Political Notebook: Democrats in 2022 Senate race talk to voters in Kannapolis

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 2021

KANNAPOLIS — Democratic candidates in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race joined the Rowan County Democratic Party Saturday in Kannapolis to talk with voters about their run in the 2022 election.

Erica Smith is one Democrat seeking the seat held by Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican who says he will not seek re-election to a fourth term. Burr’s current term expires in 2022. Smith unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2020.

Smith, an engineer and Fayetteville native, was a state senator serving District 3 in northeastern North Carolina from 2015 to 2021.

Smith on Saturday detailed her efforts as a state lawmaker to raise the age of those who can be tried as adults in the courts system. Additionally, she spoke about efforts to raise the wages of those working in the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to a $15-per-hour minimum.

Smith also said education is the greatest tool to change people’s socioeconomic status. She detailed her experience growing up on her family’s farm, picking cucumbers, corn and tobacco.

“I’m running for U.S. Senate because I believe that North Carolina needs somebody who’s lived experiences mirror theirs,” Smith said. “Who’s fought for issues all of their life for the last 20 years in North Carolina.”

Smith said she is in support of implementing the Green New Deal, which is an initiative to implement public policies that address climate change, create jobs and reduce economic inequality. Smith said she supports a minimum wage of $15 per hour and Medicare coverage for all.

“If we have a government that can bail out billionaires then we can have that same government bail out those who are working families and they can retire and cancel all student loan debt,” Smith said.

Smith is one of three of the best-known Democrats vying for the open seat. Sen. Jeff Jackson, who currently represents a district in Mecklenburg County, and former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley also are running for the seat. Jackson was the first candidate to begin a tour across North Carolina’s 100 counties to talk to Democrats and other voters, and visited Rowan County on May 24. 

Smith said Saturday she is also on a journey through each county to find out what voters want to see in their next senator, adding the she wants to be one of the first U.S. senators to come to Rowan County to “look people eye-to-eye” and ask them for their votes.

Also present Saturday were three other candidates seeking the Senate seat, including businesswoman Constance Johnson, psychotherapist and pastor Tobias Lagrone and Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton.

Johnson detailed her failed run for the state superintendent race in 2020, where she was defeated in the primary by Jen Mangrum. She added that she’s happy former President Donald Trump is out of office, and described the incumbency of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as “having walked out of the flames and walked into the breezy, cool air.”

Johnson criticized state governments for not distributing federal aid in a timely manner. She also said Sen. Burr “voted here and there kind of good” and Sen. Thom Tillis is “just the enemy.”

“I can handle Tillis. I don’t have a problem handling Tillis. I’m a public administrator,” Johnson said, adding that a public administrator is supposed to be “a genius in government.”
In addressing criticism that she’s never held public office before, Johnson said it’s more important to focus on “who has made laws work,” saying she has written laws for the state that “slid right through.”
LaGrone, a psychotherapist and pastor, detailed his experience growing up poor in Mississippi, where his grandparents were sharecroppers.
“My dad said, ‘That dirt road in front of this house will take you anywhere in the world, but son, are you any prepared to travel?'” LaGrone recalled.
He said his daughter is preparing to begin law school, adding that “giving the next generation an opportunity to succeed” is “what it’s about.”
LaGrone said he loves the country, but that there are issues to deal with. He criticized said people in the Republican Party for preferring to kneel under a “Putinesque, communist type form of government” rather than to having “minorities, women and disenfranchised white poor at the table.”
LaGrone preached unity and said the nation is living in a “George Jetson world” while some people in office have a “Fred Flintstone mentality.”

Newton, a retired Air Force colonel and doctorate student at Duke University, said the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 is the fault of Republicans and inspired his run for public office. He also detailed his experience as a F-15 squadron commander on Sept. 11, 2001.

“On that horrific day, we were asked to launch with live weapons and rules of engagement that said we may have to shoot down a civilian airliner,” Newton said. “Having that sinking feeling of ‘How can this happen in our country,’ I had that same sinking feeling again on January the 6th.”

Newton also spoke about North Carolinians’ struggle with food insecurity, shelter, affordable health care, broadband and substance abuse.

“We are not going to arrest our way out of this substance abuse problem,” Newton said.

Newton is currently the mayor of Beaufort in Carteret County.