Don't like Bev or Pat? Maybe Mike's your man

If you watched last night's gubernatorial candidates' debate sponsored by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg League of Women Voters, WTVI and WSOC-TV, you may have noticed something interesting: the Libertarian candidate for governor, Mike Munger, and his sense of humor and willingness to think about public issues in a creative way.

As the least well-known candidate in the 2008 governor's race, Munger faces long odds in the election. But the Duke political science department chair gave the last scheduled debate something previous meetings between Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and Lt. Gov. Perdue have lacked: a thoughtful dimension.

Those who have followed previous debates didn't hear much new from McCrory or Perdue, who sniped at one another on familiar issues. At one point Perdue told McCrory, “Shame on you, Mr. Mayor” for not being more supportive of law enforcement. At another point McCrory said, “She is making this up” when she attacked the mayor for proposing a voucher program she charged would undermine public schools. It was familiar ground, well-plowed but old, and McCrory and Perdue weren't about to give an inch.

Munger's views, by contrast, seemed refreshing if simplistic, because this was the first time he had been in a debate with the two major-party candidates. He seemed to relish the opportunity to show how his views contrast with those of McCrory and Perdue. He not only supported allowing illegal immigrants on public college campuses, but called for “a high wall and a wide gate” so that immigrants can pursue a better life. He pronounced his opposition to capital punishment, support for same-sex marriages and said the federal government had no business in public schools. In fact, he said the state should give local schools as much flexibility as possible to create their own education solutions. And, he said, teacher salaries are far too low for entry-level teachers to remain on the job very long.

Polls show there's a tight race between Perdue and McCrory. Munger trails far behind. But his willingness to directly answer questions – often brief answers that didn't address the complex demands of a growing population – gave viewers something to think about.

Perdue's backers no doubt came away with a sense that she performed better than in some previous meetings, while McCrory has yet to demonstrate a comprehensive grasp of many issues, particularly education. With three weeks to go, the candidates are still working to demonstrate they're better equipped to run a growing state at a difficult time.