Dennis Nielsen, a familiar candidate in both local and statewide races, is challenging N.C. Sen. Buck Newton, R-Nash, for the Republican nomination in District 11. The winner will face Democrat Clarence Bender in November. Bender doesn't have a primary opponent.
Newton and Nielsen will face off in the May 8 primary.
Nielsen, a Nashville resident and owner of Freedom Arms in Clayton, is seeking his first election win.
Newton, the Wilson attorney who ousted 10-year Democratic incumbent A.B. Swindell in 2010, is seeking a second term.
“We have a whole lot more work that needs to be done,” Newton said. “We have made a good start solving the $2.5 billion shortfall while cutting taxes and trying to create jobs, but there is still plenty of waste in state government.”
Both candidates agree education reform is a top priority.
Newton co-sponsored the Excellent Public Schools Act, a bill aimed at reforming public schools by rewarding the most effective teachers, employing teachers on annual contracts and allowing parents and the public to evaluate public schools based on an A-F grading system.
“A lot of people complain about cuts to schools, but the former majority party has grown our government to such a point in spending that we couldn’t sustain it,” Newton said. “When you are wasting money on programs that perform poorly or take away from public schools, that money needs to be reallocated.”
Nielsen said the public school system isn’t failing, but rather it already has failed.
“We need a combination of public, private, charter and home schooling,” Nielsen said. “I believe in choices. Whenever they open up a charter school, there is an overflowing line to get in. I believe in giving people those choices.”
Nielsen also is campaigning on open government and term limits for every politician.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people are in favor of term limits, but those same people vote for the same person every time,” Nielsen said. “It’s stupid to think one thing and do another.”
Nielsen said he believes in eliminating the state income tax and adopting a flat tax.
“There is one tax that we need to increase, and that is the tax on political contributions,” Nielsen said. “When you donate to a church, that money is tax-exempt for the good of the community. Donating to a candidate isn’t for the good of a community, but it’s never taxed.”
Nielsen said he is running against Newton because of the senator’s position on gun laws. While Newton said gun laws need to be improved to protect the citizens’ Second Amendment right, Nielsen said Newton has violated that right by supporting the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association in Raleigh.
“(Newton) caved in to the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association and gave the sheriff more power on who should decide who has a gun,” Nielsen said. “The Second Amendment is not something that is written for the public and allows people to have guns. It was written to prevent the government from infringing on the rights of individuals to own guns.”
Newton said he wants to focus on jobs in his second term.
He said the economy’s revival depends on helping small businesses.
“We have to make sure we are doing everything right to make small and medium businesses grow,” Newton said. “They are the engine of the economy. We have to reduce their tax burdens as well as regulations, so they know how to comply and are not trying to hit a moving target that is always changing.”
Nielsen said offshore drilling off North Carolina’s coast would boost the economy.
“We can supply gasoline, but we just have to develop it,” he said.
Both candidates said they opposed tolled highways, saying tolls would hurt businesses and the economy in the East.
“I opposed the tolling of I-95 long before I was elected,” Newton said. “This would be devastating to the I-95 corridor. We already have a difficult enough time as it is competing on a regional level with the Piedmont part of the state. We paid our taxes to improve and widen I-95, and it is completely unfair to stick everybody who lives near and is dependent on I-95.”Editor's note: This story has been corrected online to reflect the fact that the winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Clarence Bender in the fall. The Telegram apologizes for the omission in the original story that appeared online and in Monday's print edition.