How we see 3 state primaries

The Observer editorial board

Troxler File photo

Most of the attention paid to North Carolina’s March 15 primary has been on the races for president, U.S. Senate and governor. There are, though, also campaigns for eight Council of State offices. Many of these offices serve vital roles, so voters should research who would make the best nominees for their parties.

Here is how the Observer editorial board sees the races for agriculture commissioner, labor commissioner and insurance commissioner. We will publish endorsements in other races in coming days.


Republican incumbent Steve Troxler seeks a fourth term against gun rights activist Andy Stevens. The winner will face Democrat Walter Smith, a Yadkinville farmer.

Stevens’ agricultural experience is minimal and Troxler, a past president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, has earned renomination.

Troxler, the first agriculture commissioner elected after Democrat Meg Scott Phipps resigned amid scandal, has run the department with a steady hand. A produce farmer who also runs an agritourism operation in Browns Summit, he has helped grow the industry and increase agricultural exports. He has a deeper understanding and much more experience in the industry than Stevens.

Stevens is the volunteer director of local government affairs for Grassroots NC, the state’s leading gun-rights group. He says he is running in large part to overturn Troxler’s decision not to allow concealed carry of guns at the state fair.

Stevens was a manager in the propane gas industry. State law says the agriculture commissioner must be a practicing farmer. Stevens says that’s unconstitutional and needs to be removed from the statutes. Troxler points out it is the law on the books. Either way, Troxler is better qualified.


Democrats Charles Meeker and Mazie Ferguson compete to take on Republican incumbent Cherie Berry. While either would be better than Berry, Meeker is the best choice to lead the agency charged with protecting workers’ safety.

As mayor of Raleigh for 10 years, Meeker helped drive the redevelopment of Fayetteville Street and construction of a new convention center, part of an effort that sparked private investment in the city’s downtown. A graduate of Yale and Columbia, he is a partner at Parker Poe law firm.

He has three priorities as labor commissioner: Getting workers the wages that are owed to them; clamping down on misclassification of employees as independent contractors; and putting a much greater emphasis on worker safety. These have all been problems under Berry.

Ferguson is a Baptist minister in Greensboro who has spent much of her life advocating for the poor. Among other roles, she was executive director of Palmetto Legal Services, representing South Carolina’s disadvantaged.

She said after reading a newspaper article in December, she researched what the state’s labor commissioner does and realized it was a good fit for her experience and passion. While that may be true, Meeker has significantly stronger experience and credentials for leading a major state department.


The GOP primary for Commissioner of Insurance features former Onslow County commissioner Joe McLaughlin, former insurance agent Mike Causey of Guilford County and Charlotte general contractor Ronald Pierce. The winner will face incumbent Democrat Wayne Goodwin.

We recommend McLaughlin, a retired Army infantry officer and financial and investment advisor whose work has given him a good “kitchen table” view of the impact our state’s insurance systems have on residents.

With eight years on the Onslow commission, he is the only candidate with previous experience in elected office. He appropriately views the commissioner’s position as an “honest broker” balancing the needs of consumers and insurance companies.

Causey, who is making his fifth try for the office, works with the state’s adopt-a-highway program. Pierce says he is running as part of a “war against the Department of Insurance” stemming from his 2014 arrest amidst accusations of insurance fraud. The charges were later dismissed.