Local Politics

Oil, recession, spending on Senate candidates' minds

Posted June 26, 2010 7:30 a.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2010 7:04 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's three candidates for the U.S. Senate showed distinct messages at a time when Americans are grappling with questions about the role of government and regulation in the wake of the recession and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Republican Sen. Richard Burr, Democrat Elaine Marshall and Libertarian Mike Beitler spoke Saturday at a forum in Wilmington hosted by the North Carolina Bar Association.

Marshall positioned herself as a "strong, independent voice" who would listen to her constituents. North Carolina's current secretary of state, she said her political career demonstrates her willingness to take on special interests, including Wall Street.

Beitler, a management consultant who has taught finance at the college level, said he is "the only fiscal conservative in this race." His opponents, he said, are part of the political parties that haven't addressed the nation's problems.

Burr stressed the need for "fiscal sanity" and said he would keep pushing Congress to address neglected priorities, such as border security and rising public debt.

Burr repeatedly highlighted the nation's $13 trillion debt that's expected to continue growing. He warned that the United States could soon be compared to countries like Greece that are buckling under the weight of their obligations.

"The answer is: Let's stop spending," Burr said. He acknowledged after the event that Republicans have been part of the problem. He voted several times for Bush administration budgets that drastically increased the debt.

Marshall, however, said cuts alone wouldn't save the country's economy.

"We've got to make appropriate investments, the same thing you would do to make your business more profitable," said Marshall, who said is North Carolina's secretary of state. "You can't cut your way into huge profitability."

Beitler said Democrats and Republicans have both contributed to the nation's debt problems.

"We need to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit," Beitler said. He said every federal agency needs to be audited to identify wasteful programs and spending to cut.

Marshall pointed to stronger regulation, saying the mentality on Capitol Hill has been that Wall Street will heal itself and that market forces will take care of things. She said that regulators need more funding and that businesses have had too cozy a relationship with the government officials that oversee them.

"We've seen what happens when capitalism takes over," she said.

Burr said government shouldn't be playing a bigger role with a stronger hand but should focus on regulating the products that were overlooked – such as the complex derivatives blamed in the nation's economic collapse – and to make sure the existing regulators are doing their jobs.

"I fear that we're headed down a path that will be too over-burdensome, too duplicative. It will raise the cost of credit, will choke the credit for small business and for individual loans," Burr said.

All three candidates lamented the environmental and economic effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico but differed on their evaluation of the federal government's response.

Marshall said she is "glad to see our president becoming angry" and came out in support of banning off-shore drilling in North Carolina and the Obama administration's attempt to impose a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf.

Of the oil spill, "the thought of that happening off North Carolina scares me," she said.

Beitler said the moratorium was an emotional, rather than a rational reaction. "Anger and knee-jerk reactions aren't leadership," he said.

Burr said the economic consequences of limiting drilling in the Gulf need to be considered. "You'll have no economic growth," Burr said. "You'll have no job expansion. You'll have a contraction like you've never dreamed of."

He added that the state of North Carolina, not the federal government should make the decision.