New district draws multiple contenders

All the candidates seem to agree about one thing: The race for the newly created 48th state Senate District is a short one. Since a Superior Court judge handed down a ruling in June making the new district a reality, candidates have had to scramble to get their campaigns up and running. Four Republicans — three from Henderson County and one from Buncombe — are squaring off in the Republican primary over the right to face the lone Democratic candidate, Robert C. Burris, in the general election. The 48th, which combines sections of Buncombe, Henderson and Polk counties, is widely considered a Republican stronghold that could help conservatives increase their numbers in the Senate. Here’s a look at the Republican contenders to help voters choose. (Note: Where no response is given for a candidate, it means the reporter was unable to ask that candidate the question.)

Biographical info

Thomas M. Apodaca

Home: Hendersonville

Date of birth: Nov. 8, 1957

Party: Republican

Occupation: Entrepreneur (has several businesses)

Years in this community: 25

Education (formal and informal): Northern Durham High School, Western Carolina University (B.S. business), Leadership Hendersonville

Political history: None

Grady H. Hawkins

Home: Hendersonville

Date of birth: 1942

Party: Republican

Occupation: Retired

Years in this community: Native

Education (formal and informal): Enka High School, UNC-Chapel Hill (mathematics), University of Oklahoma (master’s in public administration)

Political history: Current Henderson County commissioner

Jesse I. Ledbetter

Home: Asheville

Date of birth: Dec. 22, 1922

Party: Republican

Occupation: Realtor

Years in this community: Native

Education (formal and informal): Meadow Springs High School, Brevard College, University of Maryland (military science), Air Force Officer Training and Weather Forecast School

Political history: 12 years on Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, two terms N.C. Senate

Ralph Ledford

Home: Flat Rock

Date of birth: Sept. 18, 1946

Party: Republican

Occupation: Businessman

Years in this community: Native

Education (formal and informal): Hayesville High School, Appalachian State University (B.A. political science), George Washington University (M.A. government/public administration)

Political history: N.C. legislator, 19978-79

Q&A

Xpress: What measures would you support to improve transportation in WNC?

Thomas Apodaca: Supports widening of I-26 and I-240. “I think it’s critical we get those done as soon as possible.” A travel agent, he would like to see an increase in air traffic in and out of Asheville.

Grady Hawkins: “Quit robbing the Highway Trust Fund.” As for Raleigh: “Western North Carolina has been on the back burner for too long.”

Jesse Ledbetter: “The main thing is to get additions to our highways to take care of the traffic, both local and interstate. Then the trend is — and I think it’s a good trend — to improve our mass-transit system. Because in the distant future, when fossil fuels become more scarce, there’s going to be more emphasis on that.

Ralph Ledford: I served on the Transportation Committee when I was in the legislature before, and I strongly support the bypass around Asheville, the eight-lane bypass. I also support the widening of I-26, and I will consult with our local leaders and approach this in a community-support kind of direction.”

Xpress: What tax measures would you support in light of the budget crisis?

Apodaca: “I support absolutely no increase in taxes.” He does conditionally support the current half-cent sales tax, “If it is given to the counties and the state relinquishes their half-cent this year instead of next.”

Ledbetter: “I wouldn’t support any tax increases. I feel the budget crisis requires that we take a hard look at our priorities and then come up with what measures we need to live within our means, which is the present tax system.”

Ledford: “I will not vote for any new taxes in the upcoming session, and I believe we need to go to a zero-balance budget.”

Xpress: Would you support a menu of tax options?

Apodaca: “I’m definitely more in favor of local controls.”

Ledbetter: “I would rather see the state legislature return the funds that were legislatively returned after the intangibles and inventory taxes were repealed, because that was part of the issue — that local governments get that money from the state out of the general fund.”

Ledford: “I will not vote for any new taxes.”

Xpress: Give us a concrete example of what you will do to bring better-paying jobs to WNC.

Apodaca: “I am for the engineering program that has been proposed in the House for Western and UNCA. It will definitely bring in some higher-paying jobs for the region, which I feel is critical.”

Hawkins: “We must keep taxes low to encourage business growth, which provides good jobs.”

Ledbetter: “I think we should explore all measures of tax and educational issues that will attract industry. Of course, we have to focus on clean industries, because our mountains certainly won’t stand any more pollution.”

Ledford: “Having worked in the Department of Natural Economic Resources, I know the things that are very important that people look for. They look for water and sewer, good transportation systems and access to the markets, and we’ve not had a good advocate in Raleigh from this particular area in many years. I will work diligently with the Department of Commerce to ensure that we have a chance to recruit the industries that are located in the Southeast. And I believe that Congressman Taylor right now is trying to get fiber-optic cable from Columbia, S.C. into Asheville … which would provide high access in the Internet services and research facilities.”

Xpress: If elected, what’s the first piece of legislation you plan to introduce in the next legislative session?

Apodaca: The Taxpayer Protection Act, copying the act in Colorado. “It says you cannot spend more than you received in the prior year, plus adjusted for inflation, plus adjusted for population increase.”

Hawkins: “I hadn’t really thought about it.”

Ledbetter: “I don’t have a particular piece of legislation. There is a trend here in Buncombe County toward district elections of county commissioners that I would support. And the other counties, Polk and Henderson, if they had local issues, I would be considering legislation that their local officials ask for.”

Ledford: “I would hope that we could introduce a bill, which is in the House right now, which is a constitutional amendment to prohibit the trust funds from being used other than from what they are in there for. The second would be that we go to a zero-balance budget. And I believe we should limit the time the legislature is in session.”

Xpress: Would you support a lottery?

Apodaca: “I personally would not, but I will support a referendum and let the people have their say. I will vote ‘no’ in that referendum.”

Hawkins: “No. I don’t think a lottery is the answer to our problems.”

Ledbetter: “I oppose the lottery personally, but I feel like, since we’re surrounded by states that have a lottery, we’re losing so much income from our citizens spending money in other states that we ought to allow a referendum on the lottery and see what the people think.”

Ledford: “I see it as a taxation; I also see it as creating a bureaucracy, but I will support a referendum for people to vote on it. It should be a binding referendum, and I will stand by that vote. It’s not a panacea for the state of North Carolina.”

Xpress: Under what conditions would you support a lottery?

Apodaca: “No, at this point I don’t see [any such] conditions.”

Ledbetter: “As far as the money’s concerned, we hear all this media hype that it would go to education. I would make certain people have the truth of how the money would be spent. Because they used it to promote education, they say. But then when the money comes in, if they put the money into education, they take general-fund money in equal amounts out of education. So it doesn’t really support education any more than any other income that the state would have.

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