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House 118th seat showdown

Hicks: Getting off the sidelines

Dean Hicks is still a coach at heart. 

“I’m an old coach, I don’t want to be average,” Hicks said. “No coach could settle for average, and I don’t think North Carolina should either.”


For more than 30 years, Hicks coached student athletes in the Yancey County School System — “I’ve coached about every sport there except track” — and taught them in P.E. and health class. Now he works for the Mount Mitchell Golf Course’s pro shop. 

Hicks also has some experience in politics. From 2002 to 2008, he served on the Yancey County Board of Commissioners. 

This year, he decided to make the foray into state politics. As he watched how things were playing out in Raleigh over the last session, Hicks decided he needed to get involved. 

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“I decided not to stay on the sidelines,” he said. “I decided to get involved and try to actually make a difference.”

Hicks said he knows if he’s elected and sent to join a Democrat minority in Raleigh, it will be a “struggle.” He’s willing to give it a go — “one more voice is one more voice” — and hopes to make a difference.

“If you have an opportunity to try to make a difference and try to make things better and you don’t take it then you don’t have any right to complain,” Hicks said. 

One of the subjects that Hicks has taken a special interest in, not surprisingly given his career, is education. He doesn’t like the trajectory he’s seeing. 

“It’s taken a backseat. It’s 51st in the nation, that’s a big issue,” Hicks said. “It wasn’t that long ago that other states came to North Carolina to model their school systems on ours. Now that’s just not so.”

The candidate is also concerned that the state is not expanding Medicaid in conjunction with the national Affordable Care Act. He doesn’t understand why lawmakers would refuse to participate in a program that North Carolina citizens are already paying into.

“I think it’s one of the most unfair things to happen to the people of North Carolina,” Hick said. “That’s just wrong. Morally, to me, that’s just wrong.”


Presnell: Lord willin’

Rep. Michele Presnell is a longtime Yancey County resident. She’s lived there more than 40 years and owns a picture framing business in Burnsville. 

Like her opponent, Presnell has also served her community as a Yancey County commissioner. She sat on the board in 2011 and 2012. 

More recently, the first-term lawmaker decided to follow her husband — who served in the North Carolina Senate in 2005 and 2006 — into state politics.

“I could get more done,” Presnell said of her decision to make the jump.

She also pursued a state seat because she wanted to make some changes.

“I didn’t like the things that were going on in North Carolina,” Presnell said, declining to elaborate.

Presnell said she’s enjoying her first term — “I feel very good about the things we’ve done” — and is looking forward to serving a second. 

“Because there’s more for me to do,” she said. 

At the very top of Presnell’s priority list is bringing jobs to North Carolina. It’s the overriding plank of her platform.

“That’s the only issue that I really run on,” the incumbent said. “We have to have the jobs.”

Presnell pursued such ends during her first term. She sponsored a bill — one that ultimately failed to gather the needed votes — which sought $20 million in economic development incentives to attract businesses to the state.

“If we had passed it Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker would have had the tools in her toolbox that she needs to bring jobs to North Carolina,” Presnell said. 

The representative looks to surrounding states like South Carolina and wonders why her state can’t get on board and “play in the game.”

“We have very little tools to work with,” she said. “When they come to us we don’t have a building on I-40 that we can give them.”

In hindsight, she feels that her bill containing the economic development incentives needed a bit more bite, more teeth and it would have passed. 

“What we needed to add to [House Bill] 1224 is called clawbacks,” Presnell said, explaining that a provision should have been included that required businesses to repay any economic development booty to the state if they did not stay in North Carolina a prescribed amount of time creating jobs. “It needed to be tighter.”

Presnell is still confident that Gov. Pat McCrory will call the General Assembly back to Raleigh following the general election to finish the job. She knows he wants those economic development dollars. 

“Win or lose, we’ll still be called back after the election,” she said. “And we’ll be asked to give Secretary Decker the ability to bring jobs to North Carolina.”

There are other issues that get Presnell excited, too. Like education. She bristles at critics’ assertions that the Republican majority in the state has damaged public education through funding decisions. 

“That is nothing but a bold-faced lie,” Presnell said. 

And, just recently, movement in the state on the gay marriage front is pushing her buttons. She’s appalled that the state’s Amendment One — tagging gay marriage as unconstitutional — was recently upended.

“I am for traditional marriage,” Presnell said. “For one rogue judge to come out there and change it is wrong. I will fight that forever.”

To keep up that fight and any other, Presnell will need to survive her election and make it back to Raleigh. She’s feeling good about the prospects. And the feedback she gets on the campaign trail is encouraging. 

“I feel good in the district, I feel fine out there,” Presnell said, adding that it seems her constituents have been able to block out any negativity attached to her in the media and campaign-o-sphere. “Most of them are not listening to what they’re putting out there on television. They turn it off, mute it. Because they know it’s lies.”

Plus, the candidate believes her electoral fate rests in a higher power. And there is some peace to be found in that knowledge.

“If the Lord wants me there I will be there,” Presnell said. “If he does not, he has something else planned for me.”

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