10/28/08 — Braxton, LaRoque duel for District 10

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Braxton, LaRoque duel for District 10

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on October 28, 2008 1:46 PM

Southeastern Wayne County voters might be a minority voice in the race for the District 10 seat in the state House, but they could play a decisive role in determining whether Democrat Van Braxton or Republican Stephen LaRoque will represent them in Raleigh for the next two years.

LaRoque, who has served as the district's representative twice in the past six years, is trying to unseat Braxton, who is finishing his first term.

The district includes four precincts in Wayne, all of Greene County and most of rural Lenoir County. The four Wayne precincts are Spring Creek, New Hope Friends Church, Dudley Fire Station and Indian Springs Fire Station.

Two years ago, Braxton defeated Wayne County resident Willie Ray Starling, who earlier knocked LaRoque out of the race in a close primary. Starling won three of Wayne's four precincts and took five in Lenoir, but Braxton carried the majority in Lenoir and dominated Greene, winning all the precincts there.

The district is largely rural, with a growing suburban population.

Both Braxton and LaRoque are Lenoir County businessmen who say their backgrounds make them the best man for the job.

Both candidates say boosting economic opportunity and job creation is the most important aspect of their role in Raleigh. And both would be willing to work toward elimination of the state income tax as a way to do that.

"I think we need to look at doing away with personal income tax," Braxton said. "I think our state needs to operate on more of a fee-based system." He said many state services could be paid for that way, reducing the income tax burden.

"I'd like to see us move to a consumer-based tax that doesn't penalize income," LaRoque said, pointing to its positive effect on business recruitment. He said state government is far too deep in debt and that "we should not be borrowing all this money we're borrowing."

LaRoque touts his ability to get things done and points to the higher effectiveness rating he received during his two terms as proof. He said he is willing to cross the aisle to accomplish goals and that other legislators appreciate his dedication.

"Finding issues you can work together on, that's how you become effective," he said. "You have to earn the respect of your fellow members."

Braxton said he has worked diligently the past two years and noted the location of Spirit AeroSystems in Kinston -- with its estimated 1,000 high-paying jobs -- as an example of the economic development he has helped foster. He said he wants to continue his efforts to bring jobs to the East. The eastern part of the state is often shortchanged when it comes to road money or school money, Braxton said.

"North Carolina is a state of haves and have nots," Braxton said. "My goal is to help close that gap."

On issues that directly affect the district, both candidates said they believe the state's existing annexation laws need revamping, that a firm hand is needed to rebuild the public's trust in its mental health system and that immigration controls have to be shored up.

They also said obtaining enough state funding for education and transportation is essential to eastern North Carolina's future.

Lawmakers in Raleigh likely will take a look at the state's rules on annexation next year. A recent battle over Goldsboro's annexation of land north of the city helped fuel the effort to rescind some of the municipalities' power.

"To me, it's obscene for any local government to force you to pay taxes without your having a say-so," LaRoque said, referring to a city or town's ability to annex an area involuntarily. "It's taxation without representation."

Braxton said his 11 years of experience on the Kinston City Council gave him one perspective on annexation, but that as a representative of thousands of people who live in rural or suburban areas, he has come to understand other opinions on the issue.

"I understand the city side of having a methodical way to grow. However, I'm seeing more of the other side of forced annexation," he said. "We should do away with involuntary annexation as it is today, but we have to level the playing field. Cities have to have a fair opportunity to have voluntary annexation."

Braxton said making annexation financially appealing to property owners would lead to orderly, reasonable growth for municipalities.

"We need to change the tax structure and let the county handle some of the services the cities now provide," he said. "Then neighborhoods could make a conscientious choice about whether to be annexed or not."

The state failed in its effort to change the way mental health services are provided, Braxton and LaRoque said, and it now must work to rebuild the system.

"Nothing in mental health is working like it should right now," Braxton said. He is a member of the Mental Health Legislative Oversight Committee.

"It is disconcerting to me," he said, when asked about the difficulties the state has run into by privatizing care and the loss of federal funding for Cherry Hospital. "They were in a rush to de-institutionalize people. That, in itself, I'm not against, but the private providers did not all have the expertise that was needed. The state institutions ... are not living up to their mission."

He said lawmakers have taken steps to weed out the private providers who are inept.

LaRoque said the state wasted $400 million on its mental health reform plan and that now state leaders need to find people who know how successful mental health systems work and hire them.

"We didn't have the people that were best qualified to make the changes that were needed," LaRoque said. "We've got to find the best person in that field to come in and tell us what we need to do."

Illegal immigration is another concern to voters in the district.

LaRoque said worker laws need to be changed to better accommodate the needs of employers and workers. Immigrants could be issued work visas and, if after a time, they prove themselves good citizens, then they should have the right to seek legal citizenship, he said.

Braxton also said an expanded work visa program, built on employer needs, is needed. The workers must pay taxes and workers compensation, he added. The federal government should provide agents to ensure employers aren't using illegal immigrants, Braxton said, and those caught should be assessed "heavy, heavy" fines.

LaRoque said the state's educational system is failing and that more emphasis should be placed on helping students identify skills early so they can be prepared to enter the work force.

Braxton praised the job community colleges are doing to ready people for employment and pointed again to Spirit AeroSystems as an example of how separate units of state government can work together. Students are being trained to be ready to work for the company "the day they open," he said.

North Carolinians need to be looking toward the future, Braxton said. The state's population is expected to grow by 4 million people in the next 20 years, he said, and the state's leaders have to prepare for that growth.

"My job is to fight to make sure that the eastern part of the state gets its share of jobs and the economic growth that go along with that," Braxton said.

LaRoque said the district needs stronger leadership and that he has shown he will work tirelessly "to get things done."

LaRoque said he would push for more help for law enforcement -- "more district attorneys, more judges, more courtrooms," and that a regional jail could save the counties in the 10th District money.

Braxton said he supports the commuter rail proposed between Goldsboro and the Piedmont as one way to deal with the expected growth in the state's population.