LUMBERTON — Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Bob Etheridge brought his campaign to Lumberton on Tuesday, telling a small gathering of local party faithful that if elected, his priorities will be education and getting North Carolinians back to work.
“Education and jobs are so closely linked. You can’t separate them,” Etheridge said. “People all across the state are saying they want a good education and job creation.”
Etheridge, a former Harnett County commissioner, state House representative, state superintendent of Public Instruction, and three-term U.S. House representative, discussed his candidacy with about 15 local Democrats, including Robeson County Commissioner Jerry Stephens, Lumberton City Councilman John Cantey, John McNeill, chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, Maxton Commissioner James McDougald, and former state Rep. Frances Cummings. Etheridge is hoping to secure his party’s nomination by defeating five other candidates in the May 8 primary —Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton; state Rep. Bill Faison; Gary Dunn, of Matthews; Gardenia Henley, of Winston-Salem; and Bruce Blackmon, of Buies Creek.
The winner of the Democratic primary is likely to face Republican Pat McCrory in the November General Election. McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, lost a close race to Gov. Bev Perdue in 2008.
Etheridge emphasized that the state’s job is not to create jobs.
“The state’s job is to create an environment in which jobs can be created,” he said. “It takes the public and private sectors working together.”
Etheridge said that as governor, he would work to restore the state funding for early childhood education, the public schools, community colleges and state universities following cuts made recently by the GOP-controlled General Assembly. He charged that the cuts in education and job-supporting programs is a step backward in moving the state forward.
“We’re at the crossroads, and you don’t move the state forward by cutting funds to education,” Etheridge said. “You can’t generate jobs by cutting jobs … If we don’t educate, we are going to have to incarcerate.”
Etheridge also told the Democrats gathered at Adelio’s Restaurant for the brief meet-and-greet that he supports one-stop, early voting.
“I’ve always supported early voting,” he said. “People should be able to walk in any time and register to vote, even up to the day of the election. If we are going to allow democracy, people need to be able to vote.
“I vote early to encourage others to get out and vote early. I encourage every elected official to get out and vote early to get others to do the same — get more people engaged in the (voting) process.”
Etheridge said that it is important for Democrats to win back the governor’s mansion in November if the state is to progress.
“The real issue is that after we get through the primary we (Democrats) march together,” he said. “This state has to stay blue.”
Etheridge cited several of his accomplishments as the state’s superintendent of Public Instruction, a state House representative, and member of Congress as reasons he should be selected as the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nominee.
“I have the leadership experience and skills,” he said.
Etheridge also said that he believes the governor of North Carolina needs to be visible to the people and not spend all of their time in an office.
“When I was schools superintendent I was always out in the public,” he said. “I think that’s something the governor should do.”
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.