At Century Club Banquet

SPEAKERS at the Wilkes Democratic Party’s annual Century Club Banquet Saturday night included, left to right, Walter Smith, candidate for N.C. commissioner of agriculture; Wayne Goodwin, state Democratic chairman and candidate for insurance commissioner; Jerome Watkins, Wilkes County commissioner candidate; Charlie Wallin, Fifth District chairman and Watauga County commissioner candidate; Jeanne Supin, 45th District N.C. Senate candidate; and Chalma Hunt, Wilkes County commissioner candidate. 

Wilkes County Democrats heard from candidates for state and local offices at the annual Century Club Banquet, held at the Holiday Inn Express in Wilkesboro on the night of Jan. 18.

Keynote speaker for the fundraiser was Wayne Goodwin, N.C. Democratic Party chairman and a candidate for N.C. commissioner of insurance.

Goodwin was elected N.C. commissioner of insurance in 2008, re-elected in 2012 and was narrowly defeated in his bid for a third term in 2016. The point was made that if he had gained one more voite in every North Carolina precinct in 2016, he would have won his race against Republican Mike Causey.

Goodwin doesn’t have a primary opponent so he will face the winner of the primary race between Republicans Causey and Ronald Pierce. The primary is March 3.

He said it’s important to have a strong Democratic Party turnout statewide to make changes and to fight for those without a voice. He said that in the past, the state has suffered as a result of Democrats not turning out to vote in force, as he said was the case in 2016.

Goodwin said there are Republican leaders in Washington who care more about protecting their leader, the president, than they care about democracy and standing up for what is right.

“I’m fed up, but fired up,” said Goodwin.

He also said the current state Democratic Party officers are the most diverse ever and the party as a whole best represents the tapestry of the state’s population.

Congressional race

Wilkes Democratic Party Chairman Kathryn Charles said David Wilson Brown, a Demcoratic candidate for 5th District congressman, was scheduled to speak at the event but had to cancel.

Charles said Brown had a heart attack and open heart surgery earlier this month. Charles said Brown told her he wasn’t able to attend because he had “pushed it a little too hard.” Brown is an IT consultant who lives in Gaston County.

The winner of the Democratic primary race between Brown and Eric Hughes will run against incumbent Virginia Foxx, who doesn’t have a Republican opponent.

Fifth District Chairman Charlie Wallin of Boone said Saturday night that as a result of counties lost and added through redistricting in 2019, the 5th District now has more Republicans.

He said the good news is that Brown, if he wins the primary, has the advantage of having run as a candidate for Congress in the 10th District so voters in Gaston, Cleveland, Rutherford, Caldwell and Burke counties (moved from the 10th to the 5th in redistricting) are familiar with him.

Wallin said voters in Wilkes and the other four counties in the 5th know Republican Foxx but don’t know Brown. Wallin said the five counties moved from the 10th to the 5th have more voters than Wilkes and the other four still in the 5th.

He said urban Forsyth County is no longer in the 5th, which he said left counties in the district more balanced population-wise.

Wallin said the 5th District Convention is April 25 at a location to be announced. When it was pointed out that this is MerleFest weekend, Wallin said that weekend is mandated by the Democratic National Convention in relation to the presidential election.

He said the Wilkes Democratic Convention is March 25.

Jeanne Supin

Jeanne Supin of Boone, candidate for the 45th District seat in the N.C. Senate, spoke at the event.

Supin works with mental health and addiction agencies statewide and nationwide and said this takes her to states that approved expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. She said these states have ample funds but need more staff to serve the thousands and thousands of people suffering from mental illness and opioid and alcohol addiction.

“That’s why I’m running for the N.C. State Senate. We are losing $3.9 billion a year. Our tax dollars essentially are going to all those other states that are able to serve the people we aren’t able to serve,” said Supin.

She said there are 600,000 people in North Carolina who could get Medicaid if income requirements for eligibility was expanded. “The cost is zero for North Carolina taxpayers.”

Supin said she has spent 35 years working in the public sector with nonprofits, social services agencies and mental health and addiction services. “I know what it takes to have good state policies that create ways that folks can get the services they need.”

Supin said this is why she’s running against Ballard. She said it’s time to ask her questions and hold her accountable for her decisions resulting in lack of pay for teachers, not expanding Medicaid, not supporting ag the way it should be supported and giving huge tax breaks to corporations across the state.

“Somebody needs to stand on the stage and ask her to explain herself.”

Supin is president and CEO of Watauga Consulting Inc. and a senior consultant and faculty member with the Washington, D.C.-based National Council for Behavioral Health with a focus on leadership and change management programs for leaders of organizations.

She initially announced that she was running for the 5th District congressional seat, but registered a candidate for 45th District seat in the Senate.

Chalma Hunt, Jerome Watkins

Chalma Hunt and Jerome Watkin, the two Democratic candidates for Wilkes County commissioner this year, also spoke. Both are Wilkesboro residents. There are three county commissioner seats on the ballot, so there is no Democratic Party primary for that race.

Hunt said she was born and raised in Wilkes, spent 22 years working for a federal government contractor in the Washington, D.C., area and moved back to Wilkes to support her parents.

Hunt said she is interested in making a difference in her home county and perceived running for county commissioner as a way to do that when the opportunity arose.

“I believe it’s time for some positive change and I hope to be somebody who can implement that…. Thank you so much for this opportunity,” she said.

Watkins said born in a Brookhaven, Miss., small dairy town about an hour and a half north of New Orleans. He said he enlisted in the Marines Corps at age 17 and spent eight of his 22 years in the Marines at duty stations in North Carolina. He said three of his children were born in the state.

Watkins said he moved to Wilkes in December 2012 and has always been a voter. He said he is running for county commissioner because “there are a lot of things that aren’t being done in the county” that are needed.

“I think that our county commissioners have forgotten what it means to serve to serve…. We need people (in elected office) who represent us.”

Watkins far too few people age 35 and younger voted in 2018 in Wilkes and nationwide and that needs to change. 

Brandon Whitaker

Next to speak was Brandon Whitaker of the Pleasant Hill community, candidate for one of three seats on the March 3 ballot in the non-partisan Wilkes County Board of Education race. There are five candidates.

Whitaker said he is running because “the education of our children is the most important thing we will ever do.” He said he recently heard Dr. Jeff Cox, WCC president, say that only one county nationwide suffered a larger drop in median household income from 2005 to 2015, only about one in five people in the WCC service area (Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany counties) have any college education and if you’re born into a low-income family in the WCC service area, “you have a two in three chance of never climbing out of poverty.”

He said the only cure for poverty is a quality education. “The reason that’s important to me is that I was one of the ones that made it. We can’t expect to do what we’ve always done and expect things to change. Our society will change rapidly over the next few years,” especially technologically. “We need to be preparing our kids for the jobs 10 years from now.”

Whitaker said his wife, Kimberly, is receptionist at East Wilkes High School. He said their son, Chandler, attends Wilkes Community College, and their daughter, Brittney, is a student at East Wilkes Middle School.

Whitaker said he went to C.B. Eller Elementary, East Wilkes High, WCC and then the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he received a bachelor of arts degree. He is a licensed professional engineer and has worked as a project engineer for a private engineering firm for a year and a half after earlier working for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Walter Smith

Walter Smith of Yadkin County, candidate for state commissioner of agriculture, said North Carolina needs an agriculture commissioner who cares about saving family farms, revitalizing rural communities, protecting domesticated animals, keeping water clean, protecting natural resources and feeding the hungry in this state. “All that comes under the N.C. Department of Agriculture.”

Smith said he got a late start campaigning for agriculture commissioner because he spent all summer and most of the fall lobbying the state legislature for industrial hemp. He said the couldn’t lobby and be a candidate at the same time and the legislative session lasted longer than normal.

“I don’t regret doing that because I was fighting for North Carolina and all of you,” he said. “The hemp industry can change the face of North Carolina. It can add new jobs, with $100 million in revenue predicted for the state. It can save our family farms and revitalize rural communities.”

He said there are 28,000 uses for hemp, including a type of plastic that can be used to make bags and cups that will biodegrades in less than a year.

He said he was born on the farm, has a bachelor of science degree in ag engineering from N.C. State, taught vocational ag at a Yadkin high school, worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 30 years administering USDA programs with farmers and served as Boonville mayor.

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