Democratic candidates for Congress highlight platforms, issues

Democratic candidates for Congress highlight platforms, issues

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Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

Editor’s note: Due to the number of candidates and the length of the questions and their answers, the following interviews with the Democratic candidates for Congress have been edited for space. For the full interviews, see themaconcountynews.com.
When United States House of Representative Mark Meadows announced he would not be seeking re-election, the candidate pool for District 11 quickly filled up — with five Democrats and 10 Republicans (originally there were 11 but Dillon Gentry has since bowed out) the March 3 primary has no shortage of congressional candidates from which to choose.
While District 11 has historically been a heavily Republican district, according to new district maps approved by state judges in December, NC-11 now contains the entirety of Buncombe County’s large Democratic voter base, giving the five Democratic hopefuls a better shot than they have had in previous elections to reclaim the House seat.
Retired U.S. Air Force Major Steve Woodsmall is once again running for the Democratic nomination after coming in second to Phillip Price in the 2018 primary. Price, who only filed to run after Meadows announced his retirement, is also running for the seat. Gina Collias, an attorney and real estate professional who has previously run for the District 10 Republican nomination against Patrick McHenry, will now be running as a Democrat for District 11. Moe Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay and Michael O’Shea, a political newcomer are also running for the open seat.

Gina Collias

Gina Collias
Collias has been married for 29 years to her high school sweetheart. They are the proud parents of three children, twins – one who attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one who is a UNC-CH graduate, as well as a son, who attends high school in Asheville near their family home in Fairview in Buncombe County. Collias is a pro-choice, pro-civil rights, pro-education, and pro-environment advocate. She has spoken at the Women’s March, appeared at union conferences and believes all Americans should have decent health care.
Collias is an attorney and businesswoman.  She received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her law degree from Mercer University. According to Collias, she is the only Democratic District 11 candidate who has consistently been involved in her community as a volunteer and community leader. From leading an effort to build a playground where 2000 people volunteered— to spearheading economic development and serving on many community boards for the Chamber of Commerce and YMCA – Collias has always served her community.
“I am running because there needs to be change and it has to start with regular people like you and me,” said Collias. “I have been inspired to run by many people and by some very significant events – such as my involvement in 2016 Electoral College investigations – but what it really comes down to is trying to right a ship I believe is heading in the wrong direction. I will be a fighter for WNC, but I also believe in treating all people with respect and engaging in civil discourse. I believe we must try and find common ground. Working on infrastructure – repairing our roads, bridges and rural internet is a good place to start. It’s also a good way to bring jobs to WNC. I’m running because I believe government can improve people’s lives. I want to represent you and your values in Congress.”
What do you see as being the biggest issue facing District 11 and how would you address it if elected?
“We face so many challenges in WNC. The climate crisis threatens our economic future, the beauty of our mountains and our very existence. It is not fake news and must be addressed. We must also make WNC more affordable, by addressing wages/jobs and making healthcare affordable. Congress must show its support for the working man and woman. We must raise the minimum wage from an unconscionable $7.25 per hour to a living wage. We need to increase the funding for education, so that our children have better schools and have a better chance to succeed. We should be funding, promoting, and encouraging job training, community colleges and the trades. I also think we need to create a WPA-type program that would rebuild our infrastructure (including broadband internet) and bring teachers and healthcare workers to underserved areas. Lastly, we need Medicaid expansion and affordable healthcare, so we don’t have to choose between seeing a doctor or paying the rent. These are some of the issues I will work for and fight for.”
Any other issues or information you would like your voters to know? 
“While I respect the other candidates, I bring unique skills, experience and values that will enable us to bring NC-11 back to Blue,” said Collias. “I have experience as an attorney and worked to expose Electoral College abuses. Additionally, while progressive on social issues, I am fiscally responsible and – as a more moderate candidate – can appeal to our many unaffiliated voters. I believe in building bridges, bridging differences and finding common ground with those I may not agree with on policy issues. I also believe in listening, treating all people with respect and having civil discourse. There is no candidate that has traveled more, listened more and campaigned harder for your vote and your trust. I want to represent you and your values and become the first Congresswoman in WNC.”

Moe Davis

Moe Davis
Moe Davis was born, raised and educated in North Carolina. His hometown is Shelby and his family had a farm in Rutherford County between Newhouse and Hollis where his dad was born and raised. He is a graduate of Appalachian State and the North Carolina Central University School of Law. He spent the first 25 years of his life in North Carolina before joining the Air Force. While in the Air Force, he earned two Masters of Laws, one from the Army JAG School in Charlottesville, Va., and another from the National Law Center at George Washington University in DC. He and his wife bought property in Asheville two years ago and started construction on a house a year ago. The couple moved to Asheville last May and are currently renting in the Chunns Cove area while their house is being finished. They hope to move into their new house in April. Davis has a grown daughter who has a degree in nursing and lives in the DC area where she works for a medical technology firm. Davis is a disabled veteran and uses the Asheville VA Medical Center for his medical care, which is the same VA hospital his dad used a half century ago.
Davis is a retired Air Force Colonel with 25 years of service. He is best known for serving as the Chief Prosecutor for the terrorism trials at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from September 2005 to October 2007. He resigned his post when he was ordered to use evidence that was obtained by torture. He spent his last year on active duty as the Director of the Air Force Judiciary where he supervised 265 people around the world and was responsible for oversight of the Air Force criminal justice system. Davis was a Senior Specialist in National Security for the 111th Congress and head of the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division at the Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress. He worked there from December 2008 to January 2010. Davis was Executive Director of the Crimes of War Education Project from 2010 to 2011 and then was a full-time faculty member at the Howard University School of Law from 2011 to 2015. During that time, he was a regular contributor on MSNBC, CNN and other news outlets on military and national security matters. Davis’ last job was as a judge for the U.S. Department of Labor from 2015 until September 2019 when he retired. Davis spent the last four months of his tenure at the Department of Labor teleworking from Asheville.
“Since I live in what was the gerrymandered part of Asheville, I thought that when I retired in September I was really retired,” said Davis. “When the court intervened in November and told the legislature to redraw the congressional map or they’d do it for them, it became apparent that Asheville and Buncombe County would be reunited and I would be living in the 11th Congressional District. I looked at the Democrats that were running and I just didn’t see anyone that I thought had the ability to generate the attention and the resources required to defeat Mark Meadows. I have a large national following, particularly on Twitter where I have about 158,000 followers, and I have high-level connections because of my military and federal government service. It’s likely to take $2 million or more to win this race, and I’m the only one running on the Democrat side that has the potential to raise that kind of money. The bottom line for me was that I have spent more than 30 years of my life in uniform, in a suit on the Hill, or in a robe, because I believe in America and in democracy. I’ve invested too much of my life to watch our democracy go down the drain.”
What do you see as being the biggest issue facing District 11 and how would you address it if elected?
“The biggest issue the District faces is the same issue the entire nation faces: The current administration is the most immoral, incompetent and corrupt in America’s 243-year history,” said Davis. “I want to bring ethics, integrity and a commitment to public service back to Capitol Hill. There are a lot of important policy issues like climate change, healthcare, jobs and education that need to be addressed, but repairing the cracks in the foundation of our democracy has to be Job One. It is unacceptable for the president or any member of Congress to behave in a way that you would put your child in timeout for the same behavior. The public has the right to expect its elected officials to act honorably and with integrity and to take responsibility for their actions.”
Any other issues or information you would like your voters to know?
“When I grew up in North Carolina, we were a proud progressive state. We had good roads, good schools and we had Research Triangle Park before anyone ever heard of Silicon Valley,” said Davis.”That’s not the case anymore. Poverty in 15 of the 17 counties in the District is higher than the national average and the percentage of people without healthcare coverage is above the national average in all 17 counties. Our children rank in the bottom third of the nation in reading and math skills. Broadband access in every county is below the national average. Mark Meadows is entering his eighth year in office and when I ask people what he has done that has made life better for them and their families, people struggle to try and name something. Meadows decided at the last minute that he wasn’t going to run again, but every one of the Republicans running for the nomination is cut from the same cloth and will be another Mark Meadows. We can do so much better if we all tried rowing in the same direction rather than against each other. I’m asking voters to give me a chance. If I don’t keep my promises and if they don’t see results, then 22 months after I take office they can vote me out.”

Michael O’Shea

Michael O’Shea
Michael O’Shea was born at Mission Hospital in Asheville and grew up in Mills River, N.C., where he and his wife, Jennifer, now live. O’Shea went to West Henderson High School in Henderson County and Jennifer went to AC Reynolds in Buncombe County and grew up in East Asheville.
O’Shea’s family history in southern Appalachia goes back before the Revolutionary War and the mountains of Western North Carolina have always been home to him. His parents were the minister and music director at the Unity of the Blue Ridge Church in Mills River for more than 30 years until his father Rev. Chad Greer O’Shea passed away in 2014. Growing up in a church has given O’Shea a strong sense of moral responsibility that lends itself to a life dedicated to public service.
O’Shea graduated from The Honors College at Western Carolina University with a BA in Philosophy and an English minor. He served as the editor-in-chief of both the newspaper and philosophy journal, was a member of the Honors College Board of Directors, had several papers accepted to national conferences, and wrote his thesis on post-structuralist linguistics. O’Shea spent a semester studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, and he did summer programs studying literature in France and Spain and business and marketing in China.
“We need leadership that’s not afraid to pursue bold, progressive action to make the government work for the people instead of corporate special interests and billionaires,” said O’Shea. “The working class in this country has been ignored for too long and we must elect leaders who will fight economic inequality instead of pandering to their donors. Additionally, the next 10 years is the only window of time we have to address the issue of climate change and avoid hitting critical warming thresholds. My generation will personally live through the ramifications of not addressing climate change now, yet we hardly have a seat at the table while our futures are being decided. Millennials (age 24-39) became the largest voting age block in the country this year, yet we account for just 6% of Congress and have less representation than the Silent Generation who make up 8.6% of Congress and are over age 75. I’m proud to be the first Millennial on the ballot for a Democratic Primary in NC-11 and hope to be the first Millennial representative from this district.”
What do you see as being the biggest issue facing District 11 and how would you address it if elected?
“Economic Inequality,” said O’Shea. “First we need to pass Medicare for All to ensure everyone has access to high-quality, affordable healthcare so we don’t see people going bankrupt because they got sick or foregoing treatment because they can’t afford it. My platform calls for a $15 living wage tied to inflation, a Universal Basic Income of $1,000 month for every adult citizen, student loan debt forgiveness, and free public colleges and trade schools to give low-income people a clear path to advance their economic prospects. I’m also calling for a federal “minimum professional wage” for educators to ensure our teachers are paid like the professionals they are and I want to use federal funds to pay for teacher pay increases so that the wealth of your zip code doesn’t determine your child’s quality of education. We must also immediately tackle climate change and the Green New Deal also addresses economic inequality in ways that would greatly benefit rural districts like NC-11.”
Any other issues or information you would like your voters to know?
“I was the second person to file FEC paperwork and officially jump into the race, and I did that back in October four days before the first remapping court decision, so I thought I would be running against just Steve Woodsmall in the old gerrymandered district,” said said O’Shea. “I was willing to run in an extremely gerrymandered district against Mark Meadows and I will bring that same sense of dedication to representing the people of NC-11 in Congress. I have endorsed Bernie Sanders for president and have been endorsed by Our Revolution WNC (the local chapter of the progressive political organization that grew from Sanders’s 2016 campaign) and progressive leaders Cecil Bothwell (former Asheville City Council member who ran for NC-11 in 2012) and Brian Haynes (current Asheville City Council member).”

Phillip Price

Phillip Price
Phillip Price is a a small business owner, woodworker, musician and hunter. He and his wife Michelle have raised three children with the help of the North Carolina Public School System and the Episcopal Church. He has lived in Western North Carolina for more than 36 years, through good times and bad, and long enough to have “had my fill of politicians who get our votes and then cater to billionaires instead of us.
“I want Western North Carolina to have a voice in Congress instead of a rubber stamp for the agenda of the rich and powerful as our current representative has become. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege only for the rich. I support expanding access to everyone, not taking it away. Meadows has continuously voted to repeal coverage for preexisting conditions. He’s taking our district and our country in the wrong direction. My vision for the people of North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District and for all Americans includes better healthcare, a robust economy, a clean environment, public education, a secure Social Security, strong civil rights protections, support for women’s issues, humane immigration policies, promotion of arts and culture, criminal justice reform, trade policies that respect all workers and campaign finance reform.
“I am running for Congress because the working class has been denied a seat at the table of government for far too long,” said Price. “While life gets easier and easier for a smaller group of people, it gets harder everyday for folks who live paycheck to paycheck. I have been making my living with my hands for my whole life and I have a real understanding of how policies affect the lives of the working class and families in Western North Carolina. I believe that people are our greatest resource and we must invest in people so that they may improve their lives.”
What do you see as being the biggest issue facing District 11 and how would you address it if elected?
“I believe that a lack of access to affordable healthcare is the biggest problem in our District. Rural hospitals in the far western counties are closing doors because the state legislature has not expanded Medicaid. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed North Carolinians have been paying federal taxes that should be funding the expansion of Medicaid, but instead our tax dollars are going to neighboring states that have chosen to expand Medicaid. On the federal level I support passing a Medicare For All bill similar to H.R. 1384. This will replace the need for Medicaid and will solve most of our healthcare problems in Western North Carolina and across the nation while creating millions of jobs nationwide. The biggest barrier to passing Medicare For All is the massive flow of dark money into our political system that allows the health insurance industry to purchase candidates that will continue to vote against M4A.”
Any other issues or information you would like your voters to know? 
“My platform is about bringing better jobs with higher wages to Western North Carolina by investing our federal tax dollars into four areas that will actually benefit the middle class and reduce poverty: universal healthcare; public education from pre-K through career-ready training; protecting our clean water, air, and forests and promoting the hemp industry for manufacturing plastics and textiles; rebuilding our public facilities, including our National Park infrastructures, and providing affordable access to high-speed broadband internet to every household and business in Western North Carolina. These are investments that will have a high rate of return to the tax base by creating tens of thousands good paying jobs right here in WNC, and will improve the lives of everyone.”

Steve Woodsmall
Steve Woodsmall enlisted in the US Air Force in 1975 and retired at the rank of Major (0-4). He held command positions in five separate assignments. Woodsmall was recognized during his service as Company Grade Officer of the Year, Center for Professional Development, Maxwell Air Force Base, and Outstanding Airman of the Year, Scott Air Force Base.  He was selected as Jaycees “Outstanding Young Man of America” in 1983 and again in 1988. He holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration and a PhD in Organization and Management. He has also published academic papers and authored a book, “It Beats Eatin’ Lizards—Lessons in Life and Leadership.” Following retirement from the Air Force, Woodsmall held positions at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Aviation Administration, several corporate leadership positions, a community action agency, and has taught at several colleges and universities including graduate courses for the Forbes School of Business.  He has been active in the Transylvania community, previously serving as the executive director for the VISION Transylvania leadership program, a member of the Transylvania County Planning Board, and board of directors for Brevard Little Theatre, where he has performed in numerous productions. He has also conducted seminars for the Transylvania County Chamber of Commerce, is a member of the Transylvania County NAACP, and has volunteered at Schenk Job Corps. He is also active in local Moms Demand Action and Be SMART groups. Woodsmall is also a former NCAA women’s college basketball official, AAU national official, and is currently a North Carolina high school basketball official. He and his wife BJ have six children and eight grandchildren and reside in Pisgah Forest, where their property is a certified wildlife habitat.
“I learned in the U.S. Air Force that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” said Dr. Woodsmall. “We need people in Congress with the experience and education to solve problems, not create them. I am the only candidate that has no baggage in my background that the other party can use against me. I strongly encourage voters to do their research on all candidates and vote for the one who can turn NC-11 blue in 2020. We have a great opportunity to reclaim our democracy, and we must take advantage of it.”
What do you see as being the biggest issue facing District 11 and how would you address it if elected?
“What I hear in talking with voters is concern about healthcare and the attempts to cut Social Security and Medicare,” said Dr. Woodsmall. “I support single-payer universal healthcare—the so-called ‘public option’ would still allow for the profit motive in healthcare, and simply would not solve the problem. Quality healthcare and affordable prescription drugs are a basic human right for everyone. I pledge to protect our social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment, which we can do by eliminating the corporate welfare programs and leveling the tax system.
Any other issues or information you would like your voters to know? 
“I believe the most serious threat to democracy is the the idea that ‘corporations are people’ and that billionaires and special interests are legally allowed to spend unlimited, untraceable (dark) money in America’s elections,” said Dr. Woodsmall. “As a PhD in management, I understand the importance of addressing the root cause of a problem, and big money is the reason there’s no progress in any major issue facing the country. We must overturn the Citizens United ruling to fix our rigged political system and pass stringent campaign finance reforms, and I will fight to make this happen.”

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