10/20/06 — State, local candidates share their views with voters

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State, local candidates share their views with voters

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on October 20, 2006 1:49 PM


News-Argus Staff Writer

MOUNTOLIVE-- Shortly after polls closed for the first day of one-stop early voting, candidates in local and state races discussed issues and answered the public's questions during an educational forum in Mount Olive Thursday.

The forum consisted of candidates in the Wayne County clerk of court, North Carolina House of Representatives District 10, N.C. House District 11, N.C. Senate District 5 and the Wayne County sheriff races. Although the seat is uncontested, 8th District Attorney Branny Vickory also spoke to about 100 constituents during Thursday night's event, which was sponsored by the Mount Olive Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, and Todd Siebels are vying for the N.C. Senate District 5 seat. The district includes the eastern half of Wayne County, including Goldsboro and Mount Olive, all of Greene County and a small section of Pitt County.

During opening comments, Kerr said eastern North Carolina continues to make progress, but legislators will need to focus on how to improve the state's infrastructure, including water and sewer lines, during the next session.

Kerr, who is running for his eighth term in the Senate, said he has been successful in pushing legislation for education, the mentally handicapped and the people of eastern North Carolina. If given the opportunity to serve another term, Kerr said providing health care and helping counties cover Medicaid costs are two issues that need to be addressed.

"Health care is in awful, awful trouble," Kerr said.

Siebels said Kerr hasn't done enough and there is too much corruption and wasteful spending taking place in Raleigh. During the question-and-answer period, Siebels and Kerr were asked if they would support retirement plans for law enforcement officers who have served their communities for 25 years or more.

"As a former Marine, I believe we need to treat our law enforcement as we do our military. Why 25 years? Why not go for 20?" Siebels said.

Kerr said he couldn't guess what would happen in the future on the issue, but a law enforcement retirement plan should garner support from local law enforcement officers and county commissioners before it is presented to legislators. When asked if he had voted against a bill that would provide that retirement plan to law enforcement officers, Kerr said he was unsure.

"I don't really know," Kerr said. "During session, we vote on 2,000 bills a year."

Sheriff Carey Winders and his opponent Ken Edwards also discussed law enforcement and how it can be improved in Wayne County. Winders said the Sheriff's Office will need to continue to be open-minded, active and innovative to keep putting criminals in jail. He added that the policies the Sheriff's Office has used in the past 12 years must be working because the county jail is continuously overcrowded. In the past decade, the Sheriff's Office has made about 35,000 arrests, Winders said.

If legislators make the effort to stiffen drug laws and penalties, Winders said the jail will no longer be a revolving door for criminals.

Edwards, a retired 30-year veteran of the Goldsboro Police Department, said more can be done in the Sheriff's Office to improve the work quality, work quantity and morale of deputies.

Also, it is important to bridge the gap between the public and law enforcement officers, Edwards said. No matter how hard police officers and deputies work, he added they will always need the public's support, and he wants to serve the people of Wayne County.

"I don't make promises, because promises can be broken, but I will make a commitment to the public," Edwards said.

In the Clerk of Court race, Randy Winders and Pam Minshew cited efficiency of operation as one of their goals for the office.

Winders said his 33 years in the retail industry taught him about leadership, team-building, decision-making and problem-solving. All of those skills could be used in the Clerk of Court's office.

Although he doesn't have any experience in the clerk's office, Winders said many other influential leaders, such as former sheriffs, judges and current Clerk of Court Marshall Minchew, also did not bring that quality to their offices when they were first elected.

Mrs. Minshew said her 25 years of experience in the Clerk of Courts office will provide a seamless transition from one leader to the next. During that time, she said she worked under four different clerks. Each one brought his own style to managing the office, and Mrs. Minshew said she knows what will and won't work.

"I've solved problems in the clerk's office for years. I will be fair, kind and courteous, and my employees will do the same," Mrs. Minshew said.

Each state candidate also fielded questions concerning legislation to tax illegal immigrants and on the state's involuntary annexation laws.

Willie Ray Starling, who is running for the N.C. House District 10 seat against Kinston City Councilman Van Braxton, said each person should pay his or her fair share of taxes, and illegal immigrants are no different.

A more troubling problem is the free social services provided to illegal immigrants, Starling said. While some Americans can't afford health care, he said illegal immigrants get free health care from emergency rooms and are even able to get a driver's license. If those services were eliminated, illegal immigrants would no longer want to come to North Carolina, he added.

Braxton also said it is time to stem the number of illegal immigrants entering the country and the state.

"I believe the question was, 'Should illegal immigrants pay taxes?' I think we don't need illegal immigrants here at all," Braxton said.

As many as 8,000 illegal immigrants cross the country's southern border each week. Braxton said many of those illegal immigrants wouldn't come to North Carolina if employers did not continuously hire them. But some of those illegal immigrants who submit to a thorough background check and are here for a better life could be allowed to work in this country, he added.

As a city councilman, Braxton said Kinston has considered using involuntary annexations, but has used the option sparingly because it wasn't in the best interest of the people more often than not. But a city does need to have the ability to grow its tax base to continue to improve its services.

Starling said he questions why a city would need to expand when it is not providing the proper services for people within the city limits. Also, involuntary annexation is unconstitutional because it is taxation without representation, he added.

N.C. House District 10 consists of parts of Wayne and Lenoir counties and all of Greene.

Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, and retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Ronnie Griffin are campaigning for the N.C. House District 11 seat. The district consists of most of Wayne County, but excludes parts of Goldsboro and the southeastern end of the county.

Involuntary annexation has become a major issue for some Wayne County residents.

As a former mayor of Mount Olive, Pate said he was in office as the town tried to involuntarily annex residents. By going door to door and discussing the issue with the residents, Pate said he was able to convince residents it was in the best interest of both parties. But involuntary annexation isn't always that easy, he added.

If chosen for another term, Pate said he would push harder to get legislators to study the issue. Griffin said he also believes the issue should be studied. Also, state law should require a limit to how many people can be annexed at one time, and those residents must know well in advance of a municipality's plan to annex them.

One-stop early voting will continue until Nov. 4. Residents can cast ballots each weekday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Wayne County Public Library at 1001 E. Ash St. The polls will also be open on Nov. 4 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Polls will open across the county for the general election on Nov. 7.

Sample ballots, election information and a voter search engine to find out which polling location to visit on Nov. 7 are available on the Wayne County Board of Elections Web site at www.waynegov.com/boe. For any other election information, call the Wayne County Board of Elections at 731-1411.