A candidate forum was held at the Agriculture and Education Building on April 24 by Yadkin County Farm Bureau for those running for the new State Senate seat. The new District 34 includes Yadkin and Iredell counties.
Justin Somers, president of Yadkin County Farm Bureau, welcomed guests to the event and explained the rules of the forum. Candidates were sent nine questions in advance and were allowed to use notes during the forum. Seven of the questions were asked during the forum, most of which pertained to rural and agriculture issues.
Each candidate also had two minutes to give an opening statement about themselves as well as minute for a closing statement at the end of the forum.
The first question candidates were asked was what they planned to do, if elected, to help generate increased economic activity in Yadkin County and its rural communities.
A.J. Daoud praised Yadkin County for its moving from tobacco farming to growing grapes and suggested that more marketing should be done to promote the area’s wine region. He said that the I-77 corridor could be a place to direct travelers to the area.
“I feel that there should be a tourist welcome center to drive everybody to Yadkin County to buy their products,” Daoud said.
Agri-tourism is what Bill Howell suggested farmers do to bring business to the county.
“It’s an activity where people who live in concrete and asphalt areas can come to a real working farm, and, for a price, they can shuck corn, pick strawberries, drive a tractor. These are things that you can do to increase your economy and it keeps money in your county and that’s an important thing.”
Candidate Beniah McMiller called farming Yadkin County’s gift and said taking that gift worldwide could boost the local economy. He suggested investing in cattle stock, gene banks and plant gene pools and selling those genes to third-world underdeveloped countries.
Growing the seaports and airports to allow for Yadkin County products to be sold “across the globe” is what candidate Bob Rucho said the state should work towards, as well as reform regulations so that farmers could “maintain a competitive edge.”
Increasing access to broadband is another area Rucho said the state should take an active role in to “help both individuals and small businesses.”
Vickie Sawyer also said that she had heard from area residents that access to broadband was an issue. She noted other states such as Kentucky, which she has researched, that North Carolina could use as an example to provide better access to broadband. Regulations on small businesses were also “very detrimental,” she said. Increasing the workforce through technical trade schools was another item Sawyer noted.
The candidates were asked how the state and local government could help people access quality healthcare at an affordable costs.
McMiller discussed the large bonuses that insurance company executives are purported to receive while denying claims of customers.
“We need to be able to expand the Affordable Care Act here in North Carolina,” McMiller said. “Right now, don’t be fooled, Obamacare is not real. There is no law on the books in America called Obamacare. You can’t repeal it, you can’t replace it. But the Affordable Care Act does expand Medicaid into rural areas.
“If you’re a farmer working in your field, do you really want to wait for an ambulance to come 15 miles to your home to get you, take care of you, and then drive 15 miles back to a medical facility? That’s 30 miles — you could be dead. Jesus said, ‘I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.’ If anybody tells you they want to take away the Affordable Care Act … they don’t deserve your vote and they’ve already missed your trust,” McMiller said.
Rucho said that “the people in Washington failed us in not repealing Obamacare.
“It’s very important for us to actually repeal Obamacare and move on to Health Savings Accounts and allow us to go ahead and be able to purchase insurance across state lines…,” Rucho said. “I think it’s also important to find a way … to preserve healthcare in rural communities to make sure that people don’t have to travel 70, 80, 90 miles …”
Sawyer said the rising costs of health insurance hurts. She said nonprofit healthcare facilities could be a solution.
“It is unfortunate that we do have large conglomerate healthcare companies that are buying and growing bigger and bigger …,” she said.
Stinson said that one option that could work is allowing people to purchase into Medicaid with a fee based on their income as competition to the insurance company.
“We’ve got to have more competition and it’s going to have be from a pseudo-government agency like Medicaid or form a cooperative,” he said.
Daoud said that “Raleigh has done nothing to open up the market, the free market, to competition.”
Howell said, “North Carolina has protected Blue Cross Blue Shield ever since I can remember.”
“If you’ve ever been down to Raleigh and seen their building you know what I’m talking about,” he said. “We have to create competition. President Trump is working hard to do away with some of these regulations so that a small insurance company, relatively small insurance company, like Farm Bureau can come in and offer health insurance and you won’t have to pay these exorbitant prices. We need to stop one company from getting all the contracts.”
Other discussion during the forum included the role of agriculture in the county, tax reform and regulatory reform for farmers as well as transportation infrastructure.
“It was informative. I wish more people had been here,” said Andrew Mackie, who attended the event.
Another attendee, Bradley Hardy, said he felt like he learned a lot.
“I think we had a good forum tonight,” Somers said at the close of the forum. “The candidates spoke on the issues that are important to rural North Carolina. When you live in a rural county like Yadkin, the farm issues are important to all people. They are the Yadkin County issues. I think the candidates hit on that and explained their positions well. I appreciate their time in coming out and taking time to answer our questions and meet with their potential constituents.”
The full video of the event can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyddKNWF_Y0&feature=youtu.be.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.