Candidates for U.S. House touted their policy prescriptions for the economy, health care and education during a civil debate Oct. 16 at Johnston Community College.
The debate, hosted by the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce, was an opportunity for voters to hear from Democrat Jonathan Barfield, Republican David Rouzer and Libertarian Wesley Casteen. Mike McIntyre, the Democrat who currently holds the 7th Congressional District seat, is not seeking reelection.
The relatively new 7th District stretches from Johnston to Wilmington and includes all or parts of 12 counties. Southeastern North Carolina is traditionally conservative, but a Republican hasn’t represented the area since 1881, when Brunswick County’s Daniel Russell served.
Casteen, a lawyer and accountant in Wilmington, kicked off the night by reminding attendees that ultimately, the decision is theirs.
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“We should not fear change, but we should plan for it and adapt to it,” he said. “The only real change will occur when both Democrats and Republicans realize they do not hold a monopoly on your vote.”
Rouzer, who served two terms in the N.C. Senate, continually emphasized the need to reduce government regulation on small business. He also said the country needs to do more to tap its natural resources.
“I personally know the Lord has not given up on this country yet,” he said.
Barfield is a real estate agent and pastor who has been a New Hanover County commissioner since 2009. He said Americans are tired of hearing from what he called the “Hatfields and McCoys” of politics and instead want representatives who will work well together and with the president.
“Our job is to make sure we can solve the problems of the community,” he said.
Rouzer said he opposes raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, saying that would place a hefty burden on small-business owners. He would instead support tapping America’s energy sources to boost the economy.
Raising the minimum wage would be “one more straw on the back of our small-business men and women, along with other regulations that are absolutely crushing them,” Rouzer said.
On the other hand, Barfield said, many workers have trouble making ends meet, and he said he would support raising the minimum wage.
“We’re always going to have haves and have-nots, but the have-nots have increased at a much bigger rate,” Barfield said.
The solution to the minimum-wage problem is to adjust it for inflation, Casteen said. That way, it will be able to keep up with the cost of living.
The candidates also expressed widely different views on the Affordable Care Act.
Barfield said he has seen even well-paid real estate agents struggle to afford their insurance premiums when sales are slow. He said he has been a proponent of the health-care law since day one.
“It’s a terrible day when you don’t cover those who need health insurance,” Barfield said. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself. There is no way you can do that if there’s no access to affordable health care for those that need it most.”
Casteen and Rouzer both said they oppose the Affordable Care Act.
Casteen pointed to the Veterans Administration scandal and the Ebola outbreak as examples of how the federal government “has proven itself incapable of socialized medicine.”
“The Affordable Care Act was a poor attempt to address a dire need,” he said. “It’s destined to fail, and by the time it finally fails, the result is going to be an even worse socialized medicine system.”
Rouzer said he supports “de-coupling” health insurance, which would allow people to carry their coverage with them when they change jobs. He also said medical-malpractice reform would reduce the number of lawsuits against doctors.
“Doctors have been sending patients through X-rays they don’t need to protect themselves from lawsuits,” he said.
Each candidate took a different position on immigration. Barfield said he supported a bipartisan Senate bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants after they meet certain obligations.
“If it was good enough for the first Americans who came here from England, why is that not good enough for people who want to come here as well?” he said.
Rouzer said he opposed such a pathway. Instead, he wants to reform the immigration system to give farmers the day labor they need during busy seasons.
“We need a visa system that works, where they can go, do the work they want to do and go home,” he said.
Casteen’s view was somewhere in the middle. He blamed the federal government for the immigration problem, saying not enough has been done to secure the borders. He opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants but said things get more complicated when illegal immigrants start families here.
“We have to acknowledge and recognize that their home is the United States,” he said of children to born to immigrants.
Student loans: The candidates had different solutions to the growing student-debt problem. Rouzer said people are having trouble paying their loans because of a stagnant economy resulting from the many rules and regulations placed on small business. Casteen said the problem is a lack of financial literacy among high school and college students. Barfield said he would support lowering interest rates on student loans.
I-95 tolls: Rouzer said he opposed tolling Interstate 95 because it would hurt the area’s small businesses. Barfield said he was open to the idea but noted that the money raised wouldn’t come close to covering the cost of maintaining the highway. Casteen said he too was open to the idea.
Education: Barfield said improvements in education will come after the federal, state and local governments learn to work together. Rouzer and Casteen said they want less federal intervention in schools.
Jobs: To boost job growth, Barfield said community colleges should partner with employers to train students for jobs that are in high demand. He also said the district needs more infrastructure in place to attract businesses. Rouzer said he would grow jobs by eliminating many regulations on small businesses and by tapping the state’s natural resources through fracking, which he said the energy sector has the technology to do safely and efficiently. Casteen said North Carolina can’t rely on the federal government to create jobs.
Stalemate in Washington: Both Rouzer and Barfield touted their bipartisan achievements – Barfield as a county commissioner and Rouzer as a state senator. Casteen said many good ideas in Congress have failed to make it to the floor because of partisan politics. If elected, he said, it would be his duty as a Libertarian to work with both sides.
Barfield added: “I often tell people that when you die, there isn’t a Republican and Democrat heaven or hell; there’s just one heaven and hell.”