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Candidates for the 57th have different platforms

by Amy Kingsley

Both candidates running to represent the 57th District of the NC House grew up in Greensboro. But that’s where the similarities end, according to Ron Styers, the Republican who is challenging incumbent Democrat Pricey Harrison for the seat.

“We’re pretty much opposites,” he said.

Styers’ sense of civic duty motivated him to seek the elected position. The former television reporter has owned his own business for 18 years and has children in Guilford County Schools. Education is one of his primary concerns, along with illegal immigration, lowering taxes and decreasing the influence of special interests in the state legislature.

“I’m very much in favor of allowing charter schools,” he said. “I think the cap should be raised.”

North Carolina currently limits the number of charter schools that can operate in the state. Harrison said that charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, probably have a place in the school systems. However, she is concerned that many are failing, and draining money from public schools.

Harrison served on the education committee during her freshman term in the House and said she was proud of the efforts that had been made to strengthen classrooms.

“I’ve heard we passed the best education budget ever,” she said.

Styers, however, said he would like to see public schools held accountable to taxpayers.

“Fifty percent of our tax money goes to schools and we’re not seeing results,” he said.

Harrison, whose great-grandfather founded Jefferson Standard almost 100 years ago, worked as a communications lawyer before running for the House in 2004. In her first term, she made environmental issues a priority. She supported legislation to increase restrictions on industrial and automotive emissions, advocated for the landfill moratorium and fought against easing corporate responsibility for groundwater contamination.

Harrison was the primary sponsor of a couple of successful pieces of legislation in her first term. She drafted legislation that closed a loophole in the state’s hit-and-run law that allowed a man who killed reporter Stephen Gates to go free. And students with severe allergies and asthma can now carry their medications with them instead of leaving them in the school nurse’s office thanks to her efforts to change the law.

Like many House races around the state, this one is haunted by the specter of Democratic House Speaker Jim Black’s legal troubles. Two political action committees tied to the embattled speaker contributed to Harrison’s campaign in 2004. She refunded the money to both organizations this year and vowed not to accept any contributions from political action committees.

“Besides returning his money I asked him to step aside this April,” Harrison said. “I was one of three Democrats to do that. His legal troubles have been a distraction but it shouldn’t be an issue in my campaign.”

Although Harrison has distanced herself from Black, Styers said the money from the 2004 election still smacks of influence.

“You cannot buy this election because the incumbent was hand-chosen by Jim Black,” he said.

Despite her vow not to accept money from Black or any special interest group, Harrison still leads her challenger in fundraising, according to campaign finance records from the state board of elections. The most recent reports indicate that Styers’ war chest contains about $2,200 compared to Harrison’s $55,000.

If Harrison is reelected, she said she plans to continue advocating for environmental issues. Although the state has enacted an Innocence Commission to review death penalty convictions, she said she will still push for a moratorium.

Both candidates said they would work to strengthen ethics guidelines at the General Assembly and try to decrease the role that money plays in state politics.

“I’ve been a pretty strong advocate for public financing of campaigns,” Harrison said. “Money has way too much influence over legislation.”

To comment on this article, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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