RALEIGH – Most of the candidates running outside the spotlight of the North Carolina gubernatorial race are still resolute in their belief there’s a pathway to victory in the May 8 primaries.
They say people want more options than former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory in the Republican race and a trio of current and former elected officials in Walter Dalton, Bob Etheridge and Bill Faison on the Democratic side. Some argue they’ve got better ideas about operating state government that voters deserve to hear, despite their inability or lack of interest in raising money to get out their messages.
Overlooked by televised debate organizers, the candidates are relying on Facebook and YouTube, making speeches to local party groups and installing placards on roadways.
“As we say, we’re the unknown candidates,” said Republican hopeful Jim Mahan of Denver. “I know that it is a tremendous uphill battle.”
Democrat Bruce Blackmon, who is running on a one-plank platform of creating a state endowment that he says through compound interest could one day reach tens of billions of dollars, largely summed up the attitudes of what some call the eight second-tier candidates.
“We’ll see what the people want,” said Blackmon, a 90-year-old retired physician. “If after May 8 I’m not the winner, then I’ll have to go back to fishing.”
The most experienced among the eight when it comes to elected office is Republican attorney Paul Wright of Dudley, a former District Court and Superior Court judge over two decades who once lost a statewide bid for Court of Appeals.
Wright, who previously ran for office as a Democrat, is promoting a platform focusing on what he calls “empowering the middle class” through increasing liberty. Its capstone is giving voters in all counties the right to hold a referendum to abolish county property taxes, and replace them with an income or sales tax.
He points to North Dakota, where voters statewide will choose in June whether to abolish property taxes, as a reasonable strategy to decrease burdens on home and land owners. A change to North Carolina’s constitution also likely would be required.
Wright would support establishing a statewide voucher program with a $5,000-a-year tax deduction for students to attend private school or a home school. Wright said he’d be glad to debate McCrory but is banking on some of his issues to catch on in the campaign’s final weeks.
“It’s No. 1 — winning. But the issues are a close second,” Wright said. “I know what winning campaigns is all about.”
Democrat Gardenia Henley of Winston-Salem, a retired inspector general with the U.S. State Department, believes she’s most qualified to administer the state’s $19.7 billion budget. She said her career has been all about examining the effectiveness of government programs and detecting waste and abuse. She said she never conducted a program review without finding savings.
“I’ve got the managerial and technical experience to actually do the functions of governor,” she said. “The governor’s main responsibility is to execute the law and to manage the budget. And I’ve got over 22 years doing both.”
Henley said she would order a public education audit to determine how much revenue is needed before deciding if more taxes are necessary. Faison, Etheridge and Dalton support raising the sales tax for education.
Like Blackmon, fellow Democrat Gary Dunn of Matthews said he ran for the Republican nomination for governor 20 years ago on one issue — promoting a parent’s ability to bring a son or daughter to work for one day. This time around, Dunn is offering periodic emails and web postings answering questions he could face as governor.
“When you see something that’s wrong, you need to take the responsibility to take some action to correct it,” Dunn said. “I don’t want to make a point — I want to win to get these things accomplished.”
His ideas include reducing red tape to start small businesses, preventing convicted impaired-driving offenders from buying alcohol for a year and being open to decriminalizing marijuana.
Dunn said he often seeks advice from experts before making decisions. At an educators’ forum in March, he asked school administrators what they thought about changing the school calendar and praised Blackmon’s idea to create an endowment, which would require 5 percent of the annual profits from the North Carolina Education Lottery.
Blackmon said the lottery earmarks would be invested. Half the interest generated could be spent by the state — perhaps to ease pressure on raising taxes. The other half would be reinvested.
“I want to get to the point that North Carolina is not in a struggle for dollars every time the General Assembly meets,” he said.
Republicans Jim Harney of Fayetteville and Scott Jones of Greensboro say their lack of experience in government is an asset. Their frustration with politics drove them to run on behalf of average working people like themselves.
“To be honest, I don’t want to be a seasoned politician,” said Harney, who decided to run for statewide office after Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed several Republican bills last year. “We need a new reality of going into office and doing what the people want.”
Harney, the owner of a promotional advertising business, is promoting his platform of replacing property taxes with a flat-rate state income tax that would repay counties for lost revenues. He wants to encourage business growth by expanding ports and worker training, and he wants to revamp the election process.
Jones, who said his cancer is in remission, doesn’t believe he’ll win the primary. But he sees the campaign as a stepping stone to run as an independent in November to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Howard Coble of Greensboro.
“I figure the good Lord’s kept me here for a reason, and let’s see what that reason is,” said Jones, who operates a landscaping business with his wife.
Mahan is a retired high school educator and coach who set some lofty goals if elected: North Carolina would reach full employment within six months of taking office and public school teachers would be the highest paid in the country in less than three years.
“Nothing happens unless we can set a time or a date to it,” Mahan said.
The goals appear to depend on Mahan revving up the state economy by getting banks in North Carolina to start lending money more quickly to qualified homeowners, builders and businesses, which he said would generate more jobs and ultimately tax revenues.
Mahan said he would encourage innovative teaching methods, become a mentor to recognized “Gold Medal Students” and seek to return sanctioned prayer to public schools.
Randolph County businessman Charles Kenneth Moss is running because the self-described evangelist considers himself a minister to politicians.
“One of the main reasons why I’m running is that I’m a preacher and I’m really concerned about where this state and country’s headed,” he said. Moss blamed inflation for many of the nation’s woes and said it seems like the Legislature is passing too many laws and isn’t getting along.
Libertarian Party candidate Barbara Howe is not on the primary ballot because she is the party’s only candidate.
Howe, who is making her third bid for governor, wants at least 2 percent of the November vote. Breaking that threshold means Libertarians would retain official third-party status, foregoing the need for an expensive petition drive to keep placing candidates on ballots through 2016.
“The 2 percent is important, and obviously giving the voters of North Carolina another choice is important,” she said. “They’re not happy with the choices that they’re presented.”