Ask Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton about jobs, the state’s economy or even the environment and eventually — usually sooner than later — the discussion takes direct aim at education, bettering it, that is, and making it work to strengthen North Carolina.
Dalton, on a two-day trek that began with a town hall meeting in Wilmington Monday and led to a visit to Fayetteville Tech and finally to a Duplin County fundraising Tuesday night, stopped by The Sampson Independent to shake a few hands and to share his thoughts on the state and why he’s the man to lead it.
“I believe in this state and what it can be,” Dalton stressed, leaning back in his chair and reflecting on his run for governor. “I have the tools to help make our state the best it can be.”
His wife of 40 years, Lucille, was by his side, nodding her head in agreement as the lieutenant governor shared his passion for the state and his belief that he and not his opponent, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, is the man to lead North Carolina.
But he didn’t attack his opponent, choosing instead to focus on his own vision and the things he believes will help pull the state out of the economic quagmire it’s been in for sometime now.
He ticked off a resume that includes over a decade in the N.C. Senate, holding the seat his father had held for many years; his business experience that includes serving as Rutherford County attorney for two decades, a stint in banking and running what he called a ‘successful small business’ as the managing partner of a law firm; and his public service in roles that had him chairing his local community college board of trustees, serving on the Red Cross and helping create the Child Abuse Prevention Society.
But it’s his strong belief in education that Dalton focuses on when he talks about moving North Carolina forward. He see’s the state’s future as a bright one, where quality education will be the foundation for a strong economy.
“You can’t have one without the other,” Dalton stressed. “To have a strong economy you have to align education with the jobs of the future.”
He points to the JOBS (Joining Our Businesses and Schools) commission, which he established to partner businesses and schools to retool education programs to better fit an evolving job market, as the example.
“With that commission, we ask Republicans and Democrats from the House and the Senate to come together to answer the questions where is our economy and where to we want it to be, and then we need to recruit the kind of jobs that fit that vision, retrain workers to do those jobs …”
Education starts, he said, at an early age and should be supported through the community college and university level. Investing in education, Dalton stressed, is key.
He talked, too, about the Innovative Education Act that he wrote establishing the state’s early college system like the one on the campus of Sampson Community College, and he stressed the benefits it brings to students, parents and the state.
That program, which partners community colleges with high schools, allows students entering ninth grade at the Early College to receive a high school diploma, two years of college credit or an associate’s degree at the end of five years.
“It’s a wonderful program that challenges our young people and, at the same time, prepares them to enter the workforce while saving parents money.”
He also pointed to the great benefits offered by the community college, both in college preparation and in job training, two things, Dalton stressed, that were greatly needed.
“We need to invest in our community colleges, keeping them strong. They are one of this state’s greatest visions and I support the full breath of its mission, from helping people get their GED to retraining workers for new jobs and keeping student debt down by enrolling students there first through the two-year college program.
“Students can begin their education at the community college for a fraction of the cost, get the ground work they need and go on to be very successful in the university system.”
He said a one-time discussion about merging community colleges across the state was a bad one that he never supported. “It would have taken the community out of community colleges,” he stressed, “and the administration of its mission should not be narrowed.”
Dalton also touched on healthcare, saying the billion dollars in cuts in North Carolina had hurt, particularly as it pertains to rural hospital services. He called it devastating, pointing to the thousands of jobs that had been cut in areas, he said, where cuts already ran deep.
“We have to be careful with reductions,” he stressed.
And while he said he was still studying the national healthcare plan, he believed it looked favorable to the state, where the net positive impact, he noted, would be around $2 billion over the next eight years.
Dalton said one of the areas where the national plan would help was in the area of mental health, where state cuts had whittled away at care and left it for local hospitals and law enforcement agencies to deal with day after day.
“The mental health issue has been a major problem for us and it’s one that needs addressing. That’s one area I think the national health plan could help us with.”
The lieutenant governor also talked about what he called the state’s “most important industry,” agriculture, saying it, by far, could lead North Carolina toward a brighter future, with job creation in existing fields and growing ones, like biotechnology.
“Agriculture is, by far, our number one industry. You can take tourism and military and combine them and you still won’t have the impact that agriculture makes on our state. And I believe it can only get better and better.
“With the world’s population expected to double by 2030, North Carolina is poised to help feed the world. If we focus on that, make strides in biotechnology, improve our ports and provide storage and refrigeration, improve our road system to get products through for shipment, imagine what that can do for our state’s economy, the jobs it could provide,” Dalton stressed.
But it all comes, he said, with support of education and encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit. And, he added, listening.
That is what he’s been doing since May as he’s traveled the state holding town hall meetings billed as opportunities for everyone — Republicans, Democrats and Independents — to join him, ask questions and offer ideas.
“When you work toward good public policy, you have to engage people, listen to them, hear their concerns and their ideas. It will takes us working together to make North Carolina the state I believe it can be,” Dalton said.