Have you ever felt embarrassed over the past decade about North Carolina’s state government? Angry? Frustrated? Well, you have every right to be: There’s HB 2, the motorcycle abortion bill, the methodical destruction of our unemployment system and the social safety net for poor and working-class people in favor of tax giveaways to the wealthy, the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, the defunding of public education, the attacks on voting rights, the power grabs—we could go on until November 3 if you’d let us.

Blame the North Carolina GOP for this. Since 2011, right-wing Republicans—Phil Berger, Dan Forest, Thom Tillis, and Tillis’s successor, Tim Moore—have turned this state into a nightmare for vulnerable residents, which is saying a lot because it’s not like things were exactly great before. 

The reason they’ve been able to do this without fearing the repercussions too much, even in a swing state like this one, is gerrymandering. They started implementing it in 2011 and have repeatedly had to redraw our voting districts because of various court orders and agreements. This year brought yet another new set of maps. 

This election is the chance to change that. Republicans still have a built-in advantage, but if there’s enough of a wave, the Democrats could break the majority in one of two chambers of the state General Assembly. 

The Democratic Party in North Carolina is nowhere near as progressive as we’d like. For example, the HB 2 compromise from 2017 remains horrible, and there’s virtually no chance of even a unified government giving collective bargaining rights to public employees in North Carolina for the first time since the 1940s. 

But the Democrats have two things going for them: They’re backing an independent redistricting commission, and they are not North Carolina Republicans. 

We probably would have endorsed the vast majority of Democrats on this list either way. But the issue of gerrymandering rules above all else—every other issue rests on the ability of voters to cast ballots in fair districts, especially considering what’s at the top of the ticket this year. For that reason, we endorsed every Democrat running for the legislature in the Triangle. Wouldn’t it be nice to never hear from Phil Berger again? ­—PB

N.C. State Senate
State Senate District 14: Dan Blue (D)

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

Few in the legislature have accomplished as much as Minority Leader Dan Blue. He was the state’s first Black house speaker and has 35 years of service between the state’s two legislative bodies. In day-to-day dealings, Blue has proven a steady hand who can lead the underdog party with dignity in the face of sometimes-baffling Republican chicanery (remember when they tried to pull a surprise budget vote on 9/11?). His values—Medicaid expansion, Black Lives Matter, transparency in policing, and increasing investments in education—almost perfectly align with everything we stand for at the INDY

His opponent, Republican Alan David Michael, is a “Police Lives Matter” conservative who comes off as more than just a little unhinged on social media. Without hesitation, Blue gets our vote. —LT 

State Senate District 15: Jay Chaudhuri (D)

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

Since succeeding Attorney General Josh Stein in this Wake state Senate seat, Chaudhuri has been an impressive legislator who has quickly risen in the ranks of party leadership, serving as the number-two Democrat behind Dan Blue. Aside from all of the mainstream Democratic positions in North Carolina, Chaudhuri has been a forceful voice for net neutrality and making it easier to vote during the pandemic. 

His opponent, Republican Mario Lomuscio, is a package-delivery courier, the kind of job experience you’d like to see more of in representative government. But he’s also anti-choice, anti-tax, and anti-public education. Give Chaudhuri your vote. —PB

State Senate District 16: Wiley Nickel (D)

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

Wiley Nickel’s résumé includes working for President Barack Obama in the White House and as a staffer for Vice President Al Gore, but that’s not what impresses us most about him. It’s that he’s proven to be a responsive and stalwart representative who is as attuned to local issues as he is to Capitol Hill. An added bonus: He’s helped draft legislation to expand Medicaid and increase penalties for hate crimes.

Challenging Nickel is Will Marsh, a self-described “common-sense conservative” whose campaign focuses on lowering taxes instead of investing in education or health-care reform. No thanks. Nickel gets our backing. —LT

State Senate District 17: Sam Searcy (D)

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

Since ousting Republican Tamara Barringer in 2018, Sam Searcy—a vodka distiller turned politician—has fought to expand Medicaid and increase school funding. If given a second term, he’d focus on helping small businesses recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic and expanding the state’s unemployment insurance program. 

Running against Searcy is Republican Mark Cavaliero, an anti-abortion former Marine who thinks the free market will solve the state’s health-care affordability gap, as well as Travis Groo, a little-known Libertarian whose website boasts empty rhetoric like “people not politics.” Searcy is the obvious choice here, folks. —LT

State Senate District 18: Sarah Crawford (D)

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

This seat, currently held by centrist conservative John Alexander, is the final Republican holdout in an increasingly blue Wake County. Alexander opted not to run for re-election, saying he wanted to spend more time with his grandkids, but maybe he also saw the writing on the wall.

Hoping to finally claim the seat, Democrats have rallied behind Sarah Crawford, who raked in nearly three-quarters of the vote over her primary opponent, Angela Bridgman. Crawford wants to increase teacher pay, expand Medicaid, prioritize clean energy, and invest in rural communities.

Opposing Crawford is Republican attorney Larry Norman, a boilerplate conservative with a vague platform advocating for small government and school choice. Also on the ballot is Jason Loeback, a Libertarian real-estate agent whose campaign is basically nonexistent. We choose Crawford. —LT

State Senate District 20: Natalie Murdock (D)

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

Natalie Murdock was tapped by Governor Roy Cooper to fill the vacant seat in North Carolina’s 20th state Senate district in early April, shortly after she won a three-way Democratic primary race and just as COVID-19 really started getting gnarly. In her time in office, the former Durham County Soil and Water Conservation district supervisor has made coronavirus recovery one of her chief focuses. She sponsored bills that would provide PPE for working prison inmates and grant emergency funding for state arts organizations. She was also one of the primary sponsors of the COVID-19 Recovery Act. 

Murdock has introduced bills meant to help small-scale landlords at a time when outside hedge funds are snapping up Durham’s real estate, allow Medicaid to pay for pregnant women to enlist the services of doulas, and establish a task force to advance the wellbeing of Black women and girls. Murdock also wants to increase public school funding and decriminalize marijuana. Her Republican opponent is John Tarantino, a perennial candidate and local conservative troubadour (for real). He’s not worth taking seriously, but Natalie Murdock very much is. —DM

State Senate District 22: Mike Woodard (D)

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

Mike Woodard recently sat in on our virtual Public Newsroom event, and we were impressed by his perspective, intelligence, and command of the issues—especially when we put him on the spot. His impromptu performance was a testament to the power of institutional knowledge, which Woodard has accumulated over seven years serving in the state Senate as well as in the eight years he spent on the Durham City Council. If re-elected, Woodard says he plans to fight to restore Earned Income Tax Credits for the working class, un-gerrymander our district maps, strengthen the public education system, expand Medicaid, and fund state infrastructure projects. 

He’s been accused of using harsh language in the workplace (he denies the accusation, which remains unsubstantiated); however, his opponent, former Durham County Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Padgett, has used social media to compare Democrats to Nazis, rail against the “atheist mainstream news media,” and call the Black Lives Matter movement a terrorist organization. So, uh, Woodard it is! —DM

State Senate District 23: Valerie Foushee (D)

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

In her seven years representing District 23, Valerie Foushee has brought strong leadership and a valuable perspective to the North Carolina state Senate. A former Chapel Hill Police Department administrator and Orange County School Board member, Foushee brings an insider’s perspective to the problems that ail our public institutions and smart solutions for how they can be fixed. In the most recent legislative session, Foushee introduced bills that would have made it easier to remove Confederate monuments, legalized possession of up to four ounces of marijuana for personal use, increased the quality of health care for the incarcerated, modernized drug court, and made it harder for employers to commit wage theft. 

Foushee, who is Black, views marijuana decriminalization as a racial-justice issue and has spoken out about applying the same all-hands-on-deck mentality that the state government has used to contain coronavirus towards combating systemic racism. We need more Democrats like her in the state Senate. 

Foushee’s opponent, gadfly Republican candidate Tom Glendinning, recently shared a video on Facebook claiming anti-racism is a communist plot. But in 2020, the real Red Scare is the idea that Republicans retain their majority in the state Senate, which is yet another reason why you should vote to keep Valerie Foushee in Raleigh. —DM

N.C. State House
State House District 11: Allison Dahle (D)

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

In June, a revision to a bill landed on the desk of state Representative Allison Dahle. It was after midnight, and the bill was twice as long as the previous revision. There was no time to comb through the nuances of the bill before the vote. 

So she voted no. Out of 101 legislators, she was the only one. “Midnight is no time to govern,” Dahle told the Winston-Salem Journal at the time. 

Days later the bill would go on to gain infamy for inadvertently restricting access to death investigation reports to individuals killed in police custody. The embarrassing snafu was quickly cleaned up by a veto from Governor Roy Cooper.

To go against one’s party and vote on principle is a rare thing in politics. Dahle, a 56-year-old LGBTQ incumbent rounding out her first time in the legislature, isn’t afraid to do that. For that, she wins our endorsement easily over Clark Pope, a Republican engineer with a platform so vague it’s hard to tell what he stands for other than “civility” and “freedom.” No thanks. —LT

State House District 29: Vernetta Alston (D)

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

Just because Vernetta Alston is running unopposed for her seat in the North Carolina House doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be excited to vote for her. Before Governor Cooper appointed the Durham native to take the state House seat this spring, Alston served on the Durham City Council, where she fought for affordable housing, police reform, and a living wage for city employees; stood up to anti-LGBTQ discrimination against her and Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson; and helped establish the city’s participatory budgeting program. 

Before entering public office, she worked as an attorney with the North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation, where she served on the front lines of the racial-justice movement. With the NCCDPL, Alston served as part of the team that won an exoneration for Henry McCollum, who spent 30 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, and she helped secure a life sentence rather than the death penalty for Nathan Holden. It takes conviction and character to lead the career Alston has, and we’re proud that she’ll be representing District 29. —DM

State House District 30: Marcia Morey (D)

As a legislator, Marica Morey has leaned on her experience as a judge to promote common-sense criminal-justice reform. Before being appointed to the state House of Representatives in 2017, Morey served as a district court judge for nearly two decades, where she worked with law enforcement to help divert teenagers charged with crimes from the school-to-prison pipeline. The 65-year-old is also one of only a handful of openly LGBTQ members of the state legislature and has been a vocal advocate for women’s rights.

 Her opponent is a little-known Libertarian named Gavin Bell who has raised almost no money in his bid to unseat Morey. We couldn’t find out much more about him. 

Morey is the easy choice. —LT

Zack Forde-Hawkins (D)

Zack Forde-Hawkins had never held political office when he first campaigned for the seat in 2018. But he won by a landslide after being the chosen successor to Mickey Michaux, who moved to the state Senate before resigning earlier this year. As a rookie legislator, Forde-Hawkins hit the ground running, helping to pen a bill that would have allowed state employees to collectively bargain (it failed, of course, thanks to the GOP). 

He’s challenged by Sean Haugh, a Libertarian who wants to pursue reparations for victims of the War on Drugs, which sounds great but realistically isn’t our top priority. We pick Hawkins. —LT

State House District 33: Rosa Gill (D)

Rosa Gill is a retired teacher who has effectively used her seat to advocate for schools since 2009. In the primary, we endorsed her opponent, Antoine Marshall, because Gill responded to our survey that she does not believe transgender individuals should receive coverage for gender dysphoria under the state health plan. While that view is backward and gave Marshall an edge in our estimation, voters opted to stick with Gill. 

She’s up against Sammie Brooks, a Libertarian bartender who supports charter schools and wants to abolish the ABC system, and Frann Sarpolus, a Republican who likes to tweet Bible verses and prayers for President Donald Trump. We’ll stick with Gill this time, too. —LT

State House District 34: Grier Martin (D)

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

Like Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham, Grier Martin is a veteran who in the past has been a top recruiting target for national Democrats. But rather than shooting for higher office, Martin has spent the last 15 years as a hardworking liberal legislator except for the few months he briefly stepped aside for Deborah Ross when they were lumped together into the same legislative district in 2011. Roland L. Smith, his Republican opponent, has a scant campaign presence but told Ballotpedia he’d focus on issues like education and funding, while Libertarian candidate and Duke economist Mike Munger is running on abolishing the ABC Boards. Martin should coast to re-election, and he deserves to. —PB

State House District 35: Terence Everitt (D)

The District 35 seat in the North Carolina House is a rarity for the state: a genuine swing seat. Right now, it’s held by Terence Everitt, a Democrat of Wake County who’s also a lawyer focused on small businesses. We endorsed Everitt in 2018, in part because of his promises to fight for the public education system. And you know what? After he beat incumbent Chris Malone, that’s exactly what he did. In his time in the state House, he’s put his name on countless bills that would expand funding for teachers, students, and non-teacher faculty. He’s also endorsed bills meant to combat systemic racism, increase the state’s COVID-19 response, and establish fairly drawn legislative districts. On top of that, he’s got the endorsement of Barack Obama himself. Everitt is, in a word, solid. —DM

State House District 36: Julie Von Haefen (D)

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

After narrowly wrenching this seat from Republican Nelson Dollar in 2018 and effectively driving the Wake County Republican Party to extinction, Julie Von Haefen has proven herself a strong advocate for public education. 

Von Haefen is an attorney who has served as president of the Wake County PTA. She’s pro-choice and supports expanding Medicaid. Against her is Republican challenger Kim Coley, a pro-lifer who opposes raising the minimum wage and Medicaid expansion. Von Haefen is poised to handily defeat her, and we hope she does. —LT

Sydney Batch (D)

We’re going to call it: No one in the North Carolina General Assembly is tougher or more dedicated than Sydney Batch. During the middle of her 2018 campaign, Batch was diagnosed with breast cancer. In spite of that, she went on to narrowly defeat incumbent Representative John Adcock and help the Democrats break the GOP’s stranglehold on the legislature. 

The following May, Batch announced she was taking a leave after undergoing a mastectomy. But around the same time, the GOP was playing a dumb cat-and-mouse game by trying to ram through a “born alive” abortion bill over Governor Roy Cooper’s veto. So Batch kept showing up to work every day for weeks to make sure she was there to vote down the GOP’s veto override. She told The Intercept she was “willing to suffer through the physical and temporary pain in order to make sure that women have that right in the future and that it’s not just because I couldn’t get in that day to vote.”

Batch’s chief opposition is Erin Pare, a right-winger who co-owns Play It Again Sports in Holly Springs. She backs local police coordination with ICE and opposes Medicaid expansion, so this is easy; Vote for Batch. —PB

State House District 38: Abe Jones (D)

Longtime Representative Yvonne Lewis Holley left the House in order to run for lieutenant governor and endorsed Jones to replace her. Jones is a 68-year-old veteran figure in the Raleigh legal scene with a resume that includes 17 years on the Wake County Superior Court. Jones won’t shake up the status quo too much, but as we noted in our endorsement during the primary, Jones supports gender equality and gun-safety measures. 

Jones’s opponent, health-care project manager Ken Bagnal, ran against Holley in 2018 and got just 16 percent of the vote, so Jones shouldn’t have much trouble here. Vote for him anyway. —PB

State House District 39: Darren Jackson (D)

Darren Jackson, the Democratic House leader and a top candidate for Speaker should the Democrats win a House majority, is running unopposed for his seventh term in the state House of Representatives. Jackson’s platform is by-the-numbers North Carolina Democrat: expanding Medicaid, raising teacher pay, and funding education and other public programs that have fallen by the wayside in the past decade as the GOP has pursued an agenda of tax cuts, austerity, and deregulation. 

But Jackson’s success in November will be judged by one thing alone—whether or not the Democrats can win control of at least one chamber and put the brakes on another set of gerrymandered GOP maps. If they can, Jackson will be a leading candidate for House Speaker. If not, well, we’re in for a long decade. —PB

State House District 40: Joe John (D)

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

With Joe John, what you see is what you get. The two-term incumbent spent more than 25 years as a North Carolina judge, after which he became a Deputy Commissioner of the state DMV. In 2010, he was picked by then-Attorney General Roy Cooper to enact badly needed reforms to the North Carolina Crime Laboratory. Under John’s watch, the agency introduced standards for transparency and requirements for outside accreditation of laboratories. 

He’s by no means a radical, but when it comes to the judiciary branch and the criminal justice system, he’s a reformer. In the state House, he’s helped bring humanities education to the incarcerated, modernize the filing process of civil lawsuits, and has tried to make legislative sessions more accessible to people with disabilities. Joe John wants a transparent and non-partisan legal system, less harsh penalties for juveniles, and to make it easier to get your mugshot removed from the internet. 

While his opponent, Republican Gerald Falzon, has a compelling personal narrative—he’s a first-generation immigrant and a graduate of West Point who speaks three languages—his opposition to abortion and public school funding, as well as the disconcertingly Trump-y rhetoric found throughout his website and social media presences, makes him a non-starter for us. —DM

State House District 41: Gale Adcock (D)

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

Since 2015, Gale Adcock has been a strong progressive voice in the legislature, pushing for increases in teacher pay and the expansion of Medicaid. The nurse practitioner and former chief health officer at SAS understands firsthand the barriers North Carolinians face getting affordable health care and combating substance abuse and mental illness. As a representative, she’s shown she can work across the aisle and has sponsored dozens of bipartisan initiatives. 

Running against her is Republican Scott Populorum, a pro-lifer Second Amendment nut, and Libertarian Guy Meilleur, who describes himself as “Master arborist, researcher, and expert witness”—whatever that means. This district is safely blue, and we believe Adcock is the person to represent it for another term. —LT

State House District 49: Cynthia Ball (D)

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

Representative Cynthia Ball is seeking her third term, and this is the third different variation of the 49th District she’s run in. This time, Ball has picked up a few more precincts in Raleigh, and she shouldn’t have much issue defending it again this time around. She’s been a strong legislator, particularly on issues like school funding and the need for independent redistricting. In her response to our questionnaire, said she supports a $15 minimum wage. Republican David Robertson talked a lot about infrastructure in his run two years ago, but the choice here is decidedly easy; vote for Cynthia Ball. —PB

State House District 50: Graig Meyer (D)

Graig Meyer, who represents both Orange and Caswell counties, is running unopposed. He’s a rising star in the House Democratic caucus, due in no small part to his advocacy for voting rights and against gerrymandering. A social worker, Meyer is also a progressive on issues like civil rights, health care, and public education funding, and helped lead the party’s grassroots voter mobilization effort and candidate recruitment when Democrats broke the supermajority in 2018. He’s an easy choice for re-election as well as  a potential leader in the caucus and a candidate for higher office in the coming years. —PB

Robert Reives (D)

You know how craft beer is everywhere—literally everywhere—these days? Robert Reives helped make that happen. He was one of the primary sponsors of last year’s Craft Beer Modernization Act, which allowed midsize breweries to act as their own distributors, passing along the savings to you. He’s also made legislative strides towards green energy, fairer legislative districts, and protection from predatory contracts. A former assistant district attorney in North Carolina, Reives is an important voice in the state legislature—he’s the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House and has served as part of the leadership of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus. 

Donald Trump’s presidency has been a disaster for a lot of reasons, chief among them being that he’s emboldened white supremacists and defended their actions. Trickle-down economics might not work, but trickle-down politics sure as hell do, and Republicans in Raleigh have followed Trump’s lead both rhetorically and legislatively. We need strong Black leadership in the state House, and that’s just what Reives offers.

Meanwhile, his opponent, George Gilson Jr., is a Trump-’n’-guns guy who posts conspiracy theories about mail-in ballots on his official Facebook page. The choice is clear; raise a pint for Robert Reives. —DM

State House District 56: Verla Insko (D)

Verla Insko is one of the longest-serving and most progressive Democrats in the House, with a sterling track record on issues like universal health care, education, and civil rights; along with Meyer, she co-authored a bill in the last session to remove the Silent Sam statue. She’s running unopposed this year, but she’d get our vote anyway. —PB

NOTE: We incorrectly identified Chris Malone as the Republican candidate in the NC House 35th District race a: It’s Fred Von Canon. We greatly regret the error. 

Follow Raleigh News Editor Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to ltauss@indyweek.com. Follow freelance writer Paul Blest on Twitter or send an email to prjblest@gmail.com. Follow INDY Daily writer Drew Millard on Twitter or send an email to dmillard@indyweek.com.

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.