Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — Three distinct narratives have emerged in the race for the Democratic nomination for the 10th district seat in Congress, where three people hope to emerge the winner and, come fall, replace U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a four-term Republican they say isn’t adequately representing the needs and views of the district that sits in the southwestern part of the state.
Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy says she’s an effective leader who gets things done and has a record of economic development successes and appointments to high-profile committees charged with studying key issues. State Rep. Patsy Keever, D-Buncombe, says she has more life experiences than her competitors, is committed to public service, and would be a much needed voice for women and children. And former high school teacher Timothy Murphy says he’s a political outsider who supports gun rights for hunters and sportsmen and can represent the views of average citizens because he is one.
The newest district boundaries have the 10th Congressional District span a seven-county area that stretches from Asheville and eastern Buncombe County through Polk, Rutherford, Cleveland, Gaston, Lincoln, and Catawba counties. Most notably, redistricting moved the liberal enclave of Asheville into the district and reduced the percentage of Republican voter registrations from 43 percent to 36. It kept Democratic registration at nearly the same level — 39 percent, down from 40 percent — and increased unaffiliated registration from 17 percent to 25 percent.
Under the old maps, McHenry easily defeated Democrat Jeff Gregory in the 2010 general election, 71 percent to 29 percent. The North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, a pro-business election analysis organization in Raleigh, characterizes the new District 10 as “Lean GOP.”
To varying degrees and for varying reasons, the candidates see government as playing an important role in people’s lives.
Bellamy said government “exists to assist” and talks about government partnering with business on economic development and job creation. “We really have to help the private sector be successful,” she said when asked about her philosophy. “And what has helped Asheville is that we have the entrepreneurial spirit in that we have a lot of people who are willing to take a chance to start a business, and it’s the government’s role not to be a hindrance to that.”
She cited changes in permit processes and sign ordinances as examples of how Asheville has put tools in place to help local businesses. Bellamy has served as mayor since 2005 and sits on the board of the North Carolina League of Municipalities.
Keever, who was double-bunked with Democratic colleague Susan Fisher in N.C. House District 114 as part of redistricting, believes government should protect people and provide a safety net. “So instead of slashing funds for education or education programs, health programs, slashing programs for families, we need to be supporting families,” she said, “because what we all want is for every individual to be able to have a job and support his or her family. So we can’t be taking away those support systems, those safety nets that we need from time to time.” She characterizes it as a circular relationship. “We help the government, the government helps us,” she said.
Finding a job is a particularly fierce problem in most of the 10th District. While February county unemployment figures show rates in Buncombe (8.2 percent) and Polk (8.4 percent) are below the state’s February rate of 9.9 percent, Rutherford County is dealing with 15 percent unemployment. Cleveland (11.1 percent), Gaston (11.2 percent), Lincoln (11.1 percent), and Catawba (11.7 percent) counties are all well above the state average. (March county figures have not been released.)
Murphy, who describes himself as a “pragmatic liberal,” says Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson are among his heroes. He advocates a temporary federal jobs program mirroring the 1935 Works Progress Administration. “If unemployment keeps staying like it is and the private sector in an area cannot provide jobs, I would recommend we get back into providing direct work to the unemployed,” he said.
To pay for it, Murphy would look for savings in other programs but said tax increases would be inevitable. He thinks federal income tax brackets have been set too low to fund obligations, although he said it’s appropriate for some people to pay no federal income tax after credits are applied.
To Bellamy, there’s no silver bullet to creating private sector jobs. “We are in a crisis mode. There is not just one single thing that should be done; it’s multiple things,” she said. Bellamy recommended revamping the tax code, emphasizing the manufacturing of finished goods so they can be sold across the globe, and ensuring that students leaving school are either job ready or ready to go to college.
Keever is committed to helping small businesses but cautions about lifting too many regulations. “I don’t think it helps any of us when we take away all the regulations that protect our future and that protect our environment and protect our health,” Keever said. “So when we’re looking at the economy, I think we need to have a balanced approach to regulations and to particularly the way that we support small businesses, because certainly in North Carolina, particularly, it’s our small businesses that are the backbone of our economy,” said Keever, who was a teacher for more than two decades.
A key problem in the jobs equation, according to Murphy, is a lack of demand for products and services. He says that makes companies spiral down. “One of the biggest problems is that the people at the bottom and in the middle have little or nothing to spend on the products and things that the companies make and sell. And so, the companies are themselves stagnated and can’t hire because they can’t sell the product because no one has a job to buy the product,” Murphy said.
Bellamy, Keever, and Murphy are unanimous in their opposition to the Marriage Protection Amendment that will appear on North Carolina’s primary ballot. If the amendment passes, it would define marriage in the constitution as strictly between one man and one woman.
District 10 incumbent Patrick McHenry, who is running for re-election, faces a Republican primary challenge from Ken Fortenberry and Donald Peterson.
Donna Martinez is a contributor to Carolina Journal.