Rep. Bob Etheridge (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Aug. 7, 1941, Turkey .
Education: Campbell U., B.S. 1965.
Family: Married (Faye); 3 children.
Military career: Army, 1965–67.
Elected office: Harnett Cnty. Comm., 1973–76, Chmn., 1975-76; NC House of Reps., 1978–88; NC Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1989–96.
Professional Career: Farmer, 1965–present; V.P. sales, Sorensen Industries, 1968–87; Owner, Layton Hardware, 1973–90; Co–owner, WLLN Radio, 1979–91.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Bob Etheridge, a Democrat first elected in 1996. His biography seems tailored to the district: He was born in the hamlet of Turkey in Sampson County, grew up in Johnston County, went to Campbell University in Harnett County, where he was a basketball star, and owned a hardware store in Lillington, the county seat. He is a tobacco farmer who served four years on the Harnett County Commission in the 1970s. He was elected to the North Carolina House in 1978 and served 10 years, eventually chairing the Appropriations Committee. In 1988 and 1992, he was elected state superintendent of public instruction. In the mid-1990s, Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt called for abolishing the superintendent’s post and transferred 300 employees to the state Board of Education. Etheridge decided to run for the U.S. House against freshman David Funderburk, a Republican and longtime ally of conservative firebrand Jesse Helms in the Senate. When Funderburk tried to tie Etheridge to the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement that tobacco could be regulated as a drug, Etheridge responded by citing his own tobacco credentials: “I own tobacco allotments and have for years. I’d like to know how many days Mr. Funderburk spent priming tobacco, setting tobacco, and how many days he spent under the hot sun in the tobacco fields.” Etheridge won 53%-46%.
|Bob Etheridge (D)||199,730||(67%)||($984,575)|
|Dan Mansell (R)||93,323||(31%)||($21,861)|
|Bob Etheridge (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (67%), 2004 (62%), 2002 (65%), 2000 (58%), 1998 (57%), 1996 (53%)
In the House, Etheridge has compiled a moderate voting record that is generally more liberal on economic issues. He belongs to the centrist New Democrats. The only tobacco farmer in Congress, Etheridge vigorously opposed all attempts to regulate the crop and worked for years on the tobacco buyout bill, which finally was enacted in 2004 and reportedly paid him and his wife $31,000. Utilizing his previous experience as an educator, he won a provision in the Higher Education Reauthorization Act to teach values in public schools. He also pushed legislation to allow states to obtain interest-free loans to build schools. He supported the flag-burning amendment, a ban on “partial-birth” abortions, and later, in 2002, supported the use of force in Iraq. He also split with his party when he voted for trade promotion authority for Bush, which made it easier for the president to negotiate free-trade deals. North Carolina high-tech and farm interests supported the measure. The state has suffered setbacks from expanded trade, he said, but added, “We’ve been a net winner.”
After his district was devastated by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Etheridge won enactment of his bill to assist weather forecasters to improve hurricane warnings for inland areas. In another assist for his district, he passed a measure to name the post office in Smithfield for actress Ava Gardner, who “did live the American dream, but never forgot her beginnings in Johnston County.”
After Democrats won majority control of the House in 2006, Etheridge became chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management. From that perch, he helped to shape the 2008 farm bill, including reduced subsidies for big farmers. With Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., he won passage of a bill to permit small farmers to qualify for farm programs, overturning a controversial federal agency ruling. In 2007, he traveled to Cuba and sought to end the U.S. trade embargo on that country, a move supported by many American farmers. During the recent spike in energy prices, Etheridge in 2008 pushed a bill designed to reduce market manipulation and excessive speculation, but it fell 13 votes short of passage. He is also a major enthusiast for production of renewable fuels. In 2009, he stepped down as chairman to join the powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, where he was positioned to be a deal-cutter for moderate Democrats, a measure of the growing size and influence of the Democrats in the North Carolina congressional delegation. He is the only House member from the state on Ways and Means, where he landed a spot on the Trade Subcommittee to pursue his interest in that area.
The Democratically controlled state Legislature’s redistricting plan after the 2000 census added part of Raleigh, making this district more Democratic. Since then, Etheridge has won easily. In 2008, he caused a minor stir when, in an appearance at a local elementary school, he referred to Republican nominee John McCain as “an old white man.” Etheridge later apologized. In recent years, he twice thought about running for an open Senate seat, but was pre-empted by wealthy former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles, who was able to self-finance some of his campaign. Etheridge seems safe, but an open-seat contest in this district could be competitive.