09/10/06 — Starling and LaRoque to do battle Tuesday

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Starling and LaRoque to do battle Tuesday

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on September 10, 2006 2:05 AM

A decision in the race to determine the Republican candidate for the District 10 seat in the state House will be made Tuesday by voters in Wayne, Greene and Lenoir counties as voters go to the polls to cast ballots for either incumbent Stephen LaRoque or challenger Willie Ray Starling.

Starling won the May primary by just 11 votes but LaRoque filed an election protest claiming voting irregularities prevented some Lenoir County residents from voting for him. After two hearings on the issue, the state Board of Elections decided a second election was warranted.

The winner of Tuesday's election will face Democrat Van Braxton of Kinston in November. Braxton had no opponent in May.

The only Wayne County voters who are eligible to vote live in four precincts in the eastern part of the county -- Spring Creek, New Hope Friends Church, Dudley Fire Station and Indian Springs Fire Station. All of Greene County is included in District 10 and most of Lenoir County. About 80 percent of the voters in District 10 live in Lenoir.

Eligible voters Tuesday must be registered Republicans living in the district, or unaffiliated voters in the district who did not mark a Democratic ballot in May. Both parties permit unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in their primaries, but voters must ask poll workers for a specific ballot if they wish to vote in either party's races.

This is the third time that the two candidates have faced one another. LaRoque defeated Starling in 2004 before they squared off again in May.

Since May and the contested vote, the race has become increasingly acrimonious.

LaRoque was targeted by state GOP leaders for defeat because he was one of a handful of Republicans who worked with the House Democratic leadership to push several issues. Starling has hammered at LaRoque's tactics, saying he is not a true Republican.

LaRoque responded by defending his decisions and attacking Starling as a lapdog for the Republican powerbrokers.

"I think the voters are finding more out about my opponent," LaRoque said. "They're finding out that he's been running a negative campaign and that he has been lying about me, but he has no record to show for in public office."

Starling noted LaRoque's attendance record in Raleigh. A study by the North Carolina Center for Policy Research showed that LaRoque missed 25 of 125 session days of the 2005 legislative session, one of the lowest among legislators.

LaRoque has pointed to his accomplishments while in office, including $7.1 million in state grants for the Neuse Regional Water and Sewer Authority and the $145.5 million appropriation to modernize and rebuild Cherry Hospital.

But his work also has supported people outside of Wayne County, LaRoque said. During the summer session, LaRoque supported capping Medicaid expenses for state taxpayers during the 2006-07 fiscal year and also supported a $2 million grant for the Greene County-Farmville water project.

LaRoque said he also supported placing a cap on the state gasoline tax, something Starling opposed.

Starling said he believes the legislature could have accomplished more for North Carolinians had it been led by Republicans.

"The gas tax is too high. We need to lower it, not just cap it at it's high rate," Starling said.

Another issue that arose during the summer legislative session was the state's two-cent sales tax. LaRoque supported a sales tax cut, but Starling said LaRoque has deceived people into believing that half-cent reduction amounts to a discount. Starling said he would vote to eliminate both cents.

"The sales tax was supposed to be temporary, but legislators kept it around. It's at two cents and they lowered it to one-and-a-half cents. I still don't know how you can split a penny, but that's not a cut. That's still a one-and-a-half cent increase," Starling said.

LaRoque said he can't understand why some people don't agree with the way he votes on issues that affect North Carolinians.

"I vote based on the merits and how I can help people. I don't want to be a robot in Raleigh. That is one thing people need to know about Stephen LaRoque -- I can't be bought. But my opponent's paid for," he said.

LaRoque said Starling and his supporters do not represent mainstream Republicans.

"I believe the Wayne County Republican Party has been hijacked by a small group of extremists that don't share the same views of other Republicans," LaRoque said.

Starling has been critical of LaRoque's support for House Speaker Jim Black, who has been under investigation by state authorities for alleged violations of campaign laws.

LaRoque counters by pointing to his record as a supporter of basic Republican values. Recently, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which is the nation's leading small business advocacy group, determined LaRoque had a perfect voting record during the 2005-06 legislative session on issues that affected small businesses.

Both candidates have issues they are eager to tackle.

If given the opportunity to go back to Raleigh, LaRoque said an important issue facing his constituents and other residents throughout the state is North Carolina's annexation laws.

"I really think forced annexation needs to be addressed. I really see it as taxation without representation. We are one of only four states in the country that do it this way," LaRoque said.

North Carolina law permits municipalities to involuntarily annex neighborhoods outside of city limits, even if the residents don't want to be included in the city, if certain criteria are met. LaRoque said he believes the residents that are being annexed should be given a say in the process.

"I have no problem with debating municipalities on this issue. Any day, any time. Forced annexation is how elected officials without a vision grow," LaRoque said.

Starling said a major issue that needs to be discussed by the legislature is the state's illegal immigration problem. North Carolina has the eighth largest illegal immigrant population in the United States. Legislators have skirted around the issue for too long, Starling said.

"Illegal immigrants go to the emergency room like you and I go to the doctor's office. When you go to the hospital, you have to produce an insurance card to get care. Illegals don't have to and the doctors see them anyway. I think they need to produce an ID to prove they're legal," Starling said.

Illegal immigrants are also able to secure a driver's license or register to vote without producing proper legal documents, Starling said.

"It should be as complicated to get (a driver's license) or register to vote as it is to open a checking account. That could be why (illegal immigrants) always have cash on them," Starling said.

If illegal immigrants can't produce the paperwork to prove they are a legal citizen, Starling said law enforcement agencies should "put them on a bus and take them back home."

LaRoque said voters who want to see growth in eastern North Carolina should put him on the November ballot.

"This election represents the future. I want to try to improve things so young people in the county get jobs and help the region grow. Let's get rid of the lack of opportunity," LaRoque said.

Starling said that if District 10 voters want a conservative voice in Raleigh who isn't afraid to take on the state's social and political problems, they should vote for him.

"Please go to the polls and vote your convictions," he said.