Moore, Perdue debate Parton theater, college tuition
By GARY D. ROBERTSON
Associated Press Writer
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — The two leading Democratic candidates for governor traded accusations about a Roanoke Rapids theater and college tuition in a televised forum Thursday night that focused on the state's economy.
Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore argued at the close of the hourlong debate. In the first half, Republican candidates Bill Graham, Bob Orr and Fred Smith gave their own answers to identical questions on the University of North Carolina television studio stage.
But Moore and Perdue's testy comments dominated the evening, as the candidates continued their back-and-forth that started last fall. The candidates want to win their May 6 primaries and ultimately succeed Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, who is barred by state law from running this year for a third consecutive term.
Perdue took the offensive on a question about illegal immigration, instead using some of her response time to criticize Moore's leadership on a state panel that approved $21 million in debt used by Roanoke Rapids to build a music theater for Dolly Parton's brother.
Financial records show that Randy Parton had spent public money on alcohol and trips to Las Vegas. He has not performed at the theater since early December, and city officials have renamed the venue the Roanoke Rapids Theatre.
"A lot of us have been watching what's going with Randy Parton's party palace," Perdue said, asking Moore to release more documents on the project. "We'd like to know the background on it. We'd like to know why the decisions were made."
Moore told Perdue that everything has been made public and that Perdue didn't have her facts straight. He criticized the lieutenant governor for failing to support Roanoke Rapids, which is trying use a new kind of financing to build its sagging economy after textile losses.
"It's just so typical of someone who has led the go-along get-along club in Raleigh for 20 years," Moore said of Perdue, who first entered the General Assembly in the mid-1980s. "Research Triangle Park took 30 years to be successful. All of these things take time."
Moore later accused Perdue of supporting tuition increases at the Legislature while pushing a "college promise" program that would help students attend college debt-free if they keep good grades, stay out of trouble and perform community service.
"It's not about making more promises, it's about making better decisions," Moore said.
Perdue responded later by referring to Moore's campaign donations from investment managers as a sign Moore was out of touch with average North Carolinians.
"Do you want a candidate from Wall Street, or do you want a candidate from Main Street?" Perdue asked to the television audience.
Earlier in the debate the three Republican candidates said they would push for lower taxes and work to enforce the immigration laws.
Smith, a state senator from Johnston County, recommended changes to help the state keep illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses or voting fraudulently. He also criticized Easley and the state community college system for backing a policy allowing illegal immigrants to enroll on all of the system's campuses.
They are "picking and choosing which laws they want to enforce," Smith said. "That's not a good example for our people."
Orr, a former Supreme Court justice, remains opposed to targeted tax incentives to bring large companies to the state. He said the limited economic development money the state has should be used for work force training and create an environment of innovation.
"We paid hundreds of millions (of dollars) to bring Google to North Carolina for 200 jobs and a server farm," Orr said, referring to an incentives package in Caldwell County. "We want North Carolina to be the place where the next Google starts and grows."
But Graham, a Salisbury attorney, and Smith both believe such tax breaks can be useful in some cases.
Graham said later he wants to bring transparency to North Carolina government by installing Web cameras in the House and Senate so more people know which legislators are pushing for bloated budgets.
"We've got to do a better job and have more responsible government in Raleigh," he said.
The three GOP candidates debated even as Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory appears ready to become a late entry into the Republican race.
He filed with the state paperwork needed to raise campaign money for governor, while a leading Republican in Guilford County said McCrory told him he would announce something next Tuesday in Jamestown, where he went to high school. McCrory declined comment Thursday on his future.
UNC-TV plans two additional televised forums Feb. 7 on health care and April 24 on education.
January 10, 2008 - 11:46 p.m. EST
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