Second-term Congressman Robert Pittenger is surely displeased with his newly drawn U.S. House district.
Thanks to a judges’ order requiring new congressional boundaries, Pittenger’s 9th District is decidedly less conservative, with 45 percent of voters Democratic, up from 32 percent. It’s also decidedly less Mecklenburg, with Pittenger’s home county supplying only 25 percent of the population, behind Union County’s 27 percent.
But the 9th District’s moderate voters – including moderate Republicans – have just as much cause to gripe this year. The choices they have in the June 7 Republican primary are an unexceptional incumbent whose business dealings have alarmed investors and prompted an FBI investigation, a pastor in Mark Harris who for years has led the charge to deny equality to N.C. gays and lesbians, and a far-right conservative commissioner, Todd Johnson, who boasts about flouting First Amendment restrictions on secular prayer at public meetings.
Each of these candidates would be a poor choice to represent the newly diverse 9th District.
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One will face Democrat Christian Cano in November, however, so voters should know their options. In Pittenger, they might have the most pragmatic of the three. He has been a reliable conservative, but one who has strayed from the right if it accomplishes a greater good. That includes working to stop a 2013 federal government shutdown and voting for a budget that contained funding for Planned Parenthood. Both were the kind of reasonable, can’t-get-everything-we-want decisions that our representatives should make.
For the most part, however, Pittenger hasn’t made much of a mark in his two terms. Multiple outside rankings consider him an “average” Republican, and his most noteworthy headlines of late have involved an FBI investigation into his former land company and contributions it made to his campaign. That investigation is entering its second year.
Harris, meanwhile, has been a leader – but for the wrong cause. Beginning with North Carolina’s Amendment One, which banned same-sex marriage, Harris has been one of the most vocal supporters of the state’s efforts to discriminate against its LGBT citizens. He, like Pittenger and Johnson, also support the state’s anti-LGBT law, HB2.
Harris, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Charlotte, has no experience in public office. He thinks that’s an asset, not a liability, but inexperience coupled with a one-dimensional campaign is a risky notion for 9th District voters.
Mecklenburg residents might not be familiar with Johnson, who served one term as a Union County commissioner before deciding not to run for reelection. Johnson has been fiercely critical of Pittenger’s pragmatism, and he touts policies that include a moratorium on immigrants from the Middle East (excluding Israel), a Constitutional ban on abortion and abolishing the U.S. Department of Education.
Johnson is best known, perhaps, for bragging about beginning Union County Board of Commissioners meetings by invoking Jesus – despite court rulings that prohibit such prayers. That might play well with some voters, but it demonstrates a troubling selectivity with the Constitution. The 9th District deserves better.