ASHEVILLE – Do struggling families need a child tax credit, universal pre-kindergarten and similar government programs − or would those families be better helped by tamping down government spending in an effort to reduce inflation?
That is one stark difference that emerged Oct. 10 between Western North Carolina’s U.S. House candidates Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Republican Chuck Edwards during their one and only debate before the Nov. 8 election, a contest already underway through mail-in ballots.
“My opponent is suggesting that we do more of what we’ve seen is not working,” said Edwards, a state senator from Henderson County and owner of multiple McDonald’s franchises, during the debate hosted by WLOS. “The reason that we have the horrible inflation today that is affecting WNC families so much is that there’s been too much government spending. Our government has dumped trillions of dollars of taxpayer money in an already overheating economy.”
Beach-Ferrara, a Buncombe County Commissioner, ordained minister and nationally-known LGBTQ activist, blamed economic problems on international instability from events such as the Ukrainian war and a “volatile global oil market.”
“The reality is that working families need immediate and ongoing relief,” Beach-Ferrara said. “And we have seen programs that make a real difference in the lives of working families that I would support, things like reviving the child tax credit, things like the Inflation Reduction Act, which my opponent opposed, which reduces prescription drug prices.”
Edwards pointed to the state’s budget excess, saying he stood by his three-term, six-year General Assembly record in helping “create a fiscally responsible government.”
“I have enjoyed participating in a state government where we have been able to send money back to the tax payers,” he said.
But Beach-Ferrara, who was elected twice to four-year commissioner terms, said Edwards should have pushed to use some of the $6.5 billion surplus to help with the statewide teacher shortage. She noted his support for a bill that waived state taxes on $1.1 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans for his businesses.
“Senator Edwards is more than happy to support government spending when it benefits him. Under the Trump administration he took corporate tax cuts that benefited the wealthiest country during the pandemic,” she said.
Other key differences in the race for the 11th House District between the Asheville Democrat and Flat Rock Republican included answers to questions on who limits abortion and when, whether there should be any controls on firearm possession and how to improve health care and education.
Beach-Ferrara said she supported abortion access and listed what she said were real-world problems from outlawing the procedure in ways supported by Edwards, such as a raped 10-year-old having to carry a child to term, a mother with cancer struggling to decide whether to take chemotherapy and a woman being forced to remain pregnant despite her fetus being given no medical chance of survival.
“What people need is the privacy to make the choices that are right for them and have their fundamental freedoms protected,” she said.
She criticized Edwards for calling abortion access supporters “evil,” as reported by the Smoky Mountain News, and said it was similar to hyperbole used by the current Congressman Madison Cawthorn, who lost the primary to Edwards.
“That is exactly what we don’t need,” she said.
Edwards said he supported allowing each state legislature to decide what is right for that state in terms of abortion restrictions. He said abortion should be banned at the point a fetus can feel pain. Edwards did not say when he thought that was, but according to evidence compiled by the Journal of American Medicine, that likely happens in the third trimester, after 27-28 weeks of pregnancy.
“I will continue to support the lives of unborn children, unlike an opponent who believes that abortion should take place any place, anytime, even taxpayer funded, no limitations whatsoever. Even right up to the point and partial-birth abortions,” he said.
Asked if he would support a ban on semi-automatic rifles, Edwards said there should be no new limits on people’s rights to have guns.
“I’m going to stand on our Second Amendment. I don’t believe there should be any other restrictions on the Second Amendment.”
He accused Beach-Ferrara of wanting to take away people’s guns, while she said Edwards was in the pocket of the National Rifle Association.
In her answer, Beach-Ferrara did not say she would support a ban on the weapons. But she said she supported legislation that passed this year enhancing background checks, implementation of red-flag laws and increased mental health spending. That came after the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas. The shooter, like in many other massacres, used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
“I think the natural next step in how we build on that is universal background checks,” Beach-Ferrara said.
Edwards called for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. He said it should not be allowed for students to be taught “gender identification…(and) issues of shaming one race, and telling another race that they are advantaged or disadvantaged because of the color of their skin.”
Beach-Ferrara called for universal pre-kindergarten and higher teacher pay, “so that teachers are not having to get second and third jobs and we’re not losing teachers to South Carolina and Tennessee, because they’re getting better salaries there.”
Beach-Ferrara said she would have voted for the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act to cut prescription drug prices, including insulin. Medicare should be expanded to include dental and vision benefits, she said and North Carolina should expand Medicaid, something that would cover about 600,000 state residents who are just above the current benefit limit.
Edwards opposed the expansion for most of his six years, something Beach-Ferrara said “cost lives and caused suffering.”
Edwards said the best way to improve health care would be to remove regulations.
“We need to get rid of regulation that is preventing competition for health care providers and for insurance companies,” he said.
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He’s written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.