The two candidates competing for the N.C. Senate 50 seat had the chance to speak directly to voters at the final candidate debate hosted by Southwestern Community College at the Sylva campus. Students in Dr. Bucky Dann’s Social Problems posed some hard-hitting questions to the candidates in the debate that was live streamed to the public on Thursday evening, Oct. 22.
Kevin Corbin, Republican-Franklin, won the coin toss to start the opening statements. Then and throughout the debate, he highlighted his experience in government. Currently serving his second term in the N.C. House-120, he chairs a number of committees and is deputy majority whip in the House.
“I’m very pro-public schools,” he said. He served as chairman of the Macon County School Board for 20 years then as a commissioner for six years before running for state. He is a sixth-generation Western Carolina resident and runs an insurance business in Franklin.
In contrast, Victoria Fox, Democrat-Canton, is a newcomer to politics, who has spent much of the past several years raising her children who are under 10 years old. Previously, she worked in outreach in Detroit, Michigan serving those in poverty and is passionate about combating poverty in the district.
“I like to say that kind of work changes you—you come out of the other side with a vast understanding of what poor public policy can do to a community,” she said in her opening statement.
On several of the evening’s issues, the candidates both expressed they would work to improve the lives of people in Western North Carolina, from supporting investment in education and clean energy to affordable healthcare and economic development, but their paths on how to achieve those goals are the difference.
For Fox, her stance is staunchly Democrat. On the question to expand Medicaid in North Carolina, she said, yes, she supports it. “It’s designed to help our working class families,” she said. “It’s unconscionable to me we can’t expand Medicaid.” She added it also would be beneficial to rural hospitals.
On the subject, Corbin differs from most of his party. “I am one of the few Republicans that is for Medicaid expansion,” he said. “I’m in the insurance business, so I see that gap.” He added the Affordable Care Act made insurance unaffordable for that group. He stressed, however, success in the state legislature requires the votes. He co-signed a bill to expand Medicaid that would have required providers to help pay the 10% state match, but not even that approach took off.
In response to a question about Duke Energy’s efforts for a rate increase to help address coal ash clean up and whether candidates think the company should be investing more in solar energy, Corbin’s response may also have come as a surprise.
“I do think they should invest in solar. Solar and wind are great alternatives to move forward,” he said. Corbin also spoke against the rate hikes at a Duke Energy hearing. Although he said he appreciates the company and its workers, “it’s a monopoly… they’ve got to be environmentally responsible,” he said.
Fox said the monopoly is a problem and that energy is too expensive for many working class people already.
“Duke needs to be accountable,” she said. “It’s probably one of the biggest reasons I support anti-trust laws to prevent companies like Duke from creating a monopoly… We need to do something to bring the costs down.”
The two differed more on the question of marijuana. Both agreed with medical use but only Fox supports recreational. “We have to look at the economic benefits,” she said, pointing to job opportunities for farmers and untapped revenue for the government.
Corbin pointed out his success in opposing language in the farm bill that would have made hemp farming illegal.
On the subject of education, the questions focused on teacher pay. Corbin, who serves on the K-12 committee in the House, focused on how the state legislature has increased starting pay from $27,000 to $35,000 and how he’s continued to support it. The state has grown and therefore hired a lot of new teachers, and that’s part of why N.C. doesn’t rate as high for teacher pay, he said.
For Fox, though, those efforts aren’t measuring up enough. “We need to bring teacher pay up to at least the national average,” she said.
The two agreed on restoring increased pay for teachers who have a Master’s degree.
In closing, the two were asked what is the most serious issue facing the state and what will they do (outside of the pandemic)?
“The answer is clear to me, internet broadband access,” Corbin said. He wrote the Fiber Act, which didn’t pass but gained support from the County Commissioners Association and League of Municipalities and led to the eventual adoption of the GREAT Act. That state program is designating funding to expand broadband in rural communities across the state.
Fox said poverty is the biggest challenge. “We have to break that cycle,” she said. “A lot goes along with that: below wages, the healthcare gap, underfunded schools, broadband—it needs to be classified as a utility and set pricing; it’s not just a one-sided issue.
Fox called on voters to support candidates like herself to see those changes. “We have a very unique moment right now in terms of our economy,” she said in closing. “We can really elect people who will begin to give us the economy, the community that works for all of us and works for the working class we have a real chance to rebuild it.”
In closing, Corbin again brought the focus on his experience. “I think I can bring strong leadership to WNC and work across party lines,” he said. “If you choose to elect me, I’ll work to continue to support education and broadband.”