6th Congressional District candidates get tough with each other

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by Eric Ginsburg

DSC09875Candidates for the state’s 6th Congressional District seat, vacated by longtime Rep. Howard Coble who is retiring, made their cases before a Greensboro Regional Realtors Association meeting last week.

Mark Walker, who will face Phil Berger Jr. in a July runoff to determine which Republican contender will take on Democrat Laura Fjeld in November, argued at a Greensboro Regional Realtors Association forum last week that there is a clear choice in the runoff despite similarities on real-estate issues. In his closing remarks, Walker said that Berger has an “aggressive posture” as demonstrated in the forum versus Walker’s approach that works with people.

“We’re a fresh voice,” he said. “We love people from all walks of life.”

The forum moved quickly, and the candidates were only asked a couple of pre-planned questions that closely pertained to real estate and tax plans.

Walker may have best summed up a candidate forum in his closing remarks: There wasn’t too much difference between the three contenders’ positions. While the questions may not have allowed attendees to parse out significant differences between the candidates, it did illuminate how each contender is approaching the race and what each brings with them.

Walker said he is proud of the diversity of support his campaign is receiving, listing prominent endorsements including Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes. Washington is short on leadership but not on résumés, he argued, adding that he isn’t aligned with special interest groups in the capital.

Fjeld, who hopes to shift the seat to the left, also addressed special interests, saying she had the backbone to stand up to powerful lobbies.

“Let’s face it: nothing is getting done that needs to get done,” she said.

Berger turned the issue on its head.

DSC09931Having received tremendous PAC support in the primary, Berger said he will continue to take PAC money and joked that he hoped the realtors’ national organization has a check in the mail to him. In fact, Berger said, he is pretty confident that the National Association of Realtors has already given money to a PAC that has supported him.

“You are my special interest,” Berger said, adding that he would champion the realtors’ issues. “I am a steady voice for change and reform.”

Berger, who has been endorsed by Rep. Howard Coble who currently holds the 6th district seat, brushed off Walker’s claim that he has a better leadership style. Berger said in an interview that he is the only candidate with elected experience — as the Rockingham County district attorney — and that he stands behind his résumé.

That résumé includes creating the toughest sentencing of any county in the state, he said, which is good because people are safer if “bad guys” are in prison longer. Berger said his style of leadership has protected the people of North Carolina and that he “will stand on those grounds.”

Berger went after Walker several times in the forum while Walker took a more relaxed and lighthearted approach, causing people to laugh several times at his humor.

Partway through the forum, Berger implied that Walker took varying positions in front of different groups and on his website, criticizing his opponent’s tax plans in particular.

“You cannot favor a flat tax and a consumer tax and maintain capital-gains tax exemptions,” Berger said. “Talk is cheap right? Especially from politicians.”

Berger said that, conversely, he signed a pledge not to support exemptions. He also favors repealing the “death tax” and a reduced corporate tax, he said.

Walker responded that the country’s tax code desperately needs reform and that a flat tax is feasible. He added that he would maintain deductions for mortgage interest, higher education and charitable giving.

Fjeld avoided targeting either one of her opponents, instead emphasizing her own stances and qualifications. In an interview after the event, Fjeld lumped the two Republicans together.

“Both of my opponents have advocated a flat tax which would eliminate mortgage interest deductions,” she said.

She also repeated her talking points from her opening: “Jobs, jobs, jobs and the economy and education.”

Fjeld said targeted incentives for vetted entrepreneurs and job-training programs linked to community colleges could be powerful for the economy and attracting high-paying jobs.

In her opening remarks, Fjeld said her work in the construction industry helped her understand realtors’ issues and said she is fed up with “the gridlock in Washington.”

Walker told the crowd he is also tired of the “vitriol of the political world” and wants to connect with people past partisanship. He said he is running because he’s seen “liberties and freedoms dissipating over the last several years” without citing any specifically.

Berger said he wants to maintain the opportunities for future generations that the people in the room enjoyed.

“I want to control the scope of government,” he said.

DSC09908When he mentioned his oft-repeated goal of ending “Obamacare,” a woman towards the back of the room booed him loudly, causing a stir.

Outside the forum, Walker shook hands with people as they left. Fjeld mingled a casually in the middle of the hallway outside of the meeting room while Berger lingered in the back, letting attendees approach him. The scene highlighted the candidates’ different approaches, but didn’t reveal who might have more support from the crowd.