Carolina Journal News Reports
FAYETTEVILLE — It is a race between a Republican candidate who describes himself as a “working class man” and a Democratic candidate who says his parents taught him to “tote your own water.”
Despite showcasing similar personal themes of hard work, love of family, and commitment to community in their campaign materials for the Senate District 19 seat, GOP incumbent Sen. Wesley Meredith and Democratic challenger George Tatum offered different policy views at a recent candidate forum.
Hosted by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and held in Fayetteville, the forum touched on a key Cumberland County challenge: jobs for a growing community that’s home to Fort Bragg. Cumberland suffers with a stubbornly high unemployment rate — 11.4 percent in August. District 19 includes eastern Cumberland County and parts of Fayetteville and Hope Mills.
Meredith pressed the idea that the district will thrive by implementing policies that support small business.
“I feel that if we are able to incentivize businesses through tax cuts and reducing regulations, they will be able to hire more people, they will have more money to put into local communities,” he told the audience.
Tatum said he helped streamline regulations when he led the state Division of Motor Vehicles from 2003 to 2007. He also believes education is the welcome mat to business and criticized the Republican-led General Assembly for cutting areas he considers important, such as dropout prevention programs.
“So I think what we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to determine right now, in tough times, you have to always maintain your values. Your philosophies will always change but never compromise your values,” Tatum said.
Meredith voted for the 2012-13 General Fund budget and said education is just one of many priorities.
“I am an advocate for education and I want to do whatever I can to fund that at the highest level possible, but I think we have to look at the whole state, as a whole, and look at other services as well.”
The candidates also were asked about NorthCarolina’s status as a right-to-work state. Meredith supports the current law and does not support collective bargaining rights for workers.
Tatum said it’s important to go beyond recognizing the right to work.
“Not only that, but also the quality of life that they should expect from a hard day’s’ work,” he said. “So I think that the laws that are in place now work fine for North Carolina, but I do think that we could modify them some to make sure that the employees were protected as well as the employers.”
The format of the candidate forum didn’t allow for Meredith and Tatum to respond to each other or follow up. Meredith did not return two phone calls seeking an interview for this story. Tatum initially offered to answer Carolina Journal’s questions by e-mail but did not respond after questions were submitted to him.
The N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation has characterized Meredith as perhaps the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the Senate and rates the seat as “Leaning Democratic.”
The Fayetteville Observer reported that as of late August, the state Republican Party had stepped into the race by sponsoring several mailers highlighting questions about Tatum’s tenure at DMV. Tatum resigned in the wake of allegations he helped a friend save on taxes by getting a vintage license plate for a vehicle. Tatum told the newspaper Meredith “is a good guy, but he’s basically bought and paid for by the Republican Party.”
Meredith is a general contractor and owns a landscaping business he started two decades ago as a one-man mowing operation. He settled in Fayetteville after serving in the Army and spent his first night in the state “doing push-ups at Fort Bragg.” In the General Assembly Meredith serves as vice chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and co-chairman of Pensions & Retirements and Aging.
Tatum is a graduate of Campbell University. This summer he left his job as director of emergency management at Fayetteville State University to challenge Meredith. Tatum is also former register of deeds for Cumberland County.
Prior to redistricting, District 19 included Bladen County, but it was moved out when lines were redrawn.
Voter registration statistics as of early August show the influence unaffiliated voters will have in the new District 19. They now comprise more than a quarter of the registration pie, at 25.8 percent, up from 17.1 percent under old lines. Democratic registrations decreased from 56.3 percent to 41.9 percent and Republican registrations increased from 26.4 percent to 32 percent.
Donna Martinez is a contributor to Carolina Journal.