Raleigh, N.C. — Gubernatorial candidates Beverly Perdue and Pat McCrory agree North Carolina needs tax breaks for small businesses, stronger immigration enforcement and a better mental health system.
But sparks flew Tuesday night during a debate sponsored by WRAL when the candidates discussed offshore oil drilling, the use of vouchers to send students to private schools and negative advertisements.
"She's just throwing things out there that aren't true," McCrory said of a Perdue campaign ad that contends McCrory's support of vouchers would pull $900 million from the state's public school system. "Your commercial is misleading and wrong, and you ought to pull it."
McCrory, the Republican mayor of Charlotte, said that he supports the concept of "selective scholarships" to assist students whose needs aren't met by public schools and that he wouldn't offer vouchers to every student statewide.
Perdue, the Democratic lieutenant governor, accused him of flip-flopping on the issue, and McCrory likewise charged she had shifted her position on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.
Perdue said Tuesday that she supports oil exploration off the North Carolina coast if current technology ensures it won't spoil the state's beaches.
"We will do it on my watch if we can do it safely in the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic,'" she said.
McCrory said Perdue had been adamantly against drilling a few weeks ago during another debate, adding that he doubts technology has improved in three weeks.
Campaign ads paid for by outside groups that targeted each candidate were played during the debate. One said McCrory favored "perks for politicians," while the other had a Perdue look-alike pressing the "status quo button."
"I hate those ads. I wish no one would run them," Perdue said, adding that candidates are prohibited from contacting the outside groups to ask them to pull such ads.
McCrory said his campaign has refrained from running personal-attack ads and challenged Perdue to do the same.
"There are differences of opinion, and we should respect that," he said.
Both candidates said the federal government's immigration enforcement efforts have failed and said they would work with the state's congressional delegation to beef up programs.
"We want documented, legal workers in North Carolina," Perdue said.
They also both opposed allowing illegal immigrants to enroll in community colleges.
McCrory and Perdue criticized Gov. Mike Easley for his handling of mental health reform. An effort to decentralize the state system hurt patient care and eliminated accountability, they said.
Perdue also said the practice of giving teachers bigger raises than other government employees needs to be stopped, and workers need to be paid enough to keep them at state agencies. McCrory said the market should set the pay increases for different categories of teachers and other public-sector employees.
McCrory said his initial focus in office would be to cut the state's corporate tax and personal income tax rates, which he said would spur economic development and job growth. He said he would be more selective about using state incentives to recruit business, noting he would be more in favor of giving grants and tax breaks to large and small manufacturing companies.
Perdue said more emphasis needs to be put on education and worker training to create jobs in high-tech and green industries.
"This race is really about who can push North Carolina forward," she said.