RALEIGH, N.C. — The election season began in earnest Monday across North Carolina, with candidates from governor to county commissioner signing up to run for public office.
Among the earliest filers at the state Board of Elections were Democratic primary opponent for embattled U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance, and GOP gubernatorial candidate Fern Shubert.
"I just hate standing in line," Shubert quipped after she paid the $1,299 filing fee to run for governor shortly after noon.
Candidates, their political handlers and well-wishers crowded the elections board room to turn in notices to run in their party's primary, but elections director Gary Bartlett and deputy Johnnie McLean noted it was unusually calm.
"This is the most relaxed opening that she and I have witnessed in our history," Bartlett said after the first wave of filings.
Battles over legislative redistricting forced the state to push back the primary date from May 4 to the current July 20. That also delayed the start of filing season, which is to run from Monday through noon on May 7.
The state's 2002 primary was delayed until September, also due to redistricting. Bartlett said a state Supreme Court ruling last week that upheld laws related to redistricting challenges brought some hope for "normalcy to the election cycle that we're in."
U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., filed Monday through overnight mail, while a representative of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., quietly handed in Jones' paperwork and slipped out.
"This has become less a media event than in previous years," Bartlett said.
Several candidates still showed up to get some time in front of the reporters who stake out the board of elections office for the first day of filing.
Shubert, one of at least six candidates who have been campaigning for the Republican gubernatorial nomination for months, said she filed as soon as possible to show voters "I'm enthusiastic about this."
The four-term state legislator from Union County has been a vocal General Assembly critic of Democratic spending and borrowing bills.
Shubert said she introduced legislation that would have eliminated a portfolio requirement for new teachers, pointing to passage of that bill as a sign that she can lead better than Democratic Gov. Mike Easley.
"It's not the governor, it's the insider machine that he represents" that Shubert opposes, she said. "I've had more success at beating that machine than any of the Republican gubernatorial candidates."
Easley vetoed Shubert's bill, but the portfolio requirement was later dropped when the state Board of Education eliminated it.
Christine Fitch is taking a second shot at Ballance, to whom she lost in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District seat two years ago. At the time, Ballance was a state senator seeking to succeed friend and outgoing incumbent Eva Clayton.
"Now he has to stand on his own record," said Fitch, an East Carolina University professor and Wilson County school board member who ran fourth of four Democrats in the 2002 primary.
The FBI and the state have been investigating Ballance's role in a drug and alcohol counseling program he helped form. A state audit last year determined the John A. Hyman Memorial Youth Foundation made $325,000 in questionable payments and cited potential conflicts of interest.
Fitch said she plans to raise the controversy in her campaign, but said, "whether he answers or not is a different issue."
Republican Les Merritt filed for state auditor, a position under a brighter spotlight since Democratic incumbent Ralph Campbell Jr. released a critical review of the state Medicaid office two weeks ago.
Merritt who lost to Campbell by less than 30,000 votes in 2000, said Campbell should have pinpointed problems with Medicaid's hospital funding program when he first examined it seven years ago.
"If he had acted on the information, when it came up in 1997, this whole train wreck could have been missed," Merritt said.
Randolph County nursery owner Tom Gilmore also filed Monday to challenge Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb in the Democratic primary. Cobb was appointed to the post last year after a campaign finance scandal that sent former commissioner Meg Scott Phipps to federal prison.
Other candidates to file in the first hour Monday were Republican Jean Smoot and Democrat Marshall Stewart, for superintendent of public instruction.
Voters will choose a new governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator and members of Congress. All the Council of State positions are up for new four-year terms, along with all 170 seats in the General Assembly. Scores of appellate and trial court judgeships also are up for election.
Legislative and county candidates file at county board offices.
The general election will be held Nov. 2.