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Democratic Runoff For Labor Commissioner

Early voting is underway in North Carolina's primary run-off elections. In races in which no candidate received more than 40% of the vote in the May 8th primary, the top 2 vote-getters face off on July 17th for their party's nomination. In addition to several U.S. House and General Assembly seats, there are run-offs for 5 statewide offices.

Isaac-Davy Aronson: You'd be hard-pressed to find two more outwardly different candidates in this year's primaries than John C. Brooks and Marlowe Foster. Brooks, born in 1937, was labor commissioner from 1977-1993. Foster is over 30 years younger and has never held political office. And while Brooks stresses he knows the labor commissioner's job inside and out, Foster says he wants to change the nature of that job.

Marlowe Foster: The labor commissioner has to do more and be more. And my position is that the labor commissioner can play a critical role in helping the state address the 9.4% unemployment.

Foster says he would focus on community college training programs, and also on helping businesses and their employees achieve better work-family balance.

Brooks also highlights worker training, he says one reason he's in the running for his old job is to take advantage of President Obama's proposal to send billions in high-tech training funds to states. But he says the job comes with specific responsibilities.

John C. Brooks: I'm an attorney. And the job of the commissioner of labor up to 50%  is almost a specialized attorney general for the state, overseeing a wage and hour administration as well as OSHA and so forth.

Both candidates stress the importance of workplace safety. Foster says he'd focus resources on those companies that have poor records. Brooks says he'd fight for more money for inspectors.

John C. Brooks: If we had no new businesses in North Carolina for the next 50 years it would take all 50 years for our inspectors to get around to inspecting each place for which they have responsibility one time. That's woefully inadequate.

Brooks argues he's better positioned for the general election against incumbent Cherie Berry - after all, he's won 4 of them before. But Foster says Brooks' primary losses in 1992 and 2008 demonstrate his time is past.

Marlowe Foster: The politics are totally different; the issues are different; and the ability that that individual has in terms of winning an election in what is the new North Carolina is very different.

Foster says he understands the workers' issues of today - he spent a decade in government relations for home-improvement chain Lowe's and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Early voting runs through July 14th.

Isaac-Davy Aronson is WUNC's morning news producer and can frequently be heard on air as a host and reporter. He came to North Carolina in 2011, after several years as a host at New York Public Radio in New York City. He's been a producer, newscaster and host at Air America Radio, New York Times Radio, and Newsweek on Air.
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