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Pitt County races offer quality candidates, choices

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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Pitt County is fortunate to have a ballot full of fine candidates running for elected office on Tuesday. Women and men have put their names forth to produce contested races for almost every seat. The races offer contrasts in style, personality and direction.

The Daily Reflector has reported on the candidates since before the May primaries and has published numerous articles on them and the issues in the intervening months. Our staff has met most of the candidates personally in casual and formal settings. The overriding conclusion from the work is that each person is running in the name of service above all, and though they may have differing ideas on how to get there, their chief aim is to lift us all up rather than tear some of us down.

That is the good news in a seemingly endless stream of divisiveness that faces us daily. That said, there are still choices to make. Hopefully, the thousands of you expected vote on Tuesday have studied them thoroughly. Add the following insights to your body of work.

The race for Pitt County sheriff offers voters a chance to make history by electing Paula Dance to the county’s top law enforcement post. She would be the first African-American and the first woman to be sheriff here, and be among just a few black women to ever hold the office nationwide. That alone is not a reason to vote for her.

Both she and her opponent, Gary Weaver, are accomplished, professional and dedicated law enforcement officers who have served this county well for decades, Dance with the sheriff’s office and Weaver with the State Highway Patrol. The department will be in good hands whichever person is elected.

Current Sheriff Neil Elks has endorsed Dance and supported her candidacy from the beginning. Dance stands on the department’s performance under Elks, and a vote for her would be an endorsement of Elks’ tenure. Weaver says he can do better. A vote for him is a vote for change.

The race for district attorney has similar potential for change. Glenn Perry is a 30-year veteran of the office with impeccable credentials and trial experience at the state and federal levels. Faris Dixon is a former prosecutor who has the added experience of being a defense attorney. He is a man on a mission to “clean up” an office that he says fired him unjustly. If Perry wins, he should not dismiss all the concerns Dixon is raising. If Dixon wins, he will miss the knowhow of Perry and his team.

The third contested courthouse race pits a pair of bright, energetic and young attorneys, Jarrette Pittman and Daniel Hines Entzminger, against an equally bright and energetic attorney who also has the benefit of age and experience in Mario Perez. Voters who listen to these three speak will understand their compassion for people and their passion for the law. Perez has the backing of most of the county’s legal community. His opponents say it’s the people who count. Contrary to popular belief, lawyers are people, too, and they know a good judge when they see one.

County voters have choices in four General Assembly races. Depending on the district in which they live, they will be able choose between Greg Murphy and Kris Rixon for House 9, George Graham and Chris Humphrey in House 12 and Brenda Letchworth Smith and Kandie Smith in House 8. All county voters may choose between Don Davis and Kimberly Robb in the race for the Senate 5 seat.

Again, no candidate for these seats is unworthy, but voters must consider party when making their decision here. A vote for Murphy, Humphrey, Brenda Smith and Robb is an endorsement of Republican leadership. A vote for Rixon, Graham, Kandie Smith and Davis is a vote for change.

The leadership in the state legislature has delivered a lower income tax burden, cut expenditures and created a large budget surplus and rainy day fund. It also has conducted itself in a tight-fisted and highly partisan fashion. It has gerrymandered the state’s legislative districts to shut out opposition voices, maintain its control in Raleigh and bolster GOP ranks in Washington, D.C. It has been hostile to public education, local decision making, environmental regulation and progressive social views.

The Republican candidates have expressed willingness to part from the leadership — Robb has even stated support for an independent redistricting commission — but voters interested in change should be aware that it is extremely rare and difficult for party members to go against the grain. Voters who support the status quo should rest assured that success by Republican candidates will seal its continuation.

The other big state issue up for consideration is the six proposed constitutional amendments at the bottom of the ballot. Based on the numerous articles published about them in the Reflector over the last several weeks, we would offer this caution: the devil is in the details. Voters who haven’t done their homework on these initiatives may want to steer clear.

Pitt County’s two representatives to the U.S. Congress, Walter Jones of District 3 and G.K. Butterfield of District 1, are virtually assured victory. Republican Jones has no formal opposition; Durham businessman Roger Allison is challenging Butterfield but the district is drawn to favor the Democrat. The partisan nature of drawing districts must change to give voters a true choice in these races.

Two seats on the Pitt County Board of Commissioners are contested on Tuesday, with Benji Holloman and Alex Albright vying in District 4 and Richard Allsbrook and Christopher Nunnally running in District 3. The strength of all of these candidates makes choosing difficult. They all have experience in public service, they all want to see creative ways to expand investment in education and economic development, but none is eager to raise taxes. Their political party may offer voters some guidance, but any of these men will make a thoughtful commissioner.

Four seats on the Board of Education are contested. Three of the races feature strong incumbents, Robert Moore in District 1, Anna Barrett Smith in District 5 and Caroline Doherty in District 7. Each incumbent has served the board well, devoting untold hours to gain invaluable experience in the difficult inner workings of the county and state education system. The community would miss their leadership; votes against them will indicate a desire for change and perhaps a need to more carefully listen to concerns from their constituencies.

Lastly, it is good to see five candidates running for two seats on the Pitt Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. This election often requires a write-in vote to fill a seat. The interest demonstrates the growing concern about flooding, drainage and proper management of our land. Answers that four of the five provided to questionnaires distributed by the Reflector speak to their qualifications. Please visit reflector.com/election to read them and answers from candidates in all the other races to help guide your votes further.

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