Lieutenant governor hopefuls debate

The three candidates for lieutenant governor outlined very different plans on education, health care and state government Wednesday night.

During an hour-long debate on UNC-TV, Democratic state Sen. Walter Dalton said he would raise the compulsory education age to 18, expand access to health care, and continue to promote entrepreneurship programs.

“As we face these new challenges from a troubled and changing economy, we need leaders with experience,” he said.

Republican Robert Pittenger, a former state senator from Charlotte, said he would pay school teachers based on merit rather than tenure, reduce medical malpractice litigation, and cut the personal income tax rate.

“Tax money belongs to the taxpayer, not the tax collector,” he said.

Libertarian Phillip Rhodes, a first-time candidate, said he would increase competition in schools with a voucher program, end state government involvement in mental health care, and eliminate many government regulations on business.

“Government exists only as the collective extension of our individual right to self defense,” he said.

Illegal immigration was also a hot topic.

Both Dalton and Pittenger said they would not support allowing illegal immigrants to study at the state's community colleges. Rhodes said he thought it would be fine as long as they pay out-of-state tuition.

A month ago, the State Board of Community Colleges voted to bar illegal immigrants until it could complete a study. The lieutenant governor is a member of that board.

Pittenger said the state had not gone far enough to make the state inhospitable to illegal immigrants, praising efforts by states such as Oklahoma and Georgia to cut social services they could use.

He also attacked Dalton, saying he voted to allow illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.

In a series of votes over the past eight years, the legislature made it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get licenses, but stopped short of making it impossible until 2006.

After the debate, Dalton said that at each step he voted to tighten the restrictions on driver's licenses.

“Every vote I ever cast was always intended to make it stricter,” he said.