- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - They’re either too left or too right, wrong on an issue or just refuse to get along. Challengers and interest groups opposing several Republican General Assembly incumbents are pushing these arguments to make this two-year term their last by beating them in the May 6 primary.

Many of the 50 or so House and Senate primaries are happening for more conventional reasons, such as an incumbent retiring or seeking higher office. Seats being vacated at year’s end by House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is running for U.S. Senate, and three Democratic legislators running in the same 12th Congressional District race all have attracted multiple candidates.

Other primaries seem more about personalities over policies. In Charlotte’s southern suburbs, outspoken Republican Sen. Bob Rucho has landed a spirited challenge from attorney Matt Arnold, who says the influential senator’s style has been counterproductive for constituents and at times embarrassing.

“There’s an element to a leadership position that requires decorum and responsibility and statesmanship, and I think that’s been sorely lacking with Mr. Rucho,” Arnold said in an interview.

Rucho makes no apologies for his actions. They included taking a swipe at GOP Gov. Pat McCrory by saying he lacked “real business experience” when Rucho’s tax reform proposal lost favor in Raleigh, and for sending tweets considered offensive by some about the federal health care overhaul. Local detractors grew when Rucho worked to remove Charlotte’s control of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

Arnold is “making the entire campaign about gimmicks and personal attacks, rather than issues,” Rucho said in a phone interview in between campaigning outside an early-voting center.

Rucho, in the Senate since 1997, cites in his re-election bid his experience and involvement in key economic issues that Republicans have passed since taking over the legislature in 2011. McCrory endorsed Rucho for re-election. The North Carolina Chamber also has sent mailers praising Rucho, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

A former co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell, resigned the finance post in 2013 after accusing Tillis publicly of mishandling bills and performing legislative maneuvers to protect favored industries and colleagues. The fight became public when Brawley read a letter on the House floor.

John Fraley, a longtime textile executive and consultant from Mooresville, decided to challenge Brawley. His aggressive campaign has included mailers citing the intraparty feud.

“He has had trouble working with others, working with the leadership of the party,” Fraley said. “You start to lose influence. Therefore, in my opinion, you can’t properly represent the district.”

Brawley is convinced Fraley was recruited by Tillis and his allies. Fraley and a Tillis spokesman said that’s not true. Brawley served in the House for 18 years in the 1980s and ‘90s before returning in 2013.

“The best support I have is the people who know me and I have worked with or been able to help over the years,” said Brawley, who is touting endorsements, including one from the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

SEANC has endorsed candidates through its political action committee in 22 primaries, including Michael Lavender, a McDowell County commissioner challenging Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell. The 55,000-member group has made Hise its No. 1 electoral target and plans to spend $200,000 on the race, association political director Kevin LeCount said.

In mailers, online and on the air, SEANC has criticized Hise for pushing a bill last year to give State Treasurer Janet Cowell power to invest a greater percentage of government pension money in alternative investments such as venture capital and real estate. Legislators ultimately agreed to expand her authority slightly.

SEANC suggests to voters in Hise’s six-county mountain district he’s left his roots behind.

“If he ever really was a conservative, Ralph Hise must have ‘gone Raleigh,’” the narrator in a SEANC radio ad says, adding the bill would have allowed “the Democratic state treasurer to gamble billions of North Carolina’s retirement money in risky Wall Street investment schemes.”

Hise, in his second term, said giving Cowell more flexibility reduces risk through diversification.

He said SEANC is out to get him because of his opposition to unions. The local community college employee said he used to be an association member until it affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. He’s also tried to get state government to stop collecting dues on behalf of any employee group, including SEANC.

Hise is running on what North Carolina Republicans have done since taking charge of the legislature in 2011. “Anyone who looks at my record would say that I have kept my commitments,” he said.

Lavender, also a community college administrator, essentially accuses Hise of being too conservative. Lavender says Hise runs with a General Assembly crowd that approved taxpayer-funded grants for children to attend private and religious schools and a tax overhaul he argues will disproportionately hurt low- and middle-income families.

“What he did to our folks was a slap in the face,” Lavender said.

Hise sent a mailer telling voters Lavender voted against a resolution approved by McDowell County commissioners in 2012 supporting the passage of the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Lavender said he didn’t think it proper for county leaders to tell citizens how to vote. The amendment passed by wide margins in the district.

The winner of the primaries involving Rucho, Brawley and Hise face no Democratic opposition in November.

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