By Jesse Wood
Oct. 30, 2014. According to the candidates and judging from the number of campaign fliers circulating, the race between Sue Counts and incumbent N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan is the most intense race in the High Country.
Running to represent constituents of Ashe and Watauga counties in the 93rd District of the N.C. House are Sue Counts, a Democrat who retired in 2008 as the director of the Watauga County Cooperative Extension, and Jordan a Republican who practices law at his firm, Jordan and Jordan Law Offices, in Jefferson.
Both, so far, have criticized how the other is campaigning and the message in their ads.
“I am just disappointed that they are running the same old state Democrat talking points that have been proved false like the $500 million in education cuts,” Jordan said on Thursday, two days before early voting for the Nov. 4 general election ends on Saturday afternoon. “They are going at me with these generic message points, and I would really like to have them explained. I’m more disappointed than anything, but I am not going to sit here and say a whole lot.”
Likewise, Ian O’Keefe, the campaign manager for Sue Counts and a coordinated campaign manager for the Watauga County Democratic Party, was disappointed at what’s come out of Jordan’s camp. (Counts wasn’t available to talk as she was on the campaign trail, O’Keefe said.)
“I definitely think Jordan has gone dirty. It’s disappointing. I don’t know if you’ve also seen him attacking Sue on a number of webpages, including [ads] on High Country Press, about different things. It’s silly. Certainly, people of the High Country, specifically Watauga, can see that Sue is a great person, a hard worker and will be a hard worker when we send her to Raleigh,” O’Keefe said on Tuesday afternoon.
The “also” O’Keefe was referring to was “The Counts Barber Agenda Ad,” which the Watauga Watch, a local Democrat blog described as, “Instead of Cullie Tarleton pictured in a sombrero, the racist image Jordan used in 2010, he’s now out with a mail piece showing his challenger Sue Counts side by side with an angry black man [“Moral Monday” leader Rev. William Barber].”
Barber described the ad “race bait” when he spoke at a rally in Boone earlier this month.
“I’ve had people put me in ads and I am not even running,” Barber said to laughter. “So that means they must be very afraid.”
While Jordan said he is “absolutely very satisfied” with his campaign, he said that he “didn’t particularly like” the Barber-Counts ad and thought it wasn’t “particularly effective.” He noted that the ad was paid for by the N.C. Republican Party and wasn’t authorized by Jordan or his campaign committee. He said he wasn’t even aware of the ad until his secretary showed it to him at work.
One of the ads, however, that Jordan’s campaign did approve says, “Let’s Look at the Numbers,” referencing education funding, where opinion differs widely between Democrats and Republicans in the state.
“It’s simple math: Jonathan Jordan has voted to increase education funding,” the mailer states. “Let’s keep the North Carolina comeback going by voting for Jonathan Jordan.”
Jordan’s ad continues:
“On Education Funding…
- 2010-11: $7.53 Billion under Democrats
- 2014-15: $8.6 Billion – Jonathan Jordan increased education spending by more than $1 Billion
“On Teacher Pay…
- 2009 – Democrats froze teacher pay
- 2014 – Jonathan Jordan voted for a $321 million increase in teacher salaries”
For comparison, here is what a Counts’ ad states:
“When it comes to our schools, Jonathan Jordan’s priorities are wrong!
Failing our Schools
Jonathan Jordan voted to cut nearly $500 million over the past two years from our schools, increasing class sizes, laying off teacher assistants, and putting North Carolina nearly last in what it spends on K through 12 education compared to other states.
Losing Our Teachers
Jonathan Jordan voted to let teacher pay fall to among the lowest in the nation, forcing many experienced teachers to quit or leave for better-paying jobs in other states.”
Asked about the discrepancy between Counts’ fliers stating that Jordan voted to cut nearly $500 million over the past two years from our schools and Jordan’s fliers stating that he increased education spending by more than $1 billion, Jordan said, “What I know is the budget I vote for … I know for a fact there’s more money there.”
He also added, “Should we be doing more? Probably … We’d all like to do better. Absolutely, but until the economy improves… I am not going to raise taxes on families in the middle of a recession. That’s the worst thing you can do.”
Also asked about the discrepancy, O’Keefe stated, “What we are seeing is an increase in the number of students and inflation has gone up. What we see is a per-student decrease in funding, and it’s great to [throw out] raw numbers if you don’t put them in context. Jordan is missing a huge point that our education system needs to focus on … We are so low in per-pupil funding. Teacher pay is 48th in the nation, and that doesn’t speak well to how we are treating our education system. It doesn’t indicate we value it. Anybody in the school system realizes what’s happening here is not kosher.”
While noting that Counts doesn’t have a record to stand on, Jordan said he’s proud of his track record. In addition to education funding, Jordan cited a “tremendous number of reforms” that occurred while he’s been in the N.C. General Assembly.
He said that he has helped “lower taxes across the board for all families … and lowered taxes on businesses and corporations.”
He talked proudly about the unemployment insurance reform. Last year, extended unemployment benefits ran out for 70,000 North Carolinians so the state could pay down its debt related to unemployment benefits to the federal government, which reached $2.5 billion because of the Great Recession.
While many didn’t support this measure, Jordan said this move will improve the economy and bring more jobs to the region. Jordan added that new companies wouldn’t want to move to a place where it has to pay “huge unemployment insurance” – especially if it wasn’t a part of the layoffs to begin with. He noted that more than $2 million of that debt has been paid off since.
When asked about what would be priorities of Counts – aside from education, O’Keefe said that Counts pledged to listen to her constituents. O’Keefe also said that while Counts is pro small business, Jordan “doesn’t support small businesses.”
This was something that Jordan said was “ridiculous on its face” because he operates a small business – his law firm – and because small businesses are the foundation of the economy and communities.
“[O’Keefe] may not understand, but tax reform lowered the income tax,” Jordan said. “For all businesses that run through personal income taxes, we cut the rate on personal income taxes and all those small businesses immediately benefitted.”
O’Keefe said that Counts has been touring small businesses during her campaign this election season.
“She’s visited a number of businesses in Ashe and Watauga County to see what exactly they need and how to help represent them better than they are being represented right now,” O’Keefe said, adding that local business owners have said they “are not seeing support for small businesses coming out of Raleigh.”
“A number of business owners are seeing their taxes go up and out-of-state corporations are being valued more than in-state corporations,” O’Keefe said.
The Counts’ campaign also criticized Jordan for receiving a vast majority of financing from fellow Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly, which was first reported on by the Watauga Democrat. O’Keefe said that Counts is “thrilled” to have more than 700 individual donors contribute to her campaign, which O’Keefe described as “grassroots.”
Jordan, meanwhile, responded that by receiving funding from those in the N.C. General Assembly it shows that he is a “productive and an influential” legislator. This in turn, he said, means that with the support of his fellow legislators in Raleigh, those politicians will be more willing to support and listen to issues of voters in his district.
Which ever way one leans or however one looks at the issues, this is going to be a tight race.
“It’s a swing district,” Jordan said. “I don’t take anything for granted.”
See Some of the Mailers:
Pro- JORDAN MAILERS:
Pro – COUNTS ADS