Wake County Commissioner candidates met for a public debate Monday night, kicking off the local election season. Districts 1, 2, 3 and 7 are up for grabs this fall.
Economic development, transportation, and education were the hot topics last night at WakeUp Wake County and the League of Women Voter’s forum, attended by more than 130 people, for county commissioner candidates at Temple Beth Or on Creedmoor road in Raleigh.
Both sponsoring organizations are non-partisan civic action groups. However, Great Schools in Wake, an affiliate of WakeUp Wake County, is a major organizer of diversity supporters in the board of education debate and the forum’s moderator was forced to stifle applause on several occasions when Democratic challengers Don Mial (District 1) and Steve Rao (District 3) voiced opposition to the new school board majority.
Image courtesy Wake County.
Only two of this year’s eight county commissioner candidates did not attend Monday night’s forum: Republican incumbent Paul Coble of District 7 and challenger Phil Matthews of District 2.
One potentially hot issue coming up next year is a proposal for a half-cent sales tax to fund light rail and other public transportation projects in the Triangle. Voters in Wake, Durham and Orange counties will all have to approve referendums to make the Triangle Transit Authority’s vision a reality.
Incumbents Joe Bryan (District 1) and Tony Gurley (District 3) showed caution when addressing the proposed sales-tax increase. Both said that they would not support a voter referendum until the Triangle Transit Authority produces, as Commissioner Joe Bryan said, “A fully vetted plan.”
Democratic candidates were more direct in saying they would support a half-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot in 2011. Democratic challenger and former county commissioner Jack Nichols (District 7) said, “We must lobby the taxpayers to support the sales tax increase because light rail is important to the economic health of our county.”
On the topic of economic development, candidates were vague in communicating ways such development might be achieved in the current economic climate, but adamant in their support of it.
When Democratic incumbent Lindy Brown (District 3) was asked by an audience member if she had ever “considered putting the brakes on growth in Wake County?” she began by answering, as every politician is reluctant to, with one word. “No.” Brown continued, “I have heard about closing the gates, but that would be doing our citizens a disservice. I think it’s a bad idea because county revenues have decreased.”
District 7 opponents Tony Gurley and Steve Rao were asked if they would support comprehensive health care coverage which would fund abortions. Commissioner Gurley responded, “Absolutely not.” But added that he supports the President’s plan which provides for abortion in cases of “rape, incest, or if the health of the mother is in question.”
Rao, who is literally running through each municipality of Wake County as part of his campaign, said that as a “conservative Democrat, who is pro-choice” he would support such coverage.
Last night’s forum began by sizing up each of the county commissioner candidates’ stance on the board of education’s current direction. Despite the candidates’ seeming agreement that local government should be a non-partisan enterprise, diversity support was split down the lines of party affiliation.
Incumbent Republicans Bryan and Gurley were firm in supporting the Wake County Board of Education. Nonetheless, when Gurley was asked, “What evidence have you been shown to support the notion that high poverty schools can perform well?” He simply answered, “None.”
Democratic candidates vocalized their concern about the new board majority’s direction more bluntly. Rao said, “We will not build an innovation economy with what we are doing on the school board.” And, in regards to Wake county schools losing their accreditation, Mr. Mial said, “In the military that’s what we refer to as a no-go.”