Four years ago no statewide race was closer than that between Republican Dan Forest and Democrat Linda Coleman for lieutenant governor.
Now, in their rematch, no two candidates could be further apart in their views of issues facing North Carolina.
Though overshadowed by higher profile races for governor, president and U.S. Senate, Forest and Coleman are running for the state’s second-highest elected office. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and has an influential voice on policy boards.
It wasn’t until two weeks after the 2012 election that Forest was officially declared the winner. He won by less than 7,000 votes out of 4.3 million cast.
An architect who came to office with no political experience, Forest, 48, presides over a Republican-controlled Senate that has helped turn the state sharply to the right. His own outspoken stands on issues such as education and House Bill 2 have made him a favorite of many conservatives.
The liberal N.C. Policy Watch calls him “likely the most conservative statewide elected official in North Carolina.” The son of former U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, Forest already is considering a 2020 run for governor.
Coleman, 67, is a former teacher and legislator who directed the Office of State Personnel under Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. She also chaired the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
While Forest defends his record and that of the GOP-controlled General Assembly, Coleman would like to rewrite that record. The two differ on most of the state’s big issues:
▪ HB2. Forest helped call the General Assembly back into session to pass what became known as HB2. The law overrode a Charlotte ordinance extending anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community, required transgender people to use the bathroom on their birth certificate in government buildings and barred cities from raising the minimum wage.
The law is blamed for costing the state business expansions, conventions and concerts as well as major Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA sporting events.
“If keeping men out of women’s showers and bathrooms protects just one child or one woman from being molested or assaulted then it was worth it,” Forest said in a campaign ad. “If a corporation wanting to do business here can’t see the value of our children they’re making a grave mistake.”
In a recent debate, he called Charlotte’s ordinance “a test lab for a radical sexual revolution experiment.”
Coleman calls HB2 “state-sponsored discrimination” and says it “has hurt our state, it has hurt our reputation and it has hurt our economy.”
“The protection of women is yet another disguise for promoting a bill that has no place in North Carolina,” she said in a debate.
▪ Education. Forest, a member of the State Board of Education, is a fierce advocate for school choice. He supports the expansion of charter schools, tax-funded vouchers, or “opportunity scholarships,” and “achievement school districts.” Under a bill passed last summer, the state will turn over five under-performing public schools to a for-profit charter operator.
“Choice allows parents flexibility to do education in different ways,” says Forest.
Coleman says parents have the choice to send their children to private schools. But they, not taxpayers, should pay. The former teacher says charters, vouchers and the new achievement districts are taking millions from public school systems that she says are “being dismantled.”
Perhaps more controversially, she would reduce the number of charter schools. There are now 167, according to the Department of Public Instruction. She would reduce it to 100.
To stay in business, she would review the performance of every charter school and what they contribute to overall public education. “They were supposed to be used as labs,” she says.
▪ Voting. Forest has defended the GOP-passed voter bill. It required photo IDs to vote and limited voting options, including shortening the early voting period. It was later struck down by a federal court.
“You need an ID to do just about anything to participate in society,” he said in a debate. “In other states where they’ve done this, they’ve actually seen minority participation go up.”
But Coleman called it “a bad, monstrous bill.”
“It denied participation in democracy,” she said.
▪ Taxes. Forest not only supports Republican tax cuts of over $4 billion, he would do away with income taxes all together and replace them with a consumption tax.
“What I believe the income tax has done is punish success,” he says. “We want a model that rewards success.”
Coleman says the legislature’s tax changes, which cut income tax rates but expanded the services subject to the sales tax, disproportionately helped wealthier people.
“The tax reform was not the kind of reform that helped working families,” she says. “You can’t have a strong economy without a strong middle-class.”
Staff writer Craig Jarvis of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.
Education: N.C. A&T State University, bachelor’s degree in English, 1971; University of Pittsburgh, master’s degree in public administration, 1976.
Family: Widow; two adult children.
Professional: Retired; former director of the Office of State Personnel from 2009 to 2012.
Politics: Wake County Board of Commissioners, 1998-2002; three terms in the state House of Representatives, 2005-2009.
Worth knowing: If successful in November, she would be only the second African-American to serve on the Council of State, which comprises the 10 officials elected to statewide office.
Education: Attended the University of South Carolina, graduated from UNC Charlotte.
Family: Wife, Alice; four children.
Politics: Lieutenant governor, 2013-present. He’s only the second Republican since 1897 to be elected to the office.
Worth knowing: Growing up, he spent many years in Charlotte where his mother, Sue Myrick, was a two-term mayor. He attended McClintock Middle School and East Mecklenburg High before finishing high school in Columbia, where his father, Jim Forest, was a longtime broadcaster. He returned to UNC Charlotte and later worked for Little & Associates architects.