Nearly 100 people turned up at UNCA's Reuter Center April 21 to hear five Republicans and one Democrat explain how they would represent North Carolina's 11th Congressional District if voters sent them to Washington in November. Candidates Dan Eichenbaum, Ed Krause, Jeff Miller, Greg Newman, Kenny West and Aixa Wilson all attended. Only Republican Jake Howard and Democratic incumbent Heath Shuler were not on hand.
Topics addressed by the six questions taken from the audience during nearly an hour-and-a-half discussion included Wall Street bailouts, illegal immigration, federal school-lunch policy and Social Security reform. For the most part, the Republicans were all in agreement: highly critical of corporate bailouts, supporting tighter border security and, while recognizing the importance of adequate school-lunch programs, arguing that they would be better administered by the states. Newman said that Social Security would be insolvent within nine years, and Eichenbaum called the program "a Ponzi scheme so large that it makes Bernie Madoff look like a two-bit con artist."
The biggest policy differences that emerged concerned earmarks and health-care reform. Wilson, the lone Democrat in attendance, said he "wished earmarks didn't exist" but that he "would use earmarks in a second" if they benefited the 11th District, which covers all but a little slice of North Carolina's 15 westernmost counties.
Republicans were united in pledging not to use earmarks, traditionally a way for members of Congress to funnel federal dollars to their home district by circumventing the normal appropriations process. West, a Clay County resident, remarked, "If it's good enough to be an earmark, it's good enough to be a bill."
Shuler, however, doesn't shy away from earmarks, having requested more than $65 million worth for Western North Carolina this year alone. And his predecessor in Congress, Republican Charles Taylor, shared that enthusiasm. Taylor held his seat for 16 years until Shuler ousted him in 2006. Former Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower, a Republican who ran against Shuler in 2008, stridently opposed earmarks (aka "pork") — and he was roundly trounced by Shuler.
As for the recently enacted health-care reform, all the Republican candidates supported repealing it (or, if there weren't enough votes for that, completely defunding it). Only Wilson voiced support for the legislation recently signed into law by President Obama. Shuler voted against the bill in February.
The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters, Leadership Asheville and the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement. It followed a short meet-and-greet featuring other local candidates: Patsy Keever and Bruce Goforth (squaring off for the Democratic nomination for state House District 115), Don Yelton and RL Clark (Republican candidates for N.C. Senate District 49), Marvin Pope (a candidate for Buncombe County Superior Court judge) and Sheriff Van Duncan.
For more election information, go to www.mountainx.com/voterguide. To view a video of the forum, check out http://bit.ly/9Uxn8I.