Face to face (well, sort of)

Their signs are everywhere. Letters from their supporters are clogging local newspaper pages, their TV and radio ads are omnipresent, and just about every voter who doesn’t live under a pretty big rock knows by now that Republican incumbent Charles Taylor and Buncombe County Commissioner Patsy Keever, a Democrat, are locked in a heated race to represent the 11th Congressional District.

Unlike Bush and Kerry, however, these candidates won’t confront each other face to face: Taylor has refused an invitation to take part in a UNCA-sponsored debate (Keever accepted). This, of course, is becoming almost standard practice in congressional races these days. And in the past three elections, Taylor has also declined to be interviewed as part of our in-depth election coverage.

This time around, however, the Taylor camp did agree to an e-mail interview. (Taylor spokesperson Deborah Potter vetoed a face-to-face meeting, or even a phone dialogue, citing the congressman’s busy schedule.)

Normally, Xpress insists on live interviews, to ensure that the candidates themselves are providing the answers on the spot, without coaching from staffers or access to research materials. In this case, however, we felt that the rare opportunity for Xpress readers to do an issue-focused, side-by-side comparison of the two candidates’ positions justified the change of format, as long as we treated the Keever campaign the same way.

So here’s what the two camps gave us — exactly as received, except for minor adjustments to standardize punctuation and capitalization. Now it’s up to our readers to decide how well the responses address the questions posed — and to collectively render a verdict as to who will represent this district in Congress for the next two years.

Patsy Keever

Age: 56
Office address: 115 Patton Ave., Asheville
Occupation: Retired public-school teacher, 25 years(including 16 years as a 8th-grade social studies and English teacher at Enka Middle School)
Education: B.A., Duke University; M.Ed., Western Carolina University
Political party: Democrat
Political experience: Buncombe County commissioner, 1992-present (vice chair, 1996-2000); member, Buncombe County Board of Health (11 years); member, Regional Water Authority

Charles H. Taylor

Age: 63
Office address: 22 S. Pack Square, Asheville
Occupation: Tree farmer
Education: Wake Forest University – B.A. 1963, J.D. 1966
Political party: Republican
Political experience: N.C. House 1967-73; N.C. Senate 1973-75; U.S. House 1991-present

Q & A

1. What will you do to curb the growth of the national deficit?

Patsy Keever: “I support a balanced budget — one that spends wisely and focuses on reducing the national debt, which has grown to over $7 trillion dollars. In Congress, I will be a leader in the effort to close corporate loopholes that allow companies to avoid paying U.S. taxes while shipping our jobs overseas. We can also stop our spiraling deficits by cutting wasteful spending, repealing tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent, and allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.”

Charles Taylor: “As a fiscal conservative, I will continue to fight for reduced government spending. I have long been a supporter of a balanced budget constitutional amendment, which would mandate that the federal government control spending. I believe we can get the deficit under control so long as Congress is willing to make the tough choices. As chair of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I brought to the floor of the House this year a bill which would reduce spending by $257 million from the previous fiscal year, while still providing operating increases to our national parks.”

2. How should the U.S. relate to the United Nations?

PK: “The U.S. should never give the United Nations or any other country veto power over protecting our nation’s security. The United Nations, with the U.S., must adapt and become more effective in meeting current threats and challenges we face in the world, including terrorism, nuclear weapons, and religious persecution. The United Nations could be strengthened by developing a rapid-deployment capability for UN peacekeeping forces and by conducting joint training exercises with various member states.”CT: “I believe that the United Nations has a role to play in such endeavors as fighting world hunger and poverty, and that the U.S. should be — and is — a valuable participant in these efforts. I do not believe, however, that we should seek a “hall pass” from the UN in order to defend our nation’s interests.”

3. What are your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses?

PK: “I appreciate Mr. Taylor’s years of service. However I feel that he has lost touch with the needs of Western North Carolina. In Congress, Mr. Taylor has made it easier for companies to ship their jobs overseas, denied health care for families of National Guardsmen, and proposed a 23 percent sales tax that would mean huge tax increases for people here. I believe it’s time for WNC to have a representative that will fight for our local needs.”CT: “I believe that Mrs. Keever is a devoted family person and is committed to the ideals in which she believes. I just happen to disagree with many of her beliefs. Her politics are out of the mainstream in Western North Carolina — most in our region do not believe that raising taxes should be the first answer to solving challenges we face. As a freshman member of a minority party, she would also not be nearly as effective in shepherding federal funds to our region as I have been. She has carbon-copied ads that liberal Democrats are spreading throughout the country that are nothing but a combination of half-truths and false information.”

4. What will you do to strengthen our local economy?

PK: “In Congress, I will fight to end outsourcing, support responsible tax policies that encourage job creation, and work tirelessly to defend America’s labor force. I will stand up for displaced workers by safeguarding unemployment benefits and voting for job-training programs that help people rejoin the work force. I support making investments in small business, where the majority of new jobs are created, and will work to help small businesses provide affordable health insurance through tax incentives.”

CT: “I have concentrated on bringing high-tech jobs to the region. For example, I have been successful in acquiring $14.3 million in federal funds to roll out broadband Internet access in our area. When this rollout is complete, WNC will have high-speed access on par with Atlanta and Charlotte, making our area an attractive location to establish or relocate a business. At the same time, I will continue to oppose trade agreements and tax policies that send our jobs overseas.”

5. How would you grade the Bush administration’s performance in Iraq (from A-F)? How about the war in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden?

PK: “Rather than second-guessing past decisions, we need to focus on an exit strategy for Iraq that brings our soldiers home as safely and quickly as possible and leaves Iraq a stable nation. We need to hold our allies accountable and build a coalition of strong financial and military forces that will allow us to fight terrorism, protect our national security, and ensure that our soldiers and our taxpayers are not shouldering this burden alone.”

CT: “On Iraq, I would give the administration a solid B. Like most Americans, I have been troubled by the insurgent fighting that has delayed our exit from Iraq. However, it is impossible to deny that Saddam Hussein was swiftly defeated and ultimately captured because of the planning of the Bush administration and the performance of our troops. Saddam was a threat to the world and to his own people. The seeds of democracy are being sown, and free elections will be held in Iraq in January because of our efforts. Contrary to the reports of the media and would-be politicians, the performance of President Bush in Afghanistan has been exemplary, and I would give him an A. The Taliban has been removed from governmental control, and women — for the first time — have real rights. Free elections occurred over the weekend without serious violence. The progress there has truly been remarkable.”

6. In the administration’s war on terrorism, how will this country know when that war is over? By what standard do we measure success?

PK: “I strongly support our soldiers and will work to ensure they have the equipment they need to get the job done. At home, I support the recommendations of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission to reform our national intelligence system. We need to protect ourselves at home by investing in security enhancements for communications and transportation systems and cutting off the financial supply to terrorist networks with stronger money-laundering regulations.”

CT: “We have seen great success already. A ruthless dictator has been toppled in Iraq, an oppressive regime in Afghanistan has been removed, and over two-thirds of Al Qaeda leadership has been captured and put in jail. Even Libya, a state sponsor of terrorist activities for decades, is now reforming itself and joining the world community. I believe every day that our nation’s intelligence, defense and law-enforcement communities disrupt or prevent additional attacks on American citizens, we have achieved some degree of success.”

7. What is the one endorsement you have received that you are most proud of?

PK: “I am proud to have the endorsement from over 60 locally elected officials, from sheriffs to state senators, as well as more than 600 active volunteers. This campaign is fueled by people throughout the district who are tired of Washington politicians who are out of touch with our local needs and are ready for a representative who will work to create jobs, make health care more affordable, and bring responsible fiscal planning back to Washington.”

CT: “I would say being voted Best Local Villain by your readers is a pretty good endorsement. Actually, I am very proud that the National Right to Life Committee has consistently endorsed me since I have been in Congress.”

8. Does the city of Asheville need to keep its lobbyist to secure funds from the federal government? Why or why not?

PK: “The city of Asheville would not have to keep its lobbyist if the district had a representative that put Western North Carolina first. As a member of Congress, I would put the interests of Western North Carolina first. I will strongly advocate for federal funding for the city of Asheville and understand how important this money can be for creating jobs in our region.”

CT: “I have an excellent relationship with Mayor Worley and the rest of the City Council. My district office is only a block away from City Hall, and I have made it clear that my door is always open for city officials to come and share their priorities with me.”

9. Do you support or oppose President Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative? How will that initiative affect implementation of the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act?

PK: “The “Clear Skies” initiative would actually lower air-quality standards in North Carolina and would do grave damage to our national parks, including the Great Smoky Mountains. I support strengthening the Clean Air Act and working to hold neighboring states accountable when harmful pollution crosses state lines and threatens our air. In Congress, I will introduce federal legislation modeled after the Clean Smokestacks Act in order to strengthen our air-quality standards.”

CT: “I support the Clean Skies Initiative as a step in the right direction. It seeks to achieve reductions of sulfur dioxide by 73 percent, nitrogen oxides by 67 percent, and — for the first time — enact reductions in the emission of mercury, by 69 percent. The “cap and trade” model that has been used so successfully in the federal acid-rain program — reducing sulfur dioxide levels by 50 percent below the allowable levels in its first phase — would be expanded to include more pollutants, while providing certainty in regulation to utilities across the nation. Utilities would have an incentive to install emissions-reduction technologies early to prepare for gradual emissions reductions over time.”

10. What would you change about income-tax policies and rates?

PK: “I favor repealing the tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent. We must keep the tax rates of middle-class taxpayers low and provide tax credits to help offset the costs of health care, child care and long-term care for our families. I am in favor of targeted tax cuts for lower- and middle-class taxpayers, ending the marriage penalty, and raising the child tax credit. I am opposed to the additional 23 percent sales tax proposed by my opponent.”

CT: “I have signed on as a co-sponsor of many bills which would eliminate the IRS and replace our tax code with fairer, flatter tax systems. The elimination of the IRS will save the taxpayers billions of dollars annually that would have been spent on bureaucracy, and a revised system would be fairer for low- to middle-income families. While Congress may not enact a plan similar to those I have co-sponsored, I believe it is past time to begin a serious discussion in the Congress on alternate plans of taxation.”

11. Does our health-care system have an Achilles’ heel? If so, what is it?

PK: “The problem with our health-care system is that it is not affordable for many Americans, including 2.4 million North Carolinians. I support helping small businesses offer affordable insurance to their employees by allowing these businesses to receive tax incentives and to pool their insurance purchasing power. We should also expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program to enroll more children and provide coverage for low-income parents. I also support allowing people aged 55-64 to buy into Medicare.”

CT: “Much of the rising health-care costs of the last several years can be blamed on frivolous lawsuits and the trial lawyers who propagate them. Such lawsuits lead many medical professionals to leave their practice, and result in higher malpractice-insurance costs for those who choose to continue practicing.”

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