After months of sparring through media interviews and attack ads, Republican N.C. House Rep. Tim Moffitt and Democratic challenger Brian Turner met face to face Aug. 29 at their first forum of the year.
The two businessmen are vying to represent District 116, which includes a wide swath of Buncombe County, from Sandy Mush down through Enka-Candler and Arden. The forum was hosted by the Council of Independent Business Owners.
In his introductory remarks, Moffitt made the case that he’s been a key player in the Republican Statehouse majority since it succeeded Democrats’ long reign in 2010.
“When I went to Raleigh our state was in shambles after essentially being run by one party for 140 years. … A lot of problems were before us,” said Moffitt. “We have taken bold steps forward to get our state on the right path and the results are before you.” He cited a lower unemployment rate and lower taxes as evidence of success.
But Turner, a newcomer to politics who previously helped run his family business, Mills Manufacturing, and served as the Assistant Chancellor of UNC Asheville, said GOP policies have “shifted [the state] out of balance.”
“When we have public schools where kids are sharing text books that are 10 years old, we’re out of balance,” he said. “When major corporations like Duke Energy are getting quarter-billion dollar tax cuts while small businesses are seeing tax increases, that’s out of balance.”
However, he was quick to tell those attending the forum hosted by the Council of Independent Business Owners that he doesn’t align himself with the left wing of his party. “There are those out there who try to paint me as some far-left, progressive liberal, … but nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
The district leans Republican and has catapulted Moffitt into office for the last two elections. He has often angered Asheville Democrats with controversial legislative actions, such as attempting to transfer the city’s water system to a regional entity.
Asked about another topic that riled some city officials a few years back, Moffitt said he was proud of taking action to end involuntary annexation “to reign in the overreach of our cities.”
In response, Turner seemed to support the move. “Cities and other municipalities are not and should not be allowed to just unilaterally annex neighboring areas,” Turner said. “I think the annexation laws are good.”
Asked whether they support closing Duke Energy’s power plant at Lake Julian near Asheville, as some local environmental advocates call for, they both said they didn’t support that step “in the near future.”
They diverged on education spending, however, with Moffitt placing blame for inadequacies squarely on his Democratic predecessors for cuts that took place before he took office. Since then, “the General Assembly has done a great job in regards to bringing funding back to public education and doing the things that are necessary to make public education better,” he declared.
Turner countered: “There’s a lot of numbers floating around out there. … But the fact of the matter is when you go into the classrooms, it seems they’re larger than ever. They’re insufficient for giving our kids the education they need. He added: “Working at UNC Asheville, I saw firsthand the impact that the cuts had to our public university system. We are undermining the economic future of this state.”
Moffitt took a subtle swipe at Turner for attending private school as a kid, saying: “As someone who actually went to public school, the classes are decidedly less in size than they were when I was in public school.”
The state highway system also proved to be a contentious topic, as the candidates were asked how they favor replacing revenue lost from dwindling gas taxes.
Moffitt said he’s looking at plans to add lanes to existing highways for drivers wanting “a more expeditious ride to work” in exchange for paying a toll. Such driving polls have been a hotly debated topic across the state, as a stretch of Interstate 77 through Charlotte is being considered for them. For that project, the state plans to partner with a private company to operate the toll system — a step Turner said he doesn’t want repeated elsewhere. “If that’s the route we’re going to go down, we need to make sure that’s in control of the state and not private contractors,” Turner said.
Moffitt noted that the General Assembly is still mulling its options and “has not made a commitment” to expanding the idea across the state.
UPDATE: In an email to Xpress later that day Moffitt states: “On the issue of toll roads, personally, I do not support them nor do I accept the notion that dynamic toll lanes are a solution to the problems we face moving forward with transportation. With my answer being cut short due to my running out of time, my point was not fully explained. I was simply stating that alternatives were being discussed in Raleigh and that one of the options was toll lanes.”
Republican Rep. Nathan Ramsey and Democratic challenger John Ager also debated: Read a report about that here.