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Wednesday, 25 October 2006 00:00

Differences are obvious, say Haire, Carpenter

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

The candidates for the District 119 House race describe themselves as polar opposites.

 

Challenger Marge Carpenter, R-Waynesville, and Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, also criticize the other for voting the party line.

Haire points to Carpenter’s “extremely conservative right-wing agenda,” and Carpenter calls out Haire as an incumbent whose seniority has been used more to support embattled Democratic House Speaker Jim Black than to support his district.

“I would never vote for anything that took money away from people in the west,” Carpenter said. “A big difference is Phil does.”

Carpenter referenced the new state lottery as an example of Haire voting in favor of legislation that failed to give the region its fair share. The legislation distributes lottery funds for education based on county tax rates. Western district counties have some of the lowest tax rates in the state. Consequently, lottery funds are unequally dispersed and largely favor the Piedmont.

“It’s grossly unfair,” Carpenter said. “It doesn’t matter if you disagree or agree with the lottery, but how the funds are spent should be equal, not based on some formula that the Democratic bureaucracy decided would be better.”

Haire countered that the lottery bill was written to help raise education funds for the entire state.

“We have to look after all of our neighbors and friends in the state of North Carolina,” he said.

The legislation as it was originally proposed set aside money for low-wealth, high-tax counties. “Somewhere in the night,” Haire said, the low-wealth part was dropped. Haire said that the lottery was so new and with it being an election year, the last thing he wanted to do was try to manipulate the bill.

Rather, when the legislature reconvenes in January, Haire said he plans to lobby for change so that the western district isn’t penalized. The lottery will have been in effect for less than a year, there will be a bit of history as to how well it is operating, and it won’t be an election year, Haire said.

“Of course it’s going to be a heck of a fight, I understand that,” he said.

Pushing for redistribution will require “coalition building” between the western and eastern parts of the state, which both have lower tax rates but escalating property values.

Coalition building is an idea Carpenter also recommended in terms of western representatives banding together to work for the region as a whole. While serving in the state House — Carpenter and Haire served together in 2000 before redistricting drew a line across Haywood County and consequently in 2002 put Carpenter up against Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, to whom she lost the election — Carpenter said she worked with local Democratic representation to pass the Clean Smoke Stacks Bill, which aimed to improve air quality in the western mountains. Carpenter said the region’s representatives need to “have the backbone to stand up for their county and not just do what Jimmy Black tells them to do.”

Regardless of party lines, Haire said that Black was one of the region’s strongest proponents following hurricanes Ivan and Frances in 2004. Black supported the allocation of funds to the region, saying that the state stepped up for the East following Floyd and the same should be done for the West, Haire said. In turn, Haire was one of the primary sponsors of the bill that secured more than $400 million for recovery, the largest amount that the state has appropriated for any area as a result of a natural disaster.

Haire said Republicans are using Black — who has been accused but not convicted of campaign finance violations — as a campaign issue because they have little else to run on.

“Number one, I’m running my race, Black’s running his race,” Haire said. “Number two, Black’s not been indicted for anything. That’s the only issue that Republicans have to run on is anti-Jim Black.”

Haire credited the legislature — with Democrats as the moving force — for raising the minimum wage, capping the gas tax, cutting sales tax, prohibiting illegal immigrants from getting a driver’s license, raising teachers’ salaries, capping county portions of Medicaid reimbursements, giving state employees the largest raise in 16 years, and adopting strong sexual predator and domestic violence bills.

“I think that these things we did are consistent with what the majority of the people wanted in North Carolina,” Haire said.

Despite these achievements, Carpenter said there are two specific issues that are at the top of her legislative agenda — making healthcare more affordable and preventing illegal immigration. Haire has said both of these are national rather than state issues.

Carpenter said that she would like to see the state put caps on malpractice awards, as the state is losing doctors due to the high price of malpractice insurance. Carpenter tied Haire’s hesitancy to address malpractice caps and healthcare reform to his profession as a lawyer, noting his support from trial lawyer political action committees.

Also, Carpenter said the state should look into changing the law so that during trial medical costs that have been paid by a third party such as an insurance company may be disclosed. As it is, a patient may claim to have $300,000 in medical costs during trial without disclosing that part of those costs already were paid, sometimes prompting overly high damage awards, Carpenter said.

“To say it’s not a state issue, I believe it’s irresponsible and it’s passing the buck,” Carpenter said of medical reform. “Rep. Haire, with his comments of it being a national issue, makes me think that it’s not important to him.”

Haire said that the state already is working to address the issue and that the governor just approved a new plan called North Carolina Rx that raises the financial limits to qualify for prescription benefits. Also, small businesses may receive tax credits for contributions to employee health insurance savings plans.

However, Haire reiterated that health care is bigger than state legislation.

“It’s basically a national problem,” he said. “It’s the insurance companies that are driving it and the drug companies that are driving it and the Medicaid and the federal government that are driving it.”

Haire said that personally he had never seen a case where malpractice caps had positively affected the doctor’s insurance costs, nor read of any case where medical providers have in turn reduced costs to patients due to lower insurance prices. Rather than instituting caps, Haire proposed a system similar to social security in which residents paid a tax into a state pool to offset medical costs.

Carpenter also quoted Haire as saying that illegal immigration is a national issue, a standpoint she disagrees with.

“We’ve got a huge drain on your pocketbook and my pocketbook because illegal immigration hasn’t been taken care of,” she said.

Carpenter gave credit to an idea proposed by Republican Jackson County commissioner candidate Geoff Higginbotham to institute a county ordinance that would fine landlords who were found to be renting property to illegal immigrants.

“If that’s something that’s worked, then I believe that we need to address some of those alternative ways of helping,” Carpenter said of the plan and the idea that individual counties might work to combat the problem rather than pass the buck. “That’s so awesome.”

Carpenter favors giving local law enforcement the power to deal with illegal immigration issues — an idea that has been debated largely due to questions about whether local law enforcement has the time and resources to tackle what is now a federal task. Carpenter said that if such legislation were to be passed, she would support making funds available to law enforcement.

“One thing that I’m totally against is unfunded mandates,” she said.

Haire, however, said that illegal immigration is and should remain a federal issue, although a current Republican proposal to construct a border fence between the United States and Mexico “is absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

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