Economic growth takes center stage in 8th District race

Published 12:10 am Friday, October 14, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — In the 8th Congressional District race, two candidates agree that economic growth is the most important issue but have different ideas about the best solution.

Incumbent Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Thomas Mills share an opinion about the most critical issue facing the 8th Congressional District — economic growth. The district includes a majority of Rowan County’s population. It starts in Charlotte’s suburbs in Cabarrus County and stretches to Fayetteville.

Hudson is a two-term congressman who previously worked in politics. He was a district director for former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes and a congressional chief of staff. He briefly owned a consulting business. He sees economic growth and national security as the two most important issues facing the 8th District.

Mills is a Carrboro resident who owns a public relations company and runs an online politics blog. He has also worked on political campaigns. America doesn’t work for “most of the people” anymore, Mills says.

Accomplishing economic growth

For Hudson, economic growth occurs when government “gets out of the way.” For Mills, economic growth comes when communities have the tools to succeed — high speed internet, for example.

Hudson, a two-term congressman, says small businesses — not government — creates jobs. The government, however, can prevent businesses from creating jobs, Hudson said.

In an interview with the Salisbury Post, Hudson noted a measure he introduced earlier this year that would prevent government from hindering job growth by permanently excluding race cars from regulation under the Clean Air Act.

“I want to help businesses thrive,” Hudson said.

At roughly the same time as Hudson introduced his bill, the Environmental Protection Agency backed off of a proposal to include “vehicles manufactured for, modified for, or utilized in organized motorized racing events” in greenhouse gas standards.

Sound health care policy and tax policy also ensure government doesn’t hinder growth, he said.

When speaking about jobs and the economy, Hudson noted a bill he authored that directs the Secretary of Energy to identify skills needed in the current “energy economy” and encourage state agencies to equip students with the skills.

In his bid for Congress, Mills said rural communities have been left behind while cities experience growth. The solution, Mills said, would be large-scale infrastructure programs that include high-speed internet.

“We have got to give them the tools to compete,” Mills said. “We have got to help people create businesses within their communities.”

When Google Fiber — a high-speed internet company — announced it would provide service in North Carolina, it chose metropolitan areas such as Charlotte and Raleigh.

“There are a lot of people out there who say ‘let the free market determine where everything goes,'” Mills said. “That’s not helping the people right now who have been left behind.”

Mills uses electricity as an example of how infrastructure can change a community. In 1934, a small percentage of U.S. farms had electricity. The 1936 Rural Electrification Act aimed to change that. By 1952, nearly all rural U.S. farms had electricity.

By running electricity into rural areas, Mills says manufacturing plants were able to open in areas where it wasn’t previously possible.

In modern-day America, Mills said rural communities don’t have the amenities or “very little infrastructure” that would be enticing for significant economic growth.

Trading criticism

Mills has tossed criticism at Hudson occasionally during the 8th District race. Congress is broken, Mills said. Issues such as economic development won’t be properly addressed until there’s a government that works for “most of the people,” he said.

“We’ve got to have a better class of leaders,” Mills said.

Hudson is an example of why government isn’t working, Mills said. Hudson worked in politics for a number of years and raises money “at $5,000 per clip,” Mills said.

Although he’s worked on political campaigns before, Mills dismissed any comparison to Hudson’s experience.

“I’ve worked in the system and watched it change,” he said.

Mills called himself “uniquely qualified” to fight against “the system.”

When asked about Mills’ criticism, Hudson called it “the easy attack.” Hudson characterized himself as a bipartisan congressman.

“It just doesn’t fit to me,” he said. “I’m willing to work across the aisle to get things done.”

Hudson has also previously characterized himself as a strong conservative. In the latest rankings by Heritage Action for America, which ranks the most conservative congressmen and women, he received an 83 out of 100. He has a lifetime rating of 90.33 of 100 from the American Conservative Union.

Hudson hasn’t participated in criticizing his opponent as often as Mills. However, he’s noted out that Mills doesn’t actually live in the 8th Congressional District. It’s not required by law but may affect how voters view a candidate.

Mills counters the criticism by noting family history in areas within the 8th Congressional District. Mills says he understands challenges facing the district.

Central to the campaign

At its core, Mills’ campaign is focused on the need for balancing “the system” to work for Americans again. That system includes the economy and federal government.

“When I started running campaigns, candidates mattered,” Mills said. “It was about who they knew, their experience and their background. That’s what we elected people on. Now it’s about who has got access to big money.”

Whether it’s the economy or politics, Mills said both sides of the political spectrum deserve blame for breaking the system.

“What I’ll do is work like hell to change the system,” he said.

Amid a political campaign that hasn’t seen much attention, Hudson has touted his policy positions and record. His TV advertisements contain titles that include: protecting our veterans, terrorism has no borders and proud daddy.

During his current, two-year term, some of Hudson’s actions that have drawn the most attention include introducing a bill to increase screening requirements for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, pushing for the U.S. Postal Service to allow Granite Quarry residents to use their town’s name instead of Salisbury on letters and advocating for a delay in the start of flights to Cuba over security concerns.

Hudson said he’s tried to “find solutions and build relationships across the isle” to get things done.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.