Down to the wire

Published 10:37 am Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Part 4 of a Series

MURFREESBORO – The African American Caucus of the Hertford County Democratic Party’s candidate forum held Feb. 27 attracted one candidate each for the Democratic nomination for Commissioner of Labor, Attorney General, and Superintendent of Education.

For NC Commissioner of Labor, Mazie Ferguson will vie against Charles Meeker, who did send a surrogate to the Forum, on March 15.

June Atkinson

June Atkinson

Representing Meeker was Charlie Rudd. He said Meeker was the mayor of Raleigh for ten years and is a good leader who cares about the workers and their working conditions.

Ferguson said she has worked all her adult life to make life better for working families.

She said she began working as a sleep-in maid. She also served as a state youth president of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) working for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She was twice elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Ferguson has been a lawyer since 1978, an activist for the rights of poor and working families, a teacher, pastor and theologian.

She played an active role in labor disputes working to make a better life for workers. Ferguson said she served on the South Carolina-North Carolina Southern Institute for Occupational Health (SIOH) to make brown lung an occupational disease.

Mazie Ferguson

Mazie Ferguson

She also served as a “convener” for joint South Carolina and North Carolina efforts to increase the presence of women in electoral politics for both states.

She is a past president of the Greensboro-area Pulpit Forum ministerial alliance and was a guiding force in the struggle for better working conditions for K-Mart workers.

Ferguson said she earned a B.A. from S.C. State University, a law degree from the University of South Carolina Law School, and certificates from the Harvard University Higher Education Management Development Program and the UNC Wilmington-based North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership (IOPL).

Her theological education includes one year at the Lutheran Theological Seminary of the Southeast (LTSS) and two years at Shaw Divinity School in Raleigh.

Ferguson has worked as Assistant Legal Counsel to the Chancellor and Board of Trustees at NC A&T State University. She served as Executive Director of Palmetto Legal Services, managing a central office, six regional offices, a staff of 78 including 25 attorneys as well managing a million dollar budget.

Marcus Williams

Marcus Williams

Additionally, she has served as assistant and/or associate professor of school law and criminal justice instructor at several colleges and universities in North and South Carolina.

Asked about this region’s minimum wage jobs that are not full time and without healthcare or other benefits, Ferguson said this happens more and more and, “we’ve allowed it to happen. We need to do something about it and take it to the Council of State to do something about it.”

Ferguson blamed the wage disparities on the state’s Right to Work laws.

Next to speak was Marcus Williams for Attorney General. He is being opposed for Democratic nomination by Josh Stein, who did not attend.

Williams began, “When there is a battle between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, or the privileged and disadvantaged, it is imperative that the rule of law operate so that justice can prevail.”

He said he has worked at Legal Services out of Ahoskie, part of Legal Services of the Coastal Plain.

Williams promised, “Uncompromised impartiality and a commitment to the fair and objective administration of justice.”

He said he brings, “The sound judgment and integrity proven in more than 36 years of public service in civil and criminal law. I am dedicated to public service and advocacy in assisting the economically disadvantaged, the working poor and middle class families in both civil and criminal matters.”

Williams also said, “I am licensed to practice law in three states, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and other Federal Courts. “I am a fiscal tightwad with common sense.”

Williams said he has demonstrated that a strong commitment to the principles embodied in the applicable law is indispensable to the attainment of justice in any factual scenario or political dilemma.

With his leadership experience, Williams said, “I have the demonstrated supervisory skills to lead and motivate the professional staff at the Department of Justice.

“My diverse and extensive criminal and civil experience will enable the Department of Justice to protect and serve the legal interests of the citizens of North Carolina, the ninth largest state in our nation, with the highest quality legal representation.”

Next to address the audience was Atkinson, the incumbent NC Superintendent of Public Education, an office she has held since 2005.

She is being opposed for the Democratic nomination on March 15 by Henry J. Pankey, who did not attend the forum.

“When North Carolina voters elected me as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, they trusted me to put students first and to work tirelessly on behalf of public education,” Atkinson remarked.

“By listening to teachers, parents, and students and traveling to all 115 school districts, I have used fresh and innovative ideas to improve education,” she said. “Our graduation rate has increased from 68 percent when I first became state superintendent to an all time high of nearly 86 percent this past year.

“I advocate for teacher raises, more resources, and more opportunities for each child,” Atkinson added. “Help me continue the journey for the sake of our children and North Carolina’s prosperity by re-electing me as state superintendent.”

She said she understands the importance of public education in the lives and futures of children because she is a product of public education herself.

“I want to make sure that every child is a success story,” Atkinson said. “Every child in this state deserves the same education and opportunities that I did.”

Atkinson said schools have been getting better, but resources have been steadily being cut.

She said she recently went to the General Assembly to ask for a 10 percent raise for all teachers and admitted she is embarrassed to see public school teachers she knows working second jobs because they are not paid what she feels they deserve.

She said she will continue working with the General Assembly for teacher raised and vowed to be an irritant on this issue until the embarrassment by legislatures will finally achieve those raises.

Coming Thursday: A look at the District 2 Commissioners race in Hertford County.