N.C. Senate, District 13
Voters in state Senate District 13–which covers Durham, Granville and parts of Wake and Person counties–have a chance to return two lawmakers who will work for more equitable state spending policies. Democratic incumbents Wib Gulley and Jeanne Lucas both support closing billion-dollar tax loopholes for corporations and creating a more progressive tax structure to fund critical unmet needs in education and human services.

Gulley, an attorney and former Durham mayor who has served in the Senate for eight years, is also one of the few voices in the General Assembly speaking up for meaningful campaign finance reform. He plans to keep working for a bill that would offer candidates public funds in exchange for limiting the amount they raise and spend on campaigns. In recent months Lucas, a former public-school teacher and administrator, has emerged as an advocate for reforming the state’s high-stakes testing program for public schools. She also wants more resources dedicated to closing the achievement gap between black and white students.

Challenger Sean Haugh, who is running on the Libertarian ticket, is thoughtful and passionate about key statewide issues. But on fiscal and environmental policy, his smaller-government ideology leads him astray. Republican Wallace Bradsher is anti-abortion, pro-voucher and fails to provide specific or original proposals.

N.C. House, District 23
The choices for three open seats in state House District 23 in Durham include two of the most progressive lawmakers in the General Assembly. Democratic incumbents Paul Luebke and H.M. “Mickey” Michaux are on the right side of all the key policy issues now facing the state, including tax reform, education reform, environmental protection and support for public universities.

Luebke, a sociology professor at UNC-Greensboro and 10-year member of the legislature, was appointed House Finance Committee chair last session–an important post from which to promote his goal of shifting state policies to benefit middle and lower-income citizens. He favors a single-payer health-care system and opposes a lottery. As a member of the legislative Black Caucus, attorney Michaux has been a critic of education spending priorities that leave the state’s historically black colleges behind. A veteran with nearly 11 terms in the House, he backs increases in the state’s abortion fund for low-income women and a restricted version of public funding for political campaigns.

Newcomer Paul Miller, a computer consultant and former Durham City Council member, opposes vouchers for public education and, like Michaux, wants to see more resources going to historically black universities. While on council, Miller was criticized for engineering a vote to delay a public referendum on reducing the size of the council as a way of scuttling the measure. Assuming he’ll leave such politicking behind, Miller will be a good addition to Durham’s legislative team on important issues facing the district.

On the Libertarian ticket, Ray Ubinger and Robert Dorsey share a desire to reduce government–seemingly at all costs. Dorsey’s proposal for dealing with the state budget shortfall is to “simply spend less.” Ubinger favors tax credits for private education over vouchers. His pet issue is repealing laws restricting write-in voting in North Carolina.

Board of Commissioners
The recent defeat of an ill-advised, fast-track plan for merging city and county governments in Durham owes much to the current leadership of the Durham County Board of Commissioners. With nine candidates vying for five open seats on the board, citizens have a chance to bolster that leadership by voting for current board chair Mary Ann E. Black and members Joe W. Bowser, Becky Heron and Ellen Reckhow. Unfortunately, Commissioner Bill Bell is stepping aside after 26 years on the board. But the remaining incumbents are all standouts in their own right.

Black, a social worker who’s been on the board for 10 years, has been a thoughtful, ethical chair and an effective advocate for Durham schools, libraries and human-service programs. Both Heron and Reckhow have been outspoken proponents of environmental protection and controlled growth. Since her election to the board in 1982, Heron has opposed raising taxes. But she’s willing to look at other options, including impact fees on developers. Reckhow, another longtime board member, is chair of a regional smart-growth committee and has good ideas about mass transit and preserving open space. Bowser, a retired railroad agent, doesn’t always come up with the most practical proposals. But he’s been a trusted voice for working-class Durham. All four incumbents support the concept of a city/county merger, but have made clear that an acceptable plan needs to stay within the confines of state law and be fully representative of all Durham citizens.

Of the newcomers, Democrat Philip R. Cousin Jr. is by far the strongest candidate. Cousin, who is pastor of St. Joseph AME Church and a member of the Durham School Board, brings a needed perspective to county government at a time when school issues top the list of public concerns. He wants to do more for the county’s have-nots, improve planning strategies and devote more resources to public-school teachers. Cousin’s election would preserve the African-American majority on the board of commissioners.Libertarian Pam Adams’ underlying concern is government downsizing–not a good starting point for addressing the complex problems facing Durham. While Republicans Robert Appleby and Thomas Stark offer good ideas on reining in growth and protecting the environment, they have other flaws that detract from their appeal. Appleby, a retiree and local GOP leader, doesn’t do a convincing job of showing how his ideas will translate into public policy. He supports creation of a charter school district and wants public-school students to be transported by the city bus system–a variation on the privatization theme. Attorney Stark would let developers off the hook when it comes to providing low-income housing, placing that burden on nonprofits instead. Several years ago, he opposed a ban on firing guns and hunting in densely populated county neighborhoods, calling the proposal “heavy-handed.” Another GOP candidate, Ricky Hart, failed to provide any information about his campaign or his positions on issues.