Democrats take 5 of 7 Council of State races

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 5, 2008

By Mike Cranston
Associated Press Writer
CHARLOTTE (AP) _ Democrats won five of seven Council of State races Tuesday, riding the wave of support that the party gained higher on the ballot.
Democrat Janet Cowell won her bid to become North Carolina’s next treasurer. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cowell had nearly 54 percent of the vote. Republican Bill Daughtridge had 46 percent.
The closest race wasn’t decided until nearly all the votes were counted, when two-term incumbent Republican Cherie Berry was re-elected as labor commissioner. Berry had 50.4 percent of the nearly 4 million votes. Democrat Mary Fant Donnan, a program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, had just over 29,000 fewer votes.
The labor commissioner is responsible for protecting the health and safety of the state’s more than 4 million workers.
Cowell, meanwhile, will replace Richard Moore, who is leaving office in January after eight years and a failed bid to win the Democratic nomination for governor.
Cowell will have to quickly deal with the loss of at least $6 billion in the state’s public pension funds, hit hard by falling prices on the stock market.
Cowell, of Raleigh, earned a master’s degree from the Wharton School of Business. She is currently a business consultant and a state senator. Cowell said she planned to consult with investment professionals who manage large pension funds.
The Cowell-Daughtridge race was one the lesser-known contests in the Council of State, which essentially serves as the governor’s cabinet.
Democrat Wayne Goodwin was elected as North Carolina’s insurance commissioner. He’ll replace Jim Long, who is stepping down after 24 years.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Goodwin had nearly 52 percent of the vote. Republican John Odom had 44 percent and Libertarian Mark McMains just under 4 percent.
Goodwin will confront the issue of preserving the plan North Carolina created to insure coastal property.
Democrat Beth Wood beat incumbent Republican Leslie Merritt in the North Carolina state auditor’s race.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Wood had nearly 54 percent of the vote, to 46 percent for Merritt.
Wood is a certified public accountant and worked in the auditor’s office for 10 years.
The state auditor oversees how state government and nonprofit groups operate and spend public money.
State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler won re-election, beating Democratic challenger James Ronald “Ronnie” Ansley.
With nearly all the votes counted, Troxler had nearly 52 percent, compared to 48 percent for Ansley.
Troxler is a Republican and Guilford County farmer. During his first tern, he’s concentrated on food safety as spokesman for the state’s $70 billion agribusiness industry in 2005. Ansley had focused his campaign on developing the state’s biofuels industry using woody plants instead of corn and soybeans.
Elaine Marshall won re-election as North Carolina’s Secretary of State, keeping a Democratic flavor in the Council of State.
Marshall had captured 57 percent of the vote. Challenger and Republican Jack Sawyer had 43 percent.
The job is part of the governor’s cabinet and includes enforcing ethics rules, overseeing legislative lobbyists, investigating securities fraud and cracking down on copyright infringement
In the race for superintendent of public instruction, Democratic incumbent June Atkinson kept her post, edging Republican Richard Morgan, a former House co-speaker from Moore County, 53 percent to 47 percent.
Atkinson’s office has virtually no power or management duties, but Atkinson has seen her role as discussing ways to improve education.

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