Democrat Sam Neill wants to be your Congressman. So does Libertarian Eric Henry. Both of them will be listed on the ballot in the upcoming general election. There’s also one other guy — Republican incumbent Charles Taylor — but we can’t know for sure if he’s interested in getting your vote, because he refuses to do an interview with Xpress. In what’s fast becoming a biannual fall ritual, Taylor’s office doesn’t even bother to return our phone calls or otherwise take steps to inform Xpress readers about his position on the issues. So much for representing all the people.
Nonetheless, we’re proud to bring you interviews with Neill and Henry. Both men, however, face a mighty, uphill struggle in trying to unseat Taylor. The incumbent enjoys a level of name recognition that comes with the territory: It’s easy to get your name in the news, and it doesn’t cost a dime. Think about how many times you’ve seen a photo in a newspaper of a congressman or senator cutting a ribbon at a grand opening or shoveling dirt at a groundbreaking. Was the event itself truly newsworthy, or was it in the news because a federal lawmaker was present?
And then there’s the phenomenon of the ‘safe seat,’ a status reserved for multiterm congressional representatives. There’s a clear pecking order in the House, a time-honored tradition wherein power and prestige come only after a member has served several two-year terms. (Any freshman representative shoehorned into a broom-closet-sized office can testify to that.) As a House member rises in seniority, choice committee positions become attainable; and whether it’s reality or not, constituents back home often have a sense of increased stature as the their representative’s perceived clout grows. Subsequently, voters often identify the office with the person in it. Closer to home, you’ll likely find more people who can identify Taylor as their representative than folks who can tell you which congressional district he represents (that’d be the 11th District, for those of you want to know).
All of this, of course, can translate into an advantage at the polls. Granted, a long-serving member has a voting record a mile long that any challenger can attack, but upsets are still rare — and election handicapping has gotten a lot more precise. One of the best in the business is Dr. Ron Faucheux, a teacher at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and the editor of Campaigns and Elections Magazine, a bible of sorts for political wonks. On his Web site (www.campaignline.com), Faucheux (whose cyberspace alias is “The Political Odds maker”) notes that since 1996, he has “made over 1,500 picks in Senate, gubernatorial, U.S. House, mayoral and initiative elections, with a record of correctly predicting winners over 98 percent of the time.” That’s good news if you’re Faucheux. But the bad news for Neill and Henry is that he’s predicting Taylor will win again. Moreover, Faucheux puts the odds at 9-1 (a 90 percent certainty).
Don’t let the Vegas line dissuade you from voting, though. After all, what you read below might persuade you to choose one of the underdogs instead. Just compare their positions to Taylor’s — oh, wait, we don’t know Taylor’s positions; he won’t talk to us.
Occupation: Auto-parts dealer
Questions and answers
Mountain Xpress: Would you have voted to give President Bush authorization to invade Iraq?
Eric Henry: “Given the information I have right now, I probably would have voted against it. I know there’s quite a bit of information — justifications, if you will — that they are not sharing with the general public concerning Saddam being a financial backer or supporter of Al Qaeda, among others; but with the information I have right now, I would not. My whole thought on foreign policy is to get out of everyone’s business, stop propping up dictators like the Shah of Iran. We obviously made great friends there by propping up a guy who treaded all over his people. I’d bring all of our troops home from overseas — I’d keep our spy satellites up to keep an eye on things, and I’d go to the U.N. and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to mess with you but if you ever mess with us, we will wipe you from the face of the earth.’ Laissez faire.”
Sam Neill: “I don’t know how I would have voted on that, because I assume members of Congress would have had access to intelligence information more than we received in the free press. I can say this: I believe our country needs to defend itself, but I’m also very cautious before I would consider sending Americans to die on foreign soil. I certainly wouldn’t want to see anything like a Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that led to the Vietnam War, but I do believe the country has to defend itself. I’m not evading the question, but it’s a very serious decision, and I know that Congress received additional facts and had a briefing, and without having heard the same facts, I can’t say how I’d vote.”
MX: In the wake of the recent corporate scandals — Enron, Worldcom and the ones lurking around the corner — what would you do to prevent this from happening again?.
EH: “We have laws in place to punish corporate wrongdoing; we just need to enforce them and make an example out of these people. We don’t need additional government regulation when we deter others from doing it by showing executives what can happen to you if you break the rules.”
SN: “It shows how out of balance our country is. There should have been stiffer penalties. In the last few years, corporate greed has wrecked the stock market. I think it needs to be dealt with very firmly.”
MX: What would you do to improve our air quality here in WNC?
EH: “For one thing, most of the Clean Air Act involves regulating industry in regards to the environment, but it excludes the federal government, and right now one of your biggest polluters is the Tennessee Valley Authority — which is under federal control. If it’s going to apply to John Q. Public and Mr. Free Enterprise, it’s got to apply to the federal government itself.”
SN: “Personally, I’d sponsor the Federal Clean Smokestacks Act that would require all power plants to install scrubbers on their smokestacks. We lead the nation in pulmonary-related deaths, and we need to do something about it.”
MX: What would you do to bring jobs to the area?
EH: “As a devotee to the Constitution, there’s one amendment I’d like to see repealed, and that’s the 16th amendment. … The result would be everyone having more money in their pocket. That would result in more spending; more spending generates more demands for goods, and that means more jobs. Companies looking to explore things such as alternative fuels would have the money to do it.”
SN: “High tech will not come to Western North Carolina — we need better high-tech infrastructure, we need better broadband. You also have to have a doctoral-granting institution that grants Ph.D.s and Masters in information technologies and computer sciences. These companies want to go where the universities are, because they need the professors and the research — we don’t have that. If we’re telling people that we’re going to turn this economy around on high tech, it’s a false hope. We’ve lost 33,000 manufacturing jobs here over the last few years. We need to focus on bringing other types of manufacturing to the area.”