Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — Probably no district typifies the sad state of the economy more than N.C. House District 112.
The 112th, which includes Cleveland and Rutherford counties, has been hit hard by the decline in the textile and furniture industries, and the recent economic meltdown has only added to the misery. Unemployment is 18 percent Rutherford County and almost 16 percent in Cleveland County.
Those are only the official statistics; locals will tell you the unemployment rate is closer to 20 percent. The news only has gotten worse as Spindale-based Watts Regulator recently announced that 200 people will lose their jobs in the next year as a result of the down economy.
With the retirement of longtime Democratic Rep. Bob England, N.C. House District 112 will have a new representative who will bring the promise of a fresh start. Squaring off in the Nov. 2 general election will be mechanical engineer and property developer Michael Hager and former Lake Lure Mayor Jim Proctor.
Hager defeated three other opponents in the May Republican primary, while Proctor ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
While many districts across the state are suffering from the decline of core industries, the 112th is unique in one respect. While it has been a Democratic stronghold for years, its constituency is — as Hager put it back in May — “a very conservative-leaning district — conservative social values and conservative fiscal values.”
With the down economy and the state’s looming $3 billion deficit as backdrop, Hager believes voters will be looking for a change and the 112th is prime for the taking.
Hager says the first three issues in this campaign are “jobs, jobs, and jobs.” In order to make the district a more attractive area to companies, Hager says lawmakers must lighten the tax corporate tax burden.
But Hager draws the line at economic incentives, saying “you can’t pick and choose who’s going to be successful and who’s not going to be successful.
“We’re not in government to pick winners and losers, we’re there to create the best environment where all business can thrive,” Hager said in a phone interview.
Regarding the budget deficit, both Hager and Proctor agree that all aspects of state government must be gone over with the proverbial fine-tooth comb.
“We have to look at these things and say ‘we don’t have to cut services, we don’t have to cut the quality of services, we just need to get better at what we’re doing,’” Hager said.
But while Hager emphasizes cuts — even to departments such as education and health and human services — Proctor’s emphasis appears to be on generating more revenue.
Efforts to reach Proctor by phone were unsuccessful, but he did respond to questions submitted via e-mail.
Proctor wrote that cutting wasteful spending could save $1 billion, adding “we must be frugal with our money and always be on the lookout for ways to cut expenses.”
Similarly, Proctor says, “we also need to make sure everyone is paying their fair share. There are folks in our state that are not honest in their income filings, and there are tax loopholes that need to be filled.”
Proctor added the state should consider extending the one-cent sales tax “for a temporary period of time, if budget projections remain dire.
“This along with an expanding economy will give us the revenue we need, and still have money for education and other essential needs,” Proctor wrote.
Another hot-button issue sure to come up in the upcoming General Assembly is a proposal to lift the state’s charter school cap.
Hager says he definitely is in favor of lifting the charter school cap because the charter school system is a better model — one that is not as top-heavy as the public school system and it also promotes competition.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting parents decide where their kids want to go to school,” Hager said.
Proctor is also a supporter of charter schools, having served on the board of a local charter school. While he believes “allowing a few new charter schools per year may be good for our state,” he cautions that totally lifting the cap “could overwhelm the Department of [Public] Instruction, and potentially do more harm than good.”
Another hot-button issue sure to confront the new General Assembly will be whether or not to support a legislative effort at the state level to exempt North Carolina from health insurance mandates in the new health care law passed by Congress in March.
Hager unequivocally says he would “love” for North Carolina to join the multi-state lawsuit challenging ObamaCare.
“It’s a state rights issue,” Hager said. “Each state should implement best practices on health care as they see fit.”
Proctor was somewhat less decisive. “I understand that if North Carolina opted out of the new health care rules, it could cost North Carolina billions of dollars over time,” he wrote. “This is clearly an issue that needs more study before a decision is made, and I look forward to receiving information from all sides of this issue.”
Each candidate says it will be easy for voters to see exactly what separates him from his opponent.
Proctor points to his long record of public service in Lake Lure, where he not only served as mayor for 10 years but also served on many boards and commissions.
“My history, my resume and other information about my background are easy to find. That is not the case for my opponent,” Proctor wrote.
Proctor’s record is exactly the point, Hager contends. “While the private sector was putting money into the economy, he was taking money out of the economy for government,” Hager said. “It easily shows where we stand and where our ideas are about where the state should go. I look at him as being the big government guy whereas I’m the fiscally responsible guy.”
Sam A. Hieb is a contributor to Carolina Journal.