Candidates take the stage at Livingstone
Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 26, 2014
Livingstone College officials invited all candidates registered with the Rowan County Board of Elections to a unique forum Friday in the Tubman Little Theater.
The majority of the candidates who turned out were those running for the state’s District 5 and District 12 congressional seats.
College officials welcomed the congressional candidates with a healthy dose of questions covering several controversial subjects, including immigration, affirmative action and Obamacare.
Ten candidates took the stage.
Gardenia Henley and Michael Holleman, both Democrats, were the only candidates running for the District 5 seat who participated in the forum.
Vince Coakley, the only Republican who showed up in the race for the District 12 seat, squared off against Democrats Alma Adams, George Battle, Marcus Brandon, Malcolm Graham, Curtis Osborne and Rajive Patel.
Ernest Reeves, a Democrat, was the only candidate for the U.S. Senate to attend the event.
A panel of Livingstone College professors bombarded the candidates with questions.
Henley said she has seen both sides of immigration.
“I’ve lived and worked overseas for almost 20 years,” Henley said. “What we need to do is actually enforce the (immigration) laws. One thing that we need to be careful about is discrimination when it comes to enforcing those laws. We are all immigrants at some point, so who are we to discriminate against the people who, for whatever reason, came here.”
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold Michigan’s ban on affirmative action, the college’s panelists asked candidates how they viewed the ruling and what it means for the state.
“We need to go all the way back and look at why there was a need for affirmative action in the beginning,” Henley said. “I can remember being in the workforce and seeing the affirmative action laws on the board near the lunchroom. We need it. We really do. It’s very important. We have to look at it from both ways.”
Holleman said he believes the time for comprehensive immigration reform already has passed and “needs to happen today.”
“For the past 14 years, I’ve been a public educator. I’ve had young men and women come into my office on a daily basis, stand and pledge allegiance to the flag,” Holleman said. “Those young men and women, even though there has been some reform, still live in fear that their family can be separated any day because (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can come in and remove part of the family. That’s a travesty.”
The country does not have a level playing field, Holleman said, and it is important to ensure every person gets equal representation and equal opportunity to succeed.”
“If it takes governmental policies to ensure that everyone is getting those opportunities, then we need to make sure that they are there in place,” Holleman said.
The only Republican to stand on stage, Coakley said the country should not put immigration policies ahead of Americans who are in the country already and trying to find work.
“Where are we going to find the jobs for the millions of people who are out of work and who are already displaced?” Coakley said. “After we come to a point where we are able to enforce the borders, I do think it is important to put an immigration policy in place. The people who come here illegally ought to go to the back of the line, and we need to make sure they are not prioritized above people, especially from other countries, who don’t have the benefit of just being able to step across the border.”
Coakley said racism still exists in the country, and a “culture of victimology” has been cultivated.
“Unfortunately, we have a victimology industry that is making money and exploiting political power with it,” Coakley said. “I see examples of this all the time.”
Strong family structure beats the “victimology garbage,” Coakley said.
Adams said a more comprehensive immigration policy is needed.
If a person is living in the country and wants to remain and become a citizen, an opportunity needs to be provided to them, Adams said.
“Ten years from now, we’ll have a more diverse population. I support that,” Adams said.
Having been discriminated against in her past, Adams said she has been for affirmative action all her life.
“Shame on that (U.S.) Supreme Court,” Adams said. “I am an African American woman, so gender matters as well. Having served in the North Carolina House for the past 21 years, I have seen in recent years some seriously ugly things happening — of course this monster law that we put in place that really infringes on people’s right to vote.”
Battle said more than 10 million people are living in the shadows in the country.
“They are living in the shadows, constantly afraid that the life they have chosen to pursue in this country will be in jeopardy,” Battle said. “We ought to be welcoming people into this country as opposed to trying to find a way to perpetuate a failing immigration system.”
Minorities still need the protection of the courts to make sure the playing field is level, Battle said.
“Unfortunately, I see this playing out in North Carolina the same way as I saw the voting rights case that was passed last year playing out in North Carolina,” Battle said. “I think our legislature will probably take steps to make (the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action in Michigan) the law in North Carolina. I am absolutely opposed to and appalled by the ruling of our Supreme Court.”
The immigration reform issue has been discussed in the N.C. General Assembly before, Brandon said.
A member of the state’s House of Representatives, Brandon said state policy dictates individuals will receive a K-12 education.
“We still don’t give them the accessible opportunity,” Brandon said. “Ten years from now, we will continue the systems that we have always done with minorities, by taking education away from minorities and therefore creating the injustice.”
Brandon told the Livingstone College students to always challenge what people tell them.
“Always challenge the facts, and make sure that you represent your constituency and your community,” Brandon said. “If we don’t do it, no one else will. That’s why I’m running for Congress — to make sure we end poverty as we know it, to make sure we give people a fighting chance who have not had a fighting chance and to stop the numbers that we have seen for 40 or 50 straight years.”
In addition to creating a pathway to citizenship for individuals wanting to make “America home,” Graham said a greater focus needs to be placed on border control.
“There needs to be a process in place to make sure everyone takes their appropriate place in line,” Graham said. “It’s just not the south of the border, it should be a comprehensive policy. We need to make sure, with those who come here to work, that we hold major corporations and workers accountable for making sure that the individual who works for them is a citizen. We need to make sure that our workers first get the jobs.”
Every American deserves a right to a quality education regardless of their background, Graham said.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling is awful. The Supreme Court might as well be a political body in terms of the decisions they are making,” Graham said.
Osborne said the country is a melting pot and always has been.
“Most of us, unless there are some Native Americans here, came from some other place in the world, or at least our ancestors did,” Osborne said. “I think that immigration is a big issue. We need immigration reform and we need to make a pathway to citizenship with regard to those people who are here who are undocumented.”
Osborne said the Supreme Court’s decision is not about racism or affirmative action, but rather opportunity.
“There are certain factors that admissions officers take into account when you seek an opportunity to go to school at a certain place,” Osborne said “They take into account your economic background, what state you’re from and whether or not you have a parent who is an alumnus of the university. This is a question of whether or not they should take into account your race. I think they should take into account your race, especially if you’re from the lower part of the social economic ladder.”
Patel said the border needs to be better secured with more patrols to stop illegal immigrants from coming in.
“I have no problem with immigrants coming to the U.S., but we must have a policy to make sure we know who you are,” Patel said. “This is a homeland security issue. We want to know who you are and who you have been associated with in order to make sure you’re not a terrorist or a murderer or a drug dealer or a drug lord.”
Patel told the students they are going to the “slave master’s consistency of a job” because they “don’t make anything.”
“We need to make the things that we consume everyday and take advantage of our economic dollars to build our communities and offer our kids who are killing themselves opportunities,” Patel said. “We don’t do anything. We depend on the slave master to give us what we need. I’m talking hard, because it is true.”
The only U.S. Senate candidate to attend, Reeves said he is for immigration reform.
“I’m not prepared to support any bill until I see it. It has to go to conference and come out of conference,” Reeves said. “We need one, and we should have one in ten years. We might not, it just depends on whether the House and the Senate can come together.”
Reeves said term limits need to be put in place for the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. “As a senator, I will vote for term limits for the Supreme Court to remove those Supreme Court justices that need to be removed,” Reeves said. “I think that 10 years is long enough on the Supreme Court.”