Republicans to square off in May 8 primary
by Mike Parks
Though there are three people running for the county’s District 6 seat in this year’s election, the race is mostly focused so far on Bill James, and those who either like the incumbent or want to see him gone.
That’s not to say that Ed Driggs, James’ Republican challenger, or Connie Green-Johnson, the lone Democrat in the race, don’t have a number of issues they’d like to address if given the chance as the area’s county commissioner. But listen to them talk about their candidacy in the 2012 election, and there’s a general theme playing out…
“My model is to bring some stability and common sense” to the Mecklenburg County Commission, Driggs said in an interview Monday, March 12. Look at his website, www.eddriggs.com, and you’ll get the message: “It’s time for more effective conservative government in south Mecklenburg” and “We need a new effective voice…”
Ask Green-Johnson and she’ll tell it to you more plainly.
“The gentleman who sits in this District 6 seat has become an affront to just about everyone in the community with his personal views,” she said Monday. “I am just appalled that we would even have someone in any election acting and saying the horrible things he says.” Green-Johnson was referring specifically to two incidents: one where James called the urban black community a “moral sewer” in an email, and another where television cameras caught James saying to Commissioner Vilma Leake “Your son was a homo, really?” after Leake spoke about her son’s sexual identity at a board discussion on domestic partner benefits.
Ask James, or the many voters who have put him in office for eight terms now, about comments like that, and the incumbent commissioner will tell you he’s more than happy to take the beating to speak for the interests of his constituents.
“I think that what people want is someone who will stand up for them and take the heat and say what they themselves believe in… and I do that, and I feel I do it fairly well,” James said of voters, and why he’s seeking his ninth term this year. “The world is in a sorry state in 2012, and now’s not the time to abandon the people of District 6.”
James said he could have run for a local N.C. Senate seat, or joined the other 11 Republicans seeking Rep. Sue Myrick’s U.S. District 9 seat, but he’s focused on staying in south Mecklenburg, fighting to lower taxes, spend money more efficiently and protect his constituents from a property revaluation process he said treats south Mecklenburg homeowners like “second-class citizens.”
James has been the leader people like the South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers are looking for in fighting the county’s revaluation process. “God Bless Bill James,” one SMART member said in an e-mail.
But ask James what’s most important to him right now, and his mind jumps straight to taxes.
“Taxes are just too high and we need to reduce them, even if it means cutting back on some services,” James said. He points to the county’s bond fund, and says it’s vital it “be tweaked to not be used … on Uptown trinkets” like basketball arenas or baseball stadiums.
As for his in-party challenger in the May 8 primary, James says he’s waiting to learn more.
“I don’t know what my opponent stands for, other than he’s not me,” James said, claiming Driggs is running on an Anyone-But-James campaign instead of taking a stand on the issues of the day. “I haven’t heard one single thing from him” on issues like giving an additional $30 million to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which James is against, or N.C. Amendment 1, which would define marriage in the state as only between a man and a woman, which James supports.
Driggs, for his part, has a platform based on three main points: effective government, education and economic opportunity and public safety.
“I’m concerned about the conditions our government is in,” Driggs said. “I see the spending going out of control (and) we had a tax increase in Mecklenburg County last year that I thought was unnecessary… I think we already have a high tax rate here … if you let tax rates get too high you’re basically giving away your future.”
Driggs, who lives in south Charlotte’s Piper Glen subdivision, has recently seen his kids go away to college, and knows now’s the time if he wants to represent south Mecklenburg.
“I’m focused on jobs, and the best way to create jobs is basically to let the free market do its thing,” the self-proclaimed “pro-business candidate” said. “The role of the county is to not interfere with that by imposing high taxes and adding regulations.”
Driggs’ concerns also stretch out to the education system, and he’s on the board of the anti-dropout group Communities In Schools and on the President’s Council at Central Piedmont Community College. Driggs says it’s vital to have someone on the county commission who can get more funding to schools in District 6.
His other key concern? Crime. For Driggs, it’s another example of money not being spent where it needs to be.
“The district attorney’s office is way under funded,” he said. “They can’t keep up with the caseload and because of that a lot of cases don’t even come to trial.”
People can meet Driggs at his next meet-and-greet session, scheduled for March 27 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Rush Espresso, 14815 Ballantyne Village Way. He’ll be at the City Tavern in Steele Creek April 5, from 5 to 7 p.m., and Café 157 in Matthews on April 12 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Driggs and James face off in a primary vote May 8, with the winner going on to face Connie Green-Johnson in the general election in November. Though he may not know it, Driggs has a big supporter in Green-Johnson, at least for now. One of her main platform points is to just unseat the incumbent, though she’s also very concerned about the state of health and human services in the county, as well as improving education and being good stewards of taxpayer money.
One way to be better stewards, Green-Johnson said, would be through some consolidation of city and county services. “You have to look at consolidating services in order for us to be a city that’s going to be sustainable, and not a city where we have one side of town with ‘haves,’ and the other side of town the ‘have nots.’”
One group that needs help is the area’s seniors, Green-Johnson, who has worked in health care for a good bit of her life, said.
“Our seniors need to be valued, need to have services for them, need the parks and greenways and need to not feel like they’re prisoners in their own homes,” she said.
But the county also needs to spend more so they don’t have to keep making new prisoners, she said, in terms of filling up jails. “If we don’t educate kids and encourage kids to be educated, no matter what zip codes they live in, they’re going to eventually come knocking on our doors because they know we have something.”
To make all that happen, Green-Johnson said, the county needs to start making the right choices.
“Don’t spend like crazy! We have to make good decisions,” she said. “You can make good decisions now so you can reap the benefits later. I have three grandchildren. Do you think I want to create enough debt to impact their lives?”
Green-Johnson is a member of the Democratic Women Club and chair of Precinct 227. She’s also a member of the League of Women Voters for Mecklenburg County. But she wants to be clear… politics isn’t her main focus.
“I am not nor will I become a professional politician,” she said. “I promise the citizens of District 6, I will restore transparency and civility. I will include all the citizens in decisions that will be made through the county commissioner’s seat.”
Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly will be taking a closer look at the other upcoming races in the following weeks, as well as running detailed candidate surveys for all the races prior to the primaries in May.