This story originally aired as part of the 2016 WCQS Election Special which can be heard in its entirety here.
With hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by campaigns during this year’s election, hot button issues like trustworthiness, tax returns, transparency and temperament are all being discussed by the candidates—but there are numerous other political matters that voters in Western North Carolina feel are also being ignored—from the bottom of the ballot to the top.
After speaking with voters, in Swain, Haywood, Jackson and Macon Counties, the two issues which nearly all of them seem to share as a concern are jobs and education, regardless of whether or not they were decided, or what their party affiliation was. The one thing that all of the voters had in common was that they felt there are in fact issues the candidates are failing to address.
One such voter is retired ecologist John Gladden, a Democrat in Macon County, who recently moved to the mountains from coastal South Carolina. Most of the things Gladden feels this year’s candidates are ignoring are issues that hinder the efficiency of local government, as well as regional economic development—issues like having better internet connectivity throughout the mountains, providing adequate educational funding, and improving PILT— or the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program.
PILT was established in 1976 to provide rural counties containing sizeable federal lands cash payments to offset the loss of tax revenues normally collected off of real estate. PILT funding is often used to fund basic public services, and Gladden says that county governments throughout the mountains struggle every year with their budgets, because PILT dollars are erratically appropriated.
“If I were a county commissioner, it would really scare me, because it’s an annual appropriation. It has to be redone every year. And the numbers go up and down.”
Going into a budget process, Gladden explains, county commissioners in areas like Macon County, which have sizeable federal lands, often have no idea how much money they will be working with from year to year.
“In 2015, all of the North Carolina counties (which receive PILT funding) got $3.9 million, and the year before that, they got $4.2 million. You’ve got the budget you’ve got to work, you’ve got the county operations—which is schools, police, medical care, all of the stuff that the county has to fund—and they’ve got this suspense hole sitting there, so if that money doesn’t come through then they either got to scramble to cut something, or they’re in luck with what they were hoping to get that’s actually funded.”
Gladden says this is an issue which local leaders have done a decent job of pursuing, however they get no help from officials at the state or federal levels—something sorely needed to expedite PILT appropriations.
“I’ve only heard one politician mention that this fall. It’s a planning problem for the county agencies, primarily the county commissioners and the county government. It’s a suspense item that they should not have to deal with. The amount of federal land is not going to change significantly. The county knows how much [land] there is, the fed knows how much [PILT funds] there is, so why can’t they just appropriate this on a long term basis, to give the counties some predictability?”
“Deal with this. Get this out of the short term annual funding issue, and appropriate this money on a longer term basis, so that the governments you represent have some predictability and stability in their budgets.”
Instead of local politics, twenty-one-year-old Swain County native Neko Chastain, a self-described "New Age Republican", is concerned about the unique statewide issue of raising the age of juvenile majority to 18, and says he would like to hear gubernatorial candidates Roy Cooper or Pat McCrory take a position on the matter.
“I think juvenile jurisdiction should be raised from 16 to 18. Every other state has done this. You’re ruining a child’s life. Once you're 16 and you’re charged as an adult, that goes on your permanent record forever. I don’t think you should have to be subjected to being viewed as a criminal for your entire adult life. You can’t get jobs or anything. The smallest mistake you make, whether its shoplifting, whatever, youre being tried as an adult.”
Chastain says that he would back whichever candidate advocated for raising the juvenile age to 16, citing not only how outdated the current law is in North Carolina, but also the economic implications it has on the state, explaining that having a criminal record at an earlier age bars many from being able to find work, go to school or even join the military.
“You can't get jobs or anything. The smallest mistake you make, whether it's shoplifting or whatever, you're being tried as an adult. It’s unnecessary. It takes a huge toll on the tax payers, having to lock up so many people in their youth.”
Aside from the governor’s race, Chastain says that, as a Donald Trump supporter, he would like to hear his candidate talk more about how he plans on accomplishing all the things he plans to do as president, like building the Mexican border wall.
“Personally, I would like to see him in office, but I don't think that's going to happen, because He's not showing us anything. I want to make sure he's not just talking and now action. I think he needs to press the issue of how he’s going to build it, and who he’s going to get to build it, who he’s going to get to build it and who he’s going to get to pay for it. He says he’s going to get Mexico to pay for the wall, but the Mexican president has already said that he is not going to pay to have the wall built. I want to see how he is going to be able to work things out with them without insulting them or undermining them in any way. So far, he’s just making everyone mad.”
However, unlike Chastain, for Cashiers charter school teacher Amie Broyhill, it’s not so much about what Donald Trump isn’t saying in this election, as it is about how her candidate— Hillary Clinton— is responding to Trump’s misogyny, or his espousal of social inequality.
“First, the social injustices facing our queer, black or muslim brothers and sisters is an outrage. However, my biggest plight with our current election and cultural trends is female civil rights being degraded at the hands of rape culture and misogyny.”
This degredation, Broyhill explains, directly affects her sixth grade students, who she says are at an easily impressionable age.
“I discuss difficult subjects concerning women’s rights from many different countries such as Iran and India. However when they begin to see correlations in these foreign concepts in their own culture they’re then expected to see what? These young men are learning to see these behaviors to be acceptable as well.
“This is important to me because Im a teacher and Im trying to teach my children tolerance. If my students are getting this from anywhere its stemming from dinner table talk, which is the idea that they have a presidential candidate they believe to be more powerful than another that’s preaching islamophobia, gender inequality and lgbt rights inequality. To me this is all a civil rights issue. I generally don’t believe it is in Donald Trump’s character or temperament to promote equality because he genuinely believes in an unequal system.
Broyhill says that Clinton needs to make social equality more of an issue in her campaign anyhow, but especially in this year’s election.
“When it comes to women, I feel like she’s trying her best to counteract the misogyny she’s seeing at the polls. I think she’s spending too much time being a career politician and the fact that she doesn’t want to target a man for his words, but instead wants to target a counterpart or another politician for their policies. If rape culture and misogyny isn’t at the heart of a woman’s policies on the year she’s running for president then she’s missing the mark. I think when my children see her trying the shrug these things off then they too are going to try and shrug these things off… She’s spending more of her time talking about how Donald Trump is wrong, than discussing what she will do to make it right.”
“She’s not doing enough… With misogyny at the extent that it is right now, it should be her main priority, as a female, as a descendent of a suffragette, the idea that these women fought tooth and nail to receive our rights, and less than a hundred years later, we’re having hashtags show up saying to repeal the fourteenth amendment… Obviously someone missed the memo."
Aside from social issues, monetary policy is another matter in the back of many Western North Carolinian's minds. Twenty-six-year-old Randall Janoe, a credit analyst from Clyde who describes himself as an ‘unregistered 1950’s-era Republican’, wants to hear more from the candidates about their positions on the federal reserve—an issue he says has spent far too little time in the spotlight during this election.
“The one thing that appeals to me from having a financial background, and being a person of statistics, is government involvement in the federal reserve and monetary policy. People tend to lean against gas prices, they tend to lean against health insurance costs. While those do tend to make a difference in your day-to-day, the more macro-economic scale of what the federal reserve does, and their policy makes a very vast difference in our quality of life—short and long term—and I think it’s not addressed equally enough as it should be."
Janoe says while federal monetary policy isn't as exciting as social issues, it's just as important.
"To me, I think the highlights of the election are typically social issues, segue into tax, and then the next thing needs to be monetary policy. When you lower rates, it entices people to borrow money, and it makes an artificially high demand for money. Are you more likely to buy a vehicle if its financed at 5 percent or 2? That same rationale goes for really any product. With the amount of credit card capacity, mortgage, there’s trillions of dollars in debt. The policy side of it souldn’t be as erratic. .. What they need to boil it down to is a common issue. It’s incentivizing the wrong way of doing things, rather than being conservative with your money. It really cripples our retirees. Average people don’t need to see low interest rates so corporations can refinance their debt, and become even more leveraged and take on even more risk.”
Like many other millennials in Western North Carolina, twenty three year old Jason Tindell, an undecided independent voter, is really only concerned about economic issues, and echoes Janoe's concern that everything else should be secondary.
“When you turn on the tv and you see either of the candidates— I would like to hear more of them talking about things like minimum wage, unemployment, basically economics in general. Im more interested in where the country is going. At this point I don’t care what they have to say about social issues. I more just care about where country going to go economically.”
Tindell is recently unemployed, and says after being laid off at his job at the casino, all he is interested in right now is jobs, and is infuriated by how inexplicit all of the candidates are being about their economic policies.
“Trump, I will give credit, has kind of talked about the wall, being the source of jobs. My position is that the wall is really implausible in the first place. There’s a lot of problems about the wall. It would be a burden on the country. I do not think that it would do the good that he thinks it does. He has to have a better solution. He hasn’t talked about anything other than that. Trump just needs to stop being so crazy, okay?”.
Clinton has hinted at things but what I don’t like about Clinton though is that on the surface, she seems to have good common sense opinions on a lot of more soft issues. She just, on a superficial level, wants to be as appealing as possible. It’s funny, you can tell that she is just giving basic, remedial information about it. I think she’s just saying things. I need her to prove me wrong. I need her to show me that she actually intends to go through with all the positions she gives on things, rather than just giving the positions just to please people.”
Whether voters in Western North Carolina are Republican, or Democrat, or Libertarian, Green or Independent, there is one other thing that they all seem to have in common--they all just want it to be over. Back in Franklin, when asked how he would describe this year's election, Mr. Gladden said, "Someone asked me that question after the second debate, and all I can say is, I’m embarrassed.”