North Carolina gubernatorial candidates have first debate

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Several topics were discussed in a roughly one-hour debate between governor candidates Pat McCrory and Roy Cooper.

The first debate between the two was held at the Westin Hotel in downtown Charlotte.

A panel of three asked questions about House Bill 2, gun laws, transportation, teacher pay, heroin addiction and taxes.

The debate started with opening statements. Governor McCrory won the coin toss, allowing him to go first. He talked about the work he's done as governor, stating when he took office "this state was a wreck" and since becoming governor, said he's worked to make North Carolina one of the fastest growing economies in the country, including bringing in 200,000 new jobs since he took office. McCrory said he has brought the state forward and plans to continue in that direction if re-elected.

In Attorney General Cooper's opening remarks, he said he believed North Carolina was in "desperate need" of leadership in the governor's office. He stated how he wanted to be the governor because he loves the state. Cooper also detailed the work he's done while in office as the attorney general, saying he's fought big utility companies for better consumer rates, recovered millions of dollars for taxpayers in Medicaid fraud and prosecuted politicians involved in corruption cases.

The first question posed to the candidates was about House Bill 2. McCrory said it has now become a national issue, stating the courts are going to decide if it is legal for North Carolina to enforce the law. McCrory stood by the bathroom portion of the bill that applies to public restrooms. Cooper stated that North Carolina needs to "wipe House Bill 2 off the books" and said the state's economy has been negatively impacted by the law.

The second question for the candidates related to gun laws and the panel referenced the mass shooting in Orlando. Cooper said he supports legislation that makes it illegal for anyone on a terror watch list to purchase guns and stated, "We need to do a better job on background checks." In response to the question, McCrory talked about the importance of building relationships between law enforcement and communities to help prevent and solve crimes. McCrory stated he knew after 9/11 there would be issues with homegrown terrorism and supports proposed legislation to allow for law enforcement to go through emails of people coming from places where there is known terrorism activity.

The third question was about transportation. The panel asked about toll roads in the state, specifically asking if the North Mecklenburg I-77 toll contract in Charlotte should be canceled and also asked about sources of funding for upcoming transportation plans. McCrory stated after the debate to the media, that he doesn't have the authority to pay for the cancellation of the contract. During the debate, he stated the I-77 project was supported by Charlotte leaders and that there could be some changes coming to that project. He also said it's important to get input from community leaders on effective transportation routes when adopting transportation plans. Cooper stated the contract for the I-77 project should be canceled, calling the company involved in the project "questionable" after going into bankruptcy. Cooper states it's important that the state come up with a transportation plan that prepares North Carolina for the next few decades.

The fourth question asked by the panel was about teacher pay. They asked the candidates if they had a child who wanted to be a teacher, would they support them teaching in North Carolina or support them going to another state with better teacher pay. Cooper responded saying teacher morale is low in the state, and that teachers need more financial support. McCrory said since he's come into office he's raised entry level pay by $5,000 and says they are giving pay raises in this budget that will bring North Carolina's teacher ratings from 42nd in the country, to somewhere in the 30s.

The fifth question was about heroin use in North Carolina, the panel saying heroin deaths have spiked by 600 percent in the last five years. McCrory says to help with the problem it's about educating our youth, protecting students at the university level and stronger enforcement. Cooper said the issue is funding and suggested the state take the "billions of dollars in medicaid expansion, that could insure hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians and could make a real difference in addiction treatment and substance abuse with no state dollars."

The last question was about taxes, specifically recent changes to what the state now includes under sales tax, such as services for cars, or the installation of home appliances. Cooper says sales taxes and taxes on services "hit people the hardest". He says North Carolina needs a tax policy that's "fair to the middle class." McCrory stated that when Cooper was in the state senate, "he increased the sales tax on everything. He increased the cooperate tax on every business. He increased the income tax on every wage earner in North Carolina."

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