Wednesday, November 03, 2010

CAMPAIGN TRAIL UPDATE: GOP carries the day in Wrightsville

By Marimar McNaughton Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The GOP carried the day in Wrightsville Beach as the poll closed at the Fran Russ Recreation Center with U. S. congressional challenger Ilario Pantano scoring 424 votes against incumbent six-term Congressman Mike McIntyre with 335 votes.

In the state Senate District 7 seat, former UNCW chancellor Jim Leutze trailed attorney Thom Goolsby 309 to 443.

In the county’s hottest races for two commissioner seats and the office of sheriff, Republicans Rick Catlin, Wrightsville Beach resident won 573 votes, Brian Berger earned 392. Trailing were Democrats, Deb Butler with 220 votes and Sid Causey, former New Hanover County Sheriff with 229.

In the sheriff’s race, incumbent Ed McMahon won the Wrightsville precinct with 392 votes and challenger Marc Benson, former Wrightsville Beach Police Department Reserve Officer trailed with 330 votes.

With two minutes left until closing 787 residents had cast their votes.

McIntyre re-elected to Congress; Pantano concedes from 7th District race

By Michelle Saxton
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Ilario Pantano comforts supporters at the Blockade Runner after being defeated by Mike McIntyre on Tuesday, Nov.2.
Incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre will continue serving in Congress, as his Republican challenger, Ilario Pantano, conceded from the race late Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Pantano announced his concession from the District 7 race at the Blockade Runner in Wrightsville Beach.

Of the 10 counties included in the district, McIntyre had been leading in seven, according to results posted before 10:30 p.m. by the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Pantano had been winning in Brunswick, Pender and Sampson counties, the board’s map showed.

A New York native and veteran who served in the Gulf and Iraq wars, Pantano chose to stay in southeastern North Carolina and raise his family here after being assigned to Camp Lejeune with the U.S. Marine Corps.

McIntyre grew up in Lumberton, N.C., and has served in Congress since 1996.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL UPDATE: Republicans rule county's election night

By Patricia E. Matson
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sheriff Ed McMahon receives a warm welcome at the New Hanover County Government Center Tuesday night, Nov. 2.

Rick Catlin, candidate for New Hanover County Commissioner,
watches for results at the New Hanover County Government
Center Tuesday night, Nov. 2.

Rick Catlin, candidate for New Hanover County Commissioner, watches for results at the New Hanover County Government Center Tuesday night, Nov. 2.

Sheriff Ed McMahon receives a warm welcome at the New Hanover County Government Center Tuesday night, Nov. 2.

With 31 out of 46 precincts reporting in by 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, Republicans were maintaining comfortable leads in most New Hanover County races. The Grand Old Party swept the school board slate as well as the county commissioners. The exception was the sheriff's election, where Democratic incumbent Ed McMahon kept his office despite a challenge from Marc Benson.

Rick Catlin had more than 30,000 votes and Brian Berger had topped 25,000, and Democrats Deborah Butler and Sid Causey had little more than 20,000 each. Catlin and Berger will join Republicans Jason Thompson and Ted Davis and Democrat Jonathan Barfield on the board of commissioners, maintaining the current 4-1 majority there.

The school board actually became more Republican than before; incumbent Nick Rhodes was the top Democrat at 21,614, and all three incumbent Republicans, Janice Cavenaugh, Ed Higgins and Don Hayes, plus newcomer Derrick Hickey, were all in the high 20,000s.

The winners will join Democrats Dorothy DeShields and Elizabeth Redenbaugh and Republican Jeanette Nichols, bringing the majority there up to 5-2.

"It's a bad night to be a Democrat," said Causey as he watched the early returns. He wished the winners well as he left later.

Butler agreed that it was all about the party, since she thought her campaign had done as good a job as any other.

Berger was not ready to declare victory yet, but he said he was looking forward to taking a break from campaigning to be able to catch up with the rest of his life.

Catlin said one of the first things he planned to do was look into the performance of the board of elections and find out why there were problems with the ballots and why the tallying took so long.

Commissioners chairman Jason Thompson, a Republican, and Jonathan Barfield, a Democrat, neither of whom was running, both agreed that on their board, it's not about the party it's about relationships and moving the county forward.

The Republican school board candidates did not appear to be viewing results with the crowd outside the board of elections. The losing Democrats had plenty to say, though.

Nick Rhodes blamed straight-party voting.

Clancy Thompson said the community was ignoring sustainable values, and the nation would keep slipping until it could address this issue.

"It doesn't mean we'll stop... This just gets me more fired up," he said.

Phil Stine said that voters were moving backwards and the votes showed the county didn't care about strategic thinking or fiscal management.

"I am disappointed in the lack of forward thinking," he concluded.

Sheriff Ed McMahon said he was humbled and grateful for his victory, and he gave God the glory and the credit.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL UPDATE: Goolsby takes legislative seat

By Michelle Saxton
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Republican Thom Goolsby is heading to the state Senate after defeating Democrat Jim Leutze for the 9th District seat left open by Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover. Boseman chose not to run for a fourth term.

Goolsby, a Wilmington attorney, led the race with more than 57 percent of the votes with 41 of the 43 precincts reporting, according to the New Hanover County Board of Elections’ website.

Leutze is the former chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

“We’ve got a lot of work before us,” Goolsby said by telephone Tuesday night. “The people have spoken, and they want government off their backs and out of their wallets and pocketbooks, and that’s what we’re going to deliver to them.”

Goolsby had spent the Election Day evening with supporters, including family, at the Slainte Irish Pub downtown.

“People are just ready for real conservative change they can count on,” Goolsby said.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

McIntyre, Pantano down to the wire

By Michelle Saxton
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mike McIntyre
Staff photo by Allison Breiner Potter

Ilario Pantano
Staff photo by Joshua Curry

One has grown up in North Carolina, the other chose to live here, but both Congressional candidates for the 7th District call it home and say they will fight for issues that concern local residents, including beach renourishment.

But incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre and his Republican challenger, Ilario Pantano, have different views on how to continue funding projects to replenish eroding coastlines.

Congressional challenger Ilario Pantano mingles with members of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes at a luncheon on Monday, Sept. 20.

Pantano vowed to try changing the way beach renourishment is funded, saying it’s ad hoc, lumped with pork projects that lead to competition among states and representatives across the country.

"I want to reform the overall process," Pantano said Monday, Oct. 25. "I want to make sure that we’re looking at this as a 10-year cycle."

New freshmen representatives coming to Congress, Pantano said, will want to conduct business in a new and better way.

"Earmarking is going to be going away in one form or another, hopefully, if we’re going to reform our budgetary house," Pantano said. "That’s going to demand . . . that we have an alternative funding mechanism to make sure that we can protect our coasts."

Federal earmarks here or there do not allow county or state planners a real sense of how they need to match funds, Pantano argued.

"When the local governments don’t know when the next shoe is going to drop or when the next check is going to show up from the federal government, that makes it hard to do their work," Pantano said. "I want to see an overhaul of the way that the system is actually funded and implemented."

McIntyre said it was impossible for a freshman congressman to change the system of appropriations funding, and he added that beach renourishment cycles are planned for as many as 50 years out.

Congressman Mike McIntyre speaks to his constituents aboard the Battleship North Carolina following a ceremony on Oct. 12.

"So when he talks about (a) 10-year plan, you need a 50-year plan," McIntyre said Monday, Oct. 25. "That is what we have done."

A decades-long renourishment plan for Carolina Beach, for instance, is approaching its conclusion in 2014. McIntyre said he has already filed legislation to extend and renew it.

Other renourishment plans for different areas are in various stages of their cycles, including Wrightsville Beach, McIntyre said.

"You’ve got to have an understanding of what phase those plans are in," McIntyre said. "That’s why in the annual appropriations process you have to fight for the funding to come through."

An earmark for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project like beach renourishment is different than other earmarks, Caswell Beach Mayor Harry Simmons, president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, said Monday, Oct. 25. The project goes through a benefit cost analysis and an environmental impact study, he added.

The Corps district in Wilmington has four federally authorized beach renourishment projects for Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, Kure Beach and Ocean Isle Beach, Simmons said, adding later that all four were included in the last 2010 appropriations cycle.

Simmons said he would love to have a beach renourishment trust fund paid for through regular, sustainable funding, but he said sometimes such funds get robbed to balance the budget.

"The system we have is as good as we’re going to get for the time being," Simmons said, adding that he did not see much chance of it changing, primarily because it is so ingrained nationally.

"As far as congressional districts go around the country, Mike McIntyre’s district has gotten as much of the pie as it’s supposed to get, and in some cases more," Simmons said. "We all have to fight for a pie that OMB (federal Office of Management and Budget) and Congress decide is going to be a certain size."

But Pantano questioned why Illinois got more money for beach renourishment for a lake than North Carolina did for its "Hurricane Alley" coast.

"The political machine we all know is broken," Pantano said.

"To compare Illinois to North Carolina is ridiculous," McIntyre said. "He’s not comparing apples to apples." McIntyre added that he represents only three counties on the North Carolina coast.

McIntyre said he has received several awards in fighting for beaches and waterways, including the Admiral’s Circle Award from the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Congressional Boating Caucus.

Both candidates have criticized the other during the campaign, generally in regard to change versus experience or frustration with big government versus an understanding of local issues.

Pantano said he has focused on national economic issues because he believes that is what drives the local economy, including contractor work and the real estate market.

New Hanover County’s beaches account not just for tourism but also are the underpinning of a tremendous real estate investment that leaps when the national economy does well, Pantano said.

"Very few districts in the country rise or fall more profoundly as a result of our national fortune," Pantano said. "We are the suburb of two of the largest military bases on the East Coast. Are we not directly impacted by a national security policy? Of course we are."

Pantano added that the area is affected by national trade policy with the Port of Wilmington.

A New York native and veteran who served in the Gulf and Iraq wars, Pantano chose to stay in southeastern North Carolina and raise his family here after being assigned to Camp Lejeune with the U.S. Marine Corps.

McIntyre, who grew up in Lumberton, N.C., and has served in Congress since 1996, chairs the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Specialty Crops, Rural Development and Foreign Agriculture, including biotechnology, and he is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. He is one of the founding co-chairmen of the Special Operations Forces Caucus. McIntyre is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative Democrats, where he co-chairs the Coalition’s Task Force on Business and Technology.

He has criticized Pantano for a remark he said Pantano had made that it does not matter what district he represents because he would represent the United States if elected.

To fight on a national level, you first have to understand what is good for your beaches, farmers, the local economy in regard to trade agreements and other local issues, McIntyre said.

"Constitutionally we are sworn to represent the people of our district and state, and it does make a difference," McIntyre said. "Otherwise the next time somebody has a local problem—keeping their veterans’ benefits, or someone has a problem on our local beaches when a hurricane strikes, or next time some of our farmers have a concern—then call the congressman in Idaho and see what kind of response you get."

Growing 9th District economies

By Michelle Saxton
Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Hanover County’s great quality of life must remain a priority for the area to grow and attract jobs in the future, North Carolina’s 9th District state Senate candidates say.

"The quality of place in New Hanover County is something that brings lots of people here, and we want to make sure that we maintain that," Republican Thom Goolsby said Monday, Oct. 25. "There’s all sorts of ways to grow jobs, good jobs, jobs that require intellectual capital, clean jobs."

Goolsby wants to reduce state taxes and state spending to encourage businesses to come here.

"Where the state falls down on the job is over taxation and overspending at the state level," Goolsby said. "The private sector creates jobs, not the government."

The future lies with a balance of green businesses, clean businesses, entrepreneurial activity, tourism, cultural activity, intellectual activity and a retirement center, Democrat Jim Leutze said Friday, Oct. 22.

"We have to have a mixed economy here," Leutze said. "We need to be very careful that we do not do things that will destroy or make more difficult our being a cultural, intellectual, clean jobs center."

Goolsby and Leutze are running for the seat left open by Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover, who chose not to run for a fourth term.

Neither candidate supported the plan for Titan America’s proposed cement plant at Castle Hayne and the Northeast Cape Fear River.

"The state Senate doesn’t support or not support businesses coming," Leutze said. "I would prefer not to have Titan because I’m concerned about the pollution that they would put into the air, as well as the discharge into the river."

Goolsby said, "My problem with Titan is the fact that it was an issue of tax credits being given to businesses to bring them into our area. The best way to encourage business and jobs in New Hanover County is by reducing everybody’s taxes when it comes to land use and those types of issues."

Finding adequate funding for beach renourishment continues to be an important issue for the area, Goolsby and Leutze agreed.

"We need to work very hard with our congressional delegation, who are hopefully going to be majority Republican, to make sure that we continue to get the federal monies for that," Goolsby said. "We also have to plan how to handle the situation if that doesn’t work out."

Besides federal erosion-control money, part of New Hanover County’s room occupancy tax is used to fund area beach renourishment projects.

"We have to renourish our beaches," Goolsby said. "And Carolina Beach is the first one that’s up for reconsideration in just a few short years."

The federal government has been cutting back on beach renourishment funds in recent years, Leutze said.

"Every year they zero it out of the budget, and then you have to have people in Congress who are there to try to help you get that funding. And Congressman McIntyre has been quite successful in helping us in that regard," Leutze said. "But that money is not always going to be there, particularly when we have the economic crisis we have in the country today. We’re going to have to come up with another way of funding beach renourishment."

That can be done locally or through a mix of state and local funding, Leutze said.

"The problem with local money for beach renourishment is if local communities pay the full cost of beach renourishment they have every reason to say that the public cannot have access to those beaches, that those beaches now are private," Leutze said. "We don’t want to see that happen."

Leutze said he would try to get a mix of state and local funding, with local money coming from some kind of tax or fund.

"Then the trick becomes convincing people in Winston-Salem that they have an interest in renourishing Wrightsville Beach," Leutze said.

Party politics impact state Supreme Court race

By Michelle Saxton
Thursday, October 28, 2010

It may be a nonpartisan race, but an open seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court has some local Republican candidates eyeing more than a majority win in the General Assembly.

The seat in question belongs to outgoing state Supreme Court Associate Justice Edward Brady, who is not seeking re-election. State Court of Appeals Judges Robert "Bob" Hunter and Barbara Jackson are vying for that spot on the bench.

At a GOP (Grand Old Party) rally in Wilmington on Saturday, Oct. 16, that included a number of Republican candidates and party officials, some speakers voiced support for Judge Jackson, saying if she lost the race the party would lose a majority in the seven-member state Supreme Court when redistricting occurs.

Congressional and state districts are redrawn every 10 years, state Rep. Danny McComas, R-New Hanover, said Monday, Oct. 25, when asked about the issue.

"If we control the House and we control the Senate, then the only mechanism open for the Democrats to fight would be to take it to the courts," said McComas, who is unopposed in the District 19 state House race and runs the MCO Transport trucking and warehouse in Wilmington. "And if they control the courts, the Supreme Court mainly, then they would have the opportunity to defeat whatever we do."

The last time Republicans controlled both chambers in the North Carolina General Assembly was 1898, McComas said. He added the GOP believes it can win majorities in both the 120-member state House and 50-member state Senate in the upcoming election.

Whoever controls redistricting will control the makeup of what the Legislature could be in the years to come, both in Washington and on the state level, McComas said, adding that Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, has no veto power on redistricting.

"That’s one of the few things that she has no say on," McComas said. "It is the big thing."

Christie Cameron, clerk of the state Supreme Court, said she could not comment about whether the high court’s makeup after the race could be a redistricting issue.

"All I can really tell you is we did have redistricting cases come to the Supreme Court after the 2000 Census and redistricting at the Legislature," Cameron said Tuesday, Oct. 26.

Any number of General Assembly decisions could be affected, Wilmington attorney Thom Goolsby, the Republican state Senate candidate for the 9th District, said Monday, Oct. 25.

"Our courts are the ones who rule on what our laws mean," Goolsby said.

Beth Dawson, a Republican and retired banker who is running for the District 18 state House seat, stated in an e-mail Tuesday, Oct. 26, "We should all support judges who will uphold the Constitution and law as they are written."

Neither Goolsby’s Democrat opponent, Jim Leutze, nor Dawson’s Democrat opponent, Susi Hamilton, were aware of any concerns about how the Supreme Court race could affect the General Assembly.

"This is the first thing I’ve heard about the state Supreme Court race being an issue in the overall election midterm," Hamilton said on Tuesday, Oct. 26.

"No matter what the justices’ political affiliation is, their obligation is to uphold the law," said Hamilton, who runs the consulting company Hamilton Planning. She added that any sort of gerrymandering would be in conflict with that obligation.

"The judges’ races are nonpartisan," Hamilton added "Shame on the Republican party for trying to insert politics into a nonpartisan race."

The judicial decision-making process is intended to be nonpartisan as well, according to a statement released Wednesday, Oct. 27, by Sharon Gladwell, communications director for the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.

"I’m sure if you take a look at the influence of the Supreme Court and its decisions and the impact it’s had on things like election races and others, the Supreme Court swings a pretty big stick," Leutze, former chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said on Friday, Oct. 22.

"One would always hope that the court would not be partisan in the decisions that they would make, that they would view the merits of the case rather than have an ideological starting point by which they made their judgments," Leutze added.

Redistricting remains pivotal issue for school board

By Patricia E. Matson Thursday, October 28, 2010

Candidate Dr. Derrick Hickey said it’s unfortunate that redistricting is still the big issue in the New Hanover School Board election, since there are many other issues to discuss. However, the topic has been in contention since before the middle and elementary schools went to neighborhood-based student assignments, and the subject regained prominence on Oct. 18 when the board voted 5-3 to send a letter assuring the state that it hadn’t redistricted along racial lines.

Board chair Ed Higgins voted for the neighborhood schools plan, along with Janice Cavenaugh, Don Hayes and Jeannette Nichols. Voting against it were Nick Rhodes, Elizabeth Redenbaugh and Dorothy DeShields.

Higgins, Cavenaugh and Hayes are running for re-election, joined on the Republican slate by newcomer Hickey. Rhodes is joined on the Democratic slate by Joyce Huguelet, Philip Stine and Clancy Thompson.

Higgins reiterated recently that the redistricting had nothing to do with race or socioeconomic status. "Nothing of that nature was discussed," he asserted.

Hayes agreed that schools were assigned based on where children lived.

"We didn’t use race and it shouldn’t be used. The state will determine whether we met the spirit of the law," Cavenaugh said.

Rhodes disagreed: "Look at the demographics after redistricting; it’s clear that we’ve resegregated the schools."

Huguelet said the state’s response would determine whether the school system gets funding, which it needs, but the law forbids even unintentional resegregation.

Stine said the state shouldn’t accept the board’s assurance, and Thompson said it should follow up and see how credible the statement was.

All the Democrats have said they wouldn’t overhaul school assignments even if elected, because it would be too disruptive. However, some tweaking might be necessary to adjust overcrowding in some schools and empty seats in others.

Most of the candidates on both sides are hoping that votes will be cast along party lines; the three incumbents and Hickey want Republicans to retain the majority while the Democrats desire to seize it.

Cavenaugh said she always voted on an individual basis, but she’d be voting a straight-party ticket this time.

Hayes said the school system is very good and scores have been going up.

"I think the reason is parents have been empowered with choices… I think it’s beginning to pay off. If you like those choices, re-elect those who adhere to that philosophy," he said.

Higgins recommended voting on party lines.

"If all four Republicans are elected, (redistricting) won’t come up again for four years, and by then, I don’t think there’ll be any question regarding neighborhood schools."

Hickey said he agreed with the philosophies of the other Republican candidates.

"This is a very important election for the district, with a real opportunity to put into place new programs and ideas with real promise in closing gaps and increasing educational achievements," he said, and voters could either do that or return to forced busing.

Rhodes said voters should replace the three incumbents who hadn’t addressed the needs of students.

"Since Mr. Hickey aligned himself with them, no one should vote for him either. It’s time for a more progressive, forward-thinking school board," he asserted.

Stine said the Democratic side has a strong ticket, with each person bringing different skills, from his and Rhodes’ managerial experience and Thompson’s creative arts work, the educational experience of all three, and Huguelet’s inside knowledge of the system as a former teacher and principal.

Thompson agreed, "I think one always has to look at the individual, but in this case, Democrats are putting forward the best candidates for the school board."

Huguelet, however, said she had little interest in party lines.

"It’s not about politics it’s about getting people who understand education and who are devoted to making the system work for every student."

CAMPAIGN TRAIL UPDATE: Commissioner candidates enter homestretch

By Patricia E. Matson Friday, October 29, 2010

As the final days of the election loom, county commissioner candidates have been very busy working the early voting polls.

Former sheriff Sid Causey said Friday that he was about ready to take down his campaign signs on Sunday or Monday, so everything would be cleaned up by Tuesday. He said people have had plenty of opportunities to see them, so if the message hadn’t gotten through by now, one or two more days wouldn’t matter.

Third-quarter campaign finance reports showed Causey had raised a total of $30,103.17 by Oct. 22. Rick Catlin was far in the lead of the pack with $91,969.84 raised by Oct. 25; Deborah Butler had raised $20,601.23 by that date, and Brian Berger trailed the rest with $8,286 the same day.

Berger said the only poll he had seen showed him out in front, although it had a small sample size. He said he’d had very encouraging feedback from talking to early voters.

“I think I have a good chance of winning despite spending less money,” he said, “and that would be a very powerful signal… a testament to why I’m running.”

Butler said Friday, “I wish I could say I thought finance was irrelevant, but if there’s not enough money to make people familiar with you, it’s very difficult to win.” She added that with grassroots groundwork and a lot of face-to-face meetings and phone calls, her campaign had a healthy combination of contributions and work. At the polls, she said, she had encountered “tremendous support from all walks of life. It’s really enriching and educational.”

Causey said he wasn’t sure whether money played a big part in elections. Because of the bad economy, he hadn’t asked people for money, but supporters called him anyway with contributions. He added that he’d enjoyed spending a day at the Carolina Beach early voting station, seeing friends where he grew up. Some folks at the government center had been a bit confrontational, he said, but it had been good to see citizens waiting to exercise their constitutional rights.

Catlin said that the amount of money he’d raised showed that he had a lot of mainstream support, which was always a good sign. He felt he was going into the final few days with a lot of momentum, and had seen a lot of thumbs-up from people who had voted already. “It’s really impressive how many people have been standing in line for an hour to vote,” he added.

Catlin said he was humbled by the support he’d gotten. He concluded that if he were elected, he’d see it as an awesome responsibility, and he’d do his best with the job.

Butler said that in making their decisions, voters should ask themselves who is best equipped to make sound fiscal judgments, balance the intricacies of local government and put a progressive, 21st-century attitude on economic development.

Berger said that voters should look closely at candidates’ records, not just their words. They should find out who has consistently fought for the taxpayers, rather than using empty rhetoric and trying to be all things to all people.

Causey said that he hoped those who haven’t voted yet would educate themselves about the candidates.

“Be sure you’re voting for the right person, and remember you’ll have that person in office for four years,” he said.

CAMPAIGN UPDATE: Sheriff, challenger work polls in election’s final days

By Patricia E. Matson Monday, November 1, 2010

Third-quarter campaign finance reports filed with the New Hanover County Board of elections showed Sheriff Ed McMahon was way ahead of challenger Marc Benson in fund-raising. McMahon’s campaign said a total of $58,611.23 had been raised by Oct. 21, and Benson’s campaign reported that $2,860 had been raised by Oct. 24.

Benson said Thursday that he’d been very busy working the polls, with so many people coming out for early voting.

“It seems the public’s been invigorated,” he said. He urged everyone to voice their opinions through their votes, for a conservative candidate as far as what taxpayers get for their money, or for the status quo.

McMahon said he had been getting a lot of positive feedback from his interactions with citizens. One thing that has changed since he’s been sheriff is closer cooperation with beach-town police. For instance, Wrightsville Beach contracts with the sheriff’s office every summer to provide deputies to help with law enforcement. Now, instead of Wrightsville Beach paying for all of the deputies’ time, McMahon has his department pick up part of the cost. He also said that this summer he had a full-time boat patrol serving all the beaches, but mostly around Masonboro Island to Wrightsville Beach, for alcohol enforcement.

Benson said that back in the 1980s—when he was an auxiliary police officer with Wrightsville Beach—the department had a nice working relationship with the county. If elected sheriff, he would look at how personnel are utilized, to see if alcohol enforcement or other coordination with municipal police could be improved.

“Everybody needs some help,” he said, but for the exact allocations, he’d have to check on how resources are being used now and figure out their best use in the future.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

District 5 bench opens seat for new judge

By Patricia E. Matson Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chad Hogston
Robin Wicks Robinson

Since the state legislature approved an additional judge for the District 5 Court bench due to increased population pressure, there is an open seat in this election. Two political and judicial newcomers are running in the nonpartisan race, but both are New Hanover County lawyers.

Robin Wicks Robinson has been practicing criminal, juvenile, family and civil law in Wilmington since 1986, although the heart of her service has been in family and juvenile law.

Chad Hogston moved to Wilmington in 1994 and has focused mainly in criminal and traffic law, mixed with some civil litigation. Hogston said a district court judge should have everyday court experience, a good temperament and the ability to work with people as a referee or bringing parties together.

"They’ve got to be able to make life-changing decisions," he said.

He compared district court to an emergency room, with each person having their own particular crisis that is the most important thing in their life at the moment. A judge needs to be able to focus on that, make a good decision, and then move on to the next case, he said.

Robinson said a judge needs knowledge, experience, integrity and fairness. She added that family and juvenile law are where knowledge and experience are most important, since a judge there has the discretion to help families in crisis.

Asked whether the letter or the spirit of the law was more important, she said that district court judges don’t make the law at their level. She called district court the people’s court where everyday problems are solved. She added that there’s not a lot of judicial discretion in criminal court, since the parameters of sentencing are pretty rigid. Civil court simply calls on judges to apply facts to the law, she said.

However, she believes the spirit of the law applies to discretion, as in family and juvenile law. There are many options to try to solve problems and look at ways to help prevent children from coming back through the court system, she said, but it still comes down to knowing the law and following it.

Hogston voiced a strong preference for judicial restraint over activism, reading the letter of the law as it is, and said he loved to hear a judge tell people that if they have a problem with a law, they need to talk to the legislature about it. He added that if interpretations were necessary, they could normally be determined through precedents of the higher courts and appellate rulings.

Hogston explained that in district court, family law judges are usually assigned to that court specifically, and others are assigned to criminal, domestic and civil cases, and so forth, on rotation. He said that he had the background for wherever he was assigned, commenting that a lot of judges are former prosecutors who have no experience in family court at all.

"Look at my experience in everyday court," he said.

Robinson cited her service as 5th District Bar president and on the Professionalism Committee, the North Carolina State Bar Ethics Committee and Family Law Council, as well as receiving awards from Legal Aid of North Carolina and other organizations.

Robinson has been endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys. She has a peer to peer Martindale Hubbell® rating of BV Distinguished with a 4.4 out of 5 (5 being the highest rating obtainable).

Hogston appears, but is not rated in the online Martindale Hubbell ratings. Additionally, he has been endorsed by the Cape Fear Fraternal Order of Police.

Robinson said she had no particular aspiration to serve on a higher court later, since district court is where most of her experience lies, and this is where her family lives.

Hogston said he’d be content to be in Wilmington district court for the next 20 years.

"It’s never boring," he said.

Saving small businesses

By Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Elaine Marshall
Richard Burr
Mike Beitler
 Whether through tax cuts, credit increases or predictable regulations, Congress must help the private sector and small businesses to create good jobs and improve the economy, candidates for the U.S. Senate say.

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, a Democrat, envisions a comprehensive jobs plan that includes tax cuts and credit increases for small businesses to add new lines, new employees or new equipment.

"Small business is really the engine of economic growth," Marshall, a former state senator, said Tuesday, Oct. 19. "And they’re going to be the ones that are going to pull us through and drive this economy."

Closing tax loopholes that encourage outsourcing and ending unfair trade agreements that ship away jobs are needed too, said Marshall, who also previously worked as an attorney and ran a decorating business. She added that long-term goals should include making good investments in education and emphasizing green energy research and jobs.

Taxes and regulation must be more predictable, Republican incumbent Sen. Richard Burr said after a rally in Wilmington on Saturday, Oct. 16.

"Without that we’re not going to get private capital taking the risk because they won’t know what the reward is," said Burr, who worked with a wholesale commercial products company and served 10 years in the U.S House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate in 2004.

"What we’ve proven over the past year and a half is that government just throwing money at the problem is not going to re-inflate employment or get the economy going again," Burr said. "We’ve got to get the private sector believing and investing in the future."

Burr and Marshall are running against Libertarian Michael Beitler, a business professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, host of the Internet radio show "Free Markets with Dr. Mike Beitler," and a former chief financial officer in the banking industry.

Beitler, who also does consulting work, said small business owners tell him they will not hire and grow their businesses until they know what regulations they will be dealing with.

"It’s just unclear what’s going to happen next," Beitler said Monday, Oct. 18. "The best thing we could do for them now is to say we’ll put a moratorium on new regulations for the next year or two, and then that way they would know that the goal posts aren’t going to be moved in the middle of the game."

Different views

Marshall has criticized Burr’s record on certain bills, including his vote last month against a small -business lending bill, which has since passed.

"He voted against the help that small business wants and our bankers want because they need the credit," Marshall said. "They’ve got customers out there looking for loans … customers that they feel are valid customers with a good business plan."

Burr expressed concern over establishing a new $30 billion lending facility, which he said has been questioned by the Congressional Oversight Panel and means more government involvement in the private sector.

"This would have been a pretty good bill if we had just kept it simple by extending and expanding the loan programs currently available through the Small Business Administration, and enhancing loan fee reductions," Burr had said previously in a news release.

Beitler, who considers himself conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues, said he is running to provide a choice other than the same old party line message.

"When I look at (Senator) Burr and (Secretary) Marshall I have nothing against them as individuals; we get along well offstage," Beitler said. "But I just don’t see how anybody can get excited about either one of them."

Beitler’s goal is to reach the double digits on Election Day.

"If we can get 10 percent or more, we’re now a force to be reckoned with," Beitler said. "The Dems and the Republicans can’t ignore us."

Policy changes

All three candidates had some concerns about recent health care reform.

"It needs to be repealed," Burr said after Saturday’s rally. "It needs to be replaced with something that focuses on addressing costs."

Without question, people want to see others getting health care, Beitler said, but the nation must address how to stimulate the supply of health care practitioners that would be needed to meet more demand of services.

"We’re not doing anything to incentivize people to go into the health care professions–doctors, nurses and technicians and so forth," Beitler said, adding that he favors offering incentives and benefits to potential health care workers similar to those offered to people who serve in the military.

"If they go through the system and get their certification and then work in the field for a while we would waive their tuition or something of that nature," Beitler said.

Marshall agreed that costs, particularly for premiums and the delivery of health care, must come down and that other fixes need to be made, but she argued the bill needs some time to get going.

"The benefits of electronic records information technology in the medical field, those kinds of things are still in the processing stages, and we’ll need to be watching those and seeing how they help out," Marshall said, adding that the technology can also help reduce errors.

"We need a fix," Marshall said. "I don’t know if repeal is the right word."

Marshall and Beitler both oppose the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy that bans gays from being able to serve openly in the military, a policy a federal judge in California recently ruled unconstitutional.

"Anybody who wants to serve their country, and they’re willing to risk life and limb, they’re a hero as far as I’m concerned," Beitler said.

"We need the best talent we’ve got," Marshall said. "To exclude people who are talented and willing to dthe service for you and me and everybody else, that’s really very, very unfair and wrong."

Congress–not the courts–should decide the issue, Burr said.

"This is the wrong time, while we’ve got troops deployed in two theaters, to make a massive policy change," Burr said Saturday. "But I believe that there’ll be an appropriate point in the future to have a public debate on it and have a vote in Congress."

Immigration reform

All three candidates want immigration reform with clear ways to earn citizenship.

"You have to grant amnesty, and by amnesty I just mean a pardon–not citizenship," Beitler said. "Bring them out of the shadows and then have a pathway for citizenship."

Earning citizenship could involve paying more in taxes, serving in the military or looking at civic duties or services, Beitler said.

Marshall, who opposes amnesty, said mass deportations are neither practical nor fair to taxpayers and the nation must toughen up on laws regarding employers.

"It would be futile if we haven’t closed our borders because they will be making a migration back in," Marshall said. "We’ve got to enforce the laws that are already on the books."

She supports reforming the process for immigrants to become legal citizens, including paying fines and back taxes and learning English.

Burr also opposes amnesty.

"I do not believe it is fair to reward those who have broken our laws, particularly at the expense of those who have followed the rules and applied for citizenship through the legal process," Burr said in a prepared statement. "I believe we should first ensure that our borders are secure, and then we should work to ensure that we have a legal immigration process that is understandable, consistent and followed."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

School board election hits hot buttons

By Patricia E. Matson
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Among numerous points of contention in the New Hanover County Board of Education election, redistricting remains one of the hottest topics, but all candidates agree it’s a done deal. Even opponents say it would cause too much turmoil to revisit the issue before growth and demographic shifts make it necessary again.

Three years ago, the school board redistricted elementary students with a focus on neighborhood schools. A year ago, due to the opening of Holly Shelter Middle School, redistricting occurred once more.

Advocates say neighborhood schools foster more parental involvement, and critics say they have resulted in wide racial/socioeconomic disparities between the schools.

Of the eight candidates running for four open seats on the school board, three are Republican incumbents who voted for the redistricting plan.

Janice Cavenaugh, a real estate appraiser, has been on the board 19 years. School board chairman Don Hayes, a sales representative and Navy veteran, and Edward Higgins, a law instructor at Cape Fear Community College, have both served on the board for 16 years.

The other Republican in the race, Dr. Derrick Hickey, said Tuesday that his scientific training as an orthopaedic surgeon would bring a facts-based approach to the school board in setting policies and measuring performance in students and teachers. He also said that as the only parent in the race with a child in the school system, he has seen that it’s necessary to change the culture and make administrators and staff more responsive.

Nick Rhodes is the Democratic incumbent running for re-election. A retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and management consultant, Rhodes is finishing his first four-year term. He voted against neighborhood-based redistricting and called it disastrous, but he said it would be too disruptive to redo. His main focus for the future is implementing the strategic plan his subcommittee has developed to raise academic proficiency to 85 percent, develop business and community partnerships with at least half of the schools, and have 21st century technology integrated into all classrooms by 2013.

The other three Democrats in the race are Joyce Huguelet, Philip Stine and Clancy Thompson.

Huguelet has been an educator for about 50 years, retiring as principal of Winter Park Elementary school in 2005. Stine is the founder of a management and planning consultancy group and has served on the Child Advocacy Commission of the Lower Cape Fear and the African American Heritage Foundation of Wilmington. Thompson has taught high school and college, has worked with Fred Rogers and has been executive director of the Child Advocacy Commission for a decade.

Another issue in the race is school population—overcrowded campuses versus underutilized facilities. Holly Shelter Middle School, built for 918 students, had 616 enrolled on Sept. 9. Cavenaugh, Hayes and Higgins said it was designed that way to accommodate future growth.

Hayes added that parents had opted out of underperforming schools and the numbers would go back to normal eventually. He added that older schools had been designed without elements like art and music rooms, so mobile units, or trailers, helped meet modern needs.

Hickey said the trailer argument was just a way to push a busing agenda, and although the current redistricting plan was a horrible result of a dysfunctional board, the trailers are there because those schools are where parents want their children.

Rhodes spoke of the inefficiency of having empty seats and empty buildings in the system while spending money on trailers.

"It’s ludicrous from any business perspective you can imagine," said Thompson, adding that it wasn’t in the best interest of either children or financial stewardship.

Huguelet said the situation was a huge problem and would keep getting more extreme, with parents scrambling to send their children to desirable high-performance schools rather than the poorer performers. Her top priority if elected would be to reverse the trend so that all schools would be high-performing, through teacher support and training and talking to principals.

Stine said he saw the three areas of greatest need as being the high dropout rate (over a third of New Hanover County students), the achievement gap for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and vocational/technical training for students who aren’t headed to college.

Thompson agreed there needed to be more vocational training and said there needed to be more emphasis on early childhood education. He also wanted curriculum audits and financial audits of the school system.

Higgins said he was proud of redistricting, creating two additional magnet schools, improvement in Adequate Yearly Progress test scores and maintaining a quality school system during trying financial times. He said his first priority in the next four years would be to develop programs to help socioeconomically disadvantaged students be more successful.

Hayes said his proudest accomplishment on the board so far has been providing choices for parents in the education of their children, including magnet schools, year-round schools and the Open Choice enrollment program. Beyond continuing that, he wants to work with the new superintendent, Tim Markley, to set goals and address the dropout rate and the achievement gap between white and black children.

Cavenaugh said she too would work to eliminate the achievement gap and was also proud of the board’s work in developing magnet and year-round schools—and pointed to progress at the Rachel Freeman School of Engineering, where proficiency test scores have risen from 40 percent to almost 70 percent in three years—as well as preschool education.

Hickey said his priorities were to increase parental involvement and to work on the achievement gap. Ideas included evaluating teachers based on their students’ performance, not just observations by principals, adding merit bonuses and encouraging their professional development.

Rhodes said far too many decisions had been made on an ad hoc basis rather than through a strategic plan. He said implementation of the plan will be the tough part, and he’d like to be a part of that.

"The key thing to protect is instruction delivery; everything else is in support," he summarized.

Dawson versus Hamilton in race for N.C. District 18 House seat

By Michelle Saxton
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Beth Dawson
Susi Hamilton

Neither is an incumbent, but both candidates say they will work across party lines to serve the diverse constituency of North Carolina’s District 18. Beth Dawson and Susi Hamilton are running for the house seat vacated by Sandra Spaulding Hughes who was appointed to serve the unexpired term of former assemblyman Thomas Wright.

Each District 18 candidate can demonstrate an involvement with the Wilmington community and both align themselves with political parties opposite those of their fathers growing up.

And while they both believe the economy and job creation are the area’s most important issues, they have some different views on how to address them through taxes.

Republican Beth Dawson favors cutting the corporate tax rate, saying North Carolina has one of the highest rates in the southeast.

"We need to make North Carolina a more business-friendly state," Dawson, a retired banker, said Monday, Oct. 11.  Her opponent, Democrat Susi Hamilton, said while she is willing to look at an overall restructuring of the state’s tax system, cutting the corporate tax rate is not the answer.

"You have to look at other tax structures," Hamilton said on Thursday, Oct. 7. "You can’t just look at one source of revenue."

The state Department of Commerce’s website lists the corporate income tax rate as 6.9 percent for North Carolina. Hamilton said that is in line with surrounding states, while Dawson said the rate is too high.

A website hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan educational organization Tax Foundation lists the corporate income tax rates for nearby states in 2010 as 5 percent in South Carolina, 6.5 percent in Tennessee, 6 percent in Virginia, 6.5 percent in Alabama, 5.5 percent in Florida and 6 percent in Georgia.

North Carolina is ranked No. 4 in the United States as a top state in which to conduct business, Hamilton said, citing a 2010 study by CNBC that looked at several indicators, including the cost of doing business, quality of life and transportation and infrastructure.

"We have a good story to tell," Hamilton said. "We’ve had successful economic development, even over the last several years, and we need to be selling that message to the outside world so that they will look to us (as) a place to bring jobs."

Branding, marketing and recruitment strategies can help, as can continued joint efforts of commerce and cultural resources officials, said Hamilton, who runs her own marketing, governmental relations and business development consulting company, Hamilton Planning. She previously spent about a year in business development with Cape Fear Paving.

In contrast to Hamilton’s stance, Dawson offered information from the Business Tax Index 2010 study published by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, which ranked North Carolina No. 37 when considering several tax measures for entrepreneurship and small businesses.

"North Carolina has had a good reputation for many years of being a great place to live," Dawson said. "Then when businesses get here and when people move here they find out that the tax rates are high."

Dawson, an 11th generation North Carolinian and daughter of a Democrat father, is a member of the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science Advisory Board and a past member of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees.

"This is a very diverse district," Dawson said. "I have established relationships between both the Democrat and the Republican parties across the state. I won’t have any trouble working with my fellow legislators to get things done if it’s in the best interest of our state and of our region."

Hamilton, who says she grew up in a house full of Republicans between Wilmington and Winston-Salem, is listed as a board member of Coastal Carolina Tomorrow on its web site. Coastal Carolina Tomorrow is a group of well connected development professionals which formed three years ago. The group’s website states the focus of the group is "projected forward to avoid being placed in a reactionary position on issues of importance to the development community." Melanie G. Cook, executive director and governmental relations, said Hamilton’s position on the board is suspended due to the election.

Hamilton previously served as executive director of the public-private organization Wilmington Downtown, Inc. She has served on several boards, including the Carousel Center for Abused Children, Historic Wilmington Foundation and Cucalorus Film Festival.

"It has helped me keep in touch with what the needs of the community are while balancing that with what the business opportunities are," Hamilton said.

But balancing North Carolina’s state budget, which has an expected deficit of about $3 billion, will be tough, both candidates said.

"2011 and 2012 are going to hurt," Hamilton said. "We have to focus on the core services of government at the state level."

That includes education and public safety, Hamilton said.

Dawson believes in zero-based budgeting, going through items line by line in the budget, and she added that she has had to deal with balancing tough budgets while serving on the hospital board.

"We need to stop this habit that the North Carolina General Assembly has had for decades of overspending when times are good and then not having a rainy day fund to fall back on when times are bad," said Dawson, whose endorsements include the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association. "Right now a lot of our budget is being funded with one-time federal stimulus money that’s not going to be there next year," she said.

Hamilton’s endorsements include the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club and the North Carolina Chamber PAC, the chamber’s political action arm.

"Environmental protection and emerging economies that are associated with renewable energy sources and things along those lines are probably our future economy," Hamilton said.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Congressional hopefuls duke it out for 7th District seat

By Michelle Saxton Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mike McIntyre
Ilario Pantano
President Barack Obama signed a bill on Monday that is supposed to help small businesses expand and hire by cutting taxes and creating a $30 billion loan fund to encourage lending—by providing capital to small banks with incentives to increase small business lending to those hard hit by the difficulty securing bank loans and credit.

"The Small Business Jobs Act cuts taxes and opens up lines of credit that can help our small businesses create jobs. This bill is fully paid for, will not add to the deficit, and helps Main Street—not Wall Street. This is good news for our area, and our economy," 7th District incumbent and Democratic candidate U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre said Wednesday by e-mail, following the signing.

During an interview Tuesday, Sept. 28, Republican challenger Ilario Pantano said, "There needs to be some sense of permanence to tax cuts. Raising taxes in a recession absolutely is a guaranteed pathway to higher unemployment," Pantano said. "When you make it harder for businesses to hire, when you make it harder for people to buy goods and services, they do less. And then there is less demand, and without that demand there will be no need for more jobs and more hiring."

McIntyre, who is serving his 7th term, said he voted for the Bush tax cuts originally.

"I favor extending all the tax cuts so that we can have that money out in the economy working for people in small businesses," McIntyre said during a phone interview Sept. 21.

Extending the tax cuts, which started in President George W. Bush’s administration and were set to expire Jan. 1, 2011, could come up for a vote in Congress after the elections.

"We’ve got to have that money back in the local economy creating jobs," McIntyre said.

While some members of Congress favor letting the tax cuts expire for wealthier individuals earning more than $200,000 and married couples earning more than $250,000, Pantano said that would include–and hurt–small businesses.

"That’s another person who’s either going to lose their job or be underemployed," Pantano said.

Health care bill repeal

Repealing President Obama’s health care bill is another priority for Pantano, who argues that government spending and growth have created uncertainty in the private sector market.

Pantano worked as a Wall Street trader with Goldman Sachs in the 1990s. His campaign website states he began as a clerk in the oil and gas markets of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and ultimately worked up to a position trading electricity. He also worked for a period as a television producer which ended when he re-entered the Marine Corps after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"In one piece of legislation you’ve got increased regulation, increased taxation, increased government involvement in people’s decisions from cradle to grave and, of course, no litigation reform," Pantano said, "so there’s nothing to actually deal with one of the things that creates the high cost of health care. When an employer doesn’t know what it will cost to hire people, he doesn’t hire, she doesn’t hire," Pantano added. "When someone doesn’t know what the upside will be for them to go to medical school any longer, they don’t go. We’re going to lose doctors; we’re going to lose the quality of care."

McIntyre, who voted against the health care bill in Congress this past March and favors its repeal, described himself as a fiscal hawk. He said his major goal is to help balance the federal budget and reduce the national debt.

"That is done by cutting back on the government spending," McIntyre said. "I’ve long been in favor of that. That has ramifications everywhere, in terms of the economy, in terms of jobs, in terms of businesses being able to reinvest their own money."

The national debt is now about $42,000 for every man, woman and child, McIntyre said.

During one of three debates with Pantano, McIntyre had voiced support for pay-as-you-go spending and to sunset government agencies and programs no longer doing anything. When questioned on what programs he would cut, McIntyre said a review of all government agencies is needed.

"Every agency should have to give an accounting, a transparent accounting, showing why it is justified to continue to exist or not and cut down on the waste, the fraud and the abuse," McIntyre said. Most government agencies and departments are exempt from such scrutiny. There are certain targeted programs that expire on their own terms. Unfortunately that is rare."

Aggressive campaigns

Both McIntyre and Pantano have been aggressive in their campaigns, with Pantano questioning McIntyre’s voting record and McIntyre questioning Pantano’s understanding of southeastern North Carolina issues. But McIntyre’s campaign has shied away from attacking the former Marine over the charges of premeditated murder of two Iraqi civilians in 2004. The Marine Corps dropped the charges in 2005.

Pantano has acknowledged that McIntyre has some similar views against what he considers bad policy.

"The problem is that my opponent is part of a majority in Congress that has enabled this stuff," Pantano said.

McIntyre has defended his record, saying he voted against all the bailouts and the Cap and Trade legislation. He added he has worked under both Republican and Democratic presidents, speakers and majorities in Congress since first elected in 1996 and that he has always fought for issues based on how they would affect southeastern North Carolina.

"My opponent emphasizes a very, very partisan agenda," McIntyre said. "I have always worked with people on both sides of the aisle."

During a debate this summer McIntyre questioned a comment he said Pantano made: that it does not matter what district Pantano represents because he represents the United States.

Pantano said, "That’s been distorted a little bit where he’s tried to suggest that I don’t care about southeastern North Carolina, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth." The New York native grew up in Hell’s Kitchen— attended the prestigious Horace Mann School on half-scholarship and graduated from New York University. A veteran of the Gulf and Iraq wars, Pantano was assigned to Camp Lejeune as a Second Lt. In an earlier interview on Sept. 20, he said, "My children are in public elementary school here, I’ve served here as a deputy sheriff in the community and I came here as a transplant with the United States Marine Corps.

"My wife and I made a decision to stay here because I love it and I love the values," Pantano said. As far as what is good for the country being good for southeastern North Carolina, Pantano said on Tuesday that issues such as the district’s high unemployment and foreclosure rates show that national politics are local politics. (North Carolina’s unemployment rate was 9.7 percent in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website.)

Pantano, who pledged to limit himself to six terms in office, said the nation’s founders intended for citizen legislators to go to Washington, D.C., represent the people and then come home to live among the laws they created.

"That idea has gone away," Pantano said. "I am seeking to try and make changes."

The central question in the race is who is most qualified to represent the district and who knows it best, McIntyre said.

"You have to have a deep understanding and knowledge if you’re going to fully and vigorously represent the people on those issues and concerns," McIntyre said.

McIntyre added he has experience fighting for issues critical to the area, including beach renourishment funding, and he emphasized his role in forming the Congressional Waterways Caucus.

"Our coast is both an economic engine and an environmental treasure," McIntyre said.

Berger, Catlin to vie for commissioner

By Patricia E. Matson Thursday, September 30, 2010

Brian Berger
Rick Catlin

Brian Berger and Rick Catlin, both Republicans, claim business experience and public involvement help qualify them for the two open New Hanover County commissioner seats. Catlin has more years of standing in the community, but both say they are committed to achieving goals for the county.

"Perhaps the most important area is budgeting," said Berger, referring to decisions commissioners face. He said he had vocally and publicly opposed unnecessary spending and tax increases in recent years and added that the government must produce results that justify their expense and must consider what burdens taxpayers are able to absorb.

Berger said commissioners need to work with legislators to reduce state mandates and cut waste in discretionary spending. He stated commissioners need to be more innovative, for instance by finding ways to make Airlie Gardens become self-supporting.

In addition, Berger said the entire economic development system needs overhauling. He called it secretive, flawed and outdated, as illustrated by the Titan Cement controversy. He claimed there were too many conflicts of interest and too much cronyism in making appointments to boards.

Berger said he graduated from Hamilton College with a degree in government and has almost completed an MBA from East Carolina University. He moved to Wilmington almost a decade ago, because of its friendliness, affordability including then-low taxation, safety, beauty, beaches and environmental quality.

His small business, Strategic Communications Group, consults with startups, nonprofits and trade groups. He pledged, if elected, his company would not do business with the county during his term.

Berger says he doesn’t expect his party affiliation to play much of a role in the election. He said because of his involvement and record on key issues, he had garnered grassroots support ranging from business owners and environmentalists to people involved in the Taxed Enough Already movement.

"What I lack in big contributions from special interests, I more than make up for with committed volunteers," said Berger.

Rick Catlin said he has been pleased with his support. He has been a local business owner (Catlin Engineers and Scientists) for 25 years and has been involved in various boards and committees for about 20 years, so his endorsements range from business groups to the Sierra Club.

A native of Atlanta and a graduate of the University of South Florida, he moved to New Hanover County for a job 31 years ago and stayed for its small-town feel and the mix of history, culture and coastal geography. As a resident of Wrightsville Beach and his career as an environmental engineer, plus serving as the chairman of the Wilmington-New Hanover County Ports, Waterway and Beach Commission, he said he wanted to be a voice for the county’s beach towns.

"They kind of get left out," he said.

Economic factors will continue to be a challenge for the county, Catlin said, so his experience with balanced budgets will be helpful. Because of his long term status as an environmental engineer and his pivotal role in the Ports, Waterway and Beach Commission, he said he understands the balance between current demand on resources and the need to preserve the environment for the future. He also said the infrastructure for jobs needs to be a priority.

Catlin said the weak economy was painful but he felt it could be used to the county’s advantage, and we needed to take time to develop a strategy for when growth returns.

"We’ve always been playing catch-up before," he explained.

Catlin said he would represent everybody if elected and has worked with both political parties to meet common goals. He planned to make time to be commissioner by stepping down from serving on several of his committee appointments. He added that his company had a number of longtime employees he could rely on while he put his focus on the county.

"This is where I can make the most difference… my community needs me," Catlin said.

9th District Senate candidates square off

By Michelle Saxton
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thom Goolsby
Jim Leutze

North Carolina’s 9th District state Senate candidates are focused on tackling one of the biggest issues the next General Assembly faces–the painful task of cutting at least $3 billion from the state’s $19 billion budget.
Larger shares of budget funding are doled out to education, health and human services and Medicaid, highways and crime control, Democrat Jim Leutze said during an interview Friday, Sept. 24.

"Cutting any one of those is going to hurt somebody," Leutze said. He is the former chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, 1990-2003. Ideas for cutting the budget often sound great until you consider the negative effects, Leutze said. Closing small prisons or a library, for example, could mean the loss of jobs or services.

"It means, to a certain extent, interfering in people’s lives at the most basic level," Leutze said of budget cuts.

The deficit could be closer to $5 billion, his opponent, Republican Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington attorney said during an interview Monday, Sept. 27. Goolsby’s law firm specializes in criminal defense, personal injury, traffic tickets and DUI /DWI.

"Nobody’s even looked at all the different programs they have that do the same things in various departments," Goolsby said. "We have literally nickled and dimed our budget up billions of dollars over many years."

Herculean task
"We have a herculean task and an incredible mess that has been left to us with overspending and bad judgment," Goolsby added. Goolsby favors a zero-based budgeting approach to address the state deficit, starting over and looking at what must be funded.

"It basically calls for all the state departments to present the spending, the money that they need for their services," Goolsby said. "What we do then is we prioritize based upon constitutional and regulatory constraints. We line those things up and we fund what we’re able to, and everything else doesn’t get funded."

Goolsby and Leutze are vying for the seat left open by Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover, who chose not to run for a fourth term. Both candidates see the race as an important political one with regard to the overall General Assembly structure.

"We need 26 votes for the Republicans to take the Senate," Goolsby said. "Mine is one of six to eight decisive races that we believe we will win to give us control of the North Carolina Senate for the first time in well over 100 years."

The loss of experienced leadership from southeastern North Carolina, including Boseman, Sen. R.C. Soles, D-Brunswick, and Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, was a concern for Leutze, who said there are many state programs essential to the region’s prosperity.

A native of Charleston, S.C., Leutze holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree from the University of Miami and a doctoral degree from Duke University. He served in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of captain, and worked as a legislative assistant for U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey. He also held the position of professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to coming to UNCW, Leutze was president of Hampden-Sydney College from 1987 to 1990.

"We have a university here that we want funded," Leutze said. "We have a community college here we want funded. We have a port here that we want improved and the river dredged. We want better highways around Wilmington to deal with our traffic congestion…we have the film industry that we want to have some subsidies and incentives for."

"Political power in the state can move from this coastal region to the Piedmont in a heartbeat," Leutze added.
Job creation

Job creation is another big priority for both candidates.

"Where we’re going to get our state back to work is by reducing taxes, reducing spending, reducing overburdens of regulation and freeing up private industry to create jobs," Goolsby said. "It’s not going to be with more government programs."

Goolsby favors a Taxpayer Protection Act, which he said would reduce the growth of state government based on population growth and inflation, and require that 10 percent of the money be put back into a Rainy Day Fund.

"It’s another Republican bill that’s dead on arrival every year," Goolsby said. "Those two things will help us grab hold of our budget and start getting it under control."

Leutze created the international affairs program, "Globe Watch", which aired for 15 years on public television networks nationally and internationally. He narrated and produced five or more public television documentaries addressing environmental issues and their global implications.

Leutze’s campaign emphasizes the economy, education and the environment. All are linked he said because educated citizens and a good quality of life are needed to attract jobs.With public education, Leutze would like to add entrepreneurship and vocational courses to high schools. Entrepreneurship studies could help students learn early on what is involved in starting their own business, where ideas come from and what they can do with their ideas, Leutze said, adding that math skills could be incorporated.

"Americans are, I think, by nature creative and entrepreneurial–risk takers," Leutze said. "New small businesses down here could be started with entrepreneurial talent."

Vocational training for carpentry, plumbing, computer programming and other areas might help students who are bored with school and have no plans to go to college prepare for a job, Leutze said.

Goolsby supports lifting a charter school cap, which now is at 100 schools, and giving a $2,500 tuition tax credit to anyone who home schools their children or puts them in a non-government school.

Charter schools must function with higher criteria and test scores than public schools to stay open, Goolsby said. The tuition tax credit would save the state $5,000 per student because the yearly cost to educate a student in a public school is about $7,500, he said.

Other issues that must be addressed include problems with Medicaid, Leutze and Goolsby said.

"There is fraud and abuse in the Medicaid program," Leutze said. "It is a large program and it is very difficult to police."

Republicans plan to address some problems with Medicaid by opposing President Obama’s health care plan, Goolsby said.

"We do need to make sure that physician reimbursement is not cut any further," Goolsby said.

Deadlines approach, but voters have options

By Patricia E. Matson Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Election Day isn’t until Nov. 2, but there are several important dates coming up before then. Also, one of the races on the ballot will use a new process known as instant-runoff voting (IRV). So it isn’t too soon to start thinking about when and how to vote.

The last day to register to vote, or to change one’s name, address or party affiliation, is Friday, Oct. 8, up until 5 p.m. Registration can be done at the New Hanover County Board of Elections at 230 Government Center Dr. in Wilmington or at any N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles location.

Anyone who misses the registration deadline can still vote through One Stop early voting, which starts on Oct. 14 and is available through Oct. 30. During that time, registered voters, or unregistered people with proof of residence, can vote by appearing in person at the county government center, the Cape Fear Museum or the Carolina Beach Municipal Building. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; on Saturday, Oct. 30, the sole weekend date for One Stop, hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In addition, applications for mail-in ballots became available in September and can still be submitted through Oct. 26. The ballots must be returned to the board of elections by Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. On Election Day, votes can be cast only by registered voters at their precinct polling places. Visit to find out the locations, see sample ballots and other information.

Races in New Hanover County this fall include U.S. Senate and U.S. House, N.C. Senate and three N.C. House seats, District Attorney, NHC Commissioners (two seats), NHC Sheriff, NHC Board of Education (four seats), NHC Clerk of Superior Court, N.C. Supreme Court, N.C. Court of Appeals (four regular seats), N.C. Court of Appeals (IRV Contest), Superior Court Judge, District Court Judge (four judgeships), Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor and a Constitutional amendment on whether to bar convicted felons from serving as sheriff.

Most of the ballot options will be fairly simple choices between pairs of candidates, or yes/no for the amendment. However, one of the races is going to look unfamiliar. For the first time in North Carolina, a process called instant-runoff voting (IRV) will be used in a statewide race.

Judge James Wynn vacated his seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals when he was appointed to the federal bench in August. That was too late to hold a primary election for the seat, and 13 candidates are interested in it, so IRV will determine the final outcome.

Bonnie T. Williams, director of the county board of elections, explained that in IRV, voters basically rank their preferences. In the first column, they darken their oval for their first choice; in the second column, they pick their second choice; and in the third column, they select their third choice.

When votes are tallied on election night, only the first column is counted. It’s treated like a primary, said Williams, with the goal to find out if anyone receives a majority of votes. If so, that person wins the election.

If not, the top two vote-getters are determined from the first column. After that, those two candidates’ votes in the second and third columns are tallied, with equal weight for each column. Those numbers are added to the vote totals for the first column, and the candidate with the most combined votes from both rounds (all three columns) wins the election.

Williams said that different people must be selected for each column. If someone receives votes in more than one column on a ballot, only the first one is counted, so voters can’t double-weight or triple their votes.

Trust Issue Surfaces in Sheriff’s Race

By Patricia E. Matson
Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Marc Benson
Ed McMahon

Incumbent Ed McMahon and challenger Marc Benson have different visions for the future of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. The voters’ choice in the election for sheriff will depend on which vision they favor and whom they trust to achieve it.

Ed McMahon joined the sheriff’s office in 1991 after serving with the Vermont State Police. He was named the department’s Officer of the Year in 1998 and rose through the ranks to chief deputy in 2007. He was appointed sheriff by county commissioners in 2009 after the resignation of Sheriff Sid Causey.

Marc Benson became an auxiliary patrol officer in Wrightsville Beach in 1980. He became a sheriff’s deputy in 1983, and rose to assistant division commander for the detective division. He was named Officer of the Year in 1996 by the Fraternal Order of

Police for his work in convicting the murderers of Danny Pence, who was kidnapped from Wrightsville Beach and beaten to death in Durham in 1995.

Benson said his 1997 departure from the sheriff’s department was the result of a political decision by then-Sheriff Joe McQueen. According to county attorney Wanda Copley, McQueen terminated Benson, but in 2002, as part of the settlement of a lawsuit, Benson’s departure status was officially changed to reflect a resignation.

Since leaving the sheriff’s office, Benson has worked as an investigator for the New Hanover Health Network and as a Pender County deputy sheriff. He now runs a private detection agency and also has a weekly talk show, "Blue Line Radio," on Big Talker FM.

Benson said that if he were elected, he’d continue with the radio show to keep open communications with citizens. However, he would close his private investigation agency.

McMahon said being sheriff is a nonstop learning process. As chief deputy, he was in charge of day-to-day operations, but now answers to the county commissioners for his $34 million budget. He said he had saved money in small ways, like consolidating equipment orders, and large ways, like reducing the number of supervisors through attrition and reorganization. The sheriff oversees almost 400 full-time officers, about 100 more part-timers, and has responsibility for a jail that averages 550 inmates per day.

McMahon reinstated promotional testing for sergeants and lieutenants and started new programs including a citizens’ academy and the Gang Resistance Education and Training program for middle-schoolers. If elected, McMahon said, he’d expand on what he’d been doing. He’d work to keep empowering citizens and encourage senior staff to be better leaders and look for more ways to protect the community.

Leadership is also important to Benson, who said McMahon wasn’t the leader the county needed. Benson hoped to lead the sheriff’s office because he has a passion for law enforcement, and in morale, administration and management, there he said, "I see nothing but problems." He added that the office could be run more cheaply and efficiently with less senior staff and better accountability.

Benson ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in1998 and 2002. He said he lost by just three percent in 2002 and more people might vote for him now over issues like spending money on helicopters and officers killing an unarmed college student in 2006. That was when Causey was sheriff, but Benson claimed McMahon was part of the same regime, which was connected back through Sheriff Joseph Lanier to McQueen.

Benson cited the Charles Smith situation as an example of McMahon’s poor judgment, saying that the sheriff suspended the former public information officer, demoted him, transferred him to jail duties, and in the midst of that, recommended him for a county information technology job.

McMahon said he had received a criminal complaint from another county on Smith and asked the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to investigate. After several weeks, he stated, an SBI agent said the complaint would be unsubstantiated, with no charges coming from it and just a few loose ends to tie up. The sheriff’s Internal Affairs division then investigated and found conduct unbecoming to an officer, so McMahon demoted Smith.

McMahon said Smith then asked for a transfer out of law enforcement. The sheriff said he explained the circumstances to county manager Bruce Shell, never having seen the SBI report but believing no charges were coming, and recommended Smith for the reassignment.

Shell explained the situation similarly and said he found an existing opening in information technology for Smith. When the SBI came back with charges after all, Shell said, he was surprised, the sheriff was surprised and Smith was surprised.

Smith was charged with illegally accessing government computers, a felony, but reached an agreement Sept. 30 in Wake County District Court to plead guilty to private use of a public vehicle, a misdemeanor.

McMahon said he didn’t know what he could have done differently, other than waiting even longer for the loose ends before giving a recommendation for the supposedly cleared man. He also said that when mistakes were made, voters needed to judge him by how he reacted and dealt with them.

Benson said he didn’t believe McMahon’s version of events and claimed the sheriff knew every step of the way what SBI was doing.

"I’ve absolutely told you the truth … I will not lie, that’s my commitment to the community," responded McMahon. He also said it would have been just stupid to have recommended Smith if he had known of any possible charges.

On the issue of illegal aliens Benson said the county should sign up for a partnership with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to hold them in the jail, while McMahon said incarcerating illegal aliens would cost the county too much money.

Benson said he’d work for closer relations with other departments, from Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous to Wrightsville Beach Police Chief John Carey.

"We’re all in it together," Benson said.

McMahon said sheriffs have been cooperating more closely with other enforcement agencies in the county, from stepping up ABC enforcement to meeting with police chiefs to paying about half the cost for deputies who assist Wrightsville Beach during the tourist season.

McMahon and Benson did agree on two points. Both said citizens have a right to record officers performing their duty in public, so the deputy who ordered a man in Wrightsville Beach to quit filming the incident of a tazered streaker was actually in the wrong. Also, both strongly support a ballot amendment that would bar anyone convicted of a felony from serving as a sheriff.