Republican Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy and Democrat Beth Shaw of Elkin are candidates this year for the 90th District seat in the N.C. House of Representatives. Stevens is the incumbent.
The 90th District includes the Antioch, Edwards 1 and 2, Ferguson, Jobs Cabin, Mount Pleasant, Mulberry 1, Reddies River, Rock Creek 2, Traphill 1, Union and Walnut Grove precincts in northern, western and eastern Wilkes. It also encompasses all of Alleghany County and a little more than half of Surry County, including Elkin 1, 2 and 3, Bryan, Stewarts Creek 1 and 2, Dobson 1 and 2 and Mount Airy 1-9 precincts.
The rest of Wilkes and all of Alexander County are in the 94th House District, represented by Republican Jeffrey Elmore of North Wilkesboro. Elmore, in office since 2013, is running unopposed in 2020.
The Wilkes Journal-Patriot emailed five questions to Shaw and Stevens and asked them to respond in writing to each question in 250 words or less. Their responses and brief biographies of each follow.
ABOUT BETH SHAWShaw, 53, is running for elected office for the first time. She works as an operational strategy consultant. Shaw is married and has four children. She was born near St. Louis, Mo., and was raised in small towns in Illinois. “We moved to Surry County to be near my husband’s family and give our children a safe and enriching place to grow up,” she stated. Shaw has three master’s degrees — in management, materials science and mechanical engineering — from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She also has a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. She graduated from Naperville Central High School.
ABOUT SARAH STEVENSStevens, 60, was first elected to the House in 2008 and is seeking her seventh two-year term. She is speaker pro tempore, which means she presides over the House in the absence of the speaker. Stevens said she is in the process of retiring as an attorney. Stevens has lived in Mount Airy since birth, is married, and has five children and five grandchildren. She graduated from Mount Airy High School, attended Surry Community College, has a bachelor of science degree in social work with minors in psychology and sociology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a law degree from the Campbell University School of Law.
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.
SARAH STEVENS: “Initially, we needed to respond rapidly and a shutdown was appropriate. Our data collection has not been consistent and not exactly accurate. We did reach our initial goals for reopening. We should have reopened as initially planned for May. We should have reopened schools in greater strides than we have.
“Vulnerable populations have to be protected, particularly the elderly and infirmed. The general population should now be in an informed state to make their personal choices about mask wearing and business activity. Many people are suffering from being locked down and kept from normal social interaction.”
BETH SHAW: “I trust in and believe public health and infectious disease experts. There are aspects of our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that I agree with and things that I disagree with. I agree that masks, responsible physical distancing and the early response by the governor positioned North Carolina to experience a less severe impact than other states in the Southeast and many across the country. I disagree with the politicalization of the response from both sides and the sometimes-inconsistent regulations that feel politically responsive more than in the overall best interests of the people.
“Here are my suggested next steps to speed up our escape from this pandemic. I would like to see a mask mandate. Masks can be uncomfortable and not enjoyable, but are a very easy means to slow the spread of COVID and actually other illnesses. The General Assembly should have given our public schools increased funds to address the pandemic long ago. At this point, our five school districts are doing a great job of allowing socially distanced in-person learning as well as remote learning for those who have the means to effectively and safely learn in that setting. Lastly, another key to an effective response to the pandemic and a shortfall of the General Assembly is that we must expand Medicaid eligibility, which we already pay for, to help bridge the healthcare gap, support rural local healthcare facilities, and allow affordable care to everyone.”
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?
BETH SHAW: “Expanding Medicaid eligibility. We pay millions in federal taxes that go toward expanded Medicaid in other states, but don’t come back to us because the General Assembly hasn’t approved this. My opponent would tell you that expanding Medicaid would take dollars away from education, but that is patently false. The facts tell us that expanding Medicaid would keep our tax dollars in North Carolina, allow over 12,000 local citizens to have affordable healthcare, infuse millions of dollars to directly benefit local, rural healthcare providers and hospitals and give us a healthy citizenry — which is a less expensive citizenry.
“Adequately funding our public schools. It’s simple. We fund the things we care about, and we here can all agree that providing the best education possible to our children is extremely important for their futures and our communities as a whole. This should include not only college track opportunities but also trade skills and training and apprenticeship opportunities. This will help ensure we have the workforce for good-paying service and skilled-trade jobs right here in the district.
“Expanding high-speed internet access and improving cellular coverage. We must work with telecommunication companies to ensure that they bring equal, quality access to the internet and cellular coverage to all rural communities. There must be legislation that ensures these services are accessible. Education, business and the economic success of rural areas depend on being able to communicate and compete with more urban areas.”
SARAH STEVENS: “Educational opportunities need to be expanded. Vocational opportunities need to be expanded and encouraged as well as college entry. Not every person flourishes in the college environment. Not every college degree is marketable. Most students need to see that their education leads to practical results.
“Our rural areas have some great job opportunities and need the labor force. Applicants need to be able to verbally articulate their qualifications, pass a drug test and be willing to show up for work on a regular basis. Creativity is a bonus. If we do not find these workers our expanding industries will leave. I just met with two local companies that need these workers. We need greater connectivity between the workers, the schools and the businesses.”
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?
SARAH STEVENS: “The minimum wage was never intended to be a livable wage. It was intended to be an entry level way for a worker to enter the market. It is expected that a worker will demonstrate skills and talents worth more than minimum wage. To increase minimum wage will eliminate the entry level positions in most businesses. Even the threat of increased minimum wage has resulted in fast food restaurants and big box stores going to more automation in positions. The best way to get greater wages is to develop skills.
“New York went to a $15 per hour minimum wage. Jobs were lost. People cannot afford to go out to eat. There is now a demand for a $30 per hour minimum wage to be a livable wage. Every increase in minimum wage affects the price of any good or service. It cannot be absorbed by a business without an increase in the bottom line. If the worker is more productive and efficient the wage increase should follow or the worker will be more marketable and move to a new job.”
BETH SHAW: “It’s no secret that wages have remained stagnant as prices for services, goods and other necessities have increased over decades. A $7.25 minimum wage is not sufficient pay for any level of work in our modern economy. I fully believe that when individuals feel appreciated and their work is valued, they perform better and are able to contribute more to the economy.
“Hourly wage earners are not putting away cash, but instead put nearly all their wages back into the local economy for necessities. Any increase to the minimum wage benefits them and their families, as well as the local economy. Therefore, I support an increase to the minimum wage and will work with the Department of Labor to ensure that a pay-rate that is fair to all involved parties is achieved and that working North Carolinians are taken care of.”
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?
BETH SHAW: “It is important that we invest in our communities. One important way we can do that is by making community college more affordable or even cost-free. This better prepares our young people for careers, which helps the individuals, their families and our whole communities.
“As these students complete their studies, they can take jobs right here in our communities, improving their lives and the economics of the whole region. This investment will pay off for generations.”
SARAH STEVENS: “College, especially community college, should be affordable. North Carolina has some of the best values in the nation. Universities concern me because they are taking in excess of five years to graduate students and then less than half the students graduate overall. Universities have their pick of students and should be doing better. In addition, universities need to advise students as to the marketability of the degree being sought and the feasibility and salary of that degree. If universities will do these things, there will be significant savings and more opportunities for others.
“Community colleges are a great deal as it is and focus on marketability. They are also a good opportunity to advance to a four-year degree with tremendous savings. College credits are being made available through high school as well.”
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.
SARAH STEVENS: “I believe in law and order and supporting our law enforcement. I do not condone police brutality and recommend swift action against any officer who abuses his or her authority.
“I believe that abortion should be limited and a last resort. The unborn child should have some rights.
“Medicaid expansion sounds like a panacea but it can create more problems than it will fix. We saw what Obamacare did to our health insurance premiums. Medicaid expansion will cost all health insurance premiums to again rise. Medicaid pays less to providers than actual costs. These extra costs are passed to insured patients and particularly to private pay patients. In addition, there are fewer and fewer medical providers willing to take Medicaid patients. The better solution is to encourage clinics that many groups are doing to cover the uninsured. They are patient driven and provide great care as well as education. Surry County has a great example of this and is expanding.”
BETH SHAW: “The biggest issue facing us today is divisiveness. The ugly rhetoric clouds our TVs, disrupts our daily interactions and overruns the election cycle. But that’s not who we are, here in District 90. While I am indeed the Democratic candidate for N.C. House, I do not run on the platform of any single political party. My role in the General Assembly is to move beyond partisanship and work for all my constituents, including Democrats, Republicans and very importantly the quickly growing unaffiliated voting bloc.
“This split of voters is great for our region because it requires the representative to truly listen to everyone in the district, not just one group or another. You deserve a representative who will work across lines to approve a state budget that properly funds our public schools, public safety and justice and human health. Together, these make up over 80% of the state budget and it is the job of your N.C. House representative to work until an agreed budget is approved that provides ongoing operating expenses as well as grant funding for special programs and training that are so important to us all.”