An attorney and member of a prominent Durham political family said Monday he's planning to run for North Carolina governor in 2016, unhappy with the direction of the state under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP-led legislature, particularly on education.
Ken Spaulding, a former state House member, congressional candidate and Board of Transportation member, said he's getting in the race now because taxpayers and voters tell him they want a reasonable alternative to the Republicans' "extremist positions and actions" this year.
In a statement, he focused squarely on North Carolina's election overhaul law and per-pupil reductions in state funds for the public schools, including no pay raises again for teachers. He said McCrory, portrayed as a moderate on the way to victory last fall, has failed to rein in an over-the-top General Assembly.
"North Carolina can do much better," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think the actions that have been taken negatively impact our economy, negatively impact our business climate."
Spaulding, 68, is the latest Democrat getting an early start or considering one to become the next chief executive although the race is more than three years away. The Democratic primary, 33 months from now, could require millions of campaign dollars to march to victory.
"It's a long, long way away and a lot of work," he said.
James Protzman of Chapel Hill, a business consultant, contributor to the "BlueNC" blog and former town council member, filed paperwork with the State Board of Elections in May creating a gubernatorial campaign committee.
"Our General Assembly is out of control. Our schools and infrastructure are falling apart. And our governor is missing in action," Protzman's website says. "I may not be perfect, but I'll tell you one thing. I could do better with my eyes closed. And you probably could, too."
Attorney General Roy Cooper, who has passed on gubernatorial bids before, appears to be giving it more thought this year and listening to allies.
"I am very concerned about the direction of our state," Cooper told News 14 Carolina last week. "It's certainly too early to talk about any kind of announcement or talk about that type of election that's way down the line but I'm certainly going to keep working and do what I can to move North Carolina in the right direction."
Spaulding said if Cooper ran he would look forward to a "very spirited primary" when considering Cooper's record.
Spaulding served in the legislature from 1978 to 1984 and lost a close U.S. House Democratic primary to incumbent Tim Valentine in 1984. He was a leader of a key Durham-area political action group and a Board of Transportation member during Gov. Mike Easley's administration.
Spaulding talked Monday about his economic development experience as a private-sector attorney helping get the Streets at Southpoint mall in Durham built and promoting growth while on the transportation board through highway projects.
If he had been governor this year, Spaulding said, he would have kept tax rates the same - rather than passing a tax overhaul package that cut rates - to ensure more immediate revenue for education. Republicans who wrote the tax law changes and McCrory argue the lower rates will spur economic growth, which will in turn boost revenues. They also point out overall public school spending in the state budget increased compared to last year.
He considered his recent political distance from Raleigh a plus, saying politicians can lose touch with the average taxpayer. Spaulding said he didn't begin his campaign with great fanfare because "so many North Carolinians feel alone" in a period of uncertainty.
"The average taxpayer and voter just feels alone when it comes to whether the elected officials are looking out for our interest - and that's how I feel," he added.
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