The best choices for N.C. House, Senate

Voters in Charlotte-Mecklenburg face choices in eight contested races for the N.C. General Assembly Nov. 4. In another race, two candidates are on the ballot but one has dropped out. Most of the Republican incumbents in local legislative districts are running unopposed in this election; most incumbent Democrats face Republican challengers. Yet in almost every race, those challengers are not well-known, have not held elected office and have not run vigorous campaigns. For that reason, in many districts, incumbents offer voters the best opportunity for solid representation.

One note: These decisions are significant. The state legislature has the responsibility for broad resources on which the state's economy and its quality of life depend, such as statewide court funding, teachers' salaries, public higher education and transportation. North Carolina is in urgent need of sweeping reforms, from revamping its Depression-era revenue system to fixing its flawed safety net for the state's mentally ill.

Dempsey Miller, House 99

This is an open seat sought by two newcomers, although one of them, Democrat Nick Mackey, is not a stranger to the political spotlight. Mackey defeated incumbent Drew Saunders in the primary to secure the party nomination. He faces Republican Dempsey Miller, a retired civil engineer and real estate broker from Huntersville.

This district is varied and spread-out, fanning southeast through a semi-rural stretch between interstates 77 and 85 and including Huntersville and University City.

We recommend Miller. Mackey, a lawyer, is engaging and well-versed on many of the issues facing this fast-growing district. Yet he has not overcome legitimate concerns raised about him when he unsuccessfully sought to be appointed sheriff of Mecklenburg County last year when Jim Pendergraph left. Questions were raised about his finances – he filed for bankruptcy – and his work background – he left his job as a Charlotte police officer under scrutiny for allegedly doctoring his work hours.

Dempsey, who worked with Duke Energy for two decades, wants to work on transportation, a key interest of the district. He has conservative views on education and environmental regulation, but seems open-minded to other points of view. He knows the district, understands its needs and appears committed to serving it. We recommend Dempsey Miller.

Mark Brody, House 103

Voters in this district should seek change. Republican Jim Gulley has spent 12 years in Raleigh representing this district, which includes Matthews, Mint Hill and areas of east Charlotte. Yet he consistently ranks near the bottom in effectiveness. In fact, his rating by the nonpartisan, non-profit N.C. Center for Public Policy Research has gone down, not up, during his last two terms. Critics in his district complain he has not been accessible or visible to constituents.

Gulleyfaces a challenge by Mark Brody, , a general contractor and registered independent who obtained more than 2,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Brody has no experience in elected office. Yet he seems to grasp the role a state legislator plays, is reasonably well-informed and brings centrist, if generalized, ideas. His challenge will be taking specific positions. Still, he is engaged in seeking this office, and we think that tops the record of an incumbent who has not been active or effective. We recommend Mark Brody.

Tricia Cotham, House 100

In her first year representing the district of former House Speaker Jim Black, now serving time in a federal prison for bribery, Democrat Tricia Cotham earned a higher effectiveness rating than some more seasoned Mecklenburg lawmakers. That's because she has built relationships with more senior legislators and has her stamp on bills, including measures to deal with growing gang activity.

Cotham, a former assistant principal with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, faces a challenge from Republican Tom White. Yet there's no compelling reason for voters to make a change. White has not run an active campaign, and Cotham's experience as an educator gives her important insight on crucial education issues the state needs to work on, such as improving academic performance. We enthusiastically recommend Tricia Cotham.

Beverly Earle, House 101

This predominantly Democratic district includes much of Charlotte. Incumbent Beverly Earle, a Democrat who has served 14 years, faces a challenge from Republican Beth Marlin, a registered nurse and business owner who has been active in her party and as a precinct judge.

We recommend Earle for re-election. She is tied in with the House leadership (she co-chaired the appropriations committee under former speaker Black) and has a record of getting things done. She should pay closer attention to her campaign reporting, which the Observer has reported shows some gaps. Yet Marlin offers voters insufficient reason to oust a seasoned incumbent. We recommend Beverly Earle.

Becky Carney, House 102

Republican challenger Gregory Patrick Hill has dropped out of this race, yet his name will appear on the ballot opposing incumbent Democrat Becky Carney, who has served three terms.

Voters should give Carney a vote of confidence based on her record. She has good ideas, and is in a position to act on them. She needs to work more urgently on things she knows need to be done, such as transportation funding options.

Kelly Alexander, House 107

This district takes in parts of west Charlotte, Pineville and Steele Creek. Democrat incumbent Kelly Alexander was appointed to the vacant seat in May after he won the Democratic primary. He faces a challenge from Republican Gary Hardee, who has been active in the party but has not sought elected office before or run an active campaign.

We recommend Alexander, a former NAACP official who can speak with authority about transportation issues, especially mass transit needs. He offers an in-depth view of economic changes, particularly the need for better education and training for N.C. workers.

Dan Clodfelter, Senate 37

Five-term incumbent Dan Clodfelter, a Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Vince Coscia and Libertarian Rusty Sheridan. Neither has held an elected office before.

Clodfelter, a lawyer from Charlotte who served on the City Council, is an accomplished lawmaker who thinks long-term, is respected by his peers and has the potential to be a significant force in the Senate. There is no need for voters to consider a change. We recommend Dan Clodfelter with confidence.

Charlie Dannelly, Senate 38

Voters face a choice between a veteran senator, incumbent Charlie Dannelly, a Democrat, and a Republican challenger, James Soder. Libertarian C. Travis Wheat is also running.

We recommend Dannelly. He has served since 1994, gets things done and is well respected by his peers and the Senate leadership. His challengers have no experience in elected office. There's no reason for voters to make a change.

Malcolm Graham, Senate 40

In this race two-term incumbent Democrat Malcolm Graham, a former Charlotte City Council member, is being challenged by Republican Ed Mulheren, an information technology manager who ran against him in 2006, and ran for mayor in 2003.

We recommend Graham. He's a capable young lawmaker who has diligently focused on the needs of his diverse district as well as the state's overall needs. He chairs the Senate Select Committee on Street Gang Prevention. Graham has shown significant promise and deserves another term.