10/19/06 — Smith will battle challenger in District 12

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Smith will battle challenger in District 12

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on October 19, 2006 1:48 PM

State Sen. Fred Smith, a Republican, will face a political newcomer in his bid for a third term in office.

Sherry Altman, a Democrat, has never run for political office before but said she is not intimidated.

"You don't have to be an attorney or a millionaire to represent the people in Raleigh," Ms. Altman said.

Smith holds the District 12 seat in the Senate. The district includes the western half of Wayne County.

Ms. Altman has worked as a business manager and an accounting executive. She said she wants to represent the district's voters because she understands the struggles facing residents and wants to help improve the quality of life in the region.

"It's time for a change. It's time for hard-working people in office who know what's it like to not be able to afford their prescriptions. We need people who know what it's like to be unemployed. We need people to know what it's like to work for their neighbors," Ms. Altman said.

Smith said he has never taken for granted the opportunity to serve. Instead, he said, he tries to earn his position every day by listening to people's concerns and taking care of their needs.

"I'm running for re-election because we need to chart a better course. I believe our state can do better," said Smith, who is critical of the Democratic leadership in the legislature. "Leadership is about taking excuses off of the table and getting the job done. We're not doing it in Raleigh."

Smith said he believes the Democratic leadership did not do a good job of using the $2.4 billion surplus it held during the recently completed session. The money could have been better spent, he said. He said lawmakers should have done more to ease the tax burden on North Carolinians and worked harder to help local governments deal with the costs of Medicaid. Lawmakers are continuing to dump the cost on the counties and property taxpayers, he said.

"The leadership wants the county commissioners to raise property taxes because they don't think they're charging enough," Smith said.

During his campaign, Smith has emphasized the need to bolster family values. Smith said he supports a proposal that would define marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Ms. Altman said she doesn't believe the issue is one that needs a constitutional amendment. State law already recognizes only the union of a man and woman as marriage, she pointed out. She said the Republican push on family values is misguided and merely a way to attract voters.

"That's not what I'm going through as a single mother," Ms. Altman said.

Instead, she said, she believes voters are more worried about a ensuring a good education for their children, affordable health care, creating better jobs, protecting the environment and providing for veterans.

Both candidates said they would work to improve education in eastern North Carolina..

Ms. Altman said legislators need to think more about new ways to improve education. She pointed to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as an example. The foundation provides grant money to modernize schools, making them flexible and able to meet the demands of a 21st century education. Lawmakers need to start thinking outside the box, she said.

"We need to do better than issuing more bonds and having private companies build schools only to lease them to a school district. We can do better than that," Ms. Altman said.

Smith agreed that the Gates Foundation model is something school districts should consider. But technology alone cannot solve the problems facing the public schools, he said. Educators have to promote more parent involvement, he said. Computers are of no use to students who have not developed a good work ethic and who face problems at home, he said.

When talking about health care, Ms. Altman pointed to Massachusetts, where officials created legislation allowing 99 percent of residents to receive affordable health care. North Carolina is far behind in its efforts to provide universal health care, she said, noting that if a North Carolinian gets behind in his or her hospital bill, the state has the right to seize property to pay the bill.

"I want to protect those people. If they are in the hospital for six months, they should know their home will still be there when they are recuperating," Ms. Altman said. "Many states have taken care of this, but we haven't. We're falling behind."

Smith said one of the biggest problems facing the state is the rapidly growing number of illegal aliens living here. Congress has not done enough to stem the flow of illegals, he said. State officials need to step up and do more to enforce existing laws against illegal aliens, who are tapping the state's resources without paying taxes.

"We have to do whatever we can at a state level to solve illegal immigration in North Carolina," Smith said.

Ms. Altman described her campaign as a true grassroots campaign. She said she tells voters two things as she makes the rounds of the district. First, their voice can be heard in Raleigh.

"I tell them, 'I know you think your voice doesn't matter anymore. It really, really does. We can't let the people in office think we're not a democracy anymore. Every voice makes a difference."

And that she would use common sense in making decisions.

"I'm going to take common sense to Raleigh for them and I understand what they're going through. They need to understand that one person can make a difference and it's them. I promise them that I will reach across the aisle to get things passed for them. I'll get the things that the hard-working people of the district need."

Smith said his experience makes him the best candidate for the job.

Smith said if he is re-elected, he would continue to work hard at improving the lives of the district's residents.

"I want (the voters) to think Fred Smith is a businessman who respects our money and makes sure it's used in an effective and useful way. I also want them to know that Fred Smith understands that North Carolina has conservative values that make the state a great place to live, and we need to continue to respect those values. Things are destined to change, because things always change, but we must hold onto those core principles," Smith said.