Three Democrats for NC gov hold first TV debate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 17, 2012

RALEIGH (AP) — Three Democrats running for North Carolina governor largely agreed on education spending and opposition to the Republican agenda at their first statewide televised debate Monday night, but one candidate worked to differentiate himself as primary voting begins this week.
State Rep. Bill Faison of Orange County, who stood to gain the most from the first of three consecutive nights of TV debates, argued that Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge were latecomers to resisting GOP legislation at the General Assembly.
Although all three support raising the sales tax temporarily to restore spending cuts in last year’s Republican-penned budget they say damaged the public schools, Faison insists he’s the only one of three with a “jobs plan” to restore lost state government jobs and improve North Carolina’s economy.
Faison said Etheridge often sounded like “he’s still running for superintendent of public instruction” — a job he last held 16 years ago and even questioned the legislative credentials of Dalton, a former chief budget-writer in the state Senate.
“He takes credit for so many things he had nothing to do with,” Faison said at the WRAL-TV studios in Raleigh, pointing to the state’s early college program and initiatives that back student expertise in science and mathematics. “Those ideas are all good ideas. They’re not ideas of his campaign. They are things he latches onto.”
Dalton said he’s got his own jobs plan and argued Faison’s proposal is incomplete because he hasn’t said which current tax breaks he would eliminate.
Dalton also pointed out he was the chief sponsor of the 2003 legislation that helped expand the early college concept, where students attend a fifth year of high school to get an associate’s degree or college credit toward a four-year degree. He pointed to several pieces of bipartisan legislation that he backed that improved public education on a state commission he’s led while lieutenant governor.
“We’ve passed nine pieces of legislation,” Dalton said. “I think Bill voted for every one of them. People came together. It was good stuff.”
Etheridge and Dalton also said after the debate they have actively opposed Republican efforts they said have harmed education or the slow economic recovery.
“I wonder what (Faison) thinks I was doing in Washington,” asked Etheridge, who served in Congress for 14 years through 2010. “I was up there opposing a whole lot of stuff.”
Faison also reiterated what he’s been highlighting for weeks on the campaign trail — his differences with Dalton and Etheridge on fracking, which involves the extraction of shale gas by pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground to create rock fissures so the gas can escape.
A draft report by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources released last month said fracking, also referred to as hydraulic fracturing, can be conducted safely in North Carolina if lawmakers adopt the right precautions. The Legislature is expected to consider next month taking the next step toward potentially an eventual elimination of a current fracking ban in 2014 at the earliest.
Faison said there’s nothing to be gained right now from fracking, calling it “a terrible idea” that “puts at risk people’s drinking water. It ought not to happen” under the current technology. “As your governor, I will oppose it and we will not have fracking in this state.”
Still, Dalton and Etheridge both were cautious about the idea in light of the environment and for tourism even though it could potentially bring new jobs and revenues to the state.
“It’s easy to take that quick money, and then you pay a heavy price for a long time to come,” Etheridge said.
Each of the three said they were best suited to take on Pat McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor who narrowly lost to Gov. Beverly Perdue in 2008. Perdue isn’t running for re-election. McCrory is considered the heavy favorite in the six-candidate GOP primary.
All three candidates said they were concerned about employee harassment allegations surfacing from within the state Democratic Party headquarters but wouldn’t now call on Chairman David Parker to step down. Party executive director Jay Parmley resigned Sunday. Parmley denied harassing anyone but said in his resignation letter he didn’t want to be a distraction in a key election year. Parker said he didn’t find grounds to fire Parmley with cause.
“Mr. Parmley did the right thing. I am counting on the chairman to do the right thing,” Etheridge said. Faison said the chairman “should step up and provide leadership, accountability and transparency for what is going on on his watch” but added the focus should be upon activities that are affecting the day-to-day lives of people.
“I do not think the people of North Carolina really care what is going on at the Republican headquarters or the Democratic headquarters,” Dalton said, adding that they care about is jobs, “what will our future be like … and what will our schools be like.”
Etheridge and Faison said they would support cost-of-living raises for teachers and state employees if elected — they haven’t received pay increase for a few years. Dalton also supports similar raises, his spokesman said later Monday.
The WRAL debate was aired live on the University of North Carolina Television network, which scheduled their own debate with the same three candidates Tuesday evening, as well as on stations in the Charlotte, Wilmington and Greenville markets. WNCN-TV in Raleigh scheduled a third televised debate Wednesday, the eve of the early voting period leading to the May 8 primary.
Other Democratic candidates Gardenia Henley of Winston-Salem, Gary Dunn of Matthews and Bruce Blackmon of Buies Creek won’t participate in the three televised debates this week.