By Moe Davis
I urge voters in the 11th Congressional District to look beyond party labels and loyalties and to ask themselves whether they are satisfied with where they, their families and their communities are at this moment.
And whether they believe we have the potential to do better.
Despite claims by President Trump and Mark Meadows about a booming economy, the good times are not rolling across Western North Carolina. It is true that unemployment is low, but it is a fact that poverty in 15 of the 17 counties – all but Henderson and Buncombe – is higher than the national average and in several counties about one of every five residents lives in poverty. A lot of people have jobs (often two or three jobs), but many are not earning a living.
The percentage of Western North Carolinians who do not have healthcare coverage is significantly higher than the national average across the entire district. While nationwide about one person in 10 lacks healthcare coverage, in several of our counties the rate is nearly double and is closer to one in five with no coverage. That is due in large part to the Republican-led state legislature refusing to authorize Medicaid expansion, a position that the Graham County Commission and Waynesville Board of Aldermen have urged the legislature to reconsider. Additionally, many in our area have inadequate healthcare coverage and could find themselves saddled with a pile of debt if a serious illness or accident occurs. Nearly six out of 10 individuals nationwide who file for bankruptcy cite medical debts as a reason.
When I grew up in North Carolina during the Terry Sanford, Dan Moore and Bob Scott era, we prided ourselves on our good schools — I am a product of the North Carolina public schools and universities system. Now, children in our rural public schools rank in the bottom third of the nation in reading and math skills, and the decline in educational achievement is mirrored by a decline in funding for education. Take Swain County, for instance, where local funding per student is $424 per year while the statewide average is $1,652 per student. In Orange County, which includes Chapel Hill and the western suburbs of Durham, funding per student is 11 times greater than in Swain County. Further compounding the problem is a lack of broadband internet access. Over 90 percent of Americans have access to high-speed broadband, but in several of the counties in our district the rate is 60 percent or less. Our school children cannot compete with their peers if they do not have access to the tools that are commonplace nearly everywhere else.
All of the Republican contenders to replace Mark Meadows pledge their loyalty to President Trump. The Trump agenda has been great for Wall Street, but not for Western North Carolina. President Trump promised that he would eliminate the national debt by 2024. Instead, he has increased the debt by $3.5 trillion dollars in his first three years in office and his proposed budget will continue adding $1 trillion dollars a year to the debt for another decade. We could put an end to deficit spending if we repealed the Trump tax cuts that made the rich richer and enabled big corporations like Amazon to make billions in profits while paying less in income tax than the average Amazon warehouse worker.
We could begin paying down our debt if we reoriented our approach to fiscal policy. Take the defense budget — $750 billion dollars annually — as an example. Congress routinely forces the Pentagon to buy expensive equipment and sustain expensive programs that the military does not want and that do little to enhance national security. Additionally, at the end of the fiscal year, every federal agency rushes out to buy things to make sure their budget is fully spent so future funding levels can be maintained. The biggest obstacle to fiscal responsibility is our approach to fiscal policy.
Too often people are persuaded to vote against their own interests by phony appeals to their religious convictions and patriotism. Despite efforts by some to deny that facts are facts, all you have to do is look around you to see that Western North Carolina continues to fall behind. With a primary election on March 3 and a general election on November 3, this year is an opportunity for voters in the 11th Congressional District to decide that we can do better and to lean forward like we have done before.
Our future depends on it.