Wednesday, July 24, 2024

2 candidates running for governor speak in Wilmington, one elicits protesters at GOP fundraiser

Protesters line the entryway of the St. James Community Center, demonstrating against a private fundraiser for governor candidate Mark Robinson. (Port City Daily/ Jalyn Baldwin)

WILMINGTON — “No hate in our state,” chanted Democratic protesters who lined the entrance of the St. James Community Center Thursday afternoon. They were rallying against a private fundraiser held for Mark Robinson, the GOP candidate for North Carolina governor. 

All eyes are on this year’s North Carolina governor race, drawing attention for its historic significance, contentious tone, and stark candidate differences. Robinson would make North Carolina’s first black governor, while Stein would be the first Jewish governor.  

On Thursday, Stein and Robinson made their way to Wilmington. They were given the floor at the Wilmington Business Journal’s Power Breakfast series, separately taking the stage to discuss education, job growth, the economy, and their visions for the state.

Though no protesters showed up to the Wilmington Convention Center that morning, by 4 p.m. in Brunswick County, 40 were holding signs at a GOP fundraiser. “My body, my skirt, my choice,” “Public money 4 public schools,” and “The Holocaust is real” addressed inflammatory comments Robinson — current lieutenant governor — has made publicly about abortion, public school funding, and his conspiracy theories about the Holocaust.

“Someone filled with that much bigotry and hate, and not supportive of people’s basic values, is not someone I think should be in the governor’s office,” Shelley Allen, chair for the Brunswick County Democratic Party, said at the protest. 

Also in attendance against Robinson’s run were representatives from We Will Not Go Back Coastal Carolina, South Brunswick County Democrats, Just Ladies, Liberals of Oak Island, and Southport Indivisible. Some noted their support for Stein. 

“I think that he is a very kind, intelligent, articulative, contemplative person, who has the best interest of all the people of NC, and who wants to protect women especially,” said Jill Brown, who is running for a seat on the North Carolina House of Representatives for District 19. 

She specifically citied the recent work Stein did to process 11,841 rape kits that were on backlog. 

Attorney General and governor candidate, Josh Stein, speaking at Wilmington Biz Journal’s Power Breakfast. (Port City Daily/ Jalyn Baldwin)

The democratic protestors shared public space with a small group of five Robinson supporters rallying for the Republican candidate. 

Inside the community center, the fundraising event was in progress. It cost $100 a ticket to attend and had a turnout of about 106 people. The proceeds from the event went to Robinson’s campaign. 

Joe Koval, a resident who was involved in hosting the private fundraiser: “I think it’s wonderful that there are so many like-minded folks that find the god-fearing, traditional family values so important.”

Koval was shocked at seeing protesters outside, stating most of his attendees would not “dream of attacking people at a fundraiser. 

“People have the right to choose. I think it’s a shame,” he told Port City Daily Friday.

Lisa and Mike Toohey also hosted the fundraiser and said Robinson spoke about his vision for North Carolina and its economy — noting it was built on education and infrastructure. 

The couple said he has a pro-job agenda, which they admired considering his background. 

Robinson grew up in Greensboro and has been transparent with the media that his family suffered domestic abuse from his father before his passing. Robinson calls his mother his hero for her perseverance in raising him and his nine siblings and told the breakfast crowd his mother had the opportunity to live off of government assistance, but decided not to. 

“Robinson represents the values of North Carolina. He grew up here, came from a poor environment, and rejected it. He rejects the welfare state,” Mike Tahooey said. 

They also claim the extremist narrative built around Robinson is not accurate. Robinson has been called an extreme conservative in the media for his history of making controversial statements. For example, in February at a campaign event, Robinson said transgender women should use the restroom outside. 

“If you are confused, find a corner outside somewhere to go. We’re not tearing society down because of this,” he said at the event. 

In 2021, he referred to gay people as filth during a sermon.

“They like to take clips and find a narrative that he doesn’t intend,” Toohey surmised. “People don’t take the time to read his policy statements and listen to what he actually believes and actually said, rather than going with something that sounds absolutely horrific.” 

The Toohey’s agree with his views that diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) programs are harmful and the education system needs reform to eliminate the push of a social agenda, referring to concepts like sexuality as part of this agenda. 

He is a man of god and we appreciate that,” Lisa Toohey said. “I believe he has common sense and can see the shortcomings of the DEI and how much it hurt us. I think he doesn’t play into the luxe narrative and the agenda.”

Democratic and Republican protestors rally outside the St. James Community Center for a private fundraiser for Mark Robinson. (Port City Daily/ Jalyn Baldwin)

Brown took issue with Robinson’s misogynistic and bigoted rhetoric. She particularly disagrees with his opinions on women’s reproductive health and LGBTQ+ rights, specifically when it comes to classroom materials. 

“They talk about indoctrination, that we [Democrats] are indoctrinating kids. But they are indoctrinating them in a whole ‘nother way,” she said during the protest. “We are not telling kids, ‘You should be gay.’ It’s just like: ‘Yes, you have a mom and a dad, and this person has a mom and a mom. And that’s OK.’ It’s OK to be different, and we can love each other for it.” 

Robinson shared his views on classroom materials and curriculum at the Wilmington Biz Journal’s Power Breakfast Thursday morning. He pushed the idea that education should take a “classical” approach and be rid of any inappropriate materials. 

He emphasized schools should prioritize fundamental skills, including learning history and civics, reading, writing, mathematics, and financial literacy.

“There’s entirely too much agenda packed into the classroom,” he said. “We need to get back to classical education.”

The candidates were given the stage for 10 minutes and then took questions from the audience. When asked why he wanted to make these changes, Robinson said he had seen objectionable materials presented to students at school. When pressed further for specific examples, he couldn’t provide any and instead said it was materials that depict queer identities. 

“What are those? I can name you a few books like gender — gender queer and others that depict, that literally depict, they depict what amounts to pornography,” he said. 

Both candidates passionately spoke about North Carolina’s education system, with a specific interest in increasing teacher pay. 

“We must support our educators,” Stein said. “It is long past time teachers have got a real pay raise in this state.”

The last pay raise to teacher salary was in 2021 when it saw a 2.63% increase. Teachers who work for the state are projected to receive a 3% pay raise next month according to the 2023 budget that stands for two years. The house proposal for the 2024-2025 fiscal year budget would show an average 4.4% raise, including the 2023 bump. 

“They are not paid well. They are not protected. And they are not respected,” Robinson told the breakfast crowd.

Stein highlighted his impact on affordable healthcare, which he called bipartisan work as the state’s attorney general, elected in 2017. Before that, he was a state senator and senior deputy attorney general in the North Carolina Department of Justice. His office defended Medicaid expansion in the Supreme Court, supporting the Affordable Care Act. North Carolina expanded Medicaid in December of last year.

“Already, more than 450,000 of our neighbors have health insurance today who did not in December,” he said.

Stein also discussed his efforts to combat opioid addiction in North Carolina, including suing major pharmaceutical companies, which resulted in a $1.5 billion payout for the state.

Aside from touting his own work, Stein also called out inflammatory comments his opponent made in the media about public school teachers, film industry workers, members of the LGBQT+ community, and women. He alleged Robinson is a “self-described conspiracy theorist” mentioning how the lieutenant governor publicly questioned the parties responsible for the Holocaust, 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. 

In 2018 Robinson posted on social media an alarming downplay of the Holocaust. 

“This foolishness about Hitler disarming MILLIONS of Jews and then marching them off to concentration camps is a bunch of hogwash,” he wrote. 

A year before, he insinuated he thought the moon landing and 9/11 were a hoax, stating he “wouldn’t be surprised” if he found out either event was faked or an “inside job.” 

In Wilmington Thursday morning, Robinson noted during his speech he would refrain from denigrating his opponent. 

“I do not have time here in these 10 minutes to cover all the things that my opponent has not done as attorney general,” he said. “ I prefer to stick with what I want to talk about. … I’ll let his work speak for itself — or should I say, the work he hasn’t done speaks for itself.”

Lieutenant Governor and Republican governor candidate, Mark Robinson, speaking at Wilmington Biz Journal’s Power Breakfast. (Port City Daily/ Jalyn Baldwin)

Before becoming lieutenant governor in 2021, Robinson worked in furniture manufacturing for more than a decade. He attributes losing his last furniture manufacturing job to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

He also operated a shared venture with his wife since 2018. The nonprofit, Balanced Nutrition, helped child care centers receive funding for healthy meals. However, in April the nonprofit voluntarily closed its doors. According to a CBS 17 article, Yolanda Hill, Robinson’s wife, said in an email that she was shutting down the nonprofit because of the demand from her husband’s campaign. This came after a 2021 audit showed discrepancies in the business books.

Robinson said the first step to strengthening the state’s economy is to change the culture within North Carolina’s government agencies. 

“What do I mean by that?” he asked. “I want to put people over the head of those agencies who understand one crucial thing, and it’s this: They do not work for the State of North Carolina. They work for the people of North Carolina.” 

In 2023, North Carolina was rated as the top state for business by CNBC, for the second year in a row. N.C. Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders noted in a report posted on the NC Governor’s website, that the state had almost 30,000 new jobs and $19.3 billion in investments. North Carolina also made $33.535 billion in revenue in 2023, surpassing the budget’s expected revenue by 9.9%. 

He said the second step to boost the economy would be to modernize state agencies by speeding up operations. He used the analogy of someone getting an Amazon package within a few days after ordering it, comparing it to his goal of how efficiently state agencies should work. 

“Literally, when our state agencies hold up our business, they’re holding up our revenue,” he said. 

Stein said to him, advancing the economy ensures making sure economic opportunity is distributed across the state. He mentioned investing in water and sewer, ports, airports, and bridges. He added that addressing the high cost of living, lowering taxes for middle and working class families, and ensuring all children get a good education also contribute to this. 

“We have to make sure that the economy works for everyone,” Stein said. 

 Election Day is Nov. 5, 2024.

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