The Nov. 6 election for the District 10 House race pits six-year veteran and Republican House Majority Leader John Bell against Democratic newcomer Tracy Blackmon.
Bell and Blackmon share similar views on serving the district and eastern North Carolina but have sharply opposite views on redistricting and the state’s fiscal policies.
Bell said that when he first decided to run, he wanted to be a strong voice for eastern North Carolina.
“I feel like I have done that,” Bell said. “Since I have been elected, I have done everything that I can do on the legislative side to support and protect Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. I have worked hand in hand to protect and promote our agriculture interest.”
Bell said he also has done everything possible to push through funding for victims of Hurricane Matthew and now Hurricane Florence.
That record as an effective leader willing to work to preserve and return funding to the area is what separates him from Blackmon, he said.
Blackmon said her biggest push has always been about helping the community.
“I think that is where we are similar, that our focus is going to be on helping District 10,” Blackmon said. “I think what separates us is probably just my perspective. Just being a therapist, my perspective is probably very different because I view things on the human level.
“I look at the whole picture of a situation more than I would say I would go with some certain key agenda.”
Mental health and addiction treatment and health integration and fixing a broken system where everything is kind of separate are Blackmon’s top priorities.
Bell’s priorities include seeing through the immediate need for Hurricane Matthew recovery while pushing forward on Hurricane Florence recovery, school construction and school safety.
Then there are issues that pop up along the way, and the local delegation has a good track record of putting the area in the forefront, he said.
“That is why it is important for us to have that strong voice in Raleigh especially in a time where there are just so many votes coming from metropolitan areas,” Bell said. “We have got to be able to have someone who is effective and will fight for rural North Carolina.
“That is what I am doing and have done.”
Blackmon views the current redistricting process as too political, investing too much power in the majority party.
Blackmon said that she favors a bipartisan panel of possibly three Democrats, three Republicans and two independents or a completely independent panel.
“Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a nonpartisan redistricting,” Bell said. “You are always going to have issues with redistricting because one side wants it their way and the other side wants it another way.
“I think that the maps that we have now are very fair. They were drawn to the law accordingly, but we still have pending lawsuits out there.”
Bell said he is more worried about population loss in rural counties than redistricting, since population loss will cost those counties representation in the legislature.
Blackmon said she thinks Gov. Roy Cooper’s office is doing a good job in disaster recovery and is “way ahead of things” in getting resources in play.
“I think we have to look at where we build,” she said. “I think we have to recognize that climate change is impacting how these storms work. They are able to get much more intense.”
There is a lot that can be done now to help mitigate future disasters like the hurricanes, Blackmon said.
The most recent hurricane package from the General Assembly starts that process, Bell said.
Along with disaster relief funding, it created the office of resiliency as part of the state emergency management department to focus on long-term recovery, he said.
The next step is to work on flood mitigation, he said.
Bell said he and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest have discussed meeting with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to look at what it would take to clean and possibly dredge parts of the Neuse River in order to address concerns in flood-prone areas.
On the state level, Bell wants to work with the state Department of Transportation, looking at flood-prone areas and considering if new highways should be built up when constructed to keep them from flooding.
The state also has to keep flood maps current so it will know what problem areas exist and also study stream and ditch cleanup, and beaver dams, he said.
The two disagree on the state’s current fiscal policies.
“I think that part of what we know in North Carolina is that as far as our infrastructure, I think we get a ‘C’ rating if not lower as far as water, bridges, roads and that doesn’t even include as far as internet,” Blackmon said.
The state needs to look at where it can put money for the best use, she said.
“Part of what we did, which was a huge mistake, in my opinion, is when we didn’t take the Medicaid expansion,” she said. “That would have been millions of dollars that would have been able to help with our health care crisis that we have now.”
The state has thousands of people unable to get health care, she said.
Rural areas need help, and money should be targeted to treatment programs that work, infrastructure needs and education, she said.
The current tax structure does not really help those in need, said Blackmon, who thinks it can be tweaked to make it more balanced.
Bell said the state had huge deficits when he was first elected. Now there are budget surpluses, which means more money has been put toward education, he said.
Bell sees the need to address more funding on the human services side of the budget for mental health and the ongoing drug crisis.
“We have a tax plan that is working here in the state,” Bell said. “Income taxes are continuing to lower, which puts more money in citizens’ pockets, which is a good thing — people are spending, people are buying.”
The state has to maintain a savings reserve at a reasonable rate, he said.
The rainy day reserve allowed the state to come up with hurricane disaster relief without endangering the state budget, Bell said.
“So the fiscal policies are good,” he said. “We need to maintain them, but now you are going to see a shift in some of the appropriating funds to address the issues that we have in the state.
“We still have some budgetary restrains that we have to work within, but we doing a really good job of maintaining what we currently have and returning money to the citizens so that they can reinvest in the economy, which is one of the reasons our state is one of the fastest growing in the country.”