Lieutenant governor candidates Forest, Coleman to square off at Barton

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Barton College has been selected as the site of a September debate between two candidates for the post of lieutenant governor.

Incumbent Dan Forest will represent the Republican Party on the November ballot while challenger Linda Coleman will represent the Democrats. Both said improving the state’s education system and bolstering economic development are priorities if elected, with Coleman calling on her experience as a teacher and school administrator.

“With economic development and education, it is hard to talk about one without the other,” Coleman said. “As I learned as a county commissioner, if you don’t have good schools, then it is going to be difficult to attract good businesses to your area, so funding for public schools is critical.”

Forest touted recent strides made in improving teacher pay and ensuring all classrooms in the state have connectivity to high-speed internet. He said bipartisanship was a must when achieving the latter.

“We worked across the aisle because we wanted to make North Carolina an example of what digital connectivity needs to be for all classrooms,” Forest said. “...We want to continue to make progress in education because we are by no means where we need to be despite making some significant strides.

“We’re spending more on K-12 than ever before, but it is not a money equation. It is about what we gain from that, what our students are learning, because there is no excuse for a failing school in North Carolina.”

In addition to being the No. 2 executive in state government, the lieutenant governor serves on several education bodies as well as serving in other capacities to bolster the state’s economy. Forest recently was appointed to a task force created to grow the agriculture and food manufacturing industries across the state. He said another important responsibility of the post is serving as the president of the North Carolina Senate.

“We tackle quite a bit of legislation even if we can’t put our names on the bills,” Forest said. “We work with our friends in the House and the Senate to craft legislation that is important to us.

“The lieutenant governor is not so much a position of power as it is a position of influence.”

By keeping a busy travel schedule and visiting with officials across the state, the lieutenant governor also brings a broad perspective.

“It is one of really only two positions in state government where we’re really paying attention to everything,” Forest said. “We end up doing a lot of speaking, knowing a lot about a lot of topics, which is great because we hear from people across the state about what makes us tick as North Carolinians. We constantly hear from the three very different geographic regions of our state, then bring those unique needs back to the General Assembly.”

Coleman said her upbringing in Greenville helps her to better understand the needs of residents in eastern North Carolina. She said Medicaid expansion is particularly important for residents in rural regions because healthier employees add to, instead of take away from, the economy.

“Greenville has probably had more economic development than other counties in eastern North Carolina, so we want to make sure we continue to look at areas that will give opportunities to those in other counties,” she said. “We want the state as a whole to grow and provide citizens with opportunities.”

While the rules and topics of the September debate still are in the works, Coleman said attendees will be able to see firsthand the differences between the candidates.

“We are very different in what we see as helpful to North Carolina and what direction the state should go,” she said. “I think we see two very different paths for North Carolina.”

Wilson Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Simons said the debate is an opportunity for residents outside the state’s major metropolitan areas to express their needs.

“I hope there will be substantive policy discussion about the direction of the state, particularly as relates to economic matters,” Simons said. “We’re in a period of heightened political divisiveness, so I’m interested in what the candidates have to say about unifying the state in common areas like recruiting and retaining jobs as well as helping working families.”

The Wilson Times and The Daily Reflector of Greenville will serve as media sponsors for the debate, which will be aired live on UNC-TV.

Wilson Times Co. President and Publisher Morgan Dickerman said the debate is a great opportunity for Wilson.

“We’re thrilled to be a partner with Barton College and others to bring people from throughout eastern North Carolina to Wilson,” Dickerman said.

Forest said he is eager to address judicial reform if reelected.

“The government often puts Band-Aids on an issue and act like they are solving them,” he said. “I hope in my second term we can spend time getting to the heart of an issue and focus on real solutions.”

bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com | 265-7821