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Education funding led the debate
At a League of Women Voters of Asheville and Buncombe County forum held Monday in Black Mountain, a crowd of about 60 voters some top-of-mind questions to candidates hoping to represent the eastern portion of Buncombe County in the N.C. House of Representatives.
On the list for Republican Nathan Ramsey, a dairy farmer and former chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, and Democrat Susan Wilson, an attorney and co-founder of the Family Visitation Center: education, voter IDs, women’s health and reproductive rights, environmental regulations, mental-health reform, taxes. For starters.
The two are candidates for District 115, a district that includes Barnardsville, Black Mountain, Fairview, Swannanoa and Weaverville.
But before he’d finished introducing himself, Ramsey held up a campaign mailer that, he said, Wilson’s allies sent out to distort his record on education funding in the county, a claim he said was incorrect and supported by figures from the Buncombe County Finance Department.
“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions,” he said. “Not their own facts.”
Wilson jumped in to talk about the status of education funding during her first comments, too.
“I want to see schooling remain a top priority of the General Assembly,” she said during her introduction. “It was not this past year.”
But Wilson countered Ramsey’s mailer-related claims, saying that she’d never seen the flyer he showed.
“I don’t have allies that I’m aware of,” she said, but, she added, there was a vote in 2003 that would have cut school funding, a vote that was “later mediated out.”
Even as the candidates staked out their opinions on voter IDs, tort reform and environmental reform, education — and, then, healthcare issues — remained a theme throughout the forum.
If voters sent him on to the N.C. House of Representatives, Ramsey said, “The first piece of legislation I will introduce is to make state funding go directly to school boards with some accountability standards, but let those local school boards make the decisions with the state dollars they receive.”
But before taxes should be raised, he said that he believed there were areas of redundancy and duplication, “especially in the university system, in the community college system, that we need to root out and become more efficient.”
Wilson countered, saying budget cuts already cost the area 88 teachers, additional teaching assistants and money for supplies, even as there were increases in insurance costs and the number of children enrolled in the school system.
“We need to refund our schools at an adequate level,” she said. “And we also need to look at our priorities and put children first.”
The two also discussed several healthcare issues, including whether they approved of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010.
This year, policymakers released a framework for how states should implement the expansion.
“The first five years, it’s a no-brainer,” Ramsey said. “I’m going to take free money whenever I can from the federal government.”
But Ramsey said that in North Carolina, as in many other states, Medicaid expenditures has been growing “far faster than any source of revenue they have.”
Ramsey said he would support U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) proposal to make the federal government take over Medicaid and, in exchange, “the states take over all transportation and school funding.” Alexander wrote an opinion piece about the idea in The Wall Street Journal.
Wilson said she supported the Medicaid expansion plan, later, when discussing mental-health care restructuring in North Carolina, saying that Medicaid poses a large challenge.
“First of all,” she said, “I would make the Medicaid match so we actually got the federal dollars that we needed.”
And, she said, proposals need to consider the ideas of those working locally in mental healthcare.
“Unfortunately, I think we have a lot of people who are talking about mental health reform and have never, never ever done anything in the field, so they don’t know how it’s conducted, what’s needed or how to go about it,” she said, adding that, with their input, a joint plan is needed to create a working system.
Coming up: Video from the entire debate, including Ramsey and Wilson’s thoughts on voter ID, tort reform and women’s health.
Visit ELECTION 2012 for Carolina Public Press’ election coverage.