'Washington has to change'

Sen. Richard Burr’s closing remarks in the first U.S. Senate debate summed up the tone and substance of the event. “I like these two opponents,” the incumbent Republican said.

“We’ve got differences and over the next few months, everybody in North Carolina is going to have an opportunity to choose somebody that more aligns with what they see needs to be the path forward,” he said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

All three candidates agreed that the 2010 election is crucial. All three agreed that, in Burr’s words, “Washington has to change.” All three clearly disagreed on how it must change and who is best suited to change it

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, the Democratic nominee, repeated her primary campaign theme that she is the person who can stand up to special interests because she’s done so in North Carolina. “Sending the same people to Washington won’t change anything,” she said. “One side is saying no, and the other side is running scared.”

Mike Beitler, the Libertarian candidate, said that Burr and Marshall are those same people and part of the problem. “One of the most important issues facing us today is corporate cronyism, big business in bed with big government,” he said. “My opponents have looked the other way. I will attack the problem head on.”

A panel of journalists questioned the candidates on government regulation, campaign finance reform the Gulf Oil spill and immigration. The panel included Si Cantrell of the Wilmington Star News, Gerald Owen of WRAL TV. and Loretta Boniti of News 14 Carolina.

The June 26 debate, sponsored by the N.C. Bar Association during the annual conference, was aired live on News 14 Carolina.

Marshall seemed to blame the Gulf Oil spill on Burr. She criticized him for doing nothing, as a member of the Senate energy committee, to make the minerals management service more effective and efficient. “In fact, he’s encouraged deep sea drilling,” she said.

“I am heartsick about what I see on the Gulf coast,” said Marshall. “I am angry about it and I’m glad to see our president becoming angry.”

Beitler agreed with Marshall’s concern but said that anger and knee-jerk reactions are not leadership. “This is a complex issue and the knee-jerk reaction to close down all the wells and put 150,000 people out of work is wrong.” He said that it will just add to the suffering of the people in the area.

Burr said shutting down all drilling would stifle economic growth. He noted that oil companies are drilling in deep water, inherently riskier than drilling on shore or in shallow water, because “we’ve chased them off” through government regulation.

The issue of government regulation and oversight of business came up in several of the questions and the candidates’ responses.

“We already have regulators but many of the regulators aren’t doing their jobs,” said Beitler. “Until we break up the corporate cronyism we’re going to have people who are regulators looking the other say.”

“Whatever we craft to stop cheating, we’re just not smart enough to stop cheaters,” said Burr. He said that the solution was to focus more on the financial products that have not been regulated and on insuring regulators do their jobs.

Marshall, citing her “special expertise” said the problem is that regulations have been eroded and regulators haven’t been given enough money to do their jobs.

“We’ve seen what happens when capitalism takes over,” she said, deriding what she said was the prevalent view that Wall Street would heal itself and market forces would take care of things. “I will stand up when I see things are wrong, that are just way too complicated for ordinary people to understand,” she said.

The debate is available to Time Warner Cable digital subscribers on the News 14 Carolina on demand channel. Or click here to watch the debate.