05/04/08 — Taft hoping to stand out on election day

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Taft hoping to stand out on election day

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 4, 2008 2:00 AM

As the only woman on the ballot, state Senate District 5 Democratic candidate Kathy Taft believes that she may have an upper hand in Tuesday's primary.

"I think when you have six candidates and five of them are men and one is a woman, I think that makes a difference," she said. "I think there is more attention paid to my message, especially by women, (who) are the majority voters in this district. I think they see that I've had many different experiences in my life and they connect to those."

But, she continued, the fact that she's a woman may be helping get her message out to voters, but it's not the reason why it's mattering.

"I think that at every forum, every gathering I've been to, the other five candidates have said the same thing -- the economy, jobs, education and roads," Ms. Taft said. "I'm trying to get out a different message."

That means, she explained, figuring out how to demonstrate what the she considers one of her greatest attributes -- her ability to "work well with others."

That doesn't mean, though, that she's not in tune with the day-to-day issues facing the district's voters.

"The issue I hear the most is the price of gas," she said.

But, she noted, there's little than can be done on the state level other than suspending the gas tax -- something she does not agree with.

"We can't just look at the short-term," she said.

Another area she refuses to look at in the short run is education, specifically, the dropout rate, which is often cited as being around 30 to 40 percent.

Ms. Taft, however, explained that once transfers and other such students are taken out of the equation, the number is down to something like 5.2 percent.

"That's still too many" the state Board of Education member said, adding that the only way such problems will be solved, though, is by coming together, finding new solutions and by relying on research-based programs.

She's also not afraid to ask her constituents for help, because ultimately, they are the ones affected, and when people are talking to her about their fears with the economy, it's often education that they turn to as one solution.

"I think that is what is going to make people hopeful about the future," Ms. Taft said. "We just need to focus on working more diligently on improving schools, because people do see that as hope."

But she won't be able to do that by herself as a freshman state senator.

Fortunately she thinks she has a leg up because of her experience on the state school board.

"I know the people very well and have the respect of many members of the Senate," Ms. Taft said.

The only difference now is that the Greenville resident believes her voice will be more effective coming from inside the legislature.

"I think this will allow me to do even more for the region," she said. "It'll be a challenge (covering the whole district) but there are lots of ways to communicate with people.

"You know, we rarely saw John Kerr over in Pitt County, but we always knew that he was doing for us in Raleigh.

"We all know this is the best place to live, and we are very important to the economy of the state. We deserve the services and the attention that the piedmont and now the west are getting."

I think we've had some good representation, but you have to keep the momentum going."