At 7:30 p.m., NC-11 congressional candidates Madison Cawthorn (R) and Moe Davis (D) met at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee for the second of two debates ahead of the Nov. 3 election. The event was presented by Blue Ridge Public Radio, Mountain Xpress and Smoky Mountain News.
The night’s panelists included Chris Cooper, WCU political science and public affairs department chair; Edward Lopez, WCU professor of economics and director of WCU’s Center for the Study of Free Enterprise; and Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Topics included rural issues, native issues and education.
Due to venue capacity limits currently in place, the event was not open to the public but was livestreamed at facebook.com/blueridgepublic. The video is now available to watch from the beginning. Below are the real-time updates from Xpress managing editor Virginia Daffron.
A small band of dedicated Madison Cawthorn supporters are present in the parking lot of the WCU Health and Human Sciences building. Several trucks flying Cawthorn flags passed me as I drove west on I-40 this evening.
Lisa Davis, Moe Davis’ wife, is on hand in the event space. Davis and Cawthorn just entered.
And we’re on! Tonight Moe Davis kicks off with opening statements. Mentions his support of the press. Started morning in Yancey County, with veterans. One person he talked to was disgusted by President Trump’s recent description of vets as suckers and losers. Important issues include education, broadband, health care, employment. Clear choice. My record is out there. You can see it.
Madison Cawthorn makes his opening statement. Urges people to vote for an outsider. Make Congress work for us again. Getting term limits passed will be a focus of his term. Have to fight for safety and security of American families. Mentions unrest in Portland and other cities. Partisan divide–fomented by people who want to make profit by creating unrest. Want to be a hopeful and positive voice. Parents today raising a child, hard for them to let their kids watch the news. Need to be careful with who we elect today. Don’t need another liberal lawyer. Take WNC values to Washington, D.C.
Chris Cooper with first question: What is Congress’ role in securing broadband access and how would you push it forward in this district?
Davis: Region lags in leading indicators. Broadband plays a role in all those. Without access, a laptop is a paperweight. Can’t use telemedicine. 94% of those in N.C. have access to broadband, but there are counties with less than 50%.
Cawthorn: Role of government, conservative government is to provide infrastructure. Create framework for private sector to flourish. Have to invest in infrastructure, greatest bang for buck for country. Enter high tech economy. Worst bang for buck is Green New Deal pushed by my opponent.
Davis: We agree on broadband. Must make sure to extend to rural counties where poverty is high. I use VA, they’ve launched telemedicine. If don’t have fast connection, can’t use.
Cawthorn: Need to reform formula for sharing taxes. Either send back to your pocket or to the counties where they belong. If enact GND like AOC wants to do, wouldn’t have the money to do that.
Chief Sneed asks about violence, which disproportionately affects native women. Will you support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act? Also efforts to find missing indigenous women?
Cawthorn: Anytime violence is going on, silence not the answer. Black lives matter and thankful to law enforcement officers that keep us safe every day. Need and crave safety to have a good and prosperous community.
Davis: I support VAWA, also right to defend yourself and your property. Heard last night about accusations of sexual misconduct against Cawthorn. Everybody deserves to be treated equally. Cawthorn said he used the n word in a positive way, but there isn’t a positive way to use it.
Cawthorn: Another liberal lawyer using personal attacks. In your record, you decided to defend enemies of U.S.
Davis: Haven’t kept track of lies that have been told. I am from N.C. Have had boots on the ground here for a long time. Mentions N.C. GOP politicians who aren’t native to N.C. (Dan Forrest, Mark Meadows, Thom Tillis). Stand behind my record.
Professor Ed Lopez asks candidates about their views on public debt. Where do federal borrowed dollars come from?
Davis: Important question, especially for young people. Trump tax cuts had minimal effect on working people in this district. Added $1 trillion to national debt. Helped the rich. Trump economy great for Madison Ave, Madison Cawthorn — not great for Madison County. We can be more prudent in the way we spend money. Opponent supports balanced budget amendment. Sometimes need to run a deficit, when times are good should pay it down. Deficit shouldn’t be a policy norm.
Cawthorn: Can’t pay down national debt with plan for student debt advanced by Davis. His plan is a fantasy. National debt is the biggest national security threat we face. Need balanced budget amendment with exceptions for things like wartime. Need to reduce taxes, welfare state. Reagan said best welfare is a job. Should invest in growing job market, let people make their own money. Shouldn’t saddle future generations with debt.
Davis: Opponent hasn’t had job or college education, so he knows nothing about paying for college. He paid cash when he went to one year of college. He bought a house. He doesn’t have to worry about student loan debt. I see education as an investment in our future.
Cawthorn: Over 60% of nation doesn’t have college education. Cites James Madison again! Says Madison said guidelines for congress were established to create cross section of society. A single mom’s taxes shouldn’t have to pay for four years of partying for someone else’s child.
Cooper asks if Congress has been fulfilling its responsibility as a check on executive power.
Cawthorn: No it’s not, and hasn’t been for a long time. Out of balance. Getting close to situation in Roman republic. Put check on executive powers on both Republican and Democrat side. Both Obama and Trump used executive power too much. James Madison said Congress is supposed to represent America. Not just elite, everyone’s wishes all across country. Rein in judges who legislate from the bench.
Davis: Cawthorn has pledged loyalty to Trump. He’s been jetting around country with Trump kids, Wyoming, border wall, Trump hotel in D.C. Need somebody who will fight, not fawn over executive. Should work with president but also hold accountable. Goes back to 9/11. Congress surrendered duty to check the executive. Now in Trump administration, no rules apply. This president thinks he’s above the law.
Cawthorn: Davis has forgotten I wasn’t endorsed by anyone from D.C. We need a happy warrior in D.C. to move us forward to the future. Time we have a Republican party, dispense with petty personal attacks, focus on policy. I have hope for a brighter future and I am ready to fight for it.
Davis: I was awarded the Legion of Merit. Bin Laden’s niece has endorsed Trump. You haven’t denounced him for calling vets losers and suckers.
Chief Sneed says there’s an underrepresentation of minorities in government. How will you address that underrepresentation and minority issues?
Davis: When I go to Washington, will have a team that’s representative of this district. Judicial record includes judgment against Enterprise Rental Car hiring practices. I stood up against discrimination, for equality.
Cawthorn: Going through my accident taught me resilience and grit, but also empathy. Used to stand 6’3″. Afterward felt invisible. Know what it’s like to feel left behind. Taught me empathy, to try to put myself in people’s shoes. I believe we are all created in image of God. All should be treated with respect, in N.C. and also in D.C. Dispense with personal attacks, embrace one another. So that minority communities can be represented.
Davis: Deposition in Cawthorn trial says he said he was 6′ or 6’1″. You make yourself bigger in every story you tell. Use of n word, actions toward women. Going to Washington to represent yourself, not locals.
Cawthorn: What a silly attack. The average male continues growing until 21. You can focus on things that don’t matter–common trait in liberals. Nancy Pelosi has shut our country down but feels free to go out and get a Brazilian blow out. A failed advance is a very long shot away from sexual assault. I’m focused on the future, sir.
Lopez asks views on trade and tariffs.
Cawthorn: Used to be very much in support of free trade. Family members in financial sector jobs. But now see how that can lead to human rights abuses. Need to bring those jobs back to U.S. Would be willing to use tariffs against countries guilty of human rights abuses, like China. So many jobs in WNC are seasonal; need year-round employment. I do support using tariffs to bring jobs back.
Davis: I believe in free trade. Trump kids making money on items manufactured in China. People talk about China, but go get big TV from Walmart at a low cost. Have frequently had to bail out farmers because of the trade war this president started. I do like the Green New Deal, but I haven’t made an absolute commitment to every component — or to ban assault weapons — I’ve lost endorsements because of that.
Cawthorn: Your website says “I fully support the Green New Deal.” Time to start focusing on future. You support Democratic policies that are being used in downtown Asheville. Now there are used needles, feces in road down there. I don’t even want to take my fiancee on a date there.
Davis: I have a record. When I was a judge at Department of Labor, handled H1B visas to bring in foreign agricultural workers. Experience adjudicating those cases. We crack down on the powerless, while people who hire them, like Donald Trump, aren’t held accountable. If hiring undocumented workers to exploit and pay low wages, should be held accountable.
Now questions submitted by WCU Political Science students. First, what will you do to assist college students with their student loans?
Davis: Have met people whose opportunities were constrained because of the student loan debt hanging over their heads. Holding back our young folks. Support Department of Education buying up student loan debt and then letting it be paid back at 0% interest or through some form of public service or military service. Big believer in public education.
Cawthorn: When answering question from Lopez, you said you would pay our debt down. This policy proposal would add $1 trillion to the debt. You say one thing, then another. Need to elect someone who will support our values. Liberal policies are starting to stifle the job market. Without a good job market, can’t pay loans, may not be able to buy a house. Dave Ramsey says if you can’t buy a house, you can’t build wealth. Imperative to make tuition cheaper. Now unobtainable for vast majority of Americans.
Davis: A 25-year-old with a $30 million settlement who doesn’t manage his own money wants to go to Congress and make decisions about money for country. Cites some Cawthorn statements Davis says are inaccurate.
Cawthorn: My opponent wants to attack me on wrong answers (number of members of Congress, the definition of securities). Did you know anything about securities when you were 18 years old? After accident, worked full time for Meadows. Then started own firm. Know what it’s like to be a struggling entrepreneur.
Next student question: How would you protect federal lands in WNC?
Cawthorn: Growing up here, know that our public lands is one of the things that makes this area so unique. Want to make public lands not be a burden on counties where they’re located. Want a committee appointment in Congress to reallocate PILT money (payment in lieu of taxes) back to WNC.
Davis: Would like to be on national resource committee. Lifeblood of our economy here. Most visited national park in the company. But Trump Administration every year has cut budget for national parks. Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act. Invest in these resources we depend on. Davis returns to claims of Cawthorn’s misstatements or untruths.
Cawthorn: Another personal attack. Over 60% of Congress are lawyers. Not what’s needed to fix our country. Now Cawthorn returns to his line of complaint about Davis’ record of allegedly defending terrorists.
(Editorial aside: Candidates seem to have lost interest in the public lands question.)
Davis: Still haven’t called out Trump for his statements on veterans.
Final student question: Where do you stand on mail-in voting?
Davis: I believe in democracies. I believe in mail-in ballots. Military servicepeople usually vote by mail. Districts ought to be configured fairly. Census coming up; N.C. will pick up at least one more seat, maybe two if we get a good count. The census will determine allocation of resources and representation in the House. I support making voting easy. Have a fair election and let the chips fall where they may. President continues to say he may or may not support the outcome of the election.
Cawthorn: You want me to denounce President Trump. I want you to denounce accused terrorists. What Democrats were proposing was to send ballots to every household whether they had requested them or not. That could lead to voter fraud. Absentee ballots are different. I support that and they are very safe, especially for people like my grandparents. Sent them the forms, and also sent them to many of my supporters. False binary choice. I trust the people of WNC to make their own risk assessments. If vote in person, go ahead and take precautions. If you have health conditions that make coronavirus a particular risk, request absentee ballot.
Davis: This year it really is the most important election ever. I don’t coddle terrorists but I believe in the rule of law. We don’t take people out and shoot them. We hold fair trials, like Nuremberg Trials. I’m proud of that and I’m proud of my record.
Cawthorn: You weren’t a defense attorney, you were a star witness. You decided to stand together with suicide bombers. I completely and categorically deny insinuation of stolen valor. Marines in my family would wear me out if that were the case.
Davis closing statement: Experience matters. Opponent never had to accept responsibility a day in his life. Proud of my record. WNC is behind because of Republican policies. Meadows’ record, he yelled about debt and deficit, but under Trump the deficit has gone up. Supports the rich like Cawthorn. Gotta get back on the right track. We are divided, weak, economy suffering, people suffering. I’m for broadband, education and good jobs.
Cawthorn closing statement: Davis has called me a lot of names. Let’s focus on what unites us, not what divides us. We are mountain people, rugged, individualistic, able to push through adversity — including COVID-19. Get government out of the way, and our region will explode with prosperity. I am a Republican who is not afraid to be an environmentalist. People also come here for atmosphere — kind greetings. We should expand this. Want our values to be contagious. I am a proud American, proud of our heritage and history. Proud of our future. I represent the American dream — someone who has faced adversity and overcome it.
That’s a wrap!