CARY — The mantras of the local election season are emerging: education, jobs and compromise.
At a forum for N.C. General Assembly candidates in Cary last week, regional candidates put those topics front and center while discussing reform and their records.
The Cary Chamber of Commerce forum on Wednesday hosted candidates from the three competitive races that involve western Wake voters, including N.C. House of Representatives districts 36 and 41 and N.C. Senate district 17.
With the elections barely a month away, Carys first major forum set the tone for the western Wake County races.
Senate District 17
Former Cary councilman and current Wake County Commissioner Erv Portman, a Democrat, is racing Republican Tamara Barringer for control of a newly vacant senate seat that serves a huge swath of southwest Wake.
District 17, last served by Richard Stevens, includes most of Apex and Holly Springs, half of Fuquay-Varina and a chunk of southern and western Cary.
At Wednesdays forum, Portman argued that hes a balanced politician with lengthy experience in local government, and that he understands high-tech businesses because he owns a local manufacturing company. Barringer, a 53-year-old Cary estate attorney, called for a reworking of the states schools and a conservative approach to business.
We must restore a sense of respect that is lacking in government, Portman said, recalling his days on Cary council. He left the council for an appointment to the Board of Commissioners in 2011.
Barringer explained her economics: Weve overspent and overregulated for so many years ... we need to pay the piper, she said in response to a question about how the state should repay a massive unemployment benefit-related debt to the federal government. If we dont get our economic house in order and get out of the way of business ... were not going to be able to repay it.
On the same point, Portman suggested that the state take a bond so it may slowly pay off the $2.4 billion-plus debt.
Barringer is a long-time friend of former senator Richard Stevens, who recently resigned his senate post. She has served as an adjunct business law and ethics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Besides economic development, her campaign focuses on education reform. On her website, she calls for new student assessment tools and accountability measures.
Why arent we paying our teachers more? she asked. Why arent we getting more of that money into the classroom?
Similarly, Portman called for investment in education, and for new spending on transportation infrastructure. He has urged the county government to put a transit-related bond referendum and potential tax increase on the ballot.
The wants of the electorate, Portman concluded, lay somewhere between the two parties platforms.
We want the Democrats to leave our money alone and the Republicans to stay out of our bedroom, Portman said, quoting a young mother hed met on the campaign trail.
House District 41
Another one-time local councilman is on the campaign trail in N.C. House District 41, which covers western Cary and part of Apex.
Thats where Tom Murry, the incumbent and a former Morrisville councilman, is facing challenger Jim Messina.
Messina, a Democrat, was the most vocally critical candidate at the Cary forum. He accused Murry, a Republican, of cutting school funding. The challenger linked the incumbents term to Wake Countys recent school busing troubles, which he attributed to cuts that came out of the legislature where Murry has served for two years.
Messina, who is an executive for a Raleigh-based Web strategy firm, said that if he were elected he would fight for investments in educational programs such as Smart Start, a literacy program that saw substantial funding cuts under the Republican-led legislature in 2011.
He also said he would push for greater environmental protections of Jordan Lake, and he called for greater investment in community colleges.
Murry didnt fire back, instead stressing his elected record and his ability to help voters.
Murry recalled a schoolteacher he met who, he said, got killed with paperwork. After hearing her story, he said, he proposed and passed a bill to reduce teachers paperwork requirements. The bill, on its way toward implementation, also eliminated prepayment of teachers.
On education, Murry, a pharmacist, called for more effective leadership over new spending. I have very rarely had ... a parent say we just arent spending enough, he said.
Both called for reforms to the states approach to business. Messina said North Carolina businesses should have the first crack at government contracts, while Murry called for tax incentives to encourage venture capital investments.
House District 36
Incumbent N.C. Representative Nelson Dollar faces challenger Lisa Baker, a political novice; both live in Cary.
The two mirrored national politics at the Wednesday forum: Dollar, a Republican, focused on jobs and economic expansion, while Baker outlined a liberal platform.
People want a government that is rational, moderate and uses our hard-earned money to support our public schools, Baker said in an opening statement, soon after listing her opposition to fracking and support for expanded education funding and alternative energy sources.
She was a staunch supporter of womens rights, she said.
Dollars priorities are jobs, jobs and jobs, the incumbent said. We want pro-growth policies in the state of North Carolina.
The media consultant touted the state legislatures most recent term as a resounding success and said North Carolina is recovering thanks to tremendous conservative leadership, including measures on medical malpractice reform and tort reform.
Baker, a long-time manager for Tupperware Home Parties, said her relationships have prepared her to champion business.
I havent sponsored any bills ... but I can tell you Ive talked to small businesses, she said, calling for small-business incentives.
The two districts most central to Cary dont have competitive races. Democrat Duane Hall, a Raleigh attorney, is running unopposed in N.C. House District 11, which previously didnt exist in Wake County. The new district spans downtown Cary to a large chunk of western Raleigh.
Josh Stein, the incumbent Democratic state senator in District 16, has no competition either. District 16 includes much of Morrisville, some of western Raleigh, and much of central and northern Cary.
Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary