9th District candidates talk guns, residency and outside money in their final forum

In their final debate, Republicans running in the 9th District faced pointed questions, including one who defended her million-dollar support from an outside group, one who defended his controversial bill and one who talked about his extra-marital affair.

Eight of the 10 Republicans met in Monroe for the debate sponsored by WBT radio. It came a week before the special primary that will send one of them into an election against Democrat Dan McCready and two third-party candidates.

The debate also came a week after a shooting at UNC Charlotte killed two students and wounded four, prompting a question from the moderator about the “solution to gun violence.” For some candidates, the answer was more guns.

Stony Rushing, a Union County commissioner and concealed-carry instructor, said crime rates have dropped since concealed carry laws were passed. He said mass shootings could be prevented if more people carry.

“Nobody wants to get shot, including bad guys,” he said.

Former lawmaker Fern Shubert of Marshville said such shootings seem to happen in gun-free areas. “These (shooters) may be crazy but they’re not stupid,” she said. Analysts have disputed this.

Fayetteville’s Stevie Rivenbark, a manager with a medical device company, said, “The fastest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” She called her own gun “my greatest equalizer.”

State Sen. Dan Bishop of Charlotte called the violence a mental health issue that could be addressed in part by “standing up for our societal values.”

Former Mecklenburg Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said the problem isn’t guns but “heads and heart(s).“ He called for people and churches to get more engaged. And Leigh Brown of Cabarrus County said video games and drugs were a major problem.

Candidates agreed not only on guns but on most other policy issues such as federal spending. Predictably, they differed on whether it’s important to live in the 9th District. Of the five candidates who live outside the district, three attended the event and defended their residencies.

Brown, who lives in the 8th District, said she owns a house in Indian Trail and does business in the 9th. A Realtor, she said she’s sold 1,000 houses in the district and talked to homebuyers. “That’s the kind of representation that matters,” she said.

But candidates who live in the district disagreed.

“It absolutely matters,” Ridenhour said. “It’s political opportunism to run in a district outside of where you live. End of story.”

Brown was among those who faced tailored and pointed questions:

WBT report Mark Garrison asked Brown a series of questions about her ties to the national Realtors political action committee, a group that has spent a record $1.3 million on her behalf. Until recently, she was the PAC’s fundraising chair. She stepped down two days before announcing her candidacy. Individual Realtors have given her more than $200,000.

Did she have a deal with the group for support? Garrison asked.

“Absolutely not,” she responded. “I am a woman of integrity. I’m proud that they support me.”

Bishop asked Brown when she became a conservative. She considered running for governor in 2012 as an independent, and has donated to Democrats as well as Republicans.

Brown replied that she was seeing “how the system worked” when she tried running as an independent.

“I have always been a registered Republican,” she said. “I am not someone who looks for fights. I look for solutions.”

Bishop was asked about his sponsorship of House Bill 2, the law that came in response to a Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance. The bill required transgender people to use the facilities of the gender on their birth certificate when in public buildings.

The law led to boycotts of the state by businesses, entertainers and college and pro sports events. Bishop was asked if that would hurt him in a race against McCready.

“I think people are ready to move on,” Bishop said. “There are new issues . . . There’s a fascination with the media about it.”

Brown said she believes it could hurt Bishop because “it frightens off unaffiliateds and cons Democrats.”

Bishop said he’s won three elections since the bill passed and it would help him contrast himself to McCready.

Rushing was asked about a one-time affair.

In 2015 he filed two restraining orders against Tracy Wesolek, now a Waxhaw commissioner. Her attorney said recently the restraining orders originated from an extramarital relationship the two previously had. In 2016, a judge dismissed the case.

“I haven’t made many mistakes in my life,” Rushing said Tuesday. “But that (affair) was a big one”

Ridenhour was asked why fellow Republicans he served with on the county board have endorsed Bishop, not him.

“They have longstanding relationships with Dan Bishop,” Ridenhour replied.

He was also asked about his slogan that “It takes a Marine to beat a Marine.” Both he and McCready were Marines who served in Iraq.

“Don’t voters deserve more than just a lot of GI Joe chest-thumping?” Garrison asked.

Ridenhour said he takes one of McCready’s main talking points away from him.

If no candidate gets 30% on Tuesday, a runoff would be held Sept. 10 and the general election Nov. 5. If there’s no runoff the general election would be Sept. 10.