With early voting beginning later this week, Xpress presents an in-depth video interview with Patsy Keever, who’s running to unseat Rep. Bruce Goforth in one of the primary season’s most-watched races.
Transcript of the full interview, from which this video was abridged:
Mountain Xpress:You were a county commissioner, then you were a candidate for Congress, what made you decide to run for the North Carolina House?
Patsy Keever: Well two years ago I was reading in my paper that my present representative, the incumbent, was rated [by the Conservation Council] at the very bottom of the legislature on the environment. With a 30 percent rating, he was at the very bottom. I realized that the time had come for me to run for this, that the people in our district needed a choice in our representation.
We live and breathe by the mountains, our economy is based on the beauty around here, people come up in the hundreds: bikers and hikers. We’ve got to protect our natural resources and I realized if we didn’t have a person who was presently being a good steward of the natural resources we have, that we needed a different person.
You’ve said that the steep slope legislation proposed by Rep. Goforth is insufficient. Buncombe County, for example, and some other places have had local regulations. Why do you believe that local steep slope regulation will be insufficient to solve the problem?
Because the mountain slopes don’t just stop within political boundaries. We need a standard statewide, areawide, certainly. I think there’s so much pressure at the local level that I think the standards need to set by the state.
You’ve said the major difference between you and Rep. Goforth is a difference of philosophy. Philosophy aside, in how you conduct yourself day-to-day as a legislator, what would be the difference if you get to Raleigh?
I think I take a very different perspective to Raleigh with me. I take a perspective of someone who’s been in the classroom for 25 years. As a teacher I’ve worked with families, I’ve worked with students. I understand education from the inside, not from the outside. I think we need to be innovative now — we’re in a terrible financial crisis — and we need to look at innovative ways to use taxpayer money, we know we have to cut places. For instance, instead of building more prisons, I think we need to use the technology we have to keep people. We can do home arrests, there’s technology to keep an eye on people.
But also we need to be investing in programs that prevent problems, rather than just trying to fix the problem after it’s done. We need to be thinking about ways to keep people out of jail. We need alternative programs, we need rehab programs, we need mental health programs. So many of the people in our jails right now are there for drugs or mental illness issues. We need to fix the problem before it starts.
You’ve spoken of reconsidering the Sullivan Acts that restrict the city’s water revenues and how those revenues can be used. When you say “reconsidering” do you mean repealing or modifying?
Actually it has gone to court and it has gone up to the appeals level and it looks as they may stay as they are. My opinion, however, is that they’re unfair. If there were a way to look at that again and make them more equitable, I would certainly be interested in doing that.
At a previous debate [at a CIBO luncheon] you were not running to oppose Goforth and that in some ways he’s done a good job. If that’s so, then why should —
[Laughing] Y’know, and that was worded poorly. I am obviously opposing Mr. Goforth; not in a negative way, not in a personal way, but I am opposing what he has done, chiefly on the environment, because he was one of the “Dirty Dozen.” Yes, since I got into the race, he has improved his ranking on the environment and I’m very grateful for that. But I think when we look at somebody who’s going to be in the legislature, do we want somebody that’s spent their entire adult life working on the environment, being an activist to protect our natural resources or do we want somebody who changes his mind because that seems to be the way the trend is going?
Speaking of the long time that Rep. Goforth has been in the state house, one of the points he’s been touting is his seniority. Do you think, as a newcomer to the house, that that would hamper your ability to get your agenda through?
No, I don’t, actually. I think Rep. Goforth has held up some legislation, and weakened some legislation, though he ends up voting the right and, you know, that’s good. I think that I can go in there — and I have friends in the legislature now — I think that we can be a good team and get some legislation passed that’s important.
What, specifically, is some legislation that he’s held up or weakened?
[Rep.] Susan Fisher’s sex ed bill, which he voted for in the end but weakened along the way. I think we need a much stronger sex ed bill and as a matter of fact, can I tell you one of things I think we need to do?
Of course, I was a teacher for 25 years, so education is extremely important to me, I think it’s the backbone of our nation and if we don’t have an educated, informed electorate, we cannot sustain our democracy. Education is extremely important, everybody should have an equal opportunity to education. But particularly, as a teacher and as a county commissioner, I saw so many problems of people with drugs, family problems, mental health problems like I’ve mentioned before. And this, by the way, is Child Abuse Prevention month, I’ll put in a plug for us all to be cognoscent of the child abuse issue.
I believe that in the 9th grade we need a required course for all students statewide that would include four elements. The first would be real sex education.
I say the 9th grade because after the 9th grade is when most students who drop out, that’s the year they do it. They get through the 9th grade because they’re required to be in school. So during that last year that they are require to be in school, they need some basic education in four elements.
One is sex education, real sex education that will give them the knowledge, education, the resources they need to make a good decision. Abstinence is absolutely the way to go, I don’t think anybody would argue that, but certainly I don’t think that’s very realistic and it’s time for us to get realistic. It costs taxpayer dollars for us not to be realistic.
The second one would be childhood development, basic childhood development from conception to five-years-old because that’s the most important developmental time in a person’s life is those first five years. For example, we even see bilboards around here that talks about shaken baby syndrome. Before somebody even thinks about having a child or has that child, they need to know just basic stuff like babies cry, and you cannot ever for any reason shake a baby, no matter how long they’re crying or what they’re crying about, you can’t shake that out of a baby. That’s just not part of what is acceptable physically, mentally and emotionally.
The third thing that all students need before they go into the real world is some basic financial literacy. They need to understand check books, credit cards, paying insurance, all those sorts of things.
The fourth one is basic Civics 101, what does it mean to be a citizen in the United States? What does it mean to have a job and contribute to society, to volunteer, to pay taxes, to volunteer and be a part of the political process.
If we had a course like that, I think it would cut down tremendously on jail time, spousal abuse, child abuse, teenage pregnancy.
Speaking of education, the state’s education system is in a bit of a situation now due to the economic crunch. What are some ways that you would favor either raising revenue or cutting back in some other areas to keep the education system unscathed?
I think we need to spend our taxpayer money more wisely. I think the course that I’m suggesting would go a long way towards saving taxpayer’s money. It’s not a new course, it doesn’t have to be reinvented, this kind of knowledge is out there, it’s just not required. The only difference that I’m asking is to be sure we have those four elements and that it would be required.
I do not believe we can cut teachers. That’s one of the most important things: you’ve got to have that teacher-student relationship, because that helps build citizens as well as providing knowledge, so I would not cut in that area.
I’m sure there are areas that could be cut, I wouldn’t want to say what those specific areas are until I look at a line-by-line budget.
Speaking of line-by-line budgets, you were speaking of innovation, what are some overall ways of innovating and save some save some major money in the state’s overall budget?
Like I said, I think we can save some money in the overall budget with our prison system. For instance, the Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice are two different departments. I think it’s maybe time for us to look at merging those two departments and thinking in terms of our facilities: what facilities do we have now, what facilities do we need, what are ways to keep a prisoner out. It costs us much more to house a prisoner 24 hours a day, be responsible for their food and their medical care than it does to have that prisoner at home and have an ankle bracelet or better parole system: fewer numbers so we can keep a better eye on them.
You’ve praised the city’s efforts to extend benefits to domestic partners of city employees. Will you favor similar measures at a state level?
Certainly. I think state employees right now are underpaid. There are several things that need to be done for state employees, to retain them. We spend so much time training state employees, then we don’t pay them enough, we lose them to the private indsutry. This happens at the city and county levels too — people working in the public service generally have lower pay — so we need to be sure we provide them services that will help them. Certainly domestic partner benefits is one that would make a difference to them.
If you’re elected, Day 1, what’s your top legislative priority?
I think my top legislative priority is to get education squared away, to get a course in the ninth grade. I think that’s extremely important for us. I know Judge [Marvin] Pope has a bill that he wants to introduce into the legislature that has to deal with what happens to the 16-18 year-old student as well, that requires them to stay, if they drop out of school, to go to a community college or get a GED before they can get a driver’s license. There’s some other things that are attached to education.
One of the things we need to look at in education is: what are we really trying to provide with our education system and in my mind we’re trying to turn out citizens, people who can contribute to society, people who can get a job, who have the skills, who have the resources they need to develop the talents they have. And we all have different talents, and we have different skills and we learn different ways, so I think we need to be a little more flexible in our education system.
But the bottom line is we want to be produce citizens that can be a part of our community.
Speaking of those citizens, is there anything you’d like to say to the voters of WNC before they go to the polls?
I’d like them to look at my webpage, I’d like them to look at my opponent’s webpage and think about what are the issues they really care about. Is it providing money to small businesses to support those businesses that have started in our community and grown and provide jobs for our community? Is it to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity? Is it to ensure that we have the best education we possibly can? Is it to ensure that we protect the natural resources we have in this area?
—David Forbes, senior reporter
Video by Michael Knox and Patrick Kennedy