Without a strong economy, says Republican state Sen. Ronald Rabin, government will struggle to provide good schools, access to health care and other services.
Since winning election to the General Assembly in 2012, Rabin says, he’s helped steer North Carolina toward the goal of a stronger economy. The freshman state senator, retired colonel and former businessman is running to keep his District 12 seat.
Rabin’s opponent on Nov. 4 is Democrat Joe Langley of Angier, an IT veteran who helped write a computer program that helps North Carolina determine Medicaid eligibility. He says he’s running mainly because he is “tired of the bull” he hears from many politicians.
Senate District 12 includes all of Harnett and Lee counties and southwestern Johnston, including all of Banner Township and parts of Elevation, Pleasant Grove and Cleveland townships. Two years ago, Rabin won the newly drawn district with 51 percent of the vote.
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In interviews, one issue the candidates spoke passionately about was hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the process of high-pressure drilling to extract natural gas from shale rock. Lee County is among those North Carolina counties thought to have natural gas deposits.
Rabin said fracking will lead to energy independence, meaning lower energy costs and economic growth. It’s cheaper than energy from the sun and wind, he said, and the legislature will make sure companies that want to frack have the means to do so safely.
Liberals and environmental groups have spread a lot of misinformation about fracking, Rabin said.
“I don’t see why people would think that all of these good people who represent the state ... that they would think we have evil intents in mind at all,” he said. “We are doing due diligence 100 percent. There is no doubt in my mind that we are going to have the best rules and best legislation in the United States.”
Langley strongly opposes fracking. The chemicals used in drilling are dangerous, and if they spill, they can damage the environment, he said.
Protecting North Carolina’s water sources is more important than natural gas, Langley said.
“Given the fact that we are drilling a mile down into the ground, and we're injecting known cancer-causing chemicals into the ground, if we have an accident, what is the plan for cleanup?” he asked.
Langley said he would leave it up to each county to determine whether to allow fracking.
North Carolina said no to federal dollars that would have enrolled another 500,000 people in Medicaid, the federal health-insurance program for the poor. Gov. Pat McCrory, state Senate President Phil Berger and state Speaker of the House Thom Tillis were all initially opposed to Medicaid expansion; McCrory and Tillis now say they are open to the idea.
Rabin opposes Medicaid expansion, saying North Carolina would not be able to afford expanded coverage when the federal dollars inevitably ran out. Instead, he said, a state Senate committee is looking into options for improving health care in a way that works for North Carolina.
“(We are going to) study it, look at it entirely and come up with the solutions that are best for North Carolina,” Rabin said.
Langley said that because North Carolina declined to expand Medicaid, the state’s hospitals are struggling. As an example, he noted that Harnett Health has laid off employees amid considerable financial losses.
“It will affect all rural hospitals if we don’t accept that funding,” Langley said.
Taking the Medicaid funding could open doors for other opportunities in North Carolina, he said.
“If we accept that money, the state of North Carolina itself will be on more sound footing, and at that point maybe we can afford to get teachers and state employees the money they need,” Langley said.
The candidates did agree on one thing: Medicaid reform and fraud prevention have to be top priorities.
Job growth: To create jobs, the state must have a business-friendly environment, Rabin said. That means lowering taxes, controlling spending and getting rid of excessive regulations on small businesses. Langley said the key to job growth is educating children for the jobs of the future, which he said are in science, technology, engineering and math.
Education: Both candidates said the state’s teachers need to make more money. Rabin said he is looking forward to the results of a state Senate review on the effectiveness of the core curriculum in North Carolina’s public schools. While he wants public school education to improve, he said he’s also a proponent of charter schools and homeschooling to foster competition. Langley said teachers need higher wages.