming to school hungry or homeless or with trauma in the home. I’m the only statewide lieutenant governor candidate that's saying that it's time to have controlled access to cannabis. I'm the only candidate that has a very specific ideas about how we can confront climate change in this state through increased reliance on renewable energy like solar and wind and by promoting wind farms in the eastern part of our state – and I'm talking about on land, I'm not talking about offshore wind. No other candidate is talking about these issues with such specificity.
Van Duyn: Obviously I have not been doing the [lieutenant governor’s] job, but I have been in the Senate working to give the Senate a voice. I was elected twice unanimously by my colleagues as the Democratic whip, the second leading person in the Senate. I tried to build a team that would have a voice by keeping us on the same page but also by building the size of our voice, by working to flip seats. So I took the job of recruiting candidates very seriously and worked hard to get 50 candidates in the last election. I also worked hard to raise the resources they needed to be successful and was the top fundraiser for my caucus when we flipped those six seats.
All six of those new members have endorsed my candidacy, not just because I helped them but because I think they understand that I want them to be successful, because we can't fix what needs to be fixed in North Carolina unless we work together. So what I would say about all of the people in the race, they're all good people. They're all quality people. They all believe the same things I do. I believe I have been doing the work, though, to get us there together as opposed to thinking that individually we have the magic to do it on our own.
That's why I think I would make a better lieutenant governor. I've got relationships in the Senate, I've got relationships in with the governor and his cabinet and with his department heads because I've been working with them to keep my caucus informed, and together.
Beasley: I think the world of everybody else running, and consider many of them friends, but I do think there are real differences among us. The lieutenant governor is firmly positioned in two branches of government. I'm the only person in this race that has worked in multiple branches of government at the federal and the state level. Not only have I been a state legislator, I worked in the United States Senate for Majority Leader Harry Reid and I worked on the North Carolina Supreme Court for a justice there. I think we need to have someone in this role that knows what it's like to work in multiple branches of government.
I'm the only person in this race has actually had to flip a seat from red to blue. When I ran the first time around I ran against an incumbent member of the Republican leadership whose job it was to raise money for the Republican caucus. We flipped that seat from red to blue and I think we can flip the lieutenant governor's office too. Thirdly, one of the biggest things that we need to have in this position is someone that has the relationships and the capability on day one to get things done in this position. I was able to write and help pass significant portions of our largest sexual assault and child protection law rewrite in a generation. A lot of people said before we got started on that effort, “There's no way you'll be able to get that done in a more conservative legislature. They're not going to touch that issue.”
SMN: Two-thirds of the voters in this state aren’t Democrats. How do you convince them to give you a chance if you’re on the ballot in November?
Toole: My experience has been that a number of Republicans and certainly unaffiliated voters care about climate change. They are very interested in controlled access to cannabis and they care deeply about our students. They understand, for example, that teen suicide is a real issue and that's why we need these professionals in the schools. They understand that if a child is reading on grade level by the time they matriculate from third grade, then that child is much more likely to succeed and graduate from high school and be prepared for family-sustaining employment. We've just got to be explaining to these voters these common solutions to very common problems that we face in the state. We've got to get away from the polarization where we are distracted by issues that really aren't getting to the core needs of families and how we care for loved ones, both aging and our children.
Van Duyn: The way I talk to everyone is pretty much the same. What I say is that what North Carolina needs to thrive for everybody is exactly what this governor has articulated. We have had strong Republican and Democratic governors alike who have had a strong commitment to education. This governor has that commitment, but this legislature does not. We need a lieutenant governor who has that commitment. On healthcare, we will lose our rural communities if we can't keep their hospitals open. There are lots of reasons why they are stressed, but one of the biggest is uncompensated care. We're already paying these taxes to the federal government, let's bring that money back into North Carolina to keep our hospitals open. We need an approach to bringing jobs into our state that includes making our communities strong by strengthening education and healthcare, not just through economic incentives but by keeping those communities robust and connecting them to our economic hubs through reliable broadband.
Beasley: I grew up in rural North Carolina. The first campaign I ever worked on as a volunteer was a congressional race knocking on doors in Catawba County, which is a pretty red county. So I spent a lot of time at a young age talking to people that didn't necessarily agree with me. Even people that are registered Democratic might've been a little more conservative than I was, so I know what it's like having flipped a seat from red to blue to talk to everybody. And I think that when you run in a competitive seat, that gives you a perspective where anyone and everyone can be a potential voter and that person might be the difference between you winning and losing.
Holley: First of all, we all have the same problems. This is one of the things I've learned in the General Assembly, the problems that even the Republicans are aware of are the same problems. They're having housing, they're having food, they're having jobs, they're having the transportation problems in just about every community. And they also know it's not being addressed. I have a history of working across the aisle. I do not vilify the Republicans. It is my job to educate them and maybe try to work with them and they see where we have common ground and do what we can where I can change their minds to my line of thinking. Nobody's talking about these issues except for in silos.
SMN: What do you think the influence of the president will be on North Carolina voters this fall?
Van Duyn: Here’s what I know about elections. Elections are won by the people who get out and vote, so turnout is going to be a big deal. If the president drives turnout for Democrats more than Republicans, that has a positive impact on my race. If he drives turnout for Republicans board than Democrats, that has a negative impact on my race. But the governor has demonstrated, even with the president driving turnout, we just have to make our case and that’s why I’m burning up Interstate 40.
Beasley: The presidential race, including whoever is the nominee on the Democratic side, is going to really affect turnout and I think that means that we have to be prepared to go to people that may not be showing up to vote for lieutenant governor, but may be showing up to vote for any of the other races that are coming before us on the ballot. So we’ve got to be prepared. If we bank too much on people showing up just for this race, then our strategy will not be effective.
Holley: I hope he brings a whole lot more people out, specifically my community, my African American community, which has not fared well under this president. The policies that he has put out there, you know, we're the ones who get the $7.25 an hour. The rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer. So I hope it brings them out in record numbers because they are hurting right now and they're beginning to understand the importance of politics, whereas before a lot of communities were like, “Oh well it's not about me.” You know, now they're beginning to see how it trickles down and how it does affect them, so I hope it brings more people to the polls and more people to the polls that want to see some changes and see the whole country being served, not just a political base.
Toole: Well, President Trump is going to do whatever he's going to do, and he's going to run his own race and I'm going to run my race. My experience as an environmental lawyer for 27 years has been that people are passionate about the issues around, for example, the environment but if you can bring them together, if you can say, “Look, we have a common issue and we need to find a common solution,” my experience has been that you can typically find 80 percent agreement on stuff. I'm going to ignore the presidential race and I'm going to focus on what's good for North Carolina. That's all I care about is what's best for North Carolina.
Occupation: Attorney, securities and corporate debt
Political experience: Two-term N.C. House rep
Occupation: Retired procurement contract specialist with N.C. Department of Administration
Political experience: Four-term N.C. House rep
Mr. Newton failed to make himself available for a previously scheduled interview.
Mr. Thomas did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Occupation: Attorney, environmental law
Political experience: Former Belmont city councilman
Terry Van Duyn
Residence: Biltmore Forest
Occupation: Former systems analyst
Political experience: Two-term N.C. Senator