DURHAM The North Carolina candidates for governor held a sharp-edged debate Tuesday night, clashing over ethics, race, taxes and education before a statewide television audience.
Trailing in the polls, Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton was frequently the aggressor portraying Republican Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, as someone who would be more attuned to powerful special interests than the average person.
We have very different visions for North Carolina, Dalton said in a debate that took place in the studio of UNC-TV. Mayor McCrory supports big corporations and special interests. He would take money from the public schools and fund private schools, and would raise taxes on the middle class. All of that jeopardizes our future.
McCrory, positioning himself as a unifying front-runner, did his best to stay above the fray, ignoring many of Daltons jibes and answering many of the criticisms with a tone of disappointment.
Now more than ever we need positive leadership which establishes a vision for the future, McCrory said. I want to put together a team to implement it in an ethical and proper way.
The one-hour debate was sponsored by the N.C. Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation. It was the second debate held this fall. A third and final debate is scheduled for Oct. 24.
Dalton spent the evening questioning McCrorys record, and McCrory did his best to sidestep Daltons probes.
In one of their most heated exchanges, Dalton brought up a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case, which raised the question of whether McCrory, as Charlotte mayor pro tem, had acted inappropriately when the Charlotte City Council voted to condemn some farmland on behalf of Duke Energy, McCrorys employer at the time. Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. raised questions about McCrorys actions in a dissenting opinion in the case.
He was looking after that special interest, Dalton said. He was certainly not looking after the farmer. I think that says it all. I am going to work for the working people and the senior citizens and the middle class.
I have 34 years of business experience with Duke Energy that I am very proud of, McCrory said. I was employed with them while I was mayor and never was there a question of ethical indiscretion. This is the private sector experience that we desperately need in the executive office. We need someone who understands business.
He said Dalton was not only attacking him but great North Carolina companies.
This is exactly how we are treating the private sector, he said. We are treating them like adversaries.
McCrorys tax returns
Dalton once again renewed his call on McCrory to release his tax returns for his current employment with the large Charlotte law firm of Moore & Van Allen. Since McCrory was neither a lawyer nor a registered lobbyist, Dalton wondered whether the firm was using McCrory as a potential future governor to line up clients.
The candidates also divided on:
The Racial Justice Act, which allows death-row inmates to appeal their sentences based on statistical evidence that there was racial bias in the jury selection. The law was passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2009, but was greatly modified supporters say gutted by the Republican legislature earlier this year.
Dalton said McCrorys opposition was another example of his racial insensitivity. But McCrory said nearly all the district attorneys in the state opposed the Racial Justice Act, and that it was a thinly disguised effort to undermine the death penalty. When McCrory referred to the measure as a joke, Dalton said such language was exactly the reason African-Americans viewed him as insensitive.
Education. McCrory said he wants high schools to offer a two-track system of college preparatory education and vocational education, which he said would both reduce dropouts and provide more graduates with marketable skills. But Dalton said putting 15-year-olds on a vocational education track, before they were old enough to make up their own minds about the their future, was not a good idea.
Taxes. Dalton repeatedly pressed McCrory on how he would pay for the major tax cuts hes proposing to income taxes, corporate taxes, inheritance taxes, and possibly even gasoline taxes. He asserted that McCrory would be forced to raise the sales tax thereby shifting taxes from corporations and the well-to-do to the middle class and seniors.
Eighty percent of the families in North Carolina would have their taxes raised substantially, Dalton said. He is taking all of the burden off corporations and putting it on working families, middle-class families.
McCrory said, The only (people) who (have) asked for a sales tax increase is Beverly Perdue and Walter Dalton. He was referring to a budget proposal that the governor made and Dalton supported in the last budget.
I am saying on the record, McCrory said, I am not for raising the 4.75-cent sales tax. I dont know where he is getting his information. What we need to do is start growing the economy.