RALEIGH — Delays may have put North Carolina lawmakers in the unfamiliar position of facing primary challengers in the midst of a legislative session, but candidates’ attempts to use support for a state lottery and a local-option sales tax increase to defeat primary opponents largely failed, according to a preliminary analysis of Tuesday’s election results.
Before the primaries, John Locke Foundation President John Hood identified 12 legislative races where the state lottery issue divided either Democratic or Republican candidates. These races included incumbent vs. incumbent contests, incumbents being challenged in primaries, and races without incumbents. In 10 of the 12 races, candidates running as lottery supporters lost their nomination bids.
Prominent examples of the trend included Rep. Edd Nye defeating Rep. Nurham Warwick in the House 22 Democratic primary, Rep. Ronnie Smith defeating former Rep. Bruce Ethridge in the House 13 Democratic primary, Sen. Phil Berger defeating Sen. Bob Shaw in the Senate 26 Republican primary, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird defeating Sen. Howard Lee in the Senate 23 Democratic primary, Rep. Jeff Barnhardt turning back a strong pro-lottery challenger in the House 75 Republican primary, and Sen. Charlie Albertson defeating a pro-lottery challenger in the Senate 10 Democratic primary.
“We’ve been told that those who oppose a state lottery in North Carolina are taking a grave political risk, given the public opinion polls and the well-financed interests who favor state-sponsored gambling,” Hood said. “But if Tuesday’s results are any indication, the lottery is not at all the winning political issue that its supporters claim it is.” He added that the only major counterexample was in House 64, where longtime Republican Rep. Cary Allred beat back a challenge from Keith Whited, who had contrasted his position against the lottery with Allred’s support.
Another unifying theme in a number of legislative races, Hood reported, consisted of Republican candidates with experience in local government challenging GOP incumbents who earlier this year voted against giving localities the authority to levy an additional half-cent sales tax. The NC House defeated the provision, which would raise the average sales tax rate in most counties to 7 percent for at least six months, but the NC Senate included it in its version of a new state budget, so the issue remains alive in current budget negotiations.
Challengers such as former Hickory Mayor Bill McDonald in Senate 44, Gaston County Commissioner Joe Carpenter in House 110, Stokes County Commissioner Barry Lawson in House 91, and Hickory Mayor Pro Tem Hamilton Ward in House 88 made support of a sales tax increase for local governments a key element in their campaigns. All of them lost to opponents of the proposed tax increase, including Sen. Austin Allran, Rep. Debbie Clary, Rep. Rex Baker, and Rep. Mark Hilton.
“When given a choice, voters seem to have sent a very clear and loud message on Tuesday: whatever the governor or state legislature do to local governments, don’t raise our taxes because of it,” Hood said.
For more information about the John Locke Foundation’s analysis of federal, state, and local primaries, call John Hood at 919-828-3876 or visit the website of the Foundation’s monthly newspaper at www.CarolinaJournal.com.