04/03/08 — Smith makes campaign stop at Paramount

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Smith makes campaign stop at Paramount

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 3, 2008 1:47 PM

With country music singer Lee Greenwood at his side, Fred Smith stopped at the Paramount Theatre in Goldsboro Wednesday afternoon as he enters the homestretch in his race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

"At the end of the day, it's not about policy anymore, it's about action," the state senator from Johnston County said. "Wayne County is a key county for me. It's election time, and it's time to get the vote out."

That means he needs to draw a clear distinction between himself and fellow Republican front-runner Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

"We feel good about where we are, but I think I've got to point out the difference between Pat McCrory and what he's done, and who I am and what I've done," Smith said.

And that difference, Smith believes, is simple.

"Pat McCrory is a moderate. I'm a conservative," he said. "I am a fiscal conservative and a social conservative. I am the true conservative in this race."

Smith, who touts his leadership experience from both the private and public sectors, also said that while he has received more than 1,200 contributions from people donating less than $50, most of McCrory's support is coming from big businesses.

But what is most important for Wayne County voters to consider, Smith said, is that he understands the region -- unlike his Charlotte-area opponent.

"He doesn't have a clue about eastern North Carolina," Smith said. "Eastern North Carolina has a different set of issues (than Charlotte). We have plenty of land, plenty of open space and plenty of raw products, but we need to have the jobs in eastern North Carolina and the economic development and the infrastructure that Charlotte takes for granted."

And, unlike McCrory who is advocating a strategic plan for growing economic development across the state, Smith is in favor of a more hands-off approach.

He believes that if the state focuses on first fulfilling its functions of public safety, education and infrastructure, as well as on lowering taxes and reducing regulations, then economic development will follow.

"Once government creates that environment, it's the private sector that's going to create the jobs," he said.

And in eastern North Carolina he sees potential in agriculture -- primarily in terms of new alternative energy sources -- and in the medical fields.

But jobs aren't his only area of concern.

He also discussed his ideas for improving Raleigh's ethics, improving the criminal justice system by stiffening sentences and finding ways to increase prison space, improving the state Department of Transportation, improving education by expanding charter schools and hiring better teachers, and providing affordable health care by promoting a culture of health and consumer-driven policies.

Also on Smith's agenda are issues like the Defense of Marriage Act, which he'd like to see put to a vote of the people, as well as illegal immigration, which he'd like to control by making it harder for undocumented aliens to get drivers' licenses.

"I'm talking about all these things," he said. "Pat's only got three or four things and that's all he talks about."

But underlying all of Smith's policy discussions is one overarching theme -- the need for state government to refocus on its core priorities and control spending growth, beginning with the passage of one of Smith's pet projects, the Taxpayer Protection Act.

"I believe there are certain fundamental things the government needs to do and do well," Smith said. "People are willing to pay for quality education as long as their money is used wisely. People are willing to pay to build roads ... for public safety ... to help the mentally ill ... as long as their money is used wisely.

"We just need better government."

And that, he emphasized, is the difference between him and McCrory.

"I don't think Pat would be in favor of the Taxpayer Protection Act," he said, accusing him of overseeing the city with the highest tax rate in the state.

But for the people attending the rally Wednesday and listening to Greenwood sing, the most important part of Smith's campaign was not his policy proposals, but rather his background and his character.

"He stands for what is right," said northern Wayne County resident Charlotte Aycock. "He is what we as a state need. His are values that will stand."

"He's a working man. He's not a career politician," added county resident Gary Scott, a Democrat but a supporter nonetheless. "I believe he can lead this state in the right direction."