A lot of Republicans want to be the next North Carolina lieutenant governor, and all but one made it to High Point for a candidates forum on Wednesday evening, Jan. 29.
The forum was sponsored by the Greater Greensboro Republican Women and held at 98 Asian Bistro in High Point, with Gay Dillard as the moderator.
Of the nine Republican candidates, only former member of Congress Renee Ellmers did not attend because she was sick.
Mark Robinson of Greensboro was, as one might expect, a crowd favorite. He had a commanding presence on the stage and, with his booming voice and obvious passion for conservative values, he was a hard act to follow.
North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said that, in 2016, “I turned a traditionally blue seat into a red seat.” Johnson talked about how he had been sued by the North Carolina Board of Education before he took office, but that he had made great strides in reducing the inefficiency of his department and actually cut the budget.
State Sen. Andy Wells noted that the lieutenant governor was president of the state Senate and he knew the state Senate. He said the public school bureaucracy was not going to change, which made school choice paramount.
All of the candidates talked about their support for school choice.
Former state Rep. Scott Stone said he would have no learning curve if elected because he had served in the legislature and knew how it worked.
Deborah Cochran, the former mayor of Mt. Airy, said she lowered taxes while mayor and had been a teacher, so she understood the education system from the inside.
Buddy Bengel is a former minor league professional baseball player and currently owns a minor league team in Morehead City. He said he wasn’t a politician but a businessman and would use that business experience in Raleigh.
Greg Gebhardt, a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran, said his three priorities would be veterans, vocational training and voter ID. He said he had worked in the legislature, which gave him experience on how Raleigh operated.
John Ritter is an attorney from Moore County who began by thanking the Greater Greensboro Republican Women for holding the forum and said that vocational training was vitally important for the future of the economy.
Each candidate was asked five questions and given the chance to make and opening and closing statement. There was not much if any disagreement among them on the issues.
In his closing statement, Johnson noted that whoever won the primary the Republicans would have a strong candidate for the general election in November.