Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — For the first time in a decade, state Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Madison, could face a tight race as North Carolina House District 118 voters decide whether he’ll get a sixth term.
Republican Michele Presnell, a Yancey County commissioner and the wife of former state Sen. Keith Presnell, beat two other Republicans in the primary to challenge Rapp.
The newly drawn district leans Democratic, with 44 percent of its registered voters Democrats, and 31.5 percent Republican, according to the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation. Unaffiliated voters account for 24.4 percent of voters. The district is 97.4 percent white.
Rapp, the House minority whip, is seeking re-election to the state House with a platform that includes job creation, providing support for community colleges to train unemployed and underemployed workers, eliminating government waste, and supporting public education.
Presnell is running on a platform that includes relaxing business regulations and lowering taxes so small businesses will start hiring again. She supports the adoption of a voter ID law and backed the marriage amendment to the state constitution.
Presnell's political and professional experience includes two years on the Yancey County Board of Commissioners. She also served as president of the Yancey County Chamber of Commerce and Maryland Community College Foundation Board. She owns Serendipity Custom Frames in Burnsville.
"My door will always be open, but more importantly I should be sitting a bit closer to the front of the General Assembly, and therefore I can get more things accomplished for my district," Presnell said.
"The most important issue is jobs for Western North Carolina," she said. "With less regulations, and fewer taxes, employers should be able to start hiring again."
The three western counties comprising House District 118 — Haywood, Madison, and Yancey — had unemployment rates of 8.3, 9.3, and 11.3 percent, respectively, in July, the most recent period for which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has provided county data.
On a Civitas Institute candidate survey, Presnell said she opposes tax credits and subsidies being used to recruit businesses, and not only favors the minimum wage law but thinks the rate should be higher. She does not believe North Carolina should repeal its estate tax.
Presnell is a member of the National Rifle Association, has a concealed carry permit, supports the death penalty, and believes the state should not fund Planned Parenthood, according to her survey responses.
She favors offshore and natural gas exploration in North Carolina and capping the state gas tax, her survey responses showed. She backs merit pay for teachers but opposes tax credits for individuals or businesses that pay for K-12 scholarships to nonpublic schools.
Rapp's professional experience includes 32 years as an administrator — most recently at Mars Hill College as dean of the college's ACCESS program that provides continuing education students a fast track to complete their programs. He retired two years ago. Rapp also served two terms as a Mars Hill alderman and three terms as mayor.
During his current term, Rapp also sponsored bills protecting the state's railroad corridor, establishing a forgivable loan fund, and prohibiting sweepstakes devices. Rapp voted against the 2011 budget bill, saying that education cuts would hurt early childhood programs and K-12 public schools and that it contained too much government waste.
It's imperative that state leaders renew their commitment to education from pre-K and K-12 to community colleges, Rapp said. Rapp points to his legislative record for evidence of the efforts he has made to pull North Carolina's economy out of one of the deepest financial holes in the state's history.
Rapp said he had introduced, in hopes of stimulating the state's economy, an amendment to the 2012 budget technical corrections bill that would have given price preferences to state businesses bidding for state contracts.
"It passed, 116-0," he said, but "got taken out by the Senate in the middle of the night."
Rapp said state Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, the House minority leader who serves on the Appropriations Committee with him, said there had been some concern in the Senate that other states might retaliate.
Rapp also points to the need to provide better access to quality, affordable education so North Carolinians can find good-paying jobs. The legislature cut funding to community colleges by 10 percent across the board. The fallout, Rapp said, is that while community college enrollments have spiked in recent years, they are dropping throughout the state's 58 colleges.
"We have been making inappropriate cuts at one of the poorest times in our state's history," Rapp said. Continuing cuts to K-12 public schools would have a devastating effect over the long term, he said.
"We're eating our seed corn, and we are handicapping our children's future," Rapp said.
Cuts to higher education, including allowing community colleges to opt out of participation in the William D. Ford federal direct loan program, are causing the number of dropouts to spike and swell the state's unemployment rolls, Rapp said.
In surveys provided by community colleges to the state community college system, former students who have dropped out most often cite lack of financial aid as the reason they left. Participation in the federal loan program, he said, didn't require a penny from community colleges, counties, or other state sources.
Rapp said he worked with Republican Sen. Richard Stevens to introduce a forgivable loan fund to provide financial aid to students who agree to work in North Carolina in areas experiencing critical labor shortages, such as teaching, nursing, and allied health.
Rapp points to other bipartisan legislation he supported. Along with House Republicans, he co-sponsored the Castle Doctrine, giving victims of violent crimes such as breaking and entering and kidnapping the ability to defend themselves without fear of criminal prosecution.
Likewise, he supported traditionally conservative measures such as a bill last year that would have barred the use of consular and embassy documents for identification to verify identity for law enforcement and other state and local government agencies.
But Rapp told Carolina Journal he could not join Republicans in July to override Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of the biennial budget.
Rapp's campaign had $48,599.40 on hand at the end of the second quarter, and Presnell's had $2,609.94 on hand, according to the most recent reports they filed with the N.C. Board of Elections.
Kristy Bailey is a contributor to Carolina Journal.