Republican candidates for NC House District 120 talk education and mental health

Kevin Corbin speaks at a Macon County Republican Party Candidate Forum.

Brittney Raby – Staff Writer

For the first time in nearly two decades, citizens in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, and Macon counties, the 120th District of the North Carolina House of Representatives, will elect a new leader this November. Roger West, who served  18 years in the House, announced earlier this year that he won’t be seeking a 10th term, leaving his seat open and unchallenged for the first time in almost 20 years.

The day West announced his retirement from N.C.’s House, Macon County Commissioner Kevin Corbin announced his bid for the seat. Corbin was soon faced with a primary candidate for the Republican bid on the November ballot by Elliott Southworth of Murphy. The winner of the March primary election will appear on the ballot in November against Democratic challenger, Randy Darrell Hogsed of Andrews.

Corbin serves as the president of Corbin Insurance Agency, Inc, which has two locations,  one

Kevin Corbin speaks at a Macon County Republican Party Candidate Forum.
Kevin Corbin speaks at a Macon County Republican Party Candidate Forum.

in Franklin and the other in Seneca, S.C. Corbin graduated from Franklin High School before going on to Appalachian State University to pursue a double major in marketing and management.  He and his wife Beth have two children. Their son Matt recently graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry and now serves as a dentist in the U.S. Air Force. Corbin’s daughter Maggie is a student at Southwestern Community College and will graduate with a degree in Occupational Therapy in May.

At 22, Corbin was elected to the Macon County School Board where he served five terms, 16 years of which was spent as chairman. “I was instrumental in developing the long range plan that has now provided new modern schools for our children,'” said Corbin. “We started in 1998 with a 15-year plan that is now complete.  In 2010, I was appointed by the local Republican Party to complete the term on the board of commissioners of now Senator Jim Davis who had just won election to the Senate.  In 2012, I was reelected as county commissioner.”

For the last four years, Corbin has served as chairman of the board of commissioners and has been appointed by the governor to the newly formed Rural Infrastructure Authority, a committee working to bring several million dollars of grant money to Western North Carolina.

“Two years ago, Representative Roger West indicated to me that he was not going to run for reelection this year and he asked me to consider running for the seat,” said Corbin of his reason for running for State House. “I absolutely love being a county commissioner but I know I can make a difference in Raleigh. I have a record of making things happen and at the same time approaching issues from a fiscally conservative and responsible manner. Macon County currently has the 4th lowest tax rate in the entire state and we have reduced our debt by $20 million since Jim Tate and I came on the board almost six years ago. I have the experience and the desire not just to hold the seat but effectively work for far Western North Carolina.”

Southworth is a business owner and entrepreneur. He has started at least seven companies and a non-profit,

Elliott Southworth  speaks at a candidate forum held by the Macon County League of Women Voters.
Elliott Southworth speaks at a candidate forum held by the Macon County League of Women Voters.

“I was for years a finance committee member and chairman overseeing budgets for every department and helped create the tax increment finance board to attract business and hold participating businesses accountable,” said Southworth. “I’m a member and VP of our local rod and gun club and I coach an elementary/middle school shooting team. I’m also a Guardian Ad Litem and was sworn in just over three years ago. A good definition of an entrepreneur is someone who jumps from the highest precipice and builds an airplane on the way down. I see problems and create common sense solutions. Common sense is the sixth sense that’s not so common. I’m been married nearly 40 years to my wife and best friend, Debbie. We have one daughter, three terrific grandchildren and Ben, our dog.”

Although Southworth doesn’t have any prior political experience, he said he is seeking a House seat to better the region. “Raleigh does seem to forget far Western North Carolina even exists,” he said. “And too many in Raleigh have forgotten, like too many in Washington, the promises they made to get elected. Some have lost their moral compass. This is about public service, not self-service and it’s about doing the right thing, being completely honest, not parsing words, and using common sense.”

North Carolina Public Education

North Carolina is ranked 42nd in the country for education. What would be three things you would work on at the state level to improve public education in North Carolina?

Corbin: “We have to support public education in N.C. In the western part of the state we do pretty well but the state has to take more responsibility financially. The state is supposed to send 40 percent of lottery proceeds back to the counties for education.  They currently send 17 percent.  I will begin on day one to work to restore those funds.  Small school systems (especially those with K-12 schools) need help financially and I will introduce legislation to that end immediately. I have already spoken with Senator Davis and he has agreed to do the same in the Senate.  We can do better than Common Core. N.C. need to set its own path, not follow a cookie cutter attempt to have a “one size fits all” federal program like Common Core. We can do better here in N.C.”

Southworth: “I would introduce legislation that would echo the language of the original bill to repeal Common Core in N.C.; specifically to use some common sense and show Common Core the door. In 2014, one legislator said, ‘The bottom line is it’s a terrible system. There may be some good things about it and, though this bill will allow them to use those things if they need to, it’s not something we should have ever accepted.’ Michael Speciale, R-Craven. Yet here we are, two years gone by, and the advisory committee is being courted by the Gates Foundation and big money out of New York and Washington, DC. The time for more review is over. When you have a dead horse you don’t try to revive it. You don’t appoint a committee to investigate why it died. You don’t attempt CPR. It’s dead. Bury it and spend the money we waste on advisory groups to educate our kids. If you want to improve education in our state you need to ask why over 1,000 public school teachers in North Carolina left the state saying they were accepting a teaching position in another state … The North Carolina State Lottery was sold to us as a way to boost education spending in the state but the facts are that this is currently nothing more than another false promise, as are many lotteries. Reviewing national data you’ll find that states without an ‘education’ lottery actually provide more money for education than states like North Carolina. Money has been bled off from our state’s education lottery since the lottery was started in 2006 before the first ticket was ever sold. Former Democratic governors have transferred money to the general fund and most of it never returned.  We, the citizens of North Carolina, promised our children and ourselves that a full 35 percent of the lottery revenues would go back to education and every year since our governors and legislatures have broken that promise. There are lots of arguments against lotteries whether you believe the lottery is wrong on religious or philosophical grounds. We can debate that forever but one thing that is certain is that the money that the voters of N.C. intended to go to education has not gone there. The current percentage isn’t even 30 percent and some estimates put it below 20 percent. We made a promise to put our children’s education first and we haven’t kept it. In any other setting someone would be in court. Both the children and the teachers have been short changed once again. It’s time to keep the promise made over 10 years ago and make sure education is fully funded.”

Mental Health

Mental health continues to be a problem in North Carolina both in terms of funding allocated on the state level to available facilities throughout the state. What is your stance on mental health in North Carolina and what steps do you think need to be taken to improve it?

Corbin: “The state of mental health in North Carolina is a huge problem,” said Corbin. “It is unfairly being funded by the counties now by deputies being assigned to guard those who have been involuntarily committed usually to the hospital ERs. The state has done little to fund mental health.  The governor appointed a task force that is meeting now to offer solutions. I will be in contact with that group and will await their recommendation and will be willing to act in a responsible manner.  Mental illness touches all of our families and the state needs to take the burden off local government and provide services and facilities.”

Southworth: “Previous administrations in North Carolina let mental health reform and the departments that administer care go too long without attention or even much of an effort. State hospitals were told to move people into the community but that transition was often handled by the creation of more agencies both private and county that weren’t prepared or trained to do that difficult task. The time frame was too short and the promise of more money that was tied to timing and not quality led to problems and deaths … The cost of Human Services in N.C. has grown 280 percent since 1980. It represents an enormous portion of the state budget, second only to education. The more that the legislature grows government bigger and bigger the worse the control has gotten. Bigger government is as much the problem as any other contributing factor. Shrink government and you’ll shrink the problem.”

Issue of your choice: 

What would be your primary focus as a state legislator (other than the two previously asked questions). What would you do to see progress in that area? 

Corbin: “As a commissioner, I have been a clear protector of personal rights especially property rights. As a board, we have reduced regulation in Macon County including simplifying and reducing regulations in the Subdivision Ordinance.  We have also simplified and reduced regulation in other ordinances such as the Sign Ordinance and High Impact ordinances. In a nutshell, I believe that less government regulation is better. We only need regulations, ordinances and laws when they protect our citizens from danger or harm. We don’t need regulation to proclaim ‘government knows best.’ Government should be responsible and reasonable, not over regulatory.  My record is very clear that this is where I stand. We need to reduce the corporate tax rate and the personal income tax rate in N.C. We have many people who live here who claim to live in other states because of our income tax. N.C. needs to be more aggressive in recruiting business and industry.  S.C. and Virginia both offer incentives for employers to locate there.”

Southworth: “I’d like to see the terms of legislators be changed to four years and limited to two terms. In N.C. by the time a two-year term begins and the legislative session is over (and it seems never to end on time) it’s time to hit the campaign trail again if you want to be re-elected,” said Southworth. “Have a term of four years affords one the opportunity to get in, get the job done and still have the possibility of another term to finish off on issues not yet addressed. Term limits for two four-year terms. Additional benefits would be the end of institutionalized incumbency. It might even drive the lobbyists away. I’m a strong supporter of our 2nd Amendment rights which ‘shall not be infringed.’ I’ve paid for my safety course. Criminals don’t take a safety course. I’ve paid for my photo, my fingerprints, my application fees and renewal fees. Criminals pay for none of these. I inform law enforcement when I come in contact with if I’m carrying a gun. Criminals don’t and the lives of law enforcement officers are threatened by criminals every day. I pay for my guns, the safe they’re stored in and appropriate insurance to protect me in case of loss. Criminals steal the guns they hold, they don’t store them safely and they pay nothing for them. I never dispose of a gun in an illegal or unsafe manner. Criminals harm my family, my property and threaten all law abiding citizens with relative impunity. If I don’t follow a law I go to jail. Violent criminals seem to have a revolving door and citizens have to pay for their legal defense. If elected I would sponsor legislation restoring Constitutional Carry in North Carolina.”