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Face-off on stage at WCU covers full spectrum of political talking points

In a debate that focused on everything from Iran and health care to equal pay for women and earmarks, Congressional candidates Republican Mark Meadows and Democrat Hayden Rogers pushed back from the similarities that people draw between the two conservatives.

The candidates answered a series of 12 questions during the 90-minute debate at Western Carolina University, which marked one of the final opportunities for voters to see the two men battle for their votes.

Meadows is a 52-year-old Realtor from Cashiers. Rogers, 41, is a Brasstown resident and former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville. The two candidates are vying to represent the 11th District and fill Shuler’s seat.


Health care

The two candidates differ on the Affordable Care Act: Meadows wants to repeal it, while Rogers doesn’t.

That said, Rogers doesn’t necessarily support the bill in its current form. Shuler voted against the law twice. “We didn’t think the bill did enough to curb costs,” said Rogers, who served as Shuler’s chief of staff at the time.

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Rogers said he also would have voted it down, but now that it is passed he would not work to repeal it. There are good components to the bill, including reducing the cost of medicine for senior citizens and preventing people with pre-existing conditions from being denied health care, Rogers added.

If the bill were repealed in one fell swoop, then the positive effects of the act would be negated as well while Congress tries to come up with another health care reform bill, Rogers said. Instead, representatives should work to revoke specific items in the bill that they disagree with, he said.

Meadows, on the other hand, wants to repeal the entire health care act. He took issue with a 15-person advisory panel, which was setup by the law to review Medicare and look at ways to cut costs. Republicans have called it a death panel that will limit Medicare coverage for seniors.

Meadows said people need to look at ways to solve health care problems from within the private sector. Meadows accused Shuler of not voting for the health care bill not on principle but simply because his vote wasn’t needed to pass it.

Moderator Russ Bowen of WLOSin Asheville asked Meadows if he could work with the other side to revise the health care act.

Meadows responded that he will be able to find common ground with members of the Democratic Party and cited his job as a Realtor, in which he brings together a buyer and seller who have different ideas about price.

However, Rogers took a moment to bash his opponent, saying the Republicans would get rid of all the good things the Affordable Care Act did.

“It is absurd to think there is one bipartisan bone in Mr. Meadows’ body,” Rogers said. “The ultimate goal is to fix health care. If you let your political motives drive you in getting there, you are going to miss the mark.”



The attacks from both sides continued as the candidates tackled a question about education.

Meadows said he favored taking power away from the federal Department of Education and bringing decision making back to the state and local level. States should be responsible for curriculums and education funding, Meadows said. 

Rogers countered, asking the room if anyone actually knew everything the Department of Education does. Rogers cited his own educational experience, saying he never would have been able to afford Princeton tuition without federal loans and grants that are awarded by the Department of Education.

“I don’t think Jackson County can help with that,” Rogers said, harping on Meadows’ comment that states and counties should put more money into education.

Meadows responded that he doesn’t want to get rid of federal loans.

“I have never said that,” Meadows said.


Equal pay for women

When the matter of equal pay for women arose, Meadows and Rogers once again found themselves at odds.

Both said they favored equal pay for equal work for women; however, Rogers indicated that he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Act, whereas Meadows does not. The Lilly Ledbetter Act, passed in 2009, extended the length of time in which women can sue an employer for pay discrimination.

Previously, women had to take legal action within 180 days of their first paycheck even if the discrimination continued with later paychecks. Proponents of the act argued that many times women do not find out about the discrimination until after the 180-day window.

“Business people make business decisions, and quite frankly if they could hire all women for a fraction of the cost of men, there wouldn’t be any men. The unemployment among men would be much greater than among women because business people are going to go and find the lowest cost,” Meadows said. Meadows likened it to the hiring of undocumented workers because of their cheap wages. 


Welfare programs

When the conversation turned to welfare, both Meadows and Rogers agreed that a safety net is necessary but actions should also be taken to keep people from mooching off the system.

Rogers said he would support making welfare recipients volunteer so many hours for the money they receive. Rogers also stated the country needs to be more proactive, focusing on early childhood education and health programs that have been shown to decrease the number of people who end up on welfare later in life.

Meadows said the country needs to focus on creating more jobs to get people off unemployment and food stamps.

“I can even imagine my friend over here believes that 47 million people on food stamps is the best that we can do,” Meadows said, motioning to Rogers.

Meadows restated a falsehood perpetuated by presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign — that Obama eliminated the federal work for welfare program. Meadows said he supports reinstating the work for welfare program. However, the program is still in place, despite Romney’s claims to the contrary.

Meadows also supports drug testing for welfare recipients.


A nuclear Iran

The debate briefly touched on foreign policy — specifically the threat of a nuclear Iran. Meadows and Rogers both agreed that the U.S. cannot sit by and allow Iran to gain nuclear weapons.

“A nuclear Iran is the greatest national security threat that we have today,” Meadows said, later adding that he would favor aiding Israel in a first strike.

Rogers instead supports a U.S. military strike if necessary but said he does not want to commit troops for an extended period of time. Rogers said he would not want to wait until Iran was armed with nuclear weapons before taking action.


Accepting earmarks

While most questions were directed toward both candidates, each received one candidate-specific question. Meadows dealt with earmarks, which he has previously stated that he would not accept.

The government’s outlawing of earmarks was one of the best actions it has taken, Meadows said, and representatives need to weigh whether government money coming into the district is worth the price.

“Is it something worth borrowing money from China to do?” Meadows said, a nod toward the country’s growing debt — a topic that has ruled Republican stump speeches throughout the election.

Meadows said that earmarks would not likely be an issue for a new representative in Congress.

“The chances of bringing an earmark back to the district as a freshman are not good,” Meadows said.

Rogers agreed that earmarks had gotten out of hand, but said federal earmarks are not all bad. Some help support community colleges, fire departments and other services, he said.

“Western North Carolina and our very small rural communities are dependent on that federal aid,” Rogers said.

He added that earmarks don’t always mean that the government is spending more money but rather that dollars were re-appropriated from elsewhere.


Support for Obama

Rogers was next up for singling out. Bowen asked Rogers whether he supports President Barack Obama. Rogers did not publicly endorse Obama for president as many Democrats have. But Bowen simply wanted to know whether Rogers personally supported Obama.

Rogers, a conservative Democrat, said he wanted to focus on Western North Carolina, and the reason was not because he does not support the president.

“I deliberately chose not to take part in the federal election,” Rogers said.

Rogers said he would stand up for mountains values and not let a “D” or “R” affect his decisions if elected.

Meadows jumped at the chance, saying Rogers skirted the question about whether he supported Obama.

“I think it’s time to get an answer,” Meadows said. “Is Mr. Rogers going to vote for Obama?”

The debate became contentious when the candidates took a moment to accuse each other of not showing up for debates and forums at various locations in the district in a battle over who cares more.



Candidates field questions from SMN

The Smoky Mountain News asked Republican Mark Meadows and Democrat Hayden Rogers a short series of questions about pertinent topics not covered during the recent debate at Western Carolina University.

Excerpts from their answers are below, minus three questions they had the same answers for. Both candidates said they are pro-life, believe marriage is between one man and one woman and support a balanced-budget amendment.

Smoky Mountain News: Did you support the auto bailout and TARP?

Mark Meadows: “I don’t think it is the government’s role to pick winners and losers. If we continue to bail out companies, it only encourages large corporations to take greater risks knowing that they have a safety net in the form of the American taxpayer.”

Hayden Rogers: “On principle, I would not have supported any of the bailouts had I been in Congress during the time of their consideration. … however, I do believe that the economic restructuring of our automotive industry was an effective and important move that saved millions of American jobs directly and indirectly tied to the auto industry.”

SMN: Would you support the higher taxes for those making more than $250,000 per year if they were coupled with guaranteed spending cuts?

Meadows: “I believe tax increases of any kind are not the answer to our country’s financial problems. Cutting wasteful spending is where we need to focus.”

Rogers: “We must take a bipartisan, balanced, and comprehensive approach to deficit reduction, and that means all options, including revenue reform, must be on the table.”

SMN: Both of you say you support efforts to increase domestic energy production. How much should the country’s energy plan focus on renewable sources?

Meadows: “Certainly being able to find cost effective ways to use (renewable) resources are part of any overall energy plan. However, an over-emphasis with government subsidies on sustainable energy sources does not provide enough energy to meet our demands and lower gasoline prices. We must drill for oil and natural gas while allowing private research and development of more cost effective ways to produce energy.”

Rogers: “I would support a strong comprehensive national energy plan to achieve energy independence. That plan would include utilizing renewable energy resources. Investing in alternative energy not only puts our nation on a path to energy independence, it creates the potential for hundreds of jobs right here in Western North Carolina and helps keep energy prices low for families, small businesses, and farmers.”

SMN: Do you support public employee unions? Do you support private-sector unions?

Meadows: “In a job market where we compete for new jobs with neighboring states that putting an over-emphasis on unions and forced union participation will make us less competitive and will push jobs to Tennessee and South Carolina.”

Rogers: “I support the fundamental right to organize, but I also support the fundamental right of workers to make their own choices on whether or not to join a union without the fear of intimidation from an employer or labor leaders.”

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