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Republicans off to the races in NC-14

Eight Republicans shared the stage at a forum in Franklin on Feb. 5. Cory Vaillancourt photo Eight Republicans shared the stage at a forum in Franklin on Feb. 5. Cory Vaillancourt photo

The first Republican forum in the NC-14 congressional race may have been light on specific policy proposals, but the eight declared candidates in the race to replace Rep. Madison Cawthorn wasted no time introducing themselves to the GOP faithful in advance of the all-important May 17 Primary Election.

Rod Honeycutt, Wendy Nevarez and Bruce O’Connell all declared their candidacies long before Cawthorn’s surprise Nov. 11 announcement that he’d seek election to a newly-drawn district instead of the old NC-11 district that elected him in 2020. 

Since Cawthorn’s announcement, retired financial services manager and Asheville Airport Authority Chairman Matthew Burril, three-term Hendersonville Sen. Chuck Edwards, Highlands real estate developer Ken McKim, former NC-11 GOP Chair Michele Woodhouse and Buncombe County social worker Kristie Sluder have all joined the field. 

Now, each of them are attempting to position themselves so as to appeal to the various ideological and professional constituencies that make up Western North Carolina’s GOP electorate. 

Honeycutt, a retired Army colonel, gave the audience the choice between “ties and suits or dog tags and boots.” Nevarez, through her answers on guns and abortion, fancies herself the most progressive. O’Connell, operator of the Pisgah Inn, touted his history of standing up to the federal government. Burril demonstrated a pro-business, finance-oriented profile. Edwards leaned heavily on his experience in the General Assembly. McKim thinks he’s the most conservative — it says so on his campaign signs. Woodhouse, who’s received a few contributions from Cawthorn, sounds a lot like him, and Sluder brought a social services perspective. 

Over the course of three hours, nearly 150 people in the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin heard candidates agree on two main points — the U.S. Department of Education must be dissolved, and the events of Jan. 6, 2021, were not an insurrection and were not attributable to Cawthorn and then-President Donald Trump. 

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Candidates also universally decried HR 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that became law last November, complaining that much of the bill wasn’t related to infrastructure. O’Connell and Nevarez were the first to call for the elimination of large omnibus bills like the Infrastructure Act, while Woodhouse shamed the 15 Republicans who voted for it. 

A softball question lobbed at candidates about whether Congress could or should pass a nationwide constitutional carry law drew mostly predictable answers, but also drew the first shots of the campaign. 

“Any time a question starts with, ‘Should the federal government …’ my answer is traditionally going to be no,” said Woodhouse, in support of the right of states to determine their own gun laws. 

Edwards, who along with Woodhouse is perceived as one of the frontrunners in the race, fired back. 

“I heard a statement up here a while ago that I really have to disagree with,” he said. “I heard it’s the state’s right to control gun laws. I adamantly oppose that statement. It is no right of any entity to control gun laws. Our Second Amendment is guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States. Our right to bear arms shall not be infringed. It’s quite clear.”

A similar “states rights” question was also pitched to candidates about abortion: if the landmark 1971 Roe v. Wade ruling is overturned, should the federal government pass an anti-abortion law? Most candidates danced around the question, but Honeycutt — who’s served in combat zones across the globe during his long career — said that there’s no asterisk on the Sixth Commandment. McKim proposed a constitutional amendment, and Nevarez, the outlier, said that passing federal legislation would open a Pandora’s box. 

Later, in another shot at Edwards, O’Connell praised him but asked why he’d gamble the influence he carries in the N.C. Senate to run in a race that, if he lost, would put the powerful Republican out of government for at least two years. 

Woodhouse also got in on the act with a dig seemingly directed at Edwards when she said that Republicans would take back the House and Senate in 2022 but pleated-pants country club Republicans would have no place in that Congress. 

 As some Republicans were busy needling each other, McKim became the first to name-check an eventual Democratic opponent, opining that it would be Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. 

Perhaps the most significant question — at least, to the organizers of the forum — was oriented around specific policies that would set young people up for success. 

Honeycutt joked that as the father of three children in college, his checking account was “going the wrong way.” Edwards thinks that building a wall on the nation’s southern border and balancing the federal budget would be a good start. Sluder pushed broadband as a catalyst to economic development, but it was Burril who offered a surprisingly progressive solution. 

“The federal government does not need to be making money on student loans,” he said, demanding an end to penalties, interest and garnishments and prompting the exploration of debt forgiveness through internships. 

The Smoky Mountain Young Republicans, hosts of the forum, have plans for more. 

Watch the NC-14 congressional forum in its entirety by visiting the Smoky Mountain Young Republicans Facebook page. 


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1 comment

  • I am curious why Mr. Cawthorn did not participate in this forum.

    posted by Elaine Slocumb

    Thursday, 02/10/2022

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