Rematch


Rep. Jane Whilden and her Republican challenger, Tim Moffitt. Photo by Michael Muller

In 2008, Democrat Jane Whilden edged Republican Tim Moffitt by a mere 1,306 votes: the closest local race in what was otherwise a Democratic landslide.

This year, they’re once again contending to represent the state House’s 116th District in southwestern Buncombe County. It includes everything west of Hendersonville Road as far south as the airport, plus the Enka and Roberson school districts, and it skirts Asheville as far up as Leicester. White and conservative, the 116th comprises precincts with the highest concentration of Republicans in the county — including the voter-rich area around Long Shoals Road and Biltmore Park. Before Whilden’s win, the GOP had held the seat for many years, and Moffitt wants it back. And in the eyes of some political observers, he’s the GOP’s best local chance for a win this cycle.

Although the two candidates agree on some issues, they couldn’t be more different in background and manner. Whilden’s gregarious personality belies her wonkish command of arcane legislative and policy matters. The consummate insider, she’s been around politics all her life (“It’s in my DNA,” she jokes); her grandfather served in the North Carolina House, her father served in the state Senate, and she was director of the Governor’s Western Office here for nearly a decade. She and her husband of 30 years have three grown children, two black labs (rescued from the pound), and she admits to the guilty pleasure of watching HGTV when she can carve out the time.

Moffitt, meanwhile, has flourished in the private sector, running an international management-consulting firm here for the last 20 years. This is his third run for public office (there was also a 1995 City Council bid). “Politics hasn’t really been something that’s been on the forefront of my mind,” he reveals. A former Eagle Scout with three high-school-age boys, Moffitt spends his downtime coaching Little League baseball and soccer. He also reports a passion for scuba diving.

Whilden emphasizes her experience in providing constituent services and her long-standing, high-level connections; she’s also quick to point out that she’s a full-time legislator. “This is all I do. … This is it,” stresses Whilden. “I see this as my passion, as my calling, as something I’ve always wanted to do.” Her opponent, on the other hand, “sees it in a different way,” Whilden maintains. “I see it as full time, and I think he thinks it’s a part-time job, and it’s not.”

For his part, Moffitt feels the state’s sagging economy would be better served by his business acumen and professional problem-solving skills. “Jane is an honorable opponent; I respect her service,” Moffitt notes. “But when I look at the tone in Raleigh, it seems to me that there’s an underappreciation of the role that small business has in our economy. The policies that get formulated there are by people who simply don’t have a lot of business experience.”

Whilden calls herself a moderate: “I don’t consider myself being crazy over here or crazy over there,” she explains. “I’m sort of crazy in the middle. I like the middle; I’m open to listening. I’ll talk to anybody,” she adds with a laugh.

The incumbent is pro-choice and against forced annexation — the latter a surprising position for a Democrat. Asked where she stands on gay marriage, she hesitates for a moment before replying, “If it’s two good people, it’s fine. … Gay marriage, to me, is a personal choice. I accept people the way they are.”

Moffitt, on the other hand, simply describes himself as a fiscal conservative, saying, “I don’t get mired in social issues.” Nonetheless, he spent $2,500 of his own money organizing Royal Pines residents to beat back Asheville’s annexation attempt.

He also designed a pioneering program at A-B Tech (the first of its kind in the nation) that trains students in harvesting methane gas from landfills, a step toward what he hopes will be an expansion of green jobs in the area. “We have a responsibility to our children to be good stewards of the environment,” Moffitt maintains. “And you can do it in sustainable ways that help the economy. It’s the only renewable-energy resource that’s been proven profitable.”

The candidates’ campaign websites are: janeforstatehouse.com and timmoffitt.com.

— Michael Muller can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 154, or at mmuller@mountainx.com.

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