10/23/07 — Fred Smith makes stop in Wayne

View Archive

Fred Smith makes stop in Wayne

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 23, 2007 1:53 PM

Potential Republican gubernatorial nominee Fred Smith says he has a plan to help make health care more accessible and a vision to grow the economy, but that so far in his campaign, changing the culture in Raleigh has become the No. 1 issue.

"We thought people would say immigration was the No. 1 issue, or taxes, or we thought they'd say it was education. But we were wrong. The No. 1 thing we hear back is honest government," he said. "They are really disillusioned with corruption and the revolving door of people going to jail in Raleigh. They want change."

And, citing his experience as a businessman and state senator for Wayne and Johnston counties, he believes he's the right man for the job.

"Whoever is the guy leading the businesses, he sets the culture," Smith said. "I know in my company, if my employees see me being lazy -- if I say one thing and do another, they're going to say one thing and do another.

"The people at the top have to set the culture of change, and the first thing I'm going to do as governor is find the right people and set a culture of thrift and a culture of work."

But changing the way people perceive the state government wasn't Smith's only campaign platform as visited Goldsboro Monday on the 40th stop of his 100-county barbecue tour.

Looking at his experience running a company that offers a health care plan with high deductibles and health savings accounts, to its hundreds of employees, he believes those same principles can be applied to the rest of the state.

"I don't think universal health care by the government is the answer," Smith said. "But I do think we need to be diligent about providing accessible and affordable health care. The government can make the program, but it's up to the businesses to take it."

To make any program successful, though, he continued, medical liability laws must be reformed, information technology in the medical field must be improved, and people must become active in their own health care -- living a healthy lifestyle, shopping for the best deals and fully understanding their medical costs.

"We need to have the free market to solve this. When the American consumer can shop and have all the facts, quality goes up and costs go down," he said.

And, he continued, improving North Carolina's health care system also can serve as a step toward more economic development, with the other pieces of that puzzle being better roads, better schools, better worker training and lower tax rates.

"That's what I call gardening instead of hunting," Smith said. "All of those issues affect our ability to compete in the global economy. We need to create an environment in which we can grow businesses."

However, he doesn't think that tax-based incentive grants should be ruled out completely -- just used more wisely.

"That's where I think you have to negotiate," he said. "We are going to get a few big companies to come here. We don't have to buy them."

But perhaps Smith's biggest goal is the reining in of state spending. He pointed to the reports of state revenues so far this year coming in at $75 million more than projected as proof the budget is out of control.

He explained that he would like to hold that growth down to about 5 percent -- not the 9.7 percent seen this year.

Had they done that, he continued, the state could have taken Medicaid off the backs of the counties without withholding a portion of their sales tax allocations -- money that local governments could have used for school construction needs, while the state worked to further improve teacher salary schedules.

Additionally, if state spending was better controlled, he said, then they could stop the transfer of $172 million from the Highway Trust Fund every year, and a $2 billion transportation bond could be floated to pay for road repairs.

"Clearly there is a role for government, and if we can increase spending by 5 percent each year, I think we can take care of our people," Smith said. "But it is with families and small businesses that our money is best used, not with bureaucrats in Raleigh."

And it's that message of empowerment, he continued, that seems to be resonating with voters, despite challenges from former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, and lawyer and grassroots activist Bill Graham.

"We're applying to be a CEO and a leader, and we need someone with experience," Smith said. "I have experience. I have a lifetime of experience. Being governor is not an entry level position into public service."

If nominated, though, he knows that he is still facing an uphill climb with no Republican elected governor since 1988, and both Democrat challengers, state Lieutenant Governor Beverley Perdue and state Treasurer Richard Moore, well ahead in terms of fundraising.

"They have a huge advantage, so what we've got to do and what I've got to do, is have the best plan of empowering people," Smith said. "I think the people of this state are ready for change."