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RALEIGH -- In one of the most competitive legislative races in North Carolina, voters in Democratic-leaning House District 61 will choose Tuesday between Republican incumbent Art Pope and Democratic newcomer Jack Nichols.
Public education is the top priority for the candidates in the district, which stretches from established neighborhoods northwest of downtown Raleigh to newer subdivisions in North Raleigh. But they disagree on how to improve public schools.
Pope, who has pledged to limit himself to four consecutive terms in the House, was appointed to the seat in April 1999 to fill in for Chuck Neely, a Republican, who left for an unsuccessful run for governor. Pope also represented the district from 1989 to 1992 before losing a 1992 bid for lieutenant governor.
In his time in the state House, Pope has fought to create the "rainy day" reserve fund, worked for political reform including laws to requires state government to follow open meetings laws just like local governments and supported a bill to help public schools expedite new construction.
Nichols, a Raleigh lawyer, is no stranger to politics. He is a former Wake County commissioner who has served as a staff attorney in state government and worked for Gov. Jim Hunt as a lobbyist. He opted not to run for re-election to the Wake board in 1994 so he could spend more time with his sons.
Nichols and Pope sound off loudest on education.
Nichols criticizes Pope's vote last summer against the state budget, which included funding for public education initiatives such as teacher pay raises and teacher training programs. Pope was among the 10 legislators who voted against it.
Pope said he supports teacher pay increases and the state's school testing and accountability program, but voted against the budget because of sections he disliked. For instance, he wanted a higher raise for state employees. Pope also supports using Wake's meals tax to build schools. The money is now used with the countywide hotel tax to build projects that generate tourism and economic development.
Nichols says he supports plans to raise teacher salaries to the nation's highest by 2010 and the testing and accountability program. He has worked to build local early childhood education programs as former co-chairman of Wake's Smart Start partnership.
M. JACKSON (JACK) NICHOLS
political affiliation: Democrat
FAMILY: Wife, Carol Spruill; two sons
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in political science, Davidson College, 1973; law degree, Wake Forest University, 1977; master's degree in public policy, Duke University, 1977
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Candidate for Wake County commissioner, 1982; Wake County commissioner, 1990-94
CIVIC ACTIVITIES: Past chairman, Wake County Smart Start; past chairman, Occoneechee Council Board, Boy Scouts of America; past board member, Interact; past board member, Montessori School; past board member, Planned Parenthood of the Capital and the Coast; past board member, Wake Education Partnership; past board member, Wake County Bar Association; past board member, Women's Center
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Member, Christ Episcopal Church, Raleigh
HOBBIES: Reading, camping, hiking, Boy Scouts, cooking, tennis, gardening
MOST ADMIRED POLITICAL FIGURE: Thomas Jefferson
LAST BOOK READ: "Beach Music," by Pat Conroy
WHAT MAKES YOU BEST QUALIFIED? "First of all, my education and experience have prepared me for this office. ... Secondly, my experience as a county commissioner gave me an in-depth understanding of the problems facing local government and how public and private groups need to work together to solve those problems. That elected experience also allowed me to develop a consensus style of leadership rather than one of confrontation or opposition. Also, my civic activities have also prepared me I have learned that nonprofits offer an effective alternative to government programs by providing some of the services needed by our community. ..."
TOP PRIORITY IN OFFICE: "Public education has been and will always be my first priority. Statewide, we know that our students are not performing up to national standards. I support the Excellent Schools Act to raise teacher salaries and standards. I support the goal of Governor Hunt and the General Assembly to raise teacher salaries in order to be first in America by the year 2010. I also support the ABCs of Public Education in order to reward those schools that are succeeding and identify those schools which need improvement. These programs will benefit the entire state and also Wake County."
HOW TO CONTACT: Phone, 832-4554; e-mail, jacknic@@bellsouth.net
political affiliation: Republican
FAMILY: Wife, Kathy; one daughter, two sons
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in political science, UNC-Chapel Hill, 1978; law degree, Duke University, 1981
OCCUPATION: Senior executive vice president, Variety Wholesalers Inc.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Special counsel to governor, 1985; N.C. House, 1989-92; candidate for lieutenant governor, 1992; N.C. House, 1999 to present
CIVIC ACTIVITIES: Board member, American Conservative Union; trustee, Asheville School; board member, Atlas Economic Research Foundation; board member, Citizens For a Sound Economy; board member, Institute of Humane Studies at George Mason University; board member, Jesse Helms Center Foundation at Wingate University; board chairman, John Locke Foundation; board member, N.C. Retail Merchants Association; board member, North Carolina Taxpayers United
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Member, White Memorial Presbyterian Church, Raleigh
HOBBIES: Spending time with family, bicycling, hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, canoeing
MOST ADMIRED POLITICAL FIGURE: Thomas Jefferson
LAST BOOK READ: "The Bear and the Dolphin," by Tom Clancy
WHAT MAKES YOU BEST QUALIFIED? "My experience starts as a parent, responsible for providing a bright future for my children, and knowing that is the goal of all families. As an independent retailer, I know what it takes to create jobs, serve customers and pay taxes. I have previously been elected by voters of all parties, and been appointed to positions of public trust by Republican Gov. Jim Martin and Democratic speakers of the House. As a citizen-legislator I have successfully forged bipartisan support to pass legislation for education reform, budget reform, tax fairness, open meetings law, to protect the environment and campaign finance reform."
TOP PRIORITY IN OFFICE: "My top priority is improving our children's education. During my first terms (1989-92) I was a constructive critic of the state's Basic Education Plan, with its centralized one-size-fits-all formula approach. As an alternative I proposed back then legislation for local flexibility, with accountability, and more parental involvement. This approach was later incorporated in the ABCs of Education and Excellent Schools Act, which I support. In exchange for the higher teacher pay and for accountability, I support restoring some type of competency testing for teachers, which was part of the original Excellent Schools Act."
HOW TO CONTACT: Phone, 510-6819, 510-9570; e-mail, ArtPope2000@@aol.com