Raleigh, N.C. — Public education has been Bob Etheridge's overriding concern throughout his years in office, from Lillington to Washington, D.C., and he plans to carry that focus to the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh.
Etheridge faces Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, Orange County Rep. Bill Faison, Harnett County physician Dr. Bruce Blackmon, Matthews college student Gary Dunn and retired federal government auditor Gardenia Henley for the Democratic nomination in the May 8 primary.
Etheridge spent four years as a Harnett County commissioner and 10 years in the state House before being elected North Carolina's education superintendent in 1988.
"During the eight years I was superintendent, we gained 33 points (on the SAT average) while the nation on average only gained six," he said Tuesday.
Elected to Congress in 1996, he continued to focus on education issues.
"We were willing to build prisons, but we weren't willing to build schools," he said.
Etheridge lost his congressional seat in 2010 in a hard-fought campaign to Republican Renee Ellmers. A video posted to YouTube that summer showed Etheridge grabbing an unidentified man's arm on a Washington sidewalk and brushing away a camera, asking "Who are you?" repeatedly after the man asked if Etheridge supported President Barack Obama's agenda.
Although Etheridge later apologized for how he acted and conservative operatives took responsibility for the video, many political observers believe it cost him the race.
Still, he now says, such political tricks take a back seat to critical issues facing North Carolina, and he says he is best-suited to address them.
"No one is better qualified, has better leadership skills, has done more at every level of government (and) the private sector, where I spent 19 years as a businessman," he said.
Not surprisingly, education is a main focus of Etheridge's campaign.
"I think the worst dirty trick has been played on the people in this state on our students in cutting opportunities for them to have a good education," he said.
He supports the 0.75-cent increase to the state sales tax rate that Gov. Beverly Perdue has lobbied for in recent months to restore education spending that lawmakers cut last year.
"You cannot have quality education on the cheap," he said.
Meanwhile, he opposes the proposed constitutional amendment on the primary ballot that would define marriage in North Carolina as being between one man and one woman.
"Our constitution is about enabling people with rights, not taking them away. I would hope we wouldn't support that," he said.