We met in coffeehouses, offices, back porches and living rooms. Some wore ties, and some wore T-shirts. Some answers were succinct, and some were rambling. But in interviewing the five candidates for state Senate District 28 (encompassing Madison, Yancy, McDowell and parts of Buncombe and Burke counties), one common thread emerged: passion. All five candidates have entered the political arena with a mission and a message. So before you gripe about the state of our state, remember that Nov. 7 is right around the corner, and voting remains the most fundamental right in a democratic society. And for those who’re disenchanted with the traditional two-party system, there’s also a Libertarian in the mix.
What follows is a brief profile of each candidate and excerpts of their responses to a series of questions, designed to highlight their opinions and proposals on key issues and to capture a glimpse into what makes them tick. The candidates’ profiles and responses are listed in the order in which their names will appear on the ballot.
If you’re torn between two candidates or are worried about wasting your vote on a long shot, fear not. District 28 is allotted two seats, and you’ll be asked to vote for two of the five candidates.
Charles Carter, Democrat (incumbent)
Plenty of politicians claim to be pro-education, but incumbent Charles Carter is the lone member of the N.C. General Assembly who can actually list “teacher” as his occupation. And with 70 percent of the state budget earmarked for education programs, Carter is quick to point out that ironic fact. Although this is his first elected position, Carter stresses that he’s worked with a variety of civic and political groups in the past.While advocating for education causes may occupy much of Carter’s time in Raleigh, he still puts in classroom time working as a substitute teacher in the Buncombe County schools.
Carter anticipates spending about $100,000 to finance his campaign. His largest contributor so far has been the North Carolina Association of Educators ($4,000), with the rest coming from “a smattering of other organizations, such as labor unions and CP&L.” He added: “I’m proud [that the contributions are] spread out among diverse groups. I’m even more proud when people who aren’t wealthy and can’t contribute money volunteer to contribute their time to my campaign.” When asked why he’s a Democrat, Carter replied: “I’m a Democrat because they protect education; they’re committed to education. And on civil rights, the Democrats have opened so many doors.”
Steve Metcalf, Democrat (incumbent)
Incumbent Steve Metcalf is a real-estate broker who’s proud of his mountain heritage. He’ll gladly tell you that his family has been in the area for more than 10 generations. Metcalf, who holds a graduate degree in political science, served as Buncombe County manager from 1989-93 and worked as an administrator in Gov. Jim Hunt’s office from 1993-96. This is Metcalf’s first term as a state Senator, his first elected office.
When asked to explain his party affiliation, Metcalf noted, “On balance, the [Democratic] party represents the kinds of things I think are important. Democrats help people succeed in life; the Democratic Party has always been at the forefront of issues such as education. I have a good quality of life because of good public schools and access to a good public university. The party provides people with an opportunity for success. That’s what we’re about — helping to give people the opportunity to improve their lives.”
Metcalf also anticipates spending $100,000 to finance his campaign. When asked about his major contributors, he estimated that “25 percent would come from PACs such as CP&L, electrical co-ops, lawyers’ organizations [and] the state employees’ association.” He has been endorsed by the state Board of Realtors and the North Carolina Education Association.
R.L. Clark, Republican
R.L. Clark’s campaign literature highlights his humble roots, calling him “the first born of eight children to sharecropper parents in Madison County. His parent’s home at the time was a one-room log cabin with a field rock fireplace as the only source for both heating and cooking.” Yet Clark went on to obtain an undergraduate degree in business administration and a master’s degree in education. He spent 20 years in the state Department of Human Resources and is now a retail merchant. Clark entered politics in 1994 with a run for the state senate. “I spent $8,000 on getting my message out,” he notes. “I went out and met the people, and the only literature was my card that said, “Return government to the people.” The card must have worked; he served two terms in the state Senate. He returns to the fray in the new millennium to reclaim the seat he lost in 1998. This time around, he expects to spend about $30,000, noting that “95 percent of my contributions come from within Senate District 28.” Clark lists a PAC contribution of $200 from the National Federation of Independent Business and several $500 donations from various Republican groups.
As to his party affiliation, Clark explained: “I probably should be an independent, but that’s just not a viable option. My philosophy, though, does resemble that of the Republican Party.” But he went on to point out, “I’ve often voted with the Democrats on issues. … I voted what I felt the majority of my constituents wanted.”
Jesse Ledbetter, Republican
He’s been a weatherman, an Air Force pilot and, most recently, a real-estate agent. Jesse Ledbetter’s political resume includes 12 years as a Buncombe County commissioner (1980-92) and two terms in the state Senate (1994-98). This Republican is also trying to regain the seat he lost two years ago, and he feels strongly that the current district boundaries (which divide some counties, such as Buncombe and Burke) need to be redrawn based on information obtained in the most recent census. He would also support a shift to district representation in county-commissioner races, with voters selecting a candidate from their individual communities — as opposed to the current at-large system of representation.
Ledbetter expects to spend $50,000-$70,000 on his campaign. He said he has accepted “a few” PAC contributions, and lists his major endorsement as coming from the National Federation of Independent Business.
Ledbetter says he’s a Republican because, “It’s a party that believes in self-reliance and conservative values. … I am a fiscal conservative, and the Republican Party is nearer to my views.”
Clarence Ervin Young, Libertarian
Clarence Ervin Young began our interview by declaring, “Most of the things I say will probably cost me votes.” But this independent entrepreneur’s comments echo the sentiments of a growing number of voters, as his party’s presence on the ballot attests.
The Libertarian movement is by no means new. And, according to Young: “If our founding fathers — men such as Madison, Adams and, particularly, Thomas Jefferson — were alive today, they would be aghast at what they saw [in terms of the size of our government]. There’s no doubt in my mind; they’d be Libertarians today.” Personal liberty looms large in the Libertarian world view, but Young is quick to stress that accountability and self-reliance must go hand in hand with it.
Young admits that he has no political experience. He was drawn to the Senate race by a quote he heard on C-SPAN: “Democracy is not something you have; it’s something you do.”
As for campaign financing, Young reported that he plans to spend less than $1,000. In his words, “The less big money there is from special interests, the greater the chance the candidate can be true to his principles. I even refused money from the Libertarian Party. When I walk through the door of the Senate chamber, I will be Clarence Ervin Young, and no one will own me.”
Mountain Xpress: How do you propose dealing with our region’s poor air quality?
Carter: We have more deaths from emphysema than any other part of the state. I chair a Senate select committee on air quality, and we need first of all to document and study the correlation between bad-air days and sickness. We also need to look at successes such as the Lake Julian power plant — which has, over the last five years, reduced emissions by 67 percent. We need to promote successes like this and continue our efforts in this direction, as well as addressing ways to reduce out-of-state smog.
Metcalf: I serve on the Mountain Air Quality Select Committee. Over the last 40 years, [pollution has] gotten worse. But I don’t want to be perceived as doing this [taking a stand on this issue] for political reasons; this shouldn’t be a political issue. We need to encourage public transportation. We know we have a problem from outside our state, but how do you tell the TVA and people in the Ohio Valley that their prosperity is making people sick in Western North Carolina? We need to learn how to tell them.
Clark: The citizens of our area shouldn’t be penalized for the minimal pollution created here. We, the leadership, need to band together on the federal level to work on a solution to the problem of out-of-state, coal-fired factories that cause this pollution. But when we just focus on local auto emissions, it’s like trying to swat a gnat.
Ledbetter: I will do my best effort to get Western North Carolina politicians to meet with the governor and appoint a task force with himself, our two U.S. senators and the six members of Congress from the western part of the state. They should be tasked with lobbying the U.S. Congress to pass tougher laws requiring coal-fired electric plants outside of our state to clean up. The technology is available; they must be required to do it.
Young: The bulk of our pollution is from Tennessee. We’re similar to Los Angeles in that we are an area of temperature inversion. Already this area has outgrown its ability to sustain good air. I would be against building any new highways in the area. People would be frustrated, but out of self-preservation, these people [would] turn to alternative transportation.
MX: Are we winning the war on drugs — and waging it in an appropriate manner?
Carter: It’s a tough battle. The target keeps moving, with newer and stronger drugs entering society. It’s often easy to blame foreign countries, but we need to look at our own policies and … see what’s causing people to become substance abusers. As far as civil liberties go, any form of racial profiling is abhorrent to me. We’re not a police state, and I don’t think we need to be to win the war on drugs.
Metcalf: My gut reaction is no. I don’t think we’re fighting it the right way. Let’s look at tobacco. Sales have gone down when people honestly understand what it does to their bodies. We need to deal with drugs by curbing demand through education, awareness and open discussion.
Clark: I don’t think we’re winning. I’ve seen drug deals in the parking lot of my store. As long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. The supply needs to dry up; there isn’t a big enough effort.
Ledbetter: I don’t think so. It’s an education process that needs to be ongoing and more intensive.
Young: It’s insane. [The drug war] encourages us to build prisons and build up the police state, and the underworld increases. During Prohibition, alcohol use was at an all-time high.
MX: Do you support the We Still Pray movement, and what are your feelings about the separation of church and state?
Carter: I don’t think schools should have prayer over the intercom. You can’t guarantee what kind of prayer will come out. I’m a Christian, and I understand these people in the We Still Pray movement. Prayer is important and, as a teacher, I’ve never stopped a student from praying. But I believe in the separation of church and state.
Metcalf: I went to Enka High School: these folks just pray. I have empathy for it and great respect for the First Amendment. People are going to just do it. People also need to respect diversity. To me, this is not a legal issue. Things are going to happen regardless of a Supreme Court decision. There’s nothing the North Carolina General Assembly can do about it.
Clark: We were founded as a Christian nation. Our Constitution was founded on the Holy Bible and the principles therein. Nowhere in our Constitution does it say anything about a separation of church and state.
Ledbetter: There is no constitutional separation of church and state.
Young: I believe in fair prayer. If prayer is permitted, it should be equal opportunity prayer for Christians, Muslims, Hebrews, Pagans, etc. If we do this, the majority Christians can see and feel what it’s like. Christians might be so offended by Pagan prayer; this might [lead them to] back off of their position [on] prayer altogether.
MX: Would you be in favor of legislation that would strengthen hate-crime laws, specificly, crimes of hate against homosexuals?
Carter:Yes, anything that would make our communities safer for all is a good thing.
Metcalf:Yes, it’s a perfectly good idea. It would send a message out.
Clark:No,the laws are sufficient.
Ledbetter:I don’t want to see laws specifying certain lifestyles.
Young:That’s difficult; hate crimes are a terrible thing, but to expect our government to pass laws about sexuality — even ones geared towards protecting people — assumes that [the government] has some level of expertise in the area. Additionally, it gives them a foothold in managing our sexuality.
MX: The need for affordable housing is growing in the area. Do you have any specific proposals to address this need?
Carter: Buying a home is not a reality for many of our residents. This forces them to rent and causes rents to skyrocket. We are pushing people into poverty. We need to support the local agencies that are working hard to address this dilemma.
Metcalf: We need to support the agencies that are working to solve this problem. We need to make it profitable for private developers — not huge profits, but profits — to build units that are affordable. The state should create incentives for them to add to the housing stock.
Clark: On one hand, we say we don’t have [affordable housing] and want the government to give it to us. But on the other hand, the myriad bureaucracy [government involvement] creates adds thousands of dollars to construction costs and … puts it out of reach for the people that need it. The permitting processes and hoops to jump through don’t make it any more affordable.
Ledbetter: Our city government has been a hindrance to affordable housing. Available and usable land is so dear [that] it’s not possible to have cheap land. People are prohibited by the many regulations. And also, people fight multifamily housing in their neighborhoods.
Young: Affordable housing is disingenuous on the part of the people promoting it. It permits the wealthy people to dictate not only how the houses look, but where they’re located — which is never near them. I would look to private organizations like Habitat for Humanity, which does a fantastic job without government interference. These are the groups who we should support. If I give a dollar to a poor man, he gets a dollar. If I give a dollar to the government to give to the poor man, he gets 50 cents.
MX: What’s your favorite book?
Carter: Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I lived in Spain when I read it; it was an inspirational and important time in my life.
Metcalf: The Glory and the Dream, by William Manchester. It’s a narrative history of the United States from 1932-72, and it greatly impacted my notion of public policy.
Clark: The Bible.
Ledbetter: Anything on mutual funds.
Young: It Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do, by Peter McWilliams. Everyone should read it.
MX: If you could be any animal in the world, what would you be?
Carter: A panther. They’re focused, quick and strong.
Metcalf: I wouldn’t have the foggiest notion (laughing).
Clark: I wouldn’t want to be any animal. I’ll pass on that.
Ledbetter: Whichever one lives the longest.
Young: A penguin. They’re mild mannered, mind [their] own business, yet live in a social world happily. And occasionally, you have an eccentric penguin.