House District 103: Democratic rivals see common foe in primary

The two Democrats in the N.C. House District 103 primary March 15 say they hope to chip away at the Republicans’ lock on power in Raleigh by knocking off Rep. Bill Brawley in November.

Recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate Noah Lieberman, 21, and businesswoman Rochelle Rivas, 45, agree that three-term incumbent Brawley was a key player in a GOP movement that they insist sent North Carolina in the wrong direction.

“This election is a referendum on (Brawley’s) tenure,” said Lieberman, who works as an analyst at Ballotcraft.com, a fantasy politics website on which participants try to pick election winners. “Are we satisfied with his radical, right-wing agenda? Or do we want someone who will fight for the interests of the people?”

Rivas, president of Darton Group Consulting, a Charlotte-based company specializing in accounting, finance and project management services, pointed to Brawley’s support for the state’s public-private partnership to add toll lanes to a 26-mile stretch of Interstate 77 as an example of what she sees as the incumbent’s indifference toward average citizens. The contractor, a U.S. subsidiary of the Spanish company Cintra, is financing the bulk of the $647 million project and will be repaid through adjustable tolls it collects from drivers using the new lanes over the 50-year life of its contract with the N.C. Department of Transportation.

“The contract does not include a cap for toll fees, leaving Cintra … unaccountable to the North Carolinian voter,” said Rivas. “Middle-class workers shouldn’t be penalized for commuting to where they’ve found employment, and Rep. Brawley should be putting his electors before big corporations.”

Brawley, a member of the House Transportation Committee and senior chairman of the House Finance Committee, has been a vocal supporter of the toll-lane project. He has pointed out in the past that drivers have the choice on whether to use the toll lanes.

Health care, schools

Lieberman and Rivas both say they would push for expanding Medicaid, and criticized Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature for blocking an expansion of the federally funded health care program for low-income families that would have added coverage for an estimated 500,000 North Carolinians. The Democratic rivals also took aim at Brawley and the GOP over spending for public education.

“I was lucky enough to attend fantastic public schools here in Charlotte, but I fear that the next generation may not have these opportunities if we continue down our current path,” Lieberman said.

The General Assembly in 2014 approved raising the starting pay for North Carolina public school teachers from $30,800 to $35,000, while more experienced teachers saw smaller salary bumps. That’s not enough, Rivas said.

“Our teachers deserve to be paid better than 42nd in the nation, and our children need adequate funding for textbooks and school supplies,” said Rivas, who added that she would support raising teacher pay in the state to the national average.

Lieberman and Rivas also said that if elected, they would attempt to compromise with Republicans on issues important to their constituents.

Economic issues

Lieberman insisted that cutting taxes for big companies has been a misguided approach to economic development by the state’s Republican leadership. Increased investment in education, roads and other infrastructure improvements will attract companies and create high-paying jobs, he said.

“When North Carolina and Charlotte were thriving, it wasn’t because we had the lowest taxes in the land,” Lieberman added. “It was because we offered companies a quality of life that couldn’t be found anywhere else in the South.”

Rivas said that, if elected, she would pursue tax credits for small businesses and programs to expand affordable housing options.

“Making sure that every resident of our district has equal opportunity to make a living wage, get access to affordable health care, and find gainful employment is critical,” she said.

Winning in District 103, which includes Matthews, Mint Hill and a small slice of southeast Charlotte, will be a challenge for Democrats. More than 37 percent of registered voters in the district are Republicans, while 33 percent are Democrats and 29 percent are unaffiliated.

Noah Lieberman

Age: 21

Education: Working toward bachelor’s in political science, bachelor’s in applied mathematics, UNC-Chapel Hill

Professional experience: Head political analyst for BallotCraft

Political experience: First time running for public office. Worked on the campaigns of former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Dan Murrey and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado. Lieberman also worked with the Host Committee for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012.

Family: Mother Katya Lezin, father David Lieberman, and younger sisters Hannah and Eliza Lieberman

Website: NoahForNC.com

Rochelle Rivas

Age: 45

Education: Queens University of Charlotte, Harvard Management Development Program

Professional experience: President, DARTON Group Consulting

Political experience: First time running for office

Family: Husband Eric, daughters Paige and Peyton

Website: rivasfornchouse.com