GREENSBORO — The race for N.C. Senate District 28 may come down to how its constituents define experience.
Incumbent Gladys Robinson has held the seat for two terms and describes herself as a community advocate who for years before joining the Senate worked to address health, education and jobs issues among diverse populations in Guilford and surrounding counties.
Then there’s fellow Democrat Melvin “Skip” Alston, a veteran politician who said his 20 years on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners have prepared him well for a seat in the Senate.
Robinson and Alston are the only two candidates seeking the seat, so the District 28 race will be decided in next month’s primary.
Robinson is the longtime executive director of Piedmont Health Services and Sickle Cell Agency. She won her first term in 2010.
She said many of the issues with which legislators are dealing are some of the same quality-of-life issues that she has advocated for her entire career: access to preventive health care, better education and job training.
Robinson said that expanding Medicaid in the state is a matter of preventive health care and that she would continue to push for it.
“That’s a no-brainer,” Robinson said.
She said that teachers deserve a salary increase and that she also supports the tenure system, saying that she’s proud of the Guilford County Board of Education for challenging Republican legislators’ efforts to eliminate tenure. But Robinson said she also would like to build on the tenure model and look at other ways to provide incentives and promote teachers so that the best ones remain in the classroom.
Robinson, who served on the UNC Board of Governors for nearly 10 years, said she would continue to “advocate very strongly” for UNCG and N.C. A&T as they face what she called devastating cuts, adding that the two schools are “economic engines.”
But Alston said Robinson has not done enough to help the district during her two terms. He said she has not been aggressive enough in addressing the “bad policies” that the General Assembly has passed. He said the district needs a stronger voice in Raleigh.
“It’s hard-nosed politics down there,” Alston said. “They take no prisoners, and neither do I.”
Alston said he knows all the “players” in the General Assembly because of his time as a county commissioner and as former state president of the NAACP.
And he points to his final four years as a commissioner when, as chairman, he said he worked across party lines on the board with then-Republican Vice Chairman Steve Arnold to cut $40 million from the county budget without a tax increase.
Alston said he can work the same way with Republicans in Raleigh.
“It’s all about experience, OK, and I have 20 years of experience,” Alston said. “And it’s about knowing how to do things. And it’s all about trying to find issues that are nonpartisan.”
Alston said economic development, increasing teacher pay, bullying in schools, homelessness and implementing alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders are all issues that are important to him. Alston also said he would like to work for passage of an amendment to the bill cutting unemployment benefits that would exempt veterans.
He pointed out that none of the bills Robinson introduced were heard during last year’s session.
But Robinson said her responsibility is to represent her constituents and to be effective on their behalf, regardless of whether she is the primary sponsor of a bill.
She cited as an example the Breast Density Notification and Awareness law, which provides women with information about their breast density when they have mammograms, which is considered important in detecting cancerous cells.
Robinson, a co-sponsor of the bill, worked with the Republican majority to help get the House version of the bill passed.
“To me, that’s working with parties,” Robinson said. “That’s working across party lines.”