The House District 114 race pits Democratic incumbent Martin Nesbitt (a veteran in the N.C. House) against two challengers, Republican Bill Porter (a semi-retired futures trader) and Libertarian Clarence Young (an Internet retailer).
Years in the community: 56
Education: University of North Carolina (B.S. in political science, law degree)
Political experience: 21 years in the N.C. House
Years in the community: 15
Occupation: Futures trader, partly retired
Education: Northwestern University (business administration)
Political experience: Ran in 2001 Asheville mayoral race
Years in the community: 56
Occupation: Internet retailer of antique toy cars
Education: Mars Hill College, BA in English Literature
Political experience: Ran in 2000 state Senate race
Questions and answers
Mountain Xpress: Do you support a state lottery? Why or why not?
Martin Nesbitt: “I oppose the lottery, because it’s not something that the state should be doing. It does us no good; the money was going to be spent on more programs instead of fixing the budget. My views on this are well-known. I’ve been all over the front of the paper for my views on the lottery.”
Bill Porter: “Absolutely not. The Constitution forbids it, [except as] a referendum on bond issues passed by legislature. Right now, my understanding is that they’re proposing three bond issues — major financing packages that will not be submitted to the voters. The lottery is a tax on the poor; it robs the poor of basic, life-sustaining things. Those voting to pass [the lottery] won’t be putting their money in it. Eighteen percent will go to the [lottery] operators, not North Carolinians. How come it is such a good deal? Lotteries have a history of the money not going to education. In fact, it’s having a negative impact, because people think the lottery should take care of bond issues. Lottery proceeds go down when people lose interest. It’s harmful to small business; people buy lottery tickets instead of bread and milk.”
Clarence Young: “There is a huge debate in the [Libertarian] Party about that. I oppose it. I believe that the citizens of North Carolina are as moral as the government of North Carolina. Therefore, a lottery, if it happens, should not be exclusive to the government. It should be a right of free citizens to run their own lottery. We should make it legal to sell lottery tickets from other states in North Carolina and charge regular state sales tax. We would have immediate income without creating a bureaucracy. We could be collecting in two weeks. It would increase our revenue and give the citizens of North Carolina one additional freedom they do not have.”
MX: Studies in other states have shown that for every 10 percent increase in tobacco taxes, the number of young smokers drops by 6 percent, and the number of cigarettes smoked by youth drops by 11 percent. The World Bank says a 10 percent tax increase has cut the number of smokers by from 4 to 8 percent in every country studied. Given those numbers, do you support the state Senate bill that would increase North Carolina’s cigarette tax by 50 cents?
MN: “Yes, I support that. We would still have the lowest tax in the country. It would discourage smoking among teens, and it would create a source of revenue to solve our budget problems.”
BP: “The more you tax something, the more the black market becomes attractive. Now you have increased law-enforcement problems and you have reduced revenues, because people go elsewhere [to buy cigarettes]. I’m against any tax if it’s going to encourage the underground economy. We should stop taxing something at the point it encourages the underground economy.”
CY: “I oppose that tax. I do not smoke or advocate smoking, but I do advocate freedom of choice. Libertarians believe in not using taxation as a means to control people and their behavior. I do not believe that the government should control the people; people should be free in the pursuit of their happiness as long as they’re not hurting other people or property. If people want to smoke cigarettes or marijuana, it’s OK with me. When you live in a socialist society, you are forced to control people’s behavior. We’ve become a socialist nation, and it will collapse and we will be bankrupt.”
MX: Boston is currently spending over $1 billion to undo the mistakes they have made in recent decades by running wider and wider roads through the middle of the city. Can we learn from their mistakes? Would you prefer to see transportation funds spent on widening highways or on alternative-transportation plans?
MN: “We’ve got to spend money on both. Right now, I don’t think we have good alternative transportation here. I was working to encourage passenger-rail service to Western North Carolina for the last 10 years. But right now we have to use highways, because that’s what people prefer.”
BP: “I’ve ridden the alternative transportation here, and it’s all right. We’re people that need the automobile to get around. Although I support alternative transportation, it’s not going to meet our needs; we have a lot of places to go. It’s nice to ride the bus going to work with a briefcase, but when we have our groceries or five kids going in four directions, it’s not practical. I’m in favor of reasonable alternative transportation. But cars, in a way, are most efficient for our lifestyle. The majority of people don’t want to live in public housing just so they don’t need a car.”
CY: “I hate both choices. I, at this point, as a Libertarian, am against the use of eminent domain by the government, unless it’s an extreme case. If we ended eminent domain and put highways [only] where we can, it would have the natural effect of [creating] fewer highways. The end result would have to be that people would find other ways of getting around, like by bike. All the people who want to vote for public transportation should sell their cars and use the public transportation themselves. They want other people to ride the busses and they still drive their cars. Perish the thought of trying to get groceries using public transportation.”
MX: There are rumors that the state budget crisis may be even worse next year. If you are elected, what measures would you propose to prevent this?
MN: “I don’t think that it will be worse unless the economy fails to bounce back. There are still problems we need to fix, but I think a tobacco tax and loophole closings are the way to get [the budget] back in shape. Loopholes for the wealthy and corporate interests need to be closed. There are pots of money there that need to be tapped for the needs of the people — like the Golden Leaf Fund.”
BP: “They’re still in session and still spending money.” (Porter was interviewed by Xpress on Oct. 2.) “There’s a corporate-welfare bill going through there now to try and entice new business, which I think is counterproductive. Basically, it’s saying we’re going to tax people here to encourage people to come here. A lot will be used for the governor for his political purposes. For the four years that the Republicans held control of the [state] House, they saved $1.1 billion and increased funding for education and social programs. … The Republicans had to fight the Democrats all the way to save the money. We can cut and save, but don’t spend [money] on every little pork-barrel project. The Democrats are used to the pork-barrel way of buying votes. Of course, the people who benefit from it may be small in number, but we all pay for it.”
CY: “Very simple — decrease spending. For instance, the Global Transpark they’re building in the Research Triangle — it hasn’t taken off. It’s been a failure, but they keep trying to bail it out. It’s a lost cause; it’s best to just drop it. Other than that, I feel there’s a great deal of waste in state government that could be found and eliminated. We’re also spending millions for the upkeep of people in prison who don’t belong there, for using drugs. I’m not a drug user and never have been, but confiscating people’s property prior to convicting them of anything is unconstitutional. If people are on their own personal property, they have a right to use whatever drug they want to. If they commit a crime, throw the book at them. Using drugs is not a crime, it’s a law.”
MX: What issues are most important to you, and how would you address them if re-elected?
MN: “There are really three for me. Education is the most important. We’ve got to continually try to keep access to the education system available. We need an open-door policy at community colleges and opportunities for people to retrain for jobs. Universities need to stop raising their tuitions. Access to health care is another issue. It’s a continuing battle on all fronts to keep access. I got money for the CHIPS program this past year. The environment is also an issue. It was one of our big priorities this year. I was a sponsor of the Clean Smokestacks bill that passed this year. Now, we’re looking for new ways to make [the environment] better next year.”
BP: “Taking care of the people here is what is most important. I know people are moving to South Carolina because they can’t pay their taxes here. It’s hurting retirees, and it’s also punishing poor people. I feel the way the city, county and the state are being run is hurting the poor. The wealthy can afford to pay more, the middle class can struggle through the taxes, but the poor have to leave. It’s a shame that people who have lived here all their lives have to move to another state to maintain a decent standard of living. Florida, Texas and Tennessee have no state income tax and have all dealt with it somehow. I would prefer higher sales tax and no income tax. Income tax you pay if you make any money at all; sales tax you only pay if you buy anything.
“I’m not an expert on budget matters. History during the first four years of Republican control in the [state] House shows that Republicans could keep spending [within] limits and save money and maintain social programs. … I believe everyone in this country can be prosperous if the laws were written to encourage building up of individual people, not the building up of government.”
CY: “The No. 1 thing is district elections for our county commission. [District elections make] government more local and grass-roots — a down-home, up-close kind of politics. I think if we could do that, much of the apathy of the voters would go away. Voters are apathetic because they feel powerless. The second thing is, in general, the need to find creative solutions to problems without the use of government. I believe that many people are under the misconception that government is a moral agent. It is an agent of the strongest force upon it, whether that be good or evil.
If I could, I would introduce a bill allowing every elected legislator to, during the course of the session, have the option of introducing a bill without legislative screening. It would permit bills to get on the [state] House floor that never do, and [it] would give a tremendous voice to every county in the state. Everyone in Buncombe County ought to vote for me on that basis alone.”