North Carolina voters seek three key things from the people they send to the U.S. Senate: independent thinking, fierce advocacy for the state and tangible results. Those solid rules of thumb reflect the state's non-nonsense values.
Those values are why voters should make a change in the U.S. Senate Nov. 4. In that race Sen. Elizabeth Dole, 72, a Republican, is seeking a second term. Challenging her is Democrat Kay Hagan, 55, a state senator for 10 years.
This is not an easy choice, but we recommend Hagan. We believe she offers citizens the better hope of having an effective and independent voice in the Senate. She also offers them a voice that is more closely attuned to everyday life in North Carolina.
Dole a surprise, disappointment
Dole should be a terrific senator. She's intelligent, polished and experienced, and has a firm grip on the issues Congress deals with. She can talk in great detail about energy policy, trade deal enforcement and federal programs that help local law enforcement deport illegal immigrants who break the law.
That's why her ineffectiveness in representing North Carolina is such a surprise and such a disappointment.
Over the past six years, Dole's record of accomplishments on behalf of North Carolina is modest. We have no reason to expect that it will be dramatically different in a second term. She has taken the lead on no more than one or two initiatives during her first term, an exception being the buyout of the federal tobacco allotment program. On numerous other issues, she has been late or absent from the table. One notable example: She was too slow to weigh in against the Navy's foolish plan to locate an Outlying Landing Field for jets in northeastern North Carolina.
Dole has remained rigid on issues that demanded give-and-take in order to progress in the Senate, such as immigration reform and the federal bailout package. In both cases, she was unwilling to seek middle ground on legislation in order to move changes forward when that clearly would have been in the best interest of North Carolina.
Another troubling aspect of her leadership: She has been a voice for her party far more times than she has acted independently. Dole now distances herself from President George Bush, but she has supported him at least 88 percent of the time, according to Congressional Quarterly.
Hagan must lead, not follow
We share some of the same concerns about Hagan, but believe she has the potential to perform better in Washington.
Hagan, a corporate lawyer, rose quickly in the N.C. Senate to help chair the powerful Appropriations Committee. Her record shows a pro-business Democrat who has been closely tied to entrenched Democratic leadership. Among the initiatives she has been a part of: raising teacher salaries and pumping up spending on universities. Conservatives criticize her record on spending; progressives say she has not led the charge for their issues.
Hagan has compiled a record of advocacy for her district, whittling down an increase in the state cigarette tax (we disagree with that stance) that affected manufacturers in her district and scoring funding for community assets such as a civil rights museum.
Yet in her campaign Hagan has not been able, clearly and consistently, to get across the principles she will use to make decisions in the U.S. Senate. Nor has she stated firm positions so that voters know where she stands on immigration reform, for example, or the federal bailout.
To be effective Hagan will need to define where she stands and how she will make decisions. She must act more like a leader and less like a follower.
She also will need to demonstrate she will think for herself, and not be a rubberstamp for the Democratic leadership. We want to see someone who's willing to buck party leaders if it's best for North Carolina. We didn't see that enough in Dole, which is why we recommend a change.
An N.C. voice
Here is another factor voters should consider: North Carolina is Dole's home state. We're proud of that. Yet she has lived most of the last four decades in Washington. That has shown in her representation.
North Carolina is Kay Hagan's home. She has lived here most of her life. She is involved in the everyday life of the state. North Carolina needs that perspective in the U.S. Senate.