Over the years Carpenter, R-Waynesville, traditionally has taken a hard-line, conservative approach to politics. Now, with a new role as a foster parent she has made education, protecting children from drugs and affordable health care her three top priorities.
“The more you get into it, you always are aware of the elements, but I don’t think I knew the day-to-day trials and tribulations the children being born with methamphetamines and other drugs or taken from raids, the devastation that’s piiing upon their lives,” Carpenter said.
While the state gives special attention and medical care to children born with HIV or AIDS, they have yet to update provisions for children born with meth in their system, Carpenter said.
“They’re behind the times,” she said.
Motivated to run again by what she calls a lack of representation in Western North Carolina, Carpenter appears to have taken a more measured approach and is appealing to those who favor strong social services. However, she says that the push for social reform — from more pay for social workers to more treatment centers for addicts — is not a change in temperament or politics.
“Why do you think I’ve served all this time?” Carpenter asked, referencing her background teaching emotionally disturbed children.
“I am not a politician, I am a stateswoman out to help this community and then the state be the best that they can be,” she said.
Currently Carpenter, 56, is fostering two children, a 15-month-old and a 5-year-old. She and her husband decided to become foster parents after hearing statistics of the number of children in need of homes and those who were being placed as far away as Raleigh due to a lack of local foster parents. Last month, Haywood County alone had 165 children in foster care, Carpenter said.
The duty is admirable; however, Haire questioned whether foster parenting and legislating could go hand-in-hand.
“My only question to that would be why, if she wants to do that, would she want to be in Raleigh for six months, four days a week?” Haire said.
Carpenter said that for the moment, the future is uncertain.
“Those are decisions that we have to make when the time is appropriate,” she said.
Being a foster mom also has given Carpenter a new window through which she views life. Everything — education, frivolous lawsuits raising medical care costs, job creation, domestic violence — goes back to the children.
“I’m just more passionate about it than ever before that we must get a handle on all of these things if we’re going to have a higher quality of life in Western North Carolina,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said she supports increased services but also a tax cut at the local level. She supports a homestead exemption tax cut, which traditionally applies to land held by families for generations. However, Carpenter would like to see the tax cuts broadened to apply to all primary residences.
Haire, D-Sylva, says voters have heard this type of “raise services, cut taxes” speech before, and does not commit to supporting a homestead exemption. Instead, he simply recommends further study of the issue.
In contrast to Carpenter’s far-reaching and broad-spectrum issues, Haire’s campaign has focused in on more locally based goals, including steep slope development.
Steep slope development has been a hot topic since 2004 when back-to-back hurricanes triggered several landslides and hammered home what geologists have been saying for years — the mountains are on the move.
“What I would propose to do is put in some kind of a bill,” Haire said.
The bill, to be written by a coalition of those in the housing industry and related parties, would potentially impose state regulations to limit what kind of land could be built upon.
“I want to work with the development people, but also I want to work with the people that are buying these homes so you don’t end up with a Hunter’s Ridge,” Haire said, referring to Haywood County homes that have now cracked at the foundation due to slope movement, leaving their owners homeless, with a mortgage, and no insurance to cover losses.
Also, Haire, 70, has targeted mobile home disposal — a topic that came up in 2004. Since then Haire has gotten the support of the County Commissioners’ Association for a program that would tax mobiles home similar to appliances. The money collected would go into a state fund counties could draw from to strip recyclable materials from the abandoned homes and dispose of the rest.
“I’m getting some seniority and because of seniority it means I can get more things done,” Haire said.
Haire’s negotiations with the U.S. Forest Services and Southwestern Community College in Sylva are one such example. Unable to expand due to steep terrain, SCC needed land the U.S. Forest Service occupied just to the west of campus. The Forest Service agreed to a land swamp, if the state could build them a new building, Haire said. Haire got $300,000 for planning and another $2.3 million to relocate the Forest Service to Greens Creek, meaning that SCC now has eight acres on which to grow.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Haire said.