Henderson County School Board member Rick Wood said today he is running against state Sen. Tom Apodaca in an effort to turn around what he called the Legislature's "race to the bottom" in education funding.
Wood, a Democrat, said Monday he is running "basically as a result of the legislation from the North Carolina General Assembly, especially as it relates to education and some of the other things that relate to voter suppression."
Apodaca, who is a member of the leadership as the Senate Rules Committee chairman, said he welcomed an opponent.
"I'm excited about having opposition," he said. "I enjoy campaigning. I look forward to a good campaign where we can talk about some of these issues."
Wood, a retired teacher and coach at West Henderson High School, has been one of the more vocal critics of the Legislature on the county School Board. He has become more frustrated, he said, at numerous actions of the Legislature that he says have hurt education, including eliminating North Carolina Teaching Fellows scholarships for top high school seniors who commit to teaching in underperforming schools in in the state, the elimination of extra pay for teachers that earn advanced degrees and broad budget cuts for K-12 schools.
"We lost 22 teacher assistants for this school year," he said. "We're 46th in the nation for teacher pay and 46th or 48th for spending. I just felt like I needed to offer my service to try to do something about it, and I hope maybe I can do something about it.
"North Carolina has had a reputation for decades of being outstanding as far as our college and university system and K-12 education going back to Terry Sanford," he said. "Jim Hunt in 2001 challenged the state to be no. 1 in the national by 2010. Obviously we didn't make that. Right now we're in a race to the bottom."
The state's low starting pay, he said, is forcing bright students to earn degrees here and move out of state to teach school.
"You can make in Tennessee $11,000 more a year as a starting teacher than you can in North Carolina," he said. "Even in South Carolina salaries are better than North Carolina."
Apodaca said he looked forward "to hearing how he is going to pay for this," suggesting that the only way to fund teacher pay increases and other programs is through a tax increase.
"We're still trying to come out of the recession," Apodaca said. "You don't raise taxes to get out of this."
Wood faces a steep climb in unseating Apodaca, assuming both win their party's nomination for the November 2014 election.
The 48th state Senate district is one of the most Republican seats in North Carolina, and Apodaca figures to have a formidable advantage in fundraising. Last year he raised $476,000, and gave nearly all of it to other Republican candidates as the GOP bolstered its already strong majority.
"I don't know if I'll have to spend it but I'm going to spend it," he said of a local campaign.
The senator's mid-year campaign finance report, filed on July 30, showed that he raised $15,035 in the first half of this year, including $9,950 from Political Action Committees. He had $42,968 cash on hand at the close of the period. Against a little-known Democratic opponent in 2010, Apodaca won with 65 percent of the vote. He had no Democratic opponent in 2012.
The 48th District covers all of Henderson and Polk counties and part of Buncombe County. No Democrat has won a countywide election in a partisan race in Henderson County since Terry Lyda won re-election as tax collector in 2002.
Wood has formed a campaign committee led by Paul Goebel, the retired Hendersonville High School teacher who lost a state House bid in 2008. His assistant campaign manager is John Whitmire, a longtime high school teacher and basketball coach at Edneyville and East Henderson high schools, like Wood also a retired. His treasurer is Rich Cooke, a member of the Laurel Park Town Council. Wood won re-election to a second term on the School Board last November.
Wood said he recognizes the disadvantage he could face when it comes to Apodaca's fundraising ability.
"I know what the figures are in party registration. I know the incumbent has a lot of PAC money and a lot of special interest money," he said. "We're going to try to get our message out and we hope the voters will agree with it."