The Wilson Times



Wednesday, April 02, 2014 10:50 PM

Bibbs, Farmer-Butterfield duel on radio

By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor

State Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield and Democratic primary challenger Mark Bibbs are trading swipes in dueling radio commercials airing this week.

Bibbs’ response to Farmer-Butterfield’s radio ad comes as the seven-term incumbent picks up a key endorsement from North Carolina’s state employee group. In a spot that began airing Tuesday, a Bibbs spokeswoman accuses Farmer-Butterfield of lying about the length of time she spent as a House majority whip.

"You were told that they had been elected to that position for six years when the record shows they were a part of the whip team for only four years,” said the spokeswoman, who is not identified in the ad. "His opponent just won’t tell you the truth.”

Farmer-Butterfield said in a previous radio commercial that her colleagues had elected her House majority whip for six years. She said Tuesday that the error was inadvertent.

"I made a mistake,” she said. "I’m not perfect. To me, that’s nitpicking. I think what’s more important is what I have done for the people in my district and in North Carolina. I’m not going to quibble about four years or six years. I prefer to run a campaign that’s about the issues and the work that I’ve done.”

Bibbs is challenging Farmer-Butterfield for her District 24 seat in the state House. Redrawn in 2011, the district now includes Wilson and Pitt counties. For six of her seven terms, Farmer-Butterfield represented Wilson and Edgecombe counties in District 24.

Farmer-Butterfield said she’s committed to running a positive campaign. She doesn’t believe voters will punish her for overestimating the amount of time she spent as a Democratic whip, which she calls an honest mistake.

"I think it’s important for people to know that I’m human just like they are,” she said. "If that’s the worst thing they can say about me, then I’m fine.”

Legislative whips are assistants to the majority and minority leaders who gather consensus and try to ensure that party members vote with leadership. The Democratic and Republican parties each have three whips in the state House, according to the General Assembly website.

Bibbs’ ad also accuses Farmer-Butterfield of implying she was the top House majority whip when she served as a member of the whip team.

In her previous commercial, Farmer-Butterfield said she was "elected as House majority whip.” She did not claim to be the primary or chief whip, a designation that House Democrats do not currently have.

The Republican Party has a majority whip and two deputy majority whips in the House, according to the General Assembly. On the other side of the aisle, all three lawmakers have the same title of "Democratic whip.”

In her own radio commercial, which also began airing Tuesday, Farmer-Butterfield takes Bibbs to task for switching districts.

"My opponent has moved out of his home in District 8 to a newly built apartment over his office in District 24 because he was soundly defeated in his own district in 2012,” Farmer-Butterfield said in the ad.

Farmer-Butterfield previously said she plans to file a residency challenge against Bibbs with the N.C. State Board of Elections.

STATE EMPLOYEES’ ENDORSEMENT

The State Employees Association of North Carolina’s political action committee gave Farmer-Butterfield its support in the race after meeting with both candidates last week in Greenville.

The association’s EMPAC announced the decision Monday in a release listing 21 bipartisan endorsements in the May primaries. The group endorsed nine Democratic candidates and 12 Republicans.

"They both did a good job, but it really came down to the fact that Jean Farmer-Butterfield really had a better grasp on our issues and she has been in the legislature,” said Kevin LeCount, the association’s member strength director. "She has supported pay raises for state employees in the past. She has also stood up for fully funding the retirement system for state employees and the state health plan.”

LeCount said the state employees group considers Farmer-Butterfield’s seniority in the state House as an asset.

"When an issue does cut across party lines, she is able to exert influence,” he said. "She does have that seniority. We need to keep legislators who have demonstrated that commitment to public services.”

LeCount said the endorsement does not indicate that the state employees’ lobby opposes Bibbs, who he said "would not be considered a bad guy.”

"We wish him luck, but we certainly see no reason for her to be unseated at this time,” LeCount said.

The 55,000-member SEANC bills itself as the South’s leading state employees’ association. Analysts say it’s an influential group that participates in policymaking conversations in the General Assembly.

"They play a role, and they have a constant presence down at the legislature,” said Paige Worsham, policy analyst at the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

Worsham’s think tank rated SEANC lobbyist Dana S. Cope the 25th most-influential of 60 registered North Carolina lobbyists in 2011. However, many lobbyists represent multiple trade groups, which may skew the rankings. Cope was the seventh-most influential among lobbyists who advocate for a single organization.

Farmer-Butterfield said she was pleased to hear of the state employees’ endorsement.

"I’m so elated and pleased that people recognize I am a hard worker,” she said, "and I am committed to helping people in every aspect of my life. I’ve done that all my life. It’s gratifying to know that people acknowledge that and recognize that. I will continue to work hard and continue to represent the people well.”

corey@wilsontimes.com | 265-7821





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