Ex-governor’s daughter faces a powerful NC House incumbent in District 103 race

It matches a governor’s daughter against one of the most powerful men in the North Carolina House.

Little wonder the race for House District 103 has become one of the highest profile and costliest in the state.

Republican Rep. Bill Brawley is running for a fifth term. As senior chair of the Finance Committee and a co-chair of Appropriations, he has a major voice in tax and budget policy. He’s arguably Mecklenburg County’s most influential lawmaker.

Democrat Rachel Hunt is the daughter of former four-term Gov. Jim Hunt. Like her father, she has made education her top issue. A non-practicing attorney, she owns two educational consulting companies.

They’re running in a Republican-leaning district that includes the towns of Matthews and Mint Hill and south Charlotte suburbs. In 2016 President Donald Trump carried it by almost 10 percentage points.

But through June, Hunt, thanks in part to her father’s political network, had nearly $133,000 in her campaign account to Brawley’s $89,000.

Brawley declined to be interviewed for a story.

He’s been a big part of Republican policies that have cut taxes and regulations, boosted the “rainy day” fund and raised teacher pay.

But Hunt says tax cuts have disproportionately benefited the wealthy and that education spending hasn’t kept pace with growing enrollments since Republicans took control after the 2010 election. She sees the election as a referendum on the General Assembly.

“Since 2000, I’ve been very concerned with the direction our state is headed,” she said in an interview. “We need to become the progressive state we used to be.”

Some of Brawley’s critics agree.

“I do not think that Bill exercises independent thought or independent judgment in representing the people of House District 103,” said former Matthews Mayor Lee Myers, a Democrat. “He simply does what leadership in Raleigh tells him to do.”

But like other Republicans, Brawley has said GOP policies have led to unprecedented economic growth. He also pushed through a transportation funding plan designed to take politics out of road building and credited with helping Mecklenburg County.

And he has pushed back against efforts that would have targeted Mecklenburg.

Brawley fought efforts to redistribute sales tax revenues. He also helped preserve economic development incentives and access to light rail funding, win $25 million for the airport and for the towns and secure state funding for the planned uptown Gateway Station. The Charlotte Chamber recently recognized him as its Regional Legislator of the Year.

This summer Brawley sponsored a bill to let the towns in his district as well as Huntersville and Cornelius open their own charter schools. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools responded by effectively blocking future school construction in the towns for 15 years unless they agree to not start a municipal charter. Brawley said he was “disappointed that CMS has chosen to punish the children of the parents who are staying with CMS as a way to punish the parents who want to leave.”

Matthews Commissioner Chris Melton said Brawley “stood up for us” in responding to requests for the charter bill.

“He kept his word, and so far whatever he said he’d do he’s done,” said Melton, a Republican. “It’s good not only for Matthews but for the Charlotte region to have Bill in office.”

Hunt was also critical of the CMS vote. “We need serious leadership to bring people together, not drive people farther apart,” she said in a statement.

On his web site, Brawley alluded to Hunt’s education companies, including one that helps parents find schools that match their kids needs. “Some, including my opponent, have made profits off of the constant disruption of student re-assignments by picking and choosing the families that have a choice in their children’s educational opportunities.” Brawley wrote.

“We are helping people figure out the best thing to do with their children,” Hunt told the Observer in response. “…. It’s a very, very small business. I just try to help people.”

Hunt has been targeted with multiple mailers from a political action committee called Carolina Leadership Coalition. One accused her of siding with “left-win special interests.” Another showed unflattering pictures of former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and said she and Hunt are “one and the same.”

Hunt said people who’ve seen the attacks believe “they just seem over the top and ridiculous.”

“They have turned people off more than turned people on,” she said.

Jim Morrill, 704-358-5059; @jimmorrill

Bill Brawley

Age: 69.

Education: BS UNC-Charlotte.

Professional experience: Commercial real estate broker.

Political resume: N.C. House, 2011-present; Matthews town council, two terms.

Family: Wife, Smokie; four adult children.

Website: www.brawleyfornchouse.com

Rachel Hunt

Age: 53.

Education: Bachelors, UNC-Chapel Hill; law degree University of South Carolina.

Professional experience: Attorney and educational consultant; Partner, Charlotte School Search; Owner, Hunt for College.

Political resume: First-time candidate.

Family: Husband, Olav Nilender, two children.

Website: www.huntforhousenc.com.