Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Candidates for Lt. Gov. clash

Candidates for lieutenant gov. clash
Democratic frontrunners criticize each other's views on party positions, including abortion and death penalty

RALEIGH --The typically overshadowed race for lieutenant governor heated up Monday when two of the candidates for the Democratic nomination tussled over core issues for their party: abortion rights, death penalty reform, affirmative action and pollution control.

Hampton Dellinger, a Durham lawyer and former aide to Gov. Mike Easley, criticized N.C. Sen. Walter Dalton, of Rutherfordton, using a mix of Dalton's votes and past candidate questionnaires.

"These are mainstream Democratic issues," Dellinger said, "and my positions reflect where a majority of the party is."

Dalton shot back that the highlighted votes were not final votes on those bills, that he "stood firm" in order to get a better, final version of the legislation. He also adamantly defended one questionnaire answer but said he poorly worded another.

Dalton, 58, and Dellinger, 40, are the best-funded of the Democratic candidates. The initial sparring illuminates that, while Dellinger has not held elected office, Dalton's lengthy voting record can be picked apart and used against him.

Winston-Salem city Councilman Dan Besse and Canton Mayor Pat Smathers are also running for the Democratic nomination but trail in fundraising and organization.

There are no announced Republican candidates as yet.

Dellinger posted a letter to supporters on his Web site that highlights what he called his disagreements with Dalton. Here's a rundown:

Executions and the mentally retarded

Dalton voted in April 2001 against a ban on executing killers who are mentally retarded. Dellinger said he supports the law.Dalton said he opposes executing mentally retarded defendants, but the procedure for determining mental retardation was too loose in the bill passed by the Senate. The House tightened it up, and Dalton voted for the revised bill when it came back to the Senate.

Abortion and exceptions

In a 1998 questionnaire for Project Vote Smart, Dalton said abortion should be legal only during the first trimester or in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother's life. Dellinger said the law also should allow an exception for the protection of the mother's health and criticized Dalton for supporting abortion rights after the first trimester "only in the narrowest of circumstances."

The questionnaire answer should have included an exception for the health of the mother, Dalton said. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a woman's right to privacy predominates the issue, he said.

"As a matter of personal preference I don't know that I would go that far," Dalton said. "But I'm not a woman so those decisions have to be made between a woman and her doctor."

Color, gender and law

Dalton also said in the questionnaire that state government should always hire the "best qualified person," indicating he did not support taking race and gender into account in hiring."That was the whole intent of the civil rights laws if you were living back in 1964," he said, "that race should not be taken into consideration nor should gender."

At the same time, Dalton said, diversity of the work force should be considered but not the determining factor.

Dellinger said he supports affirmative action.

In the air

Dalton was one of only five senators to vote against the "clean smokestacks" bill in 2001, which would have raised electric rates to pay for pollution controls on coal-fired power plants. Dellinger said he supported the bill.

A later compromise avoided passing on the costs to consumers and was the version that became law. Dalton voted for that bill.

The earlier version "put the cleanup of dirty smokestacks on the consumer," he said.

Dellinger argued that the legislation empowered the state utilities commission to protect consumers in the first place.

"The clean smokestacks bill was too important the first time for anyone to rely on `I was for it after I was against it,' " Dellinger said.

Dalton said the criticism was actually a good sign.

"It shows I'm the frontrunner in the race," he said, "and he's resorting to attacking when we're ahead." Decision 2008

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