Folks in Macon County got a chance to sit down with U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) when she visited Franklin last week as part of her tour of the region to meet with constituents and listen to their concerns. The “Conversations with Kay” tour on April 20 and 21 stopped in Andrews, Robbinsville, Bryson City, Franklin, Sylva and Marshall.
On Thursday morning, a small room in the Macon County Senior Center in Franklin was filled to beyond capacity with citizens interested in meeting the senator, who circulated and visited each table in the room during the hourlong event.
In brief remarks at the beginning of the event, Hagan told the room that she wanted constituent service and accessibility to be the hallmarks of her office. “I’m trying to get all across North Carolina so that I can listen to you, to your concerns, and take them back to Washington,” Hagan said.
Constituent services staff from the senator's office were also on hand to help people navigate issues with federal agencies, such as the VA, IRS or the Social Security Administration, as well as other needs, including foreclosure assistance.
The senator, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Banking Committee, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and the Small Business Committee, also spoke about current pressing issues, including the budget, social security and unemployment. Hagan stressed that her number one priority was job creation in North Carolina.
“I'm all about jobs, jobs, jobs,” Hagan told her constituents. Among other initiatives, Hagan spoke of her work to bring more defense contractors into the state to do business and create jobs. “In North Carolina we have the third largest military footprint in the nation, however we're only 26th in the nation when we're looking at defense contractors doing business in our state,” she noted.
Hagan also said she was pleased with last year's Small Business Bill which created a $30 billion fund which is accessible to community banks making loans to small businesses. “As I tour North Carolina, I know that small business is what's really creating the jobs in our state,” she said, adding that since the economic collapse of 2008, small businesses have had a harder time accessing capital and borrowing money so that they can grow, expand their business and hire more people.
“I was very impressed that she would come and talk to each of us individually,” said Dr. Ed Morris, who attended Thursday’s event. Morris, owner of Franklin Health and Fitness, had a number of questions for Hagan and requested more information about the community bank loan fund.
Others, such as Lee Hodges, a past president of the Democratic Party in Highlands, had questions regarding specific issues and legislation which Hagan has supported. In particular, Hodges wanted to make sure that Hagan would continue to support the mandate of the Environmental Protection Agency and was not seeking to weaken environmental protections in the country.
Emily Dale, a former chairperson of the Macon County Planning Board, said that she spoke to Hagan about her concerns regarding the proposed lifting of caps on charter schools in the state. In particular, Dale is concerned about funds for public education being diverted to charter schools. According to Dale, Hagan said that while all options should be examined closely for their merits, she felt it was important that any entity receiving public funds be held accountable.
After the Franklin event, Hagan remarked that Social Security, Medicare and the deficit were among the most prevalent concerns she heard from Maconians. Another major concern was corporate funding of political campaigns, which has exploded since the 2010 Citizens United case in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations had the same basic freedom of speech rights as individuals and could not be limited in their political spending.
“Not only are they donating money to campaigns, but they’re establishing their own entities and pouring an incredible amounts of monetary dollars into TV and other political advertising with no transparency,” Hagan said. “That is the key. The American public does not know where the money is coming from, and I think that is totally wrong.”
Hagan co-sponsored a bill last year with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) which would have made corporate spending more transparent and made sure that no foreign corporate money was being used to influence elections in the U.S, but the bill did not garner the necessary votes.
During her visit, Hagan was presented with a plaque by Franklin High School Athletic Booster Club member, Rhonda Blanton, and school board chairman, Tommy Cabe, who thanked the Senator for the gift of the flag flown by troops in Afghanistan which is being used to honor Macon County's veterans at home football games. The flag was first presented at the “Salute to Veterans” ceremony held for World War II veterans at the first home game of the season last fall.