North Carolina State House District 116

The candidates are Doug Jones, Democrat, and Wilma Sherrill, Republican.

Doug Jones

Age: 27
Address:24 Elkmont Drive, Asheville
Occupation: Teacher
Years in WNC: 9
Education: B.A., UNCA; M.A., Appalachian State; M.Sc., University of Edinburgh
Political party: Democrat
Political experience: President, Buncombe County Young Democrats

1. What sets you apart from your opponent?

“Where do I begin? I think my youth sets me apart, and the fact that I am a public-school teacher in this community and live and work in this community.

“I feel like I have a unique perspective on the values and perspectives of the residents of Buncombe County, and working families in the county. I understand how upset they are with forced annexation and have pledged to do something about that. I understand how upset and angry they are about the problems with I-240 and exit 44 and the problems with the gridlock there — at malfunction junction. I understand their frustration with the delays and excuses that have come to us from the state level, and I am determined to do something about that.

“I’m not interested in politics as usual; I’m not interested in being a career politician. I refuse to accept large corporate PAC contributions. I’ve accepted voluntary spending limits. I believe that public officials ought to show a little restraint when it comes to campaign finance. I believe in term limits; my opponent doesn’t. I don’t think career politicians serve the interests of their constituents. I don’t intend to be one.”

2. What’s the biggest problem facing the state? What would you do about it?

“I think that the biggest problem facing North Carolina is the unfunded mandate of No Child Left Behind. And I say that because North Carolina has made a unique commitment to public education in the last hundred years or so, particularly since 1996 and the work that Governor Hunt did. We cannot afford to let that investment go down the tubes, and it is going down the tubes in two ways.

“First off, the unfunded federal mandates which are asking us to do some really ridiculous things without any support, and it is going to bring us to a point where the federal government is going to be telling North Carolinians that their schools are failing while the state is going to be telling them that they’re doing fine. And it is going to create a crisis of confidence. We can’t afford a crisis of confidence in our public schools.

“The other way we are mortgaging our future with respect to education in North Carolina is with all these tuition hikes and fee hikes at our universities and community colleges. Tuition and fees, depending on the institution, have gone up somewhere between 36 and 49 percent in the four years. We’re pricing working families out of higher education, and that’s the wrong direction to move in. We need to be aggressive about seeing that these costs are not passed on to working families in North Carolina. We need to see that our constitutional commitment to providing people in this state with a free education is upheld as much as possible and respected.”

3. I-26 Connector: Six lanes or eight? Why?

“I’ve always preferred a six-lane solution, because I don’t think eight lanes are necessary. The impact studies suggest that eight lanes are not necessary, and I think you would do terrible and irreparable harm to communities in West Asheville.

“None of those communities are in the district I intend to serve, for the most part. Most of the district I would serve is to the south, where they want to fix the problem on I-240 but are not particular about how it is fixed. So I intend to apply pressure to fix exit 44 in Candler, because I think that would solve a lot of the congestion problems. I think making that exit more efficient, or making an additional exit would help.

“I don’t think an eight-lane connector is needed, but clearly I think some adjustment is necessary on I-240. From what I have heard and read, the six-lane plan seems more feasible.”

4. Should electronic voting machines in N.C. be required to provide a paper trail?

“Yes. For every ballot cast, there should be a paper trail. Not every machine: every ballot.”

5. Do you support spending limits for local elections?

“Yes, I do, but not statutory spending limits. I believe that we should lean on the candidates to have self-imposed spending limits, as I have done. I think we should expect our lawmakers to show a little restraint.”

6. Apart from judicial races, do you support voter-financed state elections?

“I strongly supported it for judicial races, and I’m excited to see what happened with the judicial races. Of course, we’re going through the first cycle with some of them. Based on that success, I think it would be something that would be meaningful to start with the Council of State, in the future.”

7. How much money do you plan to spend in the general election?

“Probably not more than $5,000, right around there. I will not buy TV time on WLOS; I am participating in the boycott of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”

8. What’s the first legislation you would propose or support if elected?

“The first thing I would do is introduce a bill calling for a moratorium on new annexation in Buncombe County until that statute can be studied by a blue-ribbon committee that includes stakeholders, and a more fair and equitable solution can be reached.

“The second thing I would do is introduce legislation that would ban all automated telemarketing phone calls. You may remember the no-phone-call stuff that went on — well, the politicians made a huge loophole for themselves, and they are one of the most egregious offenders, in my view. I believe in grassroots politics. I find these automated calls somewhat offensive; they are obnoxious and offensive. So I want to get rid of those.”

9. Do you favor a death-penalty moratorium? Why or why not?

“Yes, because evidence from other states suggests that the death penalty has been the source of unfair judicial murder by the state. It does need to be studied. It should be halted and the moratorium instituted for a certain period of time while we have the opportunity to study the situation more carefully.”

10. How would you highlight WNC issues at the state level?

“I’d work closely with members of the delegation, not only in Buncombe but in other Western North Carolina counties, and I would emphasize unity against the state-dollar vacuum cleaners that are the Triangle, the Triad and the Charlotte/Mecklenburg area. They are compromising the ability of the rest of the state to grow. I would work across the aisle, as well as across the state with other rural counties, because most of the part of the county that I represent is rural. We need to push for rural economic development and small-business development.

“One thing that I would do is push to change the Bill Lee Act [a package of state tax incentives for business, first passed in 1996], which currently allows incentives to go to these big Tier 5 counties. I would make it so that Tier 5 and Tier 4 counties were no longer eligible for Bill Lee Act assistance, so that all of it has to go to Tier 3 and lower.”

11. What WNC funding priorities will you push for?

“My top funding priority would be related to needed transportation improvements in Buncombe County — like finally addressing the mess that the I-240 /I-26 interchange has become, and correcting the traffic-flow problems at exit 44 on I-40 at Candler.

“I am also interested in directing more state dollars to enterprise incubators in our county, which have been very successful at promoting and growing small, local businesses. The one currently in operation at the A-B Tech Enka Campus is a great model for future economic development in WNC, and I think we should expand these initiatives.”

12. Do you support “pop the cap” legislation? Why or why not? [Editor’s note: The legislation would eliminate North Carolina’s requirement that beer contain less than 6 percent alcohol by volume.]

Would have to learn more.

13. What should the General Assembly do, if anything, about rising medical-malpractice-insurance rates?

“That’s a great question. I don’t believe in caps. I don’t believe the state should be involved in any process that limits people’s recourse through the judicial system — that limits the right of victims to adequate compensation.

“I have a comprehensive medical-liability and health-care reform plan. The part of it that relates to liability deals with the state stepping in and providing catastrophic liability coverage for physicians who take part in a program like Project Access, which we have here in Buncombe County. So if a physician says, ‘Yes, I’d like to participate in bringing Project Access into my county, or bring my practice into something like that on a statewide basis,’ we’d say, ‘Great — we’re going to cover you up over $10 million. You are responsible for purchasing commercial insurance to cover yourself up to that point.’

“You see, the problem with physicians is not the cost of medical-malpractice coverage. The problem is the increase. Because they are just like any other business: If they know it’s going to be $40,000, even though that’s a lot, they can budget that in. What they can’t deal with is if it is $40,000 this year, $80,000 next year and $130,000 the year after that. And that’s what they’ve seen for the last four or five years, for a variety of reasons.

“So what I want to do is to help the doctors cover their overhead liability cost, just like a business would. I would also make them eligible for small-business assistance. Just think about it: In Buncombe County, physicians’ offices and medical establishments add a lot of value to our economy. Why wouldn’t we treat them just like we would treat anyone else who is creating jobs? Make them eligible for tax breaks and incentives. So, in other words, I’m attacking the bottom line of the business of health-care provision. That bottom line is important in bringing down costs.”

14. What’s your position on lowering the tax rate on corporate profits?

“Governor Easley has suggested lowering the corporate tax rate to 6.5 percent, I believe. I would be willing to do that.

“When John Snow became treasury secretary, he said that there’s no such thing as corporate taxes, because it’s just an expense they pass along to the people. My comeback to that is that lifting corporate taxes doesn’t help, because they sure as hell don’t pass the savings along to the consumers.

“In terms of making North Carolina competitive with the rest of the states, it seems to be necessary. We have a higher tax rate than South Carolina or Virginia. But that’s a race to the bottom.

“My attitude is, make the quality of life — particularly education — the best we can be in North Carolina and draw business that way. Site Selection magazine picks us as No. 1 over and over again, so we must be doing something right. I don’t think a race to the bottom is something we should be engaged in. I would support the 6.5, but I would have to really be persuaded to go much lower than that.”

15. What changes, if any, would you propose to the state’s economic-development-incentives policy?

“Again, I would make sure that, under the Bill Lee Act, Tier 4 and 5 counties are no longer eligible. I would make sure that the Job Development Incentive Grants are really being used in ways to build infrastructure that remains in the community and not just used to buy equipment, not just used as corporate welfare. That has to monitored more closely — that has been going on in North Carolina, and it’s a real concern.

“We have to be sure that wealth is being shared more widely across the state; that low-wealth communities are targeted with these things. That industrial bonds are going to upgrade municipal sewage systems and not to upgrade computer systems for private manufacturers and private businesses. All public investment should be tied to some sort of asset that is providing for the public interest, rather than narrowly to a particular industry or a particular corporation. I think the corporations would understand that.”

16. The Canary Coalition is pushing for reform of the state Division of Air Quality. What’s your position?

“I haven’t seen all of what they’ve said, but I am familiar with the Canary Coalition and I can probably guess. I think that enforcement is likely to be something they are concerned about.

“One thing that really concerns me about what’s going on at DENR is the cut in enforcement. I would certainly be interested in seeing that the enforcement levels are brought back up to where they were several years ago, before the cuts occurred, so that we could actually enforce the environmental-quality laws in North Carolina.”

Wilma Sherrill

Age: 65
Address: 66 Elk Mountain Scenic Hwy., Asheville
Occupation: State legislator
Years in WNC: 38
Education: attended Elkin Business College, Wake Forest University
Political party: Republican
Political experience: Five terms in N.C. House

1. What sets you apart from your opponent?

“Lots of things. I think I would say experience. Effectiveness. Commitment. I could give you line after line after line. Complete knowledge of state government.”

2. What’s the biggest problem facing the state? What would you do about it?

“I don’t think that’s an answerable question; I think we have many problems. I think that high-paying, available jobs are a problem in our state right now. I think we’re on a fast comeback, but we’re not there yet. Without another catastrophic situation, I think we’re on the move.

“I think the rising cost of health care is … I mean all these, to me, are equal. We’re talking jobs, we’re talking cost of health care. You know, to ask somebody what they’re going to do about it — I’m going to do everything I can to help the situation.

“Specifically, I’m interested in a knowledge-based economy and working on a budget that will address that so that our folks are properly educated and prepared for a good, high-paying job. There are several things that we could do when it comes to improving our economy in North Carolina, starting with our infrastructure. But in order to be competitive with our surrounding Southern states, I think we need to look at our whole tax structure,things like lowering corporate income tax. We need to look at, most especially, our corporate tax, you know; we’ve got to do something about our existing businesses and offer some incentives that will help them grow. Most especially our small businesses. What is it, something like 60 percent of North Carolina’s economy is small business? And I think we sort of ignore things, with regulatory … they need some regulatory relief.

“We’re going to have to look at medical-malpractice reform in a very broad spectrum and see if we can do something about that. I’ve served on three study commissions on the rising cost of health care and what we, as state legislators, can address. And I can tell you that no one has all of the answers, but I can tell you that we are all committed to continue to work on it. I just don’t have the answers, but I believe we can get the answers from committees to do that.

“Affordable health care. Our mental-health-care reform is a disaster; we’ve got to change that. I could go on and on and on about things we need to do.”

3. I-26 Connector: Six lanes or eight? Why?

“I’m going to support eight; I’ve never wavered from that. It will not be Wilma Sherrill’s decision and it will not be a legislative decision, and I don’t know who thinks it is. That will be an executive-branch function. We have met with the secretary trying to move that project forward; we can’t. The Legislature can’t do anything about the number of lanes; we can make our recommendations.

“But the reason I’m supporting eight lanes is that I think that’s being farsighted. I think we have seen the population grown in North Carolina; we’re the third largest-growing state in the nation. Whether we like it or not, a large part of our economy in Western North Carolina is tourism. I think by our sheer location — that here we have two interstates that come together out here — and if we make it six lanes, in five years or less we’re going to need more. We’re still going to have the traffic jam, which creates extra pollution, which gives us dirty air. I think it will help clean; I think it makes sense. I think what’s wrong today is the engineers were shortsighted, I think.”

4. Should electronic voting machines in N.C. be required to provide a paper trail?

“I don’t know exactly what you’re asking. Electronic voting machines, like what we vote on in Buncombe. And we don’t have a paper trail? I don’t know. I don’t know that North Carolina has experienced anything that we’d call fraud. I think we have good, honest folks at our Board of Elections. Of course, there again, that’s probably not a legislative decision. I would support that if people think we have a problem. If we’ve got something that can be tampered with, then we shouldn’t use it.”

5. Do you support spending limits for local elections?

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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