What did we learn as the first of three League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County candidate forums opened on Sept. 20?
Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D, Buncombe) moved to this area when her now-adult son was in third grade. Rep. John Ager (D, Buncombe) would be giving a talk on challenges facing dairy farmers at another venue later in the evening. Republican Amy Evans is a veteran of the armed forces. Democrat Amanda Edwards has a “big sweet” dog named Charlie.
And Republican Mark Crawford objected to being photographed or recorded during the forum, despite its being a public event in the Black Mountain Library.
Crawford’s unusual demand that he not be photographed or recorded, even incidentally while photographing or recording other speakers, came as the candidates prepared to give their opening statements.
The Republican, who is challenging Van Duyn in District 49, gave no reason for his request. After Xpress affirmed its reporter would be recording and photographing the event, Crawford asked which law allows recording and photography in public places. As moderator Mike Czeczot began speaking, Crawford’s question went unanswered, and Xpress’ recorder and camera rolled.
N.C. Senate District 49
In his introductory remarks, Crawford returned to his objection to recording.
As a teacher of many years, he said, “I always like to test my students in some way, shape or form. I was curious how many people would respond to my request. I’ve had outright denials … to my courteous request: ‘No, no, we’re going to do it regardless.’ I’ve seen a multitude of people stand up to take photos which I find it hard to believe that I wouldn’t be in. So I was just curious how people would respond.”
Media law attorney Amanda Martin commented on Crawford’s question in an email to Xpress after the event. “The basis for the principle that people have a right to take photographs or video recordings on public property is the First Amendment,” she wrote. “When you are on public property, or on private property with permission, the First Amendment gives you the right to photograph with your camera what you can see with your eyes. You do not need anyone’s permission to take their photograph for news or other noncommercial use.”
Furthermore, Martin said, in deciding New York Times Co. versus Sullivan in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court “made plain that public officials subject themselves to scrutiny and criticism. … Those who do not want public attention and public scrutiny ought not seek public office.”
With less than one minute remaining of his allotted time in the introduction, Crawford noted that if elected, “I will do my utmost to prod, to force, to do whatever it takes to free Andrew Brunson,” a local preacher who is imprisoned in Turkey for allegedly assisting in a coup attempt. However, he conceded that Brunson’s case is “a national-level issue.”
Van Duyn explained that her entry into state politics came as a consequence of her advocacy for her son, who had special educational needs and was well-served by the local school system before “things started to change in North Carolina” in 2010. At that time, she said, funding for educational programs was cut “dramatically.” Van Duyn was first appointed to the senate in 2014 to replace Sen. Martin L. Nesbitt, Jr., who died while holding office; she has since been re-elected twice.
Gov. Roy Cooper, she said, “has a vision for North Carolina that will bring good businesses here by making us a top-10 educated state.” If re-elected, she plans to “go back next January and help him realize his vision.”
Discussing the economy, Crawford pointed out that Buncombe County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state. Still, he said, “The tourist trade does not for the most part pay a living wage. I would rather see good clean industry, good strong jobs that actually pay sufficient funds, so that a family can actually live without having to work two or sometimes three jobs.”
Van Duyn pointed out that, “Although we have a low unemployment rate here … the gap between what it costs to live in Buncombe County and what you can reasonably make living in Buncombe County is the largest in the state.” She believes the solution is ”making sure we maintain investments and improve investments in education across the board.”
Crawford highlighted a difference of opinion between his and Van Duyn’s views on immigration, calling them “diametrically opposed.” The concept of sanctuary cities amounts to a proposition that “laws will be ignored in order to protect those who have committed felonies [by entering the country illegally],” he said. Van Duyn argued that local law enforcement should focus on local crime rather than enforcing federal immigration laws and that statistics show immigrants commit less crime than those born in this country.
Both candidates said they would support passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Both also spoke in support of redistricting reform, expanded state efforts to fight the crisis of opioid abuse and overdose, and environmental protections to ensure air and water quality.
N.C. House of Representatives District 115
Ager, who has held his District 115 seat since 2015, faces Evans in the general election. Asked his opinion of the state’s budget, the Hickory Nut Gap farm owner said that although it has “quite a lot of good things in it,” he voted against it. “There’s not a dollar in this budget to deal with climate change. And I think that is our fundamental challenge,” Ager said.
As a businesswoman, Evans said, “Of course I’m more concerned about the fiscal aspects of the budget. And I was pretty happy.” Calling herself “sort of a soldier for the blue-collar worker here in North Carolina,” she advocated for “good-paying jobs for people to raise their children in a good environment.”
Continuing on the theme of the economy, Evans noted that she had experienced difficulty finding a job when she moved to the area six years ago. In the region’s tourism- and retirement-dependent economy, “Maybe having a job, bringing home the bacon, is not the No. 1 priority on everybody’s plate,” she said.
But for those who want or need to work, she said, “deregulation of a lot of the different policies that I believe have a stranglehold on our economy” over the past 18 months have improved the local economic climate.
“I am an expert as a contractor in manufacturing and in consulting, and some of these companies in this area … the minimum wage has gone up already to $15, $16 without anybody ever reporting it,” Evans said. “People are bringing home good money, and they also don’t have to work two and three jobs to put the bread on the table.”
Ager noted three factors for the state economy. First, he said, “one of the easy things we can do is to finish repealing HB2,” noting that “discrimination has been a real barrier” for companies like Apple considering locating to North Carolina. Second, solar and other forms of renewable energy are a strength for the state. Finally, to train the next generation of workers, “we need to strongly support our community colleges,” Ager said.
Discussing safety in public schools, Evans said putting guns in the classroom is “a little extreme for me,” and she believes solutions to gun violence should focus on “systemic issues” rather than throwing money at the problem or jumping on political bandwagons.
As a supporter of the Second Amendment, Ager said he favors commonsense gun laws and better strategies to identify community members with “unstable natures.”
Buncombe County Board of Commissioners District 2
Democratic candidate Amanda Edwards’ opponent for the District 2 seat currently held by Commissioner Ellen Frost is Republican Glenda Weinert. Because Weinert was not present, Edwards was allowed to give a prepared statement but not to answer questions from the audience.
Edwards said, “I have a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Tennessee around county government and management. Throughout my executive careers at the Literacy Council of Buncombe County, the Red Cross and now at A-B Tech, I’ve helped people improve their lives. …
“My campaign is centered around restoring trust, accountability and providing fiscal oversight so that we can come together to address the opioid crisis, the affordable housing challenges, inequities, and to simply be trusted to provide oversight and deliver effective, efficient services throughout Buncombe County.
“I took over the Red Cross in 2012, not long after an employee had embezzled 10 percent of the organization’s revenues. I worked hard to rebuild trust within the community and those folks who give to the Red Cross. I provided accountability, and I am ready to do the same thing for Buncombe County as your next commissioner.”
Editor’s note: Upon reviewing the recording of the forum (that’s why we record!), this article was updated at 11:19 a.m. on Sept. 22 to more accurately reflect event organizers’ statements regarding candidate attendance. At 9:06 a.m. on Sept. 23, information about Van Duyn’s and Crawford’s views on immigration was added.