RALEIGH, N.C. — Opposing views over education sparked a heated exchange Monday between Gov. Mike Easley and his Republican challenger Patrick Ballantine in a debate at SAS Institute in Cary.
Easley and Ballantine debated educational issues during the one-hour debate. At one point, both parties backed out of any debate because they could not agree to parameters. Both sides finally agreed to debate education issues first and general issues later.
Easley had hoped to have the education debate first because it is an issue he touts highly in his re-election platform. However, Ballantine opposed Easley's views and questioned the progress the governor claims he had made.
"I've been a champion for education long before Gov. Easley was even governor," Ballantine said. "I supported the Excellent Schools Act, I supported the ABCs in Education Act, character education. I have supported legislation that funded low-wealth schools, while when he (Easley) was attorney general, he was fighting the Leandro case."
"If Patrick Ballantine is a champion of education, then Saddam Hussein is a champion of civil rights," Easley said. "He has voted against Smart Start. He voted against pre-K for 4-year-olds at More at Four. He voted against reducing class size."
After the debate, Ballantine was not happy with Easley's comments comparing him with Saddam Hussein. Ballantine officials sent a press release, calling for Easley to apologize. Jay Reiff, Easley's campaign manager, fell short of apologizing, but admitted it was not the best example for the governor to use.
The candidates criticized each other's views on a state lottery and school testing. Reiterating a 2000 campaign pledge, Easley said he would keep fighting for legislative approval of a statewide referendum on a lottery. He blamed lawmakers like Ballantine for failing to let citizens choose whether to have a numbers game that would fund education.
Ballantine said the lottery would not solve the state's education spending problems, providing less than one percent of the state's needed annual revenues.
"We don't need an education lottery. We need an education governor," he said.
The two also clashed over the performance of public school students. Easley repeatedly cited national standardized tests that showed fourth-graders making vast improvements in math and other subjects.
"I'm not saying we are great. I'm saying we're making great progress," Easley said.
Ballantine accused the governor of distorting the truth.
"The national numbers show we're about 32 or 33 percent proficient in math and reading. The governor's administration says we're about 81 percent or 82 percent. That's not the reality," he said.
Easley said it is Ballantine who needs a reality check.
"Mr. Ballantine, the numbers on SATs just came out about a month ago and you're not even close. You're not even close to where they are. Apparently, you didn't read them," Easley said.
Ballantine said funding for education can come from cutting bureaucracy.
"We believe there are two entirely different approaches. He stands with the education bureaucracy and I stand with parents and teachers and principals and I want to help children," he said.
"I think people can see No. 1, you have to have good solid education if you want to have a good economy. You cannot retreat on education and No. 2, it's pretty clear that he doesn't know a doggone thing about education," Easley said.
The debate was sponsored by six business and education groups. John Dornan, president of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, served as moderator.
The debate was broadcast on the
-- digital cable channel 256 or digital channel 5.2. It will replay on the NewsChannel on the following dates:
The debate also will be broadcast on WRAL-TV at 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 10.
The second debate is scheduled for Oct. 15 at WRAL-TV.
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and moderator David Crabtree will pose some of them during the debate.
Both candidates received endorsements from law enforcement on Monday. Three groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police, announced they will support Easley while the Police Benevolent Association is backing Ballantine.