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N.C. Senate hopefuls talk education, gay marriage, leadership

The candidates field questions during Tuesday's forum at Cornelius Town Hall. From left: Troy Stafford, Jeff Tarte, John Aneralla, Don Copeland, Robby Benton.


About 40 voters turned out for Tuesday night’s N.C. District 41 Senate candidate forum at Cornelius Town Hall, where they found five men who largely agreed on topics ranging from education, Amendment One, and leadership.

The candidates – all Republicans –  answered questions from moderator Dave Yochum of Cornelius Today/Business Today, from the audience and from citizens submitted via Facebook. The men talked about how our education system is flawed, and argued against tax increases. But their approaches to fixing education were varied.

“This is a classic example of what’s wrong in Raleigh, with Bev Perdue,” said candidate Jeff Tarte, who is currently Cornelius Mayor. “She wants to raise taxes (for education), but for what?” he said, as there’s no clear plan for how to use that money.

Troy Stafford, a lawyer and Cornelius resident, agreed. “Increasing taxes is not the answer. There’s a problem with priorities, he said, and “we need to refocus and redirect” the funding.

John Aneralla agreed, saying, “CMS has had bad priorities over the years.” The Huntersville business owner and former Mecklenburg County Republican chairman said the district is too large, and he wants to look into dividing it into smaller school districts. Also, he expressed support for charter schools, saying “I’m all about competition.” He said home-school families should receive a tax credit.

The audience listens to the candidates. About 40 people attended the forum.

Candidate Robby Benton, a Huntersville resident and owner of RAB Racing, said we need a system in which people want to be teachers, and a revenue stream that provides them with the resources they need to be successful. “At the end of the day, we have to attract good teachers,” he said.

Don Copeland, a retired physician, suggested a tax structure that dedicates a portion of commercial, personal income and sales taxes to supporting education.


When asked about Amendment One, a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman, candidates Tarte, Benton, Aneralla and Copeland said they were in favor of it.

Mr. Stafford said he voted against the amendment because though he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, state law already dictates that. “We have the law, we don’t need another law,” he said.

But Mr. Aneralla said state laws can be overturned in higher courts. “I don’t want judges changing the law,” he said.

One question from the audience asked how each candidate would be an effective leader to people in all social and economic classes.

“One of the things I hopefully do pretty well is listen,” Mayor Tarte said. He also aims to get more citizens involved in problem solving, as he has done for years, he said.

“The most important part of representing people is listening and figuring out what they want,” Mr. Stafford said. As a lawyer, he has worked with people from all walks of life, he said, and would approach the senate seat in the same way.

Similarly, Dr. Copeland said he has worked with people from every ethnic and social group through his practice, and he would treat every person like he treats every patient – without discrimination.

Mr. Benton said he is able to relate to people of all ages, and has friends in all socio-economic groups, and he would make a point to remain accessible to everyone if elected.

Mr. Aneralla pointed to his history on consistent messages and actions in working for the Republican party, and said he remains the same guy. He won’t become “just some politician,” he said.

Tuesday’s forum was free, but donations were collected to add names to the Veteran’s Memorial Monument at Rotary Plaza.


Tuesday’s forum will air on MI-Connection Channel 4, and should be available Thursday afternoon, MI-Connection officials said.

April 30, 2012,, “Republican candidates want lower taxes, support for business” – Read profiles of the state senate candidates on our Election page.

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- who has written 29 posts on Election.

Christina Ritchie Rogers is the assistant director of digital content at Davidson College. She also is the former editor of

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