The newly redrawn 12th Congressional District, which once snaked along Interstate 85 from Charlotte to Durham, offers June 7 primary voters some strong options – particularly on the Democratic side.
Democratic Rep. Alma Adams, a longtime Greensboro resident who first won the seat in 2014, is fighting for reelection in a district that now confined to Mecklenburg County. She leased an uptown Charlotte condo in April, but that hasn’t stopped challengers from suggesting she’s not the best choice to represent a region where she has few roots.
Adams, a retired art professor known for her colorful hats and feisty spirit, insists her residency isn’t a real issue. We don’t doubt her when she says she is working hard for Charlotte in the current 12th District (which still includes Greensboro), or when she points to successes lobbying for the Queen City on education and transit.
But given her deep ties to Greensboro, we’d prefer someone with a better grounding in Charlotte’s history, culture and neighborhoods. (We also rule out Winston-Salem resident Gardenia Henley and Greensboro-area resident Rick Miller on those and other grounds).
Adams’ lack of local ties are made especially glaring by the ballot presence of deep-rooted Mecklenburg leaders Tricia Cotham, Carla Cunningham and Malcolm Graham. (Rep. Rodney Moore has suspended his campaign). Cunningham, elected to the N.C. House in 2012, has the thinnest political resume of the remaining Mecklenburg natives.
That leaves Cotham and Graham as the two strongest options for voters. Both are smart, hard-working politicians with strong records of public service and legislative success in Mecklenburg. Cotham, a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Teacher of the Year, has served since 2007 in the House, where she is known as a strong advocate for public schools.
She has shown a gift for working across the aisle with Republicans, a useful skill in Congress.
Still, we give a slight edge to Malcolm Graham, who has served in public life longer and boasts a more varied political resume than Cotham. Both served in the General Assembly for about a decade, but Graham chaired Mecklenburg’s legislative delegation. As a former Charlotte City Council member and a member of the N.C. Senate, he has been in the thick of some of Charlotte’s biggest policy debates. Among them: development of the Blue Line, building the uptown arena, and the fight over control of Charlotte’s airport.
He has worked in the nonprofit world and the corporate world, helping to develop minority businesses. As an administrator at his alma mater, Johnson C. Smith University, he helped spearhead the school’s push to redevelop the West Trade Street corridor.
His path has taken him through west Charlotte neighborhoods, Bank of America board rooms and legislative halls. That’s the kind of deep, varied local experience necessary to represent our economically dynamic, socially diverse and fast-growing region.
The GOP faces a steep climb in the 12th District, where only 23 percent of registered voters are Republican. Those voters can choose from three GOP candidates who haven’t held public office, although two have tried. Leon Threatt, a pastor who lives in Matthews, finished a distant second in the 12th District GOP primary two years ago, and retired judge Paul Wright has lost U.S. House and Senate races, as well as the 2012 GOP primary for governor.
Wright, who lives 180 miles from Charlotte in Mount Olive, has not mounted a serious 12th District campaign.
The third candidate, Ryan Duffie, works in the financial industry in Charlotte, where he has lived since 2010.
Duffie is a tea party conservative who favors small government and wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
We don't agree with many of Duffie’s policy positions, including abolishing the Federal Reserve System and IRS.
But of the 12th District Republicans, he shows the most thorough and nuanced knowledge of issues the next House member will confront in Congress.