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N.C. House 118: Meet the candidates

election timeRhonda Schandevel and Reese Steen

Rhonda Schandevel, 51  

Schandevel grew up in Canton — Buzzard Roost to be specific — as the daughter of a mill worker. She’s spent her career as dental hygienist and has served on the Haywood County School Board for the past eight years.

Schandevel’s current term on the school board is up this fall. She had to choose between running for state office or re-election to the school board. 

On the school board, Schandevel said she has witnessed the negative impact of Republican policies on public education. 

“We need to fix the educational policies that have attacked the traditional public school system in North Carolina. We need to level the playing field between charters, private and public schools. I have nothing against the teachers, students and parents in charter schools, but they are not playing by the same rules,” Schandevel said.

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Schandevel’s other top issue is jobs. While quality education is a form of economic development in its own right, she also wants to tackle the high-speed Internet conundrum in the mountains.

Schandevel said she has a personal rapport with voters and feels like they connect with her.

“I don’t see that in my primary opponent or my general opponent,” Schandevel said.

A huge part of who Schandevel is and what she stands for has been influenced by her 28-year-old son, who is intellectually disabled. A flyer mailed to voters pictures Schandevel and her son, because he’s such a big part of her life. The flyer conveyed Schandevel’s compassion — for children, the elderly, the disabled, the sick — and that apparently meant a lot to one voter who approached her at an event.

“He put out his hand to shake my hand and started crying. I didn’t know what he was going to say but I started crying too because he was crying,” Schandevel said. He eventually told her that his wife, now in her 60s, has had Parkinson’s since her 40s, and appreciated a candidate who understood the real struggles in people’s lives.

Schandevel’s platform also includes expanding Medicaid and protecting the environment.

 

Reese Steen, 68

Steen often talks about his humble roots growing up in a three-room house without indoor plumbing down east — and how he overcame poverty, going on to dental school and eventually sending his own children to law school and dental school.

“I am a poster child for public education. I have lived a dream life because of the opportunities created by public education. I want to make sure those are available to our children and grandchildren. I am where I am today because I had help,” said Steen, who also relied on Democrat-supported programs like student loans and work study to get through college.

Steen said education is one of his top issues, but he was not particularly critical of the education policies witnessed under Republican control, however.

Steen even called out Schandevel for blaming the state for a school budget shortfall in Haywood County — a shortfall that forced the closure of an elementary school.

“I am not playing the blame game,” Steen said. “I don’t think the blame game should be played in politics. Instead of saying what I am going to do, we are blaming somebody else for our problems.”

Steen was asked if Democrats should sit on their hands and say nothing even if the funding shortfall was indeed caused by state cuts in classroom funding and policies that favor charter schools.

Steen didn’t answer the question specifically, but replied that funding for education should be increased.

“I am aware that public schools have got to receive more funding because that is the lifeblood of our nation,” Steen said, adding “I am not against charter schools and I am not against home schools, but they should be held accountable.”

Like Schandevel, economic development also ranks as a top issue for Steen.

“In order for families to thrive we have to have job growth and economic development,” Steen said. “The most crucial issue for our district is we need to get high-speed Internet to the end of the road.”

Steen moved to Hot Springs in 1974 for what was supposed to be a one-year dental clinic rotation, but he loved it so much he stayed and opened his own practice.

Steen’s daughter is now in practice with him, and he has cut back to three days a week.

One of Steen’s accomplishments he talks about often was building Madison County’s first soccer field in 1986 in a field on his own farm. It was an expensive undertaking, but something he viewed as a gift to the community. The regulation soccer field is still in use today by youth soccer groups in Madison and Buncombe. 

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