Hendersonville – Four of the six Democrats running for WNC’s congressional seat said in a local forum last week why they are the best one to win back the seat and to legislate on key issues.
They boldly called for tripling the federal minimum wage. The hopefuls also backed expanding treatment for opioid addiction and mental illness, more affordable housing, the Green New Deal, fewer arrests of illegal immigrants, more broadband service extension, government-funded free community college and college tuition relief.
The forum was March 23 in the Art Continuum at 147C First Avenue East. It drew more than 80 people. Henderson County Young Democrats sponsored the forum, and they provided questions to candidates. This was a forum, not a direct debate.
The Democrat contenders there were Buncombe County commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Army combat veteran Jay Carey, business owner Katie Dean and clinical social worker Bo Hess. Dean won a straw poll of people present — many of whom are campaign workers of the candidates. Dean got 31 votes, Beach-Ferrara 17, Carey 13 and Hess six votes.
Democrats Bynum Lunsford and Marco Gutierrez did not attend the forum.
Libertarian David Coatney is unopposed in the May 17 primary.
Beach-Ferrara got the fundraising jump. She raised near $1.19 million, spent $782,624 and still had over $404,000, as of Dec. 31, according to campaign finance reports on Ballotpedia. She noted her strong financial support.
“This is a winnable race to beat Madison Cawthorn,” the arch-conservative incumbent, Beach-Ferrara said. She is opposite him on the political spectrum. She called Cawthorn a public “danger.”
“Universal pre-K” is a leading issue for Beach-Ferrara, a “game-changer” for children.
Affordable housing is a longtime prime issue. Dean said a challenge is to combat private equity firms that buy many homes, monopolize the market, then jack up prices or rent. Hess said some housing prices rise double the rate of inflation.
Hess and Beach-Ferrara suggested paying renters higher federal housing vouchers, and subsidizing construction of affordable units. Beach-Ferrara calls housing a “basic human right.” She said as a commissioner, she backs local “high access” homeless shelters.
Carey: $25 per Hour
Carey suggested helping people afford homes by requiring employers pay a much higher minimum wage. Democrats want to double it from $7.25 to $15 an hour. Henderson County resident Carey wants to raise it much further — incrementally to $24. “Fifteen dollars left us a long time ago,” he said. When asked, the other three agreed on $24 hourly.
The minimum hourly wage has risen only slightly. It rose in 1949 from 40 to 75 cents, to $1.14 in ‘61, $2 in ‘74, $3.10 in ‘80, $4.25 in ‘91, $5.15 in ‘97, $5.85 in 2007, $6.55 in ‘08, then to $7.25 in 2009.
Tuition, Loan Debt
Three candidates said community college tuition should be free. Carey wants the government to also pay four-year tuition at a state college.
Easing college loan debt drew support. Dean, 35, said college debt private rates are so “predatory” that she is merely “paying interest on my interest” on her tuition. She got an environmental engineering degree. She and her family live in Swannanoa.
Beach-Ferrara said she and her wife are each still paying off their tuition. Hess suggested wiping out up to $50,000 of a person’s student loans.
Social worker Hess helps addicts, among others, in Asheville. “We’re in a fentanyl outbreak,” he said. The opiate is being mixed into meth and cocaine. He said with counseling, “we need to prevent lapses back into addiction” and resulting eviction from halfway houses or independent living.
Hess called for supervised heroin injection sites that provide hardened addicts with pharmaceutical grade heroin as an alternative to street drugs tained with toxic ingredients.
Hess suggested U.S. agents hack into websites of known Chinese fentanyl makers and distributors, to jam up their business and exporting drugs to this country.
Beach-Ferrara said “I know what it’s like to lose somebody to addiction.” She said the country should decriminalize much drug use. She said law enforcement should instead strike “high-level trafficking.” She said Washington should help fund local programs such as prescribing Suboxone to lessen heroin addicts’ withdrawals.
Carey wants prescription drug-makers to get sued more than before, and hit harder in settlements.
Carey wants a federally-run, single-payer healthcare system and to help pay for it by cutting defense spending. He wants single parents to get special health care benefits.
Carey handled purchasing of military equipment for the Army, in a career of over 20 years. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, “I know how to lead — under fire, under pressure.”
The Tribune asked the four hopefuls what the U.S. and NATO allies should do more of or avoid, regarding the five-week long Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Carey urges sending many more missiles — Stingers to hit aircrafts, and Javelins to strike tanks. He said Russian leaders might remove Putin — in exchange for getting harsh economic sanctions against them lifted. Carey’s mother fled Communist Poland in 1964.
Hess said the U.S. should “avoid provoking a broader” and more direct clash with Russia, and possible cyber-attack retaliation. He reasons Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin is “unhinged,” likes conflict, and is into “push and pull.” Hess suspects Putin is very willing to have his troops use chemical and biological weapons, since Putin reportedly authorized such attacks in Syria a decade ago.
Dean said Pres. Biden is “unifying the world” against Russia, which is attacking civilians. Beach-Ferrara hopes for eventual war crime trials against Russian leaders. She suggests stepping up economic sanctions, to try to pressure Russia to back down.
She likes that the U.S. will let in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Beach-Ferrara welcomes them coming to Buncombe County, with its “strong Ukrainian community.” Or they could stay in Europe. All 27 European Union countries offer Ukrainians political asylum, and housing subsidies and other full benefits of citizenship for three years.