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Word for Word: Candidates for N.C. Senate, Soucek and Carter 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 Roy Carter and incumbent Dan Soucek – the candidates running for the 45th District in the N.C. Senate.

(Candidates for N.C. House of Representatives, Cullie Tarleton and incumbent Jonathan Jordan, answered the same questions. Read them here.)

Carter and the incumbent 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 entire night. 

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?

Roy Carter

Roy Carter: I think the number one challenge – I am in this race because of education. I’ve spent 43 years in the classroom. I think the biggest challenge for us in North Carolina is to refund public education, build our public education system to a level that has never been reached before. We have defunded public education to the point that it is now a skeleton program in some schools. Ashe County has lost 46 and half positions. Watauga County has lost many more than that. Programs have been dropped, and I think it is really, really sad. To me [education] is the fulcrum that drives our economic development. If we try to bring an industry in the 45 district, they see that we went from 25 to 42 in per pupil spending and they are not going to come.

Dan Soucek

Dan Soucek: I think the number one priority really hasn’t changed in the last two years. If you look at the state or the nation, jobs and the economy has to be our priority focus. Those go through everything in our community and our society. Things that we’ve done in the legislature and continue to do is tax reform. We’ve balanced an incredible deficit without raising taxes. We did create a tax break for small businesses. What we are going to continue to do right now, we are working with leadership on comprehensive tax reform. We’ve got a 100-year-old broken tax code here in North Carolina.

We are also working on regulation reform that we’ve put a moratorium on. We are going to continue to look at those regulations that don’t work, that don’t’ provide any kind benefit or public safety. We are going to abort those because those are what hinder business. But education and business can’t be separated. We can’t have a vibrant economy without a great workforce, an educated workforce. So we have to continue to focus on education as well. As co-chair of education, I’m working on lots of initiatives, one of which is the digital learning environment, which is a subcommittee I am co-chairing right now in the senate, which looks at transforming education in North Carolina by moving K-12 into a 21st century learning environment.

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?

Soucek: That’s a good question. I am thinking a lot of people are aware of this. As I’ve mentioned before, we walked into office with a $2 billion structural deficit, but we are required to balance the budget. So we balanced the budget without raising taxes, just like we promised to do. That isn’t’ the whole picture. Part of the balanced budget is a $2.6 probably up to $3 billion deficit. We have a deficit beyond just our yearly funds and our yearly funding of the government. We need to fix this deficit by improving the economy. All the things we’ve talked about go back to jobs and the economy.

How do you fix that? Well, you have to pay the debt back. The way we stop making the debt larger is by employing more people and fewer people are on unemployment, and then the debt doesn’t grow any larger. And then with a vibrant economy we have to begin paying that back. We’ve been in a discussion about how to do that. It’s a terrible problem and a great challenge. But jobs and the economy have to be the first key. It’s the foundation of everything we do. If we don’t’ have that, we don’t support families, don’t’ support education. We need to fix jobs and the economy.

Carter: Well I mostly agree with everything that has been said up here. [Well, my opponents keep accusing me of wanting to raise taxes.] I am not raising taxes on any small business, not any business. I think we have to be careful when we propose legislation, such as the small business tax credit which, I think, was great for small business, but it left loop holes for special interest groups, for attorneys, physicians and other groups, other than our small business people, which cost our state $336 million. I think we have to be very careful in the way we reduce taxes. If we help small businesses, that is great, I am all for that. But we don’t need to create situations where we have loopholes for people that are not really a small business.

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

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?

Carter: This is a very complicated question. If you cut the programs and cut the budget and you relieve the tax structure to where you are taking in less, than you have got to be mindful of how you are going to get that money back in. That’s one reason I mentioned the $336 million small business tax credit which didn’t all go to small business. The gentleman up here on the stage with me has talked about promises made and promises kept, and I go back to the promises made to cut the waste out of the North Carolina budget. Folks the children are not the waste. We have cut the children too much. When you cut public education 9 percent, community colleges 10 [percent], universities 15 [percent], you are cutting the wrong places. We need to cut somewhere other than education. It’s very complicated. When we talk about tax reform, you have to mindful of how we are going to pay that money back in the system. When we take money out, we will have to have money back in.

Soucek: It’s a great challenge. I think that we took a big step towards this. We looked at the huge deficit we had two years ago and made the tough decision not to raise taxes to balance that budget. Now the decisions are a whole lot easier, we are not facing that cliff fall off. We are making the assumption, we are going to have a deficit, so I am going to go with the idea we may. I think we made a lot of tough decisions so we will not have to make many difficult decisions. We have 55 percent of the government funding for which goes to education, there is no way to not reduce education funding in the deficit here. I was on education, justice and public safety [board] that covers about $12 to $18 billion of the government, two-thirds. Most areas of government took much more significant cuts than education. We spent the money that we had. We looked at areas: how do we reduce funding in a place that may cause great challenge but doesn’t cause irreparable harm? We looked at making a firm foundation of government and economy, so in the future we can build off that and don’t have to continue to make decisions, and we can start to recover from some of the challenges that we have created.

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

Carter: I agree a great deal with Cullie. I have been in the education business a long time and one of my areas of teaching was teaching parliamentary procedure. I know sometimes some things are introduced that have to be amended and make that bill stronger, and you know we keep talking about things we can cut and things that this legislature has cut and things that are not working. But they have added some fat. We got the highest paid security force to follow our house speaker around and our leaders in the senate than we have ever had. There is more security force than ever when they travel from town to town. That is an added expense. According to many of the senators I know, they think that is excessive.

Soucek: Amendments really are a critical part of the process. A lot of times bills are brought forward. Sometimes they are just a concept or an idea. Amendments are sometimes the best example of bipartisanship we see in the legislature. There will be people in the senate committee or on the senate floor that I vehemently disagree with on ideological areas, but they look at this with a critical eye, maybe from a different side and bring up a point, and at the end of that I say ‘That’s right. That makes it better. Because you’re complaint there is not something we intended to do and you uncovered that.’ Amendments really are a bipartisan way to make legislation better and continue to improve on it. Most legislation starts just a kernel and you need to continue to move forward … [inaudible] … But that process is really quite critical.

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?

Carter: Most definitely. I graduated from East Tennessee State University which about the time I graduated did this and they have a medical school that is renowned – the hospital over there, a lot of our citizens travel to that area for specific care. I think it would be a very positive move. Again, I go back to my base statement that the fulcrum of economic development is education and education and health care is so important in our society that we must fund those and we must find a way to fund that. So I am, Appalachian State is the driving force in this county and the other three counties, the driving force is Christmas trees and one of our counties, the driving force is furniture. Dan and I both have a three-headed monster. We have three areas that are vastly different.

Soucek: I have been very privileged to spend a lot of time building relationships with the chancellor and his staff because Appalachian State is an incredible part of our community. I’ve spent a lot of time on campus when I was working [inaudible] and right now I am actually helping teach a class in the college of health sciences for a pilot program with community care for North Carolina. I’ve been able to see in the community the need of these professionals and great colleges and really the need to have in this community as well as around the state for this exact field. Appalachian State is partnering historically with Wake Forest in the school of the medical field. I look at this and feel that this is a need for this state and look at providing educated workforce is an absolute critical area. And I am committed to: the first phase we need to do is the planning funded and get things rolling and begin a public private relationship to get this moving. I think this is the right thing with the information I have right now to move forward for Appalachian State and for the critical workforce development for North Carolina.

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

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?

Soucek: This is a very contentious debate in the senate. To lay the groundwork a little bit in a minute, there is great concern with one of North Carolina’s leading places for summer camps and plus our summer industry on the coast, which vehemently oppose and have some real good justification for how it really affects their workforce and can actually destroy their business or destroy their camps if we have a completely random school calendar. The challenge of that is that I am more concerned with our students getting a world class education without completely ignoring the business interests.

What does the student do with an education if there is no job? What are you going to do with jobs if there is no education?  So, right now as we have it we have to challenge the school calendar with a flexibility to have a waiver. I‘ve been talking to parents and teachers and leaders in the community, they are expressing to me clearly that this is not the flexibility that this district needs because of our mountain calendar because of the snow, so I have actually begun discussions with how we give Watauga and mountain counties more flexibility in that area. 

Carter: I think I need to correct Jordan on one thing. One thing about my county and Dan’s district, which is Avery, I believe they lead the state year in and year out in days missed from school. But anyway, there might be a day or two difference. I taught school 42 years in the mountains of NC. I truly understand and I could never support a start school date mandate that makes our children possibly get up earlier and sit on the bus earlier. Folks in every two year span its going to happen. You start school on the 26, if you start school on the 19. The thing that my opponent said they have the flexibility of getting 1025 hours or a 185 days. Well 1025 hours, you add just 30 minutes a day to a school and in some of the counties, kids are getting on the bus at 6:30 now and getting off after 5:30. That is not good for kindergartners and first graders. That is not good for education. We must not dictate a school mandate date. That just can’t happen. 

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

Carter: I agree that people need a seat at the table, and I think Dan introduced a senate bill that was about that and he said, ‘No representation.’ And the point I want to bring back is there are communities right here in the ETJ and his bill was so narrow minded, it didn’t give those people an opportunity. The folks at Seven Oaks are about 100 percent want to stay in the ETJ. They are not in on the discussion with this local bill. If it was to pass, they would be kicked out of the ETJ. I think a more comprehensive bill which would give people a seat at the table instead of just kicking those people out that want to stay in would be welcomed back.

Soucek: The primary concern when looking at the ETJ is property rights. We have a legislature that is really concerned with property rights because it is one of the essential aspects of a vibrant economy and free society. When you have people in an area that have regulation without representation because a Town of Boone can say what they can or can’t do with their land through regulation that they don’t have a seat at the table that effectively influences what the board does. Then that is wrong. It’s not fair. It hurts the economy. It hurts the property owners.

A week doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t come up to me to this day. Two people last week asked me about this bill, asked me are we going to continue to move towards this type of property rights. And the answer is yes. That’s a critical aspect of it. We hear say we need to have a seat at the table. I actually have an email from a town council member that says, ‘Well, I haven’t been contacted by anyone.’ For decades I have heard nothing but complaints of the ETJ and abuses of view shed and [the Town of Boone] says, ‘We like the way your land looks, so we are going to regulate your land.’ The ETJ was not designed to be a regulatory limbo for eternity. It was designed to be planned for annexation. It’s not being used that way, and we are going to continue to pursue that both locally and the state level.

Photo by Ken Ketchie

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

Carter: I agree that private water is private water. If it is on private property, it does not need to be regulated. I have a 900 foot well at my house. When I dug that well, I had a grandmother that was bed passed, and their spring went dry. And he came over and asked me and said, ‘Roy can I carry water from your well over to my house.’ And I said, ‘No sir. That is my water. You can hook a hose to my well and run it over to your house to feed your entire house because if deny you water or make you carry water for your grandmother that entire well will run dry and I will have to dig another.’ I think we should share water freely. I don’t think we need to regulate our personal wells and so forth.

Soucek: Water is a precious resource. How long do you survive without water? Two days in a survival environment. At state level it is critical. I am going to go back to some of the first principles when I am looking at making decisions on legislation. What is the foundational principle I am looking at here and is that something that is important. Private property rights are important. I have already begun to express on a different issue how important private property rights are. Water: if you can’t put water in your land, you can’t build a house, can’t have a business, can’t have a farm. These are things that are essential to families, essential to business and it’s a private property and I stand firmly saying these are property rights that water shouldn’t be regulated controlled by the states but by the private property owner.

Two Minutes to Pitch Their Candidacy:

Carter: I think an informed electorate is the best electorate. Me and my opponent have some vast differences of opinion. I think we are both gentleman and I think we will handle it in a gentlemanly way.

I really feel like I understand the 45th and the mountain communities better than my opponent. I’ve been here for 68 years in the mountains. I am a born and bred mountain man. I taught school for 42 years. I don’t think that we need to pursue his so called 21st century education, which I shudder to think, that in an education department to have a child start in kindergarten in a virtual charter school and graduate from high school and never walk in a school house door. I think public education is the fulcrum that drives our economy.

If we do not have good public education from K-12 to all the way to university system, our economy is slowly going to die step by step. Our community college system: we have one community college in the 45th district but have four community colleges that serve that district. Wilkes has a branch is Ashe; Mayland over in Avery; Caldwell up here and in Caldwell; and Surry up in Alleghany. We need to empower our community colleges.

We not only need to empower our community colleges, but we need to grow our economy from the ground up. We need a coalition of business, local government, community colleges and a strong education system in order to build this and to bring industry in. And folks, industry is not going to come in the 45th district if we have a poor education system in the 45 district, and right now our education is great in the 45 district. But we are losing ground daily because of poor funding. Thank you.

Soucek: Thank you I appreciate this opportunity because I think it is wonderful when the community gets to listen to the opponents who are doing it in a very gentlemanly way and I appreciate this forum.

I’ve been there two years, and I have a record. I hope you will look at what I have said and what I have done, priorities. When you look at a vibrant economy, a sound budget, [inaudible], medical malpractice reform, balancing a budget, tax relief, these are the foundations of a healthy North Carolina, a healthy education system. I agree that education has to be the priority.

I submit to you two facets. One: in being in the majority, and two: in being a leader in the education community in Raleigh. What I am able to do – we may not be able to agree on all issues – but we do agree that I have a voice and an influence there, that I can bring to you the needed changes unlike anyone on this stage or anyone in recent history in Watauga County. I am committed.

I will work with anyone that we have an idea that says, ‘This is right for education.’ I am not as concerned with the education establishment; I think that is broken in a lot of ways. I am concerned with the education of our children, concerned with our teachers. I am willing to look across the nation.

I had a great meeting with 11 other education chairs form around the country, my opponent recently condemned trips I took but when I get a chance to sit with 11 education chairman from around the country and Bill Gates in a private room looking at some of the foremost initiatives in the country, in the world. That is time well spent, time away from my family, time well spent a way form this community so we can look at how we are going to bring the education into the 21st century.

This is not the Little House on the Prairie anymore where there is one little school house and one teacher sitting up front teaching all the students one subject at one time. In a digital learning environment we are looking at individual learning platforms, where a teacher can be an educational craftsman where the kids learning subjects at their pace.

It’s phenomenal. This brings North Carolina on par with the country and the world. We are not just dealing with our neighbors anymore. We are dealing with a world educational environment and I am willing to look at all those ideas that will improve education.