Candidates seeking state, national seats attend forum
BAKERSVILLE – Candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and the North Carolina State Senate gathered in the historic courthouse in Bakersville this past Tuesday to participate in the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce Candidates’ Forum.
Democrat Phillip Price and Libertarian Clifton Ingram were the lone participants from the list of House of Representatives candidates for District 11. Democrats Steve Woodsmall and D. Scott Donaldson were invited but did not RSVP.
Incumbent Mark Meadows and fellow Republican Chuck Archerd did not attend.
Ingram used his introductory period to briefly describe the priorities of the Libertarian party and his position on the legalization of marijuana.
“It’s an honor to be on the ballot as a Libertarian,” he said. “There is a drug problem in this country and the way we are working on it is not really working.
“Libertarians are generally tolerant of people and don’t believe the government has business telling people what they can put in their body. Another principle is fiscal conservancy.”
Price’s introduction was succinct and focused on bringing change.
“With all your help, I will repeal and replace Mark Meadows,” Price said to scattered applause. “My platform is about bringing better jobs with bigger paychecks to Western North Carolina.”
The opening question, which was about whether there should be more stringent vetting for refugees, was asked to Price.
“I would have to read the protocol of vetting refugees more to answer on that intelligently,” Price said. “But, I’d say certainly we need a stringent vetting system for our refugees. It shouldn’t be easier.”
Ingram’s first question dealt with ideas to tackle the worsening opioid crisis. He cited the legalization of marijuana as a strong first step.
“The opioid crisis is destroying the mountain community,” Ingram said. “Legalizing marijuana gives people a choice. It would help the epidemic.”
Price quickly followed with a rebuttal card.
“I would not disagree with that but I’d add the expansion of Medicare to a medical-care-for-all program would help give alternatives to pain management,” Price said. “We need to think of the problem at its sources, not just treating the problem once it’s a problem.
“We need to have alternative sources of pain medications. The expansion of Medicaid would provide more funding for treatment centers for those addicted to opioids.”
Price’s next question asked for his thoughts on being a freshman representative under President Donald Trump and being in a party that would be a minority.
He confidently asserted that would not be an issue.
“I disagree with the whole premise,” Price said. “The Democrats will soon be the majority of the House and possibly the Senate. I disagree with the whole premise of the question.”
Ingram followed by using a rebuttal card.
“The Green Party will be a legitimate option in North Carolina,” he said. “We’re tired of not having enough options. Libertarians have never made it at this level.”
Ingram was next asked about how to bring economic improvement to rural communities. He cited returning to growing and manufacturing as the most effective steps.
When asked about raising the minimum wage, Price said he agrees with doing so incrementally.
Ingram said any food stamp reform should be focused on limited government control while ensuring families don’t get “stuck.”
Price said he supports funding for the arts in schools.
Ingram’s final two questions dealt with whether to support teachers carrying firearms and his position on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, immigration policy.
“I’m for everyone carrying a gun,” Price said about school firearms. “I think we all need to be trained. I wish I was more trained. All our citizens should be trained. If something was to happen, we’d be ready. We’d all be armed and we’d know how to use them.”
Ingram was sympathetic toward DACA recipients.
“The children didn’t have a choice,” he said. “We need to make it easier for people to come to our country legally. When they come here illegally, there need to be ramifications, but to take kids away from their parents is not an option to me.”
Price’s final two questions were about building a wall on the southern border of the United States and the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“We could make a wall as big as we want but they can build ladders and build tunnels to go under,” Price said. “The billions they want to spend could be spent on feeding the hungry and giving healthcare to all of us.”
Price said he’s strongly against an ACA repeal deal that allows states to require insurers to provide essential health benefits.
“I get my health care through the ACA,” Price said. “Before that, I couldn’t afford health care. We need to take it to a single-payer system. That is the future of health care in America.”
Democrat Howard Larsen, of Spruce Pine, was the lone candidate for the House of Representatives District 85 in attendance. He is unopposed in the May Primary.
Republican incumbent Josh Dobson did not attend.
In lieu of a question-and-answer period, Larsen was given two minutes for a statement.
“Several weeks ago, I didn’t want to be a candidate,” Larsen said. “I got a few phone calls and now I’m a candidate. I pledge I will take no money from a political action committee. I will take money from individuals and from the Democratic Party. We need to make sure when we go to Raleigh, we are representing the people.”
Democratic State Senate candidates for District 47 Christopher Rumfelt, Cheryl Swofford and David Wheeler participated in the next portion of the forum.
All three candidates spoke after Swofford was asked if pay for legislators should be raised.
“Oh yes,” she said. “I’m retired. That would be a big pay raise for me.”
Rumfelt and Wheeler both quickly flashed rebuttal cards.
“No, it shouldn’t be,” Rumfelt said. “Being a state representative or a senator shouldn’t be a full-time job. It shouldn’t be a major source of income. It should be a sacrifice and a call of duty.”
Wheeler said he would likely donate his salary to charity if elected.
“I think the pay is fine,” he said. “What is Ralph Hise doing in Raleigh for us? He is living off his job in the legislature right now. A normal person would actually go out and get a job. Ralph Hise just drives to Raleigh each week.”
Wheeler was next asked about his stance on term limits for elected officials.
“I won’t serve more than two terms,” he said. “I’m definitely for term limits. Serve two terms and then let someone else bring new ideas.”
Rumfelt said he would support the local mining industry as long as there are strong environmental protection controls in place.
Swofford and Wheeler both spoke about the issue of the Mission Health’s acquisition of Blue Ridge Regional.
“I’m not sure,” Swofford said. “It’s a big question. We do need to expand Medicaid and get labor and delivery back in our hospitals.”
Wheeler raised a rebuttal card and asked what Hise has done about the issue.
“It’s a big deal,” Wheeler said. “I’ve called for town hall meetings. If Ralph won’t be the senator, I’ll step up. Our senator has said nothing. We need to address it and we need to get things out in the open.”
Wheeler said he supports giving more control to local government and education. He said an expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina would cost about $2 billion per year but would have a nearly $10 billion benefit.
Rumfelt said he also advocates for expanding Medicaid in the state. He added he supports the second amendment but does not believe there is an unlimited right to gun ownership and added arming teachers is not the answer to solving school safety.
Swofford said she may support returning to paper ballots if there is concrete evidence of Russian hacking. She said she supports the constitution and opposes fracking.
“We need to get rid of these people who help the rich and are hijacking our democracy,” Swofford said. “Any one of us three would do a better job.”