Early voting is underway in North Carolina. Voters are electing a new governor and they're also making selections for other statewide offices.
Agriculture is the state's largest industry, and Commissioner Steve Troxler has overseen it for eight years. He's the first Republican ever to hold the post. His Democratic challenger is Walter Smith. Both are lifelong farmers - Smith runs a small poultry farm in Yadkin County; Troxler grows tobacco in Guilford County. And both agree that food and consumer safety are paramount. Troxler says the difference is in their styles.
Steve Troxler: "I prefer to regulate with education first before I have to fine people, and I'm gonna continue to do that. It seems to work very well in North Carolina. I read that he wants to be more of a regulator with a heavy hand than I do.,"
Smith says his approach is not big government.
Walter Smith:" I worked for the federal government for over 33 years, and I've seen my share of red tape and rules and regulations. And when I ran an office for the U.S. Department of Agriculture we did everything we possibly could to cut through these rules, simplify them, and actually assist the farmers."
But Smith says "voluntary compliance" isn't working. He points to the E. coli outbreaks at fairs, and an audit last year that found the department almost never fined propane gas facilities that had repeatedly violated safety regulations.
Walter Smith: "If you have companies who do not comply with the rules and regulations then that's when you step in and that's when you have to get their attention and you have to enforce the laws that are already on the books."
Troxler says his department is recognized as a national leader in food safety and has gone to unprecedented lengths to prevent E. coli. And as for the lack of fines on gas facilities - he says the point is, no safety incidents actually occurred.
Steve Troxler: "We will use fines when we have to, but what I want is compliance. And we've been very good at getting compliance without being so heavy-handed, and I'm gonna continue to do that."
Troxler says in a third term he wants to focus on international marketing of North Carolina farm products. Smith says he'd like the department to focus on areas he feels have been neglected, like animal welfare and the environment.