By Ron Fitzwater
April 5, 2012. BOONE — United States Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) brought her traveling Conversations with Kay program to Boone today stopping in at the Lois. E. Harrill Senior Center, at 182 Poplar Grove Connector. Conversations with Kay are held regularly in communities across North Carolina and provide an opportunity for members of the community to visit with Hagan and talk with her about their concerns. On Tuesday April 3, Hagan had held a similar event in neighboring Ashe County.
The cafeteria of the senior center was full Wednesday morning and along with regular constituents several local government officials, including Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson, assembled to hear from Hagan, as well as, let her know about issues that were concerning them.
By way of greeting, Hagan introduced herself and offered a few remarks to those in attendance saying, “What I want to do is to give you an overview of things happening in Washington [D.C.], but mainly I want to have a conversation with you.”
Hagan said that she wants her office to be known for constituent services and as proof of that, introduced her staff members in attendance and offered them up to the crowd to assist as she went from table to table speaking with local leaders, organization heads, business owners and just plain folks.
Hagan said she has been working with the so-named, Gang of Six, in the Senate on a three-tiered approach to put the Bowels-Simpson physical commission report into legislative language and get it to the Senate for open debate. Hagan explained the three-tiers as, “Go big, go long, and go smart.
“Go big [means] we have got to look at cuts. We’ve got take four-trillion in cuts; go long [means] businesses need certainty in order to have a long-range plan to operate their companies or small businesses. So we need to reform the tax code and let them know the rules of the road. The other part is to go smart. For our country to remain a global power, we have got to make investments. Those investments have got to be in education, infrastructure and research and development.
“You know we have neglected so much of the historical legacy that’s been handed to us, we have got to begin investing in our infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports, trains and broadband.
“The other areas are research and development; if we’re going to remain a global power, we have to have investments in research and development. So, go big, go long, go smart,” she repeated.
Hagan then addressed the rising gas prices across the country. (Regular unleaded gas hit $3.91 in the High Country on Wednesday morning).
“Gas prices are certainly affecting everybody in our state that I know of and across the country. It’s something I am very concerned about. I voted for the Keystone Pipeline, I think we have got to look at ways that we can become much more energy independent in our country, but we’ve got to do it in an environmentally safe and sound fashion. I think we have got to be making investments in renewables,” she said.
Hagan said that oil companies needed to get their priorities in line with the current economy and step up to pay their fair share of taxes. “Just this past week I voted to do away with four-billion dollars of tax incentives and credits for the five big oil companies. Last year, they made $137 billion, which was 75 percent more than they made [in 2010], and here they are saying they need four-billion dollars in tax credits to make it and I don’t think so. Every one penny that goes up in gas, they make $200 million. And you know what’s interesting? They actually ran an ad against me because of that vote.”
After spending a significant amount of time speaking with her constituents, Hagan took a few minutes to answer questions from the local press. When asked what she had learned in the past two days speaking with High Country voters, Hagan said, “People are concerned about jobs and the economy, they are concerned about gas prices and they want government to work for them. They also understand that we’ve got to get the economy going again so that middle-class families can get those jobs so that they can have the funds to go to the restaurants to be able to go out and enjoy all the amenities. And health care is always a big issue.”
Veterans’ issues including the need for a veterans’ medical facility in the High Country was also something Hagan said she had heard about during her visit and as a member of the Armed Services Committee, she was aware of the needs of veterans and active duty personnel living in the state.
“In North Carolina about a third of our population is made up of veterans, active duty and dependants. In North Carolina we have the third largest military footprint in the nation. So, I want to do everything possible that we can to support our military with everything they need and that we keep our promises to our veterans. As far as clinics, the main idea is that a veteran has a clinic within about an hour’s commute.”
Hagan said she was also working to address the issue of unemployed veterans, whose unemployment rate runs “about four percentage points higher if not more,” than the overall national rate. To address the problem Hagan said that the Senate had just released the “Hire a Hero Act” that gives small businesses tax credits for hiring military veterans and disabled veterans. Which is an overall win according to Hagan because veterans “have so many skills that we need to bring to bear in the workplace.”
On the issue of bringing industry jobs back to the High Country, Hagan said that “advanced manufacturing and the renewable energies sector, are huge areas for new jobs, especially in North Carolina which is the only state in the South East with a renewable energy standard, which gives us a competitive advantage. Those jobs will not be outsourced.
One of the areas I work on constantly is defense contracting; we have the third largest military footprint, but we rank 26th in the nation in defense contractors. About 86 of our 100 counties have some sort of defense related business located in it. Even though the budget pie is shrinking, if we can increase North Carolina’s portion of it, it will mean more jobs in our state.
Although not common for Senators and Congresspersons to comment on legislation being undertaken by their home state legislatures, Hagan has been a very vocal opponent of Amendment 1, the GOP driven legislation to amend the North Carolina Constitution to specifically state that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.
“I am hoping that it will not pass. I don’t think North Carolina needs to amend our constitution to take away people’s rights.”
In spite of Governor Beverly Purdue’s decision not to seek reelection and the fact that North Carolina has a GOP controlled General Assembly putting forward legislation such as Amendment 1 and voter ID requirements, Hagan is optimistic about the party’s chances in 2012.
“In 2008 4.5 million people came out to vote, in 2010 there were 1.5 million fewer people that voted, a lot of the younger generation along with Democrats and Independents didn’t come out and vote. I think you will see a different get out the vote effort in 2012 in spite of the fact of what the [state] legislature has tried to do to cut back on early voting sites, and cutting back on the privilege of voting in our state.”
Hagan later took a walking tour of downtown Boone; for coverage see Sen. Hagan Visits Downtown Establishments Wednesday; Talks about Jobs, Marriage Prot. Amendment and Boone. At www.hcpress.com.
Photos by Ron Fitzwater
Click on the first image then use the Arrow Key to flip through the gallery.