Republican Deanna Ballard of Blowing Rock and Democrat Jeanne Supin of Boone are candidates this year to represent the N.C. Senate’s 45th District, which includes all of Wilkes, Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties and about three quarters of Surry County. Ballard is the incumbent.
The Wilkes Journal-Patriot emailed five questions to Supin and Ballard and asked them to respond in writing to each question in 250 words or less. Their responses to the questions and brief biographies on the two follow.
ABOUT DEANNA BALLARD
Deanna Ballard, 42, was appointed to the 45th Senate seat to finish Republican Dan Soucek’s term in April 2016, after Soucek resigned for a private sector job. Ballard was elected the following November, re-elected in 2018 and now is seeking her third term. She is single, doesn’t have children and is originally from Lincoln County. Ballard graduated from East Lincoln High School and received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Belmont University. She has been director of public policy at Boone-based Samaritan's Purse since 2009.
ABOUT JEANNE SUPIN
Jeanne Supin, 59, is a first-time candidate for elected office. She is single, has one child and one step-child. Supin represents the fifth generation of her family born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but said most of her life has been spent in the Carolinas. She has lived in Watauga County for 25 years. Supin said that as owner of Watauga Consulting in Boone for 22 years, she has helped mental health and addiction clinics expand and improve much needed services in all 100 counties of North Carolina and all 50 states.
QUESTION 1. What do you agree or disagree with about how North Carolina government has responded to COVID-19 and its impact on the state and why? Please summarize your views on how state government should respond moving forward.
JEANNE SUPIN: “The COVID-19 health crisis is different than its social and economic effects, and each deserves a different response.
“Because I’m not a doctor, epidemiologist or public health expert, I shouldn’t pretend I can evaluate lockdowns, masks or contact tracing. I am eternally grateful that Governor Cooper relies on data and consensus among health experts and is not swayed by amateur opinions. Absolutely there are unknowns, and hindsight may reveal mistakes. Yet, pandemics are full of unknowns; that’s why they’re pandemics. Health experts offer our best defense against illness and death.
“The social and economic fallout from this pandemic is real and heartbreaking, but we could have prevented these hardships had we immediately secured the following: access to healthcare; medical and protective equipment; payroll, unemployment and wage protections; mortgage, rent and utility relief; childcare, worker, teacher and family supports for work and school disruptions; universal broadband; and most importantly a shared trust that our needs would be taken care of during unexpected crises. This is government’s job. We are suffering from economic and social crises that never should have happened.
“Moving forward, small businesses, workers, teachers, tradespeople, wait and hospitality staff, students, those unemployed and those barely employed need money to recover. There is no secret to recovery or more subtle way to describe it. It’s government’s job to provide money and support in times of crisis, including rent, mortgage, payroll, wage and utility support; rapid broadband expansion; and help so schools can re-open safely.”
DEANNA BALLARD: “I’m been very proud of the bi-partisan nature of the work the legislature has done and the priorities funded by the COVID relief acts we have passed – over $3.5 billion in federal CARES Act funding has been appropriated for education, child care assistance, PPE, improving rural broadband, small business relief grants and more.
“Republicans did push bills that would have reopened shuttered businesses more quickly, but those were vetoed by the governor. I would have liked to have seen more consistency from the governor’s executive orders and more transparency when it comes to COVID testing data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Moving forward, we must continue working together to get people and businesses of North Carolina what they need to re-open safely and bring our economy back.”
QUESTION 2. What state policies do you support to help rural North Carolina catch up with urban areas of the state economically, with educational opportunities, with healthcare and in any other ways you think need to be addressed?
DEANNA BALLARD: “I believe investing in the talent pipeline at our local community colleges and universities can help with this objective. Strengthening industry partnerships between businesses and these education institutions can motivate and encourage students to stay and work locally even after they have completed their respective technical skills and job training programs.
“Digital infrastructure is critical to economic development. I’ve been a big supporter of the GREAT Program (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology), which has committed $150 million over the next decade to expand access to broadband in unserved areas. The GREAT program’s goal is to significantly speed up deployment of broadband by encouraging partnerships and competition between providers and cooperatives and the program is seeing encouraging results in its first few years. Already more than 10,000 households and 600 businesses, agricultural operations and community establishments, including libraries, schools, and hospitals, have new broadband access due to this program. The COVID-19 Recovery Act passed earlier this year provided an additional $9 million to the GREAT program to increase connections to broadband and increased funding for electronic devices to access remote learning opportunities.
“Not only are local educational institutions and digital infrastructure important, but District 45 is rich in local resources that distinguish us from major metropolitan areas. From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the rolling green countryside and farmlands, our area provides an incredibly special, unique way of life. This provides tremendous opportunities for tourism, agritourism and small business development that will keep our community attractive and growing.”
JEANNE SUPIN: “First, we must expand Medicaid eligibility to support our healthcare system. Medicaid expansion will provide health insurance to 500,000 or more North Carolinians and bring upwards of $4.7 billion annually in federal dollars for hospitals, mental health and addiction clinics, and local communities. Our private health systems are so desperate for Medicaid expansion they have promised to pay the required 10% state matching funds. All 39 states that have already expanded Medicaid, without exception, have reported overwhelming positive benefits. (Source: https://www.conehealthfoundation.com/app/files/public/621ee3b4-cb3f-4854-a9a8-7af04fd2166b/expanding-medicaid-in-north-carolina---2019.pdf.)
“Second, I am proud to be endorsed by the N.C. Association of Educators, and I will promote recommendations outlined in the 2020 WestEd Report, including significant investments in per-pupil spending, teacher and staff pay and development and facilities and equipment.
“Third, broadband should be understood as an essential utility and be available to all.
“Finally, as we commit to tackling climate change, we must ensure the related economic windfalls benefit economically strapped communities. In October 2019, Governor Cooper released the N.C. Clean Energy Plan outlining specific steps to reduce emissions significantly by 2030 and entirely by 2050, including transforming our electric grid and infrastructure, seizing green economic opportunities, and incentivizing utilities and customers to make rapid transitions to renewables. This will translate into tens of thousands of new industries and jobs, and they must be directed toward rural and economically distressed communities.”
QUESTION 3. Do you support or oppose raising the minimum wage and why? If you support increasing the minimum wage, what do you think it should be increased to?
JEANNE SUPIN: “I support raising the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour in order to help rebuild a thriving middle class. If the minimum wage had kept pace with cost of living and other economic metrics over the last several decades, it would be $22 per hour. However, a very small group of the wealthiest corporations and their stockholders have lobbied hard to squeeze workers, pad their own pockets and slash consumer prices so small and local businesses can’t compete.
“Yet as a student of political economy, I understand it’s not enough to just raise the minimum wage. We must also help small and local businesses increase revenue and profit so they can comfortably pay higher wages. We must reconfigure taxes so the wealthy pay their fair share. We must recommit to government investments in healthcare, education, infrastructure and other public goods and services that support communities. When minimum wage increases are merely a part of an overall strategy to create a fair economy and a thriving middle class, everyone wins.”
DEANNA BALLARD: “In 2018, I supported raising state employee pay to $15 per hour, making North Carolina the first state in the country to do so. However, I am not supportive of forcing businesses to raise their minimum wage, as those decisions should be made by the private sector, not dictated by the government.
“Fundamentally, economists have long argued that higher page wages could negatively affect unemployment -- meaning, fewer jobs available for low-skilled workers and lending itself to higher rates of unemployment. Also, raising minimum wages could make it more difficult for some smaller business to actually stay in business.”
QUESTION 4. What are your thoughts on state legislative action making it more affordable for North Carolinians to attend a community college and/or a four-year state university in North Carolina?
DEANNA BALLARD: “In 2016, we acted to make college far more affordable and accessible by creating the N.C. Promise Program, which guarantees in-state undergraduate students at three universities across the state pay just $500 per semester for tuition. Enrollment at Western Carolina University, Elizabeth City State University, and UNC-Pembroke skyrocketed as a result. Coupled with the NC Promise Program, Republicans also provided additional college affordability to all students by capping the amount fees can be raised each year and guaranteeing that students pay the same tuition rate for all four years of their college career. In 2019, the General Assembly passed a bill to repeal the tuition surcharge imposed on students who take too long to graduate after finding that the fee has the greatest impact on the populations who want to finish a degree – transfer students, older students and student veterans.
“Our community college system is one of the most affordable systems in the country. Through the Career and College Promise Program (dual enrollment programs with our K-12 systems) students are able to take college courses through their high schools. This gives them a chance to earn college credit they can take with them to a two- or four-year institution, thus reducing costs for them as they move ahead in their chosen pathway.”
JEANNE SUPIN: “The old understanding that ‘public education’ only happens for ages 5-18 is long gone. Our economy demands lifelong learning and retooling, and our education system should help us sustain meaningful work and shift jobs and careers as our curiosities, aspirations, or circumstances shift. This means re-thinking public investment in education and investing in things we already know work, including adult education.
“More specifically, we must build towards free technical, community, HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) and public college education and expand grants and work-study options so students can complete their studies debt-free. And we must dramatically expand free trade education and apprenticeships to provide a wide variety of options for students with all kinds of interests and career goals.”
QUESTION 5. Please briefly discuss your positions on one to three additional issues/subjects that you think distinctly differentiate you from your opponent in the 90th House District race.
JEANNE SUPIN: “I believe in government. I believe our communities are more healthy and vibrant when government is strong, just and doing its job to support the common good.
“Like many others, I’ve had a really rough six months. March 12, I was flying home from what I now recognize was my very last business trip. A week later, all but one of my contracts were cancelled, basically a year’s worth of scheduled work and all its revenue gone overnight. I’ve run my business for 22 years, and I’ve certainly had ups and downs, but I never before missed payroll. Suddenly I had nothing.
“I turned to the government for help, and government help has kept me afloat. I am reminded why I chose to run for public office in the first place.
“Government’s job is to help everyone and to remind us we’re in this together. Businesses have a different job – to sell goods and services, to employ people and to be competitive. Schools educate. Hospitals keep us healthy. In a free and democratic society, government exists precisely to protect and help everyone, no matter who you are or what circumstances you find yourself in.
“It’s one thing to disagree about how government can best help. But societies crumble when too many believe government is the problem. Government reflects a commitment we have to one another and to our nation as a whole. And we want to elect people who hold that commitment sacred.
DEANNA BALLARD: “One of the biggest differences between my opponent and myself is my proven leadership across the district. Since elected in 2016, I have worked diligently while serving as a co-chair on the Committees on Education/Higher Education Appropriations and Policy and serving as a member of the Health Care, Base Appropriations, Nominations and Transportation committees, among others. I have built relationships across the district and in Raleigh to make sure all citizens have someone fighting for them as important decisions are made.
“Another distinction between is my commitment to balancing meaningful spending across various sectors, such as education, healthcare and infrastructure, while continuing to save money and strengthen our reserve fund. K-12 education funding hasn’t been cut in the last 10 years, but grew from $7 billion to nearly $10 billion and will continue to grow. Over $400 million has been invested in Medicaid transformation on top of the $3 billion base budget. This has been accomplished while building a rainy-day fund that clearly proved its importance during the pandemic and recession. Because of our reserves, we’ve been able to avoid budget cuts and freezing pay this past year, unlike the early– to mid–2000s, when Democrats slashed education funding and froze teacher pay.
“My opponent continues to suggest more spending across-the-board (funds would have to be generated through higher taxes), while I believe we continue to make strong, solid investments in our families and schools and save money to ensure we’re prepared for the next hurricane, pandemic or recession.”