Candidates in 25th NC Senate District focused on local economy

Published 12:05 am Thursday, October 20, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — There aren’t many areas where they agree on solutions, but the State Senate’s two candidates for the 25th District find common ground on the most critical problem.

Sen. Tom McInnis, the Republican incumbent, runs a Rockingham auction company and is nearing the end of his first term in the legislature. In his bid for re-election, McInnis has attracted a challenge from Dannie Montgomery, a middle school teacher in Anson County.

McInnis says he’s seeking a second term because there’s still work to do for the 25th District, which includes all of Anson, Richmond, Stanly and Scotland counties. It also includes a large portion of southern Rowan. The remaining work, McInnis said, would be to help improve the local economy.

“My counties of Richmond, Scotland and Anson are still in the ditch while Stanly and Rowan are coming out of the Great Recession,” McInnis said. “We’ve still got work to do and I plan on being a candidate until that work is finished, until the job is done. … There are two North Carolinas, and we’ve got to work together to close the gaps between the metropolitan folks and the rural folks.”

Rural and urban gaps exist in education, jobs and other areas, he said. Rural and urban areas may never be equal, but McInnis says people should be able to work in the same community they lived in as children.

Montgomery speaks similarly about the economic struggles of people living within the 25th District. Like McInnis, it’s a driving factor behind her candidacy.

“I knew that all elected officials could do better and that we deserve better,” she said. “And, if I was so concerned about this, that there should be better opportunities for our children and communities, then I decided I had to step up to the plate. I want to bring a clear voice to the table for all children, for all parents, for all seniors.”

Montgomery particularly focused on the importance of education in rural communities as a solution for economic woes.

She says that incumbent legislators have hurt the quality of education in several instances and not done enough to help. Montgomery specifically noted the loss of longevity pay, which has been folded into the salary schedule.

Voters will choose one of the two — McInnis or Montgomery — to serve a two-year term in the legislature.

During his current term, McInnis listed a $150,000 recurring budget appropriation as the most effective thing he’s done. The appropriation provides a traveling, truck-driver-training course at community colleges in the district.

Teachers from Caldwell Community College go to community colleges in the 25th District once per year. It’s a more cost-effective option than creating a new course at a local community college, he said. By the end of the program, participants are offered a job.

“Failure is not an option because these are our jobs that are our highest-demand jobs,” he said. “We’re talking about CDL truck drivers, welders, nurses, carpenters. These are jobs that are here today and connected to a paycheck.”

When asked about an innovative proposal he’d bring to the legislature if re-elected, McInnis said he wants to introduce a a bill to limit the amount of prescription pain killers prescribed by doctors to healthy adults. If he’s unable to get a bill passed on the matter, McInnis said he’d like to at least have a public discussion about the issue.

He told a story of being prescribed 60 oxycodone pills after having surgery on his arm. McInnis said it was significantly more than he needed.

“If I had taken all of those as prescribed, I would have been addicted,” he said.

When asked about teacher pay, McInnis says legislators have done as much as they can with North Carolina’s available resources. However, he says legislators should always seek to raise pay.

“Now, if we want to see if we’ve done more or less than this or that, I would challenge anyone to go back and see what the previous Democratic administration did to teachers and employees,” he said. “They put them on furlough, reduced their pay and passed all kinds of restrictions on them. We’re bringing them back. We’re raising pay.”

On House Bill 2, McInnis said he’d only be willing to discuss a full repeal if the Charlotte City Council first rescinds the nondiscrimination ordinance that brought about state action.

Nonpartisan redistricting has also been a proposal raised repeatedly in the wake of court action related to congressional and state legislative districts drawn by the General Assembly. Most notably, North Carolina’s congressional map was declared unconstitutional because of racial gerrymandering. McInnis dismissed the idea that a panel of people could be nonpartisan. Democrats drew districts and controlled state government for years. Republicans should be able to draw electoral districts for an equal number of years, McInnis said.

 In an interview with the Salisbury Post, Montgomery expressed a different opinion than McInnis on every issue. Starting with teacher pay, Montgomery rattled off a list of criticisms of current members of the General Assembly. Despite arguments to the contrary, the General Assembly has not properly funded education, Montgomery said.

“They have a way of serving everything like it’s fake bologna,” she said. “If we’re doing all we can, then why are we still in the bottom of the nation for teacher pay? North Carolina used to be a leader in public education. We should do the right thing for our children.”

When asked about an innovative proposal she’d bring to the legislature, Montgomery said she would want to create a “young professionals group.” She said it would be a mentorship program. It would give students from around North Carolina an opportunity to participate in debates about bills in the General Assembly.

“We need to bring their ideas to the table,” she said. “I’d like to see us growing and shaping minds.”

On House Bill 2, Montgomery said she would be willing to immediately support a full repeal. She called it poorly conceived and not well thought out.

“There are bigger problems in this state than where someone goes to the bathroom,” she said.

On gerrymandering, Mongtomery said she has supported a nonpartisan commission drawing electoral districts “for a long time.” The 25th District, she said, is an example of gerrymandering. It’s easier for a Republican than a Democrat to get elected, she said.

“Whenever we have gerrymandering, which is exactly what has happened within my district, it’s basically intimidation,” Montgomery said. “We are keeping our energetic young people, our visionaries, from achieving their political aspirations and making change in their communities.”

On Nov. 8, the race between McInnis and Montgomery will be the only competitive legislative contest that Rowan voters participate in. In other races, incumbents don’t face competition.

In Rowan, the 25th District includes the communities of China Grove, Rockwell and Gold Hill. It includes communities located south of N.C. 152 and a swath of eastern Rowan.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246