03/16/12 — Dalton makes Goldsboro stop

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Dalton makes Goldsboro stop

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 16, 2012 1:46 PM

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Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, left, toured Wayne Community College on Thursday during a campaign stop. Dalton is running for governor. Above, he talks with Craig Foucht, chairman of the college's transportation systems technology department.

Two months ago, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton was at a re-election campaign fundraising event, thinking he'd be almost through with a fairly easy and relaxing primary season by now. But instead, he said Thursday after touring Wayne Community College and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, an opportunity arose, and now he's battling five other candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

He said that when he went to bed the night after that fundraising event, he had no idea that Gov. Beverly Perdue was going to announce that she would not seek a second term in office. In fact, he explained, it was not until about 8 a.m. the next day that his campaign staff called to tell him that there was a rumor she was going to make such an announcement, and not until about 10:45 a.m. that he knew for sure when she called him.

"That woke me up more than my coffee did," he said.

But by that afternoon, he continued, he had decided he would seek the higher office.

"Being lieutenant governor, you always think there's going to be a day when you will seek the higher office," Dalton said. "We just didn't think it would be that day. It's taken some adjustment, but you take opportunities as they're presented."

Now, he's in race with former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, state Rep. Bill Faison, Gary Dunn, Gardenia Henley and Bruce Blackmon -- all of whom have been described by Republicans as regional candidates.

"I don't worry about polls at this point," Dalton said. "I think once people start tuning into the election and looking at the issues, we're going to be in very good shape."

Etheridge's biggest weakness, he believes, is his stance on past free trade issues and votes made while a member of Congress -- votes that Dalton said contributed directly to the loss of thousands of jobs in the state.

"That was not good for our manufacturing economy. That will be difficult for him to explain," he said.

By contrast, Dalton said, he's spent his career working in state politics, focusing on issues like education and economic development.

In terms of education, he explained, his focus has been on finding innovative approaches, beginning with his work on the legislation that created the early college model. He also highlighted his more recent work on the JOBS Commission -- an effort to more directly connect high schools with local economic needs and job training opportunities.

In terms of economic development, he touted his efforts as lieutenant governor to work with the N.C. Rural Center to make loans easier for small businesses to receive during the recession, as well as his work on the state's logistics task force, which has focused on the state's various regional transportation and other needs, including the state's ports, and specifically their use in exporting the North Carolina's agricultural products and in transporting military equipment. In fact, he added, the task force is expected to issue the results of the state's first comprehensive maritime study in the near future with a list of recommendations for how to best leverage the ports.

But once the primary is over, Dalton or whoever the nominee is must then face the Republican front-runner, Pat McCrory, who currently has a double-digit lead over any of the potential Democratic candidates -- a fact that Dalton attributed at least in part to the lateness of Perdue's decision.

"Right now he does have an advantage. He's been campaigning for governor for the last seven years. He's been campaigning for governor and traveling the state for the last three years, while for the last three years I've been traveling the state as lieutenant governor, working on issues and trying to help people. It was very important to me to tour the state, to listen to the people, to know the people and to know the area," Dalton said. "It's about 10 to 11 point difference right now, but it's a long time from May until November. After the nominating process that should close to single digits."

He said he does not believe that the Republican takeover of the General Assembly in 2010 was a repudiation of the governor's and the Democratic Party's philosophy, but rather was just a symptom of voters' continued frustrations with the economy. And, he continued, he thinks the Republican decisions to make such drastic budget cuts in 2011 will actually hurt them in the coming election -- decisions that he say McCrory has endorsed. His proposal, he said, would have kept a three-fourths of a cent sales tax on the books to help cushion the cut being made to education.

"I think that was a more responsible approach, but I think that ideology got in the way," Dalton said. "I don't think people think of that as investing in our future, and I don't think people will embrace Pat McCrory."

He acknowledged, though, that even if voters don't embrace McCrory, because of redistricting, he probably would be working with a Republican legislature if elected.

"I spent 12 years in the General Assembly. I know them and we have a lot of respect for each other, even if we don't always agree," Dalton said. "I would tell them to do what they need to do and then let's sit down at the table and talk. Let's put ideology aside on both sides and let's identify the problem. If agree on the problems then we can talk about how to solve them."