Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said that North Carolina doesn’t have an image problem despite criticism in the national press and weekly demonstrations at the state capitol.
Forest joined about 350 people at the 20th annual God and Country Banquet Monday night at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.
“We’re improving our image to large groups of the populous all over America,” he said prior to the event. “People will write us and email us every day and tell us what a great job that we’re doing and encourage us to keep up the great work. You just don’t hear that in the national media. It’s obviously not what they believe, so we’re doing a great job and people are responding.”
Forest said conservatives in North Carolina are not looking for the national press to agree with them.
“If we were, we’d probably be on the wrong side of the aisle,” he said. “There’s a lot of good legislation that’s going on in North Carolina. I think the people that got elected in North Carolina are doing what they got elected to do. You take the hits in the media for doing that and you move on and you keep leading the way that we believe that you are supposed to lead in this country, so I think we’re doing a lot of great work.”
Forest said it doesn’t at all bother him that North Carolinians have come out to demonstrate in Raleigh and other places across the state in opposition to the Republican-held legislature.
“Actually, I enjoy the demonstrations,” he said. “People ask me about it all the time. I say that this is a visual example about what’s great about America, about our First Amendment, about our right to petition, about our freedom of speech, about your ability to get out and speak about the things that you are passionate about without getting put in jail for doing it, so the demonstrations that you see on Mondays are just an example of that. It’s an example of being American. You can get your voice heard.”
The event, put on by the Craven-Pamlico Christian Coalition featured a number of conservative state leaders. The main speaker was Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization dedicated to electing candidates and pursuing policies that will reduce and eventually end abortion.
Some in the state and across the nation criticized what they said was anti-abortion legislation approved this past session in the General Assembly.
N.C. Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, said he doesn’t put a lot of stock into criticism of North Carolina because of where it’s being generated.
“The Wall Street Journal is applauding North Carolina. South Carolina is applauding North Carolina,” he said. “Some of the other states wish that they could have accomplished what we have accomplished.”
Speciale said he is not at all concerned about the weekly demonstrations in Raleigh.
“Those folks are used to things being done a certain way,” he said. “For 140 years, this state was run by Democrats. It’s run by Republicans now. It’s now as much in my mind about what we’re doing up there as it is about the fact that we are there.”
N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said time would vindicate the actions of the General Assembly.
“I think that if we give the things that we’ve done a few months, six months, whatever it’s going to take, that I think all of that is going to play out and they’re going to see that we’ve made the right decisions for our state,” he said. “Nobody likes a frontrunner, and I think that we are a frontrunner in some of the things that we’re trying to do.”
Sanderson said the demonstrations don’t bother him.
“We’re all North Carolina citizens and they have their right to come,” he said. “I’m disappointed because I think that you can protest and make your feelings known without having to be arrested. I think that’s going a little bit too far, but other than that, they have just as much right as if this group went to Raleigh tomorrow and marched on the mall. That group that’s been there the whole session has just as much right as these folks do.”
House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said prior to the event that predictions of the demonstrators of bad outcomes haven’t come true.
“We’ve balanced our budget. We’ve been able to reduce taxes,” he said. “It’s a natural part of the process. It’s just a group of people who are really just yearning for the days of old when they were in control and taking the state in the wrong direction, and we’re not going to allow them to do that.”
Tillis dismisses criticism of the state.
“I think it’s part of the liberal narrative,” he said. “The decisions that we’ve made in North Carolina are very similar to other southeastern states and laws that they have had on the books for years, and the Southeast continues to be one of the most attractive places for job growth and population growth.
“I just view it as a part of their tired old playbook, trying to come back with the same old liberal positions that aren’t working. That’s why we won in 2010. That’s why we added to our numbers in 2012. That’s why Romney carried this state. They need to come up with a new message and they need to recognize that where they wanted to take this state is not generally where the citizens wanted to go.”
The God and Country Banquet regularly draws state politicians, and Speciale called the event a place to meet constituents.
“People like to be around like-minded people,” he said. “This is a good forum for the Christians. You don’t have to be a conservative to be here, but generally when you look around that’s who you’re seeing. It’s just a great way to share some camaraderie and be around people that think the way you do.”
Tillis was attending the event for the first time.
“I live clear across the other side of the state, but this gets really the foundation of our party together,” he said. “They are the ones that are usually out there helping us with campaigns. They are the ones that actually make our party better, so it’s a good event. It’s something that I would like to come to more often.”
Bill Harrison drove from New Bern to attend the banquet.
“I think people once a year want to come to an event that’s very positive,” he said. “They want to learn a little bit about not just the rest of the country but the rest of the world, and it’s an event that allows that to happen.
“It’s not a partisan event. It’s based on issues. I think people grasp for that. But the big issue though is not what we do here. It’s what we do afterwards.”