In the only debate of their 9th Congressional District runoff, Jim Pendergraph on Monday accused fellow Republican Robert Pittenger of breaking the law and trying to buy the election while Pittenger called Pendergraph a disingenuous flip-flopper.
I challenge everyone to look at this and see who they can trust in Washington, Pendergraph said.
Pittenger, meanwhile, twice touted a web site called Pendergraphfacts.com that he said shows his opponents inconsistencies.
The attacks came during an hourlong debate where they generally agreed on issues, including reducing federal spending, taxes and regulations.
The two are in a July 17 runoff for the chance to succeed U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte. The winner faces Charlotte Democrat Jennifer Roberts and Libertarian Curtis Campbell in the heavily Republican district.
Mondays televised debate sponsored by News 14, WTVI and the League of Women Voters, punctuated a campaign marked by acrimony.
Pendergraph, a Mecklenburg commissioner and former sheriff, was first on offense. At least twice he turned responses on issues into attacks, even using theatrics.
At one point he leaned over the table they shared with moderator Shawn Flynn and flashed a document in front of Pittenger.
Is that your signature? he asked.
The document was a 2005 deed that showed the sale of a Union County tract owned by a partnership in which Pittenger, a real estate investor, held an interest. As a state senator in 2003, Pittenger had voted to annex the land into Waxhaw, a move that increased its value by allowing denser development through Waxhaws less restrictive zoning laws.
That is illegal, Pendergraph charged. You broke the law and our party cannot afford to have a black cloud hanging over it.
Pittenger said the Senate Ethics Committee, which received a complaint about the vote, never acted on it publicly.
There was no wrong-doing, he said. Im a businessman. We buy property all over the United States. I recused myself on many, many votes. This was a local bill.
Pittenger has sought to distinguish between voting on a so-called local bill and a statewide bill. Local bills are generally noncontroversial. He was asked later by a reporter if he ever used his influence as a legislator for personal profit. None whatsoever, he said.
For his part, Pittenger criticized Pendergraph for his nebulous answers to many questions. He also cast him as a flip-flopper on issues including taxes and immigration.
Pendergraph signed a pledge in March not to raise taxes. Days later he voted with other county commissioners to create a new fire service tax district. Americans for Tax Reform said Pendergraphs actions make a mockery of his written commitment to the taxpayers.
Pendergraph argues that the new tax district shifted the cost of service to county residents who use it while cutting taxes for Charlotte residents.
On immigration, Pittenger cites Pendergraphs comments to the Observer. A May editorial said Pendergraph favored allowing current illegal immigrants to pay some penalty and then have a path to citizenship.
Mr. Pendergraph told the Charlotte Observer that he was for a pathway to citizenship (and) amnesty, Pittenger said.
Pendergraph denies ever having said that. A former official in the Bush administrations office of immigration enforcement, he said he supports getting illegal immigrants to return home and apply for legal entry.
This is just another example of my opponent stretching the truth, he said.
Responding to a comment on the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, Pendergraph said, Talking about power I think my opponent is trying to buy power.
He cited last weeks report that Pittenger had spent $1.9 million of his own money on the campaign. On Saturday he put in another $200,000, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Speaking to reporters later, Pittenger defended the spending.
Unfortunately it costs money to tell the story of what (Pendergraph) has done, he said.
On issues, the two generally agreed:
• Both said they would work to repeal the financial regulations of the Dodd-Frank law and the Affordable Care Act and get the federal government out of education.
• Both oppose further extension of unemployment benefits.
• Pittenger said he would address entitlements in part by gradually raising the retirement age for people over 55. Pendergraph said later he generally agrees.
We cant keep kicking the can down the road, he said.
• Both would change the tax system. Pittenger said he would simplify it with the highest rate of 25 percent. Now the top marginal rate is 35 percent. Pendergraph said he favors the Fair Tax. The proposal would replace all federal income taxes with a broad national consumption, or sales tax, of around 23 percent. There are too few people paying into the system and too many people sucking off the system, Pittenger said.
• Neither would support a request for federal money to extend Charlottes light rail. Pendergraph said he would put the money (toward) the national debt.
Pittenger said roads are a bigger priority.
I want roads, he said. The city should ask the people what they want.