There wasn’t much tension between Nathan Ramsey and John Ager at the Council of Independent Business Owners’s early-morning debate, Friday, Aug. 29 perhaps because of a personal history.
“John’s my neighbor,” said Ramsey. “I’ve known John since I was probably about two years old.”
Not only are the two candidates personal acquaintances, both grew up in the rural reaches of Buncombe County, working on separate farms, a fact they pushed hard in their opening statements:
“[My brother and I] milk about 170 cows a day,” said Ramsey. “My wife is here, too, and we probably wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t been made a county commissioner. When she first came out to my house, she asked if we could close the windows. I said, ‘Honey, that smells like money.’”
“I’m over at Hickory Nut Gap farm,” said Ager. “When I first decided to run, my daughter-in-law told me, ‘I have two words for you: personal grooming.’”
Ager, who’s not run for office before, called himself the “reluctant candidate,” saying he enjoyed his farm and family immensely, but felt he had to run due to the North Carolina General Assembly “giving tax breaks to the wealthy, privatizing education, taking the water system, whatever they could get their hands on. I will fight to protect our citizens.”
But the candidates aligned on a several issues. When asked whether they support the closing of the coal-burning Lake Julian plant near Asheville, both Ager and Ramsey agreed that encouraging Duke to push for renewable energy is necessary, closing the plant was still decades in the future.
“I believe the era of fossil fuels is slowly closing,” said Ager. “But it will take decades” to transition away from using them.
“Coal ash has been around for 100 years,” said Ramsey. “It’s not easily solved, but it is important.”
Regarding renewable energy, he said: “When I was on the Buncombe County [Board of Commissioners], we passed a resolution in support of a Senate bill that requires a certain percentage of our energy from renewable resources.” Ramsey also mentioned that he and the majority of the General Assembly supported legislation he thinks will help clean up coal ash and make North Carolina one of the cleanest states in the country.
On education, both candidates voiced support for teachers and investment in schools. Ramsey mentioned that he supported the budget that passed this year because “according to non-partisan staff, it gave one of the largest teacher pay raises in history.” Ager, meanwhile, emphasized that education was “what pushed North Carolina ahead” and said that he believed these state is still 48th in spending per pupil.
The two diverged slightly, however, on a question about involuntary annexation. Ager said that while he didn’t “know exactly what the current rules are,” he believed that “our urban areas are the most vibrant areas where job creation is going on. Urban areas generally need many more rules to keep them healthy. I know this legislature has been very anti-municipality.”
Ramsey, however, stated flat out that he does not support involuntary annexation. “I think you should be regulated by the people you vote for,” he said, and added that, regardless, “Involuntary annexation in North Carolina is a thing of the past.”
According the U.S. Census Bureau, 76 percent of Buncombe County Citizens (180,932) live in urbanized areas.
Each candidate had the opportunity to ask each other a question. Ager and Ramsey both targeted budget and revenue issues. Ramsey asked Ager if he would have voted for the budget passed his year; Ager replied that he “probably would have wanted more revenue. I think the long-term problem with North Carolina is we are revenue-starved state.” He also said he didn’t believe shifting the tax burden from the rich to the poor was the way to solve the revenue problem.
Ager, in turn, asked Ramsey how he would get enough revenue to pay for education increases, given “the half billion in losses to revenue streams, with more cuts coming January 1st.”
“That $500 million number is false,” said Ramsey. “The Washington Post said it was false. …
“North Carolina underwent tax reform,” he continued. “And it wasn’t meant to give everyone a tax cut. We had the largest marginal tax rate in the Southeast.”
As for revenue, Ramsey said, “North Carolina is getting 100,000 new jobs every year. In the late ’90s, we raised teacher pay and cut taxes, but our economy was doing really well. If we get the economy going, we will have money.”
In closing remarks, Ager reiterated that he was a “fair minded, business-friendly citizen,” with “a wide range of experience,” and said that the younger people moving to Buncombe County were “a real unsung treasure. We need to tap into their entrepreneurial power.”
Ramsey said that he was proud to be “an independent voice for Buncombe County,” and that his decisions “weren’t about party but what’s best for Buncombe.”
No matter who wins, Ramsey said, he and Ager were “going to run a campaign about the future of Buncombe County, and how to best help the working people of this community to move forward.”
Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt and Democratic Challenger Brian Turner also debated: Read the report on that here.