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Four politicians from Cumberland County seek statewide offices

Can someone from Fayetteville get elected to the top?


Voters this year could put four people from Fayetteville and Cumberland into four of North Carolina’s top statewide offices.

The three Democrats and one Republican are running for lieutenant governor, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture and state auditor.

If each emerges as a winner, Cumberland County will have four people on North Carolina’s Council of State, which consists of the state’s top 10 executive branch leaders.

Meanwhile, Fayetteville has another statewide elected official: Republican Court of Appeals Judge John M. Tyson, who is in his third term.

The strong Cumberland County showing of statewide candidates on the 2024 ballot is good, said Derrick Montgomery, the chairman of the Cumberland County Democratic Party.

“It says that Cumberland County is engaged,” he said. “It says that we care about the community, we care about our representation and our voice, and that we want to further the positive change of progression and support, to our children, our elderly, our working class, and low- to moderate-income families.”

Cumberland County voters are more likely to vote when they learn local people are seeking statewide office, Montgomery said.

“My hope is that our voters will become even more engaged and we would see a record number turnout in the primary and in the general,” he said.

More people are running who have not held office before, said Nina Morton, chairwoman of the Cumberland County Republican Party.

“There are times when someone just comes out of the woodwork, and they just captivate their audience,” she said, citing Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who was first elected in 2020. Robinson had never run for office before, and became known when a video of comments he made to the Greensboro City Council in 2018 about gun laws spread widely on the internet.

The four Cumberland County candidates seeking statewide office are:

  • Dave Boliek, a Republican, running for state auditor. Boliek is a lawyer and a former chairman of the Board of Trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He spent most of his adult life in Fayetteville before moving to Durham in 2023. 
  • Ben Clark, a Democrat and former state senator, is running for lieutenant governor.
  • Tim Dunn, a Democrat and attorney, is running for attorney general.
  • Sarah Taber, a Democrat and an agricultural crop scientist and consultant, is running for commissioner of agriculture.

In-person early voting for the March 5 primary starts Feb. 15. The general election is Nov. 5. Voting by mail-in absentee ballots will also begin in February.

Dave Boliek, state auditor candidate

The Office of State Auditor was created to protect taxpayers by monitoring government entities for fraud, mismanagement and other problems. In recent years, the auditor’s office uncovered embezzlement and other deficiencies in the Spring Lake town government.

Candidate Boliek faces five other Republicans in the primary. He moved to Fayetteville in 1997, where he spent most of his career. His family moved to Durham in 2023 to be close to specialized educational services for their daughter. He still owns his house in Fayetteville and his law practice is here.

In 2019, Boliek was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. What he found at UNC inspired his run for auditor, he said.

He learned that the university’s $4.4 billion of spending was split among 16 separate budgets. With no single spending plan, it was difficult to impossible to see the university’s full financial picture “and make strategic decisions based on what your overall budget outlook was,” Boliek said.

Boliek, who later served two years as the chairman of the board, said he and other board members led an effort to consolidate the 16 budgets into one.

“In the process, we discovered a $100 million structural deficit in the finances at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” he said.

The board and administration made “tough budget decisions” to eliminate the deficit in 13 months, Boliek said. “Today, based on that conservative budgeting approach, we have a modest surplus in funds, as opposed to deficit in funds.”

Fayetteville is the sixth-largest city in the state and Cumberland is the fifth-largest county, according to 2022 U.S. Census data. A community this size needs voices in the state capital, Boliek said.

“It shouldn’t be unusual for people from Cumberland County to seek statewide office,” he said. “We represent an important economic center for the state of North Carolina. I want to represent the whole state, but I certainly have a lot of, obviously, affection and knowledge about how things work in Cumberland County, and how we as a state can help Cumberland County thrive as part of eastern North Carolina.”

Ben Clark, lieutenant governor candidate

The lieutenant governor, elected separately from the governor, takes over for the governor when the governor is out of state or if the governor leaves office before his or her term expires. The lieutenant governor presides over state Senate lawmaker sessions and casts the deciding vote in the event of a tie among the senators with a matter before them.

The lieutenant governor also serves on the Council of State (which decides some statewide matters), the North Carolina Board of Education, the North Carolina Capital Planning Commission, and the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges and is chairperson of the eLearning Commission.

Clark, a Democrat, grew up in Fayetteville. He served in the Air Force for 20 years, and for 10 years was a state senator for Cumberland and Hoke counties. After living for years in Hoke County, Clark moved to the Vander area just east of Fayetteville.

He is one of three Democrats, 11 Republicans and a Libertarian candidate vying for the lieutenant governor seat.

“Clearly we understand that we have a lieutenant governor right now who’s not serving the people as they should,” Clark said. “And I believe that I have the ability to provide the folks of this state with somebody who’s competent in the office, and somebody who cares about the state, and cares about the citizens and will serve them well. So I decided to go ahead and put my hat in the ring.”

Clark was referring to Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who has drawn criticism on a variety of topics, both from Democrats and Republicans. Robinson is in the GOP primary for governor.

Clark said his 10 years as a state senator, his background as a retired Air Force officer, plus experiences as a college and high school teacher and in the private sector make him the best candidate.

What is to be made of the fact that four people from Cumberland County are running for top statewide offices? “It says to me that we have some highly talented people with a wealth of experience who are willing to put themselves forward for consideration by the citizens of this state,” Clark said.

It’s common for lieutenant governors in North Carolina to run for governor.

Clark said he has no plans to do so.

“I’m not looking towards serving for lieutenant governor for eight years and then turning around and serving for governor,” he said. “This will be the last political enterprise I seek to engage in.”

Tim Dunn, candidate for attorney general

The state attorney general is the head of the North Carolina Dept. of Justice. The Office of the Attorney General represents state and local governments in legal matters, it represents the state when criminal cases are appealed, and provides legal advice to local- and state-level public officials.

Dunn is one of three Democrats and one Republican running for attorney general. He has a law practice.

He grew up in Fayetteville, he said, and served in the Marines and Marine Corps Reserve. Dunn’s duties in the service have included being a prosecutor, a defense lawyer and a judge, he said, and he has served in war zones in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

“I think it says something great. I think it’s phenomenal we’ve got four people running” from Cumberland County, Dunn said.

He said a close friend — a Republican who said he would support Dunn — told Dunn he has no chance of winning. “Because no one from Fayetteville can win a Council of State race. That’s what that person said.

“So that should make us all four more determined that we’re going to win — we’re going to win these races,” Dunn said.

Dunn announced in 2014 he would run for attorney general, he said, while attending a forum about efforts to curb crime and violence in Fayetteville. People at the forum were upset and wanted solutions, he said.

“I didn’t know that I was going to run for attorney general — I was saying that initially just to get them fired up. But it sounded like a good idea.”

He made his idea official in 2023.

Sarah Taber, candidate for commissioner of agriculture

The commissioner of agriculture has been the face and voice of farmers in North Carolina for generations. The commissioner is the head of the state Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

In addition to administering various ag-related programs, the agency has consumer protection duties.

Sarah Taber is the only Democrat running this year. Incumbent Steve Troxler has a GOP opponent in the primary. A Libertarian will also be on the November ballot.

Taber thinks candidates from Cumberland County have stepped forward because the county had competitive local elections in recent years, she said. “Like we have real battleground districts here, historically,” she said, which made it easier and more important for people to become involved. “Because your vote really does count here, and I think that’s been really good for civic engagement.”

Taber is a crop scientist and agricultural consultant. She thinks North Carolina has the climate and soils to become a fruit and vegetable production powerhouse in the greenhouse horticulture industry.

“We should be knocking it out of the park with fruits, vegetables, greenhouses, berries — and we have some of that in this state, but there’s not a lot of support for it,” she said.

Taber described that as a missed opportunity, and said she’s seeking the office because she wants to lead efforts to expand the North Carolina rural economy in that sector.

“I just thought it was time to do something different here,” she said.

Some former statewide officials who were from Fayetteville or who lived in Fayetteville:

  • Ed Brady, associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, elected in 2002 and served one term.
  • Pat Timmons-Goodson, N.C. Court of Appeals judge, 1997 to 2005, associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, 2006 to 2012.
  • Cheri Beasley, elected to the N.C. Court of Appeals in 2008, then served on the N.C. Supreme Court from 2012 through 2020 (with most of the last two years as chief justice).
  • Mark Davis, N.C. Court of Appeals judge from 2012 to 2019, and associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court from 2019 through 2020.
  • Terry Sanford, elected governor in 1960 and to the U.S. Senate in 1986.
  • John Lewis Taylor, who practiced law in Fayetteville in the late 1700s. In 1819 he became the first chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, according to NCpedia.

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

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election 2024, fayetteville, cumberland county, NC, North Carolina, council of state, auditor, agriculture, attorney general, lieutenant governor