Forum crowd hears some differences in state Senate & Congression - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Forum crowd hears some differences in state Senate & Congressional candidates

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Democratic candidates for NC Senate Danny Hefner and Ernie Ward discuss the issues at a forum Wednesday night Democratic candidates for NC Senate Danny Hefner and Ernie Ward discuss the issues at a forum Wednesday night

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Primary candidates running for seats in Raleigh and Washington, DC largely agreed with each other during a candidates' forum Wednesday night at the Senior Resources Center in New Hanover County. But, some differences did emerge on a few issues, which voters might use to make their decisions when casting ballots in the May 6 elections.

The first of three forums organized by WECT and the League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear brought together candidates running for the Republican nomination in the race for state Senate in District 9, the seat currently held by Sen. Thom Goolsby. Michael Burns, Justin LaNasa and Michael Lee expressed a lot of the same views on issues such as legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes in North Carolina, opposing Common Core standards for public schools and supporting taxpayer-funded opportunity scholarships, or vouchers, for students to attend private or charter schools. The issue where they stood apart slightly dealt with supporting incentives, including the film incentives program due to run out at the end of 2014. Two separate reports varied in whether the incentives proved beneficial to the state.

Lee told the crowd he supports incentives, with strong objectives to measure success. "If I could eliminate incentives across the United States, I would," Lee said. "I don't have the power to do that in other states we are competing with as far as the film incentives goes, whether it's Michigan or Georgia or other states. So I think we need to have that particular tool in our toolbox in order to compete for an industry that has given a lot to New Hanover County and to the state as a whole."

LaNasa said overall, he does not believe in incentives, but admitted the film incentives package is one that needs to be considered. "It's a bad thing to have large corporations getting mass amounts of tax dollars," LaNasa said. "Being a resident of New Hanover County, I see the people downtown looking at ‘One Tree Hill' sites and how much tourism it brings. That's one thing that was left out of the surveys that I think is a critical factor in bringing revenue to this town.  I think we do need to look at this film incentive package and have a better understanding of exactly what it does bring to New Hanover County, rather than turn it down with a blind eye and not really look into the whole matter."

Burns said the film incentives program is not something that needs to be done away with completely. But he suggests looking closely into the numbers before making any final decision. "I do believe the money could be spent more equally across the board," Burns said in regards to the film incentives. "I believe we need to look at both surveys, see where the math came from, and delve into where the money is going and how it is being spent. I am not a fan of getting rid of the film incentives one hundred percent, but I do believe it is something we have to look at and we have to make smart choices for our state to go forward."

Both Democratic candidates running in the state Senate District 8 primary, Danny Hefner and Ernie Ward, agreed on their support for the film incentives and on their opposition to taxpayer-funded opportunity scholarships. The two men from Brunswick County did slightly vary on how they believe lawmakers should go about funding proposed pay raises for the state's public school teachers.

Hefner said creating jobs and stronger economy is a must to find the necessary funding to bring teacher salaries more in line with the national average. "You have to have a revenue stream," Hefner said, stressing its' importance.  "The way to provide that revenue stream is to focus on jobs creation. Everything ties back to these jobs.  We have lost way too many, and without that revenue stream you cannot fund the system."

Ward says he believes the necessary funding already exists within state government, and lawmakers need to make tough choices to direct it the proper way.

"The money is there, it is simply one (case) of prioritization," Ward told the crowd in the second of the three forums.  "So, while I believe we need to grow our economy and so forth, we must get our priorities straight."

The final segment brought together two Democratic candidates running for the Seventh Congressional District nomination, looking to succeed incumbent Rep. Mike McIntyre, who is retiring. Unlike McIntyre, both Jonathan Barfield and Walter Martin, Jr.  said they would support President Obama's Affordable Care Act, and would also vote to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The two men differed on what they consider to be the greatest threat to the country's national security.

Martin, the former law enforcement officer and town council member from Princeton, NC, said he thinks homegrown terrorism threatens the national security. "Terrorists from other countries are able to make contact with united states-born citizens and have them turn against their own country," Martin said.

Barfield, a current member and former Chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, said he believes the biggest threat is in air travel. "The TSA is doing a great job, but we focus so much on American citizens as opposed to those who are traveling into our country," he said. "I think we need to have tighter controls on those who are coming into our country to make sure they are not bringing in any type of weapons that might be hurting American citizens."

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