Sen. Davis up for fifth term
Franklin Republican Sen. Jim Davis is probably one of the most popular legislators in the state with his constituents, winning four straight elections and garnering support on the order of 75 percent in some counties.
“I’m not sure why that is,” said his opponent, Navy veteran and Franklin High School teacher and coach Bob Kuppers. “I’ve worked with Jim, him and I served on the board of commissioners together. Jim’s a smart man. Jim’s an articulate man. But, I think sometimes we need to look behind the statistics. It’s easy to make a case with numbers, but I can make a case on the other side with numbers too. It’s like look, I hear the numbers, but when you look inside the classrooms that’s not what the numbers are telling you.”
Davis, however, thinks it’s because of his continuing involvement with the people of his district.
“I’m not a political ideologue,” he said. “I don’t think any party has a monopoly on good ideas, and I consider local government as paramount.”
And he can back that up — he was elected to three terms as a Macon County commissioner before first running for Senate in 2010.
“Mainly I ran because I was tired of especially unfunded mandates from Raleigh and from Washington, and I can’t do much about the ones in Washington,” he said. “So, I decided to go a bit further upstream. I really consider myself a displaced county commissioner.”
It’s that long, local involvement that has sustained Davis through those four terms; even though his sprawling Senate district stretches from the westernmost point in North Carolina almost to Asheville.
“Because of my history in government, I know many of the county commissioners and the town leadership,” he said. “It’s not difficult to keep in touch with people.”
His record stands on its own as one of pragmatic conservatism, an example of which was his role in securing a Job Maintenance and Capital Development (JMAC) grant for Canton’s Evergreen Packaging that helped the manufacturer convert its coal-fired boilers to natural gas in 2014.
“Evergreen Packaging is the largest manufacturing facility in North Carolina west of Charlotte,” he said. “I think we’re going to continue to look at efforts like that. I was also a champion in the senate of expanding the gaming operations of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to live dealers, and that also allowed them to expand to three casinos, and that has resulted in 2,000 jobs in Western North Carolina. The gaming industry has some of the best benefits in the state, and they really pay well.”
Accomplishments aside, Davis is part of the partisan problems that seem to plague not only the United States as a whole, but also North Carolina and Davis’ 50th Senate district, according to Kuppers.
“I have watched partisan politics dominate the landscape for many years, and I see the problems it creates and the paralysis it creates in our legislatures and our governing, and I just feel like there’s better ways to do it,” Kuppers said. “I feel like the things you learn in the military help with that.”
Elaborating, Kuppers said that he and people like him who have served in the nations armed forces — Kuppers left the mountains to serve undersea as a submarine captain — have a different way of looking at things.
“Military people have a concept of mission,” he said. “We understand that if you’re going from A to B, everything else that gets in the way is just background noise. The mission is what’s important. Partisan bickering is part of the background noise, but it’s so loud, and it’s so prevalent that it’s keeping us from being what we can be, from accomplishing the mission.”
Kuppers’ mission is not much different from other Democrats running for various Western north Carolina legislative seats this cycle — he’s all about health care and education.
“We need to make sure we provide affordable health care to as many people as we can. I’m not in the national legislature, so I’m not going to get into that, but we do have the opportunity here to take the Medicaid expansion, which would do a couple of things,” he said. “It would get probably half a million people that don’t have health care now in this state health care. It would also provide good-paying medical jobs. And, as we’re learning in some states, it would free up some money and resources to help us with the opioid crisis.”
And like fellow Democrats, he rails on the fact that North Carolinians are being taxed for the Medicaid expansion, but aren’t getting that for which they’ve already paid.
“I don’t think you’d go to a grocery store, buy $300 worth of groceries, and put it in somebody else’s car, and tell them to drive home,” said Kuppers. “But we’re paying for Medicaid, and not getting the benefits.”
Over the course of his 18-year educational career, Kuppers has not seen the consistency or improvement in the system he says is crucial not only for enhancing student performance, but also for recruiting the next generation of educators to follow people like him.
“In the last half of my [teaching career] I’ve kind of watched it spiral downward and that’s a big reason why I’m here. If you’ve got a teacher buying chemicals to teach a chemistry class, we’ve got a problem. If you’ve got a superintendent that doesn’t know where the next set of teachers is coming from because she can’t convince any of her students to get into teaching, we’ve got a problem,” he said. “Those are the issues we have to address, not that we got a 6.9 percent pay increase. Somebody asked me about that the other day, and well, if you dig a 10 foot hole and put three feet of dirt in it you’re better off that you were. You’re not out of the hole, but you’re better off than you were.”
Also like fellow Democrats, Kuppers isn’t focused on the impact President Trump’s supports — or detractors — will have at the polls this Nov. 6.
“I’m not running against President Trump and President Trump’s not on the ballot,” he said. I’ll let that run in the background and I’ll let people decide what they want.”
Davis thinks voters still want more of what Republicans have been serving up since taking control of the legislature in 2010.
“I think we will continue to look at tax reform and regulatory reform. The business climate in North Carolina is one of the best in the country right now — in the top 10 in just about every category, and in the top five in many. The more friendly to business we are, the more opportunity we have for jobs,” he said. “Even though the national economy has recovered quite well in the last 10 years, North Carolina’s economy has recovered faster and better than most, but we still have a divide between the urban and rural areas, and we’re doing everything we can to address that. The far west and far east in our state are lagging behind.”
As far as returning to Raleigh for another two-year term, Davis continues to rest on the things that have made him a four-term incumbent in the first place.
“I have a proven record of success,” he said. “They can look at my record and decide if they want to continue that course. Voters sent me to Raleigh, with a narrow margin of victory in 2010, but it has increased since then, and I think that’s because of my record. I respect the will of the voters. They sent me to Raleigh and they can send me home.”
Meet the candidates
Sen. Jim Davis, 71, was born in Virginia but has lived in Franklin since 1970. A biology major at Southern Adventist University outside of Chattanooga, Davis then went on to study dentistry at Loma Linda University in Southern California. He was elected to the Macon County Commission in 1996, and then again in 2004 and in 2008. In 2010, Davis prevailed in the N.C. Senate race by just 161 votes out of more than 61,000 cast. Since then, his margins have grown, even against credible, well-financed opponents.
Davis said he’s running for his fifth term as senator “to continue the work we’ve been doing since 2011 in getting our fiscal house in order and addressing tax reform, and regulatory reform.”
Son of a Navy man, Bob Kuppers, 64, was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but by age 5 settled in Franklin. Kuppers earned a scholarship to UNC, but never gave up his dream of attending the U.S. Naval Academy. Upon receiving a Congressional appointment to the Academy, he graduated in 1975 with a degree in electrical engineering. “I kind of stumbled in to the submarine force, because I picked nuclear power, and it turned out to be one of the best things I ever did,” he said. “Eventually, just to prove that a blind hog can still find an acorn every now and again, I was selected to command the USS Key West.” Kuppers spent the last few years of his career as chief of staff of NATO’s submarine force and upon retirement in 2000, returned to Macon County to teach and coach football at the same high school he attended, while also serving with Sen. Jim Davis as a Macon County Commissioner from 2008 through 2012.