Candidates clash over limited voting

Published 11:11 pm Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Beaufort County Commissioner Jerry Langley makes his opening statement at Tuesday night’s candidate forum as other candidates for the board of commissioners listen. Held at Beaufort County Community College, candidates for the state legislation and the board of education also participated in the event. (WDN Photo/Mona Moore)

Tuesday’s Beaufort County Candidate Forum nearly turned into a bout between two commissioner candidates as Gary Brinn and Commissioner Hood Richardson took the opportunity to debate voter limits and the qualifications of their opponents.
The clash started with opening statements when Brinn conceded his remaining time to Richardson, challenging him to explain voter limits.
When that didn’t work, Brinn said he would hear Richardson speak on the voter limits issue before the night was over. He got his chance when a member of the audience asked how candidates would fix the current election system to better serve their constituents.
Richardson said the system could not be changed because it was federally mandated. He also said he would prefer candidates run at large with the top seven earning a seat.
Brinn said his first order of business, if elected, would be to file a lawsuit against voter limits in order to abolish the system.
Other candidates weighed in on the subject. Most of them agreed the system should be changed.
Wayne Sawyer recommended forming districts similar to the county’s school board districts because many areas outside Washington have been underrepresented. He said the southern part of the county was treated like “the red-headed stepchild.”
Robert Belcher agreed that limited voting needed to be challenged, adding that districts “can be done. The rest of what they’re telling you is just malarkey.”
Richardson advised voters to take a good look at candidates because they’ve made mistakes. He said to especially look at Brinn. “Why is he attacking me? You need to stop and look at how bright this guy is about politics,” Richardson said.
Senator Stan White missed the forum having already committed to attending a forum in Currituck County. He sent a statement that was shared with the audience.
“North Carolina continues to experience difficult economic challenges and a tight job market,” the statement said. “That is why spurring economic growth, protecting our public education system and getting our people back to work remains my primary focus and top legislative priority.”
Representative Bill Cook attended the forum.
“This is kinda fun,” Cook said. “It’s particularly fun without my opponent here.”
Cook said he did not approve of offering incentives to lure big businesses to the area.
“What we need is businesses that are here and want to grow. We have good infrastructure, decent highways decent schools… those are the reasons people come here,” he said.
Mattie Lawson and Paul Tine, candidates for the House of Representatives responded to questions about ferry tolls, early education and representing Beaufort County, though neither lives in the area.
Tine said he was “absolutely, unequivocally opposed” to ferry tolls. Lawson said the issue had been blown out of proportions.
“It’s interesting how some stories can grow legs,” she said.
She suggested looking at the dollars and cents behind the issue.
Lawson said she would represent the county by staying connected with residents as much as possible.
Tine said, when it came to the composition of the General Assembly, Beaufort was one of 85 counties in the minority. In order to ensure the district was represented, he said he would have to form alliances and fight every day to ensure that Beaufort County gets its fair share.
“We better figure out what we have in common instead of what we don’t have in common,” he said.
Three school board candidates took part in the forum. Bill Sprenkle and Carolyn Walker of district 7 and Procter Kidwell of district 5 were the last to take the stage and answer questions.
Walker said it was a shame that so many of the candidates for commissioner left without hearing what school board candidates had to say. Only three of the candidates for commissioner remained in the audience.
“Politicians have left the room,” she said. “Now, what we have left are those who care for our children.”
Sprenkle said he wanted to focus on the basics of education: reading, writing and arithmetic. He also said it was not an educator’s job to act as parents.
Tidwell said he decided to run after seeing the sex education material used in the school system. After the forum, he explained his concern with a metaphor.
“If I teach your child, at a young age, how to play with fireworks, then your child may end up with no fingers,” he said. “Once you teach them, they are going to try it.”