Recommendations for N.C. legislature

The Republican-controlled General Assembly is intensely unpopular with North Carolina voters, yet there’s little chance its makeup will change in this election. Why? The state’s gerrymandered districts are designed to keep the GOP in power, resulting in few competitive races.

It was a problem when Democrats were in control, and it’s a problem now. As always, we believe lawmakers should pursue independent redistricting that gives more voters a voice.

Meanwhile, the best to hope for is that voters will send thoughtful lawmakers to Raleigh whenever they have the opportunity. Here’s how we see the contested races in Mecklenburg districts:

Senate 38

Incumbent Democrat Joel Ford faces a second challenge from Republican Richard Rivette. Ford is the clear choice.

Ford crushed Rivette in 2012, receiving more than 80 percent of the vote. That should happen again in this majority-black, heavily Democratic district that covers much of west and north Mecklenburg.

Ford had a successful first term, managing to stay relevant even in the minority. He showed himself to be an independent thinker who didn’t always vote with his party. A former chairman of the Charlotte Housing Authority and of the Mecklenburg Democratic Party, Ford deserves re-election.

Rivette, a marketing consultant, holds views that are wildly out of step with the majority in this district. He runs on a platform of eliminating most taxes and encouraging school vouchers. He has shown no evidence that he would be an effective senator.

Senate 41

Incumbent Republican Jeff Tarte defends his seat from political newcomer and Democrat Latrice McRae. Tarte is the stronger choice for this conservative district that covers the five towns in northern and southeastern Mecklenburg.

We disagree with Tarte on many policy questions, but we find him to be thoughtful, hard-working and open-minded to bipartisan discussions of issues. A former Cornelius mayor, Tarte played a leading role in efforts to force Mecklenburg County to repair its botched property tax revaluation. He was named the most effective freshman senator (of 15) by two respected organizations.

McRae is a Matthews accountant making her first run. She opposes cuts to education spending and says she wants to help small businesses. She lacks experience, however, in the breadth of issues that face state legislators.

House 88

Incumbent Republican Rob Bryan seeks a second term against Democrat Margie Storch. This is an intriguing race, and we endorse Storch in the district that runs south from Dilworth out Park Road and Carmel Road to I-485.

Storch, the development director at House of Mercy, has been an activist for decades. She is fluent on legislative issues and wants to undo some of the biggest initiatives Republicans passed in recent years, from tax cuts to rejecting Medicaid expansion to cutting unemployment benefits to approving tough restrictions on abortion. She boasts endorsements from Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter and former mayor Harvey Gantt, among others.

We find Bryan to be a smart, engaged representative. But he has toed the party line on every major legislative effort that we have decried over the past two years, helping enact a regressive Republican agenda that brought national attention to the state. He now says he regrets his vote to take city control from the airport, and he’s “very, very open” to revisiting Medicaid expansion. His voting record, however, is unequivocal.

House 92

This west Mecklenburg district is among the state’s most diverse and competitive. In 2012, Republican Charles Jeter narrowly defeated Democrat Robin Bradford. They are back for a rematch.

Jeter is an independent thinker with a sophisticated grasp of complex issues. Most uncommonly, he is willing to admit mistakes, such as his vote against federal Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. We don’t agree with some of Jeter’s votes – his co-sponsorship of the voter suppression package stands out. But he bucked his party on several issues and was the only Republican to vote against the state’s restrictive abortion law.

We appreciate Bradford’s passion for public school funding, but Jeter is the kind of thoughtful Republican leader we’d like to see in Raleigh, and his diverse voting record is more representative of all of his district’s constituents.

House 98

Voters have two strong candidates to consider for the seat being vacated by House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Attorney and Democrat Natasha Marcus is a strong advocate for public educators who says she would support small N.C. businesses. She believes the Republican-controlled legislature has let her district’s voters down, including with its vote to allow privately controlled toll lanes on Interstate 77.

Republican John Bradford of Cornelius has grown his small business, Park Avenue Properties, into one of the largest real estate investment firms in the state. He’s a popular member of the Cornelius Town Council who believes state lawmakers may have overreached some on issues involving municipalities.

This is a heavily Republican district, and although voters can’t go wrong with either candidate, Bradford’s self-described “slightly consersative” philosophy fits his district. He also has shown a responsiveness to all contituents while in office. We recommend him.

House 104

In this reliably conservative south Mecklenburg district, Republican Dan Bishop faces Libertarian Eric Cable in a race to replace departing Rep. Ruth Samuelson. There is no Democratic challenger.

Bishop, a Mecklenburg commissioner from 2004-2008, is a smart, analytic thinker who agrees in principle with the Republican agenda of lower taxes and smaller government. He’s sensed, however, a lack of humility from some Republicans since they took power in Raleigh.

We recommend Bishop, whose measured brand of conservatism would represent his district well.

House 106

Carla Cunningham, like many Democrats, had a somewhat frustrating two years in Raleigh. Still, she remains firmly committed to social issues and has learned to work with Republicans on issues both can back, such as N.C. sheriffs issuing eviction notices in a timely fashion.

In this solidly Democratic district, Cunningham is the clear choice over her opponent, Trey Lowe.