August 27, 2004
Back at Duke, Carrington recalls campaigning
By Kate Stamell
In Paul Carrington’s office, there are no posters declaring “Carrington for N.C. State Senate” or reams of paper scattered across his desk listing names, counties and phone numbers of District 18 constituents.
Instead the former dean of the Duke School of Law, now a part-time Duke law professor, is lounging comfortably amid his bookshelves lined with law volumes and his desk scattered with paper weights from his past. A seal from the University of Tokyo cast in silver and the insignias of just a couple of the 15 U.S. law schools in which he has taught are on display next to his father’s leather-bound paperweight imprinted with the U.S. Air Force wings on top.
There is no indication that he ran—and lost—in the July 20 Democratic primaries for District 18 of the North Carolina State Senate.
At 73 years old, Carrington teaches part-time and works mostly from home. His answering machine leaves his home number and welcomes calls anytime. Last night, he made dinner for law students from his class.
More than a month ago, he didn’t have time to relax and entertain. He was frantically making phone calls, posting yard signs and attending countless campaign strategy sessions.
A law teacher since 1957, Carrington’s platform combined his vast legal experience with his passion for democracy. His platform centered on campaign finance, lobbying and voting reforms as well as assuring judicial independence. The primary race pitted Carrington against Bob Atwater, a retired University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill administrator and Chatham County Commissioner, and Tommy Griffin, an air conditioning mechanic at UNC. The three were vying for the chance to represent District 18, which covers Chatham County, Lee County and southwestern Durham County. “It was an adventure, it was fun and I’m glad I did it, but it’s no big deal,” says Carrington of his less than 3,000-vote loss to Atwater.
When asked about the campaign, Carrington talks on and on about his platform and has no regret. He gave it his best shot.
Carrington filed his candidacy on the last day possible, unsatisfied by the other two candidates running. He is particularly interested in reinforcing fairness in North Carolina government. “I was doing it because I was interested in issues of state law,” Carrington says.
His main passion centers around improving the political and legal systems via campaign finance reform, a moratorium on the death penalty, allocating more money to the court system and lobbying regulations. “We’ve got a terrible lobbying law in North Carolina—it’s no good at all,” he says. “It requires lobbyists to register but then it doesn’t require them to explain what they do or make any kind of report that gives you any useful information; that was another issue that I thought that I might be able to do something about.”
Carrington’s 12th-hour decision to enter the primary race proved to be among the largest problems that plagued his campaign. He cites his lack of time to organize a campaign as one reason he did not win. “I got in it late,” Carrington says. “I wasn’t going to do this until the last day to file and then when nobody else filed in Durham, I said, ‘Well I’ll go ahead and do it.’ So we were not well organized. And if I were doing it over again, there are certainly some things I would do differently.”
Running for public office again, however, is not on Carrington’s agenda.
Carrington does not speak fondly of Atwater as an opponent that lived up to his legal issues. “Between us, there was very little attraction,” he says. “We had very few meetings in which we were both present and when we did, neither he nor the other guy who was running for the office would address any issue. His statement is, ‘I’m a nice guy and I’d like to represent you in Raleigh.’”
Atwater was also better-known in Chatham County, which had a huge voter turnout. “I don’t say this in a mean way: I don’t think [Atwater] had any particular issues that he was interested in,” Carrington says. “He’s a retired hospital administrator, and he’s a sweet fellow, and he was [as] County Commissioner, and he wanted to do something else, so he thought that he’d run for state Senate. He had a lot better name recognition, particularly in the rural counties, than I did. He proved to be a formidable adversary, but I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t have any issues.”
Despite his disappointing loss, he is happy that he ran this summer. Not only was he interested in the position because of his passion for the legal based issues, but Carrington also wanted to show Duke students that professors can teach academics and put their knowledge into practice. “Part of my reason in doing it is that I would like Duke law students to think that it’s an okay thing to do, to run for office like that,” he says. “It’s no hardship, no terrible thing. So that was kind of a remote agenda.”
Katharine Bartlett, dean of the School of Law, not only okayed Carrington’s choice to pursue running for a seat in the state Senate, but she encourages any law professor to pursue public positions that apply their academic knowledge to politics.
“I certainly encouraged [Carrington] to run; he had a lot of great ideas on issues that were important to the state Senate, such as judicial selection. We encourage the entire law faculty to be involved in the application of their ideas in the real world,” Bartlett says, noting that other faculty, such as Walter Dellinger, a Duke law professor and former acting Solicitor General for the Supreme Court, have been involved in public service.
“We always are looking for ways to encourage our students to become involved in real-life activities,” Bartlett says. “So it’s good to have a faculty that is carrying out its public spiritedness in different ways.”
Democratic candidate Bob Atwater will face Republican Christine Mumma and Libertarian Jon Guze in the November election. The Democrats are likely to win, given history and voter registration numbers.