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For Congress: Watt, Roberts and Hudson

Congress makes, passes federal laws; who is elected matters

Today, the editorial board begins publishing the board’s recommendations for the Nov. 6 elections, starting with area congressional races. Our choices are based on a number of factors including the candidates’ experience and positions on issues, as well as our assessment of their character.

Whom we elect to Congress is important. U.S. House members help make federal laws. Their actions have direct impact on citizens’ pocketbooks, safety and health and welfare.

Voting is a right, a privilege and a responsibility in our democracy. Making an informed choice is key to carrying out that responsibility well. The editorial board’s recommendations aim to provide voters with information to help them do so.

Congress, District 9: Roberts

The winner of this contest will replace 9-term Republican U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, who unexpectedly announced this year she wouldn’t seek reelection. Her decision spawned a flood of candidates in the GOP primary, and a nasty fight for the Republican nomination.

The GOP primary was the most contentious of any area race, with most of the vitriol taking place between frontrunners Jim Pendergraph, a Mecklenburg County commissioner, and former state Sen. Robert Pittenger. This editorial board wound up retracting an endorsement of Pendergraph in the May primary after he misled the board on his stand on immigration and joined with fringe “birthers” to question President Obama’s citizenship. We endorsed neither Pendergraph nor Pittenger in the runoff in July either.

Now, Pittenger faces Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts and Libertarian Curtis Campbell in the November general election. Normally, in this conservative district, we’d favor the Republican who might best represent the interests of the majority of the district’s voters. For that reason, we often recommended Myrick even though we didn’t share her views on many issues.

We can’t in good conscience recommend Pittenger. The real estate investor was largely responsible for the mudslinging snipe fest that the GOP primary became. More than that, troubling questions have been raised about whether he used his position as a lawmaker for personal gain. Pittenger never gave a sound explanation for why it was OK for him to vote for a bill in the state Senate that raised the value of land he owned. We’re concerned that as a congressman, he would work mostly for himself, not his constituents. We also worry that he’s too far right and unwilling to compromise – and those characteristics represent only the extreme of his party.

Jennifer Roberts offers voters a viable alternative. As a Mecklenburg commissioner and former chair of the board, she has proven to be a thoughtful public servant who is attentive to her constituents – no matter what their party affiliation. Even one of the most conservative commissioners, Bill James, said that though she is a liberal, she “is no ideologue, she can see both sides of an issue.”

Roberts sees herself as “pragmatic.” As a commissioner, she says she raised taxes twice, cut taxes twice and kept the rate the same four times. She also notes that she has voted with Republicans on the board when other Democrats would not: “I know I’ll be representing the whole district. I’m willing to compromise,” she said. In Congress, she wants to be someone who helps break the stalemate and works in a bipartisan way to get things done.

She sees flaws in the Affordable Care Act, calling it more health insurance reform than health care reform. She also has issues with the Obama administration’s approach to education reform, saying too much focus is on high-stakes testing. She’s developed a jobs plan she would push if elected that focuses on tax credits, renewable energy and exports.

Roberts’ commitment to public service is evident. We believe she would work on behalf of the whole district. We recommend Jennifer Roberts.

Congress, District 8: Hudson

This district, long conservative leaning, is even more so after the Republican-dominated N.C. legislature redrew district lines last year. Forty-four percent are registered Democrats, down from 49.7 percent in 2010, and 33 percent are registered Republicans, up from 27.6 percent. But the unaffiliated, now 21 percent of registered voters, lean Republican as well.

So two-term incumbent Democrat Larry Kissell is vulnerable. He’s facing Republican Richard Hudson, a former congressional aide to Robin Hayes, the man Kissell unseated in 2008. Yet in this race, both candidates can claim conservative bonafides. That, however may not be an asset for Kissell.

Kissell makes a logical case that his views reflect those of many in his district. The trouble is his voting record has leaned so much to the right that he is considered by some Democrats to be a Democrat in name only. One rating group says his record is more Republican than that of fellow N.C. congressman Walter Jones, an actual Republican. Kissell has rejected key Democratic initiatives, refused to endorse his party’s nominee – President Barack Obama – for president, and passed on attending the party’s convention last month just miles away in Charlotte.

His voting gyrations have made him unpredictable, and not in a good way. Voters don’t know what they’re getting. Many who voted for him hoping for an independent-minded populist now see a faux Republican instead.

We have concerns about Hudson. Some of his views track with the far right of his party. We don’t agree with his stands on gay marriage, abortion rights and health care reform. We worry that his tax policies will unfairly benefit the wealthy at a cost to many others in his struggling district. And he got caught up in the foolishness of challenging President Obama’s birthplace, which he wisely admitted was a mistake and from which he backed away.

He is personable. He says he will focus more on district needs than party dogma if elected, and aims to build relationships across party lines and work collaboratively with Democrats and Republicans to get things done – something he says he did as chief of staff for Hayes.

We’ll likely disagree with Hudson often. But we don’t agree with Kissell on much either. And because his record in Congress has been lackluster, we don’t think he has earned a third term. Whether Hudson can do a better job is debatable. But in a race that pits two men with Republican views, we’ll give the nod to the one who actually places an “R” beside his name: Richard Hudson.

Congress, District 12: Watt

Incumbent Mel Watt should easily win his 11th term in Congress. Republican challenger Jack Brosch, owner of a computer consulting business, has not mounted a persuasive campaign against the incumbent. A member of the tea party, Brosch has said he doesn’t expect to win and offers no substantive strategies for tackling issues.

Watt, who helped get a major patent reform bill passed in Congress – one of the few bills that got bipartisan support – is smart and still hardworking. He has earned reelection.

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