Political newcomer Rep. Marcus Brandon upstaged entrenched incumbent Earl Jones in NC House District 60 two years ago, winning nearly 60 percent of the vote, and now Jones is back with a vengeance. Jones said the only reason Brandon beat him was that he campaigned for a year going door to door, but now his opponent will have to defend his record. District 60 is a minority-majority district stretching from High Point, where Brandon lives, through Greensboro covering the poorest sections of both cities. The co-founder of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum wasted no time naming Brandon’s shortcomings, charging that he has served the Republican agenda.
“It’s one thing to reach across the aisle, it’s another thing to sell out the basic needs of your district,” Jones said. “He was almost kicked out of the black caucus. That’s how horrible he’s been.”
Brandon is running a decidedly more positive campaign, focusing on improving employment opportunities for ex-offenders, economic development and the school system. While he took time to defend himself from Jones’ criticism, Brandon focused on the future and what he wanted to do for the district, while Jones emphasized his past accomplishments and the incumbent’s first term.
Brandon said his opponent was relying on rhetoric rather than record to try and win the seat and that a number of his statements were untrue, including ones concerning the NC Legislative Black Caucus and charter schools.
Jones said lifting the cap on charter schools was a keystone of the Republican agenda and was part of an attempt to re-segregate the school system by creating predominantly white private charter schools.
While Brandon supports charter schools, pointing to a new one he helped create in High Point for 250 black youth, he said the issue isn’t about public versus charter, but about choice. The black caucus ended up voting to lift the cap, and Jones admitted he voted in favor of similar changes during his tenure. Brandon said the fact that Jones called charter schools private when they are public shows that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
“He doesn’t know the facts or really know the issues,” Brandon said. “Charter schools are public schools and that’s indicative of his leadership. There’s not one student that has to pay to go to a charter school and they are governed by the board of education.”
Jones criticized Brandon to the point of saying he hasn’t done a single positive thing for the district and attempting to dismiss some of his accomplishments, even characterizing Brandon as out of favor with the NAACP.Ea rl Jones, the former representative of NC House District 60 accuses his replacement of getting too cozy with the Republicans. Marcus Brandon, the seat’s current occupant, focuses on the positives.
Yet the state NAACP gave the freshman representative an A rating, as he scored five out of five on the organization’s top issues. Brandon also received the state ACLU’s Legislator of the Year Award as well as accolades from other progressive organizations.
Brandon, who is openly gay, has been on the forefront pushing against the marriage amendment and Jones said it is one of the few issues they agree on, but Jones was quick to distance himself even there.
“[Brandon] supports equal and fair rights for gay citizens, which he should, but he questions equal and fair rights for African- Americans under the Voting Rights Act,” Jones said. Both candidates are black.
Brandon said he understands the reasons for the Voting Rights Act but that both parties have used African-Americans as pawns. Redistricting threatens certain types of politicians, Brandon said, but not him, adding that he could be elected even if his constituents weren’t 75 percent black.
“[The redistricting] is allowable by law, but we need to look at law and how we are used in this political process,” Brandon said. “I don’t think that we should protect certain kinds of politicians.”
Brandon said he challenges the notion that black lawmakers and the black community should speak with a monolithic voice.
He said he is willing to talk with and listen to anyone who is willing to work on the structural problems in the district, made up of many people he said were living in the depression before the depression. He focuses on getting out and talking to voters, and hosts regular town hall meetings, including one on April 18 at 6 p.m. at the YMCA on Spring Garden Street.
He has focused on education beyond charter schools, pushing for personal learning plans for students and the School & Teacher Paperwork Reduction Act. Brandon plans to focus on competitive capacity grants for job creation in poor urban areas, which he said would have a huge impact on High Point and Greensboro.
Brandon has championed second-chance laws to help eliminate barriers ex-offenders face when seeking employment. He helped organize a rally of 300 ex-offenders at the legislature, who then met with lawmakers, which Brandon said helped pass legislation to provide relief.
Jones said Brandon was only willing to take on non-controversial issues for exoffenders, even while criticizing Brandon for breaking party ranks. Jones said when he was in office, he supported more controversial things like expunging juveniles’ records.
The bill failed during Jones’ time, but one passed last June under the Republican-controlled legislature without Brandon as a co-sponsor.
“Failing does not show leadership, and if you fail when your party is in power, that’s even worse,” said Brandon, who has served in a Republican-dominated legislature. “How does he think he’s going to be effective when the opposite party is in power when he was not even remotely effective when his party was in power?” During his tenure as a representative, Jones said his most important accomplishments were securing funding to support the High Point furniture market, funding for the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and other economic development projects. Brandon continued Jones’ pattern, cosponsoring the High Point Furniture Market Funds bill.
Jones also highlighted his support for regulating video poker gaming, but Brandon said he had no time to talk about issues that distracted from the real problems in his district, including high poverty, HIV rates and infant mortality.
“The system doesn’t work for them,” Brandon said of his constituents.
“It’s total communities that work outside the system. People are dying.”
Brandon said he wants to break the cycle of poverty with job-creating programs and through education, which he has become more passionate and informed about since moving to High Point recently, because it wasn’t his lived experience as a child.
Jones said even if Brandon wins the election, he would be forced to think twice before “supporting causes that are not in the best interest of the district.”
“He really is an embarrassment in Raleigh,” Jones said. “Win or lose on my end, my candidacy is a win, because he will be exposed and will have to be more accountable.”
Brandon responded to a number of Jones’ claims by saying he doesn’t know what Jones is talking about and that he is just making things up.
“You have to be able to stop the rhetoric and work on stuff,” Brandon said, who added that he would love to participate in a debate. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Earl Jones. He’s got legacy. [Voters should know] when Rep. Marcus Brandon wakes up, he thinks about his district.”