Political Notebook: Catawba College professors weigh in on mayoral race

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 9, 2021

With a potential recount this month for Salisbury’s mayoral race, a former and current Catawba College professor weighed in on the state of the election.

When polls closed on Election Day last week, Karen Alexander received 2,499 votes, or 50.01%, while Al Heggins received 2,481 votes — 49.65%. There were a total of 17 write-in votes cast, leaving a difference of 18 votes between both candidates. Following a final tally of remaining absentee and provisional ballots Monday, that margin narrowed to just 14 votes. Heggins also formally requested a recount Monday, which is scheduled for next week.

Recounts are allowed if the difference of votes between each candidate does not exceed 1% of the total vote cast in that race.

Heggins said it’s important to do the recount because the margin is so slim, and because she owes it to her supporters, campaign volunteers and her family especially.

“As we’ve said, every vote counts and needs to be treated with intentional and deliberate care,” Heggins said.

During the 2020 general election, Rowan County had its greatest turnout since the 1984 presidential race, with nearly 76% of eligible voters casting a ballot. By contrast, only 18% of the 40,558 eligible voters in Rowan County cast a ballot for the 2021 municipal races. In Salisbury alone, 4,997 votes cast a ballot in the mayoral race. Those same voters could also choose four candidates to fill seats on the City Council.

Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba, said the race shows every vote counts and even more so in these circumstances.

He added that mobilizing a larger turnout in odd-numbered years for elections that don’t include a presidential or gubernatorial race is difficult because those larger elections encourage voters to show up. But on the other hand, moving local elections to even-numbered years would also allow local issues to become enveloped by larger races.

“At that time, you’re relying more on partisan cues and campaign dynamics rather than true public policy knowledge,” Bitzer said.

Even so, the low turnout results in less than 20% of residents deciding the makeup of leaders who will have the most impact on residents’ daily lives, Bitzer said.

Retired Catawba College professor Gary Freeze doesn’t necessarily think the low turnout is a bad thing. Freeze said a close race for this election is good because it showed “true competition and true debate.” Additionally, the low turnout in such races can still be a positive because the election garners voters who “truly want to be involved and informed.”

Freeze said despite personal and partisan divisions, Salisbury’s races showed positive signs of how things can be worked out.

Rep. Ted Budd votes ‘no’ on federal infrastructure spending bill

Rep. Ted Budd joined all eight U.S. House Republicans from North Carolina last week in voting against a federal bipartisan infrastructure package that’s estimated to bring $9 billion to the state over the next five years.

The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure packages would invest money for highway programs, bridge replacement, public transportation, electric vehicles and broadband internet. The Senate approved the legislation in August, including support from Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr. Ultimately, the bill garnered support from 19 Republicans and was opposed by six Democrats.

The $1 trillion package proposes $550 billion in new spending, with the remaining funds previously approved. The bill also uses more than $200 billion in unused COVID-19 relief to help cover the costs of the package. Among the new spending is $110 billion for roads, bridges and major projects; $66 billion in passenger and freight rail, $65 billion for broadband infrastructure, $55 billion for water infrastructure such as eliminating lead pipes; $39 billion for public transit, $47.2 billion for climate resiliency including flood and wildfire mitigation and ecosystem restoration, $7.5 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure, $21 billion for addressing pollution cleanup, $17 billion for port infrastructure and $25 billion for airports.

According to the White House, North Carolina is earmarked to receive up to $7.2 billion for highway programs and $457 million for bridge replacement and repairs, $910 million to improve public transportation, $109 million to expand electric vehicle charging networks, $100 million to expand broadband coverage, $32 million for wildfire protection, $27 million for cyberattacks, $1.1 billion for water infrastructure for safe, clean drinking water and $460 million for airport development. All funding would be received over the next five years, with additional funding available via competitive grants.

Budd, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 13th Congressional district, said he voted against the “so-called infrastructure bill” for being “fatally flawed.”

“We were told this bill would be fully paid for,” Budd said in a statement. “The truth is it will add hundreds of billions to our national debt. We were told this bill would focus on infrastructure. The truth is only $110 billion of the new spending in this bill will be spent on roads, bridges and items generally accepted as infrastructure. Bottom line: We need real, hard infrastructure, not this liberal trojan horse for a socialist agenda.”

Though not included in his statement, Budd said in a September opinion column published in the Post there had been “a lot of talk and debate around the definition of ‘infrastructure,'” but that he knows “for certain that broadband should be considered infrastructure.” The North Carolina Department of Information Technology estimates at least 1.1 million households in North Carolina lack access to high-speed internet, can’t afford it or don’t have the skills needed to take advantage of the digital economy. It also estimates that most counties have less than 65% broadband availability.

Budd is seeking an open U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Burr in 2022.

Rowan County Democrats to host community activist Dr. Aimy Steele at next breakfast meeting

Community activist and executive director of the New North Carolina Project Dr. Aimy Steele will join Rowan County Democrats on Nov. 13 during the party’s monthly breakfast.

The New North Carolina Project is a nonprofit organization that focuses on voter registration and voter engagement among communities of color in addition to ensuring free and fair access to voting.

Monthly breakfast meetings are scheduled for the second Saturday of each month to discuss what’s going on in the local community. The Nov. 13 meeting will be held virtually from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Registration is required to attend. Those interested can visit tinyurl.com/rowanbreakfast.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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