Contenders discuss issues at GOP forum

by Miriah Hamrick
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Republican candidates running for New Hanover County seats gathered at the Northeast Regional Library on March 6 for a forum sponsored by The Lower Cape Fear Republican Women’s Club.

Candidates running for the New Hanover County Board of Education were the first to speak. 

Janice Cavenaugh, Don Hayes, and Ed Higgins are current board members facing reelection against candidates Bruce Shell and Jim Brumit. The top three contenders in the primary election will face three Democratic candidates in November for four open seats.

Each candidate was asked to address school safety, the common core curriculum and what they consider the biggest issue facing county schools. 

Hayes was unable to attend the forum, but Cavenaugh and Higgins spoke about changes implemented following a 2013 security audit, including the decision to station School Resource Officers (SROs) in every school. The audit was authorized by the board in December 2012 following the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. 

Brumit suggested a problem with the audit, claiming that school violence is a result of mental illness. 

“We can put SRO officers in every school but it’s not going to stop. We have to train teachers and counselors to recognize issues,” Brumit said.

All candidates cited overcrowding as a big issue, especially with respect to school maintenance and the construction of new schools. 

“There is a demand for space, not only new spaces but renovation of existing spaces. For that reason, I’m a supporter of the bond referendum set for November,” Higgins said. 

The bond, which would provide around $250 million for school renovations, has been suggested as a referendum for the ballot in November. 

Jason Bond and Marc Benson, both candidates for sheriff, discussed school safety, gang violence and storm and emergency patrol. 

“We need to aggressively go after gang members. We cannot offer plea bargains. We have to put these people away,” Benson said. 

Bond also called for strong leadership on the streets.

“We have to have a strong presence and be proactive with our law enforcement in this county,” Bond said. 

Nine of 10 Republican candidates running for two open seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners answered questions about the role of government, industrial permitting and zoning, film incentives and due payment for the $164 million bond referendum passed in 2008 for Cape Fear Community College facilities.

All candidates argued the need to keep government small and focus on what candidate John Dismukes called “governing by priority first.” Many candidates supported lower corporate tax rates and maintaining a predictable regulatory landscape to widen the county’s tax base.  

The candidates fragmented in their opinions on film incentives. Campbell Dodd, Charles Kuebler, Ricky Meeks, Frank Roberts and Chuck Kays supported film incentives. 

“I absolutely think that incentives are a good thing that bring new industries to our county,” Dodd said. 

Dismukes, Hank Thomas, Dr. Derrick Hickey and Skip Watkins were hesitant. Thomas and Watkins claimed a need for case-by-case consideration. Dismukes and Hickey said they support the film industry but find problems with incentives generally. 

Candidates also answered a question from the audience about the bond referendum suggested by the current school board. 

Dismukes was the only candidate to stake a position against the referendum due to financial restraints.

Other candidates supported the referendum but questioned the county’s ability to pay for it. Most candidates were confident it could be done without raising taxes, either through line-by-line cuts to the county budget or by lowering the bond amount. 

Dave Conklin, also a commissioner candidate, was unable to attend.

Another forum scheduled for April 15 will feature Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives 7th Congressional District and N.C. Senate District 9. 

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