Elect 2012: Etheridge – Education must be a priority

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 29, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Bob Etheridge, Democratic candidate for governor, says North Carolina needs to make education a priority in order for its economy to thrive.
Etheridge visited The Palms Cafe in Salisbury on Wednesday evening, taking time to introduce himself to nearly everyone he saw.
During a brief interview with a Post reporter, which he later echoed to a crowd of about 20 diners, Etheridge said the state’s 60-year commitment to improving education has been thrown in reverse.
“We have to decide as a state and as its leadership, are we going to commit to excellence in education in the future or continue to slide back?” he said. “I choose excellence.”
Etheridge, former Congressman and state superintendent, is one of six Democrats seeking the nomination for governor in the May 8 primary.
Gov. Beverly Perdue is not seeking a second term.
In 2010, Republicans became a majority in the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century.
Etheridge said it doesn’t make sense to him when that majority cuts school funding while saying it will improve education.
“We’re at a point in our history that I think public education is under assault,” Etheridge said.
Etheridge said many other concerns, such as unemployment and the state’s financial health, can be addressed by looking first at its schools.
“If you don’t fix that, all the rest of it won’t matter,” he said. “You’re not going to attract business, and you’re not going to retain business.”
Etheridge said community colleges and universities retrain workers and help create jobs.
Cutting school funding in order to cut taxes will only create more costs to the public, he said, through tuition increases and lower-quality education.
“Public education is the thing that gave a poor farm boy like me from eastern North Carolina… a chance to live the American dream,” he said.
Transportation funding is also a priority for Etheridge. He brought up the Yadkin River Bridge on Interstate 85 as an example of taxpayers’ money being invested wisely.
Etheridge has spent 34 years in public office, including as a Hartnett County commissioner, a state representative and the superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools.
He was elected to the U.S. House in 1996. In November 2010, he lost to Republican Renee Ellmers in the 2nd Congressional District.
Perdue appointed Etheridge last year as the director of the North Carolina Recovery Office, which managed how federal stimulus money was spent, and as the governor’s advisor for the Hurricane Irene recovery.
“I think all my experience … has really prepared me for this point in history to provide leadership for North Carolina,” Etheridge said, “and I’m excited about that.”
A total of 13 candidates are running for governor.
In the Democratic primary, Etheridge will face Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton of Rutherfordton, N.C. Rep. Bill Faison of Efland, Gary Dunn of Matthews, retired state auditor Gardenia Henley of Winston-Salem and physician Bruce Blackmon of Buies Creek.
Republican contenders include former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, Jim Harney of Fayetteville, Scott Jones of Greensboro, businessman Jim Mahan of Denver, Charles Kenneth Moss of Randleman and former Superior Court judge Paul Wright of Dudley.
Oxford resident Barbara Howe, chair of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina, is also running for governor.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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