GOP candidates and supporters turn out for convention
Dozens of Republican candidates and their supporters gathered Saturday at the county administration building to kick off the local GOP convention.
The event drew a highly diverse group.
Even N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, a Republican candidate campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate, made an unexpected appearance.
The only thing missing in the room was an elephant with red, white and blue skin.
The convention tripled as a chance to foster unity among Republicans, put candidates in front of voters again and give those candidates the opportunity to articulate their views through relatively brief speeches.
“With the primary still a few months away, the convention is a time for everybody to come together, get on the same page and remind everybody we are working together as the Republican Party,” said John Lewis, chairman of the state GOP’s 8th congressional district. “We are really stressing the fact that on the day after the primary, May 7, we have to come together to support whoever our nominee is.”
Although candidates looking to attain seats in a variety of elected offices differed on their approaches to the issues, incumbents touted the progress Republicans have made in both the legislature and local government.
In their speeches, some candidates subtly attacked the decision-making of other Republicans in the room while putting forth their own agendas.
“Rowan County has a resumé, and we’re struggling with our resumé. I have this picture in my mind of companies looking at us and our resumé — and a lot of them are just tossing it aside because we have some significant issues we need to deal with as a community,” said Greg Edds, a candidate for a seat on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. “The issues are education, crime and whether we really have a sense of what we want the community to be as far as jobs go.”
Edds said there seems to be a real sense among people the county is struggling.
“I have this belief that the Economic Development Commission needs to shrink the net they are casting,” Edds said. “Instead of it being a take-all-comers type of endeavor, we need to focus on those things that we believe we can attract here with the business we do (as well as) streamline local regulations.”
Jim Sides, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said he is running despite his grandchildren and “most of (his) family” wanting him not to.
Sides said he has been accused as the catalyst for all the problems in Rowan County — namely the feuds between the county and the city, and the county and the school system.
“I can and want to work with anybody, but I represent all the citizens of Rowan County and I promise I don’t represent any special interest groups. I think that is what makes most of them mad,” Sides said.
Sides defined a special interest group as “anybody who is not part of the 138,000 (people in the county).”
“When there is something that is counter to 138,000 people and it’s for (the city), I’m going to vote for the 138,000. I do recognize all those citizens in the city also are residents,” Sides said. “I won’t promise you that things will be any different than what they have been. I will promise that I will work to create jobs, but creating jobs is not the job of government.”
Rowan County Commissioner Chad Mitchell is challenging N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, for the incumbent’s seat.
Mitchell said the N.C. General Assembly has accomplished “good things” regarding tax reform and getting out of the way of private industry, but there are some things they haven’t done a good job with, including reforming both immigration and education.
“I am a firm supporter of fair, legal immigration — whether you believe we are a melting pot or a salad bowl, which is what we’re teaching in school now,” Mitchell said. “Under no circumstances should we be giving an illegal immigrant a valid legal document. It is a step toward amnesty.”
Extending E-Verify exemption privileges for migrant workers also is bad, Mitchell said.
“Migrant workers are OK. They are an established part of our system. Six months is the legal limit right now,” Mitchell said. “North Carolina has just increased that exemption to nine months. Why not give them the whole year, let it reset in January and let the individual stay here the entire time. It is another step toward amnesty.”
Reforming the education system means supporting public, private, charter and home schools together, Mitchell said.
“We need to establish a system where a student can go to a school where they can best learn,” Mitchell said. “We also need to work on some education reform and the way the county commissioners and the school boards work. We have a statewide system that has set up a contentious relationship between (the two). There is no need for school boards and county commissioners to be fighting over issues.”
Campaigning for his third term as a state lawmaker, Warren said he has stayed true to the values and principles he originally ran on.
Warren touted the bills he has worked on that have succeeded, including those ending forced annexation, removing the cap on charter schools and requiring state employers and state entities to use E-Verify in hiring.
“That first term, I had four bills additionally passed by the House and the Senate and signed into law by Gov. (Bev) Perdue,” Warren said. “During the last year, I had 10 bills signed by Gov. (Pat) McCrory.”
Republican lawmakers have made crucial decisions in helping to reduce a $2.85 billion debt to the federal government for unemployment benefits, Warren said.
“We anticipate having that debt repaid in its entirety by November of next year. That’s four years early. That saves the state $70 million a year,” Warren said. “We have set down some great foundations that we need to continue to build on.”
Tillis wrapped up the candidates’ comment period with a reflection on how the state has changed since Republicans took a majority of seats in the N.C. General Assembly.
“On Jan. 26, 2011, I gave an acceptance speech when I was elected speaker that said we’re going to heal the economy, protect our culture and protect our people,” Tillis said. “I told everybody we were going to cut taxes. We cut two billion over the last three years — more than any other state. I told them we were going to cut regulations. We cut more regulations than any state in the Southeast. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will be endorsing me fairly soon, recognizing us as a model for regulatory reform in the nation.”
Republicans fulfilling their promises at the state level is the same work that needs to be accomplished in Washington, D.C., which he said he will do if he makes it through the primary to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., for her seat.
“I think we need politicians that campaign on promises and fulfill those promises,” Tillis said. “I’m going to make sure Harry Reid sits on the back row, and I’m going to make sure that our leadership fulfills our promises more different than they have in the past. It’s not just about having committees — you have to produce results.”
As a Republican National Committeewoman, Dr. Ada Fisher said the party is in good shape financially and in terms of candidates.
However, Fisher said the Republican Party needs to “cut down the rancor,” and members must not do anything to destroy themselves.
“It’s interesting when I look at Democrats. Democrats will fight like dogs, and come election time, they will go and they will vote for Democrats even though that one is a dog,” Fisher said. “With Republicans, we will fight like dogs, and we tend to remember who did what, when and where and forget that we are all Republicans.”
Republicans then tend to get categorized, Fisher said.
Fisher said her role is to serve every person who has the courage to put an “R” behind his or her name.
“Whether you are Tea Party, constitutionalist, conservative or Republican per se. My job is to make sure that your voice is heard,” Fisher said.
The Republican Party also needs to become more diversified and recruit more black and Hispanic members as well as women and Native Americans, Fisher said.