WILMINGTON, N.C. — Republican Pat McCrory and Democrat Walter Dalton faced questions about how they differed from not only each other but from elected officials in their own party during their first fact-to-face political forum in the race for governor.
Libertarian Barbara Howe is also running for governor but did not participate in the debate.
Dalton initially balked at a question about the differences between him and Gov. Bev Perdue. Dalton said he and not Perdue, also a Democrat, was running for office. Pressed for an answer during the forum, Dalton said has acted more quickly to criticize the budget passed last week by the legislature.
“Independently, when the budget came out last week, I immediately said I would be inclined to veto it. I don’t know where she (Perdue) stands on that,” Dalton said.
After the debate, sponsored by the North Carolina Bar Association, Dalton ticked off a few other areas of difference. For example, he said he would not have vetoed a bill that allows community colleges not to offer certain federal loans. And he said that Perdue did not want to allow early colleges to expand as quickly as he did.
“She was somewhat limiting on that,” Dalton said.
McCrory, for his part, listed items where he embraced actions of Republican lawmakers – he favors the measure repealing much of the law that allows death row inmates to challenge their sentences using statistical data – as well differences.
“First of all, I do not agree with midnight sessions. We need to have transparency and midnight is not a good time to do any type of work,” McCrory said. He added that he would have liked to have seen lawmakers act to make medical billing more transparent at the state’s hospitals and he disagreed with a measure that took the power to regulate how new billboards were place away from cities and towns.
“I didn’t think it was right to take away that local power,” McCrory said.
McCrory and Dalton did find some areas of agreement. Both said they wanted to wait until the state Supreme Court ruled on whether sweepstakes machines – games that mimic gambling – are legal before deciding on whether to tax and regulate them.
However, McCrory said that he would like to use any revenue raised from the machines to pay down the state’s debts, particularly the money owed to the federal government that has been used to pay unemployment insurance claims.
Dalton focused on the use of the money for education, likening the machines to the state lottery.
“He (McCrory) has said one of the first things he would do is work to repeal the lottery,” Dalton said.
Asked after the debate whether he would want to repeal the lottery, McCrory said no.
“At this time, it would be unrealistic it, because we’re so dependent,” McCrory said.
Asked whether state Supreme Court justices should be appointed, Dalton said he hesitated to take a vote away from the people. But, he noted, the high stakes judicial campaigns complete with super PACs didn’t necessarily serve the public interest either.
“It’s something that should be considered, particularly when you see these outside influences,” Dalton said.
McCrory turned the question, saying that judicial elections should stay as they are but the state should change how it chooses the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is now elected separately from the governor.
“That person has very little power,” he said, noting there have been power struggles between that position and the governor’s office. “Right now you talk to principals and superintendents throughout the state they have no idea who is in control,” McCrory said.
Asked about the superintendent’s position after the debate, Dalton said that he, too, would embrace some changes.
“I think it probably does need to be appointed so you can have a unified effort regarding education,” Dalton said.
Both Dalton’s and McCrory’s campaigns claimed victory after the forum, which has traditionally been the only early-summer showdown between gubernatorial candidates.
“Walter Dalton could not answer a simple question that many people have been asking; ‘How are you different than Governor Bev Perdue?’” said N.C. Republican Party Vice Chairman Wayne King.
Dalton’s campaign linked McCrory to the Republican General Assembly and criticized his answer on whether the Republican would release his personal tax return. McCrory said during the debate that he didn’t think his exact salary was of public concern.