Raleigh, N.C. — Former lawmaker Robert Brawley thinks Gov. Pat McCrory has done a good job, while Attorney General Roy Cooper and Durham lawyer Ken Spaulding question McCrory's priorities.
All three men agree, however, that they could do a better job leading the state.
Brawley and Randleman businessman Charles Moss are challenging McCrory for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the March 15 primary, while Cooper and Spaulding will battle for the Democratic nomination.
"Listening is a keen intellectual exchange of ideas," said Brawley, 71, who says he's frustrated after his 20 years in the General Assembly as an Iredell County representative.
"The leadership doesn't seem to accept listening to others," he said. "I'm running partly because I don't think the public is being listened to."
Brawley is particularly upset with the plan to build toll lanes on Interstate 77 north of Charlotte, which McCrory supports, and by what Brawley calls a lack of transparency in approving the plan.
"People don't like to feel like it was done late at night behind the scenes, not even when you agree with it," he said. "You talk about transparency. I'd rather have it out front and discuss it so we, as a collective body, feel like it was 'our decision' and not 'my decision.'"
Still, he supports recent Republican-led efforts to raise the starting pay for teachers and apply sales tax to some services while cutting income tax rates.
McCrory, who declined an interview, has touted teacher pay and lower taxes among his successes during his three-plus years as governor. He has said such moves have led to job growth and a stronger state economy, and he is seeking to continue what he has dubbed "the Carolina comeback."
A WRAL News poll released Tuesday shows him easily winning the primary, with neither Brawley nor Moss, who couldn't be reached for comment, making it out of the single digits in terms of support among likely Republican voters.
Democrats seek change
Cooper and Spaulding share some ideas, particularly when it comes to public education. Both men want higher teacher pay and more teaching assistants, for example.
"It's about priorities," Cooper said. "You've got Gov. McCrory and legislative leaders with corporate tax giveaways to those at the top at the expense of public education and the middle class."
Spaulding says simply that "the clock has been turned back" in recent years by McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly.
"I think we're going backwards," he said.
Cooper's education plan also includes state-paid tuition to community colleges.
"When you prioritize, you can invest in public education," he said, adding he wouldn't need to raise taxes to accomplish his goals.
Both men have ideas that they say will bolster North Carolina's economy, and they are prepared to work with the legislature to put those ideas into action.
"We have to have Democrats that are different than just more-of-the-same and just picking Democrats based on who's next in line or who's turn it is," Spaulding said. "We need Democrats who are fiscally responsible, have a good business background, who've been a small businessperson, as I was to build my career for 45 years and be successful in my work."
One issue on which Cooper and Spaulding differ is how the case of a police shooting in Charlotte was handled.
Charlotte officer Randall Kerrick was charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell in September 2013. Kerrick and two other officers responded to a breaking and entering call at a home where Ferrell had sought help after a car accident. Ferrell, who was black, wasn't armed, but Kerrick, who is white, said that Ferrell charged at him and that he shot in self-defense.
A judge declared a mistrial after the jury couldn't reach a verdict, and Cooper, whose office handled the prosecution, decided against retrying Kerrick.
Spaulding criticizes the decision, but Cooper said it was the right move.
"In my office, as attorney general, we have to make tough decisions on individual cases, and we make those decisions based only on the law and the facts," Cooper said. "We make them to the very best of our ability."
The recent WRAL News poll put Cooper ahead of Spaulding by a 51-19 percent margin among likely Democratic voters.