For the second time in the campaign, all three candidates for U.S. Senate appeared on the same stage to answer questions from voters. This time, it was a candidate forum held by the N.C. Agribusiness Council on the closing day of their 41st annual leadership conference yesterday in Durham.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr, Democratic N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Libertarian Dr. Mike Beitler separately answered five questions posed by council representatives. Topics included immigration reform, federal restrictions on tobacco exports, alternative fuel and energy sources, government regulation of farming, and animal rights and welfare.
“We need common sense immigration reform that begins with border security,” said Burr. Marshall also called for securing the border “first and foremost.” “We need to have a safe, stable and legal supply of workers,” Marshall said.
“Immigration is an issue the major parties have been dodging,” said Beitler. “I believe in amnesty and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.” He said that the state needs a policy that would allow a quick and efficient method for people to come here to work.
In several responses to questions about federal regulation of farming, Burr and Marshall said that they believed farmers are the “best stewards” of the land. Beitler also agreed, but added that he not only opposed government regulation, but also corporate welfare for farmers.
Tobacco, one of the state’s major crops, is heavily regulated by the federal government. Burr said that the crop may be the key to the nation’s economic recovery. “I believe if you want to put Americans back to work the place we ought to start is to open up as many markets as we can to agricultural products and tobacco would be one.”
Marshall said tobacco farming was being unfairly singled out. “Politicians cannot continue to look at tobacco as a cash cow,” Marshall said.
Beitler also noted that tobacco was the target of unfair regulation. “I’m concerned that it is being singled out for regulation which is unfair to the tobacco industry.” That is why he said he opposes the ban on smoking in restaurants and bars.
“Tobacco is a very important crop in North Carolina and will be for years to come,” Beitler said. “But we do need to recognize that it’s a declining industry, and we need to think long-term on how to replace that crop.”
He said that farmers should consider alternatives. One such crop, suggested by Thomas Jefferson, is hemp. While the plant is related to marijuana, it is not a hallucinogen and could be used to make other products, including rope and paper.