Cracking the whip

One of the primary season's most-watched races pits Rep. Bruce Goforth, a four-term incumbent who's the current Democratic whip, against former Buncombe County Commissioner Patsy Keever. Xpress conducted separate in-depth interviews with both candidates.

Here are excerpts from those interviews. Full transcripts and video are available at www.mountainx.com.

Rep. Bruce Goforth

Mountain Xpress: You've been in the House for four terms. What's motivating you to run for a fifth?
Rep. Bruce Goforth:
The possibility of being able to help Western North Carolina. If you look at the last three terms, I've been a power for the western part of the state. This last year, I was elected majority whip, which I think makes a huge difference. With Sen. Martin Nesbitt [being named] majority leader, I think there's an opportunity to bring some funding to the west that's been overlooked in the past.

You've been a longtime supporter of the Sullivan Acts, and you've cited Buncombe County's role in the '20s and '30s helping build the water system. How does that tie into justifying restrictions on the city of Asheville's water system today?
You'll hear the city of Asheville say that they're the only ones being treated this way, and that's not true: Charlotte has the same system that we recommended.

When we had the negotiations over the city and the county separating and the city taking it over, we dealt with the city for hours on end in the negotiations. The truth was, they wanted it all and didn't want to give up anything. When you look at what the county was paying, they were paying for the ballpark, the city police: They were paying a portion of that.

When we looked at [the water system], we said there's too much money coming out of there and the money's not going back into the infrastructure. So what we did in the bill, we put in that the water system [revenue] has to be utilized for the infrastructure. Last year, we changed that a little bit, so that not just the infrastructure would be addressed, but the area they tore up for paving and the sidewalks could be included in that. … It's held up in court, and I think it's fair.

Parts of your record have been criticized by environmental advocacy groups; the Conservation Council gave you a low rating. You've said before, for example, that we need to be a lot more worried about the economy than the steep slopes. Where is the environment as a legislative priority?
I don't believe I ever said we need to be more concerned about the economy than the steep slopes. I don't think I've ever said that.

At the CIBO debate, sir. [Goforth's exact statement was, "We need to be more worried — a lot more — about the economy than we do the steep slopes."]
I said we need to have a balance; that was my words exactly. [In the same debate, Goforth also said this about the environment: "We have to look at where our jobs come from and strike a balance."] I said we need balance, and I still say that. We can't rob all the jobs to protect the environment. I mean, that's a no-brainer.

Patsy Keever

You've spoken of reconsidering the Sullivan Acts, which restrict the city's water revenues and how they can be used. By "reconsidering," do you mean repealing or modifying?
Actually, it has gone to court and it has gone up to the appeals level, and it looks as though they may stay as they are. My opinion, however, is that they're unfair. If there were a way to look at that again and make them more equitable, I would certainly be interested in doing that.

At a previous debate [at a CIBO luncheon], you said you weren't running to oppose Goforth and that, in some ways, he's done a good job. If that's so, then why should —
[Laughs] Y'know, that was worded poorly. I am obviously opposing Mr. Goforth; not in a negative way, not in a personal way, but I am opposing what he has done, chiefly on the environment, because he was one of the "Dirty Dozen." Yes, since I got into the race, he has improved his ranking on the environment, and I'm very grateful for that. But I think when we look at somebody who's going to be in the legislature, do we want somebody that's spent their entire adult life working on the environment, being an activist to protect our natural resources, or do we want somebody who changes his mind because that seems to be the way the trend is going?

Speaking of how long Rep. Goforth has been in the state House, one of the points he's been touting is his seniority. Do you think being a newcomer would hamper your ability to get your agenda through?
No, I don't, actually. I think Rep. Goforth has held up some legislation and weakened some legislation, though he ends up voting the right way and, you know, that's good. I think that I can go in there — and I have friends in the legislature now — I think that we can be a good team and get some legislation passed that's important.

If you're elected, Day 1, what's your top legislative priority?
I think my top legislative priority is to get education squared away. … One of the things we need to look at in education is: What are we really trying to provide with our education system? And in my mind, we're trying to turn out citizens: people who can contribute to society, people who can get a job, who have the skills, who have the resources they need to develop the talents they have. And we all have different talents, and we have different skills and we learn different ways, so I think we need to be a little more flexible in our education system. But the bottom line is, we want to be able to produce citizens that can be a part of our community.

David Forbes can be reached at dforbes@mountainx.com or at 251-1333, ext. 137.

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