Western North Carolina voters had a unique opportunity last Saturday, to meet four members of the North Carolina Council of State, three State Court of Appeals Judges, one candidate for Supreme Court, candidate of Lieutenant Governor, and several local candidates.
A vision of Macon County's Ben Utley and organized by the Jackson County Democratic Women, the rally, which was held at the old Jackson County Courthouse, gave voters from all over Western North Carolina the chance to hear from the candidates.
As noted by Jackson County Democratic Party Chairman Brian McMahan, Saturday's event was the first of its kind for either political party to feature candidates for Council of State, Lt. Governor, Supreme Court and Court of Appeals at one time.
The rally was the second stop of the Western North Carolina tour, the first being earlier Saturday morning in McDowell County, and Jackson's event was followed by a meet and greet in Swain County. Reaching out to voters in the western part of the state, the tour was centered around one theme: The need for continued female leadership at the state level. North Carolina leads the South in the number of women serving in statewide executive elected positions, and the rally echoed the need to continue that trend.
Leading off the rally was Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Linda Coleman. Coleman, who was born in Greenville, N.C., earned her Bachelor of Arts from N.C. A&T State University and later earned a masters in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
As a human resources management director, Coleman has been charged for years with attracting the highest quality of talent to North Carolina. Her work and expertise in that capacity led to her appointment as Director of State Personnel by Gov. Bev Perdue.
No stranger to politics, Coleman has become a proven leader who has been an effective voice for North Carolina. She has served as chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, elected three times to the North Carolina House of Representatives and appointed by the governor to lead the State Personnel Office.
“As Lieutenant Governor I will continue my work to promote and support education,” said Coleman. “I will make sure our next generation gets a world-class education so they can compete in a global economy.”
Coleman informed voters that if elected, she wanted to end the gridlock that is currently in the state legislature, and wants to be an advocate of working across party-lines to work for the people in the Tarheel state. “We need to re-commit ourselves to the values that we hold dear,” she said. “Democrats have made this state so progressive over the past 100 years and I want to continue that.”
If elected as Lieutenant Governor, out of 34 office holders, Coleman will only be the second woman to ever hold that position, the first being Beverly Perdue.
Following Coleman was Democratic incumbent Secretary of State candidate, Elaine Marshall. Marshall, who stands as the first woman ever elected to a statewide, executive branch office in the state, has worked throughout her tenure to reform lobbying laws to ensure transparency and reduce undue influence of special interest legislature. “We had an awesome morning with standing room only in Marion, and now standing room only in Sylva,” said Marshall. “We are just thrilled to be here with you.”
According to Marshall, her reason for wanting to seek re-election is to be able to finish what she started. “Two years ago, I made a decision to run for U. S. Senate because I believed that we, as a country, needed to focus more on people and less on powerful interests,” said Marshall. “While we came up short last year, the same issues that compelled me to run then, face us today. I’m running for re-election for North Carolina Secretary of State so we can keep up the fight.”
Marshall was born in Lineboro, Maryland in 1945. Her father was a farmer who, for many years, served as a volunteer fire fighter and community leader, and her mother was the organist in the family’s small rural church for more than 60 years. She attended public schools as a child and became the first person in her family to graduate college. Marshall studied textiles at the University of Maryland from 1964 to 1968, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Textiles and Clothing. During her undergraduate years, she spent her summers working as a camp director for the Maryland 4-H Foundation, an organization she has continued to support.
After graduation, Marshall taught in the public schools of Lenoir County, N.C., and then ran a book and gift store. She later returned to the field of education as an instructor at Lenoir Community College and Johnston Technical Community College.
Marshall returned to school to study law at the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University and earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in 1981, where she was accepted into the “Who's Who Among American Universities and Colleges.” Marshall has been admitted to practice before all North Carolina courts, the U.S. District Courts in the Eastern and Middle Districts of N.C., the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. She is a member of the N.C. State Bar, the N.C. Bar Association, the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys, and the Delta Theta Phi legal fraternity.
Marshall has been active in Democratic politics in North Carolina for more than 30 years. From the early 1970s, she was active in the Young Democrats organization and eventually became National Secretary of the Young Democrats of America. In Harnett County, where she practiced law, Marshall served as president of Democratic Women and in 1991, served as chair of the Harnett County Democratic Party.
Marshall was first elected to public office in 1992 as a member of the North Carolina Senate representing the 15th Senate District. In 1996, she ran for the post of North Carolina Secretary of State against Republican challenger and former stock car racer Richard Petty. She won the election by a margin of 53 percent to 45 percent and became the first woman elected to a statewide executive office in North Carolina history.
Since first being elected, Marshall has won re-election three times and in 2008, received the second highest vote total of any candidate in the state.
Marshall told voters on Saturday that according to recent polls, Republicans are losing women supporters. “Republicans are losing with women, do you think they know why,” she asked the audience? “Well, I don't think they know because with the addition of Paul Ryan on the ballot with Romney sure isn't going to help them one bit.”
“I want to put an end to the state supported assault on women,” said Marshall. “Republicans want to drop coverage on birth control, yet fight to make sure that Viagra is fully covered. Women are heads of committees, heads of families, and with your support will continue to be leaders in the state.”
Incumbent Democratic State Auditor candidate Beth Wood, like Marshall, became a part of N.C. history when she was elected as the first woman to be elected as State Auditor in 2009. Wood, who is a long-time public servant with 19 years of auditing experience, previously worked in the State Auditor’s Office for more than a decade and also served in the State Treasurer’s Office. Prior to state government, Wood worked with Rayovac Corporation, as a CPA with McGladrey & Pullen and was the CFO for a North Carolina-based furniture company.
“Thank you citizens of Western North Carolina for all you have done for me,” said Wood. “In 2009, you voted to take out the only Republican that has ever been State Auditor and put me into office.”
During Wood’s tenure, the Office of the State Auditor has taken audit reports to the General Assembly for legislative action that have resulted in a number of bills being passed. Wood has lead her office in performing follow-up procedures on previously performed audits to make sure agency remedies are in place and working.
One of her greatest accomplishments, Wood explained to voters is how she and her staff have also identified numerous poor contracting practices which resulted in saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in waste over the last decade.
During her tenure in the State Auditor’s Office, Wood worked to bring the state’s compliance supplements up to federal standards, ensuring that federal grants are being used as intended. Wood was a leader in redesigning the Auditor’s Office training program to make training more relevant to state auditors’ work as well as helped develop employee evaluations that better reflected the job performance of Auditor’s Office employees.
Wood grew up on her family’s tobacco farm near Cove City in Eastern North Carolina. After graduating from community college, Wood went to work as a dental hygienist, but after a few years decided she wanted to complete a four-year college degree and enter the world of finance. She put herself through East Carolina University, graduating with a degree in accounting and became a Certified Public Accountant in 1987.
Wood spoke to the success and accomplishments of the members of the Council of State and Lt. Governor. “These women are doing a great job in office, and you know how I know that?” she asked. “I know that because I audit them and their departments.”
Joining Marshall and Wood in N.C. history books, incumbent Democratic State Treasurer candidate Janet Cowell became the first woman elected to her post after being elected the 27th Treasurer of North Carolina.
Cowell spoke about how being raised as the daughter of a Methodist minister and public school teacher instilled in her a profound belief in the importance of service to others.
Known for her independence and commitment to doing what is right regardless of politics, Cowell has transformed the Department of State Treasurer, bringing in experts from outside government and instituting reforms critical to North Carolina’s long-term fiscal health.
Under her executive leadership as Treasurer, North Carolina has maintained a triple-A Bond rating for strong financial and debt management practices, and is recognized as one of only seven states to earn the rating by Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s Investment Services, and Fitch Ratings.
Despite the tough economic climate, North Carolina is ranked as the fifth-best funded pension in the country. Cowell is responsible for overseeing more than $70 billion in pension fund investments for the 850,000 teachers, firefighters, and public employees of North Carolina. With the state's pension fund and the State Health Plan, she is solely responsible for 15 percent of the state's overall budget.
A Tennessee native, Cowell grew up in the Southeast until attending college at the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated with honors and went on to earn a Master of Business Administration degree from the Wharton School of Business, as well as a Master’s degree in International Studies from the Lauder Institute.
Cowell worked as a financial analyst with organizations, including HSBC Bank and Lehman Brothers, in New York and international offices before making her home in North Carolina in 1997. Living in Raleigh, she provided business consulting to various Fortune 500 companies and served as an adjunct professor at two institutions of higher learning in the state.
In 2001, Cowell began contributing her financial expertise and leadership to work for the citizens of North Carolina after being elected to Raleigh City Council in 2001, serving two terms. Cowell was elected to the North Carolina State Senate in 2004, and began serving as Treasurer in 2008.
Explaining to voters in Jackson that it was North Carolina's public education system that drew her to the Tarheel state, in 2011, Cowell began her work to integrate financial education with K-12 social studies curriculum across the state. She visited many of North Carolina’s schools to educate students on managing student debt, and recently partnered with the State Education Assistance Authority and the Community College System to launch Advanced Money Management for Community College Students.
Overall, Cowell’s career encompasses 20 years of leadership and financial management for organizations locally, nationally, and internationally, in both the public and private sectors. Her policies on economic development, innovation, and making government work for the citizens of North Carolina have earned her two Legislator of the Year awards, including Freshman Legislator of the Year and Environmental State Senator of the Year, and the honor of being named an Aspen Institute Fellow in 2009 while State Treasurer.
Now in her 10th year of elected office, and with the nation facing unprecedented economic challenges, Cowell continues the conservative debt practices and solid economic development policies that keep the state in secure financial standing.
Rounding out the group of historical figures, Democratic incumbent candidate for State Superintendent June St. Clair Atkinson, the first woman elected State Superintendent of the Public Schools of North Carolina, addressed the audience.
“Nothing could be finer than to be in Western North Carolina this afternoon,” said Dr. Atkinson. “Did you know that at an astounding 80.2 percent, North Carolina currently has the highest graduation rate in the state's history, and with 93.6 percent, the Western North Carolina county, Graham County, has the highest graduation rate in the entire state.”
Serving as State Superintendent since 2005, Dr. Atkinson understands the importance of improving teaching and learning, creating school environments that encourage student success, keeping education modern and relevant, and graduating every student career and college ready.
In leading the Department of Public Instruction, Dr. Atkinson is directing the groundbreaking Accountability and Curriculum Reform Effort (ACRE) initiative to revitalize the state's curriculum and accountability programs. North Carolina's landmark Race to the Top Grant is helping support this work in addition to several other key reform initiatives such as transforming low-performing schools. Dr. Atkinson also has been focused on ensuring students have the opportunity to learn the technical skills that are important in today's global economy.
As State Superintendent, Dr. Atkinson oversees almost 1.5 million students in more than 2,500 public schools and 115 districts. She has more than 35 years of experience in education. During her career, she has served as a chief consultant and director in the areas of business education, career and technical education, and instructional services within the NCDPI. A former business education teacher, Dr. Atkinson has been involved in instruction and curriculum development throughout her career.
She has received numerous awards over the years including recent accolades such as the Champion of Children Award from the North Carolina Association of School Administrators, the State Policy Maker of the Year Award from the National Association for State Educational Technology Directors, and the North Carolina Association of Educators Inclusive Leadership Award. In addition, Dr. Atkinson has held many professional offices and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Council of Chief State School Officers.
Dr. Atkinson received a bachelor's degree in Business Education from Radford University, a master's degree in Vocational and Technical Education from Virginia Tech, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy from North Carolina State University.
Under her leadership, Dr. Atkinson has made history with the improvement in public education. “Not only have we increased our graduation rate by 12 percent,” she said. “But we have the sixth highest achievement level for the amount of money receive.”
According to Dr. Atkinson, who originally debated running for reelection, she decided to do so in order to continue working for children in the state. “I am not going to be satisfied until we get our graduation rate to nearly 100 percent,” she said. “I will not be satisfied until every child in the state feels comfortable enough to read in public because he or she has been taught how to read.”
North Carolina Court of Appeals
Although the N.C. Court of Appeals Judicial candidates run in nonpartisan races, candidates attended the rally to encourage voters to remember them in the upcoming election. Incumbent judge Linda McGee introduced the trio by explaining they are the “fair choices” for judicial candidates.
“It is a man's world unless women vote,” said McGee. “And with this group of distinguished Council of State members, they are proving it is a man's world unless women vote.”
McGee, who was born and raised in Marion, received her undergraduate education at Chapel Hill and in 1973 completed her law degree. McGee practiced criminal and civil law in Boone for 17 years, at which time she received the 1992 Pro Bono Service Award from the North Carolina Bar Association. In 1998 she was appointed to the Carolina Court of Appeals and has been elected to retain that seat twice (1996 and 2004).
“Between myself, Judge Wanda Bryant and Judge Cressie Thigpen, we have 30 years of judicial experience on the Court of Appeals,” noted McGee. “Wanda and I make a third of the women population of the Court of Appeals and Wanda and Cressie make up two thirds of the African American population.”
Bryant, who was born in Southport, received her undergraduate education at Duke University, where she was an Angier B. Duke Scholar. She received her law degree from North Carolina Central University in 1982 and is licensed to practice law before the Supreme Court.
In 1987, Bryant became the first female and the first African American to head the 13th prosecutorial district. In 1989, she became the Assistant to the U.S. Attorney for the Washington DC district. In 1993 she returned to North Carolina as the senior Deputy Attorney General for the state until her appointment to the bench in 2001. In 2004, she was elected to retain her current seat.
Judge Thigpen was born in Pennsylvania to North Carolina natives, but soon returned to the Tarheel state to live. He was raised in Greensboro for the first six years of his life before moving to Hoke County. Thigpen received his undergraduate education at N.C. Central University and his law degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 1973.
Originally, Thigpen had a solo practice, but from 1976 until 2008 he worked as a partner in a law firm. He was appointed as a Special Superior Court Judge in 2008 and then in 2010 was appointed to his current post on the Court of Appeals.
Samuel James “Jimmy” Ervin IV is a North Carolina lawyer and jurist who sits on the North Carolina Court of Appeals and is running for Supreme Court judge. He served as a state Utilities Commissioner before being elected to the court in 2008. He is the grandson of U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin and the son of Judge Sam Ervin, III.
Ervin was born and raised in Morganton, where he lives today. Ervin attended Burke County public schools and graduated in 1974 from Freedom High School. He graduated magna cum laude from Davidson College, where he majored in history, and he earned his law degree, cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 1981.
Ervin practiced law in Morganton from 1981 until 1999. In 1999, he was appointed to the North Carolina Utilities Commission by Gov. Jim Hunt. He was reappointed by Gov. Mike Easley in 2007.
From 2004 until 2007, Ervin served as chairman of the Committee on Electricity of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).
Candidates for local levels of government including 11th District U.S. Congressional candidate Hayden Rogers, 50th District State Senate candidate John Snow and 115th District House of Representative candidate Joe Sam Queen also attended the rally to meet with voters.