Democrat Christy Clark likes to talk about issues such as education and health care. But for a lot of voters in her north Mecklenburg district, there’s only one issue that matters.
“Since they dammed the Catawba River (in 1963), this is the biggest issue facing north Mecklenburg and south Iredell,” said Bill Russell, president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.
Clark is challenging Republican Rep. John Bradford, who’s running for a third term in House District 98. Although the district leans Republican, it’s one of a handful of unusually competitive seats in Mecklenburg County.
Clark, 47, is a paralegal from Huntersville who has been active in pushing for changes in gun laws. As former state director for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group that advocates “common-sense” gun laws, she has worked the halls of the General Assembly and lobbied lawmakers from both parties.
“I saw first hand how citizen’s voices could impact the legislative process and decided to move from advocate to candidate,” she says on her website.
Bradford, 44, is a businessman and former town commissioner from Cornelius. He chairs the committee on regulatory reform and supported efforts to cut regulations. As deputy majority whip, he’s backed GOP measures on taxes and education. He had an A rating from the National Rifle Association in 2016.
Bradford also has tried to end the $650 million contract with a subsidiary of Cintra, a Spanish firm, that is building toll lanes on I-77.
In 2016, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that he co-sponsored to cancel the contract with the private company. The bill died in the Senate. This year he introduced an amendment that would have earmarked $300 million to buy out the contract and repay the money with toll revenues. It passed the House and the Senate but got stuck in a conference committee.
Along with Charlotte Democratic Rep. Chaz Beasley, he also introduced a bill to end the contract in 2017.
“I have worked relentlessly in the House to try to navigate the complexities of this,” Bradford said in an interview.
There’s little doubt that voters care about the issue. Even though Republican Donald Trump carried the district by nearly 9 percentage points in 2016, Democrat Roy Cooper narrowly defeated GOP Gov. Pat McCrory largely on the strength of the anti-toll vote.
But Cooper has faced criticism himself over the project. Last month his transportation secretary recommended ways to make the highway more driver-friendly but stopped short of offering to buy out the private contract.
“It just seems to me the governor needs to be held accountable just like McCrory was held accountable,” Bradford said.
Clark criticized the contract and said “rarely have I seen a deal as one-sided as this.”
On her website, she said, “Our current elected officials had multiple opportunities to resolve this issue but they have refused to fix the problem by either canceling the contract or appropriating the money needed so the state can take over.“
In an interview, she said, “It’s not productive to point fingers. The answer is to work together to find solutions.”
Clark said she opposed last summer’s House Bill 514 that authorized four Mecklenburg towns to operate their own charter schools. Bradford supported it. But both say they oppose the response of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which passed a measure to block future school construction in those towns unless they pass a binding resolution not to pursue town charter schools. This month, two of the towns — Huntersville and Cornelius — voted to do just that.
Bradford said CMS “effectively red-lined” the four towns included in HB 514. Clark said CMS “instigated conflict” with its response.
“I would rather see everybody come in a room” and work it out, she said.
Bradford has tried to do just that, and not only with I-77.
In 2017 he co-sponsored a bill to repeal House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that overturned a Charlotte ordinance that extended anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community. He brought business leaders from across the state to the General Assembly to show support for a compromise that ended up going nowhere.
That same year he tried to act as middleman in a legislative dispute between craft brewers and beer wholesalers.
Beasley, whose district abuts Bradford’s, said Democrats are energized and mad at the GOP-controlled legislature. “Even though this seat trends red, Christy has a decent shot at winning,” he said.
But Cornelius Commissioner Denis Bilodeau said he’s confident voters will return Bradford.
“He’s someone you can count on to be involved,” Bilodeau said. “He can get things done.”
Education: Executive MBA, University of Memphis, 2000; B.S. in Engineering, Clemson University, 1996.
Professional experience: Real estate management.
Political resume: N.C. House, 2015-present; Cornelius commissioner, two terms.
Family: Wife, Shea; four children.
Education: BA Roanoke College; Paralegal Certificate, Duke University.
Professional experience: Paralegal.
Political resume: First-time candidate.
Family: Husband, Chris, five children.