Raleigh, N.C. — The race for the open House District 49 seat will likely hinge on voters' feelings toward education in North Carolina.
Republican Gary Pendleton seeks to eliminate the state Department of Public Instruction and the main office of the North Carolina Community College System, while Democrat Kim Hanchette said the General Assembly needs to invest more in education.
House District 49 stretches through north-central Raleigh, from Interstate 540 down Glenwood Avenue to Wade Avenue. It leans Republican, but only slightly. The late Rep. Jim Fulghum won the seat in 2012 by 8 percentage points.
Pendleton, a former Wake County commissioner, was sworn in last month to fill out Fulghum’s term and is looking for voters to send him back to the state House for a full two-year term.
“I would like them to know how civically involved I am and how much I care about this state and how much I care about my local community,” he said.
A retired army brigadier general, Pendleton is a small-business owner who has served on many state and local boards, including WakeMed, the Kiwanis and a stint as the county’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission chairman.
Pendleton says his focus will be “jobs, education and the economy,” noting that he wants to give state employees a larger raise. Yet, he said he also believes taxes should be cut further, despite growing concerns that the last round of tax cuts may have put a crimp in state revenue.
“The only way we can find that money is to cut out whole programs that we just don’t need anymore,” he said. “They’re all bloated. ... There are whole sections of state government that can be done away with.”
For example, he called DPI and the community college system headquarters "a nuisance to our public schools and our community colleges.”
Hanchette, who founded a diabetes education program, has never held elected office before, but she said she decided to become involved after attending some of the "Moral Monday" legislative protests in 2013.
“I was pretty unhappy with the direction that the General Assembly has gone, in terms of mostly education,” she said. “I just feel like it’s the building block for everything else, in large part.”
Hanchette says her past experience as a PTA president has helped her understand the challenges teachers face in the classroom every day. She says years of tight budgets have left those teachers without the support and materials they need.
“I think a lot of people aren’t aware when they don’t have children in public school right now how bad things are," she said. "I have a neighbor who’s a chemistry teacher at Broughton (High School in Raleigh), and when I talked to her, she told me she hasn’t had a new textbook for ten years.
“I don’t know how in the world we can prepare our students to meet the challenges and get the jobs in the global world that we live in with a 10-year-old AP Chemistry book,“ she continued.
Both Pendleton and Hanchette have been targeted by negative ads from the other side. Although Pendleton has picked up endorsements from some prominent Wake County Democrats, including former District Attorney Colon Willoughby and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, the race remains too close to call. A poll by the right-leaning Civitas Foundation in early October found the two candidates tied at 46 percent.