MOREHEAD CITY — Voters took up the chance to pepper congressional candidates with questions on health care, the federal budget, offshore oil development and more Thursday night as part of the League of Women Voters of Carteret County’s forum.
The event, put on in partnership with the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce and hosted by chamber President Tom Kies, allowed residents some face-to-face time with candidates in the 3rd Congressional District race for the seat previously held by the late Rep. Walter Jones Jr., R-N.C.
Libertarian Tim Harris, Democrat Allen Thomas and Constitution Party candidate Greg Holt participated in the event at Joslyn Hall on the campus of Carteret Community College. State Rep. Greg Murphy, the Republican on the ballot, did not attend.
One of the most talked about topics of the evening was the federal budget – and deficit – which drew criticism from all three candidates.
“It is the No. 1 issue that our government is going to face because this is the thing that is going to collapse our country … simply, if we want to survive, we have to cut spending,” Mr. Harris told the crowd.
Mr. Holt, thinking along the same lines, expressed concern about mortgaging the future and said a balanced budget was needed, along with “a little bit of discipline.”
Mr. Allen said the path to a balanced budget is riddled with many challenges, including a system that allows corporations to slide by without paying their share.
“(There are) a lot of corporations that have been very skilled at tax avoidance. We’re going to have to understand there’s two sides to the equation … because they’re optimizing their profit right now at the detriment of every citizen and to this nation.”
Offshore development and energy needs
Several questions, submitted by both the LWV and audience members, focused on the candidates’ positions on the environment and their stance on offshore drilling and seismic testing.
“Until (officials) can prove that seismic testing is not the danger that it seems to be, that it appears to be at the moment to marine life and to our coastal areas, I’m completely against it,” Mr. Harris said. “…We cannot afford to destroy our coastlines and we cannot afford to destroy our marine life.”
Mr. Thomas joined him in opposition to such industry off North Carolina’s coast and added that he believes the federal government should do more to protect the resources in the Arctic and beyond, areas he said were being “exploited.”
“No for drilling and no for seismic testing. Period,” he told the crowd.
Mr. Holt, on the other hand, said while he stands against offshore development at this time, he would support such activity should the need for oil “endanger” the U.S. and “jeopardize our welfare.”
Participants Thursday night also asked each candidate to speak on fossil fuels and their position on renewable energy source development.
“With the renewables, I think we have a real challenge. I think it’s going to be for the future. I think it will be good, but I don’t want to subsidize any businesses … I think if it’s a lucrative business they should stand on their own,” Mr. Holt said.
Mr. Harris took a different approach and said while America needs to “wean” itself from its dependence on oil, he believes only nuclear energy can meet the needs of the public. Further, other renewable sources, like wind and solar, don’t have the consistency necessary, he said.
Mr. Allen said he believes it is the job of government to do more long-term planning to shape a future that utilizes renewable sources.
“I think the clearest indicator is looking at the fossil fuel companies,” the Democrat told the crowd. “Now they are doing their largest amount of investment (and) renovation in solar, in wind.”
The candidates were also queried on climate change, which drew mixed reactions.
“I’m always concerned we have a lot of natural disasters. I’ve been here through about five hurricanes, so uh, they’re tough,” the Constitution Party candidate, Mr. Holt, said. “But I think you can’t change an act of God. I think that’s what happens and I don’t know that there’s anything we can do to change a whole lot of that. … it’s not something you can legislate.”
Mr. Harris disagreed, saying climate change was not an act of God, but an act of a plan and a system human activity affects.
“We have to be able to agree on simple realities. The fact of the matter is the climate is changing. It’s getting warmer and we have to acknowledge our role in that,” he said.
Mr. Thomas agreed with Mr. Harris on the role of humans in the changing climate and said the district’s next congressman needs to “own this issue” if residents are going to continue to live in eastern North Carolina, which has been subject to increased flooding in recent years.
The crowd also asked the three hopefuls about their positions on education and, specifically, whether or not they support early college high school programs.
Mr. Thomas told the audience the state’s community college system is a crown jewel and government should continue to invest in students and education.
The other two candidates took a different approach. Both said they disliked the U.S. Department of Education.
“The funding of schools from the federal government, when they put the mandates out there that you have to abide by to get their funds, I think really straps you,” Mr. Holt said.
Mr. Harris joined him in saying he would move to defund federal education programs.
“To put it bluntly, education is an issue for the state, is an issue for the county, is an issue for the local communities. … We need to give that money back to the states and the communities and we need to let states and communities continue to run these kinds of communities with those additional funds.
“…We need to let that decision be made by the people whose children are in those schools,” he concluded.
Another hot topic was health care, a subject on which all the night’s candidates agreed changes are needed, though their approaches differed.
“The private sector insurance is so much better than the Obamacare approach. I think … we need to go back to this (model of) simple family practice and go back to our regular insurance,” Mr. Holt said.
Mr. Thomas and Mr. Harris agreed more competition is needed to reduce health care and prescription drug costs. Mr. Harris said the best approach would be to “remove the constraints” and layers of federal regulations.
Mr. Thomas said he would like to see more effort by Congress to put some long-term fixes in place.
“The current system we have definitely has some significant flaws to it,” he said, “but I don’t think anyone wants to walk away from making sure their preexisting conditions are covered. … This is not a simple answer, there’s no silver bullet to it.”
Candidates spent more than an hour answering various questions from the audience Thursday.
As part of closing remarks, Mr. Thomas, the Democrat in the race and a former mayor of Greenville, said he was disappointed by Republican Mr. Murphy’s absence.
“I’m really disappointed to see this seat empty because we don’t want this seat to be empty either in Congress, do we?” he said, gesturing to Mr. Murphy’s empty seat at the forum table.
To listen to the entire LWV candidate forum and explore more of the issues discussed, visit the “Viewpoints on the Talk Station” Facebook page and watch the full video of Thursday’s event.
Contact Jackie Starkey at 252-726-7081, ext. 225; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.