House District 41: Democratic primary Last summer, Chris Mintz described himself as “a conservative Republican.” That’s when he was president of the Wake Republican Men’s Club and hoped to be the GOP candidate for this seat in the event the incumbent, Republican J. Russell Capps, retired. But Capps, perhaps unwilling to see Mintz succeed him, unexpectedly announced he was running again. At which point Mintz, in December, switched parties and declared himself “a moderate Democrat.”

Not so fast.

It’s not for us to say whether Mintz, an investment manager, is telling the truth now when he says he was “always” pro-choice and “always” against amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage. But if he is, he was masquerading as something else entirely when he put himself on the record in June as supporting such anti-choice groups as the N.C. Family Policy Council, and when he sought backing from the rabidly anti-choice, anti-gay religious group Called2Action. And if he wasn’t masquerading then, back when he was a Republican courting favor with Russell Capps’ right-wing supporters, he’s masquerading now.

In either event, he shouldn’t be taken seriously as a Democratic candidate until he’s done something as a Democrat other than just say he’s one. Indeed, at 31, he hadn’t done all that much as a Republican. As a civic participant of any stripe–leader, volunteer, anything–his record is remarkably bare, even to the point of not voting. (Though he’s lived his whole life in North Carolina–most of it in Wake County–State Board of Elections records show that he’s only voted in one election, in 2005. Mintz says he’s voted frequently and can’t explain why SBOE records don’t reflect it.) In short, Mintz is way ahead of himself thinking this office should be his.

It’s unfortunate that we’re forced to dismiss Mintz before stating our strong endorsement of Ty Harrell. But given that Mintz was able to loan himself $100,000 for his campaign and mail glowing portraits of himself to Democrats who’d never heard of either candidate, that’s the reality of this primary. Harrell, a 36-year-old development officer (fund-raiser) for Duke University, comes across as a thoroughly mainstream Democrat: for higher teachers’ pay; for “greater access to health-care coverage for children and seniors”; for reducing the tax burden on the less well off by “closing tax loopholes” on corporations and the rich. Nothing remarkable here.

What is remarkable is Harrell’s obvious intelligence and personal appeal–he’s good on his feet and blessed with an easy smile. What’s more, Harrell has paid his dues as a Democrat, working as a fund-raiser for a host of candidates from Erskine Bowles to Bill Clinton. Because of that, he claims an army of volunteers out knocking on doors and calling the voters as the primary draws closer. Given the vast territory this district covers–in North Raleigh, northern Cary and Morrisville–he’ll need an army to cover it and offset Mintz’s money. The winner will face Capps in the fall. If it’s Harrell, we’ll know he’s not just masquerading when he says Capps is “an utter embarrassment.”

House District 38:
Democratic primary

Incumbent Rep. Deborah K. Ross is a smart, talented leader, though we wish she hadn’t supplied the crucial vote in favor of a state lottery. Demian Dellinger, who was no factor anyway, has withdrawn as a candidate, though too late to get his name off the ballot.

House District 40: Republican primary

Incumbent Rick Eddins is a conservative who probably wishes we weren’t endorsing him. But he’s under attack by right-wing moneybags Art Pope, who’s armed with the Pope family fortune, for having consorted with Republican Rep. Richard Morgan, sometime ally of Democratic Speaker Jim Black. Marilyn Avila, Eddins’ opponent, is a former Wake County Republican Chair who works at the Pope-funded John Locke Foundation. The Popes have too much influence as it is.

Wake County Commissioners District 3: Republican primary

We understood Tony Gurley, when he first ran for county office four years ago, to be one of those anti-everything conservatives–you know, like his running mate, Phil Jeffreys, turned out to be. Instead, Gurley is a Chamber of Commerce conservative–sparing with the tax money for such things as good schools or mental-health services, but willing to support the new downtown Raleigh Convention Center. Dubbed a “moderate” by an N&O profiler, he was quick to say he’s just “practical.” Gurley is now serving as commission chair. He and his fellow “practical” Republicans (not including Jeffreys) have a big problem ahead of them this year, as they grapple with the huge backlog of school-construction and other needs that their parsimonious GOP predecessors created. Will the Republican majority do its duty this time, or duck once again with an inadequate bond package? In the GOP primary, however, Gurley’s opponent is little-known computer programmer Michael J. Luther, who says there is no school-construction issue.

Wake County Clerk of Superior Court: Democratic primary

The winner will face Republican incumbent Janet Pueschel, about whom questions have been raised regarding her management style and the apparent high turnover rate of her employees. The clerk’s staff numbers some 120, whose job it is to keep the files in order and the service customer-friendly for the citizens and courthouse folks who depend on it. We’re confident that either of the two Democratic candidates would do the job well. Both are well known, and well liked, in the bar and in the community. But we recommend a vote for Nancy (Lorrin) Freeman over Mark Perry for a couple of reasons. Freeman, though younger (she’s 35, he’s 47), has a stronger record of public service thus far, as an assistant district attorney and now assistant attorney general in the N.C. Department of Justice. And Freeman earned universal praise for her recent stint (2003-05) as chair of the Wake County Democratic party, making it user-friendly for its many and varied factions while attracting much-needed new blood. The clerk’s office isn’t political, but as long as we elect its leader, it would make no sense to hold her short, successful tenure as a political leader against her. And there’s little question that because of it, she’d be the stronger candidate against Pueschel. We endorsed Mark Perry four years ago in the Democratic primary, and in the election. It’s a close call, but we think Freeman merits a shot this time.