Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce members got up close and personal with candidates for the North Carolina House and Senate Tuesday during a luncheon at the Hawthorne Inn.
The event adopted the speed dating model. Candidates were placed at tables with a handful of potential constituents for a loosely formatted 15-minute session before the ringing of a large cowbell signaled to candidates that it was time to move to the next group. Each table of Chamber members was allowed to ask the candidates about the topics of their choosing, and hear directly from the candidates about a variety of issues facing the state in the months and years to come.
“This is a format that I’ve used in a variety of different venues,” said Joe Stewart, the former political director for the state Chamber of Commerce and lead facilitator of the event. “It really does promote a conversational atmosphere. It’s really an occasion for you, in a smaller group setting to hear (from) the candidates.”
Wendy Mailey, director of Government Affairs for the Chamber, said Chamber leaders decided to forego the more traditional panel-style method of hearing from candidates with the hope of truly familiarizing Chamber members with the people who represent them at the state level.
“We want them to have a greater opportunity to connect with the folks who may represent them,” Mailey said. “We want them to feel comfortable talking with the elected officials and letting them know what their needs are.”
All 13 candidates running to represent Forsyth County in the General Assembly were in attendance at the luncheon, which was hosted by the Chamber as the last installment of the year in its quarterly Lunch with Leaders series.
Republican Reginald “Reggie” Reid of Winston-Salem will be facing off against Democrat Rep. Earline Parmon in the race for Senate District 32, which is currently occupied by Sen. Linda Garrou. Reid, a native of Johnston County, said he was looking forward to interacting with Chamber members as job creation is among his chief platforms, along with education and public safety.
“I want to get involved with the business community because the biggest purveyor of jobs is the business community; people need to get back to work,” said Reid, an area representative for ASSE International Student Exchange Programs. “…I believe in more business, not necessarily more government.”
Table conversations took on a light and friendly air as candidates briefed the groups about their personal backgrounds and fielded questions on a variety of topics, from healthcare reform, to higher education to fracking.
Delmas Parker, the Democratic candidate for the Senate District 31 seat, and an educator for more than three decades, told the group he was a big proponent of education and is especially interested in finding ways to support at risk students in their educational journeys.
“When we bring people along who can contribute to our state and contribute to our society, I think we’re all better off,” said Parker, who is facing Republican incumbent Pete Brunstetter.
County Commissioner Debra Conrad, who is facing Democrat David Moore in the House District 74 race, told her group that she is a fiscal conservative.
“I don’t like raising taxes,” she declared. “To me, the best way to prevent that is to have a healthy, normal revenue pool … hopefully, we can get back to that.”
Ed Hanes, the Democrat running for the House District 72 seat, was adamant in his opposition of the controversial hydraulic fracturing process known as “fracking, while other candidates took a more neutral stance.
“That’s a two headed sword,” remarked Kris McCann, a Republican running for House District 71. “…I don’t want to see our resources get messed up, but what I do want to see is we put guidelines in place that protect our beautiful resources.”
At the end of the luncheon, the candidates received 60 seconds to address attendees. Allan Younger of the Small Business and Technology Center Development Center at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, was on hand to listen to the candidates.
“It’s much better to have personal interaction than just hearing the sound bites or seeing the signs as I’m driving somewhere,” said Younger, a Chamber member for the past three years. “I’ve been to several of the events where you hear someone speak and maybe shake a hand … however, I prefer an opportunity to have a one on one conversation. This type of event definitely helps to shape the opinion that you have of the candidates and therefore, the way you vote.”