Politics & Government

N.C. Senate District 40: Only Democrats seek to replace Malcolm Graham

A political veteran, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member and a reform-minded attorney are among the five Democrats looking to replace Sen. Malcolm Graham in the N.C. Senate.

Senate District 40 covers east Charlotte, a heavily Democratic swath of the city where six of 10 voters are black. The seat became vacant for the first time in a decade when five-term incumbent Graham decided to run for former Rep. Mel Watt’s 12th District congressional seat.

Familiar faces to many voters will be school board member Joyce Waddell and former Charlotte City Council member Nasif Majeed. Also running are lawyers Morris McAdoo and Matt Newton, who organized efforts to reform a police oversight board, and political newcomer Ty Turner.

With five candidates, the race could go to a July 15 runoff if no one gets 40 percent of the votes on May 6. Because no Republican is running, the primary winner will be unopposed in November.

A common thread among the campaigns is reaction to last year’s General Assembly, when Republican-led lawmakers passed voter registration laws, cut teaching positions and restricted unemployment benefits. Hundreds were arrested in weekly Moral Monday protests.

Majeed, 68, said North Carolina “devolved from a progressive state to a regressive state” since the GOP took control of the legislature in 2010.

But he said his outrage wouldn’t prevent him from trying to find common ground in Raleigh.

“I don’t have a problem with working across the aisle,” he said. “We have people on the extremes who are hard to work with, but there are plenty of people in the middle.”

Majeed, a former pilot who is now managing partner in a land development business, served on City Council from 1991 to 1999, when Graham beat him in a primary race. He touts his experience on the council and on numerous civic boards. He said he would push to raise the minimum wage, reverse cuts to education, offer affordable child care for working women and create tax-free “enterprise zones” to stimulate economic growth.

Waddell, 69, had a 21-year career with CMS and was elected to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board in 2009. She also has served on many community and appointed boards, and she still does parent workshops at day care centers.

“We had been talking constantly as school board members about the legislature in Raleigh,” she said. “What better way for me to get things done than to be there?”

She’s emphasizing better teacher pay and flexibility in school calendars. She wants to reverse the legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Waddell also said the state needs to do a better job in recruiting and offering incentives to industries, boosting the number of available jobs.

“I’m a public servant and the only candidate running in this race that’s currently serving in an elected capacity,” she said.

Newton, 34, is a criminal defense attorney and organizer of CRB Reform Now, which successfully lobbied for changes to the Citizens Review Board. The police oversight board had never sided with citizens, the Observer has reported.

Newton lost to Watt in the 2012 Democratic primary for the seat. As a legislative candidate, he highlighted such issues as teacher pay raises, better funding for public schools, a living wage, affordable health care, tax reform and affordable housing.

Newton said he sees himself as being able to promote a progressive agenda in Raleigh while also working with Republicans.

“Just because you talk about (working in) a bipartisan fashion doesn’t mean you sacrifice your morals or your political viewpoint,” he said. “I like to think of myself as Jim Hunt-esque. I’m someone who can work to improve all our sacred institutions of government.”

McAdoo, 35, worked until recently as a lawyer for Disability Rights North Carolina, focused on Medicaid law, and is now in private practice. He ran for a House seat in his native Alamance County in 2012.

His political goals include more educational funding, increased services for people with disabilities, a tax overhaul and help for the unemployed.

“All of these are issues that affect lower-middle-class citizens, and if you look at the makeup of District 40, that’s who lives here,” he said. “The person in this seat will have to be a leader for people who, in my opinion, have been disparaged by the legislature.”

Turner, 33, is a small-business owner who is running for public office for the first time. “I bring a voice of change for the district. I’m not a career politician,” he said.

Turner cited several issues he was interested in, including maintaining teacher tenure, improving access to affordable health care and providing more opportunities for small businesses to succeed. He also is no fan of charter schools and wants to ensure that none of the charter schools in the district end up like StudentFirst Academy, which abruptly closed recently.

Another issue Turner said he wants to highlight is providing rehabilitation programs for felons. He would like to see their voting rights restored and for them to have greater opportunities to land jobs.

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