In a recent interview, though, he said his candidacy is more about philosophy of government than the nuances of complicated issues.
“The choice is clear for the people of Western North Carolina,” said the Highlands Republican who ran for a seat in the Texas State Legislature — and lost — when he was 24. “They can vote for a conservative businessman or a liberal lawyer — that’s the decision.”
His reference to Snow is only partly correct. Snow was a private attorney for just a few years before becoming a District Court judge, a position he held for 27 years before retiring to run for the Senate.
McKim likes to wear his conservative credentials out in the open. The word appears twice in the first sentence of the biography distributed by his campaign. When asked what kind of response he is getting around the district, McKim said that his ability to connect with voters has everything to do with his message and his credentials.
“The public likes our message. The people in this district are conservative. The Democrats have quite a machine and will spend a lot. But we think we can spend half as much because our message resonates. If we can get it out, we’ll win,” said McKim.
McKim is working hard to get in front of voters in the sprawling 50th District, which stretches from Haywood County, down to Transylvania, and west to the ery southwestern corner of the state — that’s all or parts of eight counties. On a recent Saturday he got up at 5:30 a.m. in order to leave Highlands and be able to make it to an EMS breakfast meeting in Hayesville. His day continued with a March of Dimes event in Franklin before he made his way over to Cullowhee for Mountain Heritage Day and then the WCU football game that night. It was after midnight before he got back home.
What’s he hearing from voters?
Surprisingly, McKim says immigration has emerged as the issue voters are most passionate about. People are telling him they are concerned about how illegal immigration is affecting their counties, their communities and their jobs. It is the first issue he would tackle once in Raleigh, McKim said.
Most immigration laws are federal and handled by Congress, but McKim says that’s exactly the problem.
“The federal government has not stepped up and handled the problem, so the state is going to have to do something,” said McKim.
He congratulated the state legislature for passing a law this session requiring a social security number to get a driver’s license, but said more needs to be done. He advocates requiring a birth certificate to get a driver’s license. He also believes any immigrant arrested for a serious crime should be deported, or at least held in a detention center while awaiting deportation.
McKim attended a recent meeting in Macon County where 18 county departments were asked to put a dollar amount on how much services for illegal immigrants were costing.
“Only one — the Department of Social Services — knew. The rest said they didn’t know because they aren’t allowed to ask their clients if they are legal or illegal immigrants,” said McKim. “We need to at least be able to ask that question.”
McKim said North Carolina has the eighth highest illegal immigrant population because it’s easy to get a driver’s license here and because social agencies aren’t allowed to ask immigrants about their legal status.
Other issues important to McKim are the need to reduce business taxes and the need to operate government on a business model.
“We have not looked at the way state government is operated since 1971. We can operate more efficiently, so we need to look at that,” he said.
As for education, McKim said too many dollars are being taken out of the classroom.
“Teachers are doing an outstanding job, but they are being forced to teach to the test,” he said.
McKim also touted the need to focus on the university and community college system so they can graduate people able to work in the high-tech industries. Those industries will bring new jobs to the region, he said, but only if we have a skilled workforce.
He also criticized the lottery funding formula, which sends a larger portion of the money for school construction to eastern counties due to a funding formula that is based on the property tax rate.
“Sen. Snow could have held out his vote for a better formula. He made a bad decision for someone from this district,” McKim said.
While touting family values and conservative philosophies he says are inherent in the mountain region, McKim said some have criticized him for not being a “local.”
“My family, my business and my lifestyle mirror the lifestyle of this district better than my opponent’s,” said McKim.
McKim also criticized Snow for voting with the Democratic leadership 90 percent of the time and not standing for the people of the region.
“He votes how the Democratic Party wants him to vote,” said McKim. “He ran as a conservative Democrat but his voting record has not exemplified that.”