From overturning House Bill 2 to boosting the federal minimum wage, Democrats in the June 7 primary for the new 13th District congressional seat promise to tackle a range of priorities if elected in November.
Five Greensboro-area Democrats hope to become their party’s nominee for the district that stretches from Iredell to Guilford counties.
No incumbent is in the mix, and candidates have a rare chance to win a seat with just a fraction of the vote.
Those factors combined to make the 13th the state’s most crowded field in the June 7 N.C. congressional primaries. The Republican primary for the 13th includes 17 candidates.
The district runs north and northeast of Mecklenburg County and includes Iredell, Davie and Davidson counties and parts of Rowan and Guilford.
Candidates are Adam Coker, who owns a communications firm; former Guilford County commissioner Bruce Davis; attorney and activist minister Mazie Ferguson; Kevin Griffin, who owns a staffing and recruiting company; and developer Bob Isner.
Only Davis, a former 12-year commissioner, has held elective office.
Ferguson lost to former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker in the Democratic primary for N.C. Labor commissioner in March. She ran unsuccessfully as a 2010 write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in South Carolina held by Jim DeMint at the time.
Each of the five Democrats said they’ll put their business or political know-how to work to get things done in Congress.
For Isner, that includes a plan to address the state’s ever-growing road needs. “I’m big on user taxes,” he said in a recent interview, explaining how he would help pay for better roads. “The way is to pay a toll.”
“North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, but portions of our state have been left out of the recovery the rest of the country has enjoyed,” Isner said. “It is time to make sure our roads, infrastructure, schools and businesses will be prepared for that growth. Having a career in engineering, building and development, you deal with concrete issues and solve them.”
Ferguson, a self-described socialist, would fight to raise the minimum wage to $15. She also would hike taxes on the rich to pay for free college and universal health care.
“We’ll have universal disease if we don’t have universal health care,” she told the Salisbury Post.
Coker said he would promote small-business growth and investments for small farmers, end what he called “the culture of mass incarceration” and update the educational system to prepare students “for the real world and a 21st-century economy.”
He described HB2 as the kind of “dangerous policy” that hurts businesses and “discriminates against our most vulnerable.” The law limits legal protections for transgender people, among other things.
“I want to be a strong voice for those who feel unheard and under-served within our district,” Coker said, citing his endorsement by Replacements Ltd PAC, which promotes equality for the LGBT community.
Griffin said he would strengthen the Social Security and Medicare programs and bolster the educational system “so that every child has an equal opportunity to achieve.”
He also would help redevelop the nation’s industrial base “so that we rebuild the middle class” and support veterans with job-transition programs and medical and mental health care.
Davis said he would oppose trade policies that send jobs overseas and support tax polices that encourage manufacturers to locate here instead of abroad.
He would fight attempts to cut or privatize Social Security and Medicare and fight to ensure access to education from early childhood to the university level.
Having served two decades in the Marine Corps, “I know first-hand the difficulties faced by service families and the struggles too many veterans endure when they return to civilian life,” he said. “I will make taking care of our veterans a top priority.”
Adam Ward Coker
Education: Grimsley High School, Greensboro College, Appalachian State University, BA in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Family: Wife, Amanda Coker; son, Eliott, 2.
Occupation: Owner and operator, The Good Light LLC, a communications company.
Political experience: First-time candidate.
Why I am Running for Congress: “Shortly after living abroad, working to provide humanitarian relief in Africa during a coup in 2000, I witnessed our nation spiral into chaos during the Bush administration, leading to tremendous economic insecurity after the unfulfilled promises of no nation building; updating our infrastructure; raising teacher pay; and accessibility to quality education or affordable healthcare.
“Since 2010, I have watched N.C. partisan legislators delete the film industry, end renewable energy investment tax incentives, attempt to withhold Constitutional rights of members of the LGBT community and now bathroom usage and employment security. Our governor and legislators have turned a blind eye to a certain large corporate energy monopoly that threatens our most prized natural resources, and then fire one of my childhood Scoutmasters and president of the UNC system, Tom Ross.
“We face significant threats due to climate change and cannot afford to have science-denying ideologues governing or sponsoring legislation any longer. Our stunted growth has contributed to many loved ones, veterans and neighbors suffering from PTSD, mental illness and despair. Prior to the recent lawsuit filed by U.S. Attorney General and N.C. native Loretta Lynch in regard to HB2, the DoJ also filed suit due to North Carolina failing to meet benchmarks for supportive housing, unemployment and community-based services. Among those community based services are the denying of funding and treatment for people by our public mental health providers. Instead of offering support and care, we seem to insist keeping them and many other non-violent addicts locked in prison as we fire the flames of the costly prison industrial complex.”
“Fifty-eight percent of our country no longer believes the American dream is attainable and Congress flounders with an all-time low approval rating. I have grown tired of watching so many emerge to power in my home state use their power to tarnish our reputation as the most progressive state in the South. Instead of solving tangible problems, they imagine false scenarios and create legislation that set us back. The problem with government is not the size of it, it is whether or not it is serving the interest and well-being of the people. We need a government for the people, not special interests.
“Dangerous policies, such as HB2, have hurt our businesses and discriminate against our most vulnerable. I want to be a strong voice for those who feel unheard and underserved within our District, and I am honored to have the endorsement of the Replacements PAC Ltd.
“I know that now is the time for me to speak out and to stand for what is just, and what is smart. I feel this calling and voice rising from deep within. Through the sacrifices of so many teachers, family and loved ones, my education from Grimsley, Greensboro College and Appalachian State have provided me the opportunity to succeed, and a desire to constantly learn and expand my horizons. I have lived in Greensboro 24 years, Lake Norman seven years, and Boone eight years. I love every bit of the beautiful state of N.C.
“I have invested considerable time and energy into shaping and carefully examining my worldview. I have traveled to 11 countries, lived in Africa, traveled to 47 states more than 20 times each, and learned from a wide range of counselors, ministers, business and political leaders, servants and educators with diverse backgrounds and worldviews. I know that my education and life experiences would make me a thoughtful politician who seeks to discern wise choices and considers unintended consequences of my votes in D.C., legislation I co-sponsor, or how I serve the people of N.C. with constituent services. We can and must do better. We are not this.
Top Priorities, if elected: “To be an ambassador for progress and acceptance within our community. To project a positive image of our state and attract new business. To give back to our district through incentivizing small business growth, investments for small farmers and ending the culture of mass incarceration, while expanding opportunity to all, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or income. To update our educational systems to prepare students for the real world and a 21st-century economy, and not an economy or workforce that existed 50 years ago.”
What Voters Should Know About Me: “I love this community with all my heart. I’ve experienced – through the killing of my father – the disparity in our justice system and – through the illness of loved ones – the deficiencies in our mental health policy. I want to be a proactive leader that bridges opportunity to our rural, urban and inner-city populace and end the senseless labeling and social constructs that divide us. My age, diverse business experiences, convictions and values are what set me apart from my competitors. We must end the generational gap in Washington.”
Resides: High Point
Education: Bachelor of science in business, High Point University
Family: Wife, Angela, five children
Occupation: Owner, Kid Appeal Learning Center, a five-star child development center in High Point for over 18 years.
Political Experience: Former Guilford County commissioner of 12 years. Ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
Why I am Running for Congress: “It’s time for a leader who embodies the very essence of the people of North Carolina. People with ideas, concerns and passion for a North Carolina based on issues of the people, not a system.”
Top Priorities: “The people and my motivation are the issues. As an elected commissioner of 12 years, I am experienced in putting the ideas of the people first and fighting for them against opposition.”
What Voters Should Know About Me: “That I consider them in all my actions. Having experience representing constituents of Guilford County, I am ready to consistently listen and appropriate the concerns of North Carolina’s 13th district no matter the economic status, race or political view.”
Mazie Butler Ferguson
Education: Graduate, South Carolina State University and the University of South Carolina School of Law
Family: Divorced, two adult children, two grandchildren. Her youngest sister, Ella Scarborough, is a Mecklenburg County commissioner.
Occupation: She has worked as a lawyer, as head of an S.C. legal services agency, as a pastor of Baptist churches in Greensboro and Siler City and as a professor of law and criminal justice at several colleges and universities in the Carolinas. She also has been president of the Pulpit Forum of Greensboro, an association of pastors who advocate for the poor and the disenfranchised.
Political experience: Lost to former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker in the Democratic primary for N.C. Labor commissioner in March. In 2010, she ran unsuccessfully as a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate seat that was occupied by Jim DeMint. She served in the 1970s as executive director of the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus. More recently, she has worked as chair of religious affairs for the N.C. NAACP.
Why I am Running for Congress: She wants working people to be regarded as important in Congress.
Top Priorities: $15 federal minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for free college and universal health care.
What Voters Should Know About Me: That she has worked all her adult life to make life better for working families. As state youth president of Congress of Racial Equality, she worked for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1964. She became a Young Democrat in 1972 and was an elected delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1984 and 1988.
Resides: The Burlington native grew up in Winston-Salem and lived and worked in Greensboro and High Point for 18 years. He said he moved to Durham in 2005 so his now-ex-wife could be closer to her family. He said he plans to move back into the 13th District in the near future, as his son finishes school.
Education: UNC Greensboro, bachelor of science in management and marketing and bachelor of science in information systems and operations management.
Family: Son, Cameron, 16.
Occupation: Founder, president and CEO of AVANT Group LLC, a Greensboro staffing and recruiting company. Founding member and steering committee member, the Durham Living Wage Project.
Political experience: First-time candidate for elective office.
Why I Am Running for Congress: “The current state of affairs in government and the people’s overwhelming dissatisfaction with their representation at all levels, coupled with the creation of the new 13th District with no incumbent, makes this election a truly singular opportunity to realize true change. This election is one where candidates can compete based on the quality of their ideas, the strength of their character, their openness to communication, and their dedication to service, instead of the rancorous partisan rhetoric and name calling that seem to be so dominant in politics today.
“I have been fortunate to help thousands of North Carolinians find full-time employment, to lead the fight for paying livable wages, and to bring the concept of using business as a force for good to the community. This Congressional seat is the opportunity to bring the ideals that have guided me; honesty, transparency, respect and dedication, to a larger community that needs to focus on solving problems and meeting the needs of the people.
“I am in this race because I believe that as a lifelong North Carolinian, a small-business owner, a parent, a teacher’s child, a coach, a team member, a leader and a listener, I am uniquely qualified to represent all of the voices in the 13th District. I am not interested in spending the rest of my life in Washington, D.C. I am focused on representing the people of the 13th to the best of my ability, on growing the next generation of leaders that will be able to stand for us all, and on making sure that a high bar is set for the expectations of the representatives that follow.
Top Priorities: “There are so many issues in Congress that need to be addressed that someone entering that environment without a clear purpose and focus will be swept away with the tide. The priorities that I will take to Washington are set by the people, are pointed to solving the issues in our area, and are designed to strengthen the district. Key areas I will focus on are strengthening and securing the Social Security and Medicare programs, bolstering our educational system so every child has an equal opportunity to achieve, redeveloping our industrial base so that we rebuild the middle class and stimulate the economic growth that benefits everyone, and properly supporting our veterans with job transition programs and medical and mental care. My website is full of specific ideas on how we address these issues, as well as many of the other problems we are facing. I encourage every person to look at my ideas and work with me to improve them so that we can move forward in the best way possible to solve the problems we all face.
What Voters Should Know About Me: “If there is one thing to know about me, it is that I will listen to you and your opinions, so we are always working together to improve the district for us all. Also, June 7, the primary date, is my birthday, and I will happily accept your vote as a present!”
Resides: Guilford County.
Education: Bachelor of science, Davidson College; master’s in civil engineering, N.C. State University.
Family: Three grown sons, including tennis pro John Isner, all educated in the Guilford County Schools.
Occupation: Owner, Greensboro Contracting, a commercial design-build contractor for the private sector; registered professional engineer, downtown Greensboro developer whose projects include Southside Neighborhood, a 190-unit community named EPA and Sierra Club Projects of the Year in 2004-2005; City View Apartments, a 470-unit apartment community; and the Deep Roots Market full-service downtown grocery store.
Political experience: First-time candidate for elective office.
Why I Am Running for Congress: “I believe the current climate of partisan politics has prevented our country from moving forward. As a pragmatic Democrat, builder, developer and an engineer I have the vision and skill set to work across party lines for solutions that are beneficial to our nation and our district.”
Top Priorities: “North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, but portions of our state have been left out of the recovery the rest of the country has enjoyed. It is time to make sure our roads, infrastructure, schools and businesses will be prepared for that growth. One of my top priorities is to roll out a plan for how our district will not only be prepared in those areas but also benefit from the new decade of growth.”
What Voters Should Know About Me: “I have spent my entire career building real things and addressing real concerns, and it is my goal to bring these skills to help the residents of District 13. This is my only motivation.”