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Shooting blanks

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Do they advocate anything? moderator Bill Friday asked, as he began the first gubernatorial candidates' forum of the 2000 election year, carried on UNC-TV and WUNC-FM radio. Well, sure they do. All except former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican, who asserted that "we have no earthly idea" what issues our state will face over the next four years, so our best plan would be to elect a Sunday School teacher--him. For the integrity, in case the logic of that escapes you.

His GOP rivals, state Rep. Leo Daughtry of Johnston County and former Rep. Chuck Neely of Wake County, put themselves firmly in the "pro-choice" camp--on education, that is. They're for more charter schools, and Neely's for helping private colleges as an alternative to building space in the state university system for the expected upsurge in student enrollment. All three Republicans want tax cuts. Interestingly, when asked by Friday to name specific spending cuts they'd suggest, they drew a collective blank.

So, for that matter, did the Democratic candidates, Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker and Attorney General Mike Easley. Wicker preferred talking about "investments we can make." Easley said that, until the scope of flood-related damage in Eastern North Carolina is clear, talk of tax cuts is irresponsible. (True, but that wasn't the question.)

Easley left the door open to a tax increase to pay flood costs, as long as it doesn't come from "working people." Wicker was anti-tax increase, though he called for "maximum investment in public schools," raising teachers' salaries above the national average, funding pre-school programs for every 4-year old in the state, comprehensive campaign finance reform, and support for mass transit and smart-growth initiatives.

Oh, and Wicker wants to give every student with a B-average in high school a full-tuition scholarship to any public university or community college in the state. He'd pay for that with a new state lottery. Easley's pro-lottery, too, but would spend the proceeds on primary and secondary schools. On the lottery, the three Republicans are anti-choice--they're against it.

How's the state doing? Friday asked. The Democrats, representing the party of the less prosperous, thought things were going well. The Republicans, thought to be of and for the well-to-do, were alarmed: about bad schools, smut on the Internet, and of course, high taxes. The good economy, they seemed to be saying, was producing decadence: Give 'em a computer, and they'll just waste it. ...

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