Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is now running for governor, has spent the last four years exerting influence in the legislature and championing a number of conservative causes that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper doesn’t support. That’s a stark contrast from Forest’s first four years in the position, when fellow Republican Pat McCrory served as governor and the two worked closely.
Forest’s run — announced back in January, 2019 — leaves the seat open this November, and candidates from both parties emerged in droves for the Primary Election.
Democrats fielded six, including Asheville Sen. Terry Van Duyn and Raleigh legislator Yvonne Holley. Holley prevailed in the primary, but Van Duyn did well enough to call for a runoff.
She didn’t, telling The Smoky Mountain News on March 10, “The poll that we did indicated that I’d have to raise significant money, and to take more money out of my community didn’t make sense to me. I just feel that it’s no longer the highest and best use of those investments.”
That cleared the way for Holley to focus on her Republican opponent, Greensboro gun rights advocate Mark Robinson, who avoided a runoff by beating eight other Republicans including then-Sen. Andy Wells and current State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.
Much has been made of the fact that Holley and Robinson are Black — thereby guaranteeing that for the very first time North Carolina will have a Black lieutenant governor. However, their respective political philosophies are yet another reminder that the Black vote isn’t as homogeneous as some would like to believe.
Ultimately, the legacy of North Carolina’s next lieutenant governor will be more about who’s governor than about the political leanings of the winner, but they’ll still have to deal with pandemic management, calls for police reform, and every other issue state government takes up during its normal course of business, during a very abnormal time.
The Smoky Mountain News: When we last spoke during the Primary Election, COVID-19 wasn’t even a thing. Are you satisfied with the way Gov. Roy Cooper has handled the pandemic?
Yvonne Holley: I couldn’t be more proud of Gov. Cooper. The move that he made was based upon science and trying to save the lives of people in North Carolina. And it was not an easy decision to make. We have not been hit nearly as hard as some of the other states and other places because of his leadership and erring on the side of life, as opposed to just opening everything up.
I talk about the three things that we can take personal responsibility for — we can wash our hands regularly, we can social distance and go out when only when it’s necessary and we wear a mask. I wear a mask out of respect for you and your life. And I hope that you would choose to wear a mask.
Mark Robinson: Absolutely not. As far as shutting down businesses, making a mask mandate, those things go against the fundamental principles in our state and our country of individual liberties. They want folks to wear a mask and that should be up to individuals if they want to wear a mask.
He also made a huge misstep and stepped over people’s constitutional rights when they shut down churches and didn’t allow churches to assemble. That was one of the most egregious things of this entire debacle. And it got to the point where, you know, they actually had to file suit against the governor so the people would have their first amendment rights to assemble peacefully for the purposes of practicing their religion.
The worst part of all of it has been the virus has been most deadly for the elderly and the places where the elderly are most vulnerable. We’ve seen nursing homes, and I have not seen the governor do anything on that end, as far as protecting nursing homes, stepping up, making sure that we put things in place where nursing homes are protected across the board. Take a look, a good strong look at nursing homes that maybe are not in the best of shape.
SMN: Polling suggests Cooper will likely win re-election. Let’s say that happens. How do you plan to influence Gov. Cooper or the General Assembly as we move forward in managing this pandemic?
MR: All of the things that we just mentioned, we want to avoid. Number one, violating people’s constitutional rights. Number two, we want to allow business owners — and here’s the big thing — if we allow them to operate their businesses freely, they will take care of their employees and their customers. Gyms can do it. Bars can do it. Theaters can do it. Restaurants can do it. I have faith that North Carolinians can do that. Apparently, our governor does not. I think that’s the message that needs to be taken to our General Assembly.
YH: We need to find better and more ways of trying to safely open up things. And I think a lot of things have become a lot safer. I’ve been to restaurants and getting carry out and I see them in business again, and I think that’s great. I like some of the outdoor-ness of what people are doing. I see more people walking and doing things riding bicycles and doing that a lot of outdoor activities and a lot of family stuff that they wouldn’t have been doing before. So there’s some positives that come out of this that I’d like to see continue. I would love for us to help the small businesses more and help them get back on their feet.
SMN: Another topic we didn’t discuss back in January and February that’s since gotten a lot of ink is police reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.
YH: First of all, black lives matter. As an African American, I’m very proud of the young people who have taken up the mantle to fight for civil rights and justice. Racism and these indiscretions didn’t just start with the police. It’s been the policing and the ability to video tape that has brought it to people’s attention, but we kill more Black people through health care. Look at the numbers just COVID has brought out. When this COVID is over, and that moratorium on evictions is lifted, we’re going to see homelessness we’ve never seen before, and we need to address it.
I put a bill in trying to get some state funding to help with rents and foreclosure money to make sure that people who got hit by this pandemic and lost their jobs don’t lose their homes. It was ignored by the Republicans and wouldn’t even come out of committee, which really disappointed me. I do know there’s been some federal money that has been allocated for this, but it is nearly not enough. We have problems statewide not just in urban areas, but rural areas as well.
MR: There is absolutely no reason for us to be calling for this massive amount of police reform. It is ridiculous. When you look at the numbers, when you look at the number of times that police officers come in contact with citizens on a daily basis in this nation, compared to the amount of times that those things have come to violence or death our police departments in this state and our municipalities do a wonderful job and those numbers are very small. There’s no reason for us to be calling for this massive amount of police reform.
Of course, we’re going to have incidents that need to be evaluated. We’re going to have incidents like George Floyd, where the police officer, it appears he was completely in the wrong. We need to handle those things and they need to be properly adjudicated. People need to be properly punished. But there’s no reason for us to have these massive calls for police reform. The police don’t need to be under a microscope because of these small incidences of violence that we see. What we really need to be doing in my opinion is we need to be partnered with the police.
SMN: When people talk about the value of Black lives, often you’ll hear the complaint that abortion is the biggest killer of Black people in this nation. Do you agree with that?
MR: It’s odd that many of these folks on the other side of the aisle lament about the numbers of Black men that are murdered by police officers every year, [but then] mock us for calling attention to the fact that Planned Parenthood historically was created to all but wipe out the Black race and that most of their clinics, some 78 percent of their clinics, are located in minority neighborhoods. They mock us for pointing this out, for standing up for Black lives as they are being taken on the street. They mock us for standing up for Black lives in the womb. So we have to wonder who it is that’s actually concerned about Black lives.
YH: Health care is health care and a woman’s right to make her personal decision about her body and to have access to quality care is critical. A lot of these facilities are located in communities of people who don’t have the funds to get the private doctor to do it or to serve them in that kind of way. Black women need access to affordable quality health care, period.
SMN: Earlier this year, counties across the state passed so-called “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions despite calls for gun control by some. What are your feelings on red flag laws?
YH: I’m definitely for red flag laws which are for when people are in crisis. When you have a family member or someone who’s going through a mental health crisis and they are in trouble, that is where a judge will make the decision about how to handle that situation. It’s not intended to permanently take your guns away. It’s when you are in this crisis, let’s take a look at what we can do to keep you from harming anybody else plus yourself. And that to me is what red flag laws are. A lot of times when you are not thinking rationally, and there’s domestic abuse and that weapon is there, there’s a tendency to use it and act upon an emotion in a rage, or unrest within yourself where you aren’t thinking as clear as you would otherwise. So I do believe that there’s a place for red flag laws, a definite place for red flag laws and it should only be done by the court system. It should not be “Oh, go get his gun because he looked at me wrong.” that’s an abuse of the system.
MR: My opponent claims that she’s for the Second Amendment. I don’t necessarily believe that. She’s a champion of what we call “red flag laws.”
Red flag laws will be used to violate the constitutional rights of gun owners across this state, across this nation, and they’re a no-go. We see that now. We have protective orders that people can get. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we see the way protective orders are abused every day in this country, against people where people go down and file false protective orders against people, and people are put out their own homes and their own apartments over false protective orders and thrown into all types of situations. The same thing will be done if we do this, these red flag laws. People will go down and make erroneous claims against gun owners, they’ll have their guns taken away by a gun-grabbing sheriff, and there’s no telling when they’ll be able to get those guns back. It’s funny that the people want to have red flag laws are also the people who want to defund the police.
SMN: No matter who wins, North Carolina will for the very first time have a Black lieutenant governor come January. What does that mean to you?
MR: It means a lot to me. It’s, not only the knowledge that I am building a legacy for myself and my family, but it’s also about changing the narrative in this state — in this nation — that the Republican Party is the party of freedom and true equality and always has been. The conservative principles that we believe in, that our party believes in, are what we adhere to in order to move forward and to support progress in this state. I think it means a great deal. It will definitely push back against the narrative that the Republican Party is the party of old, rich white men, which is definitely not true. We saw that during the Republican convention, and I think by winning this seat, we can prove it.
YH: I’m a child of the sixties and I fought for civil rights all my life. I am disappointed that we are having to relive some of the same battles that I fought as a young person. I would be honored and privileged to be the first African American to be lieutenant governor, but that’s not why I chose to run. I am the most competent and capable person for the job. Experienced and ready for the job. I just happen to be African American.
Meet the candidates
• Age: 68
• Residence: Raleigh
• Occupation: Retired procurement contract specialist with N.C. Department of Administration
• Political experience: Four-term N.C. House rep
Mark Keith Robinson
• Age: 51
• Residence: Colfax
• Occupation: Manufacturing
• Political experience: First campaign