With less than seven weeks until the November election, candidates running for the North Carolina 11th Congressional District seat were in Franklin last Thursday as guests of the League of Women Voters Forum at Tartan Hall.
Mark Meadows, Republican candidate from Cashiers and Hayden Rogers, Democratic candidate from Brasstown rallied support for their campaigns by tackling topics such as their view on the health of the economy to the government's role in women's health care issues.
Both Rogers and Meadows are vying for the 11th Congressional District seat, which opened up earlier this year after Congressman Health Shuler announced his retirement.
League of Women Voters member Susan Ervin moderated the forum and began by asking the candidates, “What actions and approaches do you support in Congress to boost the health of the economy?”
Meadows began by noting that although some people claim that the economy is starting to improve, he believes differently. “As we look at the economy, we hear many people start to say, ‘well guys we are doing better than we were four years ago.’ Well, I am one of the few that believes we are not doing better than we were four years ago,” said Meadows. “And quite frankly it is time that we set in place the free market principles that will get this economy moving again.”
He continued by citing that gas prices are sitting at $4 a gallon, while the country's natural resources are off limits. “We need to make sure that we got a good program, a good systemic program in terms of energy,” Meadows said. “When we go and look at energy, we put 90 percent of natural resources off limits and by doing that we say that we are not going to drill, we are not going to use nuclear, we are not going to tap our natural gas resources, and yet, here we are, we could be the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”
According to Meadows, the United States has a 575-year supply of natural gas that could be used to create jobs and help move the economy forward. “We are faced with 9.6 unemployment in North Carolina, and in the 11th Congressional District, it is actually worse that that,” said Meadows. “We have a number of counties that are in the double digits. We have some that are 15 to 17 percent unemployment ...We need to get government out of the way and get regulations out of the way.”
The congressional hopeful went on to tell voters how he plans to create jobs in Western North Carolina. “We have a four-point plan that will truly bring jobs, we call it our 20/20 plan,” he said. “As we look at it, it has four different components. One is to reduce our dependency on foreign oil by 20 percent by the year 2020. In order to do that, what we have to do it to make sure we do drill, and we do that on shore and off shore.”
Rogers began his remarks by explaining to voters the points of his platform relating to economic recovery. “I want to end our back trade policy and our free-trade agreements. I want to start helping us have a competitive advantage, not a disadvantage, when it comes to trade to try to bring some jobs back here,” he said. “I would also like to cut our tax rates. I would like to lower that and eliminate a lot of the budget both at the corporate level and at the individual level. I think a simpler tax code is something we all can agree we would like to see.”
In addition to fixing the country's current tax codes, Rogers stated that in order to return the economy to the way it was before the recession, government leaders must invest in the country's infrastructure. “I believe we need to invest in our infrastructure as a nation, and that is not just roads and bridges,” he said. “I think we need to invest in our airports, our ports, our rails, broadband all through these mountains, natural gas pipelines that are capable of carrying commercial quantities of natural gases. These are things we need in this country because not only do they create jobs in America, they make us competitive in a 21st century global economy.
Rogers agreed with Meadows and stated that he believes the United States’ regulation system needs to be evaluated and changed. “I think we need to cut regulations as well. We have one of the most complicated regulatory systems in the world. We have too many regulations and we have too many agencies regulating the same thing,” said Rogers. “I think it is possible to streamline those things, and I think it is possible to do it in a way that still maintains consumer safety. I think it is possible to have economic growth and perform and improve and still have clean air and clean water.”
The Democratic nominee localized his economic recovery plan to explaining that Western North Carolina needs to invest in things such as broadband which is crucial for companies to operate and relocate here, and natural gas pipelines that cut down on energy costs and increase efficiency. “These things help separate Western North Carolina from the rest of America in addition to helping our country separate itself apart from the rest of the world.
The second question Ervin asked each candidate was, “Do you want to enact changes to Social Security and Medicare and what would they be?”
Rogers started by stating that one aspect of his platform is to fight to protect both programs. “I believe in protecting both Social Security and Medicare,” said Rogers. “I believe those decisions will be difficult and is a real challenge. We have a little more time with Social Security than we do Medicare. Medicare is on pace to consume $810 billion of our annual spending by 2020.”
Understanding the need for legislation to change in order to ensure both programs are preserved, Rogers stated that he believes that programs need to be evaluated and if they are not working and are not efficient then they will have to be eliminated. “We all know healthier people require less health care and if we can catch these things on the front end with education, these are billions of dollars we save each year,” said Rogers. “These are the types of things we have to do. Our problems are large enough that they are going to require folks like Mark, and folks like me, and folks like you in this room to work together.”
Meadows said he does not believe the answer to Medicare is Obamacare and stated that other measures needed to be taken to restore both programs. “We have to honor our commitments to our seniors, I am committed to doing that,” said Meadows. “But at the same time, we can't keep kicking the ball down the road, or the can down the road and not do anything about it.”
To control the spending that goes into both programs, Meadows told the league it was important for individuals to monitor their own health care instead of letting the government decide what is best. “Under the Ryan plan, if you are 55 years or older, your benefits would not be affected,” said Meadows. “But here is the other thing, if we do nothing, your benefits will be affected because it is going to go bankrupt and we can not afford to let that happen and we have to ensure that we provide and honor that commitment to our seniors.”
The third question the candidates faced touched on the government's role in policy decisions regarding women's heath issues. “Please explain your position on the government's role in reproductive rights and changing social policy and please speak specifically on access to contraceptives,” said Ervin.
Meadows, who classifies himself as a strong Christian Conservative, began by say, “I am unapologetically pro-life. I believe the government's role from the standpoint of truly managing that from a social standpoint is not a role for the government to take,” he said. “When we look at contraceptives, most plans, most healthcare plans pay for that because it is cheaper for you to not have children than it is for you to have children and for them to pay for it, and so that is fine. But should we be mandating that every insurance company have that as part of their clause and violate those religious freedoms that are guaranteed in our Constitution, I am not for that and I think that it is a dangerous road that we are going down if we do that.”
He continued by stating that if the attack was on anything else, voters would be standing up. “If we said that we were going to take away your guns, we would be there at the courthouse protesting that,” said Meadows. “What happened is, I got a call from a Catholic friend and he said ‘you know what, they are coming after me now, and they will be coming after you next.’ So what we have to do is stand up for the liberties and the freedoms that are guaranteed in our Constitution, and I will not waver on that point and I have not wavered on that point.”
Rogers shared his stance with voters by stating that he, too, is pro-life. “I am pro-life and I have been pro-life because that is my belief,” he said. “To be pro-life, I also believe that the best way to eliminate unwanted pregnancies is to help make sure we have measures in place to prevent them. I believe in education, I believe in planned, family parenting,” said Rogers. “I believe these are things that help us prevent unwanted pregnancies. I think it is un-Christian not to provide those things. Now, as far as requiring a religious group, or any organization that is affiliated with a religious group to require contraceptives or anything else that is in violation with those beliefs, I do not support that.”
The next question Ervin posed to the candidates is how they differentiate themselves from one another.
Rogers said he believes the major differences between himself and Meadows lies in each candidate’s background and where they are from. “I grew up in probably one of the poorest and smallest counties in this state, and I am proud of that,” he said. “Some of the greatest people I have ever known are from Graham County. I am running because I truly love this place. This is my home. I love Western North Carolina and I will fight like you have never seen someone fight.”
Rogers said his dedication to everyone in the 11th District comes from his roots here, whereas his opponent does not share that same advantage, because Meadows was born and raised in Florida. “I am sure he loves Western North Carolina and he loves Cashiers, but he doesn't love it like I do, there is no way,” said Rogers. “I have grown up catching spring lizards and running up the creeks. It is those memories that affect you.”
Meadows disagreed with Rogers and said, “It is real easy to say someone is not from here and they don't love our country,” said Meadows. “I can tell you, I wasn't born in Florida, I was born on an Army base while my dad served this nation. I love this nation just as much as Hayden or anybody else does. The reason I am running for Congress is not to be your Congressman, but to be your representative, and there is a big difference. A Congressman goes up there and does whatever he thinks is best to get him re-elected. A representative will go up there and will vote for the will of the people.”
The next League of Women Voters Forum will feature county commissioner candidates Democratic incumbent Bobby Kuppers and Republican nominee Paul Higdon.