Both candidates for the N.C. Senate Dist. 23 seat, which covers Chatham and Orange counties, have platforms typical of their political parties. But each has a unique history — bringing experience …
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Both candidates for the N.C. Senate Dist. 23 seat, which covers Chatham and Orange counties, have platforms typical of their political parties. But each has a unique history — bringing experience from sectors important to the other’s party — which informs a moderate stance and a drive to allay contention between the two parties.
The incumbent, Democratic Sen. Valerie P. Foushee, 64, grew up in segregated Chapel Hill. After studying Afro-American studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, she worked for the Chapel Hill Police Department in a variety of positions, including budget administrator. From her secular experience, Foushee believes that police departments need more assistance than ever if they are to serve their communities effectively. That takes more money, she said, not a slashed budget.
Her Republican challenger, Thomas Glendinning, 76, has lived in Chatham County since attending UNC-Chapel Hill as a young man. He moved from Cleveland, where his family has been prominent in the medical community for more than 200 years. Glendinning was a Democrat for many decades before his opinions on healthcare conflicted with the party’s under President Barack Obama’s administration.
If Foushee retains her seat in the Senate, tackling the pressing issue of insufficient broadband in Chatham County will be first on her docket.
“The first thing I want to do if I am re-elected,” Foushee said, “is continue to work for the expansion of broadband for unserved and under-served areas particularly in Chatham County. I will continue to support investments in education so that Chatham County continues to progress. And I will continue to push for legislation that will keep the environmental aspects of Chatham County — water and air — clean.”
Glendinning is more concerned with zoning legislation, a topic with which he is intimately familiar, having watched the evolution of zoning laws in the county over the last 40 years.
“This is dear to my heart because it has to do with property rights and personal rights,” he said. “In other words, that you can use your property or the resources around you as you need to. Our two counties (Chatham and Orange) are probably the most strictly zoned and restricted by planning code and zoning code in the state.”
Such close oversight can be beneficial, he said, if it’s what the people want. In his experience, however, Chatham County residents view increased legislation as a burdensome imposition.
“Some people would say that’s good so that you always have a handle on what’s going on with development,” he said. “But there’s an area of overlap between that and property rights — personal rights. In fact, it’s not an overlap, it’s a direct confrontation.”
The two candidates’ primary goals are the most docile of their differences, though. On controversial topics that have commanded the nation’s attention in recent months, Foushee and Glendinning sharply diverge.
One topic is race in America. Both candidates lived through the 1960s civil rights era — and both said they supported the movement. Now, however, they perceive 2020’s incarnation of social justice reform in contrasting ways.
“If you talk about structural (racism), that doesn’t mean anything to me,” Glendinning said. “If there’s some sort of social organism sending racist views, I think that needs to be dealt with individually.”
Glendinning believes racial disparity was mostly resolved 50 years ago. Today’s grievances are “basically a tea party by comparison,” he said.
“I would agree that, yes, we’ve got problems that exist,” he said. “But racism is certainly not one of the larger ones.”
The real problem, as Glendinning sees it, are calls to defund and withdraw support from police departments across the country.
“We need to support the police and let them do their job,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. They’re trying to defund the police; if we don’t have the police, we have chaos.”
But little evidence suggests the popular social media cries for police defunding are under serious consideration in the political sphere — by Democrats or Republicans. Foushee, who counts herself more qualified than most to comment on the goings-on inside police departments, is the first to denounce rumors of widespread support of police defunding.
“I don’t know any Democrat within my caucus — let me just speak for the Senate Democratic Caucus — who supports that,” she said. “Defunding the police is not something that we promote and I certainly, as a 21-year police department employee, am not an advocate for defunding the police department. By and large, police departments do what the communities set out for them to do and that is to protect them first.”
But neither are police departments absolved of responsibility for their wrongful conduct, she said.
“There are police officers who have not followed processes and procedures established by their own departments,” she said. “There is a need, I believe, in this country, to reform policing such that the rights and privileges of a citizen are preserved in any process, whether it be criminal or civil.”
That process starts with confronting and then abolishing institutional racism.
“We need to work to eliminate the vestiges and current impact of systemic racism,” she said.
Glendinning’s opinion is, therefore, reductionist, Foushee said. And defunding is not the solution. On the contrary, police departments need help to innovate and progress.
“We need to provide funding,” she said, “and require training for law enforcement officers in de-escalation strategies and about implicit bias and racial profiling. We have a duty to innovate. I don’t think anybody who watched what happened to George Floyd can understand why other officers would not innovate.”
There are few things on which Foushee and Glendinning agree. One, however, is the reason for which they so often disagree: American politics has never been as divided as it is now.
“I’ve never seen the parties farther apart than now,” Glendinning said. “I would say the left has moved from being a reasonable and negotiable party in politics to a group that just will not yield on the basic principles of government. I’ve seen the Democratic Party, which I was a part of for 40 years, degrade.”
Of course, members of both major political parties frequently level such accusations against their opponents. Each side contends the other is inflexible to a fault.
“For example, Republicans said, ‘We’re not going to touch Obamacare with a 10-foot pole,’” Foushee said. “They made that decision in 2013 and have not moved the needle since that time. Even where we are today, it is not a consideration. To say with the force of all of the authority you have that you will not consider such a bill when you have rural hospitals closing, when people don’t have access near them to healthcare — how caring is that? Where is the compassion?”
Compromise is important to Glendinning. Its absence in modern politics is the reason government accomplishes so little, he said. But if elected, the Affordable Care Act may be one topic on which he cannot concede. It is not the solution to problems in today’s healthcare system, he said, and he feels better poised to make such a determination than his opponent.
“My great-great-great-grandfather became a doctor in 1805,” he said. “On my dad’s side it goes doctor, doctor, doctor. My dad founded two hospitals. My great-grandfather and grandfather were founders of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and that’s where I was raised. I wandered the halls of the Cleveland Clinic while my dad was in residence there and I had my first job at the other two hospitals founded by my granddad. My experience is personal in healthcare.”
So, when the Affordable Care Act passed, “my upbringing just clashed with the party,” he said.
The Democrats’ handling of universal healthcare measures under Obama’s administration fell short of Glendinning’s expectations and standards. But the Republican Party, Glendinning said, has followed a different trajectory.
“I found a focused Republican Party,” he said. “It was very clear on its goals: following the Constitution, the Bill of Rights — basically, I’d say, honoring what God gave us when we founded this country.”
Vitriolic debate over healthcare has simmered at all stages of government since the Affordable Care Act passed 10 years ago. But especially since the novel coronavirus emerged in late 2019, healthcare has become incendiary kindling for contentious political discourse.
“Are we so polarized,” Foushee said, “that we would, in America, gloss over 200,000 Americans dying of a disease, when we could have done some things that would have prevented that in many of those cases? That comes from pure polarization and partisan politics that we would stand by and allow our own citizens to die.”
But Glendinning contests the very premise of Foushee’s argument. COVID-19 is not as serious as Democrats would represent it, he says, compared to things like education and the economy. As for masks and social distancing, he thinks they are ineffectual.
“The masks do no good,” he said. “Social distancing doesn’t matter — and I can verify that from some doctors’ reports.”
Most doctors and epidemiologists agree that masks and social distancing minimize the spread and contraction of COVID-19. Even President Trump, who notably opposed masks and denied their effectiveness, has reversed course in recent months. But a minority of experts still exist who decry their benefits. Glendinning is among their supporters.
“I’m adamant about this,” he said, “and I may be unelectable because of that view, but to me that’s just the way it is.”
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