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Article 31

October 11. 2006 1:00PM

Candidates flock to women's club forum

The Dispatch

THOMASVILLE | If anyone left the Thomasville Women's Club candidates forum Tuesday without an emery board, it wasn't due to a shortage of them.

Several of the 27 political candidates who attended the luncheon placed imprinted nail files at each place-setting in a stack of campaign paraphernalia that included brochures, candy, calling cards, pens, postcards and rulers.

The literature provided a good way for the candidates to tell the other 39 people in the room about themselves - especially important with so many candidates on hand. Each got exactly one minute to speak, and club member Ramona Cranford banged the gavel more than a few times. But just showing up may be the real benefit for candidates.

"Now, I can put more faces with names than I could before," club president Jane Hill commented at the conclusion.

Judy Smith, a Thomasville resident and club member for 10 years, agreed.

"If you see them face-to-face, it's more enlightening," she said.

Smith even made notes that she plans to take with her to the voting booth.

"I found it very helpful," said Rachel Armentrout of the Colonial County Club area, who has been a member of the women's club for about two years. "I've never been to a candidate forum."

Past President Marie Culbreth, who is also a Thomasville councilwoman, said she has organized forums for the past 25 years.

"I've always had a real good attendance," she said. "The candidates were so happy because there hasn't been another one (forum) this year."

Culbreth said she issued an invitation to every candidate who will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot in Davidson County - a total of 57 in all.

"These are voters," she said of the club members. "They vote, and they have families who vote. It's a good crowd to come and get your message out."

For the most part, given the limited time, candidates stuck with thumbnail biographies and general goals. Only a few took swipes at their opponents.

Democrat Rory Blake, a retired Charlotte pharmacist, who is challenging 22-year incumbent U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, R-6th, linked him to the large federal budget deficits

"Remember Howard's pencil?" Blake said in a reference to Coble's career-long promise to cut wasteful spending. "I guess they've given that up in Washington, because they're not really cutting the budget."

Coble, who spoke before Blake, told a story about a woman who said she hadn't voted for former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill because he hadn't asked for her vote.

"I'm asking you all for your vote," Coble said.

Fourteen-year incumbent Mel Watt, D-12th, and his challenger, Republican Ada Fisher, a Salisbury physician, did not talk about each other. Fisher ran against Watt previously in 2004.

"I'm challenging the folks in Davidson County to value my experience and the work I've done for them," said Watt, who has never carried the county in his victories.

Fisher talked about promoting affordable and accessible health care, stopping illegal immigration and making English the official language.

"We need jobs in this country that you can't send south of the border and you can't send overseas," she added.

None of the county's state legislators attended. All are incumbents and unopposed.

In the county race that usually gets the most attention, incumbent Republican Sheriff David Grice and his Democratic challenger, Roy Holman, both attended the forum.

"We're making progress," Grice said of the department he was appointed to run 27 months ago when Gerald Hege stepped down following felony convictions.

Holman said he would "put honesty and integrity back in the sheriff's department."

"We do not have that," he charged.

Incumbent Republican county commissioner Sam Watford spoke also for fellow incumbent Don Truell, who as a former Thomasville mayor was playing in the Mayor's Cup golf tournament.

"I'm sticking with one issue -economic development," Watford said, promising to continue "aggressive recruitment."

He called it important for the tax base, jobs and to improve the appearance of the county by filling empty factory buildings.

Billy Joe Kepley pledged to "restore faith and confidence in government" and focus on schools and small businesses.

He served for 14 years on the board before losing in the 2004 Republican primary by five votes.

"It shows how important your vote is," he reminded the audience.

Republican Kenny Moore, who served on the board from 1986 to 1994, including as chairman, said he would be a stronger commissioner for having spent the last 12 years in the private sector.

"I stand strong for God and country and traditional family values," he promised.

Max Walser, the only incumbent Democratic commissioner, pointed to the postcards on each table picturing him with his three grandsons.

"That's why I'm running for county commissioner," he said. "I really am running for the future of our children."

He advocated protecting the environment and controlling growth, especially in the northeastern part of the county.

Randall Lanier, a former county Democratic party chairman, said he has a passion for Davidson County.

"This is a just a great place to live, and we've got to get it back to what it was," he said.

Watson Gregg, also a former county Democratic Party chairman, got some chuckles when he recalled his grandmother telling him that "politicians are like babies' diapers. They need to be changed every so often." He commended every candidate for committing the personal time to run for office.

Larry Allen, who was appointed by the Republicans to fill the unexpired term of Fred Sink, who had to vacate his seat when he lost an appeal of his felony conviction, did not attend the forum.

His challenger in the head-to-head matchup, Loretta Martin, a former county Democratic chairwoman, took the opportunity to remind women's club members that she is the only female on the ballot.

"I think we ought to have a woman's voice on the county commissioners, and if I'm not elected, there will be no woman's voice on the county commissioners," she said.

In other head-to-head races, two-term Clerk of Superior Court Brian Shipwash stressed public service and talked about his program, "Fifty Things You Can Do at the Courthouse," to help people file simple legal processes without a lawyer.

Democratic challenger Teresa Odgen Lowe, a 20-year veteran of the district attorney's office, said she is committed to public service "without favoritism or political influence."

Democratic incumbent Register of Deeds Mark Myers, appointed in June 2005 after Ronnie Callicutt retired, pointed to his business background.

"I know what customer service is," he said, calling his office the most efficiently managed it can be.

But Republican challenger David Rickard, who also has a business background, stuck with his call for technology upgrades.

"We're a little behind other counties," he asserted.

In the nonpartisan race for two seats on the Davidson County Board of Education, incumbent one-term member Carol Crouse, an educator and parent volunteer, said education has been "the love of my life since I was 6 years old." Kenny Meredith, who was elected to the board in 1996 and 2000, said his experience would help "maneuver not just the potholes but some land mines that education is facing." Political newcomer Keith Wingler said Davidson County has a great school system, and "I'd just like to be involved in making sure it stays that way."

Other candidates appearing at the forum included N.C. Court of Appeals Judges Linda Stephens, who is running for re-election, and Eric Levinson, who is seeking a seat on the State Supreme Court; 22nd District Superior Court Judge Mark Klass and his challenger, Robert Spaugh, a Forsyth County lawyer who lives in Davidson County; Lexington lawyer Rod Penry and former Davie County assistant district attorney Carlton Terry, who are vying for the 22nd District Court judge seat vacated when Jim Huneycutt retired; and Ted Royster, who is unopposed for another term as District Court judge in District 22.

Eric Frazier can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or eric.frazier@the-dispatch.com.

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