Candidates Sound Off on Issues
Wasteful government spending, health insurance, education, transportation and the economy drew wide-ranging responses from four Republican candidates for governor Thursday.
"NCSpin" brought its television show to Moore County to tape the debate at the Country Club of North Carolina. It generated an unprecedented attendance at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Moore County Republican Men's Club, the largest such organization in the state. More than 350 people attended.
At the close of the 60 minutes of taping before a live audience, moderator Tom Campbell, producer of "NCSpin," called the program "a very candid debate."
Participants were Salisbury attorney Bill Graham, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr and state Sen. Fred Smith.
"The budget is out of whack because we spend too much," Graham said in response to Campbell's first question about state budget issues.
He said state government is especially wasteful in its "head count" in all areas except education and cited recent examples in the mental health system and transportation.
All candidates called for reductions in state spending, ranging from across-the-board to cuts in specific areas.
Orr reminded everyone that the governor is required to present a balanced budget. Smith recalled legislation he has introduced calling for prioritizing budget needs.
McCrory said the income tax is the most harmful tax and called for cutting both the income tax and the property tax, the latter levied by local governments. McCrory said North Carolina is not competitive with neighboring states in its tax system.
The candidates had plenty to say when the topic of transportation was raised.
Campbell said North Carolina once was known as the "good roads state." But now the state is plagued by crumbling roads and a high gas tax, while road improvement needs are estimated at $65 billion within the next 20 years, he said.
McCrory proposed a 50-year transportation plan that takes into consideration the needs of high-density travel areas as well as rural areas.
Graham suggested that the governor appoint some engineers to the Board of Transportation, because "they know what they're doing."
Smith said the state's transportation problems reflect a clear leadership lapse. He called the major problems poor management and a lack of resources.
"The management is broken," Orr said. "We don't need more money in the Department of Transportation. We're wasting what we already have."
It was Graham who spearheaded a movement last year to cap the state sales tax on gasoline. He said the successful measure resulted in a saving of $180 million for North Carolina drivers.
"We'll never be able to print enough money to make that crowd in Raleigh happy," Graham said.
Smith suggested the state consider a $4 billion bond issue, developed so as not to raise taxes.
But McCrory said he would not go along with it until a statewide plan is developed, and Graham said he would not agree until management and planning issues are cleared up.
Education Leadership Needed
While serving on the Supreme Court, Orr wrote the opinion validating the judge's order in the Leandro case, the celebrated case in which the state was held responsible for providing the same quality of education in poor counties that is available in more affluent counties.
"Until we have real leadership with sweeping reform in the education system, we will continue to see our schools lagging," Orr said.
Graham said he would be responsible for the schools when he becomes governor, because the leadership ultimately falls into the governor's lap.
"We ask our teachers to perform miracles," Graham said. "We have one of the best university systems in the country but one of the lousiest public education systems."
McCrory said the state superintendent should be appointed by the governor, not be an elected office. He said the schools should concentrate on reading and other basic needs. He added that not every student needs or wants a four-year education.
"We have a cookie-cutter system now," said Orr, who also proposed a constitutional amendment to change the way the state chooses the state superintendent.
Smith said, "The reason kids are dropping out of school is because our schools are not meeting their needs."
Cutting Health-Care Costs
Each candidate had ideas about the health care situation.
Smith said preventive care and good health practices should be emphasized, and efforts should be made to cut the cost of health care, including curbing malpractice suits.
Orr suggested limiting the number of mandates in the health-care system and called for giving consumers greater choice.
"There is no free health care," said McCrory, who favors offering limited incentives to small businesses to provide coverage and also reducing mandates.
Graham said businesses would be helped if they could pool their risks on health insurance.
Candidates largely agreed that efforts to curb teen pregnancy are not working. They responded to a question from Campbell, who asked if it had occurred to anyone that the present abstinence-only policy in the public schools "ain't working."
Orr said statistics bear out that point but said the burden should not be placed on the schools. He said the problem is a cultural breakdown and a breakdown in the family structure.
"A breakdown in the family is 90 percent of the problem," McCrory said.
He said government policy is encouraging such pregnancies by providing services to "kids having kids."
Acknowledging that illegal immigration is largely a federal matter, Campbell asked the candidates their views on the state's involvement.
Smith said he would work with sheriffs on local enforcement, would limit driver's licenses to legal residents, would cut off services to illegals, and would require voter identification.
Orr agreed with Smith but added that employers should be held responsible for hiring illegal workers. He cited an unwritten "don't ask, don't tell" policy in North Carolina that feeds this problem.
McCrory said he would also demand detention facilities in North Carolina to contain illegal immigrants until they can be returned to their native countries.
Graham said he would insist that driver's licenses would not be granted to any illegal resident.
Club president Vern Pike told the group that the club's membership had risen to a record high, 366, as of that meeting. He thanked Caleb Miles, president and CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, for assisting with arrangements in bringing "NCSpin" to Moore County.
Campbell credited Walter Bull, a club member, with "the germ of the idea" to invite the independent medium to bring its program to Moore County. He mentioned two special local friends, former Gov. Jim Holshouser and George Little, a former secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Economic Resources. Campbell said that his father served in the legislature with Holshouser.
"NCSpin" is the only independently produced and syndicated talk show in the state. The talk show is aired on television and radio in half-hour segments featuring unrehearsed debate on key issues.
The debate in Moore County will be aired in two segments on April 20 and April 27. The show directed a debate among Democratic candidates on Tuesday, and this segment will be aired Sunday, April 13. Radio times will vary.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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