Elect 2012: Political newcomer looks to challenge Watt in District 12

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Matt Newton’s political involvement began in earnest with the “Occupy” movement that swept the country last fall.
Now it takes the more traditional route in Newton’s challenge of U.S. Rep. Mel Watt in the May 8 Democratic primary.
On one hand, Democrats in U.S. House District 12 could choose Watt, who has been the sprawling district’s only congressman since he was first elected in 1992.
Yale Law School-educated, the 66-year-old Watt has two decades of experience on the House Judiciary and House Financial Services Committee.
In 10 general elections, he has never had a close call while voting 94 percent of the time with fellow House Democrats.
The other choice is Newton, 32, a self-described “upstart” who says the country has become a big divide between the haves and have-nots.
In his first election bid of any kind, Newton says he is not intimidated by Watt’s experience or the money behind him. Rather, he views Watt as a career politician — a symbol of the status quo and business as usual in Washington.
“It’s time to have a changing of the guard, so to speak,” Newton says.
The winner of the primary will take on Republican Jack Brosch, who is unopposed, in the general election.
The 12th District, whose lines have been redrawn by the N.C. General Assembly, includes parts of Rowan, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, Cabarrus and Davidson counties.
Rowan County has 42,641 people in the 12th District, or just more than 30 percent of the county’s population. But Rowan represents only 5.8 percent of the 12th District’s total population, while Mecklenburg and Guilford counties account for more than 75 percent.
A Charlotte attorney, Newton left the Occupy Charlotte movement in January and helped to establish the People’s Coalition of the Carolinas.
Watt says the Occupy movement was a good one, to a point. For a time, he says, it served as the only counterweight to the Tea Party.
“It was making people focus on issues on the other end of the political spectrum,” Watt says.
But the problem with both the Tea Party and Occupy movements became their lack of cohesive principles and leadership, Watt says.
Watt “absolutely” agrees with a sentiment that he belongs to a do-nothing Congress. “I can’t argue with that,” he says, “but neither can I take responsibility for that.”
There’s a political dynamic at play, Watt contends. The Republicans in majority who believe they shouldn’t even have a government are consistent, he says, with a government that does nothing.
“The politics is so divided, people quit listening to each other,” Watt adds. “I’m one of the few people who has tried to work across party lines and make things work.”
To create jobs from a spending perspective, the government can do a lot with the nation’s infrastructure, and the Yadkin River bridge project on Interstate 85 is a good example, Watt says.
“A lot of people out there are working who would not be otherwise,” he says.
Congress also can help with creating jobs in the private sector through trade, tax and innovation policies, he says.
Watt complains that the growing disparity between rich and poor is largely a function of tax policy. He says the country no longer has the progressive tax system it once relied on, in which richer people provided greater support.
Congress could affect gas prices if it would do something about speculation in the market, according to Watt. He says 30 to 40 cents on the gallon in price “is a result of sheer speculation.”
“There is no reason (prices) should be going up,” Watt says. “Demand is down. Efficiency is up. Domestic production is up. Our reliance on foreign oil is below 50 percent — all things that should lead to lower gas prices.”
Watt blames Republicans for “starving” the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which could put a better check on the speculation.
Newton places job creation, education, campaign finance reform and veterans rights as high priorities and is against the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
Too many people are hurting, losing their homes and losing their futures, Newton says. He pushes for a government “that works for the people again,” placing more emphasis on stabilizing Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
“I certainly sympathize with the needs of a lot of people in the district, and I know where they’re coming from,” Newton says
The unemployment rate in the 12th District is unacceptable, he adds, noting that it’s tracking 1 percent ahead of the state average and 3 points higher than the national average.
Newton is pro-union, disagreeing with the state’s right-to-work laws which, he says, have made it difficult to create unions and provide collective bargaining with employers.
He is for universal healthcare and notes that he can’t afford to carry healthcare or dental insurance for himself. He has a chipped front tooth that he has put off fixing because of the cost, he says.
Newton also is still paying for student loans and says he supports the Student Loan Forgiveness Act.
Newton opposes the Stop Online Piracy Act, which Watt has been closely involved with as ranking member of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet.
Newton says SOPA would severely impede the information flow on the Internet and could end up pulling the rug from underneath the economy.
Supporters view it as protecting intellectual property.
Newton has gone door to door to meet voters in some of the neediest neighborhoods in the district, he says. Newton thinks it should be a congressman’s job to address the problems that are most severe and would help the most needy.
He says government could do a better job of investing in green energy programs and exploring alternative sources of fuel. The government should never destroy the environment in exchange for a limited resource, Newton says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.