Nine-term state Rep. Larry Justus, who died just two weeks before the general election, remains on the ballot along with Libertarian Brian Barber. District 117 includes the northern two-thirds of Henderson County (including Hendersonville) and a slice of northern Transylvania County. And even without Justus, GOP officials are anticipating another victory in heavily Republican Henderson County. If that happens, a committee of local GOP officers from the affected counties will select someone to serve out the remainder of Justus’ term in the soon-to-be-defunct 50th District (which comprises most of Henderson and less than a third of Polk County). The committee will also name someone (not necessarily the same person) to represent the newly created 117th.
Political experience: First run for public office
Larry T. Justus
Age: 70; died Oct. 20
Home: Dana, in Henderson County
Political experience: Nine terms in N.C. House
Questions and answers
Mountain Xpress: Do you support a state lottery? Why or why not?
Brian Barber: “I [oppose] a state lottery largely because I don’t think we can trust the legislature with that much more of our money. Also, I find it a little bizarre that they’re asking for a state monopoly on a numbers-running operation — something that if you tried to run out of your basement, you’d be arrested. The third thing that bothers me about [a potential state lottery] is that they said it was for education. North Carolina has a state constitutional mandate to provide funds for education; the fact that they couldn’t do their job and now want us to give them a gambling monopoly to make up the balance is a real sign of incompetence.
“The analogy that I’ve been using is that if your kid was going off to college and you gave him $1,000 for books and school supplies, and he came back and said, ‘Well, Dad, I blew the money, but I’d like a hundred bucks to get involved in a poker game,’ you’d probably smack him. But that’s exactly what the legislature is doing.”
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 that a 10 percent tax increase has cut the number of smokers by from 4 to 8 percent in every country studied. Given those figures, do you support the North Carolina Senate bill that would increase our state’s cigarette tax by 50 cents?
BB: “My question about that is a little more basic: At what point do we make everything good for you mandatory and everything bad for you illegal? Being overweight kills far more people than tobacco, but they don’t have the DEA shutting down Kentucky Fried Chicken. I really don’t think it’s any of the government’s business what you ingest, provided you’re not harming anyone else.
“I don’t think [the proposed tobacco tax would be] productive. I think it leads to a black-market economy in cigarettes, which we’ve seen in a lot of other states. I don’t think we need that in North Carolina.”
MX: Boston is currently spending more than $1 billion to undo the transportation mistakes it has made in recent decades running wider and wider roads through the middle of the city. Can we learn from that city’s problems? Would you prefer to see transportation funds spent on widening highways or on alternative-transportation plans?
BB: “I think we’re going to have to accept that the statewide, one-size-fits-all notion of transportation planning is not working. I think there are different needs in different parts of the state, and local governments need to have a bigger voice. For example, here in the mountains, where we have basically a series of rural communities with a seasonal influx of [tourists] … I was doing [campaign] fliers on Main Street in Hendersonville, and probably a third of the cars were out-of-state — but that’s only going to be for a couple months a year.
“We need to be able to look at transportation issues locally, whereas if it’s all coming out of Raleigh, we’re going to get a one-size-fits-all plan that’s going to benefit whoever has the most pull in the [legislature] that week.
“I really kind of reject the notion that legislators should be in charge of this in a direct sense. What I would like to see is a slight return — something of an overcorrection — to what we had 50 or 60 years ago, where the county governments had a much larger voice in transportation planning. They actually had control over road-building projects in their counties.”