News: CJ Exclusives

Incumbent Elmore Faces Wilkes Commissioner Blevins in House 94

Winner of May 6 GOP primary almost certain to advance to General Assembly in 2015

The Republican primary for House District 94, which includes all of Alleghany County and most of Wilkes County, features two candidates with political experience and who should be familiar to Wilkes Countians.

Incumbent Jeffrey Elmore, who is completing his first term, is an art teacher employed at North Wilkes Middle School. He formerly served as North Wilkesboro Town Commissioner. (See Editor’s Note at the end of this story.)

The challenger is Gary Blevins, a Wilkes County Commissioner. Blevins has served two terms as chairman of the County Commission. He also served on the N.C. Association of County Commissioners’ board of directors, with two terms as chairman of the General Government Legislative Committee.

The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation lists District 94 as strong Republican, with 48 percent of voters registered Republican compared to 29.7 percent Democrats. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory won 72.8 percent of the vote in 2012; GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won 70.2 percent of the vote.

No Democrats filed to run in the district, so the Republican primary winner automatically would assume the seat barring a general election write-in or unaffiliated candidate.

“I’m a landscape contractor, licensed in North Carolina. I never missed a payroll in 32 years. I’ve served 10 years in local government and five years in Raleigh on the board of directors,” Blevins said.

Elmore said his opponent’s résumé has a one-page list of service activities, and he is grateful for his public service. But he disagrees with some of Blevins’ claims.

“My opponent says he pulled the county out of debt. But the fund balance got so low the state had to take over its management,” Elmore said. “He says he doesn’t support tax increases. But we’ve had two tax increases while he’s served as county commissioner. Some people’s tax bills went up 20 to 25 percent.”

On the issues, however, the candidates’ positions appear quite similar.

Elmore opposes Medicaid expansion, saying it would duplicate existing services with more inefficiency. It currently consumes 26 percent of the budget, and it continues to expand its share.

Blevins concurs, saying the General Assembly “did the right thing for North Carolina in denying Medicaid expansion.” He said expansion “will cost taxpayers more, we won’t see enough benefit, and the state doesn’t have the money to pay.”

Elmore is opposed to continuing subsidies for green energy.

“Technology has to stand on its own without support,” Elmore said. He told how people invest in green devices and abandon them as soon as the subsidies run out. “Technology is not to the point that [alternative energy] is feasible,” he argued, “and the utilities only pass on the cost to consumers.”

On the same subject, Blevins conceded: “At one time I supported developing alternative energy, but things have changed a lot. There’s been a shift in energy policy over the last few years. There’s talk about the U.S. becoming energy independent using carbon-based resources that are less expensive and create jobs. We don’t need to subsidize green energy.”

Elmore said it was premature to comment on a Taxpayer Bill of Rights. He noted that Rep. John Blust, who sponsored one of two bills in the works, has a lot of good ideas, but “I need to see the formula.”

If enacted, TABOR would limit the growth of government tax revenues to a formula based on population increases and inflation, unless voters pass a referendum to raise them higher.

Blevins was unfamiliar with the concept, but said, “I sure believe taxpayers should have a lot of rights.”

Elmore said issues with abolishing teacher tenure would have to sort themselves out. The General Assembly passed a law last year ending career status protections for teachers and substituted that system with limited duration contracts based on performance. The North Carolina Association of Educators and six teachers have sued the state to block the law.

“The system of teacher tenure is outdated. It’s an artificial protection,” Blevins said. “We need a system that’s good for teachers, kids, and taxpayers.”

Elmore has sponsored a number of bills, many of which pertained to education.

“Bills that I have filed all have the belief of creating better ways to accomplish our service in simpler ways,” Elmore said.

He criticized the amount of red tape in Raleigh created by former administrations, and said he is seeing signs of it getting cleared away.

He is interested in promoting the state’s business climate through lower taxes and deregulation.

“The reform is only beginning. For example, I think it will take another 10 years before we have a finalized corporate tax plan,” Elmore said.

Blevins rattled off a series of issues that he supports, which included adherence to the Constitution.

Blevins said the big issue he would champion for the folks back home would be the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners’ goal of reclaiming local tax distributions initially promised from the lottery, and fighting unfunded mandates in general.

Elmore had $3,690 campaign cash on hand at the end of 2013; Blevins’ amount was not available.

Leslee Kulba is a contributor to Carolina Journal.

Editor’s Note: This story was corrected after publication to note that Jeffrey Elmore was a North Wilkesboro Town Commissioner rather than a Wilkes County Commissioner before his election to the General Assembly.