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Word for Word: Candidates for N.C. House, Tarleton and Jordan Speak at Boone Chamber Candidate Forum

The court room was fairly packed for the state legislature candidates during the “Meet the Candidate Forum” hosted by the Boone Area Chamber. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Compiled by Jesse Wood

Oct. 10, 2012. On Tuesday night, the Boone Area Chamber presented the “Meet the Candidate Forum” at the Watauga County Courthouse. Chamber President Dan Meyer asked a variety of questions to challenger Cullie Tarleton and incumbent Jonathan Jordan – the candidates running for the 93rd District in the N.C. House.

(Candidates for N.C. Senate, Roy Carter and incumbent Dan Soucek, answered the same questions here.)

Jordan and Tarleton provided the most heated exchanges of the night and responded with answers pertaining to extra-territorial jurisdictions (ETJs), education cuts, ASU, unemployment insurance and the very “contentious” school calendar mandate which interestingly enough originates from lobbyists for businesses that derive revenue from summer tourism.

Each response was limited to one minute. After the questions, the candidates were allowed two minutes to pitch their candidacy in a closing statement.

Below is a complete transcript of the candidate’s answers. Parts of a few responses were inaudible and are noted so in the transcription. Also in a few cases, a candidate’s response was slightly edited for clarity.

Don’t feel like reading? Check back later for full audio and video of the candidate’s responses.

Meyer: What do you consider to be the number one issue or challenge or priority for action that you think you are going to face as a member of the N.C. legislature and what solutions do you favor?

Jonathan Jordan – Photo by Jesse Wood

Jonathan Jordan: The number one issue is obviously jobs. We know all the economic situations. We’ve got the worse recession since the Great Depression. Unemployment in our state is reaching nearly 10 percent. That is reaching more than one and a half points more than the national average. College students are facing an unbelievable 50 percent unemployment rate just out of school. We need jobs. In order to get jobs. We need to encourage the job creators to create jobs – job creation from small business and larger businesses. Most of all what they need is certainty. A government that continually creates new taxes, hikes existing ones and overwhelms us with burdensome and needless regulation is not conducive to a smooth-running, job-creating economy. The solution is we need to get taxes down, and we need to reduce needless regulation.

Cullie Tarleton

Cullie Tarleton: As I’ve said in many of my fliers that I have sent out, the road to economic recovery in North Carolina begins at the school house door. We can’t create jobs in North Carolina if we don’t educate our young people starting in public schools. This legislature has slashed funding for public schools. Teachers have been laid off. Teacher assistants have been laid off. Money for materials and supplies have been cut. Need-based aid for college students has been cut. We’ve cut funding for our universities. We’ve cut funding for community colleges. We have to be able to deliver to employers an educated work force. That’s why the road to economic recovery begins at the school house door. The number-one priority is restoring the cuts to education and getting this state on a forward moving footing once again.

Meyer: Perhaps the most immediately challenge to our state’s job creators is North Carolina’s debt to the federal government on unemployment insurance. Currently $3 billion is needed to meet our unemployment insurance obligations with a daily interest rate with 280,000 dollars. Do you have a plan or idea to deal with this short fall and fix the North Carolina unemployment insurance system?

Jordan: Sen. Soucek is exactly right. We actually have, to my understanding, the fifth largest debt to the federal government for unemployment. The way to fix that is not what I am afraid, my opponents would say, which is to say increase taxes on businesses so they can pay it back. We need to actually help businesses, so they can hire more people. Then you have more people paying into unemployment. That’s how system works. If we hadn’t taken over in 2010, I am afraid, all we would be discussing is which tax to raise and how much to raise. The unemployment tax is a very important tax to businesses and job creators. The worse thing we could do is try to increase that rate to try to make up for this debt. We need to pay it back from all the funds, need to make sure no funds are diverted that are collected for unemployment. We also may need to take why we have 99 weeks of unemployment; that’s a long time. The bottom line, though, is to get out of this we need to get the economy moving again. Help job creators. Give them certainty. Give them lower taxes. Give them less regulation, so they can produce products and services for all of us.

Tarleton: First of all no one is advocating raising taxes on business. That is not a solution. It is an issue that we face as a state. The federal congress, I think, properly extended unemployment benefits several times because we had a lot of people out of work. They needed those benefits. I have had telephone calls from people saying if you can’t help me get my unemployment, I am going to lose my home, I can’t buy groceries, I can’t pay for my kids school. It’s important compensation to those people. I think it sort of a two prong approach. It would not embarrass me to ask the federal government to forgive part of that debt – simply forgive part of that debt. Secondly, to stimulate the economy, increase the unemployment tax revenue without raising the rate, without raising taxes and sort of take a two prong approach to it.

Meyer: What programs or entitlements are you willing to cut in order to balance the budget or what new revenue sources are you willing to introduce to balance the budget?

Jordan: That’s a pretty big question for a one-minute response. I am not going to sit here and tell you which specific programs to cut. I will tell you the committees have gone through line by line all the different areas of responsibility. There is a lot of great programs out there. The problem is we can’t afford all of them. We need to take a comprehensive bottom-up review, so that we can study all of the programs that our out there. Right now, what happens is the budget is given to the legislature, given as an $18 billion continuing expenditure. We don’t know what is in that 18 billion. We are told to look at the other $1 or $2 billion we are going to add on top of it. We need comprehensive budget reform, so we start at the bottom and work our way up. Lets see what’s in that $18 billion that we start with, and we can find things that are not working or we need to make more efficient or they are good things that we simply can’t afford. As far as revenue sources, we need comprehensive tax reform but that is going to have to result in something that is revenue neutral, that isn’t going to raise taxes for everyone. It would be good to broaden the base, but I want to see the details of that first.

Tarleton: That is a difficult question. In terms of programs to cut, I agree with Jonathan in that – when I was running companies, when we did budgets we went through the expenditure budget, line by line by line. Just because something was budgeted last year, doesn’t mean it’s going to be budgeted this year. Is the program working? Is it doing what it is designed to do? If it is not, we are going to get rid of it. I think the same application can be made in state government and in local government, for that matter. If it is working fine and if it is not, we can get rid of it. When I was in the legislature, I was on the house of appropriations committee that’s how we did the education budget – line by line by line. And I think that is what we need to advocate ultimately.

From left: Roy Carter, Dan Soucek, Jonathan Jordan and Cullie Tarleton – Photo by Ken Ketchie

Meyer: What are your thoughts of cleaning legislation – meaning no earmarks, no amendments, straight issue only legislation?

Tarleton: As Jonathan and Dan know from serving, it’s not uncommon for piece of legislation to be amended in a committee or on the floor, and a lot of times those amendments strengthens the bill. Often times the amendments, all of which are voted on the both body’s of both houses, the sponsor of the legislation actually favors it, sometimes its, ‘Yeah I wish I would have thought of that.’ I would be opposed to saying ‘Once the bill is introduced, there can be no more amendments. Either it goes through the way it was introduced or it dies’ because that’s just not the way the process works. Earmarks? Very rare that we saw earmarks. Occasionally, it occurred but it not as prevalent within North Carolina state government as it is at the federal level.

Jordan: I agree with Sen. Soucek. Amendments are often where you can reach across the aisle and meet with parties that may have ideas on one particular issue that you may have introduced a bill about. If you were to say no amendments: I don’t’ think any legislation is absolutely perfect as soon as it is introduced. I am afraid that something like No Amendment Rule would do that. All legislation is improved and often improved over time as well – not just in the session that it is passed. I would be opposed to something like that. It is almost a straight jacket to good legislation and getting ideas out and sharing info and getting the best out there for the citizens. That’s where I would go with that question.

Meyer: You all have mentioned importance of education. Due specifically to importance of Appalachian State University to our economy, would you support building a health sciences building to help meet the critical need for health professionals in our state?

Jordan: I have also had the privilege to work with a lot of the officials at ASU and I have actually found ASU compared to our other universities is very efficient with a lot of the money they get, and I’ve been very proud of that and I’ve told them that several times. I go over there as many times as I can because there is a lot going on on campus that we need to know about. The health sciences program is an excellent opportunity. The university has showed that it can look at the needs of the community and find a way to address and meet those needs, and health care is certainly going to be an important issue in the future for all of us and I am glad to see this. It’s almost a free market medley of meeting the needs of the community, so I think health sciences is definitely something we should get planning funds for and look at to see if its something to help our community. In many cases, I would feel very good putting that money in the hands of people running ASU, but not everything because in any large bureaucracy, there are going to be issues. But overall they are very efficient, and I think that would be a very good way to meet important health care needs in our community.

Tarleton: As you said at the outset Dan [Meyer], ASU is certainly the economic engine for this area and in fact this entire region and just as Sen. Goss and I secured funding for the new college of education building that now sits on the campus of ASU. Funding for the health sciences building will be a primary objective of mine. My goal in the new session is to have the planning money in the budget, and the goal for next session is funding for the building itself. I have met with the chancellor on numerous occasions, met with Dr. Whitt, who is the dean of the college of heath sciences, Richard Sparks at the hospital, been having ongoing discussion for some time now. This is a critical need in our community just as we have a nursing shortage across North Carolina. ASU will be known for graduating nurses just as the same as they are known for graduating teachers.

Meyer: We are privileged to have our school system ranked first, second or third year after year. However, should local school systems be able to set their own school calendar or should start-end dates be dictated by the states and why?

Jordan: Believe it or not, school calendar issues is one of the most contentious I have ever run into in the legislature. I had no idea it would be as contentious as it is. Because you got concerns from parents, from businesses, from students, and where I stood on this issue is for Ashe and Watauga counties, we are number one and number two for the past ten years in number of days missed because of weather. I told everyone I could speak to how important it was that we have the flexibility to address that issue. And I did not like the fact that we were only given back to the 19 of August. We need earlier than that. My son’s school had to start on the third, in order to get ready for potential of missing lots and lots of days. We are talking 15, 20 days. You all live here you know this. I would like to give us as much flexibility as possible. Let’s make it a true waiver so we can look at the actual circumstances of the school and allow them flexibility when they need it.

Tarleton: As both Jonathan and Dan say, this is very contentious within the legislature because of the travel and tourism industry across the state, which is very important to the economy of North Carolina. Folks on the coast take one view of it. And even when we were discussing the school calendar when I was in the house, you’d be amazed at the number of calls I got from Watauga County. People in the tourism business who wanted to make sure that we didn’t tie there hands in terms of school starting date because they depended on that additional time to make their money, to make a living. Having said that, I do believe if we need to give our local school districts as much flexibility as possible and we do both in Ashe and Watauga, we have the waiver for earlier starts because of building snow days and all of that. So it doesn’t affect us quite as bad as the eastern counties, but I do believe give them flexibility.

From left: Roy Carter, Dan Soucek, Jonathan Jordan and Cullie Tarleton – Photo by Ken Ketchie

Meyer: Share your perspective on the purpose and value of ETJs and annexation?

Jordan: The public policy for the ETJs was settled in the ‘50s. That was designed so that as cities grew the property they took over by annexation would match the property in the city, so the diameter of heights and the zoning of different issues. That was a pretty good public policy when cities were growing and annexing. We did comprehensive annexation reform this year, so that involuntary annexation will probably not occur anymore. Annexations now are generally going to be voluntary, so if someone wants to be apart of a city, then they go to that city. I have actually done that for a few clients in Ashe County who wanted to be apart of Jefferson. Voluntary is perfectly fine. My problem is when we have things that are required of people who are not electing the officials who write the rules and you have regulation without representation. That is the issue that I have a concerned with. We have that local issue going on and of course I am not going to be able to meet that. But that is a local issue and that is very important and I will talk more independently with you about that. 

Tarleton: It is an important local issue. Before I was elected to the legislature, I served on the planning board for the town of Blowing Rock as an ETJ, and represented people who lived in the ETJ would frequently come to our meetings to express their thoughts and concern. ETJs are important to municipalities for the reason Jonathan stated but having said that I also believe the people who live in the ETJs deserve to have a seat at the table when decisions are made. They reserve to have their voices heard. They simply deserve the right to be heard and have a seat at the table when discussions are being made decisions made that would affect their future. So while it is important to the municipalities, I do support municipalities to have ETJs, I also believe people of the ETJs have to have a seat at the table.

Meyer: Water has been a hot topic as of late. What is your philosophy concerning private property rights as it relates to water issues?

Tarleton: Well, unfortunately my opponent has a spot ran on the radio that says I introduced a water bill that advocates putting meters on private wells which is absolutely not true. Private water is private water. The only thing that is correct about that bill [that Jordan speaks of] is that I was one of the sponsors along with two other sponsors that dealt only with the state’s water. And the bill was introduced for the express purpose of creating conversation and getting a conversation started about the need to conserve water in North Carolina. When I was in the legislature I shared water resources and infrastructure and wanted to do a state-wide campaign promoting the conservation of water because water is a precious, precious commodity. In terms of private water on private property, it’s yours.

Jordan: Water is private property rights. Mr. Tarleton was talking about House Bill 1101 that he introduced in 2009. If you actually read it and look at it, it is very, very disturbing. The current law and policy of the state is the water, air resources of the sate belong to the people. What he wanted to do with this bill is the following [reading from the bill]: The waters of the state are natural resource owned by the state in trust for the public and subject to the sovereign power of the state to plan, regulate and control the withdrawal and use of those waters. That is a clear change in water policy. He was one of the three primary sponsors, chairman of that subcommittee. The only thing preventing of the permitting of all the water was one small section that had an exemption. But we all know how quickly an exemption can be removed from a law. It takes a simple majority vote to remove it and then all water would be permitted. House Bill 1101 2009 Session – Look it up and read it for yourself. Don’t believe me.

Photo by Ken Ketchie

Two Minute Closing Statement:

Jordan: Our state cannot continue on the reckless spending path that my predecessor and his allies had us on. We cannot meet state needs by continuing to spend like we don’t care there is no tomorrow and raising taxes like we don’t care there is no tomorrow. We’ve had to do in state government what all of us High Country families had to do, and that is prioritize where our money goes. We were able to prioritize state funding on education to keep it focused on the classroom not the bureaucracy. Instead of fiscal responsibility when the economy began faltering, my opponents and his friends began grabbing and throwing hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars at the budget deficit our state was facing and they didn’t care if the federal money was only a temporary stop gap because it was. Like all federal money it came with [inaudible] and the state had to pick up the tab when the party was over. We were able to do that. I got a chart here showing state funded public education positions have increased in the last year. There are more of them. You can look at the DPI website and get these numbers for yourself. We have an increase of over 4,000 state funded public school positions. That is because the state had to step up and take over for all of the federal money that my opponent pumped into the budget that is now going away. Finally, we have the rest of the federal money this past year we can now take care of looking at our expenditures just from the state. But there are more state funded positions, so don’t believe the fact that thousand of teachers have been fired and that kind of stuff going on by my opponent on the radio and his fliers. We actually were able to keep from losing just under 600 teachers statewide and no positions in Ashe and Watauga County have been lost. None in our district, so when he says I fired local teachers, that is absolutely false and I would go further but this is a nice gentlemanly debate. We were able to balance our budget by judiciously prioritizing necessary spending. We spent almost $200,000 per classroom and yet the teacher is only about one fourth of that. Where does the rest of the money go? Thanks for letting me serve this past two years. I appreciate your support, and I ask for your vote for this election.

Tarleton: Gee I didn’t realize I had such authority to do all those things like taking all that federal money and so forth. I didn’t realize that. Here’s the bottom line folks: If you want a legislature that is bought and paid for by deep pocket special interests, a legislature that would continue on this path of deep cuts to education on all levels and regardless of what Jonathan says there have been positions lost in Ashe and Watauga. Don’t take my word for it. Check with the superintendent, they will tell you. Check with the DPI, they will tell you. Here in Watauga County we lost five pre-K programs that were shutdown this year because of cuts. We’ve cut far beyond the bone into the muscle of education. We simply can’t continue on this path. Education is the most reliable escalator out of poverty. We have to focus on reducing class size and taking care of our children and spending the money that we need in order to have an educated society. What I want to do is create jobs because jobs and education are linked just like this. The first week of the new session, I will introduce a bill to create jobs in North Carolina. My appeal will return jobs to North Carolina by using North Carolina resources first. I’ll fight for our small businesses and I’ll work to restore the funding to education and yes, Jonathan I will hire back the fired teachers because we have lost thousands of teachers across the state. You know it. We all know it. These are not my numbers. These are numbers that you can get the superintendent’s office. I will answer you phone calls and I’ll respond to your emails. I will keep you informed as to what is going on in Raleigh just as I did before. I would very much like to have your vote. Thank you very much. Thank you again to Boone Chamber for doing this.