North Carolina has several mottos, but I think our official State slogan should be “Clueless in Carolina.” That’s because every election cycle I hear people say that they know nothing about local and statewide candidates.
Such lack of awareness results in large numbers of eligible voters making uneducated guesses when it comes time to mark their ballots. And so, over the past two weeks, “Triad Today” and Truliant Federal Credit Union teamed up to present voter-education programs, including one that focused on the race for lt. governor, and the other that offered a forum for gubernatorial candidates. What follows are excerpts and observations from the television interviews I conducted.
Of the three Republican candidates for lt. gov. who I spoke with, Dale Folwell has the most experience in government. He served four terms in the state House, and is currently speaker pro tem. “There won’t be any on-the-job training with me,” Folwell said. Like other GOP candidates this year, Folwell railed against too much government spending, and called for North Carolina to be more competitive in its tax rates. “I rode up to Cana recently, and 100 feet from our state line there were 16 cars lined up to buy gasoline, all of them with NC tags.”
Republican Dan Forest, an architect from Raleigh, echoed those concerns, telling me, “There are only six states worse than NC for business climate. We have the highest corporate income tax rate in the Southeast, the highest gas-tax rate in the Southeast and the highest personal income tax rate in the Southeast.”
Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley, who is a pharmacist and attorney, said, “We need to revamp the tax structure and treat all of our businesses and industries fairly. It will be the growth of small business that gets us out of this economic recession.”
Linda Coleman, a Democrat and former director of the office of state personnel, favors restoring Gov. Perdue’s temporary 1-cent sales tax as a solution to our problems. Coleman told me: “We have lost so much in education, and that’s where the money is needed. We’ve got to put our teachers back into the classroom.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Eric Mansfield, a freshman Democrat state senator from Cumberland, and former Army medic, wasn’t gung ho about restoring the penny tax. “We as a state need to get away from these stop-gap measures and band-aid solutions," he told me. "We need to change our tax code."
I invited six of the leading candidates for governor to appear on “Triad Today” and all but one participated. (I offered Bob Etheridge six different taping dates, and he chose one, then he changed that to another date, then he failed to show up for that one, so we did the program without him).
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton serves on both the State School Board and the Community College Board, and he clearly knows how to connect the dots between state budget, education and economic development. “Six thousand students who had financial aid last year do not have it this year,” Dalton told me. “Cuts made by Republicans were undue. At some of our community colleges, people are waiting in line to get into nursing programs. There are jobs for nurses, but because of budget cuts, we’re not able to educate those students right now.” Dalton is also one of only two state elected officials to appear before the Federal Trade Commission to testify about the horrors of so-called free trade agreements and the damage they have done to textile workers in our state.
Challenging Dalton is Democrat Bill Faison, an attorney who has represented the 50th House District since 2005. Faison pointed out that 475,000 people are unemployed in NC, but he told me that if elected governor he had a plan to restore 36,000 of those jobs right away by implementing a special 7/10 of a cent sales tax.
Dr. Bruce Blackmon, a retired physician from Buis Creek is the first 90-year-old candidate for governor in our history. His plan for reducing tax rates is to create a growth endowment fund, using 5 percent of lottery proceeds each year.
Democrat Gardenia Henley of Winston- Salem, is a retired inspector general auditor for the State Department whose job it was to monitor and prevent waste and abuse. If elected she would conduct an audit of the state’s budget and institute a “buy local” campaign to keep our tax dollars in NC.
Pat McCrory is a former seven-term mayor of Charlotte and, based on poll numbers, is the presumptive GOP nominee for governor. He is against cash incentives to industry, and against restoring the 1-cent sales tax. As for education, Pat told me, “We keep pouring money into a system that’s not working.” He proposes a two-tier diploma system for high school graduates. One tier would be for those who want to attend a four-year college, and the other for those who want to pursue a technical trade. Pat believes that we need vocational education in every high school. McCrory also told me he would join a coalition of governors to have a voice in federal policies and initiatives which impact on NC, from healthcare to trade agreements.
I encourage everyone to visit the candidates’ websites for more information, and to cast an informed vote on Tuesday, May 8. After that, we can change our state slogan to, “Conscientious in Carolina,” and we might change our state in the process.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15)