At their first campaign forum Saturday night, six Democrats running in the 12th Congressional District debated everything from Edward Snowden and the NSA to last year’s police shooting in Charlotte.
The four who’ve held elective office stressed their experience while two others promised to bring new voices. One dismissed his rivals as “career politicians.”
The six are running for the seat vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, who resigned this month to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
They are running in a special election with a May 6 primary and November general election. That coincides with this year’s regularly scheduled elections.
The Democratic primary is expected to dominate the race in the heavily Democratic district that stretches from Charlotte to Greensboro.
Four candidates – attorney George Battle III, state Sen. Malcolm Graham, former City Council member James Mitchell and attorney Curtis Osborne – are from Charlotte. State Rep. Alma Adams is from Greensboro and Rep. Marcus Brandon is from High Point.
More than 100 people attended the west Charlotte forum sponsored by the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party. They heard the candidates agree more than they disagreed.
Nearly all praised President Barack Obama and his Affordable Care Act. Each favored comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And responding to a question from a transgender woman, each promised to fight discrimination.
The four current or former elected officials touted their experience.
“I’ve been able to get things done,” Adams said.
Brandon and Graham said they’ve proven they can work in a Republican-dominated U.S. House, just as they did in a GOP-controlled state legislature. Graham called himself a “bridge-builder.” Brandon said he was able to “pass more bills than anybody in this race.”
Mitchell, who left the council after an unsuccessful run for mayor, said he helped create jobs as chairman of the council’s economic development committee.
Osborne said voters are tired of “career politicians.” He criticized the votes of some legislators, though he didn’t name them.
Battle, counsel for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and before that for Carolinas HealthCare System, argued that he has practical experience. “What we need is people who have experience in this area (and) people who have been on the ground,” he said.
Asked about spying by the National Security Agency, all the candidates said they would put a premium on privacy and civil liberties. Graham said “there has to be a balance between the rights of citizens and the rights of government.”
Only Mitchell said he would not pardon Snowden, the former government contractor who leaked NSA documents. The others all said they lack enough information to make a decision.
The candidates were asked whether they would be the “voice of reason” in cases such as the shooting involving a Charlotte police officer. Last week a grand jury declined to indict Officer Randall Kerrick, who fatally shot Jonathan Ferrell last September.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper wants to send the case to another grand jury. Kerrick’s lawyers are fighting that.
“Justice has not been served yet,” Mitchell said. Graham called the grand jury’s decision “unjust.” Adams said “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Battle said he found it “beyond disturbing” that a black man could be “shot down without repercussions.” Brandon said he favors more gun control.
Osborne was circumspect.
“Was the guy (Kerrick) wrong? Probably so,” he said. “But until all the information comes out, we have to wait to see what happens with the next grand jury.”
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