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House District 77 matches 15-term GOP veteran Howard against newcomer Clark

The N.C. House District 77 candidates

Bonnie Clark

Name: Bonnie D. Clark

Age: 63

County of residence: Davie

Party affiliation: Democrat

Occupation: Farmer

Education: R.J. Reynolds High School; bachelor’s degree, UNC-Greensboro; master’s degrees, Old Dominion University and N.C. Central University.

Background: Navy veteran, lifetime member of the NAACP, member of the National Organization of Women.

Julia Howard

Name: Julia C. Howard

Age: 74

County of residence: Davie

Party affiliation: Republican

Occupation: owner, Howard Realty, state House representative

Education: Davie County High; bachelor’s degree, Salem College.

Background: State House representative since 1988; chairman, House Banking Committee; Former member, Mocksville Town Council, 1981-88.

 

 

SALISBURY — Not many legislative candidates this year are wider apart on the political spectrum than N.C. Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, and her challenger, Democrat Bonnie Clark.

Howard, owner of Howard Realty for 40-plus years, has served 15 terms in the state House and has been in the local political arena since serving on the Mocksville Town Council from 1981 to 1988.

Over her 30 years as a legislator, and depending on how the boundaries of her House district were drawn, Howard has served constituents in Davie, Davidson, Iredell and Forsyth counties. With this election, she’s trying to add Rowan.

Clark is making her first run for political office. She is a hemp farmer, Navy veteran and former mental health therapist and community college educator.

She has master’s degrees in education administration and counseling and has worked with victims of sexual harassment, post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma and mental health issues in general.

Howard and Clark are facing each other in the newly redrawn 77th House District, which includes all of Davie County (where both candidates live) and portions of western Rowan.

In the 2016 presidential election, the district’s voters heavily favored Republican Donald Trump.

Howard had been the incumbent in the 79th District before the most recent redrawing of district lines.

So how much do these candidates differ?

Howard supports the six constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. Clark is opposed to all six.

Clark supports the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes. Howard opposes legalization of pot on both fronts.

“We have such a drug-addicted state now,” Howard says, “and if you do research, a lot of times the door opens with what people will say is harmless marijuana and it leads to other things.”

Clark is for term limits — two terms — on every political office in the land. As a candidate for the first time, Clark says the process has been eye-opening and the pressure put on candidates to raise money “is a serious problem.”

She ties in her support of term limits with major campaign reform. Clark says candidates are spending “insane amounts of money” for a $14,000-a-year job. Why do they do that, she asks, unless it’s giving them access to other money for their own personal gain.

Howard says the ballot box has always been the electorate’s built-in assurance of term limits.

In a legislator’s case, Howard notes, voters have a chance every two years to cast the incumbent out.

Howard thinks the Republican-controlled legislature has done a good job with retiring the state debt, tax reform and support of public education.

Clark thinks what Republican legislators are doing to public education is atrocious. She says she also is appalled by Duke Energy’s influence on the legislature and how lawmakers have looked the other way on environmental issues such as coal ash cleanup and hog waste pollution.

Clark would support bringing criminal charges against the chief executive officers of companies that violate environmental protections.

Howard was a primary sponsor of House Bill 2, the much-discussed “Bathroom Bill” that struck down the city of Charlotte’s ordinance to provide protections for transgender people.

House Bill 2 prevented transgender people from using government-run restrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify.

It also nullified local ordinances around the state aimed at expanding protections for the LBGT community, and it said cities and counties could not set their own minimum wage standard for private employers.

Clark says Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Howard teamed up to ban transgender people from using restrooms that did not match their birth certificates. Clark said all facets of the bill were “so unconstitutional, it’s mind-blowing.”

With their archaic belief systems, Clark says, state Republicans have looked at ways to keep wages low and discriminate against people.

House Bill 2’s passage also cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue from sports tournaments and conventions whose organizers avoided North Carolina, Clark says.

“Because we were so hateful and small-minded,” she adds.

Howard, 74, says her 30 years of legislative experience has definitely helped her learn how to get things done in Raleigh.

“There’s more than one way to do things,” Howard says. “I guess the biggest thing is learning to have patience, and if you don’t get it fixed or accomplished this year, there’s another time.”

Howard says she used to think “compromise” was an ugly word, “but it isn’t.”

Compromise, she says, is sometimes needed to get things moving in the right direction, and it’s necessary when you consider the House is filled with 120 individual opinions and the Senate, 50 more.

Howard said she is more patient and compassionate than she might have been as a rookie legislator, and she realizes today there are more gray areas — “circumstances out there that you can’t explain in three minutes.”

“I think we’ve done a really good job and, of course, you would expect me to say this, with tax reform,” Howard says. “Now a lot of folks don’t even need to file anymore, and our corporate tax and income taxes have been reduced.”

On public education, she says the GOP-led General Assembly has increased teacher pay for five years so that now the average teacher salary is over $50,000 a year.

Howard’s own daughter is a teacher, “and I think she’s grateful for any salary increase we’re able to do,” Howard says. “I’m not saying it’s an easy job by any means. Students are different now than even 20 years ago.”

Howard acknowledges being taken aback by the teachers’ march on Raleigh earlier this year. She thinks legislators have done all they can to increase pay, decrease class size and improve technology in each school.

“It’s certainly their right to do that,” Howard says of the protest. “I’ve always supported the public schools, not necessarily the NCAE, but the teachers individually.”

Howard says her entire philosophy as a person, business owner, legislator, parent and grandparent tends to be conservative. She chairs the House Banking Committee and says honesty and integrity are important to her.

“My word is my bond,” Howard says. “If I tell you I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it.”

Clark notes she was a registered Republican as late as the 2016 election. She says she could not continue as a Republican knowing the national party would allow a nominee, Donald Trump, who did not uphold the values of the party and as a human being stole from workers, was a sexual predator and dishonest.

“When the Electoral College put him in office, I was completely shocked,” Clark says, adding she could not affiliate with a party that looks the other way.

Knowing she is campaigning in a Republican-leaning district, Clark says she has met Republicans who say they’ll be voting for her because they know her and recognize she cares for people and has the necessary leadership skills and integrity.

“And they don’t like the way things are going in North Carolina,” Clark adds. Her campaign slogan is “Putting people before politics.”

Clark contends the state is not paying many of its public school teachers a living wage. When Republicans say the average salary is $51,000 a year, she says, they are beefing up that number dramatically by adding in the salaries of superintendents, principals and other administrators.

“Too many of our teachers have to get a second job to pay their bills,” Clark says.

Besides better pay, Clark supports more teacher assistants, school counselors, new buildings to allow for small class sizes and money for school supplies.

By having teachers pay more for their health insurance and denying participation in future pension plans, the profession is being marginalized, Clark says, and it will end up hurting millions of people.

The state will not be able to retain or recruit teachers “with the current value system proposed,” she says.

Farmers such as Clark harvest hemp legally to create CBD (cannabinoid) oil, which is used medicinally and does not have the THC compound present in marijuana.

The yield for CBD is much higher than for tobacco and cotton, Clark says, and as a cash crop, it could restore family farms and the agricultural economy.

As for marijuana, Clark says if it were decriminalized across the board, the state would receive enough additional sales tax revenue to pay for public education improvements and affordable health care, address hunger and improve the infant mortality rate.

She says people want cannabis (marijuana), and they are buying cannabis, but North Carolina is deriving no revenue from it. Clark thinks it should be treated like alcohol, controlled by the state ABC board and taxed significantly.

Clark also sees opportunities in manufacturing the special combines needed to harvest hemp.

She says a company in Winston-Salem is showing how hemp can be a lighter, stronger and safer product in the making of concrete. This hemp-based concrete would be lighter to transport on the highways and reduce road repair costs. It also would be a stronger construction material for surviving coastal hurricanes, Clark says.

Clark, 63, earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology, psychology and women’s studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her master’s degrees are from Old Dominion and N.C. Central universities.

Clark says she planned to make the Navy her career until she was “marked down” by a superior officer because “I would not sleep with him.” She appealed her case unsuccessfully in 1987 and had to leave the Navy, she says, because she was no longer promotable.

“It definitely was a good-old-boys network,” she says.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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