With Election Day coming Nov. 6, political candidates from near and far came together at First Baptist Church to express their views on issues ranging from education to political protests.
The Sampson County branch of the NAACP hosted its candidate forum Monday inside the fellowship hall at 900 College St. It allowed community members to meet the people running for office, listen to their personal stories and learn about political matters. Monday’s forum was moderated by Marcus Bass.
“We have a stacked deck of candidates,” Bass said, “some of which who have traveled from across North Carolina to be with us today.”
Candidates present to answer questions on stage were Freddie Butler, Democratic candidate for Sampson County Sheriff; Martin Tony Denning, Democratic candidate for N.C. House District 22; Anita Earls, Democratic candidate for N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Seat 1; Chris Fann, Republican candidate for Sampson County Clerk of Court; Tammy Grady, Democratic candidate for Sampson County Clerk of Court; Tobias Hampson, Democratic candidate for North Carolina Court of Appeals Seat 2; Albert D. Kirby Jr., Democratic candidate and incumbent for Superior Court Judge Judicial District 4A; Sue Lee, incumbent and Republican candidate for Sampson County Board of Commissioners District 3; Vernon Moore, Democratic candidate for N.C. Senate District 10; Raymond Smith, Democratic candidate for N.C. House District 21; Henry L. Stevens IV, Republican candidate for N.C. Superior Court Judicial District 4A; and Jimmy Thornton, incumbent and Republican candidate for Sampson County Sheriff.
After candidates introduced themselves and explained why they’re running for office, Bass gave them the opportunity to speak on issues involving education, crime and the legal system and localizing national issues. Members of the audience also wrote down questions to be answered.
Lee, an incumbent Sampson County commissioner, spoke about her colleagues’ increasing spending for local schools. She said more money is good, but she stressed parent and family involvement as well when asked about improving the school-to-prison pipeline.
Thornton, the current Sampson sheriff, talked about returning seized cash to local schools confiscated from multiple drug cases, but not all of it goes to the districts. He added that a conscious effort is made to have talks with youths.
“It’s critically important that, as adults, we send the right message to our young people,” Thornton said. “If we don’t do it, it’s not going to happen.”
Denning, N.C. House District 22 candidate, said he learned about education from being in the classroom. He expressed his concerns on class size and showed support for educators.
Crime, law enforcement and legal system
Thornton said communities play a vital role and responsibility in molding and shaping young people. When asked about the legal system, he believes that someone who commits a crime will not stay on the same path forever.
“However, at some point, intervention has got to take place after that first crime,” he said before speaking about responsibility.
In addition to stating saying the department is colorblind when it comes to making arrests, he also brought up the opioid problem, calling it “serious business.” Thornton called for everyone to be active in stopping the problem.
“We all need to get involved,” Thornton said. “Every institution that we have needs to take a hard assertive role in seeing to that we start working for everyone and particularly our young people.”
Earls, the founder of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said it’s important for judges to examine implicit bias in the legal system.
Denning expressed how religion plays a role in making society better for everyone while sharing his beliefs about his faith in Jesus Christ and the Bible.
When asked about national issues hitting home, Thornton brought up the opioid crisis again and the majority of illicit drug production being consumed by U.S. citizens.
“That’s what drives dysfunctions in families, it drives domestic problems and it drives the criminal element,” Thornton said.
He added that county jails are “filled to the brim” because of crimes and said it’s unfortunate, before calling on everyone to play in role in making the community better.
Clerk of Court candidate Fann stressed community involvement, education on issues and being a role model for youths.
While speaking on education, Moore, Democratic candidate for N.C. Senate District 10, said education is a key to success and said he supports life-long learning.
“Every child should have the opportunity to know that there’s a path to personal success for them,” Moore said. “That will help us in the second quarter of the 21st Century. The opioid crisis is a problem, but it’s not our most pressing problem. If we’re better prepared to face our future, then we’re better prepared to eliminate the negatives — opioids being one of those.”
Hampson believes the most important national issue is the United States Supreme Court since it affects issues such as healthcare, the opioid crisis, criminal justice and education.
“The judiciary has an impact on every area of life,” Hampson said. “That starts at the very top. It starts with the United States Supreme Court.”
He continued and said the voters have the opportunity to shape matters in the lives of North Carolina residents.
“These judicial races matter; judges matter, both at the federal and state level,” Hampson said. “It’s vitally important in 2018 to pay attention to these races and to get out and vote for the right candidate.”
School safety, arming teachers
Butler, Democratic candidate for sheriff, said a School Resource Officer (SROs) plan should be implemented for every building and was opposed to arming teachers.
“A teacher has been schooled and educated to teach our youths, not to hold a weapon,” Butler said. “As far as being placed in a position to know when to shoot and not to shoot, I don’t think that would be the proper way to go about doing it.”
He said such matters should be left up to SROs.
“When you go to a shoot/don’t shoot situation, you’re purposely put into an environment not knowing what’s in that door when you open it up,” Butler said. “Something’s going to pop up for you to decide in a split second as to whether you’re supposed to shoot or not. I don’t think it would be a good idea to arm teachers, personally.”
Denning shared the same feelings about that matter, while showing concern to accessibility of weapons.
“I think it would cause more problems than solving them,” Denning said. “There’ll be some students who say ‘I’m going to get the teacher’s gun.’”
Thornton had a difference of opinion on the matter. With 19 schools in the county, there’s only five SROs.
“Not only do our students need some form of safety and protection, but our school teachers do too, folks,” Thornton said. “If you go back and look at all these mass shootings that are taking place, you’ll see where practically every one of them had gun-free zones.”
He implied that some individuals may be more than capable of being able to perform responsibilities. Thornton added that local churches went through training to learn how to protect the congregation.
“If churches are taking that approach, I think our schools should too,” Thornton said.
Governor judge selection
Candidates also spoke about a proposal to block North Carolina’s governor from picking judges and leaving it up to legislators.
Kirby said the process should be fair and create a situation where residents see a court system where everyone is getting a fair shot. Earls also chimed in on the matter.
“My position is that the Constitution guarantees the voters the right to decide who is on the state supreme court and you should retain our right as voters to elect the judges,” Earls said.
Civil rights, protests
Several comments were made regarding NFL football players taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.
“I can tell unequivocally that Black Lives Matter not only just because I’m black, but because there’s some serious social injustices that are going on in our community and our country that are absolutely being ignored and there’s not enough attention being paid to them,” said Smith, the Democratic candidate for N.C. House.
“However we have an individual who’s sitting in the most powerful position in the country, who absolutely disrespects a senator who gave his life for this country,” Smith said, referring to controversy regarding the passing of Sen. John McCain and President Donald Trump not paying tribute in the right time. “You have someone in Washington saying he’s not a hero, but then condemning these young men for silently protesting non-violently.”
During the meeting, Lee said “All Lives Matter” and wants everyone to work together and stated that she represents everybody as a county commissioner, regardless of their background.
“We can all work together and make this whole world a better place,” Lee said.
With 115 people, Monday’s forum was the highest attended for such an event held by the organization. Bass and other members of the NAACP encouraged people to vote, especially with a number of candidates and important issues on the ballot. Although disagreements occurred regarding race, diversity and being the best candidate, Bass stressed the importance of having meetings in a public forum.
“One of things I appreciate about these conversations is that we’re talking to each other,” Bass said. “A lot of times we talk about each other or around each other. We have these conversations about race, diversity and black lives, but if we’re going to live in harmony, we need to figure out a way to have these very difficult conversations.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.