Congressional candidates up the ante on campaign forum circuit
Although the candidates running for U.S. Congress remained cordial on the surface, neither passed up the opportunity to get in jabs here and there during a Macon County League of Women Voters forum last week.
Following a contentious debate in Brevard the previous night, conservative Republican Mark Meadows of Cashiers and Blue Dog Democrat Hayden Rogers of Robbinsville squared off again, less than 24 hours later, to answer questions about the health of the economy, Medicare, Social Security and women’s issues.
Meadows received several rounds of applause from what appeared to be a largely Republican audience throughout his talking points. However, Rogers also faired well with the crowd.
Despite wearing a red shirt with Meadows’ name on it — a uniform donned by dozens of audience members — Gail Chapman said Rogers would probably do a good job in Washington.
“Either one will be good, but Mark Meadows will be the best.”
Her husband Hal, who also wore Republican garb, tended to agree, preferring Meadows but not disliking Rogers.
“It was refreshing to hear a Democrat who sounded like a Republican,” Hal Chapman said, adding that “the only bad thing” about Rogers is that he worked for current Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville.
Health of the Economy
The economy has yet to rebound from the recent recession, both candidates confirmed, but how to remedy it was a point of dispute.
Meadows said he would support a 20 percent decline in regulations and a moratorium on new regulatory laws until that decrease was achieved.
“There is a definite correlation between regulation and job growth,” Meadows said, adding that reducing corporate taxes to 20 percent would also help create jobs, thereby growing the economy.
Meadows said the federal government has placed too many restrictions on where people can drill for natural gas, for example.
“We could be the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, but it’s off limits,” Meadows said, eliciting a positive response from the crowd.
Rogers agreed that the government needs to cut some of its current regulations, but said the first thing to do is to grow factory jobs.
Rogers said he wants to get rid of “bad policies” in U.S. free trade agreements, which he said are sending jobs overseas. Speaking specifically about Western North Carolina, Rogers said the government needs to “invest heavily in our infrastructure,” including not only roads, citing Corridor K, but also broadband Internet and airport improvements. Top-notch infrastructure will attract business to WNC, he said.
Medicare and Social Security
Rogers wants to preserve Medicare and Social Security, but said the government should look for ways to streamline the programs and cut ineffective or redundant operations.
“We have to make some tough decisions,” Rogers said. “If programs aren’t working, we are going to have to eliminate them.”
Heath care also needs to focus more on prevention, which will save in the long run, he said.
“Preventative care is not a sexy thing, but it’s an effective thing,” Rogers said.
Throughout his collective speaking time, Rogers repeatedly stated that a mixture of cuts, tax increases and economic growth would allow the government to maintain services such as Medicare and Social Security.
Meadows touted Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s plan as one that would help fix problems with Medicare and Social Security while keeping the federal government’s promise to seniors 55 and older.
“We have to honor our commitment to seniors,” Meadows said. But, “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.”
And, the U.S. cannot raise taxes to cure its ills, said Meadows, citing the previous night’s debate where Rogers said that tax increases were part of his plan.
“We can’t tax our way into it,” Meadows said, later adding that everyday Americans should be more cognizant of how much health services cost.
When asked about the government’s role in reproductive rights and access to birth control, Meadows, who is pro-life, was quick to deride the Affordable Health Care Act, saying it requires health care providers to cover the cost of birth control.
“It is an attack on our religious liberties,” Meadows said, pointing out that many insurance plans already pay for birth control.
Meadows also repeated his oft-made claim that the health care act could use federal dollars to pay for abortions. However, specific language written into the bill stipulates that no federal dollars can go toward abortions for women.
A conservative Democrat, Rogers is also pro-life but supports making birth control and family planning available to women who want it.
“I believe these are things that help unwanted pregnancies,” Rogers said. “It is un-Christian not to” offer such things.
Religious organizations should not be required to provide birth control or family planning but insurance companies should include them in their plans, Rogers said, prompting Meadows to shake his head in disagreement.
Both Meadows and Rogers took a few shots at each other during the forum.
Rogers harped on the fact that Meadows is not originally from Western North Carolina but transplanted here from Florida.
In the past, Meadows has referred to Rogers as a Washington insider because of his time as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, whose seat both are trying to fill. Shuler has decided not to run for another term.
“I’m a Western North Carolina insider,” retorted Rogers, a Robbinsville native, at the forum.
In response to an earlier comment by Rogers that sometimes people need to compromise for the greater good, Meadows responded that sometimes that is not possible.
“Sometimes, you have values you can’t compromise on,” Meadows said.
At one point, Meadows elicited groans from some audience members when he implied that Rogers was responsible for the high unemployment rates in his hometown of Graham County. The county had 15.2 percent unemployment in June.
“If that is how he treats his own county, how will he treat the rest of us?” Meadows said.
The comment did not sit well with at least one Republican attendee. Gail Kent, a registered Republican from Franklin, said her first impression of Meadows was positive. “What a respectable, well-spoken guy,” she said.
However, that image was spoiled by Meadows’ attempt to lay blame for Graham County’s unemployment rate at Rogers’ feet.
“That was so completely unfair,” said Kent, who describes herself as a Republican grown disillusioned by the far right’s fear mongering.