Local Politics

Veteran commissioners compete for Wake District 4

Posted October 3, 2016 12:51 p.m. EDT
Updated October 3, 2016 12:54 p.m. EDT

— Wake County voters will choose this fall between two former members of the Board of Commissioners to represent District 4, which covers parts of Cary and the southwestern portion of Raleigh.

Republican Kenn Gardner previously served eight years as a commissioner. Democrat Erv Portman is a former Cary Town Council member who filled in for one year as a replacement for Stan Norwalk, who resigned mid-term.

Portman and Gardner are running to represent a district based off of maps drawn in 2001, although all Wake County voters will weigh in on who represents the area.

A federal appeals court threw out a more recent redistricting plan that was drawn by state legislators. That plan would have created two regional districts in addition to seven local ones, but the court found that it violated constitutional one-person-one-vote protections.

The winner will replace Caroline Sullivan, who filed to run in one of the regional districts that the court eliminated.

Both Gardner and Portman hold similar views on how and if districts should be redrawn when legislators return to session in 2017.

Gardner said he doesn't see the need for an expansion of the board from seven members to nine.

"I thought seven was a good number," he said. "If you have a strong, two-party system ... you would debate and discuss issues and be able to come to the best conclusion."

Portman said the maps should be left alone, calling the Republican lawmakers' redrawing unconstitutional.

"It was an overreach on the part of the legislature for partisan purposes," he said. "It was wrong."

The Board of Commissioners gave Wake County Schools about $12 million less than the school board requested this year, which helped create both a $17.5 million gap in funding and another issue the commissioners would have to face.

Portman and Gardner hold similar views on education spending, both saying they would prefer not to raise taxes, but would not rule it out.

But they diverge when it comes to the 0.5 percent increase on local sales tax rate on the ballot in November that would be used to help fund the Wake County Transit Plan. The plan includes connecting Durham, Orange and Wake counties by expanding bus routes and developing a new commuter rail line.

Portman said he advocated for the transit plan to be on the ballot in 2012, just as Durham and Orange County voters approved their own sales and use tax increases.

"Wake normally leads, not follows, and in this case, we're following," he said.

Gardner said he’s voting against it in November because of the possibility of Wake County taxpayer funds going to transit infrastructure built outside of the county.

"I am supportive of rail, but I’m not supportive of this rail," he said. "I don't think we have enough money to build infrastructure in other communities."