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ENKA — For the first time since declaring their candidacies—and possibly the last before election day—candidates for state House District 116 Brian Turner and Rep. Tim Moffitt appeared before an audience Friday morning at a breakfast hosted by the Council of Independent Business Owners.
Nearly 200 business leaders and community members attended the event, held at the Enka campus of AB-Tech.
Along with Moffitt and Turner, candidates for House District 115, Democrat John Ager and Republican Rep. Nathan Ramsey participated in the forum.
Thom Tillis, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and current state speaker of the House, was also in attendance and delivered remarks.
Districts 115 and 116 are two of the three state House districts in Buncombe County, with 115 encompasses much of the eastern part of the county and 116 encompassing much of the west.
The meeting between Moffitt and Turner came after months of sound bites and statements between Turner, a Democrat, and the incumbent Moffitt, who is seeking a third term. But instead of fiery debate, the tone between the two was well-mannered, with the candidates agreeing with each other’s positions multiple times, while offering plenty of contrast on other issues.
Turner, who is seeking political office for the first time, used his opening remarks to state that characterizations of him being a “progressive liberal who is out of touch” could not be “further from the truth.” He also stated his desire to be elected because of a view that state lawmakers had “tipped out of balance” with the kind of leadership desired by constituents.
“When we have public schools where our kids are sharing textbooks that are 10 years old, we’re out of balance,” Turner said. “When major corporations like Duke Energy are getting a quarter-billion dollar tax cut, while small businesses are seeing their taxes increase, that’s out of balance.”
Moffitt presented himself as a conservative who helped build the current Republican supermajority in Raleigh, a feat that, until 2013, had not been achieved since the Reconstruction Era.
“When I went to Raleigh, our state was in shambles after being essentially run continually by one party for 140 years,” Moffitt said, before touting current unemployment numbers and recent tax policy changes. “… A lot of problems were before us. We’ve taken bold steps forward to get our state back on the right path, and the results are before you.”
Asked about the state of public education in North Carolina, Turner took the opportunity to emphasize the need for smaller classroom sizes. The candidate, who most recently served in a position as an assistant chancellor at UNC-Asheville, also said lawmakers should give more attention to improving the state’s public university system.
“We are undermining the economic future of this state if we do not look at how we’re treating public education all the way through,” Turner said, in response to the first question.
Moffitt countered Turner by pointing to his own experience, having been a student in public schools at one time.
“As someone who actually went to public school, the classes today are decidedly less in size,” Moffitt said.
On the topic of involuntary annexation, both Turner and Moffitt agreed that cities should be prevented from overreach in annexing communities whose residents had not had a say in the matter. The candidates also agreed that the Lake Julian plant owned by Duke Energy should remain open, despite some concerns after the recent coal ash spill near Eden, N.C.
Offered the chance to ask each other one question, Turner presented Moffitt with a hypothetical—if he were to unseat the representative in November, what “one law, program, or initiative” would Moffitt prefer to see him continue in Raleigh?
Moffitt’s reaction before answering drew laughs, as he was put at ease after expecting a pointed question from his opponent.
“I would like you to look at the body of my work and understand that the types of legislation that I have advocated for and put in place are those that are rooted in real sound, fiscal, conservative values,” Moffitt said. “Values that we share here in the mountains… I would ask you to not yield to special interests, but keep our community in mind.”
Moffitt then asked Turner if he would have supported a host of measures recently passed by lawmakers in the short session.
Alluding to a western staring Clint Eastwood, Turner said that while the budget included some “good” components—such as pay raises for state employees—he took issue with bills he described as “bad” and an “ugly” process of approval.
“The process by which it was voted on, as a business person, I would never sign a contract that I hadn’t read or understood,” he said. “So I don’t understand why anyone would look at a budget that landed on their desk that morning, that was 260 pages long, and then be expected to vote for it that afternoon.”
Closing the meeting, Moffitt offered himself to attendees as someone willing to continue the pattern of work he has shown.
“I’ve always been an advocate of limited government and an advocate of keeping ‘Big Brother’ out of your lives,” he said. “And I’d like to think that in the four years I’ve spent in Raleigh, that I’ve demonstrated those principles.”
Turner underlined his desire to bring eveness to Raleigh.
“I’m looking to bring a balanced approach,” he said. “Not just working across the aisle, but across the entire spectrum.”
The election for the District 116 House seat is Nov. 4.
Following the discussion by candidates for House seats, state House Speaker Thom Tillis delivered brief remarks.
Tillis, who is seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, spent the majority of his speech touting his work in the legislature, and made an effort to cast it as bipartisan—despite the rise of Republican supermajorities during his tenure.
“If you go back and take a look at some of the more controversial—or they were portrayed as controversial—bills, I think you’ll go back and see that in many instances, we had great bipartisan support on the agenda,” Tillis said. “And people ask me what I’m most proud of, what bill I’m most proud of. It’s not any one bill. It’s the fact that I count as friends and colleagues and people who have meaningful difference in policy, many of the Democrats who serve in the legislature. And that is something that is sorely missing in Washington.”
Tillis then took the opportunity to slam Hagan for supporting measures pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
According to a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll, Hagan leads Tillis in opinion among North Carolina voters by two points. The contest is among the most-followed in the nation, as the result could have an impact in which party controls the U.S. Senate following this year’s midterm. Hagan was not in attendance at the forum.
The election for U.S. Senate is also Nov. 4.
For more from Carolina Public Press on the 2014 elections, go here.