By Jeff Eason
Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence gave Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory the 50-cent tour of the town on Thursday when the former Charlotte mayor visited the High Country for a combination campaign stop and fundraising event.
First stop: Kilwin's Chocolates and Ice Cream on Main Street.
"Kilwin's is sort of the heart of Blowing Rock," said Lawrence. "Everybody who visits the town has to stop at Kilwin's."
The two mayors enjoyed ice cream in waffle cones, courtesy of Kilwin's owners Bill and Cathy Williamson.
After ice cream, McCrory met with Blowing Rock residents and visitors, many of whom asked to have their photos taken with the man who many believe will be the next governor of North Carolina.
McCrory is currently running against Democrat Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton. North Carolina's sitting governor, Beverly Perdue, decided not to run for reelection.
Lawrence showed McCrory the shops along Main Street, the town's new Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, Blowing Rock Memorial Park and the Blowing Rock Farmer's Market on Park Avenue.
At the end of the tour of Blowing Rock, McCrory spent a few minutes with reporters to answer questions.
"I make it a point to reach every area of the state, and, of course, this is a great area to visit," said McCrory. "And I'm also getting a chance to talk to your mayor who has been a good colleague of mine as a peer mayor and a good supporter.
"Blowing Rock is one of the prettiest places in the state. It's good to be here."
When McCrory was asked what he thought current governor Perdue had done well and what he would've done differently, he said, "I think, in a positive sense, I was pleased with who she selected to head the department of transportation. It was someone who at least had knowledge of transportation, compared to her predecessors at the D.O.T.
"I also have to compliment her on her selection of commerce secretary.
"I think her biggest fault was she didn't have a vision of where she was taking North Carolina in the future. I mean, no one knows what her future vision is and it seems to be very reactive.
"She's not showing the reform and vision that our competitors are across the border in Tennessee, Virginia and South Carolina. While you have very assertive governors taking some tough stands and reforming government, our governor, and, quite frankly, our lieutenant governor, have been on the sidelines of some very important issues.
"We don't know what our infrastructure vision is for the future. We don't know (about) health care. Both Dalton and Perdue have stayed on the sidelines and we just seem to still have a good-ol'-boy approach to state government that we can't afford anymore.
"I'm going to have an economic development plan that will take into consideration the job creation industries -- from travel and tourism, to construction, to agriculture, to manufacturing. I'm going to have a firm economic policy in which everything is centered around the idea that it is the private sector that's going to get us out of this recession. And we've got to build the private sector so we have enough money so we can then pay the teachers, the police and the fire (departments).
"Every bit of my policy is will be centered around how can I help those industries that make things, build things, grow things, produce things, and innovate things. And that will help build our entire economy, including travel and tourism, which is crucial."
McCrory was asked about whether the state should maintain its current system of liquor sales through state-run ABC stores, or privatize the system.
"I agreed that we need reform in that system, but at the same time, I'm going to set my priorities on where we'll get the biggest bang for the money on what is most important," said McCrory. "My initial reform will be directed more toward education and economic development and infrastructure. So I've got to prioritize where that reform is most important and I'm going to fight the battles that are going to have the biggest impact and right now the biggest battles are reforming an educational system that is failing one out of every five students, an infrastructure system that has been dominated by politics and has no future vision and, third, an economic development strategy where we have to reform our tax system.
"This area is really impacted by not having a tax system that is competitive with Florida and Tennessee. You have so many people who live less than six months a year in the Blowing Rock area because of our taxes. I want them to live here 12 months out of the year, not five months out of the year.
"I met so many people from Florida who said they'd love to be here full time, but can't afford it. There's no excuse for that. So one of the big things I'm going to do is I'm going to modernize our tax system that hasn't been looked at in 45 years. To me, that will be a huge issue for the travel and tourism industry in this area, and the building and construction industry.
"I want the second homes in this area to become the first homes."
McCrory was also asked about the large lead he currently has over his democratic opponent when it comes to campaign financing.
"Well, I think it will help me in being able to run my own positive ads, which I'm doing," said McCrory. "But the union money and the Obama money is going to come down and obliterate any money that I have, as I learned in 2008.
"So I'm going to be overrun with outside money, especially union labor money and union money.
"You are going to see a lot of activists from out of the state coming here to try to defeat me."