RALEIGH — The Democratic gubernatorial candidates pledged if elected to veto any bill requiring photo identification to vote.
Wednesday evenings discussion was the third and final televised debate held on three consecutive nights leading up to the May 8 primary election. Early voting begins today across the state.
The candidates sharply criticized the Republican-backed voter ID bill, casting it as a politically inspired effort to depress Democratic turnout, rather than an effort to prevent fraud in the voting booth.
There is no significant problem with voter fraud in North Carolina, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton said during a one-hour debate sponsored by NBC-17 in Raleigh. It is intended to intimidate. ..This was put forward by the party that says they are for less government and less spending. This is more government and more spending.
Congressman Bob Etheridge said his 88-year old mother, a tenant farm wife, never had a drivers license.
She is not unique, Etheridge said. There are a lot of people across this state and across America like my mother. She was proud to cast to her vote. Do you mean that she cant cast her vote if she doesnt have one?
But after the debate Rob Lockwood, spokesman for the state Republican Party, noted a recent Elon University Poll that showed that 75 percent of North Carolinians agreed with a voter ID.
You need a drivers license to get into a movie theater, onto a plane, into a bar, but not a voting booth, Lockwood said. That doesnt make sense.
The candidates repeated many of the same themes as in the previous two one-hour debates, televised state-wide. Wednesdays debate was moderated by NBC-17 anchor-reporter Kim Genardo and co-sponsored by the N.C. League of Women Voters.
Dalton portrayed himself as the person most equipped to lead a modern North Carolina, tuned in to the latest efforts to blend innovations of education and industry.
Etheridge pitched himself as the leader in the group one with a proven track record of having made difficult decisions during a long career that included the legislature, superintendent of public instruction, and a seat in Congress.
Faison was the feisty fighter, most willing to attack Republican legislators. He most frequently emphasized the need to act on the states high unemployment problem.
The debate was more muted Wednesday than the previous night on UNC-TV as the candidates pulled back on some of the barbs and because the format which included many questions from citizens was not as conducive to give and take between candidates.
But once again, Etheridges vote on a 2003 trade agreement with Chile and Singapore that was backed by the Bush administration was a target of the other candidates.
Bob was a great Congressman, but he could have been a better congressman by not being the only Democrat in the North Carolina delegation to vote for that trade agreement costing us tons of manufacturing jobs, Dalton said. We were 35 percent manufacturing in North Carolina and now we about 15 percent.
Etheridge said that North Carolina has been a winner as a result of the trade agreement.
Our agriculture sector has benefitted greatly, Etheridge said. I really wish Mr. Dalton would look at the numbers and get it right.
But Faison said if the trade agreement had such a positive effect on agriculture, the economy east of Interstate 95 would be in much better shape than it is today.