Three Republican candidates are attempting to set themselves apart in the hope of winning the May primary and going head-to-head with N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp for his seat in the state House.
After three uncontested elections, Rapp will now face opposition from one of three Republican candidates in the November election. The popular Democrat has represented the 118th District — covering Madison and Yancey counties as well as the Canton, Clyde and Maggie Valley areas in Haywood County — for 10 years.
All three Republican candidates subscribe to the main party lines in a few respects: pro-life, anti-gay marriage and cutting down state regulations on businesses. However, each has different degrees of experience and has one or two distinct issues that they are passionate about.
• Michele Presnell, 60, has served as Yancey County Commissioner for two years and owns Serendipity Custom Frames in Burnsville. She is also the wife of former state senator Keith Presnell and mother of three grown children.
Because of her time as a commissioner and the knowledge she gained about state government as a state senator’s wife, Presnell said she is most qualified candidate.
“I think I am the only one who can beat him (Rapp),” Presnell said.
A key goal of Presnell is to pass legislation, requiring residents to present some form of identification when voting. The measure will cut down on voter fraud in the state, Presnell said. Rapp voted against a bill that would have compelled voters to bring identification to the polls.
Presnell also spoke in favor of Amendment One, which would insert a clause in the state constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. There is already a state law against gay marriage in North Carolina, but Presnell said it is not enough, and the constitution must be changed.
“The problem is: you get a judge out here who is very liberal, and he can decide that he doesn’t like that, and he can change it,” Presnell said. “If we change our constitution, that makes all the difference in the world right there.”
• Jesse Sigmon, 63, is a retired field officer with the Department of Revenue and now works part-time at Builders Express in Mars Hill, where he currently resides. He and his wife have five children. Sigmon ran unsuccessfully for state office in 1998 and again in 2000.
Because of his experience enforcing tax regulations with the Department of Revenue, Sigmon said he is passionate about maintaining the state’s current tax levels. Increased taxes are turning the U.S. into a welfare state and “eroding our work ethic,” Sigmon said.
Sigmon listed his time in the construction business, working with small business and his knowledge of state tax regulations as key items that set him apart from his competition
“I know the tax code like I know my grandchild’s face,” he said.
Sigmon said Presnell’s limited experience as a county commissioner and Ben Keilman’s youth give him a leg up in the race.
During a Haywood County Republican Party event last week, Sigmon emphasized that the country was built on Judeo-Christian principles — something that state and federal leaders need to remember when making decisions.
“We’re a Christian nation, always have been, but our founding fathers recognized that we had to have religious tolerance for all religions, but we can’t swap ours for Mohamed,” Sigmon said. “Nations who don’t maintain a cultural heritage do not survive … ours is Judeo-Christian religion. Everybody else we tolerate.”
“You don’t think like Asians or Orientals or Mohamed. You think like a Western Civilization person, don’t you? All your friends do and we accept the other religions,” Sigmon said, echoing a theme that has become a standard talking point for him on the campaign trail.
• Ben Keilman, 23, is a Canton resident and Pisgah graduate. He recently graduated with a political science degree from the UNC- Chapel Hill, where he was active in College Republicans. Keilman currently works for his father at Asheville Cabinets.
Although he is the least experienced of the three candidates, Keilman said he is not the least qualified and should not be counted out because of his age.
“Teddy Roosevelt, if you recall, was 23 years old when he got elected to the Michigan state House of Representatives. He was actually the most active member, writing more bills — more conservative bills — than any other,” Keilman said.
Legislation that Keilman would like to work on if elected would allow North Carolinians to opt out of “Obamacare” and No Child Left Behind. States have the right to challenge such mandates, he said.
“The constitution is supposed to restrain the federal government through separation of powers and through the doctrine of enumerated rights,” Keilman said.
Rather than focus on his lack of professional political experience, Keilman commented that he has no experience as a corporation crony and is too young to be in the pocket of big business. And, when people talk about making the world better for their children, Keilman pointed out that he is one of those kids.
“If you want someone who is going to make sure that the (future) is good for your children, vote for me because I have to live with it for the next 70 or 80 years. This is my life,” he said.
Keilman said he is the most committed to the race and is out among the communities talking with constituents — two factors that he said would also help in the general election against Rapp.
“I am the one with the organization. I am the one with the ideas and the planning,” Keilman said. “I have the energy to actually get on the ground with my boots.”
Do I vote in this race?
Haywood County voters in Canton, Clyde, Bethel, Cruso, Fines Creek and Crabtree vote in this race. Most voters in the Ivy Hills precinct do, too, but part of Ivy Hills lies in another House district so your best bet is to call the Haywood County Board of Elections and ask them to check your address. As a rule of thumb, Maggie Valley proper and Jonathan Creek are in this House district but the Dellwood area is not.
You also vote in this race if you live anywhere in Madison or Yancey counties.