10/20/10 — Braxton, LaRoque draw out clear differences

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Braxton, LaRoque draw out clear differences

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on October 20, 2010 1:46 PM

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Van Braxton

Stephen LaRoque

Voters in the southeastern quadrant of Wayne County will help decide whether Democrat Van Braxton will return to the state House District 10 seat for a third term, or if Republican challenger Stephen LaRoque will take back the seat he held for two terms prior to Braxton.

The match has seen more mud-slinging than a demolition derby at the county fair, reaching the point where LaRoque is suing Braxton for defamation of character after one flyer accused LaRoque of causing 35 people to lose their jobs.

District 10 is mostly made up of Lenoir County precincts. But it also contains every precinct in Greene County, and four in Wayne -- Indian Springs, Dudley, New Hope Friends Church and Spring Creek.

Braxton, a former Kinston City Council member, nearly swept Greene two years ago to push him over the top after LaRoque carried most of Lenoir and the two split Wayne, with Braxton winning in Indian Springs and Dudley and LaRoque taking New Hope Friends Church and Spring Creek.

This is how the two candidates responded to questions in interviews with The News-Argus.

News-Argus: North Carolina's budget is deep in the red. What steps would you advocate to get the state back in the black?

Braxton: Last year we took, I think, a good, balanced approach (to cutting the deficit.) We cut $2.4 billion in spending, raised the sales tax a half-cent, used federal stimulus money, cut about 5,000 positions, cut 50 programs and reduced another 500. I think we have to go back and look at everything again. Are there more places we can cut without hurting education or the public safety. I think most departments could take another 2 to 4 percent cut. If that's not enough, we'll have to take a look at extending the sales tax (enacted in 2009.) Nobody wants to see classrooms with 50 students in them or prisoners let out of prison before their sentences are up. I saw last year how a 1 percent sales tax saved 10,000 teachers' jobs. So if it comes to the point where it's 10,000 teachers or a 1 sales tax .... We need to look at a tax modernization plan. Our tax system was put into place in the 1920s and '30s. Our economy has changed. Our whole system has changed. But we still have a 1930s tax system.

LaRoque: We've got to find the inefficiencies in government and eliminate them. We really, truly, need a forensic audit, a very detailed look at every position and see that is necessary and what is not. As far as cuts, everything should be on the table. There should be no sacred cows. I think we can find inefficiencies in every area. Look at (UNC President) Tom Ross. He makes $500,000 a year. It's obscene. We have a local school superintendent (in Lenoir County) who makes more than the governor. The rate of growth of state government has far outpaced and inflation index you want to use. We're the only state in the Southeast to raise taxes last year. We need to move to a less punitive tax system, a consumer-based tax. We need to put more money back into taxpayers' hands.

News-Argus: Voters are tired of politicians. How are you different?

Braxton: I have tried to be a public servant that people with issues or problems can come to and know I will do the best I can to help them. I feel like I have worked hard to be the kind of legislator my constituents can look to for help.

LaRoque: I think state government has gone way beyond its original interest and has gotten into areas in shouldn't have. When we talk about spending, I try to think as if it's my money.

News-Argus: What is the North Carolina General Assembly's role in education?

Braxton: The state has an obligation to see that every child as the same right to an education as every other child. North Carolina has the premiere university system in the country, we have the premier community college system in the country, but we are lagging being in K-12. We need innovative ideas, like the STEM programs or early college high school. The state needs to be innovative in developing programs that stimulate and motivate students to learn. One young man told us he would not have made it without early college. He came up in a poor neighborhood but eventually graduated from N.C. State with honors and now he's an investment banker. He told us, "I owe it all to early college.'"

LaRoque: The legislature's role is fiscal oversight and holding folks accountable, making sure the taxpayer gets the best bang for the buck. I think we have to take a new look at how we're educating students. Traditional high school is not for everybody. When 30 percent of our students aren't graduating, our system is broken.

News-Argus: What is the legislature's role in job creation?

Braxton: We need to create an environment that is business friendly. Try to hold down business taxes and we need to continue our role in providing business incentives. I've heard arguments against incentives, nobody wants to be in it, but they are a necessary evil. The Republicans say all you have to do is have cut taxes and have good schools and they will come. Well, that ain't going to happen. If we don't offer them a break they are going to go somewhere else. At some point you have to draw the line and say, 'This is all we'll do.' But if you don't come up with incentives, you're not going to be in the game.

LaRoque: No politician creates a job. Businesses create jobs. We need to lower taxes to make the state more friendly to businesses. We also need to look at fees. For example, privilege licenses. No one should be charged a fee unless they receive some good or service for it. A business gets no benefit from a privilege license. I hate incentives. It's unfair to native businesses in North Carolina that part of their tax money may be used to bring in competition against them. If you reduce taxes, fees and regulations, and have a good education system and infrastructure, that will attract business. We're the only state in the Southeast that raised taxes last year.

News-Argus: How do you feel about drilling for natural gas or oil off the coast of North Carolina, especially in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster?

Braxton: It's of questionable benefit right now, but they drill far out into the ocean. Why shouldn't North Carolina do its fair share (in helping the nation's energy needs)? With some strong safeguards in place, I'd be open to drilling.

LaRoque: I am a strong advocate for drilling. We may have one of the biggest natural gas reserves in the world off our coast. Natural gas is odorless, colorless. If we could drill and have a pipeline running through North Carolina, it not only would help the state but it would help our nation with its energy needs.

News-Argus: The behavior of some North Carolina politicians has been disapointing in recent years. What must be done to return ethics to our state government?

Braxton: It's not a question of Democrat or Republican, it's about the character of the person you elect. We've had some Democrats resign or get into trouble, we've had some Republican resign. The voter has to look at the character and the values of who they vote for.

LaRoque: If we get a Republican majority, you will see a different tone coming out of Raleigh. We'll be more servants to the people than masters. You've had 112 years of the Democrats and that has made them arrogant.