In the coming weeks, Creative Loafing will be running political news contributor Mike Cooper's online-exclusive series of interviews with North Carolina's gubernatorial candidates. This week we begin with Rep. Bill Faison.
The 2012 race for governor in North Carolina was long billed as a rematch between incumbent Bev Perdue and the Republican challenger, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.
Then, weeks ago, Perdue shook the state political landscape with her announcement that she would not seek a second term. Since then, three Democrats have announced plans to run in a primary for the honor of taking on McCrory and succeeding Perdue.
Perhaps the best positioned candidate on the Democratic side is State Rep. Bill Faison, who loaned his campaign $500,000 in early January and has been more prepared for Perdue's announcement, considering he had been predicting that she would step aside since last fall.
Faison is a trial lawyer, a single father and a Democrat who has represented the 50th House district — which includes Caswell County and parts of Orange County — in the North Carolina General Assembly since 2005.
Faison spoke with CL about the race, his plans for North Carolina, and the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which also will be on the primary ballot in May.
Creative Loafing: Why did you decide to get into this race for governor?
Faison: The beginning for me, well I have three kids in college right now. And if you were to say that wasn't good planning on my part, I would agree with you. But I'm really close to my kids and we spend a lot of time talking. And my oldest is going to be the one out of school looking for work sooner than the others. And he has a lot of concerns, about whether or not government is working, what kind of jobs are going to be available when he gets out. So really the genesis for me was talking with him about his concerns for his future, and thinking about the concerns other parents have for their kids. We have about a half-million people out of work, and the same number of jobs in this state that we had 12 years ago but we have a million more people in this state now though. So we have a very large jobs problem that needs to be addressed.
CL: There has been some concern and a perception that you were eagerly pushing Gov. Perdue out the door. Would you address that concern, especially from activists inside the Democratic Party?
Faison: I've never attempted to push the governor out. I've always spoke highly of the governor. I supported her in her campaign for lieutenant governor. I supported her in the primary with the state treasurer when she first ran for governor. I gave her money, and supported her. It became clear to me last September that given the circumstances that existed, from her sense of who she is, and her historical perspective in North Carolina, that she would choose a very ambassadorial and statesmanlike fashion to end her elective career as a winner. And it became clear to me that she had no intention to file again to run for governor. And it played out just as I had anticipated. I have the greatest of respect for her, and it was the right move to make. Any suggestion that I was pushing her out is off base, it was simply an acknowledgment of the political reality, the intellect and insight of the first female governor of our state.
CL: The Democratic primary race for governor has three candidates right now. How can voters distinguish between you three gentleman?
Faison: The immediate distinction is that I am the only candidate from either party with a plan to put people back to work, and do it right away. I am the only candidate in either party with a plan to move us forward in a productive fashion, and provide the stimulus needed for small businesses to hire. I am the only candidate with a plan to support entrepreneurial efforts, and moreover I am the only candidate with a common sense approach to education to prepare our kids for a world economy, give them a world class education, and move everyone into an internet economy, and build the foundation to secure our future for everyone.
CL: Describe your record of service in the General Assembly, and what you have been able to accomplish so far in your public service career?
Faison: Well, as you probably know, I have not only chaired the House Democrats Business Caucus, but I have also been championing high speed internet access in both rural and urban areas. In order for a kid to get the kind of education that they need, in order to participate in a world economy, they need access to high speed internet. Not just at school, but they also need access at home. And I really think the days of the textbook are done, this is becoming a day of internet homework. Every kid going into high school needs a laptop, a device that allows them easy internet access. And in order to do their homework they have got to have internet access at home. We need to make this available to all the kids in our state. We need to view the internet, just as we once viewed electricity, telephones and roads when we moved from a farm based economy to a more industrial one.
CL: What does it mean to you to be a Democrat in North Carolina, in the 21st century?
Faison: That is a great question and I really appreciate you asking it. It means to me that your first concern is what is in the best interests of the people that you represent. That seems like a simple concept, but let me give you the juxtaposition of it. In this legislative session, if you look at the bills that have been passing they are not based on providing for the best interests of people. It is a radical social agenda of a few Republicans, and it is agenda for big corporate interests.
CL: Who do you personally look up to within the party's history, a storied history of men like Jim Hunt and Sam Ervin?
Faison: Well, you named two of the four. I would look up to Jim Hunt, I would look up to Sam Ervin, and also the work of Luther Hodges as being people within our state who have made huge differences, and kept the interest of people at heart. They were able to move this state forward economically and provide jobs for people. I think of Jim Hunt and the things he did for education in this state as extraordinary.
CL: Why is control of the governor's mansion so critical right now?
Faison: We need leadership at a statewide level if we are going to turn this economy around. Governments can hire people, governments can set policies that promote business, but in the end they do not create wealth. Wealth is created by entrepreneurs and businesses. We need someone in the governor's mansion who understands those concepts, and who is a practical business person who has met a payroll. I also think we need someone in there who understands the legislative process and what the governor has to do to work with the legislature. The Republican's champion has no idea how to do that. With a Republican dominated legislature, if we have them a governor as well, there would be no check or balance on their radical social agenda, or against their efforts to move pass bills that benefit corporate interests at the expense of people.
CL: What is it about North Carolina that we have been hit by this recession about as hard as anyone?
Faison: You are very insightful, and very right. The last time I looked we were among the seven hardest hit states in the country. There are some states that have been hit worse, but there are not many that have been hit worse. I think that's a combination of a couple factors. One is that we haven't grown jobs while we've added over a million people. That would be problematic in any society. The other thing is, in the legislature I've never seen anyone bring in an economist who understands how everything works, and how government and business interacts. That has just not been part of the decision making process at the state legislative level.
CL: On the other hand, what is it that is unique about North Carolina that will help us in our own path to recovery?
Faison: I think the key to it is our educational system. I think it needs to change, but to change to make things better. What we need to do is take advantage of our natural resources, and the best one is our people. We have a great climate on the east coast; we're well positioned for international trade. We need to take advantage of those things and bring our economy back.
CL: What is it about the Republican Party of North Carolina right now, and what they stand for, that you feel they should not be in charge of both the General Assembly, which they are likely to hold on to, and the governor's mansion?
Faison: There is a general understanding that Republicans do not know how to govern, and this crowd is proving that right now. They came in on a moderate theme of approaching and dealing with the economy. They ended up getting lost in the weeds with their radical social agenda and getting taken over by the money that helped put them in office. And that money came from people whose motivation was principally in the area of large corporate interests, not in the area of trying to do the best thing for people. All they are doing is meddling in folk's personal freedoms. They are cutting jobs, taking away opportunity and taking away benefits. They are taking away freedom, and we need to put a stop it.
CL: Are you going to be able to put together a statewide campaign that can organize in 100 counties? Plus, the other candidates have run statewide before, can you build an organization that can compete with them?
Faison: We've been running a grassroots campaign all the way through. And there are literally millions of people who are following our message and what we have been doing for five months.
CL: So in May, there will be a Democratic primary for governor, but there will also be constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on the ballot. In your opinion what would passage of that amendment mean for this state?
Faison: As you know, for over a decade we have had legislation on the books that says marriage is between a man and a woman. Not only has it been on the books, it has gone unchallenged for over a decade. In the states where bans have been challenged successfully they have an equal protection clause that specifically identifies equal protection based on sex. So we already have this statute that keeps marriage between a man and a woman, that has gone unchallenged, and where there is not a constitutional basis to challenge it. In the face of that, why would you pass an amendment? And the answer is, this amendment is not about marriage. What they're trying to is use scare tactics to drive out their base. So I voted against on the floor of the House, because it is completely unnecessary and attempt to divide our society. And when I go to the ballot box in May, I'll vote against it again.
Mike Cooper is a student at the Charlotte School of Law, a 2009 New Leaders Fellow at the Center for Progressive Leadership, and was born raised in North Wilkesboro, N.C.