By Mark Wineka, Salisbury Post
To say that the Democratic-led General Assembly spent a $2.4 billion state surplus like drunken sailors is an insult to drunken sailors everywhere, Republican State Sen. Andrew Brock of Davie County said Thursday night.
But his Democratic opponent, Larry Brown of Landis, said he thought his party's leadership did a good job with the surplus overall.
It was just one example of how Brock and Brown strike a contrast in this year's contest for the N.C. Senate District 34 seat, which includes all of Rowan and Davie counties.
Brock and Brown touched on growth, leadership, education, immigration, the environment, redistricting, government scandal, the lottery and more during a Thursday night candidates' forum at Catawba College.
Brock, a 32-year-old political consultant seeking a third term, touted his conservative principles, accessibility to constituents and strong attendance and voting record.
Brown, a 59-year-old assistant principal at Bostian Elementary School, emphasized his 38 years of experience in education, his 32-year marriage and 40-plus years of community service through positions on parks, library and town boards and civic organizations.
Brown described himself as an avid supporter of public schools and community colleges and someone who would work within the government framework for good roads, affordable healthcare and sound fiscal management.
Brown also acknowledged he has great odds to overcome in the Republican-leaning district.
He lost the 2004 election to Brock by some 17,000 votes, and he said voters could elect Brock again if they were satisfied with a senator in the minority party who actually votes 87 to 88 percent of the time with the majority.
When he is a voice of opposition, Brown said of Brock, he creates ill will among his colleagues that ends up hurting the district.
Brock said he has three books or documents on his desk in Raleigh — the Bible, U.S. Constitution and N.C. Constitution — and when he considers any legislation before him, it has to pass their test.
Beyond that, Brock said, he also considers what impact the legislation would have on his constituents. When he ends up voting outside the majority, Brock said, it's because he has the best interests "of people back home" in mind.
"I work hard for the people of this county," Brock told the crowd.
Throughout their 45-minute forum, Brock attacked the General Assembly's Democratic leadership and its dealings. But Brown spoke up at times for the leadership, its accomplishments and said the courts, not media campaigns, should decide who was in the wrong and who should pay.
When scandals occur, it hurts the political process, Brown said, but he praised Democrats overall for passing a timely budget that takes care of N.C. citizens.
Brock has been at the forefront of criticizing State House Speaker Jim Black and calling for his resignation through television advertisements and a StopJimBlack.com Website. He characterized Black and other Democrats in power as cutting behind-closed-door deals, conducting late-night votes, having illicit ties to lobbyists and buying off votes.
Any candidates who have received "tainted" campaign money from Black should give those funds to charity, Brock said. His own television ads have tried to enlighten voters to the corruption in Raleigh, he added.
Here's a look at some of positions taken by Brock and Brown on issues Thursday night:
* Immigration — Brock said illegal immigration is the state's No. 1 problem. North Carolina has become "a safe haven" for illegal immigrants, Brock said, citing how easy it is for them to obtain N.C. driver's licenses and other identification documents.
He said the state should make English the official language and pass tougher laws to address illegal immigrants.
Brown said the General Assembly did tighten its laws recently in relation to illegal immigrants. "We have laws, and they need to be enforced," he said.
But Brown added, "If they are here because we allow them to be here, we also have to deal with them."
Illegal immigrants have been a burden on the state and its domestic programs, but they also have been a blessing from which North Carolina has benefited through low-cost labor, Brown said.
Brown described it as more of a national problem that Congress should be addressing.
* The environment — Brock described North Carolina as a leading state in environmental protection and said, "We're already under enough environmental regulations."
Brock said the real polluters are other states and other countries such as China and India. He criticized the state for spending tax dollars to study global warming.
Brown mentioned his support for local environmental initiatives such as truck-stop electrification, the retrofitting of school buses and land conservation and noted how environmental protection overall often comes down to a question of "how much are we willing to pay?"
He spoke for cleaning up environmental damages where they have occurred and enforcing laws to control pollution. "It's our job to protect it (the environment)," Brown said.
* The lottery — Asked if the lottery has done what he expected, Brock said he would have to answer "yes."
"Yes, because it hasn't worked," he said.
He described the statewide lottery, which went into business this year, as a corrupt game whose get-rich-quick message encourages people not to work. What kind of lesson is that for children, Brock asked.
Brock also contended that the education lottery will, in effect, work against schools by making it tougher for local jurisdictions to pass bonds for school construction.
People will vote against bonds under the premise that the new insufficient lottery revenues will cover them, Brock said.
Brown said the lottery commission already has transferred $145 million toward education that would have otherwise gone to games in neighboring states such as South Carolina and Virginia.
He said $145 million is "not pocket change." A supporter of a lottery, Brown said it's not the best way for people to invest their money, but it was important to give citizens that choice.
* On legislation they would promote — Brock referred the audience to a 16-point Republican plan at ncfirst.com.
It's an initiative by the 21 state senators to gain five seats in the Nov. 7 election and gain control of the N.C. Senate.
Brock said the state has a taxing policy dating back to 1930 and a manufacturing environment that no longer exists. Brock said North Carolina must have a fairer taxing method for existing businesses and industries.
Brock also complained that state government pays for roughly 6,000 positions a year in which no one works.
State departments should be returning those unused funds to the state's Rainy Day Fund, Brock said, and he promised to introduce another bill toward that end.
Brown said he had no specific legislation that he wanted to introduce but would support measures improving education, the infrastructure and job creation.
* Education — Brock said he would support raising the age at which a student could drop out of school from 16 to 18.
"Our competition is overseas," Brock said, supporting higher standards for education. The state spends $10 billion on education, and it should make sure that money gets to the classroom, Brock said.
He added that too much money is going toward administration while teachers in the classroom "are getting what's left over."
Brown said improving education has to go beyond the schools and teachers to the families.
He said communities really do raise children, not just the school systems.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.