“It’s like the most important job that no one’s ever heard of,” said Ronnie Chatterji, a candidate for state treasurer.
Chatterji is one of three candidates, along with Dimple Ajmera and Matt Leatherman, running for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer in North Carolina. The winner will run against Republican incumbent Dale Folwell.
“Those state-level officials really affect people's lives more than even a U.S. senator or president in a direct way,” Chatterji said. “While they’re not as sexy, it's really important to get the right people in them.”
Chatterji said having parents who are state employees underpins his connection to making sure state pension and benefits plans are managed correctly.
“The key thing is having a state treasurer who can manage the investments in a smart way,” he said. “Right now we’re losing a lot of money because our investments are not in the right assets.”
Chatterji said the state has lost financial opportunities by holding too large a portion of the assets in cash rather than investing them.
According to his website, Matt Leatherman is a public financing and budgeting expert from Rowan County whose work included advising former State Treasurer Janet Cowell.
Leatherman has said he was inspired to run after his daughter’s stay in the NICU. He has said his goal is to make health care more affordable.
Dimple Ajmera is an at-large member of Charlotte City Council. She also said Republican incumbent Dale Folwell has not efficiently managed the state’s assets.
“The State Treasurer needs to make investments that will maximize returns with a long-term view rather than trying to time the market,” she said.
Ajmera said she wants to promote Medicaid expansion and infrastructure growth.
“We should be investing our considerable resources in sustainable infrastructure to prepare for the new economy,” she said. “Stop investing in companies that pollute our environment. Focus on projects that benefit our state and provide good employment opportunities for our residents."
Democratic State Auditor Primary
The state auditor reviews state and local government operations to prevent waste and abuse of tax dollars. Beth Wood has been the state auditor since 2009 and holds an accounting degree from East Carolina University. Wood was the first woman to be elected as state auditor in North Carolina.
Luis Toledo is Wood’s sole challenger in the primary. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran who previously served as assistant state auditor under Wood. Toledo said he wants to see more financial reports published online by county and city auditors to increase transparency.
“I am very concerned about the lack of accountability that we are seeing in North Carolina state government and the secrecy that we have seen which promotes mismanagement and abuse.”
Specifically, Toledo pointed to the recently overturned $2.5 million Silent Sam settlement.
Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Primary
Incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler was first elected in 2004 and is unopposed for the Republican nomination. But three Democrats on the primary ballot this year are vying for the chance to oppose him in November.
North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture is tasked with enforcing health and safety regulations on animal health, gas and oil inspection, food and drug testing and agricultural grading among others.
Walter Smith owns and operates an industrial hemp farm in Yadkin and Robeson counties. Smith said he has lobbied the General Assembly to prevent overregulation of the hemp industry. He said that hemp is one crop that is creating profit for North Carolina’s farmers.
“The main reason farms are being foreclosed on in North Carolina is because they’re not profitable,” he said. “They just can’t make a profit growing crops that they’re growing here.”
Smith said he wants to see cost-sharing programs expanded to help farmers pay for the implementation of sustainable farming practices.
“The agriculture department has a cost-share program called Agriculture Cost Share, and they can pay up to 75 percent of the cost of putting in practices for protecting the soil, protecting the water, the environment,” he said. “And we need to expand the funding of that program so we can help more people.”
Smith said protecting the migrant labor force is critical for the state’s agriculture industry.
“We need to talk about immigration reform because the farmers are the largest users of the migrant labor force in North Carolina,” Smith said. “If we were to lose those, the crops would rot in the field. There’s just no other way to harvest them.”
He also identified an issue that has not traditionally been under the department’s purview: food insecurity.
“The Department of Agriculture is in charge of food supply," he said. "We should be the ones leading the efforts to feed the hungry and it's just not being done right now."
Jenna Wadsworth is a Wake County soil and water conservation supervisor and grew up on a farm in Johnston County.
“I’m still active with our family farm to this day, so this is something that is very near and dear to my heart,” she said.
Wadsworth said incumbent Troxler has been too friendly to corporate farms and has not done enough to address the effects of climate change.
“Commissioner Steve Troxler has been, I would say, bought and paid for by special interests and international corporations like Smithfield Foods,” she said. “His priorities are not always the same as the priorities of the small family farmers who are working hard to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs.”
Like Smith, Wadsworth said she supports legalizing recreational cannabis. She also said she wants to reform the hemp licensing process, which she said is discriminatory towards people of color.
Among her other priorities, Wadsworth said she wants to bridge the urban-rural divide by expanding Medicaid and addressing rural broadband access.
Donovan Watson is a farmer from Durham County. Watson said he wants to see more farmers in North Carolina — specifically more farmers of color. Watson also opposes the current plans to move certain parts of the State Farmers Market. His platform emphasizes agritourism as a potential economic driver for the state.
After the department proposed that the wholesalers’ warehouses at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh should be moved to a location in Dix Park, some producers created a petition to block the move.
Both Wadsworth and Smith said the State Farmers Market should stay in Raleigh. But while Smith was firm that the wholesalers should remain in their current location, Wadsworth said she’s open to reviewing the plans.
“We have to do right by everybody in this situation,” she said. “We have to make sure our wholesalers have the best opportunity to be successful in this day and age. But we also need to protect the folks at the State Farmers Market who are doing what they can to get their product to market.”
Republican primaries for Council of State are on the ballot for attorney general, state auditor, secretary of labor, secretary of state and insurance commissioner.
Early voting continues until Feb. 29 in Orange County. The primary is on March 3.
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