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Hunter: Dems need stronger turnout to win upcoming elections

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State Rep. Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford, speaks at the Pasquotank County Democratic Convention at the Pasquotank County Courthouse, Saturday morning.

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By Chris Day
Multimedia Editor

Monday, March 25, 2019

Area Democrats called for more voter participation if they hope to win key upcoming elections. That means voting not only in the 2020 general election, but also in this year’s special election in July to fill the vacant 3rd Congressional District seat.   

“We have to get the word out for people to vote,” said state Rep. Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford. “Our local races are the most important.”

Hunter was speaking at the Pasquotank County Democratic Party Convention, held Saturday morning in Courtroom A of the Pasquotank Courthouse. About 40 people, some of them delegates, were in attendance, as were representatives for 3rd Congressional District candidates Richard Bew and Allen Thomas. 

Hunter said the 2020 general election will be critical for Democrats. In North Carolina, the ballot will include Gov. Roy Cooper and Cheri Beasley, who Cooper appointed as chief justice to the state’s Supreme Court in February. Beasley, the state’s first black woman to hold that position, was appointed after Mark Martin announced his retirement the previous month. While she was appointed by the governor, Beasley still has to run in 2020 if she hopes to maintain the seat.

Treva Gregory, chairwoman of the Pasquotank Democrats, echoed Hunter’s comments in her call for increased voter turnout. She suggested residents begin by forming small groups that knock on doors in their neighborhoods to encourage people to get involved in the elections process.

Hunter, who served as the event’s keynote speaker, touched on several issues important to Democrats, such as expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina. He said 37 other states have expanded Medicaid and must be satisfied with their decision, as none has reversed course. 

Expanding Medicaid would help around 500,000 North Carolinians get better access to health care.

“That helps keep the cost down for anyone who has health care now,” he said.

Expansion would also give the economy a boost, Hunter said. That’s because 500,000 new people with access to health care would lead to creation of more jobs to help provide that care, he said. 

Medicaid is a federally- and state-funded program that covers health care costs for poor and disabled residents. In North Carolina, Medicaid is available to children and parents of low-income households, elderly people, pregnant women and the disabled. 

In February, Democratic lawmakers submitted legislation to expand Medicaid. If the legislation passes, it would expand coverage to any adult between the ages of 18 and 65 whose annual income is no more than about $16,200.

Expanding Medicaid also would be an effective way to provide mental health services to people seeking treatment for opioid addiction, Hunter said.

“Remember, 37 states, and not a single one has changed its mind,” he said.

Hunter touted Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed $25 million state budget, which includes money for teacher salary increases.

“We use to award our experienced teachers,” he said. “It’s time to do that again.”

Expanding broadband to the rural corners of the state must also be a priority, Hunter said.

“It’s really tough to succeed without meaningful broadband access,” he said, adding that everyone from soybean farmers to students would benefit.

Butch Bracknell spoke at Saturday’s convention on behalf of Richard Bew, one of six Democratic candidates in the upcoming 3rd Congressional District special election.

“I’m not a paid organizer,” Bracknell told the audience. “I”m here because I believe in Richard Bew.”

Bracknell, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, said he served several years alongside Bew, who is a retired Marine colonel and pilot. 

As a leader in the Marines, Bew met with all the people under his command, not just the local units, Bracknell said. That’s the same approach Bew will take in ensuring he makes frequent visits to northeastern North Carolina, Bracknell said. 

“He will bring that mentality to this district,” he said. 

Bracknell said Bew is opposed to offshore drilling and understands that rising sea levels pose a threat to residents living in the district’s coastal areas.  

Standing in for candidate Allen Thomas at Saturday’s Pasquotank convention was his field organizer, Zack Pate. 

Thomas is the current executive director of the North Carolina Global Transpark in Kinston and a former mayor of Greenville. 

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-NC, recently endorsed Allen, Pate told the audience.

Pate said among Thomas’ chief concerns is creating job opportunities in eastern North Carolina to keep local students from leaving the region to find work. 

Medicaid expansion and improving broadband access are other top issues, Pate said. 

Bew and Thomas are among six Democrats and 17 Republicans hoping to fill the U.S. House seat left vacant by the death of Walter Jones in February. The primary election to decide party nominees to vie for Jones’ seat will be held April 30. The nominees will then square off in the general election on July 9.

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