Candidates for North Carolina 50th District State Senate district incumbent Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, and former Democratic State Sen. John Snow of Murphy were guests at the August meeting of the Macon County League of Women Voters (LWV).
LWV, a non-partisan group, has become known for holding candidate forums around election time to give voters the opportunity to meet with candidates and learn their stance on pressing issues facing the upcoming election. This November will mark the second time in N.C. political history these two candidates have been on the ballot together. Snow held the seat for six years until Davis unseated him in 2010 by less than 200 votes.
Susan Ervin moderated the forum and began by asking candidates what issues they felt were most important going into the November election.
Snow opened the forum by declaring that economic recovery and job creation should be the primary focus in the coming years.
“In 2007, North Carolina entered into the great recession and it was a disaster for our area and this country,” Snow said. “Western North Carolina lost jobs by the dozens. Twenty-three percent of all manufacturing jobs just disappeared. We need to focus on creating jobs. WNC has been involved in the state's economic development for years but lately we have not been doing a lot of things for jobs.”
Snow explained that the state's tax structure is more than 30 years old and is not designed to help working families during the recession. “The money people take in today is not as much as it used to be because people aren't working as much they used to be.
“One way we can bring jobs here is to help corporations,” he explained. “The corporate tax in N.C. is among the highest in the Southeast. We need to take a look at our tax structure, based on the idea that we broaden the base and spread the burden out in different areas.”
Senator Davis countered Snow's arguments by stating that in 2007 when Snow was in office he voted for a temporary tax increase on businesses and individuals in the state. According to Davis, although the increase was intended to last two years, when the economy started to feel the weight of the recession, and after he took office, the Republican- led General Assembly voted to allow the increase to expire.
Although the Republicans’ decision offered billions of dollars in savings to North Carolinians, Davis explained that unemployment rates continued to rise in the state and have become some of the highest in the country.
Due to those unemployment rates, Davis noted he agreed with Snow and job creation and the economy are the two most pressing issues facing the state. His solution was for the state to look at regulations tying the hands of corporations in the state. “We have businesses in the state that are swimming in regulatory problems that we need to deal with,” said Davis.
The second question Ervin asked the candidates was what makes them different from one another. Davis started by claiming the “differences are stark.”
“All you have to do is look at our voting records to see the differences,” Davis said. “I voted for tax decreases on the citizens of North Carolina. We made the government more efficient. I am proud to be among the people that came to Raleigh with the sole purpose of getting our fiscal situation in order.”
Davis cited that Republicans worked to improve the $2.5 million budget deficit that was inherited by the previous members of the General Assembly.
Snow explained what made him different from his opponent by noting that Davis and the other Republicans in office did, in fact, keep their promise to not raise taxes. The former senator said although taxes were not raised, costs and fees of day to day operations such as tuition costs and court fees were increased dramatically.
During his previous stint in office and so far on the campaign, Snow has worked to make public education a priority, something he continued to preach at the LWV forum. “Ladies and gentleman, public education is the foundation of this democracy,” Snow said. “We are at a crossroads in North Carolina; the leaders in Raleigh today are talking about privatizing public education.”
Snow said that public education should not be viewed or run like a business. “They increased community college tuition by 23 percent in the last two years and upped university tuition by 10 percent,” said Snow. “Let me tell you, the key to getting out of this recession and the key to creating jobs is education, particularly education in our community colleges.”
According to Snow, the tuition increases are comparable to tax increases and place a burden on students who can barely afford to go to college in the first place.
In his response, Davis argued that the state currently has a monopoly on public education, and parents should have more choice on how their children are educated. He noted that by allowing competition, in the form of vouchers for private and home-schooled students, it would open up more opportunities to North Carolina families. “Although I am not in favor of a total voucher program, I am sure in favor of giving people a tax break who choose to pull their kids out of public schools system and send them to private schools.”
Ervin entertained questions from the audience which included what the candidates' stances were on legislation that directly affected women and families such as funding to Planned Parenthood and what approach they would take on overspending.
Snow stated that the funding that was taken away from Planned Parenthood while the General Assembly was led by a Republican majority, not only places stress on services such as abortion, but also de-funded services such as health screens for breast cancer.
“We also look at women and the things they need in order to participate in the job market,” said Snow. “One of the things that happened were over 20 percent cuts to funding for More at Four and Smart Start. Particularly when you look at Smart Start you look at daycare, and a woman can not leave that family to go back to work unless there is someone that can provide adequate care for their children. Cutting those programs really affect women and their ability to work outside the home to keep the family going.”
“In the foreseeable future, abortion will be legal in this country,” said Davis in response to the question. “And there is nothing I can do about it, but I was proud to vote for a bill in the legislature that caused a 24- hour waiting period for those seeking an abortion to give them time to think about that choice.”
Senator Davis justified his decision to take funding away from Planned Parenthood by saying it was to give local health departments the resources to provide the same services. “Planned Parenthood does a lot of abortions,” he said. “They do a lot of other good things as well. We took the money away from Planned Parenthood and didn't just blow it somewhere, we gave it to local health departments to do those same kinds of services.”
“I think we need to do everything we can to preserve women,” Davis joked. “I like looking at them better than I do most of you guys. So the notion that we are against women is just totally wrong.”
Davis went on to say that he believes women have been more affected by the economic downturn then men. “Do women suffer in this economic environment more than other people? You bet they do,” said Davis. “It is a tragedy that they do and I feel bad about that, but a lot of it are their own choices. Do you realize that 70 percent of the black kids born in this country are born to unwed mothers? Fifty percent Hispanics, 30 percent whites ... 10 percent is too much. Every kid deserves a parent.”
The candidates ended the forum by reiterating why they wanted to run for office to represent the citizens of the 50th District.
The next LWV meeting, which will be held at 12 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13, will feature a candidate forum for candidates vying for a seat to represent the 11th Congressional District, Mark Meadows and Hayden Rogers.