Five Republican candidates jabbed and prodded their way through a debate April 14 in Rowan County, hoping to convince voters in two rural state House and Senate districts to pull the lever for them in the primary.
Topics ranged from offshore drilling to health care reform to a state marriage amendment. But the general flavor among candidates was the same: disgust with the status quo in the state capital.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t even know if I want to go to Raleigh and see what’s down there, because I’ve already seen enough up here. It’s a mess,” said Robert Stirewalt, a retired Iraq war veteran who’s running in the 34th Senate District.
Candidates echoed that anger during the hourlong debate at Catawba College in Salisbury. The GOP contenders had harsh words for Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration and Democratic leaders in the legislature.
“We need to make some smart cuts,” said Lauren Raper, a high school teacher running against businessman Harry Warren for the Republican nomination in House District 77. “We need to look through this budget line by line, and we need to make some unpopular statements. Some people are not going to be happy.”
Of the two races, pundits are eyeing Raper and Warren’s tussle the most. The district’s preferences tend to seesaw between Democrats and Republicans. Democrat Kay Hagan won there for U.S. Senate in 2008, but voters opted for Republicans John McCain for president and Pat McCrory for governor.
The primary winner will face Democrat incumbent Lorene Coates in the general election. Coates has served five terms in the House and overwhelmingly prevailed in her last two bids for state office. But in an anti-Democrat election year, the GOP thinks it can knock her off.
In contrast, Senate District 34, encompassing all of Rowan and Davie counties, is so Republican that no Democrat has filed, meaning the winner of the Republican primary May 4 won’t face a campaign this fall.
Warren and Raper kept their rhetorical powder dry during most of the debate, but they diverged on the role taxes should play in attracting businesses to the twin-county area.
“Our corporate income tax is not only the highest in the southeast, so is our personal income tax,” Warren said. “I think we need to address those issues if we’re going to become more competitive.”
Raper countered that taxes are not the determining factor in attracting industry. “When you look at relocating your business, you don’t say taxes, taxes, taxes. You say location, location, location,” she said.
The three Senate candidates traded barbs several times, including an accusation from Brock that Ferguson supported his Democrat foe in the last election “in a big way.”
“I did not realize that I had supported Mr. Brock’s opponent in a big way. I don’t know what he’s talking about there,” Ferguson responded.
Ferguson and Brock also differed on offshore drilling, with Brock calling for it immediately and Ferguson saying the state should study the issue.
“Offshore drilling is something that, in my mind, we need to study, because there are a lot of people off the coast that use the coast for fishing, and there is quite a bit of economic benefit from fishing that goes on down there,” Ferguson said.
Stirewalt blasted Brock for not filling out a voter guide survey from the N.C. Family Policy Council, a conservative think tank in Raleigh. Brock said that he had completed it in past elections but didn’t turn it in by the deadline this year.
If elected, Warren said his top three priorities would be improving the state’s economy through job creation, passing meaningful annexation reform, and getting a better return on funds devoted to education.
Raper said that most education dollars should be going into the classroom rather than being gobbled up by administrators who take home six-figure salaries.
There needs to be a renewed emphasis on tightening the state budget, Ferguson said. “We talk about furloughing state employees. Well, if we’re furloughing employees, we must’ve had too many to start with,” he said.
For his part, Stirewalt listed five priorities: ethics reform, a marriage amendment, stopping forced annexation, term limits, and easing gun control.
“God, guts, and guns are what made America free. Let’s keep all three,” he said.
Brock encouraged voters to look at his eight-year voting record in the General Assembly.
“When I vote, three things guide my vote: the Holy Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and the state Constitution. When you follow those three documents, every vote normally falls right into place,” he said.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.