Coates, Fisher face off in 77th N.C. House District

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
A pair of long-time politicos are squaring off for the N.C. House District 77 seat.
Rep. Lorene Coates (D-Rowan) is seeking her fifth term of office while Dr. Ada Fisher, a Republican, is her challenger. Both women have been involved in politics for years.
Coates, 72, first won election in November 2000 by defeating longtime Republican incumbent Charlotte Gardner. She has since been re-elected three times, winning in 2004 and 2006 with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Prior to running for office, she was district management specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an organization for which she worked 42 years. She also wrote a weekly newspaper column and had three local radio programs on farm topics before her retirement.
“I still have some things I need to work on,” Coates said of her decision to seek another term. “I want to continue working to improve our roads and our school system. I’ve got plenty to do.”
Fisher, 60, is a retired physician, having worked for the Hefner VA Medical Center and elsewhere. She is a former member of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.
Fisher ran for the 12th Congressional District in 2004 and 2006, unsuccessfully opposing incumbent Mel Watt on both occasions.
Fisher also ran for the U.S. Senate seat held by Salisbury native Elizabeth Dole. This is Fisher’s first bid for the N.C. House.
She said she considered running against Watt again this year but decided to seek a House seat because family commitments made her want to remain closer to home instead of living in Washington, D.C.
“I believe in taking care of my family,” Fisher said in January when she announced she would be seeking a state House seat rather than making another bid for Congress.
Coates and Fisher both addressed a number of similar concerns when discussing why they’re seeking the District 77 seat.
Both said they’re concerned about the problem with illegal aliens, an issue that’s especially important to Fisher.
“Illegal means illegal,” she said.
Fisher said the state offers benefits to illegal aliens ó educational opportunities at the community colleges and driver’s licenses were two examples she noted ó that are not so easily offered to law-abiding citizens.
She said she’s read that four of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks had North Carolina driver’s licenses that they obtained illegally.
Fisher also said a recent case of tuberculosis reported in Charlotte was traced to an illegal alien.
“We need to close the gap,” Fisher said. “I’m disgusted that officials are not following the law.”
Coates agreed that problems with illegal aliens are numerous, but said steps have been taken to rectify the situation.
She noted that a bill has been passed making it illegal for anyone to get a driver’s license unless they’ve got a Social Security number.
Also, Coates noted, laws have been passed forbidding anyone from getting a state job unless they’ve got a Social Security number and another law passed banning illegal immigrants from attending community colleges unless they pay out-of-state tuition.
“We’re addressing the issue,” Coates said.
Coates and Fisher agreed that replacing the Yadkin River bridge is important.
Coates said that in the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan, the new bridge is funded only as a toll bridge. “I think we can do better than that,” she said.
Coates said it’s time to seek additional federal funding for the bridge and go through “every cubby hole in Raleigh” in search of more money for the project.
“It’s very important not only for Rowan County, but also for the entire eastern seaboard,” Coates said of a new bridge.
Fisher agreed. She said she supports petitioning the Office of Homeland Security for money to help pay for a new bridge, seeing as how some state administrators have argued the bridge is a prime target should terrorists opt to attack again.
Fisher said the Department of Transportation is in dire need of an overhaul, noting that under its present operation, funding for roads and bridges depends more on political connections than need.
“Right now, whoever has the political pull gets the bridge,” Fisher said.
She said she also opposed a toll bridge, saying, “People can’t pay for gas, much less a toll.”
Coates said she’d work for creating better jobs by uniting the efforts of the community college system with the Employment Security Commission and the N.C. Department of Commerce.
“We need a workforce that’s employable,” Coates said.
She said it’s important to get the pay of public teachers to the national average. Coates said that while improvements have been made, there’s still work to be done.
Fisher said the issue of a third of all students quitting school before graduating high school needs to be addressed. She said she supports a move back to the basics of education.
“Whatever became of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic?” Fisher asked.
She said she all but supported banning computers from schools until after the sixth grade so children would learn those basics rather than spend their time pounding computer jargon like “LOL” and “ROFL.”
Fisher said a nation must have a manufacturing base in order to exist, and said the United States has drifted away from that, moving too far into the service sector.
She said students have been sold a false bill of goods, told too often that a GED or college education is their key to success.
“What are our employment options?” Fisher asked. “We need a jobs race like the space (race) we had when I was a kid.”
Coates said she supports maintaining and preserving farmland, noting that she was raised on a farm and still lives on part of her grandfather’s farm.
“I love it out here,” she said. “It’s important not to have a strip mall on every corner.”
Fisher said North Carolina’s climate changes make it a perfect state for farming and said a return to our agricultural roots is important.
“We need to encourage farming as a noble occupation,” Fisher said.