Watauga County

N.C. Senate Candidates

Jeanne Supin (D)

  • Supin wants to expand medicaid and make it so everything is covered including treatment options for treatment for physical, mental, dental, vision, hearing, reproductive and addiction needs. She also wants to emphasize prevention, wellness, reproductive, child, adult and senior health.
  • She wants to “lead the green wave” to bring more jobs to places like Western North Carolina. Her plan includes making the richest corporations use some of their money to “revitalize our communities, climate and environment.”

Deanna Ballard (R – Incumbent)

  • Ballard believes that natural resources need to have good stewardship that’s balanced with economic growth to “help ensure future generations can enjoy the beauty and vitality of our area.”
  • She believes that when it comes to education, it comes down to “effectively addressing the concerns” of those at the local level. She believes spending tax dollars on education is a priority but it needs to be down thoughtfully.

N.C. House Candidates

Ray Russell (D – Incumbent)

What does an effective healthcare system look like to you?

First, the Federal Government provides the framework that each state must work within. The state legislature does not have the resources to design a healthcare system independent of that larger framework. The overriding principle is that every person should have access to access to affordable health coverage with a cap on out-of-pocket expenses. This is foundational for: quality of life, economic development, worker productivity and improved job opportunities, achieving educational goals, and so much more.

While designing the federal framework is not within the scope of a state legislature’s work, there is one simple step that North Carolina should adopt immediately: Expand Medicaid! The Affordable Care Act (ACA) covers individuals and families at or below the poverty level via Medicaid. Above 138% of the poverty level, the ACA provides insurance subsidies to make sure people can be covered. To cover the gap between those income levels (the poverty level and 138% of the poverty level), the ACA offered states a plan called Medicaid Expansion. In North Carolina, passing Medicaid Expansion would draw down $4 billion per year in federal dollars (90% of the cost). NC Democrats offered a plan for the remaining 10% of the cost to be paid for with an assessment on hospitals and insurance companies. (Hospitals and insurance companies agreed to this plan since they have so much to gain from Medicaid Expansion.) Since 2013, North Carolina has lost $28 billion dollars that could have paid for healthcare for families in this income gap. Medicaid Expansion would cover about half of the roughly 1.2 million North Carolinians who do not have health insurance now. Additionally, Medicaid Expansion would create 37,000 new jobs and increase business activity by $12 billion and roughly $600 million in new state and local government revenue. Rural hospitals are struggling financially across the state and would stand to benefit most. I co-sponsored two bills for Medicaid Expansion; Republicans have blocked these bills every year since 2013. To date, 39 states have expanded Medicaid including Republican-dominated states such as Utah, Montana, Indiana, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Expanding Medicaid is a moral and economic imperative for North Carolina. Beyond Medicaid Expansion, mental health resources across North Carolina have been defunded by the Republican majority during the past decade. We are seeing the negative effects of these bad decisions in our schools, families, and with implications for law enforcement and the court system. We must focus more resources on mental health.

While so much more could be said, I’ll mention just one more item… Integrated health centers need to become the norm across North Carolina. A health provider should be able to refer a patient to healthcare, mental health, or dental services under the same roof. This will go a far in creating healthier families and communities.

What plans do you have to boost North Carolina’s economy and address rising unemployment rates in the state?

Here is a list of items that we can do (or should have done) to boost North Carolina’s economy (and unemployment) now and for the long-term:

  • Expand Medicaid. (See the benefits listed in the previous question.)
  • We should have used Cares Act money to help businesses most impacted by Covid-19–gyms, amusement parks, bars, and others.
  • We should pass a Bond Referendum for large infrastructure projects (including the renovation of Wey Hall at App State). Right now, North Carolina has $8 billion in unmet K-12 construction and renovation needs. Municipalities are struggling to pay for water and sewer projects. North Carolina has the capacity for additional bond projects. Two bipartisan bills passed the NC House in the past biennium; however, these bills were blocked by the NC Senate. While credit is so cheap and jobs are needed, passing these bonds make great economic sense.
  • We should stop the 10-year decline in education funding in K-12, community colleges, and universities. Economic growth requires an educated workforce. Companies of all types struggle to find the skilled employees they need to prosper. That keeps existing business from growing and discourages others from relocating here.
  • Finally, we need to support workers by encouraging livable wages, paid family/sick leave, equal pay for equal work, and make sure working families have access to affordable child care.
  • Regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic, we must prioritize health risks and only then re-engage in economic activity that pose potential health risks.

How do you plan to address inequities related to testing for the black community that is harshly affected by COVID?

It’s clear that existing inequities in access to healthcare and economic status produce inequities in for black and brown communities. Governor Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of DHHS, have worked hard to address these inequities. Here are some initiatives they pursued and need to continue: 1) emphasized hiring public health personnel (especially those who do tracing of Covid-19 tracing) who are members of minority communities and Spanish-speakers, 2) directed funding for testing and other services toward minority communities, 3) focused policies and procedures for protecting construction and farm workers, 4) focused education and advocacy efforts for minority communities so individuals can be better informed about how to avoid high-risk activities, and 5) addressed the current health needs of minority communities, particularly maintaining good nutrition and health maintenance activities.

How do you plan to address unequal internet/broadband access across North Carolina?

I was a primary sponsor for the most aggressive broadband expansion bill ever proposed in North Carolina. This bill would have:

  • Established a $5 million Homework Grants pilot project;
  • Invested $85 million in the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program;
  • Expanded health benefit coverage of telehealth services;
  • Allowed local governments’ more authority to expand broadband to their citizens.

I co-sponsored and voted for bills providing grant money for companies to expand broadband into unserved areas. Currently, NC has $32 million in competitive grant money for expansion.

I also co-sponsored a bill giving rural electric cooperatives more flexibility to partner with broadband companies in expanding high-speed internet into rural areas.

Many students are concerned about student debt, do you have plans to address increasing student debt in the UNC system during the pandemic?

The Federal CARES Act directed $165 million directly to universities and half of that had to go directly to student assistance. Additionally, tens of millions in general CARES Act money went to universities from North Carolina’s share. I proposed a bill to provide relief to students and private landlords in the event that universities had to close campuses this Fall.

While Covid has our immediate attention, the decade-long trend for state funding of higher education is disturbing. Make no mistake about it… Republicans have reduced state support for universities and in turn raised tuition rates across most state universities including Appalachian State. At App State, state funding has been cut 24% in the past decade. During the same period, tuition at North Carolina schools is up 44.5%. It’s no wonder that student debt is soaring. One half of incoming students at App State need loans to defray costs. The average loan is now over $5600 per student. It’s unfathomable that access to higher education became more difficult at a time when the country was experiencing the longest economic expansion in history. Meanwhile, faculty and staff at App State have not received a raise in three years.

That’s State policy-makers need to carefully examine growing overhead and administrative costs, as well as costs that are not directly associated with academic programs. We must refocus on our core mission and focus resources there.

Ray Pickett (R)

  • Pickett wants to fix infrastructure in North Carolina and wants to audit the department of transportation. 
  • Pickett wants to continue to help make strides in bettering NC education and wants to work together “to find the best education outcomes for our students and prepare them for the workforce.”
Watauga County