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Wesson wants series of debates with Goodwin

052218 Wesson
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Ron Wesson

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ron Wesson says North Carolina's House District 1 needs a strong voice who will speak to the region's priorities, and that he is that voice.

To prove it, Wesson, vice chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners and a Democrat, said he’s challenged his Republican opponent in the fall, Ed Goodwin, of Chowan, to six debates.

Wesson wants a debate in each county in the newly drawn House District 1. Goodwin so far has not committed to any debates with Wesson.

In an interview Friday, Wesson talked about the campaign and his platform for the six counties of House District 1. Following redistricting, the district includes Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Perquimans, Tyrrell and Washington.

Wesson, who had no primary challenger in the May 8 election, said he called Goodwin to congratulate him on his win. Goodwin defeated Candice Hunter, of Perquimans, in their primary, winning 55 percent of the vote.

Wesson, a retired executive from the Dun and Bradstreet Corporation, is serving his second term as county commissioner in Bertie. He said he's planning a strong ground game and “aggressive social media campaign” in his bid to defeat Goodwin, a former Chowan County commissioner and former state ferry division director.

Though Goodwin offers a background in both local government and has run a state agency, Wesson still contends he's better qualified.

“I am the most experienced local government candidate in the race,” Wesson said, citing his work as county commissioner and also his chairmanship of the tax and finance committee of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. That committee successfully pushed for a change in how farmers can depreciate equipment, saving them millions of dollars, Wesson said.

He also argues his career at Dun and Bradstreet, a business analytics firm, gives him extensive experience in financial analysis and managing large operations.

Wesson also argues his priorities better match the 1st House District's than Goodwin's, particularly in education, which he said should be a top priority for more state investment.

Wesson said he disagrees with Goodwin's comment in a Daily Advance interview that teacher salaries are where they need to be. Wesson said he supports Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's approach to teacher raises, which would provide an average 8-percent raise. By comparison, GOP legislative leaders support an average raise of 6.2 percent. Wesson said the Democratic plan would include raises for experienced teachers.

Though teachers have gotten raises for several years — GOP leaders note the 6.2-percent raise will be the fifth since 2014 — Wesson said teacher pay has risen too slowly to keep pace with inflation.

“Even at a $51,000 average salary, teachers have less purchasing power than they did in 2009,” Wesson said, citing the N.C. Department of Public Instruction's latest estimate of average teacher pay.

Notably, Cooper's plan also calls for limiting income tax cuts for upper incomes and businesses scheduled by the GOP-led Legislature to help pay for the raises. Wesson said he favors not cutting taxes for those making more than $200,000, but believes that businesses still need the additional tax relief.

Wesson also strongly supports Cooper's call for a referendum on issuing $2 billion in bonds for K-12 facility needs. The investment is greatly needed, he said, noting that three counties in House District 1 need new schools. He believes the state can afford the additional debt without affecting its credit worthiness or increasing annual debt payments.

“That's smart business,” Wesson said.

Turning to economic development, Wesson called for a focus on small, existing businesses. He welcomed state lawmakers' efforts to get “big hits,” such as Apple, through major economic incentives, but said helping smaller employers not only creates jobs, but diversifies economies and limits the damage if any one business goes bankrupt.

Wesson also supported more state investment in broadband, particularly installation of “last mile” fiber that's often missing in rural communities. Better public-private partnership can help manage the high costs of installing last-mile fiber, he said.

Asked if the state should support broadband service offered directly by local governments, Wesson said the state should consider that among other models for broadband access.

Wesson said another key issue is combating the region's opioid epidemic, which continues causing deadly overdoses even as law enforcement and health officials have increased efforts to prevent them.

Wesson said he would support more local resources, particularly new or expanded treatment facilities and access to mental health services. Part of that would include more support for Trillium Health Resources, a regional agency counties turn to help with substance abuse and mental health needs. The state should also consider offering a stipend to psychiatrists or psychologists to get them to work in rural communities; those professionals are in short supply, he said.

Responding to Wesson, Goodwin said Friday he expected to attend forums or debates with him in the months to come, but isn't committing to a debate with him in each county.

As to the candidates' qualifications, Goodwin declined to debate who has the better resume, though he noted he also served in the U.S. Air Force, is a retired Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent and has small business experience as a farmer. He asked voters look at each candidate's track record.

Clarifying his comment on teacher pay, Goodwin said he felt the state had made progress on teacher pay and he didn't oppose additional raises. However, he argued the state needs to be fair in how it gives raises, and not overlook other state employees.

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