Local News: Asheville and HendersonvillePete Zamplas

Evans, Ager playfully joust  in state house debate

Democrat N.C. State Rep. John Curtis Ager, Jr.

The Agers run fifth-generation Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Bearded UNCA alumnus John co-manages Sherrill’s Inn event venue. His wife Annie Clarke Ager is daughter of his “political hero,” the late former U.S. Rep. Jamie McClure Clarke. Clarke represented the 11th U.S. District in 1983-85 and ‘87-91, preceding Charles Taylor.

Republican Kris Alan Lindstam, a UNCA student, challenges incumbent Democrat Susan Carscaddon Fisher in the leftward District 114 dominated by Asheville. Those two were not in the forum Sept. 20. The general election is Nov. 6.

Republican state house challenger Amy Byrd Evans

Evans, who lives in Black Mountain, touts herself as a fiscal, social and constitutional conservative. She vowed that if elected she would support ongoing GOP legislative policies, such as for lower taxes and less regulation. “I want to keep on keeping on.” She said in North Carolina, for the last year and a half the economy has sizzled in an “amazing turnaround. Small businesses create the jobs, and keep our economy moving upwards.”

She is experienced in the corporate world. She was attache to the CEO and president of DuPont subsidiary Berg Electronics, Inc. She worked abroad in such cities as Paris, France, and speaks fluent French and German. She calls that chief of staff job the “most senior administrative position within the company.”

She held five similar jobs as right hand to corporate presidents in Illinois, such as for Baxter Healthcare International. She was Discover Financial Service’s assistant to the president in Chicago, earlier in this decade. Locally, she managed Tanner LLC in Black Mountain for the past four years.

Evans was among the first women to get appointed into the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. She worked as a Coast Guard oboist, after playing the obo with the Boston Symphony. She rose to become executive administrator of the academy foundation’s board that included 12 admirals, and was led by then-Treasury Sec. G. William Miller. She and her family were stationed in Germany, Japan and Hawaii while her husband was an “ambassador” of sorts for the Coast Guard.

Evans lauded state job skill training that pairs companies with community college students, to plan jobs available to them after graduation. This is as long as the students train specifically in areas of the firm’s biggest needs. They earn “technical certificates.” In this way, “we invest in the future of our young people.”

She said state policies have somewhat offset how during Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency of costly business regulations, young adults economically had “less and less opportunities” and drifted farther from realizing the “American dream” of job stability and prosperity.

On her website, Evans said she wants a “better business climate — especially for those struggling rural regions that need it the most. I will stand with our law enforcement, veterans and blue-collar workers to ensure less government regulation…”

She also stated online she is running to “fire” Ager and ensure “our mountain values have a voice in Raleigh” and one who will “fight for them, and stand up to those who oppose free capitalistic markets and fiscally-conservative business practices.” She also wants the state to help crack down on illegal immigration. She told The Tribune she declined offers of PAC donations and influence.

Another area of debate is over the state’s portion of the tax on gasoline. Evans is leery of rising taxes. She called the onslaught of regulations “fundamentally unAmerican.”

Many Democrats hope high gas taxes prompts people to switch from gasoline to electric or hybrid motors, for less emissions. Ager is for incentives for electric vehicles as part of “multi-modal transportation, especially in urban areas. He noted a legislative idea to “charge by the mile,” to afford to “maintain our large road network. We have the second most maintained roads of any state.” He supports I-26 expansion, among infrastructure upgrades.

While pro business/jobs was Evans’ mantra, Ager espoused state assistance such as in health care in the debate. Ager strongly backs expanding Medicaid from the poor to many more residents in the state. He called it “unbelievable that we haven’t done it.” He reasons that “you don’t really save money in the health care system, by not extending coverage” to more people.

But Evans was just as diligent in her opposition to “failed” government-handled insurance, at any level. She links wider Medicaid via the state with the federal Affordable Care Act that the GOP tabs as Obamacare, and chastised for resulting in higher premiums for healthier patients. “I think the Affordable Care Act is a failed policy of the previous administration” in D.C., Evans told the debate crowd. “I don’t think expanding a failed program is the answer.”

Ager pointed to need for such wider health care, also fairer districting and more “transparent” legislative activity as main needs. “We need to really conduct our business down there (Raleigh) more openly,” he said. “When the government is not trusted, you really have a hard time leading the state.”

He later explained to The Tribune that the California system he suggested for N.C. districting fills a special commission that the public applies to get on. Similar to jury selection, each political parties in the Golden State can toss out applicant finalists to lessen the panel’s partisanship.

On teacher pay, Ager ripped the state for “shortchanging our teachers and our education system.” He said, “We built the prosperity of this state on education,” which he called the “great engine” to drive careers.

He said “we’ve got to do better” for teacher pay and benefits, closer to the national average. The National Education Association last year ranked N.C. 35th in teacher pay for 2016-17, up from 41st a mere year earlier. The Tar Heel State rose from ninth to fifth among 12 Southeastern states. On his campaign website, Ager also calls for “fully funding our schools” for textbooks and other supplies.

Evans said teacher salaries have soared 19 percent in the last eight years, under mostly unified GOP state rule. When asked about allocating some of the nearly $2 billion fund balance, Evans said she is against a request of retired teachers for greater pensions. “I said ‘no.’ That’s not (an ongoing new expense what the ‘rainy day fund’ is for.” Ager said “we just had the ‘rainy day,’” with “expensive hurricane recovery.”

Regarding spending to ease class size, Evans teased Ager: “Did you vote against that, naughty boy?” She said “I’m definitely for smaller class size, if we can do that without destroying the budget” with the added expense.

Ager suggested funding a teacher aide per classroom. He said he introduced a bill requiring all private schools be “accredited, to receive a voucher. There are some pretty sketchy schools getting state money.”

Environment is among Ager’s trigger issues. “John has stood up to polluters, and opposed fracking to protect our water and air,” his website states. It describes him as a “strong, honest, thoughtful voice,” and someone “fighting for everyday people and common sense.”

When candidates could grill the opponent with a question, Ager chose the climate change which is among debates separating the two main parties. He said the Atlantic Ocean has warmed, linked that to hurricane formations and greater rain, and asked what the General Assembly should “do to mitigate the long-term consequences of climate change?” Evans sharply replied Hurricane Florence and other storms had nothing to do with global warming. She called for “preventative maintenance” spending, to help the coast better withstand hurricanes.

In turn, Evans made a comical inquiry and got Ager to grin and affirm that he indeed changed into more formal attire in a parking lot when on the go and rushing to legislative sessions.

In talking to The Tribune after the forum, Ager distinguished himself from fellow Democrat Turner on one issue. Ager noted he voted for the HB2 bill that passed, with Turner voting no. Ager called it Gov. Cooper’s compromise on the issue of gender rights.

Rep. Ager told The Tribune that Democrat leaders pushed for those in his party to fall in line for votes merely about five times in the last two years. “The pressure within the caucus is not as bad as I expected. It’s very unusual for them to say ‘we need to have a (unified) caucus position.”

The two District 115 candidates’ websites are amyevansnc.com, and electjohnager.org. For more on activities of the two main parties in Buncombe County, check buncombedems.org and buncombegop.org.

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