In a district where the voting population leans to the right, the Republican primary for NC Senate District 27 representing rural Guilford County is expected to determine the winner of the general election. As a new district created last year, the lack of an incumbent helped push four candidates to announce their bids for office.
While the candidates agree on some overarching themes, especially around limited government, they waste no time distinguishing themselves from their competitors in a number of substantial ways.
Latimer Alexander, a High Point City councilman for the last decade, and Trudy Wade, a Greensboro councilwoman representing the southwestern part of the city and a former county commissioner, both hold elected experience.
As far as Libby Hill Restaurant owner Justin Conrad and Thomasville police officer Sal Leone are concerned, their lack of elected experience is important. Conrad said the people at all levels of government now are part of the problem.
“The problems are not going to be solved by politicians,” Conrad said. “We need someone with a business background.
We can’t send the same folks to a different office.”
Leone cast the issue in a different light, saying the politicians and business leaders — Alexander is the president of Latimer Alexander LLC, a fabric distribution company, and Wade owns Jamestown Veterinary Hospital — he is running against can’t relate to common people experiencing economic hardship.
“I’m a working guy for the working people,” he said. “I know the effects [of the economy]; I don’t just read it in the paper.” Leone, who ran for Greensboro City Council last year, said he has been laid off and unemployed, and that his job as a Thomasville police officer means he is out on the street interacting with people rather than sitting in an office, which he characterized as an asset.
“I’m not a full-time politician — I am a veterinarian,” Wade said, adding that she had business and civic expertise as well as the most political experience.
Alexander said Conrad’s position in favor of capping the gas tax showed how the two differ, saying Conrad approached the issue solely from a business perspective and didn’t explain how to make up the needed funds for transportation infrastructure development if the gas tax was capped.
Wade supports lowering and capping the gas tax. Conrad has publicly supported capping the gas tax, but when asked how his position would affect transportation infrastructure, he said money in the Highway Trust Fund should be allocated for transportation rather than special projects, as it is now.
“People are often concerned about how to make things work within a process and don’t realize the process is broken,” Conrad said, using the gas tax as an example. “It will take new thinking. Folks that have been involved in government for 10, 12 or 14 years aren’t going to be able to do that.”
Alexander said his political experience, including as the current president of the NC League of Municipalities and the Piedmont Triad Regional Council of Government means he is used to creating policy solutions and working as a team. Alluding to Wade, Alexander said the important thing for an elected official is to make progress on issues for their constituents rather than a voting record. When pressed, he said his leadership style differed from Wade’s as she articulated at the Guilford County Republican Convention on March 3, when she proudly described herself as a voice in the wilderness for conservatism on the current Greensboro council.
“I believe politicians are graded on what legislation you pass, rather than how you voted,” Alexander said. “I would be very proud to put my record up against her.”
Alexander and Wade also differ on social issues. At the convention, Wade said she supported Amendment One to change the legal definition of marriage, while Alexander said he views the proposed amendment as invasive government.
“I am not going to tell you what’s right for you in your life,” he said. “I am going to keep you safe though.” It is government’s job to establish rules, create infrastructure and “then we should get out of the way and let people live their lives.”
Wade said she supports conservative policy changes such as voter ID, charter schools, protecting the Second Amendment and fighting illegal immigration. In recent city council votes, Wade has pushed strongly for less restrictive concealed-carry laws and against a resolution opposing Amendment One, a constitutional amendment to the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Conrad said social issues are not his priority and that Amendment One will be a moot point considering the vote will be over before he takes office, but that ultimately he supports the proposed state constitutional amendment and considers himself a social and fiscal conservative.
Leone is squarely against Amendment One, and said he considers it a “hate bill.” A Republican who left the party a few years ago only to return recently, Leone doesn’t feel allegiance to the party platform or principles. He argued instead that state lawmakers should focus on helping struggling families.
“If someone can’t feed their kids, Republican and Democrat doesn’t matter [to them],” he said. Unlike his three opponents, he skipped the county convention. “I’m not a fanatic. I believe in flexibility and compromise.”
Leone’s positions are all over the board, covering free trade, changes to criminal sentencing laws ranging from issues like driving without a license to increasing the use of the death penalty. An animal lover with numerous stray cats under his wing, Leone also wants to strengthen animal-rights laws and travels the country visiting zoos. Describing his campaign manager David Crawford as having “a lot of heart,” Leone said Crawford was helping him with outreach to labor organizations and was very loyal.
Wade, who works as a veterinarian in addition to serving on council, has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the NC Board of Health. Wade hired Steve and Nicole Arnold to work on her campaign and Bill Burckley as a political consultant.
At the convention she touted her stances on council and emphasized the importance of job creation and economic growth, a topic all four candidates agree is most important. Wade said she advocates cutting business and personal taxes, decreasing business regulation and promoting cheap and abundant energy, such as drilling for gas, to improve the economy.
Speaking of his accomplishments on High Point’s council, Alexander talked about what the body achieved as a whole rather than himself individually, arguing that groups make changes. He pointed to a smaller ratio of government employees per citizen, a marked drop in violent crime and a minimal tax increase over the last decade as proof of his conservative leadership.