Local candidates told Millennium Charter Academy students they are the future during a political candidate forum Tuesday. The event was part of an ongoing N.C. Kids Voting project at the school.
The format of the forum consisted of candidates introducing themselves and briefly outlining their platforms. This was followed by questions from students for state level office candidates and then questions from students for local office level candidates. The forum concluded with each of the eight candidates attending given two minutes for closing remarks.
Ric Marshall, candidate for the North Carolina State Senate 30th District seat, opened the forum.
“My platform is that North Carolina must make sure education is a part of what we fund,” began Marshall. “Education is your future. We have to concentrate on having funding for schools. As you grow older you’ll see people who need help. Sometimes folks just fall on hard times. Always be willing to help the person beside you. Pay it forward.”
His opponent, State Sen. Don East, did not attend the forum.
North Carolina 90th House District Rep. Sarah Stevens, who is running unopposed, spoke to the students next.
“I’ve been an attorney by trade for 26 years,” said Stevens. “One thing I have learned is that you have to know a lot about everything for this job and you have to have people who know a lot to advise you.” She told the group that for instance, the state has recently lifted the cap on the number of charter schools and she has also been involved with learning about using hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas.
She said her primary job is to be sure Surry County’s voice is heard in the legislature.
“My job in Raleigh is to represent you or how legislation affects you. I’m only one of 120 so I have to convince 61 others in he house and 21 in the senate to pass anything.”
John Collins, candidate for the Mount Airy District county commissioners seat, reminded the students to enjoy where they are in life.
“I look back and the things I remember are elementary and high school. Be proud of your school and do the best you can every day.” Collins told the students he learned to appreciate work when growing up on a farm. He said he was inspired to be a teacher by his teachers.
“There are 3,500 people out of work in Surry County,” said Collins. “What can we do to help? We can create an atmosphere attractive for industry to come here. As a commissioner I want to make the best choices I can to help the most people. Maybe one day you won’t have to drive to Winston-Salem for a job.”
Eastern District County Commissioner candidate Dave Diamont told the group he was in his 45th year of teaching.
“I’ve had a great amount of experiences serving in various ways that other folks haven’t had,” said Diamont. “I will use these insights to move our county forward. The jobs we had when I was young are gone and will not be back. You students are our future. The jobs you will have haven’t been invented yet. We are in the middle of a tremendous period of transformation.”
Larry Phillips, who is also running for re-election to the Mount Airy district County Commissioners seat, pointed out it is amazing that the founding documents for the nation and state can be held in your hands.
“In this country you have rights. With this come responsibility. The rights we have come from the Lord, not the government,” said Phillips, citing the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. “When the government intrudes on our God-given rights as a citizen you must stand up and say enough. Every election is important. You tell us what to do. It is your country.” Phillips told the students the job market has changed and their educational skill sets are what would allow them to attain their goals.
Eastern District County Commissioners incumbent Paul Johnson told the students that he was proud of how the commissioners during his tenure had eliminated wasteful spending and gotten schools in better shape. He told the group that 33 percent of the county’s budget goes to the educational system, excluding extra projects.
“I am a people person. I love to find out what my constituents think,” said Johnson. “Sarah (Stevens) told you about her working with 120 others. I work with five and sometimes it’s hard to get even five to agree but that’s what our country is about.”
Johnson said he has worked to develop statewide and national relationships to benefit the county. He said State Sen. Don East regretted not attending. Johnson reported that East is being scheduled for surgery for two collapsed discs in his back.
Candidate for County Register of Deeds Todd Harris told the students about the long tradition of service in his family. He recounted how one ancestor was wounded in the Revolutionary War.
“It’s important to understand what the register of deeds does,” said Harris. “We keep a record of things including marriages, land transactions and birth and death certificates.” He mentioned he had several years of experience on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
“If I could leave you with one message it would be that I want each of you to dream big.”
Current Register of Deeds Carolyn Comer, who is running for re-election, characterized the job as being a custodian of their most important records.
“Remember we do not set policy,” said Comer. “Our procedures are set by guidebooks. Anytime you are interested in coming my office is open for teachers and students to learn about what we do. I am proud to be your elected registrar. Be sure to talk with your parents about this forum and remind them to vote.”
Academy Kids Voting Project Coordinator Pamela Brayley said the effort was originally suggested to local schools by Surry County Board of Elections Director Susan Jarrell. Brayley said Millennium was the only local school to take the option to implement the curriculum. The program is known at the state level as Kids Voting in North Carolina.
She said plans for election day include setting up a model voting precinct. Students will vote and the Kids Vote N.C. organization will tabulate the results and provide a breakdown of voting results by grade. Jarrell recognized the support of Carolina West and Surry Membership Telephone Corp. for the help with the kids voting project.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.