U.S. Senate Democratic nominee Deborah Ross kicked off the first of a few roundtable discussions Tuesday in this town, by emphasizing her desire to help working class citizens.
About 15 Garner residents, including Mayor Ronnie Williams, and council members Ken Marshburn and Jackie Johns, gathered inside the small Garner Florist shop on Main Street to discuss issues they were concerned with.
Among their concerns were how to address college debt, minimum wage, equal pay, veterans care and the GOP’s inability to work well with President Barack Obama in selecting a Supreme Court Justice.
While answering those concerns, Ross was not shy about criticizing what her opponent, incumbent Sen. Richard Burr, has voted against, including much of what she is advocating. She did so at least six times in her 15-minute discussion.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Burr is a two-term Republican senator from Winston-Salem. Ross, a former state House member from Raleigh, hopes to unseat him in November and put a Democrat back in North Carolina’s Senate delegation.
Ross said the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 since 2007, should be increased gradually, to make sure working people can feed their families.
Ross has said she wants to see the federal minimum wage increased to $12 an hour and indexed to increase with inflation in the future.
Ross also said she is for “equal pay for equal work for women.” Ross said Burr voted against that four times.
“Equal pay for equal work for women is just right and it’s fair,” she said, “but two-thirds of North Carolina families rely on a woman’s paycheck to just make ends meet. And so when you’re for equal pay for equal work for women, you’re for fairness and for justice, but you’re also for buying the groceries, making sure that kids can go to the doctor, making sure that families may be able to put a little bit away and save for college or for retirement.”
Williams, who asked Ross about equal pay, also asked Ross about her stance on veteran’s care.
Ross, who said her father was a doctor in the U.S. Air Force, said Congress needs to increase its benefits for veterans and not privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We just need to make sure to take care of people who have fought for freedom,” she said.
Rebecca Wakins, a spokesperson for Burr’s office, did not deny Burr voted against those issues, but she said Burr was a co-sponsor for Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s equal pay legislation. Watkins said Burr won over $24 million per year in additional education funding for low income children in North Carolina.
“Senator Burr’s formidable record of making critical legislative achievements for families in North Carolina includes reducing student loans costs for North Carolinians by over a billion dollars, allowing veterans to see any doctor of their choice when the VA has long waits, expanding access to child care for low income families, and lifting the disabled out of poverty,” she said. “Senator Burr is proud of his record and will keep fighting for North Carolina.”
Filibusters in Congress
Ross also criticized North Carolina’s current infrastructure, calling it “crumbled,” and said it posed a safety issue. She said having good infrastructure brings economic development by creating jobs and keeping them in the area.
“It also allows economic mobility. If you have good transportation, people can get to school and they can get to work,” said Ross, who left her job as general counsel for the regional transit agency GoTriangle to run for the Senate seat.
Dwight Rodgers, a Garner resident, said he was disappointed in the filibusters in Congress. He wants things to change, he told Ross.
“It affects people’s lives to the maximum, and (Congress is) getting paid for doing nothing,” Rodgers said.
Ross assured him that she knows how to work across party lines. She said she did so when she was representing Garner in the General Assembly. Ross said Burr hasn’t done the same.
The U.S. Eastern District of North Carolina has the longest-running vacancy in federal court, a post that has gone unfilled since Jan. 1, 2006 – the day after federal District Court Judge Malcolm Jones Howard semi-retired.
Though it is unclear why the post has not been filled for more than a decade, many speculate that politics and race have played a role. The Eastern District, which spans 44 counties from the capital to the coast, has never had a black judge seated in the district, though the population is 27 percent African-American.
Ross placed blame on Burr.
Last month, Obama nominated Patricia Timmons-Goodson, a former state Supreme Court justice and vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to fill the vacancy.
Almost immediately, Burr said he opposed the nomination and would not submit it to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“He’s just holding it off,” Ross said. “The bottom line is this: When you get elected, you get elected to serve the people, not to serve party interests. And I’m going to do my job. I did my job for Garner and I’m going to do my job for the U.S.”