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Candidates talk economic recovery, health care; Heggins leaves forum after opening

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Local candidates vying for state House and Senate seats talked economic recovery, health care and law enforcement reform Tuesday night at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce forum, which included a surprise exit from Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins.

While candidates, the moderator and media attended in-person, the forum was void of an in-person audience. The forum was held at the Norvell Theatre. It was broadcast on the chamber’s Facebook page, as well as via local stations WSRG-TV (formerly Access 16) and Hotwire 394. The forum will be re-broadcast several times prior to election day on Nov. 3.

Prior to the forum, both candidates for the House District 77 race said they would not be attending. Keith Townsend, a Democrat challenging Rep. Julia Howard, cited health concerns on his campaign Facebook page, while Howard cited a meeting in Raleigh.

Heggins made an exit following her opening remarks. She cited concerns that candidates weren’t wearing masks during the forum and said her departure wasn’t intended to be a political statement. Before leaving the forum, she challenged Warren to participate in a virtual debate with her.

The attendance included no more than a dozen people, including the candidates and moderator. All who attended were required to have their temperature taken upon entering and provide a signed COVID-19 protocol form, which asks basic screening questions such as whether the individual has been tested within the last 14 days or has had a cough, fever or loss of taste. It also asks if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

In her opening statement, Heggins emphasized that eradicating poverty was foundational to her platform, which includes Medicaid expansion, protecting workers’ rights and fair wages.

Rep. Wayne Sasser is running unopposed in the House District 67 race, which includes Cabarrus and Stanly counties. He only provided opening remarks in which he credited his pharmacist background while serving in the House Health Committee.

Questions came from Salisbury Post readers, and candidates were given one minute to respond. As for the most important thing candidates will do to recover from the pandemic, all referenced helping businesses “get back on track.”

Sen. Carl Ford said that it’s best “to get government out of the way,” as it has been a hindrance t0 business owners this year. He cited a “long way to go” in economic recovery, but praised the current recovery taking place. He also said constituents have pleaded to return to work rather than receive unemployment benefits.

Ford said business owners have learned how to streamline their operations and added cutting the red tape would result in seeing “the economy take back off.”

Democrat challenger Tarsha Ellis, who has been working from home since the pandemic came to Rowan County, said businesses should reopen safely and responsibly so that further spread is prevented. She added that changes may arise as more companies have implemented working-from-home measures successfully.

She also supports some sort of safety net program for businesses to help them “make ends meet.”

Warren cited a multi-billion dollar deficit that the N.C. General Assembly will have to take on when returning to Raleigh in 2021. But he maintained that recovery should include government restraint and fiscal responsibility. Ultimately, he said, lawmakers must provide business owners with financial assistance to help them “bridge the gap” they’ve experienced and “get them on solid ground again.”

Additionally, all candidates expressed support for continuing the use of tax incentives to recruit businesses. Ellis said she doesn’t support long-term incentive packages for businesses that don’t deliver or don’t promote growth in communities.

Warren said that, while he doesn’t support statewide funding for alternative energy sources, he supports incentive packages for alternative energy companies to “get a foothold” here.

“Anything we can do to increase jobs, I’m always for it,” Ford said.

Candidates were asked about Rowan County’s health ranking, which is 73 out of 100, according to the 2019 State of the County Health Report. Ellis used that opportunity to call for Medicaid expansion. She said it’s the biggest thing the General Assembly could do to improve residents’ health.

“Anything we can do to help folks obtain a lifestyle that’s healthy and allow them to get the access they need to stay healthy,” she said.

Ford noted parks and resources available for exercise in the county, adding that it’s a choice among people to keep themselves healthy.

Warren said efforts should concentrate on clean air and water, but added the biggest way to help improve health involves education from state health officials and local nonprofits.

All candidates agreed that the state’s certificate of need law is antiquated and should be looked into further in order to keep health care prices low, as Ellis said, and competitive, as Ford said.

The certificate of need in North Carolina prohibits health care providers from replacing or adding to their facilities and equipment without the prior approval of state health officials. It also restricts unnecessary increases in health care costs and limits unnecessary health services and facilities based on geographic, demographic and economic considerations.

Candidates were asked if the state is in need of law enforcement reform. Warren said he supports investing more into the psychological health of law enforcement officers, reducing their responsibilities and changing their shift rotations.

“We’re at a point in society where we need law enforcement reform,” he said.

Ford noted there are “bad apples” in every profession and thanked law enforcement officers for “protecting and serving.”

“I don’t see how they do it,” he said.

Ellis said there are always opportunities to improve relationships between law enforcement officers and communities and added that there sometimes can be a disconnect with whether officers are there to protect and serve. She said some people don’t feel their voices are being heard and that the same people don’t always feel supported by law enforcement.

In her closing remarks, Ellis said there is no greater asset than education besides “the people themselves.” She also said allowing people to earn affordable wages will result in them putting down roots here.

Ford cited his record of cutting taxes for both businesses and individuals.

“I love working for the people of North Carolina,” he said. “I won’t let you down.”

Warren said his goal is to be reflective of his constituency. He cited the need for laws that are fair and equitable and the need to implement conservative fiscal policies.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246. 

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