10/28/10 — Bell defends seat against challenger Poirier

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Bell defends seat against challenger Poirier

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 28, 2010 1:46 PM

The contest for the state House District 21 seat has been a fairly low-key race pitting five-time incumbent Democrat Larry Bell of Clinton against Republican newcomer Deann Poirier of Mount Olive.

Bell is a retired educator, having served as superintendent of the Sampson County Public Schools. He also is a former Sampson County commissioner.

Mrs. Poirier is a home-schooling mother.

District 21 covers Sampson County and snakes through the center of Wayne County, including portions of Mount Olive, Dudley and Goldsboro.

News-Argus: North Carolina's budget is deep in the red. What steps would you advocate to get the state back in the black? Would you support raising taxes? Do you support eliminating the state income tax?

Bell: "I don't think that we can make enough cuts to get it (budget) back into the black without the economy recovering from where it is today. You have to at look all of those things and determine whether you have to cut something or whether you have to raise revenues, whatever. By law, we have to have a balanced budget.

"Raising taxes would probably be the least likely thing that I think any of us would want to do. Some people signed an agreement they will not tax. I think that is a political ploy. I don't think any of them (legislators) want to tax anybody, but when you look at the budget a quarter cent on a item here or there that is going to keep children in school or teachers working. I would not hesitate to do whatever it takes to make sure we keep on doing what we are doing."

Mrs. Poirier: "No. I think we have proven that that (raising taxes) actually backfires because if you are going to raise taxes and people are unsure then they are going to hold back from spending into the economy. Businesses are not going to hire. People might not go and by that 'X' item which further hurts the business because they are not selling 'X' item.

"I believe that the prudent thing would be to look at all programs. Do I have a priority? No. I would have to be in there and really be researching it as the process goes on, but I would be looking at all of our programs equally across the board. Again, because if we can keep our taxes low, then we are more desirable to business and we will encourage people to spend and not to say, 'Oh, I had better hold back.'"

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

Bell: "We already have two-systems cities and counties with more revenue than others. I think that if you leave it all up to the local you end up having a worse situation, some of your local areas can just not afford to pick up the slack. I think funds should be allocated to the places where they are needed rather than all the time giving it out to everybody. The state, by law, has an obligation to educate children."

For example, low-performing schools or ones with low and reduced lunch population might need more help and locals boards are in a better position than the state, he said.

However, the state needs to have oversight where funding is involved, he said. The state should deal in generalities of equal education, but local boards of education should have authority to do certain things themselves because every community is different, Bell said.

Mrs. Poirier: "Who can best serve the population? It is the folks living in the community. That is always why I support for lifting the cap on the present charter school number because the community may have an answer. I understand there needs to be supervision. We need to lift that ban and also free the teachers and the school principals and administrative to have more control over their funding.

"Again, who knows that population better, the state or the communities which they are serving? If the state is involved it is unpaid mandates. If you are mandating something happen in Wayne County and you are not going to fund it then you are crippling Wayne County to do it themselves. But if you are giving them a little bit more control over their community, their schools then they are going to understand where to spend the money they need to spend where there is no outside pressure saying, 'you will spend 'x' amount in this and the areas not have that 'x' amount.'"

News-Argus: Do you support the Cherry Hospital project?

Bell: "As far as Cherry Hospital, I definitely think that we need to do something to improve the situation there. I have complaints from workers there about security and those types of things."

Bell said he supports the current expansion project.

Mrs. Poirier: "I would want to do some more investigation. I would not want to comment on something that I am not as familiar with. I know they have had some issues. They have had some problems. Throwing money at any program, if it is education, mental health, is not necessarily the answer.

"That is when you have to have the leadership to go in and just a line by line accountability to look at these issues. We have thrown counties millions and millions of dollars on education. Are we better off for the money we have spent? There is some argument to be said maybe not."

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

Bell: "What I think makes me different is my background. I have been poor and grew up on a farm so I know what it is like to work, to have to supplement your income by working on Saturdays, having gardens to help with groceries. I have walked to school so I know if we have to cut back on school buses going somewhere it is not going to kill anybody having to walk a few blocks to catch a school bus or walk to school."

He said his time as a county commissioner has given him awareness of what the local board face in terms of unfunded state mandates. Bell said the same is true for his service as school superintendent and on a community college board.

"I feel like I am well equipped serve," he said. "I am not looking for popularity trying to get some many bills passed. I am not out there looking for glory but that I them to see that we do the best for the people back home."

Mrs. Poirier: "Because I am a total outsider and not part of ... I am a home-schooling parent. I am not a politician. We will be redistricting this next term and I have no qualms with actually getting rid of my district if that's the best for the people. I am not in this for a career. I have two careers already -- I am a home-school teacher. I am a mom. We are part of a lot of different organizations.

"I have no interest in the game, if you will, other than the interest of our community and the future of our children. Those are the things driving me, not an outside force."

News-Argus: Do you support incentive programs to attract industries to the state?

Bell: "I think we have benefited from some of them. The part that I like about them is that anything we give we require them to repay the money over a certain period of time of making sure they have so many jobs or they pay the money back. If we just lost the money that would be another thing."

Mrs. Poirier: "Incentives done correctly, again, you just can't throw money at something. You can't throw incentives and expect 'X.' I think there is a place for incentives.

"That is true when the state has to compete with Virginia and South Carolina. Look at what North Carolina can offer that the other two states can do. But you just can't say we are going to do whatever it takes if it turns out the only way we can do that is to raise taxes. Somebody is going to have to end up paying."

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?

Bell: "I think the disaster that we had might have been a blessing in disguise because I think more attention was paid to it. At least we know how to better handle it than we did before.

"Stipulations, more monitoring and control then I think it might be OK, but I think it ought to be something the state should decide. I don't have enough information to make a good educated decision right now, but from where I am right now I would say yes, in light of the economy and making sure we have the most safeguards in place.

Mrs. Poirier: "I think done responsibly that may very well be an option for North Carolina. I would want to know the findings of what happened in the Gulf. There is talk because they were pushed so far out that it became more and more dangerous. If the finding finds a reason that is fixable, then definitely I think it should be an option that we look at.

"That may be revenue that we could bring into the state to either help reduce, I don't know that it would eliminate, but at least reduce some of the tax burden for businesses to make us more attractive. We also don't want to do it haphazardly and endanger our tourism which is what we saw happen in the Gulf."

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

Bell: "I serve on the Ethics Committee now and I think that we have come a long way helping to bringing attention to those things. Sometimes I think it has gone too far in making things that are really innocent -- somebody gives you a pen or a pencil or a mug, they can't do that anymore.

"I think it brought a lot of attention to what can go on, like dealing with a lobbyist. The thing in the past there has been too much communications and direct dealing between lawmakers and lobbyist and it is detrimental to the process."

Bell said he views lobbyists strictly as being someone who may be able to provide some information on an issue.

"When you talk about farm stuff you want to talk to people who know about farming," he said. "I think some of the things that have happened in the past could not happen again. A crook is going to be a crook wherever he is and you just can't stop all of it.

"I think local people have more control than the state legislature does. If you are a crook when you go in then they shouldn't elect you in the first place because you are not going to change. They (voters) need to be more concerned about who they send to Raleigh and Washington than they are. You need to ask people questions."

Mrs. Poirier: "I think what one of the problems is when you have a majority in power for an extended period of time I think that can lead itself to abuse. We are some may feel entitled to their seat.

"Some people would say term limits are a good idea -- an idea that I think has its pros and cons. It is something to investigate. We were to go in serve our community and then go back to our communities and be a citizen of the community. There are pluses and minuses when you are there for some period you can be helpful for your community, but if you are there too long and you have a sense of entitlement that my seat nobody else is going to take it away and whatever I have to keep that seat. Somehow in my mind I can justify that. That is time when you need to say that it is time to go home.

"Not everything can be made into law and voters need to look at the integrity of the people they are voting for. You can't mandate people to always do the right thing. There has to be some integrity involved in the process. The voters are looking for that integrity."

She said she does not think the Democratic Party has done a good job of policing itself and that Republicans were speaking out, but were not being heard.