Adams, Coakley differ greatly in 12th District race for U.S. House
SALISBURY — Democrat Alma Adams and Republican Vince Coakley each chuckled a little when an interviewer suggested there were significant differences between them as candidates for North Carolina’s 12th District seat in the U.S. House.
Few races have candidates on such differing ends of the political spectrum.
Adams, a state legislator from Greensboro since 1994, champions public education, the Affordable Care Act, gun control, women’s reproductive rights, raising the minimum wage and addressing climate change.
Coakley, probably best known for his 18 years as a reporter and news anchor for WSOC-TV in Charlotte, bemoans the regulatory climate in Washington and wants the federal government out of people’s lives.
He’s against raising the minimum wage and for school choice, right to life, abolishing the Affordable Care Act and making sure the United States is the strongest military power on earth.
In terms of political experience, Adams and Coakley also are far apart. Before she was a legislator, Adams served on the Greensboro City School Board and Greensboro City Council.
This is the first time Coakley has run for public office. Since he left WSOC-TV in 2010, he has been a radio talk show host in Charlotte, Atlanta and Greenville, S.C. For a time, Coakley filled in as host of Herman Cain’s radio show in Atlanta while Cain ran for the Republican nomination for president.
Adams and Coakley are vying for the seat held for 21 years by Democrat Mel Watt, who resigned from the House in January to become the new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Watt has been the only person to hold the 12th District seat, often referred to as the I-85 district. It’s a sprawling, mostly urban district, taking in six counties and considerable parts of Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
Closer to home, much of Salisbury, Spencer and East Spencer are in the 12th District.
Watt hardly ever faced a serious challenge in his re-election bids because of the district’s configuration and its lopsided voter registration in favor of Democrats. In the 12th District, 64 percent of the registered voters are Democrats; 16 percent, Republicans.
History and the numbers make Adams a favorite after she won the May Democratic primary in a seven-candidate field.
Known for wearing her signature hats — she says she has 900 in her wardrobe — Adams said she never takes an election for granted.
“I run hard every time,” she says.
Coakley said he was aware of the people who say he doesn’t have a chance of winning Nov. 4 and acknowledged he wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses. But he said he thinks his message of hope and “transformative” leadership will resonate with voters.
“Everything worth doing involves risk,” he said.
In traveling the 12th, Adams said she has learned it is not a wealthy district. She said a recent study showed the rates of poverty rising in three areas in the district — Charlotte, Winston-Salem/High Point and Greensboro.
Jobs and education have to be priorities, Adams said.
Coakley said the economy and jobs stand out as the biggest concerns among people in the 12th District. “That’s job one, getting people back to work,” he said, and creating an environment less controlled by regulatory influences.
Small business is where most of the new jobs come from, and they are under pressure, according to Coakley. Overall, he said he sees a sense of malaise among people — a concern and fear that things are not getting better.
Adams said she never considered running against Watt because she respected the work he did in Congress. Adams said she and Watt are similar, especially in their attention to constituent services.
“And that’s one of the things we’re going to continue and expand in the ways we can,” she said. “People need to know there is someone they can call in the office who will address their needs without a lot of delay.”
Adams’ support for the Affordable Care Act comes from her belief that it’s allowing thousands of people to see doctors for the first time. She also likes that it prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
“Overall, I think it’s a good thing,” she said.
Adams built a reputation in the General Assembly for advocating for an increase in the minimum wage. After a decade of introducing bills, Adams saw the wage increase in 2006 from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour.
She also will fight for an increase in the federal minimum wage, Adams promised. “People cannot survive on $7.25 an hour,” she said. “You cannot live if you don’t make enough.”
Adams said she has not seen evidence that raising the wage will cost jobs and lead to places going out of business. She thinks raising the minimum wage is a good thing for employers and their workers.
On the U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic terrorists in the Middle East, Adams expressed support for the president’s four-tier approach, but she added that she’s an outsider who probably doesn’t have the benefit of all the information others have.
“I think we are pretty much on the right track,” she said.
The Hefner VA Medical Center is part of the 12th District. Adams said all the VA medical centers must “get this backlog under control.”
“Veterans should not have to wait as long as they have been to get medical attention,” she said.
Coakley said the country is reaching the point where it will need a constitutional amendment that says two plus two equals four. Without logic, reason and some simple math, things aren’t going to be fixed, he said.
“You cannot overspend yourself into prosperity,” he added.
Coakley said he doesn’t believe Washington “is the solution to our problems.” Many of the economic problems the country has now were created by Washington, Coakley said, and he thinks life, freedom and opportunity should begin at home with family, neighbors and employers.
They should not be managed and micromanaged by Washington bureaucrats, Coakley said.
As for the problems at VA medical centers, Coakley said he remembers as a child hearing about the same kinds of VA issues, and he has to ask how they’ve lasted for decades.
The focus at the VA has been on bureaucracy and protecting federal jobs, Coakley said. When policies are put into place that empower Washington bureaucrats, it makes for an atmosphere in which public service becomes an afterthought, he said.
“We have to get to a place where public service means just that,” Coakley said. “… The whole thing is upside down and symptomatic of a Washington culture we have to change.”
Coakley said raising the federal minimum wage would be the best way to kill jobs and place another burden on small businesses.
“People do not know how money works,” he said. “Where is that money going to come from?”
With a hike in the minimum wage, Coakley said, small businesses won’t hire as many employees, they might have to layoff workers, and it will create inflation by raising the price of goods and services. In the end, consumers will pay for it, Coakley said.
On the bombings against Islamic terrorists, Coakley asks what’s the overall strategy. There needs to be an end goal and end purposes, he said, and he doesn’t think they have been clearly articulated.
Coakley said he doubted a few bombing missions will get the job done.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.
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