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Democrats face uphill battle for Corbin’s seat

Karen McCracken and Kevin Corbin Karen McCracken and Kevin Corbin

North Carolina’s 50th Senate District remains a bastion of Republican power in the west; nonpartisan mapping site puts it at more than 62% red, utilizing a composite of actual vote counts from 2016 through 2020, rather than simple voter registration totals.

Combine that geographical advantage with a sensible, experienced legislator who has friends across the aisle and that makes for yet another difficult election cycle for Democrats in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Transylvania counties — but it won’t stop them from trying to unseat incumbent Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-Franklin). 

“I remember when George Bush the first was running, and we watched the Democratic and Republican conventions on TV and I just loved the patriotism at those rallies,” said Karen McCracken, a Jackson County Democrat running against Corbin. “I was like, wow, that seems like fun.”

McCracken was born and raised in Sylva. In seventh and eighth grade, she was elected to student council, and in high school she participated in something called Girls State, a civic leadership program hosted by the American Legion. 

“Those helped me understand that when we work together, we can plan and organize and we can do great things,” McCracken said. 

She earned a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Gardner-Webb University and then a Master of Divinity at Campbell University’s Divinity School. After a few years teaching, McCracken worked at ConMet and now sells radio ads for Sylva-based WRGC radio

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According to McCracken, her top three priorities are education, inflation and Medicaid expansion. 

“What’s going on is the House and the Senate each keep passing bills, but they won’t agree on a bill,” she said. “With more folks going to Raleigh who are committed to getting it passed, we have a better chance of actually putting the bill across the finish line to go to the governor.”

On education, McCracken wants to see full funding of the Leandro plan, the recruitment of more diverse teachers and a better pay scale to promote teacher retention. 

To combat inflation, McCracken supports a living wage, prescription drug price caps, stronger estate taxes and subsidized childcare to free up family caregivers. 

Corbin, meanwhile, has been dealing with many of these issues throughout a lifetime of public service that began when he was elected to the Macon County School Board at just 22 years old. He went on to serve 20 years there, including 16 as chairman. After four years out of politics, he was appointed to the Macon County Commission and then won a full term, and also chaired that body. From there, he served two terms in the House, and has since completed his first term in the Senate. 

His primary concern right now is Medicaid expansion, a cause he took up before it became fashionable for General Assembly Republicans to do so. 

“I was one of the first Republicans in the building to favor Medicaid expansion and begin to share that with my colleagues and in the end the Senate did put it to a vote, and we did it with just two ‘no’ votes,” Corbin said of the Senate bill that’s currently awaiting House action. “Two years ago, most people would have found it impossible to believe that the North Carolina Senate would even hear Medicaid expansion, much less pass it by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.”

In both the House and the Senate, Corbin has been one of the key players in pushing for the expansion of rural broadband. 

“We started the great GREAT (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology) grants about four years ago, and we’ve been putting $10 to $15 million a year into that,” he said. “This year, we put $400 million into it, so that has grown exponentially.”

Serving in the General Assembly isn’t just about staking out philosophical positions or producing pragmatic solutions to the problems that plague dogging this overwhelmingly rural district; Corbin said an equally important function of the office is to provide constituent services. 

“I take that very seriously. So when people call our office, Cindy [Hobbs] is the one that fields the calls. When she went to work for me six years ago, I told her that when a constituent calls and has an issue, drop whatever you’re doing, we’re going to take care of it,” Corbin said. 

Constituent issues usually concern the three D’s — the DOT, the DMV, and the DOR — and Corbin says his office has been able to solve about 95% of them. 

Inflation remains a concern and Corbin thinks North Carolina is already in a recession, however a recent ranking by CNBC as America’s top state for business and his party’s relentless pursuit of lower taxes, both corporate and personal, will do a lot to blunt the impact of rising prices. 

“I think just keeping our own house in order, you have to recognize what you can and can’t do and we can’t control what they do in Washington,” Corbin said. “We can control what goes on in Raleigh, and that’s what we’ve done.” 

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