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Dalton's family, roots shaped his politics

Posted April 10, 2012 4:53 p.m. EDT
Updated April 12, 2012 2:25 p.m. EDT

— The memory of his father led Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton into politics, and his family's influence and his roots in western North Carolina have helped shape his priorities as he campaigns for governor.

Dalton faces former Congressman Bob Etheridge, 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.

Charles Dalton, who died when his son was only 8, served in the North Carolina Senate in the late 1940s. Walter Dalton remembers a letter his father received thanking him for getting a road built in Rutherford County.

"I thought it was really powerful, and I saw the benefits of public service," Dalton said Monday.

The high school quarterback went on to earn undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, start a law practice and raise a family.

Then, like his father, he ran for the state Senate, winning election in 1996. After 12 years in the General Assembly, he took his campaign statewide and won the race for lieutenant governor.

"I am somebody who can work with other people. I have a history of using common sense and good judgment," he said.

Dalton has focused his political efforts on education initiatives, such as one that bridges high school and college programs. He sees job creation and education investment as closely tied.

Toward that end, 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.

"When you fix it, don't lose site of your future, and you can do great damage if you lose site of that future," he said. "That, I'm afraid, may have happened this year."

Dalton bills himself as a moderate Democrat, and he hasn't always backed liberal causes.

He co-sponsored a 2005 bill to ban gay marriage in North Carolina, although he now opposes the proposed amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

"It's far too broad. It's going to affect health care plans," he said to explain his opposition.

He was the only member of the North Carolina Community College System board to vote in 2009 against admitting illegal immigrants.

In the current heated debate over natural gas drilling in North Carolina, he is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"It may be an option that we embrace in the future, but we do need more study," he said.

In the race for governor, Dalton said he hopes voters will study him more.

"I know the great energy that this state has. I know the resilience of its people. They need to know that I can lead them to that better future," he said.