Three Vie for U.S. House District 2 Seat
U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers and her Democratic challenger, Steve Wilkins, seem to agree on one thing: They don’t like labels being unfairly put on candidates.
Wilkins said he finds it “kind of funny” that some have tagged him as a liberal, given his military background. He acknowledges that his own views have changed over his life, and that he is more moderate now.
“Government can play a role in improving our lives,” he said. “We need to ensure that there is an opportunity for our citizens. Most just want a chance to succeed. We need fair regulations and rules. We need a strong military, a society that is at peace.”
Ellmers, a Republican, directed her criticism to elements of her own party.
“Everyone is trying to quantify their conservatism,” she said. “The only one who should influence your decision-making should be your constituents. Outside interests should not have that kind of influence. If you look at my voting record, I feel that I am an extremely conservative person.”
As for the campaign, the two also agree that improving the economy, cutting the federal budget deficit and dealing with Medicare are the biggest challenges facing Congress and the nation. But they differ sharply on how best to address them.
Ellmers, a first-term Republican from Harnett County who represents a newly drawn 2nd District, believes cutting spending, cutting taxes and eliminating federal regulations, including the health care reform law — commonly called Obamacare — is the solution.
Wilkins, a retired Army Special Forces officer from Whispering Pines, counters that simply cutting spending and taxes is not the answer. He said some tax increases, mainly for those making more than $200,000, while giving more relief to the middle class, is needed. He said he also adamantly opposes any attempt to repeal the health care reform provisions.
A third candidate, Libertarian Brian Irving, is also running. He had a 25-year career in the U.S. Air Force, including time at Pope Air Force Base, before settling in Fayetteville and working in the communications business.
Ellmers’ effectiveness in representing the district has become an issue in the campaign.
Wilkins says Ellmers is pretty much absent from the district and that she done nothing to help the district in her first two years.
“People in Harnett County say they haven’t seen her since she was elected,” Wilkins said. “I have heard it from all around the district. They are not aware of how little she has done for the district. She ran on one issue: overturning Obamacare. I really believe she is not up there representing the district.”
Ellmers calls Wilkins’ accusation “absurd and absolutely ridiculous.”
“But I am still running my congressional office and meeting constituent needs,” she said. “I am in the district. Sixty-five percent of the district is new. I am getting into the new areas, meeting constituents. I did the same thing in 2010. I am talking to people about what we need to do to turn the country around and move the economy forward. If anything, I am sacrificing time with my family.”
The 2nd District, redrawn as a result of the 2010 Census, includes all of Moore and Lee counties, about half of Hoke County, and portions of Cumberland, Harnett, Chatham, Randolph, Wake and Alamance counties. Moore previously was in the 6th District and was represented by Republican Howard Coble.
Ellmers, considered a rising star in the tea party movement two years ago, narrowly defeated incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge. She won a three-way Republican primary in May to advance.
Born in Michigan, Ellmers graduated from Oakland University with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, according to biographical information on her campaign website. A year later, working as a surgical intensive care nurse at Beaumont Hospital, she met her husband, Brent.
While visiting family in Cary, Ellmers and her husband and their son moved to North Carolina. She works with her husband as clinical director of the Trinity Wound Care Center in Dunn.
She became an outspoken critic of government-run health care and decided to run for Congress in 2010.
In this election, Ellmers said jobs and the economy are the biggest issues.
Ellmers said she remains confident Congress can reach a compromise on a budget and deficit reduction before a package of massive spending cuts, called “sequestration,” is triggered. A number of economists have expressed concerns that those cuts could damage the already fragile economic recovery.
“We will avoid that financial cliff,” she said. “Our communities will be devastated by these cuts. It leaves us vulnerable from a national defense perspective. There will be job loss. We cannot withstand the sequestration cuts.
“We need to make the cuts we said we’d make under the Budget Control Act. The Senate will not offer a budget. The president said he would go along with it only if we raise taxes on those making $200,000 or more. That is not leadership. That is someone holding something over someone’s head.
“If taxes go up on job creators — we’re not talking about millionaires and billionaires — we lose 700,000 jobs. That is from the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses).”
She said Democrats will “feel that pain as much as we do” if sequestration is not avoided.
Ellmers said she favors the Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare, which includes a voucher system for buying insurance.
“If we continue on the same path, it will go bankrupt,” she said. “We need to protect our seniors. This plan creates more choices and more options. It is a premium-supported plan.”
She pointed out that low-income residents can continue to choose Medicare as it is now.
“Democrats say it will increase costs,” she said. “Those with lower incomes will pay less.”
Ellmers also said Congress has to rein in spending, which she says is out of control.
“We’re spending too much money,” she said. “We are borrowing money from China to pay for programs that don’t work or are inefficient. Just throwing money at the problem won’t fix anything.”
She said one of the biggest things for small businesses and creating jobs is cutting regulation by the government. She said regulations and the uncertainty over taxes have kept the economy from growing and creating jobs.
“They don’t know what is coming around the corner,” she said. “Small businesses are overwhelmed.”
Wilkins is making his first run for elective office. Like Ellmers, he won a primary in May.
A 22-year veteran of the U.S. Army, including three tours at Fort Bragg, Wilkins is married and the father of two adult children. His wife of nearly 25 years, Meg, works in the Moore County Schools.
He currently works for Boeing.
On the economic front, Wilkins said the most recent jobs report shows that “things are getting better.” He said one area where the country has a great potential to create more jobs is health care, which would benefit North Carolina.
Wilkins questions why the leadership in the Republican-controlled House held 33 votes on repealing the health care law, which his opponent voted for each time.
“We need to work it out in a bi-partisan way to make it work,” he said. “If you want to have influence, why have these meaningless votes? It is a package deal as it is now. We’ll have to make changes as we implement it.”
Wilkins said he is concerned about the federal deficit and the prospect of sequestration, and the effect massive spending cuts would have, especially in North Carolina and closer to home at Fort Bragg.
“This is adding more uncertainty,” he said. “This is like hanging a piano over our heads. We need people who can make the hard choices and come up with a budget. Our debt can’t continue to rise. We don’t have to do it all at once. We can’t cut taxes for the sake of just cutting taxes or cut spending for the sake of cutting spending. We’ve got to do something about both.”
Wilkins said he favors allowing the Bush-era tax cuts expire and add relief for the middle class.
“They were a failure,” Wilkins said. “They were ill-timed. We can’t be fighting two wars, terrorism, and do that. It was the wrong path to go down.”
He said he opposes the Romney-Ryan plan to privatize Medicare.
“You are essentially putting it in the hands of the financial markets,” he said. “Market forces shouldn’t have control over it. We need to have that stability.”
Wilkins also said he doesn’t believe significant cuts should be made in military spending right now, as the country winds down its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. He points out that the Army has a tremendous amount of broken equipment.
“It will take a couple of years to get it back on the same readiness footing it was in 2003,” he said. “There is a huge training component. We need to watch what we are spending. We are transitioning to a different kind of military.”
Wilkins said the fact that Republicans and Democrats cannot come together to work out a compromise means that a change is needed in Washington.
“We need people who have some idea what public service is about,” he said. “I am bit of an idealist. If you can’t be idealistic about the country’s future, what can you be idealistic about?”
Irving was born in the Bronx, N.Y. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. In 1980, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and served as a public affairs officer at U.S. and international bases.
He has been married for more than 40 years to Maria Elisa (Lisa) Quiambao.
The couple settled in Fayetteville in 1992 after Irving retired.
Irving helped form a Libertarian Party chapter in Fayetteville and has previously run for several political offices, including Cumberland county commissioner, Fayetteville City Council and State Senate.
“My platform is simple: I want to reduce the size, scope and power of the federal government at all levels and on all issues, and will oppose increasing the size, scope and power of the federal government at any level, for any purpose,” Irving says on his website.
“I want to restore the republic our Founding Fathers established, a government of limited and enumerated powers whose only purpose is to protect our unalienable, individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“My goal will be to have a federal government small enough to fit inside the U.S. Constitution.”
Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or email@example.com.
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