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In NC Legislative Races, Negative — And Misleading — Ads Flourish

Democratic State Senate candidate Brandlon Lofton has been accused of wanting to eliminate free speech, which he says is "ridiculous."
Steve Harrison
Democratic State Senate candidate Brandlon Lofton has been accused of wanting to eliminate free speech, which he says is "ridiculous."

Mecklenburg County has six competitive races in the state legislature, with the Republican Party’s Super Majority in the General Assembly at stake.

And with less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, candidates and independent groups have been bombarding voters with mailers and TV ads. They are increasingly negative – and misleading.

In the south Charlotte House District 104 race, Democrat Brandon Lofton is in a tight race against Republican incumbent Andy Dulin.

Dulin attacked Lofton in a recent TV commercial, calling him a "radical" for signing a pledge to limit free speech.

Lofton said that's misrepresenting his position. Lofton signed a pledge by the group Future Now, which calls for limiting corporate spending in elections. He says he opposes Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that gave corporations First Amendment rights.

"It’s flat-out ridiculous," Lofton said. "I began my career as a civil rights lawyer. I have concerns about unlimited spending and corporate special interests in our elections.”

Lofton signed a pledge by the group Future Now, which calls for limiting corporate spending in elections. Does that mean Lofton wants to curtail free speech? Dulin wouldn't say.

"I mean, I don't recall," Dulin said. "I mean, I don't know. I mean, I'm not able — without the information right in front of me."

In the Ballantyne area, Democrat Wesley Harris is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Scott Stone in District 105.

Harris paid for a mailer that ties Stone to HB2, the GOP-passed law from 2016 that required people to use the bathroom in government-owned buildings that matched the gender on their birth certificate. After numerous boycotts, that law was repealed.

The mailer says Stone “is part of a team that passed HB2 – the bill that cost North Carolina.”

That’s factually correct. Stone is a Republican, and the Republicans passed HB2.

But Stone wasn’t in the General Assembly then. He was appointed to the seat after HB2 passed.

How would Stone have voted on HB2?

“I have no idea what I would have done at the time," Stone said. "I will say during the next two years I was working pretty collaboratively with Democrats in Charlotte. I always said that we should consider repeal, but the city council needed to repeal their ordinance as well.”

Possibly the single most intense attack has been in State Senate District 39, where Republican incumbent Dan Bishop is trying to keep his seat against Democrat Chad Stachowicz.

Stachowicz was arrested for DWI 10 years ago. His blood alcohol level was .21 – almost three times the legal limit, and he had driven into oncoming traffic on Park Road.

Voters on the district – which includes south Charlotte, Matthews and Mint Hill – have been deluged with mail about the arrest, some paid for by the state's Republican Party and the N.C. Senate Majority Fund.

Stachowicz says the mailers imply he was arrested this year by covering up the dates of his arrest. He says the mailers also use newspaper stories from this year to imply that was the date of his arrest.

“I had a DWI in 2008 over a decade ago, for which I’m very remorseful," Stachowicz said. "I didn’t see it turning into a depiction of me as some sort of horrible human that happened recently.”

Stachowicz, a small business owner, says he expected the DWI to come up in the campaign. But he says the ads are “not a true depiction, and so it definitely went a lot further than I expected to see the spin.”

The mailers also highlight comments Stachowicz made in online chatrooms three years ago. He said he often drove drunk before his arrest and said texting and driving was more dangerous.

The other competitive state Senate race in Mecklenburg County is District 41, between Republican incumbent Jeff Tarte and Democratic challenger Natasha Marcus. That district runs from Lake Norman to southwest Charlotte.

The GOP’s Senate Majority Fund has hit Marcus with mailers saying that she’s part of the “far-left mob,” and is for open borders and sanctuary cities.

Those mailers do not have citations as to where the allegations came from.

"Immigration policy has little to nothing to do with a state Senate race," Marcus said. "And I wish he would discuss the issues that are actually in play in a state Senate race. There are no borders around the state of North Carolina."

The General Assembly does not write immigration laws. But three years ago, the state and the city of Charlotte fought over whether Charlotte’s policies toward unauthorized immigrants made it a “sanctuary city.”

Tarte’s campaign believes Marcus’s ads aren’t fair either. She has criticized him for votes on health care, the environment and education.

One TV ad said that Tarte "consistently voted to underfund education, dropping North Carolina to 39th in the nation.”

North Carolina was, in fact, 39th in the nation in per-pupil funding in 2017, according to the National Education Association. But the state’s ranking has improved this decade, from 45th six years ago.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.