Here at Xpress, we pride ourselves on providing in-depth, balanced election coverage. But you won’t find much balance in our coverage of this race. Two candidates are contending for state House District 116 — but only one of them was willing to talk to Xpress readers. Republican incumbent Wilma Sherrill gladly spent a Saturday morning fielding our questions; her Republican challenger, Mike Morgan, refused to be interviewed by Xpress. (Note: He is not to be confused with the other Michael Morgan, a Democratic candidate for House District 115.)
Meanwhile, neither the Democratic, the Green nor the Libertarian Party is even bothering to run a candidate to challenge the winner of the Republican primary. So, barring a miraculous write-in campaign in the November election, it looks as though Republican voters will decide this one on Sept. 10. In case there are some undecideds out there, however, here’s our interview with Sherrill. Granted, there’s not much to compare it to, but we make no apologies — ask the other candidate why he declined to put his views on the line for voters to consider.
Address: 66 Elk Mountain Scenic Highway
Date of birth: Aug. 9, 1939
Years in this community: Since 1967
Education (formal and informal): Attended Elkin Business College and Wake Forest University
Political history: Several years in state government, working for governors Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin, plus eight years as a state legislator
Mountain Xpress: Nuclear materials are already being shipped through our state (to a nuclear-fuel facility in Erwin, Tenn.), and the number of shipments may increase (perhaps in connection with the Yucca Mountain Depository, scheduled to open in 2012 in Nevada). Do you have any plans to introduce legislation regarding the transportation of nuclear materials in our state?
Wilma Sherrill: “I haven’t given any thought to just what … I’d have to talk with our hazmat officials with DMV and just see where federal regs come in or what, if anything, we can do to stop or halt any possibility. … You know, when you have your federal highway that is supported by highway funds — now, whether the state of North Carolina can halt transportation on those highways would be a legal question. I will say that it is of great concern.”
Xpress: What measures would you support to improve transportation in WNC?
Sherrill: “The Board of Transportation has statutory authority to set out the TIP [Transportation Improvement Plan], and I think that there has been some controversy locally about adding additional lanes. And of course, always, clean air comes into this, because if you have slow traffic and people sitting in traffic with motors running, then that creates a problem for our air. So I’m supportive of improving our highways. I think that also plays into our economic development. I believe we need to continually improve our access; even our air service comes into question when we are trying to recruit big industry. If we can’t get the goods in and out and you can’t get the customers in and out [through the regional airport], it needs to be addressed.”
Xpress: What tax measures would you support in light of the budget crisis?
Sherrill: “First of all, I’m certainly opposed to higher taxes; we’re one of the highest-taxed states in the South. I think that is a deterrent to our citizens. We have a governor who snatched our local governments’ refunds; I believe that the fairest tax, if we had to have a tax — and I’m not real sure that we do — would be the sales tax. I’m certainly opposed to higher corporate taxes, higher income taxes. I believe we need to control our spending as opposed to looking at higher taxes.”
Xpress: Would you support a menu of options for local governments?
Sherrill: “Well, I think the League of Municipalities and the County Commissioners Association have come to an agreement, and they’ve come to the legislature and said that they want to support the half-cent sales tax . You know, last year the legislature increased the sales tax to six-and-a-half percent, and that was supposed to sunset. What’s currently passed the House and is in the Senate is repealing the state’s half-cent sales tax and allowing the local government the option of keeping the six-and-a-half and keeping the money. And I did support that.”
Xpress: Give us a concrete example of what you’ll do to bring better-paying jobs to WNC.
Sherrill: “It’s interesting that you ask that question. We’re currently debating an incentive package — and I want to say right off the bat that I hate incentives to recruit new businesses, but all the other states around us have them and we are losing good-paying jobs for our people, because the state of North Carolina offers nothing. So I think that in order for us to be competitive, we’re going to have to be more lenient with some sort of incentive package that’s going to help our people. North Carolina has lost more jobs than anyone, and I think that’s due to NAFTA. I’m in favor of Congress repealing NAFTA.”
Xpress: If elected, what’s the first piece of legislation you plan to introduce in the next legislative session?
Sherrill: “I think health care. … Of course, education is the biggest. If we have this incentive package, then our community colleges are going to have to be funded and stand ready to retool and retrain our work force, so that if those jobs are recruited and come here our people are qualified for those positions. We have got to continue to support our community colleges.
This state has grown, and constitutionally, we have to educate our children and that’s a big chunk of our budget — over 60 percent of our entire budget. We have to fund it. But we’ve got to be able to recruit quality teachers, we’ve got to continue to have accountability in our schools, and we’ve got to have classrooms [and] equipment to educate our children. After all, they are our leaders of tomorrow. I think that teacher’s salaries … we’re finally moving toward the national average for teachers, and I don’t think we can let that fall by the wayside.
On health care, with the rising cost of prescription drugs, it’s hurting our elderly, and it would behoove the legislature to address this.
And I’m a strong advocate for private-property rights, and I will always watch any piece of legislation that I might introduce to protect private-property rights.
I’m a strong advocate for quality child care, and I think we have to continue to strengthen our laws for those who are abused, whether it be child abuse or spousal abuse.”
Xpress: Would you support a lottery? If yes, under what conditions?
Sherrill: “I have never said that I would support a lottery, but for the 10 years that I have been a candidate, I have said that I would support a referendum. Let the people tell the legislature what they want.”
Xpress: What activist organizations have you belonged to or supported?
Sherrill: “I’ve been active in the Republican Women’s Federation; at one time, I was vice president for the state. I’ve served on the first Helpmate board, which is the domestic-violence group (I’ve long been active in that group). I’m a former member of the NRA — I’m not a card-carrying member right now, because how many dues can you pay on my salary?”
Xpress: Which endorsement are you proudest of?
Sherrill: “I’d have to list three: the State Employees Association, the regional merchants, and the retired school personnel. And then I’ve got NRA.”
Xpress: Name three political allies.
Sherrill: “I’d have to mention Robert B. Long Jr., attorney; David Brown, former county chairman; and I talk to [former] Gov. Holshouser a lot.”
Xpress: What, if anything, have you ever been convicted of?
Sherrill: “That is a strange-worded question. I’ve been convicted of being too powerfully straightforward.”
Xpress: Have you ever used drugs that are illegal in the United States?
Xpress: How much do you plan on spending on your race? (After the election, Xpress will revisit the candidates’ estimates.)
Sherrill: “Well, I borrowed $35,000, and I plan to spend every penny of it.”
Xpress: How much did you spend in your last bid for elected office?
Sherrill: “Well, I think that you also have to take into consideration [whether] you’re in a single-member district or a multi-member district, and this is the first time I’ve been in a single-member district. Naturally, it costs a lot less to contact your voters. I probably spent $80,000 to 90,000 in the last election, because I was in a three-member district and had five opponents.”
Xpress: What’s your take on what happened at the Department of Motor Vehicles?
Sherrill: “I think the jury is still out. Having been a former commissioner of the DMV, I’m aware that there have been allegations for years that politics have a big role in the districts. I’ve always been suspicious of that. I think that DMV probably does need a new face and some new reporting roles. I’ve introduced legislation early on to incorporate the enforcement — enforcement only — and roll that in under the North Carolina Highway Patrol. I think that will save some administrative costs; that’s a good first step.”