Democrats sort out who will run for what in bid to reclaim seats
Two well-known Democrat senators from the mountains who lost in 2010 and hoped to reclaim their seats this year faced a conundrum.
Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville and John Snow of Murphy both wanted to run for the Senate again, hoping to take back the seats they lost to Republican challengers two years ago. But they found themselves at a stalemate after suddenly landing in the same political district when new legislative lines were re-drawn following the Census.
Queen’s home turf of Haywood County — once part of a jumbled legislative district that reached as far north to Mitchell and as far east to McDowell County — was grouped into a new district neatly comprised of the seven western counties. It put Queen and Snow in competition in their bid for office.
The upshot: only one of them would ultimately have their name on the ballot come November. Their choice: former political allies would have to run against each other in the May primary or one of them would have to gracefully concede.
As the clock ticked toward the opening day of candidate registration in February, no easy resolution was on the horizon.
“I think we are both electable,” Queen said as recently as last week. “I am not going to run against John and he is not going to run against me. We will evaluate which one of us should run.”
But the two political allies found an easy out after all. The unexpected and sudden news that Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, would retire after 14 years in the legislature presented a solution.
Queen called it a “game changer.”
Rather than make a bid for the Senate, he would instead run for Haire’s old House seat.
“If (Snow) really has the fire in his belly and wants to do it, I will support him and run for Phil’s seat,” Queen said. “It is an attractive choice. It is serendipitous. It keeps experienced legislators in the game with the opportunity to serve.”
The Democratic Party is likely relieved by the development. At a regional meeting of the Democratic Party leaders from 12 counties last week, Brian McMahan from Jackson County cautioned against wasting political energy and money in a primaries against their own.
“Let’s harness our energy,” said McMahan, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Jackson County. “We don’t need to worry about primaries. Nov. 6 is Election Day. That’s where we need to make a difference.”
Queen said the party needn’t have worried.
“I assure you we were going to work it out because that’s what kind of guys we are,” Queen said. “I certainly would not have run against him.”
In the end, had it not been for the Haire “game changer,” it appears Queen would have had to be the one to acquiesce regardless. Snow said that he was committed to run for the Senate regardless of what Queen decided, however.
“To be real honest with you, I was willing to go through a primary if I had to,” Snow said. “I think it is obvious I would be the stronger candidate.”
Snow believes he has better name recognition in the seven western counties than Queen would have had. As a judge, Snow presided over court in those same seven counties for 30 years, plus served for six years in the legislature representing those counties already.
Queen, 61, pointed out that he is nine years younger than Snow. He believed he likely had more years of political service ahead of him — and in Raleigh, tenure can be everything.
“The biggest difference between John and I was our age. Who is going to claim this seat for a decade?” Queen asked last week.
Snow, meanwhile, pointed to his record as a more socially and fiscally conservative Democrat, a leaning that squares with voters in the seven western counties.
“Anybody that looks at my record can see I am probably one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate,” Snow said.
Just as Rep. Heath Shuler is one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress, Snow said.
“That is a reflection of the people we represent,” Snow said.
Queen’s decision clears the path for Snow to emerge as the Democratic candidate in a November rematch against Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, who squeezed out a narrow victory over Snow by just 161 votes two years ago.
Queen, however, will face a primary election against long-time judge Danny Davis of Waynesville, who has also announced plans to run for the seat formerly held by Haire.
Snow said that he would back Davis in the primary race as he and Davis both served on the judicial bench together for years and are personal friends.
House race shapes up following news of Haire’s retirement
Republicans aren’t the only ones who will have a reason to head to the polls in the May primary.
While Republican voters sort out who their presidential nominee will be, Democrats have a race of their own to narrow down, although with a much-more homegrown flare.
Two well-known Waynesville men are vying for the seat soon to be vacated by long-time N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva. Joe Sam Queen, an architect by trade, and Danny Davis, a former District Court judge, both formally announced their candidacies this week.
The 119th House district includes all of Jackson and Swain counties, as well as Waynesville, Lake Junaluska and part of Maggie Valley in Haywood County.
The political rumor mill has been churning in the two weeks since Haire announced he would retire. But so far, only Davis and Queen have committed. No other candidates have emerged.
When it comes to politicking, Queen has plenty of experience. He served six years in the state Senate and has five elections under his belt, each of them hard-fought races. He is looking forward to what he calls “on-the-ground retail politics,” which puts him in touch with the people of the mountains.
“I like to give stump speeches and shake people’s hands and ask them for their vote,” Queen said. “I like to have some barbeques and square dances and the whole nine yards.”
Queen’s former sprawling Senate district extended as far north as Mitchell County and as far east as McDowell, making a horseshoe around Buncombe County. He became a seasoned road warrior in such a vast district. He also had to raise lots of money to campaign across so many counties, spending around $600,000 or $700,000 each race.
Queen estimates spending only a fraction of that in the House race.
“I don’t think this will be a high-dollar campaign,” Queen said.
While Davis is new to politics, he says there is no better experience than his 27 years as a District Court judge in the seven western counties.
“It is like a front row seat to the picture window of society,” Davis said of his judgeship. “I see how drugs affect families. I see what happens when they lose their job, and they start drinking, and we have to take their kids. I see what happens when they don’t have enough money to pay their bills or child support even though they are working two or three jobs.”
As a judge, Davis couldn’t make position statements or voice concerns over the issues that he felt affected the people of Western North Carolina. Now, he will finally be able to speak out, and his ideas for improving the lives of people and fixing the inner workings of government are voluminous enough for a dissertation, he said.
“I can finally say this is what we need to do and how we need to help these folks,” Davis said.
Davis said he had already been thinking about running when Haire retired.
Davis contends that he is better known in the district than Queen, since he served not only in Haywood but also Jackson and Swain as a judge for so many years.
Queen disagrees, saying he is equally well known outside Haywood.
“I am a homegrown mountain fellow,” Queen said. “I have as strong a name recognition as any politician in the west. I have the polling data to show it.”
Besides, the district is his “own backyard,” compared to the sprawling Senate district he had to work.
Queen, 61, and Davis, 58, both played up their ties to the region. Both men come from a long Haywood County lineage. The Davis and Queen names are both established and prominent Haywood families
Any other takers?
For now, Davis and Queen seem to have the primary race to themselves. Many initially looked to Troy Burns from Bryson City as a possible candidate, as he ran against Haire 10 years ago. But, Burns said this week he has decided not to run. Burns said both Davis and Queen called him over the past few days to find out where he stood on a possible candidacy.
“It is a mutual thing out of respect,” Burns said of his decision not to run.
From Jackson County, the chairman of the county Democratic Party Brian McMahan was also bandied about as a possible candidate, but McMahan said he won’t be running. He has a one-year-old and doesn’t want to spend the time away from home.
The primary between Queen and Davis could prove a tougher battle than the general election in November.
Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1 in the district. So on paper at least, whoever wins the Democratic primary could have an advantage over their Republican opponent in November.
“It is a solid Democratic seat,” Queen said.
Davis, however, isn’t so sure.
“I don’t think they are going to concede this seat,” Davis said of Republicans. “In this day in time, I don’t think it can be politics as usual. I think you are going to have to work very hard to retain the Democratic votes you have.”
Only one Republican has formerly announced his candidacy. Mike Clampitt of Bryson City stepped up to run within hours of Haire’s announcement.
Who will Haire’s heir be? State office holder’s retirement opens up race for House
N.C. Rep. Phil Haire’s decision not to run for re-election after 14 years in office opens the door for a possible free-for-all of both Democratic and Republican candidates seeking the suddenly available House seat.
Tuesday’s news spread like an out-of-control wildfire through Western North Carolina’s political grapevine. Top leaders in both parties will clearly be paying close attention to this now vacant seat — a seat Haire had easily secured year after year for the Democratic Party but could now be in flux.
“This is not a good sign for Democrats,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University. Incumbent Democrats tend to hold on. But when their seats come open, then those seats are much more likely to go Republican.”
Taking control of Haire’s seat won’t be easy, however. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district — which is made up of Waynesville and Lake Junaluska in Haywood County, Jackson County and Swain County.
But a possible pile-on by Democrat candidates could weakend their position going in to the general election in the fall, Cooper said.
“If they have too many eggs in a basket, they will shoot themselves in the foot. The best thing for the Democratic Party is to figure out who the best candidate really is,” Cooper said.
Any Democrat with state political aspirations might figure this could be their one shot at holding office. Haire had proved immovable from the seat until he opted to step down.
For his part, Haire said there’s not an “heir” apparent.
“I am not going to speculate because I am sure there are going to be several people in the primary,” the state representative said, adding that he won’t endorse anyone.
“I am not going out on that limb,” Haire said.
Haire plans to wait and see who wins the primary, then support that candidate in the general election. The Democrat’s primary winner had better be a strong candidate and be girded for a fight, Haire said.
“Since it is a vacant seat, the Republicans will make a shot at it,” Haire said. “I guarantee you Republicans will make a good strong effort to take it.”
It could be the GOP’s one shot, too. For Republican Party leaders, the news that a veteran incumbent Democrat would be retiring came as a belated, but happily received, Christmas present.
Ralph Slaughter, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party, was clearly pleased with GOP prospects of seizing the district. During the last election, Haire had to fight off an unexpectedly strong attempt by Sylva Republican candidate Dodie Allen, giving Republicans added hope this time around.
Allen, a Sylva auctioneer, ran a grassroots campaign. She narrowly beat Haire in Haywood County and ended up garnering 44 percent of the vote district-wide.
One Republican candidate immediately emerged Tuesday following Haire’s announcement. Mike Clampitt of Bryson City said he’d run for the now-vacant seat.
“I believe that North Carolina is at a crossroads, and that we must bring conservative common-sense leadership to the state,” Clampitt said in a news release issued Tuesday.
But one veteran Republican struck a cautionary note on the prospect of wresting Haire’s vacated seat away from the Democrats.
“It is a good strong Democratic district,” said N.C. Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, who has served with Haire in Raleigh for more than a decade. West said bluntly that he doesn’t see Republicans being able to capture Haire’s seat given the district’s leanings.
In the Democratic field, one name being circulated is former Judge Danny Davis of Waynesville. Davis said that he’d barely had a chance to process the news Tuesday that Haire wouldn’t run before his phone started ringing from people wanting to know if he would.
“I am interested in it. I am not ready to commit just yet, but I am always interested in serving,” Davis said, adding that “Phil has done a great job and I hate to see him go.”
Davis said he had contemplated running for Haire’s seat whenever Haire retired — he just didn’t think it would be this soon.
N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, is probably one of the most observant watchers of the rapidly unfolding political changes in the far-western counties. Rapp’s legislative district borders Haire’s to the north. As neighboring representatives Rapp and Haire often worked together. This is a political necessity for getting anything accomplished for this slice of the state. After all, there are more state representatives from the Charlotte area alone than in all of WNC, from Murphy to Boone.
Rapp hopes that the winner of Haire’s vacated seat will be a go-to partner in the legislature, and for this reason, he isn’t about to support one candidate over another just yet.
“There are a number of qualified people who could step up and do a fine job of serving in the WNC legislature and I look forward to working with whomever the district chooses for its eventual representative,” Rapp said.
Long-time state legislator retires
N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, will retire from the state legislature this year after 14 years in office.
Haire will be 76 next year and said that he realized it’s time to trade in the long drives back and forth to Raleigh for some quality time with his grandchildren.
“I am in great health and everything but you don’t want to push the edge of the envelope too hard,” Haire said, citing the 300-mile haul to Raleigh.
Plus, he really wants to go to Alaska.
“I have never been to Alaska. I could never go because the time to go is in the summer and I am always tied up in the summer,” Haire said.
Although Haire said he has known for some time that this would be his last year in Raleigh, he kept the news of his retirement surprisingly close to his vest. Besides him, only his wife knew, Haire said.
“I didn’t want to say anything until now. The cat is out of the bag today,” Haire said Tuesday morning.
SEE ALSO: Who will Haire's heir be?
After Haire made the announcement, word was spread primarily by newspaper reporters, who broke the news to everyone from political analysts to party leaders in the process of calling people to get their thoughts and comments.
Among those who learned this way was Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, who served closely in the legislature with Haire — both as fellow Democrats and as representatives of neighboring legislative districts. Rapp met the news with “a great deal of sadness.”
“I am surprised that Rep. Haire will not be returning to Raleigh and more than a little disappointed,” Rapp said. “I think he has brought a very sharp mind and has been a strong advocate for Western North Carolina over these 14 years. So I can tell you his knowledge and his experience will be sorrowfully missed.”
N.C. Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, served with Haire for 12 of his 14 years in office, representing the counties that neighbored Haire to the south.
Despite being from the opposing political party, West only had good things to say about Haire. They disagreed philosophically on issues at the state level, but when it came to local issues important to the mountains they nearly always worked together, West said.
“Haire was a good legislator. He looked after the people in his district. I enjoyed working with Phil. I can’t say anything bad about him at all. We’ll miss him,” West said.
The two even carpooled to Raleigh occasionally or caught a plane together in Asheville. And besides, Haire’s son is married to West’s niece.
Janie Benson, chairman of the Haywood County Democratic Party, said Haire would be hard to replace.
“I think Phil has represented his district well, and stayed in touch with the people,” Benson said.
Looking back at 14 years of state office, Haire said one of his crowning accomplishments was the Safe Surrender Law, which allows a mother of a newborn baby to turn it over to a responsible party, such as a hospital or police department, and walk away without penalty. Haire fought for the law after a young mother in his district placed her newborn baby in a trashcan. The baby died and the mother went to jail. Haire realized a bill was needed making it legal to safely surrender the newborn without a parent being punished for abandonment.
Haire was also one of the leading advocates of the Clean Smokestacks Acts, and consistently received high rankings from conservation groups for his pro-environment voting record.
But it’s the little things that truly defined Haire’s career, the incremental measures he fought for every day, from funding for the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching in Cullowhee to a highway appropriation for a second entrance to Tuscola High School.
“He’s been really dedicated about working hard for this area,” said former N.C. Sen. John Snow of Murphy, Haire’s counterpart in the state Senate for several years. “He dedicated 14 years to public service, and that’s no small thing.”
Do-over an option in Jackson tourism spat
It’s not too late for Jackson County leaders to go back to the drawing board on a state bill that consolidates the county’s two separate tourism agencies.
Commissioners have found themselves in the hot seat over a bill that would do away with the Cashiers Travel and Tourism Association and instead merge it with a single countywide entity. Cashiers tourism leaders have decried the plan. They argue that Cashiers needs its own tourism agency — with its own funding stream — to cater to its own unique visitor demographic apart from the county as a whole.
Those who support a merger believe it would be more effective, eliminating the duplication that currently exists and putting the money to wiser use.
The idea to merge the Cashiers tourism agency with the greater Jackson County Travel and Tourism Association was embedded in a bill to raise the room tax on overnight lodging from 3 to 6 percent. Raising the room tax was the chief objective of the bill and was supported by the majority of commissioners. But the origin of other parts of the bill is murky and has been blamed in part on a legislative mix up.
N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, appeared before the Jackson County commissioners this week to let them know the bill can be changed if they don’t like it. Haire even took the prerogative to bring a new, marked-up version of the bill that would undo the changes made by the previous bill passed this summer.
That seemed to irk at least one commissioner, who asked Haire why he would bother drafting changes to the bill before commissioners officially decided whether they wanted any changes. Commissioner Doug Cody was confused how the bill had been preemptively rewritten.
“Who is the author of this?” Cody asked Haire of the new version.
Haire said he took the initiative to revise the bill based on feedback he’d gotten. Feedback from whom, Cody wondered.
“I didn’t realize we were doing an opinion survey of what changes we want to see,” Cody said.
“If you don’t like it, we will throw it in the waste paper basket,” Haire said of the new version.
It became clear that in Cody’s eye, Haire had jumped the gun with new language before the majority of commissioners reached a consensus on what to do.
“I think this needs some work,” Cody said.
County Manager Chuck Wooten portrayed it as a miscommunication. Wooten said he passed along the concerns raised at the last commissioners meeting over some aspects of the bill. Haire perhaps thought the concerns were universally shared by the commissioners when in fact the only commissioner vocalizing any concerns has been Commissioner Mark Jones, who works in the Cashiers tourism industry and sits on the Cashiers tourism board.
“I believe Mr. Jones is the only one that spoke up as having these concerns,” said Wooten.
Commissioner Charles Elders said commissioners need to decide collectively how, if at all, the bill that passed should be changed.
“We need to get our thoughts and recommendations together of what we would like to see,” Elders said.
Haire said he intended the new language to simply be a “starting point.”
While commissioners said Haire was premature in penning a new bill, Haire’s point was clear. The bill can be changed — and that lands the ball and all its political repercussions squarely back in the commissioners’ court.
Until now, the county had blamed at least part of the controversy on an unintentional hiccup in the legislative process: the bill that ultimately passed in Raleigh was not what the county initially asked for.
Haire didn’t intentionally set out to introduce and get passed a different bill than what county leaders wanted. The county failed to make its request in time last spring. By the time they asked Haire for a bill to increase the room tax from 3 to 6 percent, the deadline for introducing new bills had passed. So Haire looked around for a similar bill to piggyback on. He found one from Alleghany County, which was also looking to raise its room tax, and tagged Jackson County’s name onto it as well.
But in the process, the language didn’t come out quite right, Haire said.
Commissioners had partly disowned themselves from some of the controversial parts of the bill — instead directing blame at a bureaucratic system of lawmaking.
But, Haire now says it is no problem to change it — putting commissioners on the spot to either stand behind the bill in its current form or tell Haire how they want it changed.
“I hope we can get it the way we eventually want it,” Haire told commissioners helpfully.
Haire did explain that the state’s travel and tourism branch wants to bring uniformity to the myriad of tourism bills for each county in the state, and there is pressure to use similar policies and language, he said.
Commissioners plan to take the issue up in January.
Concerns with the Jackson County room tax bill
Jackson County commissioners plan to increase the tax on overnight lodging from 3 to 6 percent. Doing so requires permission of the N.C. General Assembly. A special bill to increase the tax was passed in Raleigh earlier this year at the county’s request. The language in the bill calls for other changes to the county’s two tourism agencies as well, including:
• Create a single countywide tourism development authority. Currently, there are two — a Jackson County Travel and Tourism Association and a separate Cashiers Travel and Tourism Association. The Cashiers tourism arm currently gets 75 percent of the room tax generated in the Cashiers area to spend on its own marketing.
• Expand how the tourism tax revenue could be spent. Currently, the money generated from the room tax must go solely to tourism marketing and promotions. The new bill would allow money to be spent on “tourism-related activities,” including capital projects. Putting on festivals, building greenways or assisting the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad with the cost of an engine turntable could all be legal uses of the tourism revenue under the new bill.
Allen holds her own against incumbent Haire
State Rep. Phil Haire (D-Jackson) fought off a surprisingly strong challenge from fellow Jackson County resident Dodie Allen to retain his hold on the 119th State House District.
Rep. Haire, 74, is a Sylva attorney who has served in the House of Representatives for six terms. He is a chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and campaigned on his record of support for education and small business.
Allen, a Sylva auctioneer, ran a grassroots campaign that did surprising well. She beat Haire in Haywood County — 2,057 to 1,957 — and ended up garnering 44 percent of the vote district-wide. The final tally was 12,565 votes for Haire and 9,902 for Allen in the district that includes Jackson and Swain counties with parts of Macon and Haywood.
119th House District
Phil Haire (D) 12,565
Dodie Allen (R) 9,902
Friedman fails to give Haire a green scare
Phil Haire is a fortress as a state candidate. The seven-time incumbent is head of the General Assembly’s appropriations committee, and he’s been endorsed by every kind of voters group from realtors to the Sierra Club. On Tuesday night, he beat challenger Avram Friedman in a Democratic primary election characterized by a low voter turnout.
Haire took the vote as confirmation that his track record in Raleigh speaks for itself.
“It just tells me that people know my roots are here and I’m a mountain person and the voters feel like I’m representing them to the best of my ability in Raleigh,” Haire said.
In the election four years ago, Avram Friedman challenged Haire with a green platform that shook up the business-as-usual feel of the race. Friedman won 30 percent of the vote then, a total that gave him hope to challenge Haire this time around, but he fell short by a wider margin than last time.
Friedman said the low voter turnout was a sign of a demoralized electorate.
“I think the one thing that is pretty clear is the voter turnout was extremely low and what it shows is people are fed up with business-as-usual politics,” Friedman said.
Friedman challenged Haire’s reputation as an environmentally friendly candidate and offered voters a progressive platform that included reforming the way the state government does business.
Friedman said the media coverage of the election didn’t allow for a real debate on issues, which hurt his chances.
“I felt the issue behind the election were not well discussed in any of the media,” Friedman said. “For me, the race was worthwhile because it did get the message out to some degree.”
Haire said Friedman’s challenge was too one-dimensional.
“I had a tradition of support for environmental causes before Friedman got into it,” Haire said. “Friedman is basically a single-issue candidate and that’s being against Duke Energy and coal power.”
Friedman said the vote confirmed that the district’s voters weren’t ready for a change.
“Business as usual won. Congratulations to Phil Haire. We’ll keep on fighting,” Friedman said.
Haire will now face Republican candidate Dodie Allen in the fall, and he said that race will be about a broader range of issues.
“I think it’ll be jobs, the economy and education,” Haire said. “Those are the three things we need to be concerned about all the time. I’ve got a challenge, and anytime you have a challenge, you never take it for granted. I’ll get out there and work hard.”
N.C. House of Representatives, 119th district
Democrat – one advances
Phil Haire: 5,213
Avram Friedman: 1,894
*Winner will square off against Republican Dotie Allen in the fall. The seat represents Jackson and Swain counties, and portions of Haywood and Macon.
Haire seeks re-election in N.C. 119 race
N.C. House District 119 represents Jackson, Swain and portions of Haywood and Macon counties. In the Democratic primary, incumbent Phil Haire faces challenger Avram Friedman. The winner will face Republican candidate Dodie Allen of Jackson County in the November election.
Phil Haire, 73, attorney in Sylva
Haire has served five terms as a state representative. He is chairman of the N.C. House Appropriations Committee. Haire served in the U.S. Air Force and obtained the rank of captain.
As chairman of the appropriations committee, Haire has seen the state’s budget crisis firsthand. He is running on a platform that features bolstering the economy, preserving jobs and balancing the budget.
“My number one interest is maintaining the fiscal integrity of the state. Let’s keep us strong without having to cut employees and services,” Haire said.
Haire points to his voting record on environmental issues — sponsoring steep slope development and clean air bills and promoting farmland preservation –– as proof that he is a champion for keeping the mountain region pristine.
“My people go back 250 years in the mountains, and I’m a mountain person, so it’s one of the first things I think about –– protecting this place,” Haire said.
Haire also emphasizes his record of helping critical local development projects –– like the Jackson County Senior Center in Webster –– and his advocacy for Southwestern Community College funding as evidence of his attention to detail in his district. His tenure has given him clout to help gets things done that a newcomer would not enjoy. He has pledged to keep education strong, and he said he will continue to press NCDOT to get I-40 open as soon as possible.
“I never get into finger-pointing,” Haire said. “I just run on what I’ve done, and if people like it, I hope they’ll vote for me.”
Friedman aims to take ‘green’ thinking to Raleigh
Avram Friedman is not your average North Carolina political candidate.
Born in the Bronx, Friedman studied political science at Hunter College, and he’s been a grassroots activist since the late 1960s. After spending his life affecting change from outside the system, the 60-year-old Sylva resident is trying to make good on what is perhaps the most radical idea of his career: taking his brand of green thinking to the State House in Raleigh.
“I’ll be a voice in the state legislature that doesn’t exist right now,” Friedman said.
This year, Friedman is running for the second time against long-time incumbent Phil Haire of Sylva in the Democratic primary in hopes of representing Jackson, Swain, Macon and Haywood counties in the state House.
Friedman got 30 percent of the vote the last time he ran against the five-time incumbent Haire, so he can’t be considered a fringe candidate anymore.
Friedman admits to liking his opponent, but he’s intent on changing the system, starting with his home district.
“It’s not just Phil Haire,” Friedman said of his decision to run. “I would probably be challenging any representative anywhere I was living.”
Friedman is running his campaign armed with a broad and well-thought out liberal issue platform, but the driving force behind his bid is to put an end to the business-as-usual attitude of state government.
As the executive director of the Canary Coalition, an environmental nonprofit that aims to improve air quality in the North Carolina, Friedman has seen firsthand how energy companies like Duke Energy and Progress Energy force their agenda in the legislature.
“They are such an intimidating force on the political level that very few legislators are willing to stand up to them or question the veracity of their information or offer proposals that might not increase their profit margins,” Friedman said.
Friedman may sound like a radical, and in one sense he is. He was arrested twice last year for protesting Duke Energy’s new Cliffside coal plant, once in front of the governor’s mansion and once in front of Duke’s headquarters in Charlotte. Haire’s support for Senate Bill 3, which paved the way for Cliffside’s construction, is one of Friedman’s major points of contention.
But in an election year in which the ailing economy and the state’s looming budget crisis are bound to be the primary topics of conversation, Friedman wants to make the case that the environment isn’t a side discussion.
“That’s the impression I have to overcome,” said Friedman. “The fact is the environment poses a challenge, but it also offers incredible promise in the economic sphere. There’s a tremendous opportunity in solving the vast environmental problems we’re confronting. There’s a second industrial revolution occurring right now.”
Friedman spent 25 years running a plumbing business that focused on solar and electric hot water heating systems, so he understands the connection between green technology and the economy.
In some ways, Friedman believes the election climate suits his platform better than Haire’s, whose powerful legislative record includes his position as chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
“Right now, our state is experiencing such budget shortfalls. There are no new programs,” Freidman said. “I don’t think pork is as big a factor as people just being fed up.”
For people who are fed up, Friedman’s platform is refreshingly progressive.
He believes that if North Carolina commits itself to phasing out coal power and developing alternative energy like solar and wind power, the state will create thousands of new jobs.
“There are tens of thousands of jobs waiting for us,” Friedman said. “They’re doing it all over the world. We’re banning wind energy in Western North Carolina, and they’re building a new economy in China.”
He also rejects the idea that today’s political climate is decidedly conservative.
“When there’s a conservative wave in the country, Democrats in office try to make themselves look even more conservative,” Friedman said. “I don’t think that’s a winning strategy.”
If he’s elected, Friedman wants to implement a statewide public transportation system that connects the university system by high-speed rail. He wants to raise teacher salaries and improve public education. And he wants to revamp the state government’s system to include full-time state legislators, so ordinary people can afford to serve in elected offices.
For the natives of Western North Carolina, Friedman has an idea that breaks the boundaries of his otherwise environmental platform. He wants to set up a lower property tax structure for full-time residents and low-income people. That’s not going to win him the snowbird vote, but Friedman doesn’t care.
“I’m giving a lot of people a choice they haven’t had in a long time. One they maybe haven’t ever had before,” Friedman said.