COVID-19, systemic racism and the state's budget were on the table at Wednesday's debate for N.C. governor.
Incumbent Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper and his opponent, Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, faced off in the first and only gubernatorial debate before the Nov. 3 election. Here's what both candidates had to say on the issues.
Forest criticized Cooper on his response to the pandemic, claiming Cooper’s way of handling COVID-19 has harmed more North Carolinians than helped.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in addition to social distancing and other safety measures, masks help slow the spread of COVID-19. But Forest said mask mandates are not helpful in slowing the spread of the virus, and they act as a cover for a bigger issue.
“Masks are a great cover for what he really doesn’t want to talk about; the over half a million people he has left unemployed, the thousands of businesses that have been shut down, the thousands of businesses that will never reopen again,” Forest said.
Cooper said while the pandemic has affected North Carolinians, he has relied on data and science to help make difficult decisions in regard to the reopening of the state.
He criticized Forest for holding in-person campaigning events during the pandemic, calling his actions reckless.
“Politicians like this who hold these in-person events and discourage masks, they’re part of the problem,” he said. “They make it harder for us to ease our safety measures, harder for us to get our children back in school, where they need to be, and harder for us to slow the spread of this virus.”
Both candidates were asked if they believed systemic racism existed within the state of North Carolina. Cooper said the death of George Floyd opened the door for conversations to take place surrounding systemic issues, and people should listen to those who use their voices to speak in favor of equality and justice.
Cooper also criticized Forest for running a campaign ad with what Cooper claimed was “fake riot footage.” Cooper said the protest footage was from Washington, D.C. and New York, while Forest's ad claimed the footage was from Asheville.
Cooper said this ad is an example of how Forest is using the issue of racism to divide instead of unify.
“He thinks it’s going to win this race for him, and I think he’s wrong," he said.
Forest said he believes the United States was not built on a system of racism and oppression, but acknowledged there is racism still present in this country.
“We should reject it at every single turn,” Forest said. “That’s what we should do in America.”
Forest said he did not agree with the way Cooper has handled statewide protests, saying some of them went out of control.
“When I’m governor, I will never allow an angry mob to destroy one of our cities,” Forest said.
When asked if he would implement a tax increase or a tax rollback, Forest said he was uncertain how he would find the funds to balance the budget.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be funded, but it’s going to have to be,” Forest said. “It’s going to take us years to bail us out, long after Gov. Cooper is gone.”
Cooper said raising taxes is not necessary to balancing the budget. He said what needs to be done is to stop letting the wealthy get away with having lower tax rates.
“What we need to do is stop tax giveaways to the wealthy and stop the sweeping corporate tax cuts that Dan Forest and the legislative leaders continue to put on people,” Cooper said.
Cooper said the key to fixing the North Carolina economy is to work on slowing the spread of the virus. He said denying the science and data behind how COVID-19 spreads will not help the economy, but will harm it even more.
Forest responded to Cooper by saying North Carolinians are not just dying from the virus, but they are also dying from the lack of jobs and income.
“They are at their wits' end because of what this governor is doing,” Forest said.
At the end of the debate, both Forest and Cooper had the opportunity to address voters directly before they head to the polls.
Forest thanked viewers at home for tuning in, and said he hopes the debate helped them make a decision on who to vote for in November.
“I believe we live in the best country in the world,” Forest said. “I believe it is time to stop the fear and panic campaign and move on to hope and opportunity for people.”
Cooper said through one of its toughest years, North Carolina has come together in a way never done before.
“I’ve seen so many instances of people looking out for each other, singing at the window of a nursing home to a grandmother, young people buying groceries for seniors and leaving it on their doorstep,” he said. “That’s the kind of North Carolina I know.”
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