State Politics

Tillis: NC should consider expanding Medicaid

U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis prepares for Tuesday’s forum.
U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis prepares for Tuesday’s forum. tlong@newsobserver.com

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis covered familiar ground in an appearance on a cable TV news show carried live Tuesday night: calling for fewer regulations and more security on immigration, terrorism and health issues.

He did offer more specifics on abortion, saying states should have the right to decide; Medicaid expansion, saying the state should consider it if financial controls are successful; and climate change, saying there’s not a simple explanation for what causes it.

The program on TWC News’ “Capital Tonight” comes two weeks before the election in a contest that has drawn national attention and is projected to be one of the first $100 million campaigns. Despite the money candidates and their supporters have spent, the race is still considered too close to call, with Hagan maintaining a small lead.

The event was originally proposed as a debate between Hagan and Tillis, one of several that various organizations had asked the candidates to participate in. In July, the Hagan and Tillis campaigns agreed to three debates, not including this one. After Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh did not meet the polling threshhold, he was not invited and the debate turned into an evening with Thom Tillis. It was sponsored by TWC, The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer.

The two newspapers chose not to participate a few minutes before the event started after learning that an empty chair would be placed on the set.

“We had an honest miscommunication with Time Warner Cable News,” said John Drescher, N&O executive editor. “We wanted to have a serious discussion with Mr. Tillis about the issues without any gimmicks. My understanding was that we would tell viewers every 15 minutes that Sen. Hagan had declined our invitation but that we would not have an empty chair.”

Haugh showed up to watch the program and delivered a separate, five-minute rebuttal shown on TV afterward.

TWC’s Tim Boyum and Loretta Boniti handled the Q-and-A portion of the program while the second half-hour was composed of questions from people around the state, including pre-taped videos. One questioner asked whether Tillis could balance his own checkbook. He responded that his wife was the chief financial officer in the family.

Highlights of the night included:

Abortion: Asked if states should be able to ban abortion, Tillis said states, not the federal government should decide.

Gender gap: Polling has shown that fewer women support Tillis because of his opposition to such issues as equal pay mandates. A bill proposed by Democrats last year to ensure equal pay never advanced in the state House, where he is the leader.

In response to a question about that, he said: “It’s regulatory overreach that’s less likely to have an opportunity for women to make money, and more money for trial lawyers to sue businesses and line their pockets.”

Climate change: He was asked to clarify his opinion on whether people have caused elevated climate change. At a debate during the Republican primary, he said he didn’t think climate change was a fact, but afterward said the human impact wasn’t known.

On Tuesday, he elaborated by saying the question is to what extent humans are a factor in global warming and what the solutions to that are. He also said the United States is “a small player” in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and that China was worse.

He said there was a place for some regulations, including those that protect the environment. “I’m going camping next month just after the election. I love going outdoors,” he said. “I love clean air. I love clean water. I believe my colleagues in the House and the men and women in Congress do, too. ... But Sen. Hagan and President Obama seem to think that more regulations are a good thing. I think it’s destroying the economy and it’s destroying jobs.”

Medicaid: Asked if he thought it would be likely that the state legislature would expand Medicaid coverage after refusing to do so previously, Tillis said it might make sense once the state has better control of the financing of the program, which is notorious for its cost overruns.

He said he didn’t have an ideological objection to expanding the coverage. But he said when the state auditor told the previous governor that money was being wasted on it, the appropriate response would not have been to make it bigger and more costly.

“I would encourage the state legislature and governor to consider it if they’re completely convinced they now have the situation under control,” Tillis said.

Same-sex marriage: Tillis said he had not seen Senate leader Phil Berger’s announcement earlier Tuesday that he would introduce legislation protecting state officials who refuse to perform same-sex marriages based on religious exemptions.

“We have to worry about an assault on religious freedom in this country,” Tillis said.

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