North Carolina’s two candidates for state treasurer engaged in a feisty debate Tuesday night over membership on corporate boards, campaign contributions and even House Bill 2.
Republican Dale Folwell and Democrat Dan Blue III sometimes grew testy during their hour-long debate in Statesville. Both are trying to succeed Democrat Janet Cowell, who’s not running for re-election.
The meeting was one of three “Hometown Debates” by the N.C. Institute of Political Leadership and aired on radio station WPTF.
In a crowded election year, it’s one of the state’s lowest profile contests. A survey this month by Public Policy Polling showed Blue with 38 percent to and Folwell with 37 percent, a virtual tie. The poll also showed one out of four voters undecided.
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The treasurer oversees the state’s $90 billion pension fund, which supports over 900,000 current and former teachers and other public employees, and administers the state health plan.
Folwell, from Winston-Salem, is a certified public accountant and former legislator and former assistant secretary of commerce. Blue is from Raleigh. He’s a bond attorney and former investment banker who once started his own health care business.
Among the subjects they debated:
▪ HB2. The two were asked about this week’s call by over 50 investment managers with more than $2.1 trillion under management for a full repeal of North Carolina’s HB2, the law that limits protections for LGBT people, and requires transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate in schools and government buildings.
“The fact is that one day … HB2 will no longer be an issue because it’s in the court system,” Folwell said. “I had nothing to do with HB2, and I’m unaware of any bathroom issues occurring at the state treasurer’s office.”
Blue called the law “problematic.” Several businesses have cited the law in canceling relocations or expansions in the state. The loss of sporting events, concerts and conventions also is expected to have a high cost.
“What you’re looking at is something that really has the potential to cause damage to North Carolina’s economy,” said Blue, adding that it could hurt the state’s AAA credit rating.
▪ Corporate boards. The candidates were asked about Cowell’s controversial decision to sit on corporate boards.
Folwell called that “absolutely wrong” and said, “I don’t need a law to tell me what’s right and what’s wrong.”
He criticized Blue for initially telling a reporter that any decision to join a board would be made on a “case-by-case basis.”
Blue replied that state treasurers have sat on boards when they thought it would benefit investors. He cited former N.C. Treasurer Richard Moore’s seat on the New York Stock Exchange.
But he said he would not serve on a corporate board “for pay or no pay.”
▪ The constitution. Asked about local school systems spending more than they can afford to upgrade their infrastructure, Blue said the treasurer needs more flexibility in helping school systems meet their needs. He also alluded to the General Assembly’s role in providing money.
Folwell said Blue “confused” the role of governments, which give local districts most responsibility for their construction needs.
“I appreciate you, Rep. Folwell, giving me a lecture on constitutional law,” Blue replied, saying lawmakers do have a role in school funding.
▪ Conflicts. Folwell, promising to reduce investment fees by $100 million, suggested Blue’s Wall Street fundraising would create conflicts for him to trim such fees.
Blue, citing integrity, said that would not be a conflict. He said Folwell took money from insurance companies and other groups during his eight years in the state House.
▪ Federal debt. Folwell touted his role in paying off a $2.5 billion federal debt as head of the Division of Employment Security.
Blue said the state paid the debt by cutting benefits to the unemployed, which Folwell said was the result of legislation signed by the governor.
“I don’t care whether the General Assembly told you to do it or the governor told you to do it,” Blue said. “But it was wrong.”
The debate will be televised Wednesday at 9 p.m. on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Channel.