ICYMI: Citing tolls and pay-to-play scandals, former GOP Rep weighs primary challenge to McCrory
- Gov. McCrory, GOP legislators facing backlash over new 50-year tolls in Charlotte-area
- Former GOP Rep. Brawley says whole state should be in uproar, weighs primary challenge to McCrory
- Brawley also cites GOP culture of pay-to-play as motivation to run
By Jim Morrill
The Charlotte Observer
Will tolls take a toll on some politicians?
North Carolina Democrats already are using them to target one Mecklenburg County Republican.
And a former lawmaker hopes anti-toll fervor could jump-start his possible, and improbable, challenge to GOP Gov. Pat McCrory.
Toll lanes now under construction on Interstate 77 have sparked a backlash among drivers and businesses who think new toll lanes not only won’t help congestion but will forestall any additional widening for decades.
To see the political backwash, check out the billboard south of Exit 28.
“Rep. Charles Jeter voted for tolls,” it says, next to a picture of the Huntersville Republican. “Are you ready to pay?”
The billboard was paid for by Progress NC Action, a liberal group. The state Democratic Party, meanwhile, held a news conference Monday outside Cornelius Town Hall, where Jeter was about to host his “summit” on the toll project. A party spokesman essentially blamed Jeter and McCrory for the tolls.
And Tuesday, Progress NC Action held a conference call to remind reporters and voters that in 2013 Jeter voted for a transportation bill that authorized transportation officials to enter into up to three unspecified toll contracts. The bill passed 105-7, with most Democrats joining most Republicans in support.
For Democrats, Jeter is low-hanging fruit. Democrats outnumber Republicans in his west Mecklenburg County district. He has twice won narrowly, never with more than 52.5 percent of the vote.
“I’m the only Republican in the building up there who lives in a Democratic-leaning district,” Jeter says. “Anytime Democrats smell blood in the water they become sharks.”
Jeter acknowledges he supported the project for so-called HOT lanes when he thought it was the the only path to relieving congestion.
“Based on the information before me, if we’re going to get any widening of I-77 in the foreseeable future, it’s with HOT lanes,” he said in 2013. “The HOT lane concept, while it is not perfect, you can’t let great be the enemy of the good.”
Now he believes the state can find the money to widen I-77 without tolls. He’s asked McCrory to cancel the contract with Cintra, the Spanish company that would build and operate the lanes.
Meanwhile, buoyed by anti-toll sentiment, former Rep. Robert Brawley of Mooresville is considering a primary challenge to McCrory, whom many toll critics blame for not stopping the I-77 project.
Long a critic of toll roads, Brawley was one of just two Republicans to vote against the 2013 transportation bill.
He expects the controversy over I-77 will echo with other toll projects across the state.
“The toll roads have obviously got a lot of people upset,” he says. “If the public ever understands that, the whole state is going to be in an uproar.”
Tolls aren’t Brawley’s only issue. He also wants to change what he believes is his party’s image.
“The image I’m getting is Republicans don’t listen, Republicans do too many things that are pay-to-play,” he says. “I may find out … that I’m the only one who feels that way. If (I am), you probably won’t hear from me again.”