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WILMINGTON—Four Republican gubernatorial candidates squared off last Thursday night at the Stand Up and Vote Candidates Forum.
But only one Democrat showed up for the event.
Democratic candidates Bev Purdue and Richard Moore were no-shows, despite being invited, forum host Curtis Wright said.
Col. Dennis Nielsen, the lone Democrat, took the stage alone to answer questions from the debate panel and from audience members.
Nielsen, who served in the U.S. Air Force for 35 years, tackled several topics, including immigration, education and government corruption.
He first addressed North Carolina’s National Guard, saying the Guard was “well-equipped to handle any emergency.”
On education, Nielsen said parents should have a choice where they send their children to school.
“I favor a combination of public schools, private schools and charter schools,” he said. “We need a system where parents have a choiceeeWe need to have focused private schools and charter schools, and the money needs to follow the child.”
The need for technical schools is also growing, Nielsen added.
Addressing corruption in Raleigh, Nielsen said, “Why don’t people understand they’re stealing money that belongs to us—that belongs to our children?”
Nielsen indicated, if elected, he would fire all the state agency directors and hire back only the qualified candidates.
The Republicans had a more lively debate.
Republican candidates vying for a stint at the governor’s mansion include Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, state senator Fred Smith, Justice Robert Orr and Bill Graham.
The debate kicked off with a question about government corruption in Raleigh, to which all candidates chimed in, claiming they would change state government to be more open and transparent.
“Honesty and openness in government begins at the top,” Orr said, promising to honor both the letter and spirit of the law.
Smith said he would operate an open government with “transparency and integrity.”
McCrory said his record in Charlotte speaks for his stance on open government, noting he has never been accused of any corruption while being in office for 12 years.
The state budgeting process, Graham said, would be opened up to the public. It’s their money, and therefore they have a right to
know where it’s going and how it’s being spent, he said.
“There are some very good jobs here in the state,” McCrory said.
McCrory added that the state’s education system doesn’t always coincide with the labor market.
“Not every student wants to or needs a four-year degree, and the labor market does not need that,” he explained.
“In many cases we’re emphasizing the wrong kind of education,” he said, adding the states needs more technical and vocational opportunities for high school and community college students.
Smith also said more technical and vocational opportunities for students would benefit the job market.
“We need to expand our vocational education at the high school and the community college,” Smith said. “There are plenty of jobs here in North Carolina.”
Orr said there is a need for healthcare professionals in North Carolina.
“North Carolina has transitioned from a manufacturing economy,” he said, going on to encourage the “entrepreneur spirit,” saying North Carolinians should train employees, and also future employers.
To kick-start the economy, Graham said he would stop taxing overtime hours.
“I do not understand why we continue to do this year in and year out— punishing hard work, punishing labor,” Graham said.
Graham said counties need to diversify their economic portfolios.
“On the jobs side, we’re trying to play the same game: trying to get these big box corporations. The best way to go about this is to attract the small and medium size grow companies,” he said.
Smith says to improve the education system in North Carolina, the state must “step back and get a new strategic plan.”
Smith’s plan includes the following: improve traditional schools, expand the state’s vocational and technical educational system, strengthen the community college system, encourage charter schools and support the 70,000 home schools in North Carolina.
Addressing the dropout rate, Orr said, “We’ve got to get students engaged.”
“We’ve got to do a far better job of providing alternatives schools and vocational opportunities,” he added.
McCrory said he supports a stronger vocational curriculum.
“We need to quit transferring all the social ills to the teachers and the principals,” he said. “Allow the teachers to teach, not take the place of parents.”
McCrory said he would promote allowing gender segregation in the classroom.
“Our teachers have to be able to inspire these students to be successful,” Graham added. “We all agree on the vocational and the technical education.”
Graham said local schools boards “know what they need to do to” to be successful.
“Allow them the tools and the ways and means to allow them to be successful,” he said.
McCrory said the future governor must “anticipate growth rather than react to growth.”
“Once you react to growth, you’ve waiting too long. And the state government has waited far too long,” he said.
A good plan spans 25 to 50 years into the future, McCrory explained, adding, “Politics need to be taken out of road building.”
Orr said the North Carolina Department of Transportation is “broke and mismanaged.”
“The structure is inefficient, ineffective and wastes taxpayer dollars,” he said.
But there’s no getting politics out of building roads, he added.
Orr has proposed eliminating the power of the board of transportation and setting specific criteria for where roads are to be built.