By Jim Buchanan
GOP hopeful Madison Cawthorn and Democratic challenger Moe Davis laid out their cases for representing North Carolina’s 11th congressional district in a wide-ranging and sometimes contentious debate hosted by Southwestern Community College on Sept. 9.
The two are vying for the seat vacated by Republican Mark Meadows, who departed the position earlier this year to take the position of President Trump’s Chief of Staff.
Questions were posed to the candidates by students in Bucky Dann’s social problems class, and ranged from the economy, immigration, affordable housing and child care, the opioid crisis, marijuana legalization the climate crisis, Social Security, racism and making democracy more representative.
A small group of protesters from the Sunrise Movement and Down Home N.C. greeted the candidates upon their arrival to the SCC campus, expressing support for the Green New Deal and their concerns on healthcare and other issues.
The candidates found common ground on some issues.
Cawthorn said federal restrictions on marijuana should be removed and states should be allowed to decide the issue.
Davis went further, saying he supports legalization and the expungement of records for marijuana-related convictions, and touted hemp as a crop representing “a real opportunity to help the economy” in Western North Carolina.
Asked if racism is a problem, and one the government needs to do more to address, Cawthorn said, “of course black lives matter … I genuinely believe there are steps we can take to fix problems in minority community such as redlining.” He said opportunity zones represent a solution to bring in investors and economic growth to lift up communities below the poverty level.
Davis pointed out that 14 of the 17 counties in the 11th District rank above the national average in poverty, and said work needs to be done to ensure that public schools give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. “Education,” Davis said, “is a tool to lift people up.”
On immigration, the two hit some of the same notes on DACA and family separation, but parted ways on how to reform the system. Davis said the approach should be to “go after employers, not employees. We ought to hold employers hiring undocumented workers accountable.” Davis said while border security is needed, he decried a “vanity wall for Donald Trump.” Cawthorn said he wouldn’t “punish businesses because they found a cheap labor force,” particularly entrepreneurs on tight budgets, and that a wall would stop drugs and human trafficking.
Davis said the minimum wage, which has not increased in a dozen years, should be raised to $15 an hour. Cawthorn said the best way to spur economic growth is to lower taxes, and said moving the wage up would hurt tourism employment in WNC.
Both candidates indicated a belief that health coverage should be decoupled from employment. Cawthorn said “I want to be the face of healthcare reform within the Republican Party,” and said market-based solutions, such as getting “rid of the monopoly Blue Cross/Blue Shield has in N.C. competition” is needed. Davis said “if you lose your job you shouldn’t lose your ability to go to the doctor,” but said “opening up the market for dollars when you don’t have dollars” isn’t an option.
Cawthorn said nuclear power would be “good for the environment and good for the economy,” whereas Davis, citing that the U.S. military has recognized environmental change as a national security issue, said “Green technology is the path forward.”
Davis called for the end of the Electoral College, which Cawthorn said would lead to “mob rule.”
The two sparred over social media posts Davis made after the N.C. 9th District special election, which Cawthorn termed as incendiary. Davis said he was trying to point out that Democrats need to fight harder in elections, saying “they come to a knife fight and we bring a quinoa salad … that’s got to stop.”
Next up at SCC will be the individuals running for two seats on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 24.
Invited to appear are Democrats Susan Bogardus (Dist. 3) and Mark Jones (Dist. 4); and Republicans Tom Stribling (Dist. 3) and Mark Letson (Dist. 4).
Because state restrictions continue to limit indoor gatherings, this debate will be available to the public via live streaming video at: https://livestream.com/southwesterncc/jccdebate2020.
Also scheduled are candidates for state offices, with both debates set for 7 p.m.:
• N.C. House of Representatives, Dist. 119 (Oct. 8) – Republican Mike Clampitt and Democrat Joe Sam Queen.
• N.C. Senate, District 50 (Oct. 22) – Republican Kevin Corbin and Democrat Victoria Fox.
For updates on these debates, visit www.southwesterncc.edu and follow SCC’s official social media pages (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).