By Sarah Campbell
Dan Forest, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, touted education reform and job creation as his top priorities during a stop in Salisbury on Wednesday.
Forest arrived around lunchtime at the parking lot on the corner of East Innes and Arlington streets in his campaign bus dubbed "Bubba" after the popular movie "Forrest Gump."
The Raleigh resident is on a 30-day tour of the state, stopping to chat with constituents along the way.
Forest said he's talked to many people who are "fed up with our education system."
"We're 41st in the nation in K-12 education, and I believe it's time for new leadership in that regard," he said. "We've been educating our kids the same way for 100 years, and we're in the 21st century; we need to take a 21st century approach to education."
Forest said he's in favor of adopting a voucher system that would create competition and spur innovation.
"We need to break the state government-controlled monopoly on education and introduce choice, put the responsibility back in the hands of the parents, back in the hands of the teachers, back in the hands of the local school districts," he said. "Parents right here in Rowan County know how to educate their children. We don't need bureaucrats at the state and federal government telling them how to do that."
But Forest said job creation is his "very top" priority.
"Job creation, getting the economy going again, that helps your revenue base for your state and allows you to do a lot of the things that the state would like to do," he said.
North Carolina has failed to lay a good foundation for businesses in the state, Forest said.
"We need to get out of the business of picking winners and losers and providing tax incentives to companies to come from out of state," he said. "We need to create a level playing field for small businesses."
Forest said North Carolina has one of the highest income tax rates in the country and the corporate and gas tax rates are among the highest in the Southeast, making it harder to get businesses to locate here.
"We have to get these things in line before we do anything else," he said. "We should be No. 1 in business tax climate in the country to prove to businesses we want them here in North Carolina."
Finding a solution to illegal immigration is also a concern for Forest, who said that it's currently costing the state about $1.3 billion annually.
"I'd like to be the point person for illegal immigration, to start the dialogue across both sides of the aisle to figure out what we're going to do as North Carolinians, how we're going to deal with this challenge that faces our state," he said.
Salisbury resident Catherine Reynolds said Forest's views on education and immigration won her over. She's serving as the Rowan County chairwoman of the committee to elect Dan Forest.
"I find that he has Reaganesque leadership qualities. He's been in business as an entrepreneur and a job creator, but he's also very politically astute," she said.
Lisa Todd of Salisbury said Forest's background as a businessman also caught her attention.
"That's really what we need in North Carolina, somebody with some business sense rather than just a political hack," she said.
Forest has served as senior partner for one of the state's largest architectural firms, Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, and is the founder of Triangle Leadership Forum.
Rockwell resident Kathy Yost said she was impressed by Forest's answers to her questions about a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would define the only legal marriage as being between one man and one woman.
"I like that he's a Christian, he's a conservative, he has good ideas and I just think he would be wonderful for our state," she said.
Forest is a "strong proponent" of the amendment, which will be on the May 8 ballot.
"I'm pro family, pro marriage, I think marriage has been defined the same throughout the entire history of our world, between one man and one woman," he said. "It's the way God created it and designed it to be. It's for a civil society, it's for good, strong families."
As Forest travels the state, he's consistently been hearing that people are tired of politicians who campaign one way and serve another after they are elected to office.
"I believe we have a leadership crisis in America. We have a leadership crisis in North Carolina, and I want to do my job to step into the role in executive leadership in our state and fill the gap," he said.
The position of lieutenant governor would give Forest the opportunity to serve both legislative and executive branches. The lieutenant governor also serves on the state Board of Education, state Board of Community Colleges and the N.C. Economic Development Board.
"There's a lot that the lieutenant governor has responsibility for, regardless of who the governor is or who's in the General Assembly," he said. "As much as anything, you can be a loud voice for the issues that are important to people."