By Reggie Ponder
Dan Forest, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, promoted school vouchers and elimination of the state's corporate income tax during a campaign stop in Elizabeth City Monday.
"We need to break up the state government monopoly on education," Forest, a Wake County architect, said in an interview following a meet-and-greet session with voters at the Golden Corral restaurant.
Vouchers and parental choice will fuel innovation in education, he said.
"That tide of innovation will raise all the ships," Forest said, insisting public schools will benefit from an environment of competition that encourages innovation.
Forest pointed out the nonprofit Tax Foundation has described North Carolina as having the 44th-worst business tax climate in the nation.
"That's just unacceptable in my mind," Forest said.
He said the state should eliminate its corporate income tax. While acknowledging it couldn't be done away with overnight, he said it should cut in half as soon as possible and then gradually eliminated.
The tax accounts for only about 5 percent of the state's revenue but hurts North Carolina's competitiveness in economic development, he said.
Forest also said economic development needs to shift its focus away from landing big industries and recognize that small businesses are the main engine of job creation.
The state can rebuild its manufacturing base by encouraging innovation and developing small manufacturing shops across the state, he said.
One of the things he hears in eastern North Carolina is "we grow peanuts but we don't make peanut butter," he said.
The big textile plants may not be coming back, but transportation costs may gradually make imported products more expensive and allow the rise of small, innovative textile plants and other small manufacturing businesses, he said.
This is Forest's first bid for elective office. He cited his background as an architect and small-business owner as good preparation for service as lieutenant governor.
Architects are planners, analysts, designers and visionaries, and that's just the kind of leadership needed to help make state government more efficient and effective, he said.
"It's more important now than ever to take a business-minded approach," he said. "That is the type of experience that I would bring to state government."
Forest comes from a prominent political family. His mother is U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., a former Charlotte mayor who represents the state's 9th District in Congress.
He said he doesn't know if his mother's service in Congress is making a difference in his race or not, but he added he does think people love his mother because of her solid record in constituent services.
"I admire her for what she has done," Forest said.
Myrick remarried when Forest was a child, accounting for the difference in their surnames.
Among those at Monday's gathering was Tom Credle of Chowan County, who said the main issue he is interested in is education. He said he is concerned about both the cost and the quality of education in the state. The growth of charter schools is evidence that the public is not getting the best bang for its buck with the public schools, Credle said.
He said he also is interested in economic development and realizes that business growth is not likely to occur without an educated and trained work force.
"They're all interconnected," Credle said of education and economic development issues.
Paul Gardiner, a member of the Republican executive committee in Perquimans County, also cited education as the most important issue to him. He noted other voters at the gathering said they are concerned about zoning, regulations, and the Muslim brotherhood and Sharia law.
Forest said he is a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. In response to a question from Perquimans Republican Chairman Dianne Layden regarding the United Nations Small Arms Treaty, Forest noted the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution was included as a protection against tyranny.
"It needs to stay in effect for that reason," Forest said.