Four Republican candidates will slug it out in the primary for the chance to face off against an unopposed Democrat in the race for state Senate District 47. The district’s 105,793 registered voters — who live in Madison, Mitchell, Avery, McDowell, Yancey and most of Haywood counties — are split in party preference, with the Democrats holding a slim advantage (less than 5 percent). Nearly 15 percent list no party affiliation. Once a Republican competitor is selected, he or she will step into the ring with political newcomer Joe Sam Queen to vie for the district’s affections. Queen will be profiled in the Xpress Voters’ Guide for the general election.
Address: 700 Berry Road, Banner Elk
Date of birth: June 30, 1947
Occupation: Professional upholsterer
Years in this community: Since 1982, has lived on the Avery County property where he was born.
Education (formal and informal): GED from the U.S. Army; studied industrial engineering at Western Piedmont Community College.
Political history: Ran for county commissioner in Burke County about 30 years ago.
Address: 89 Walnut St, Waynesville
Date of birth: Oct. 19, 1942
Years in this community: Haywood County resident since 1983
Education (formal and informal): B.A. from Stetson University in Florida, law degree from South Texas College in Houston
Political history: Unsuccessful bid for state Senate in 2000
Keith W. Presnell
Address: 316 Woodstock Drive, Burnsville
Date of birth: Oct. 15, 1950
Occupation: Semi-retired businessman
Years in this community: Lifelong resident of Yancey County
Education (formal and informal): 12th-grade education
Political history: Chairman of the Yancey County Board of Commissioners; has served several terms
Address: 18 Pine St., Spruce Pine
Date of birth: June 3, 1964
Occupation: Owns three small businesses
Years in this community: 30 year Mitchell County resident
Education (formal and informal): Montreat College (A.A.), UNCA (B.A. in politcal science), plus graduate studies at Western and N.C. State. Also a Fellow of the American Council of Political Leadership and a Fellow of the N.C. Institute of Political Leadership
Political history: Now serving his fifth term in the N.C. House
Mountain Xpress: What measures would you support to improve transportation in WNC?
Garry Aldridge: “We need more roads in North Carolina. As far as mass transportation, it seems to me like it only works in certain situations. Now, Boone has got what they call the Apple Cart. … It works real well. There needs to be a system of mass transportation, but the biggest thing we need is more and better roads. We’re so far behind in roads, it’s pitiful; and you know, you get down in the flatlands where all the road money’s going, and you get a little community and it might have three, four, maybe five roads of some size into the community. But most of the mountain communities has got one road in and one road out. This is beginning to show up; it’s going to be a huge problem in the future. We need more roads.
Judith Fraser: “We certainly need better roads.”
Keith Presnell: “One thing is, when we’re doing the state budget, not to take everything out of the [Highway] Trust Fund to be able to support and build roads and [provide infrastructure] for business and industry, especially in the mountain counties.”
Gregg Thompson: “Transportation in Western North Carolina is a crucial issue because of the need for — especially in the small, rural counties — to recruit industry. The roads are one of the issues that we have difficulty with in recruiting industry. I feel like we need to make sure that the Highway Trust Fund is protected — the General Assembly had to dip into it this year because of the budget crisis — but we need to protect the Highway Trust Fund the best that we can, and we need to put as much money into the maintenance fund as we can to keep the roads that we do have in the western part of the state, especially after our harsh winters … in good shape.”
Xpress: What tax measures would you support in light of the budget crisis?
Aldridge: “That’s a real broad statement. I don’t believe in increasing the taxes on anything. As a matter of fact, I think there’s a lot of things we could give tax cuts on. … For instance, this new buffer zone they’re pushing to put around creeks. And you know, they want to come and take people’s land and make them put a buffer zone along the creeks. Why not make this voluntary and give a tax cut to the people that do it and the people that don’t want to do it, just let it go? Get the people involved. Let the people make the decisions.”
Fraser: “We need a zero-based budget. And by that I mean each department and agency and service organization that receives state funds, their budget will be looked at from the very beginning. Whatever is what I call deadwood would have to be eliminated, and then give them the money that is truly needed to serve our citizens. … It will save millions and millions of dollars doing that. It takes a little more work and it’s gonna take a lot more work to get it started, but if we can get a Republican majority, or come close, we can force the work to be done. And other Republicans are in favor of this zero-based budget I’m talking about.”
Presnell: “I would support cutting the fat and the waste from the budget first and then have to look at that before I would vote for a tax increase.”
Xpress: Would you support a menu of tax options?
Aldridge: “I don’t know. I don’t know enough about it to make that decision at this time.”
Fraser: “If we straighten out the state budget the way I’ve described and we file a state constitutional amendment prohibiting the governor from taking funds that already belong to the municipalities and counties, then I don’t think a menu of taxes on a local basis is at all needed.”
Xpress: Give us a concrete example of what you will do to bring better-paying jobs to WNC.
Aldridge: “Gov. Easley’s got a thing now where he’s going to give companies that will move into North Carolina some up-front money — right up front, before they even open up. And then he says they’ll be able to keep the income taxes of their employees for up to 15 years. Well, this is a great thing, but now, this is aimed at big employers, like BMW. We don’t have the population up here in the mountains for big [employers]. We need a little different approach to it. We need the small companies; we need the environmentally clean companies here. But we need jobs real bad.”
Fraser: “If we have the infrastructure that we need — meaning roads (and as you probably know, Charles Taylor is working diligently on getting the Internet systems in here, and of course, we got the schooling to train people who have been displaced from jobs) — then we are presenting an attractive package to new companies to come into this area, and we can get quality companies that would also be compatible with trying to keep a clean environment (get a clean environment, actually).”
Presnell: “Infrastructure first. I think our towns and our cities need to have infrastructure in place, such as roads, water and sewer, and to recruit industry for our area.”
Thompson: “I think that we need to be competitive with our neighboring states with incentive packages. We need to help the local governments with infrastructure to provide infrastructure to potential industries that may locate in our area providing jobs. I’ve been in the house for 10 years. I was successful in locating two prisons in my district which provided 800 secure jobs. I think that we need to look at state jobs as well, and maintaining our state jobs. It’s going to be difficult to recruit industries [that hire a lot of employees] to small, rural counties in Western North Carolina. So we’ve got to set out priorities on retaining our current industry and jobs in our part of the state and then focus on recruitment in assisting the communities, like I said, with the infrastructure that is needed for new jobs.”
Xpress: If elected, what’s the first piece of legislation you plan to introduce in the next legislative session?
Aldridge: “I’m no politician. At this point in time, I wouldn’t even know how to go about introducing a piece of legislation. I would be somewhere in the category of better roads or more jobs.”
Fraser: “I haven’t thought that far, because — I have to tell you honestly — I have been campaigning very hard, and I have talked to a lot of people, but not in the depth that I intend to between winning on Nov. 5 and taking office in the next year. So I have time to go to each of the communities, talk to anybody that wants to talk to me, leaders and general people, and find out what exactly they think my job is and act accordingly.”
Presnell: “I’m not sure on that.”
Thompson: “I don’t know that this would be the first piece of legislation that I would introduce, but a piece of legislation — and it’s in the House budget, but I don’t know if it will stay in the House budget — but I think that our state needs to have a true zero-based budgeting process. Serving as the House appropriations chairman, I know the process is not perfect in creating a budget for the state, and I’m not saying that zero-based is perfect, but it would be a very badly needed improvement in the budgeting process of our state. It wouldn’t necessarily be the first piece of legislation that I would introduce, and I have not thought that far ahead because I am so involved in the budget process now. I haven’t thought that far ahead, but we need some budget reform.”
Xpress: Would you support a lottery?
Aldridge: “I don’t think it’s a matter of supporting the lottery anymore. Anybody in North Carolina that wants a lottery ticket is already buying lottery tickets. I think it has gone beyond that at this point, and I think it’s a question of do you want your money to go to Virginia, South Carolina or keep it at home?”
Fraser: “My attitude about the lottery is simply this: I don’t have a moral issue with the lottery. After all, organizations of all kinds sell raffle tickets to raise money and do other such things. Some churches even promote bingo as fund-raisers. So I don’t see a moral issue in it. My problem is, I don’t know any adult that would want to turn to a child and say, ‘I’m educating you off gambling.’ I wouldn’t do it; I don’t think anybody else wants to.”
Xpress: What activist organizations have you belonged to or support?
Aldridge: “Absolutely none.”