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Democratic candidates face off in congressional election

fr demrunoffTwo Democratic candidates will face off in the June 7 election for a chance to unseat U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Cashiers, in the general election and represent Western North Carolina in Washington, D.C.

Tom Hill, D-Zirconia, and Rick Bryson, D-Bryson City, have been campaigning for more than a year heading into the March 15 North Carolina election, but a court ruling extended their primary campaign into June. Though the two candidates vying for the 11th District Congressional spot appeared on the March 15 primary ballot, votes were not calculated for that particular race. 

A federal court order forced the state to reschedule the congressional election for June 7 as a result of four lawsuits working their way through the courts. The cases are all challenging North Carolina’s district maps that were redrawn in 2011 and used during the 2012 and 2014 elections — claiming Republican legislators gerrymandered the maps. The state Supreme Court upheld the maps twice but federal judges threw out the 1st and 12th congressional districts on Feb. 5. 

A new sign-up period for candidates was held but no one new signed up to run with Hill and Bryson. Rep. Meadows has held the office since first being elected in 2012.   


Tom Hill: Democrat, Zirconia

• Age: 78

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• Hometown: Flat Rock

• Background: Graduated in 1956 from Hendersonville High School, bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and Ph.D. in physics from UNC-Chapel Hill. He worked in the aerospace field with the U.S. Department of Defense.

• Political experience: Third time running for Congress

Why are you running for Congress?

I intend to replace the obstructionism led by Rep. Mark Meadows and his fraternity of ‘do nothing, block everything’ simpletons in Congress. Their right-wing ideology pushes people’s buttons on emotional and religious issues, but it is non-workable. For example, like (Donald) Trump and (Ted) Cruz, Mark supports rounding up all undocumented Hispanic workers and sending them back to Mexico, but then untruthfully promises farmers that they will have workers to harvest their crops. My positions on matters are forthright, and I will work to pass legislation in the best interests of the people as a whole. My only ideology is common sense.

What are your top three goals if elected?

1. To provide legal status for undocumented farm and domestic workers. The workers must (a) have no felony convictions, (b) learn English, (c) pay Social Security and income taxes, and also make monthly contributions to a government-managed health insurance program to pay for their medical care. Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House, supports legalization (but not citizenry); however, Mark Meadows is committed to returning all undocumented Hispanic workers to Mexico.

2. To close offshore and other tax loopholes and require multinational corporations, hedge funders, and other ultra-rich entities to pay their just taxes. The offshore scam is easily rectified by a simple principle: If you make profits in the USA, you pay federal income taxes, and we do not care where your home office is located or what you may declare as intellectual property. Tax credits and similar handouts to corporations and other businesses, known as corporate welfare, must be eliminated. Capital gains must be taxed at the same rate as ordinary income, and the cap on Social Security contributions must also be eliminated. After all, Social Security tax has become a de facto income tax and the funds have been “borrowed” by the federal government with the intention to avoid repayment of the $2.75 trillion surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund.

3. To clean up the coal ash and nuclear waste throughout the US and place fracking under the purview of the EPA. The Democrats have twice submitted legislation to place fracking under EPA control, but Republican-dominated committees killed the proposals both times.

Why are you the best person to represent the people on WNC in Washington?

I am a native Western North Carolinian. I grew up on an apple farm in WNC, graduated from high school and universities in the state, and am now living modestly on a farm south of Hendersonville. I have the values of the preponderance of people of my constituency, and am a Franklin Roosevelt Democrat who believes that government should work for the people and not be artificially constrained by some archaic ideology. My opponent Mark Meadows was born in Verdun, France, spent most of his life in Florida and moved to WNC to cash in on the real estate boom for expensive homes during the 1990s and early 2000s. He is a millionaire living in a gated community in south Jackson County, and adheres to an ideology which favors the gain and retention of wealth by the top 1 percent of our society.

What would you do to ensure Swain County receives the Road to Nowhere settlement money from the National Park Service before time runs out on the agreement?

They said payments are “allocated” but they fall below the cutoff line for funding in the budget appropriations. They must be moved above the cutoff line to become an actual payment. Meadows knows this, and while claiming that he supports the payment of the money, he fights against the allocation of funds in the budget. He supports virtually unlimited funds for fighting unwinnable wars in the Middle East, but will not support payment of the settlement money.

What could you do in an effort to bring more jobs and industry to the region?

The taxes paid by closing the loopholes described above must be used to rebuild and repair the infrastructure of our nation. The amount involved will exceed $50 billion per year. For example, Exxon-Mobil and GE by themselves evaded taxation on a combined total of about $20 billion profits in 2012, and there are more than a hundred such corporations with profits in the billions of dollars per year. North Carolina’s share of the $50 billion would be at least $1 billion per year, which would immediately create thousands of jobs in the state.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows has voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If elected, what is your solution to the national health care crisis?

We must replace the Affordable Care Act (“ACA” or “Obamacare”) by a simple public option comparable to Medicare wherein everyone who does not have health care insurance pays into a Social Security type of fund that pays basic health care costs. This is what was promised in 2008 but was not provided. Instead, the non-insured were forced to buy insurance from private companies who have been raising their premiums at will. We must also require hospitals and care providers to form aggregates like Kaiser-Permanente in order to control care costs.

What is your stance on current tax policy?

Taxes on small businesses and individuals should not be raised. The claim that corporation taxes are too high is nonsense. None of them is paying the said rate. Most are instead using various loopholes and scams to pay less than half of the legally required rate.

What is your stance on current education policy? 

Traditionally, pre-college education is by and large a local and state responsibility, and the decision to use or not use Common Core standards should be left to them. However, the Department of Education should not be abolished. A very small transaction tax should be placed on Wall Street trades, and the taxes used to build up community colleges across the nation to the academic level of four-year state colleges. The DOE should oversee this process. Students should be able to live at home with their parents to age 25 and attend the improved community colleges tuition-free. The tax would not affect small traders such as those with IRAs, but would produce substantial revenues for the millions of transactions per day by large traders.


Rick Bryson: Democrat, Bryson City

• Age: 71

• Hometown: Born in Franklin, family moved to Bryson City when he was a baby.

• Background: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University. He spent most of his career as a public relations writer for an industrial manufacturing publication in Ohio before retiring and moving back to Bryson City. 

• Political experience: Currently serving his first term as a Bryson City alderman.

Why are you running for Congress?

Western North Carolina has a tremendous power of place and it has tugged on me my whole life. When a man (Mark Meadows) goes to Congress to represent us and shuts us down and hurts us to the tune of $23 million, something has to be done. I started thinking in 2013 that somebody needs to do something about this and the more I thought about it, I figured that someone was going to be me. It was an act of conscience. (Editor’s note: Bryson is referring to Meadows’ involvement in a budgetary stalemate that resulted in a government shutdown for 23 days. The closure resulted in a $23 million revenue loss according to the National Park Service).”

What are your top three goals if elected?

1. I have four daughters so I’m strong on women’s issues. We probably ought to revitalize the Equal Rights amendments because there’s no reason a woman should get 75 cents for the same work I make a dollar for doing. Women have special health issues that don’t apply to men — prenatal care is critical. There are agencies that supply that care to women of limited means and we shouldn’t think about tearing those agencies down, including Planned Parenthood.

2. Social Security — there’s been a lot of conversation about privatizing Social Security and it must not be allowed to be put into the hands of Wall Street. We need to strengthen Social Security by lifting the ceiling on the taxable income. There’s no reason rich people should be paying less for Social Security than someone working a blue-collar job. Privatizing it would wind up making a lot of people on Wall Street rich at the expense of the people who need it. Social Security is your money you’ve put into it that you use when you retire — it’s not a gift and it’s not a socialist program. 

3. Veterans in this country are the reason we don’t speak German or Japanese as our national language. Yet when it comes to their care they’re often treated as second-class citizens. I plan to give them a greater voice in their care. The problem is the Veterans Administration itself gets in the way — vets get good care when they can be seen at the VA hospitals but it’s been backed up. I do want to keep the VA intact but I want to help clear the obstacles.

4. The Research Triangle Park (in the Piedmont area of North Carolina) has become a model of economic development. It occurred to me one day, why can’t we have something like that in Western North Carolina? There was no place for me to work with a mechanical engineering degree in Western North Carolina when I graduated and I wound up in the Ohio for 50 years. We send our best and brightest to get educated and then they have to leave to find work in these science and high technology fields. We could so something like the Research Triangle here — there’s a number of universities in this area with academia that could develop products that are potentially commercially viable. We could create a foundation _ I’ve been calling it WNC Generation Now — and we funnel money from various existing agencies and pick embryotic companies at N.C. State, WCU, UT, Clemson, etc., and bring them to WNC and basically start these businesses with seed funding. They don’t have to be located in one place so we don’t have to shop for 500 acres. We can sprinkle these businesses from Lenoir to Murphy so when someone graduates with degree they can find work and keep their families here.

Why are you the best person to represent the people on WNC in Washington?

I am an engineer, so by instinct or intuition I’m someone who gets things done. I have a working sense of government having been an alderman in Bryson City. I’ve led the way in getting our water system modernized by purchasing digital water meters to prevent us from losing 50 percent of our water. I led the way for Bryson City getting named Trout City USA by the North Carolina Wildlife Commission. And it may sound small, but I led the charge for us to have a smaller fire truck because of our narrow streets and that lets us get our insurance premium reduced. That’s the ‘let’s get things done’ approach I plan to take to Washington. I’m driven by the thought that we have reached a level of being adversaries in government that precludes getting anything done. I’ve used a scripture from Isaiah, “Come now let’s reason together.” If someone goes to Congress getting a check for $174,000 a year, they need to put bricks and mortar into this district instead of creating chaos.

What would you do to ensure Swain County receives the Road to Nowhere settlement money from the National Park Service before time runs out on the agreement?

If you have a problem with a product you buy, you don’t go back to clerk at the store. If you want action, you go to the top. The first thing I would do is visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and talk to the boss. Meadows has written letters, held a hearing to generate more noise, but I think we should go talk to the boss and explain that this has put the federal government in a position of being a deadbeat dad — they agreed to these payments, pushed for this agreement and has reneged on their own agreement.

What could you do in an effort to bring more jobs and industry to the region?

By the mid 70s we started giving away industry to Mexico, Malaysia, China and Korea and we lost a huge chunk of our manufacturing. These jobs I’m proposing through the WNC Generation Now will be manufacturing types of jobs, just a different kind of manufacturing. Instead of smokestack jobs, these people could find the material capable of expanding and retracting like a heart does to create an artificial heart.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows has voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If elected, what is your solution to the national health care crisis?

As of January, Republicans have introduced bills to repeal Obamacare 62 times. Albert Einstein put it best when he said ‘if you continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result, that’s the definition of insanity.’ What else could Meadows have been paying attention to and what else could he have done if he wasn’t busy trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act? ACA is by no means perfect — it’s too new. It stumbled out of the gate and embarrassed the government because they did a bad job of rolling it out, but the fact is for most people it’s given a huge chunk of the population insurance they didn’t have before. We need to continue to fine-tune it certainly. 

We’ve looked at the payers but not the people who are charging for these services. We don’t look at the cost and what is driving it up — it’s not salaries of doctors — it’s the cost of equipment and pharmaceuticals. Someone needs to take a look at controlling the ever upward spiraling cost situation. 

I have no problem with someone earning a profit, my problem is with someone making a 200 percent profit.

What is your stance on current tax policy?

The take from corporate taxes is drastically less now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. They use all sorts of dodges. In terms of taxing people, I’ve been on side of having to think about it. It’s the most cautious decision an elected official can make — luckily we haven’t had to raise taxes in Bryson City. We need to do everything we can to hold it to a minimum, and you make damn sure you get performance from what you spend.

What is your stance on current education policy? 

Public education is the great leveler of our democracy. Meadows introduced a bill to defund the public education system in Washington, D.C. Washington had a history of poorly performing schools but they’ve brought it up in the last seven years so his bill to defund was an attack on a problem that did not exist. We can’t privatize our education. We must hold to a strong public education system because it’s the best and most reliable leveler we have in our society.


What you need to know about the June 7 election

• Even if you voted in the March 15 primary, you need to vote again — Congressional primary candidates for the 12th District did appear on the March 15 primary ballot. However, votes for that particular office were not calculated due to an ongoing court case, and North Carolina has to hold new election June 7 for the U.S. Representative seat.

• Vote early — Early voting will be held from Thursday, May 26, through Saturday, June 4. (Early voting will not be held Monday, May 30, in observance of Memorial Day)

• Absentee voting — Voters may request an absentee ballot by mail through Tuesday, May 31.

• Sick and disabled voters may request an absentee ballot June 1 through June 6.

• Call your local election office for more information and early voting hours in each county. 

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