Agree to disagree: Brevard College hosts 11th Congressional District candidate debate

Face off: Democratic candidates Cecil Bothwell and Tom Hill talk politics during a recent debate held at Brevard College. photo by Caitlin Byrd
Face off: Democratic candidates Cecil Bothwell and Tom Hill talk politics during a recent debate held at Brevard College. photo by Caitlin Byrd

The Brevard College Jazz Ensemble played in the lobby before two of the three Democratic candidates for the 11th Congressional District, Cecil Bothwell and Tom Hill, tried to hit all the right notes with voters during a March 22 debate. The third candidate, Hayden Rogers, was unable to attend.

Hosted by the Brevard College Debate Society and Young Politicians of America, a national nonprofit, the 90-minute face-off drew more than 100 people   a mix of college students and the general public   to the college’s Porter Center to hear what these candidates had to say.

A panel of journalists including Jim Buchanan (Asheville Citizen-Times), Mary Ann Enloe (The Mountaineer) and John Lanier (Transylvania Times) asked the questions. WLOS news anchor Darcel Grimes served as moderator for the free event.

And though Hill's and Bothwell's debate styles could not have been more different, they agreed on the issues more than once. Bothwell, an Asheville City Council member and former Xpress reporter, referenced his experience and used anecdotes in his opening statement   a stark contrast to Hill’s statistical approach, citing large corporations' earnings compared with the amount of income taxes they paid.

But a proposed amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as being between one man and one woman revealed the biggest difference between the two candidates.

Asked if he supports it, Bothwell declared: “I am utterly opposed to Amendment One. I think it’s wrong on many levels. In fact, frankly, I’m surprised so many conservatives support it, because messing with the constitution is an extremely stupid and expensive idea.”

Noting that the city of Asheville provides domestic-partner benefits for its employees, he said: “I think the government, honestly, should step away from love. We can’t dictate who loves whom: None of us can dictate who loves whom in our own relationships. For the government to step in there makes absolutely no sense to me.”

Hill, however, voiced support for the amendment, saying, “I think every child is entitled have a mother and a father and not 'my two mommies,' not 'my two daddies.'” He quickly added that homosexual couples should be allowed to live together, but “Don’t expect the state to recognize it as a legal marriage.”

Amendments aside, Hill said: “I think that many people in these cases have a genetic problem. I think that is the problem in most cases, not all cases. For those who have the genetic problem, I sympathize with them.”

That prompted a man in the audience to shout, “No!”

“I’m not speaking softly on this issue, and that’s where I stand,” Hill replied.

In their closing statements, both candidates hinted at why they'd decided to run.

Bothwell said: “We need to change the way work in Washington is done. The only way to change it is to get the money out of politics.”

For his part, Hill, who's making his first bid for office since he ran for class president in high school, said: “I am committed to honesty and integrity in government. I will criticize Democrats: We have to be honest with where we are failing.”

— For the latest local election coverage, go to www.mountainx.com/election. Caitlin Byrd can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 140, or at cbyrd@mountainx.com.

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