Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Western North Carolina politicians have been playing a game of musical chairs this election cycle which began when N.C. Senator Jim Davis announced he would be retiring from the State Senate and running for Congress. With Davis’ retiring from the Senate, N.C. House of Representatives Kevin Corbin announced he would be running for the Senate, which led to Macon County Commissioner Karl Gillespie announcing his bid for the House.
Corbin, who has served in the House of Representatives since long-time politician Roger West retired, will face an opponent during the March 3 primary election. Jackson County Republican and a new face on the political scene, Dr. Sarah Conway will be seeking her first political office.
Dr. Sarah Conway
Dr. Sarah Conway is a Jackson County Republican who has always had a love of hiking and the outdoors. Having vacationed in North Carolina since childhood, she eventually made it her home.
Conway is retired radiologist who practiced hospital-based diagnostic radiology for more than 20 years.
“We have a narcotics epidemic in Western North Carolina; when I read the statistics, I was compelled to run and use my medical knowledge and experience to try to make a difference,” said Dr. Conway. “Right now we have opioid crisis, so a doctor would be a great choice to work on this issue. If we have an agricultural crisis, I would love to see a seasoned farmer or an Ag PhD run for the position.”
Representative Kevin Corbin
Representative Kevin Corbin was born and raised in Western North Carolina in Macon County. He is the sixth generation, his kids are seventh, and his grandkids are now the eighth generation to live on the same farm in the Holly Springs community of Macon County. He attended Franklin High School before graduating and attending Appalachian State University where he graduated with honors with a double major in Business Marketing and Management. Corbin is a member of Holly Springs Baptist Church where he has served as a deacon and also served as music director prior to being elected to the NC House.
Corbin founded Corbin Insurance Agency in Franklin in 1983 and in 2013 started Blue Ridge Insurance Group in upstate South Carolina. He has worked in the insurance industry since 1983 and has earned several professional designations and honors in that field including being inducted into the Hall of Fame with BCBS of NC. Only 23 members have been inducted into that group in the history of the company.
Corbin served 20 years on the Macon County School board, serving 16 years as chairman, followed by serving six years as a county commissioner in Macon County, five years as chairman. In 2016, he was elected to the NC House of Representatives and was re-elected in 2018.
“I believe my experience in local and state government gives me the background to hit the ground running serving the folks in the far western seven counties of North Carolina,” said Corbin. “I love the people of this district and want to give the best constituent service possible. In the House, I have been a constant reminder to leadership that we have unique needs here and have sought support and funding for our area. I have been successful in doing so and will continue that in the NC Senate.”
What is the biggest challenge facing District 50 and how would you approach it?
Conway: “Our biggest challenge is the opioid epidemic. My plan is to focus on prevention by creating an educational template which can be used in schools for children as young as 8 or 10 years of age. Young students need to understand the health hazards and ramifications of becoming addicted to these agents. Also, I would like to address mental health by having a mobile mental health unit
which would travel to all seven of my counties, and provide much needed mental health services to individuals who may not have access.”
Corbin: “In my last term I co-sponsored the STOP act in the NC House that has begun to slow the opioid epidemic. It was a beginning and there is much work left to be done. We must address mental health issues in our region and I have been a consistent voice for that in the NC House.
“I have worked on many levels to bring high speed internet to far WNC including being a primary author of the FIBER ACT (HB 144). Because of those efforts, we persuaded leadership to begin the GREAT grants which have brought money to our region and have facilitated the hookup of thousands to high speed internet. The work is far from over. The grants have been $10 million in 2018, $15 million in 2019, and now we have $30 million budgeted for 2020-21. I have requested but not yet received $100 million from our budget surplus for the same purpose.
“The work is far from over. We need to continue the push for WNC. Additional funding for K-12 public education has been a priority for me and we have had great success in the past four years bringing additional state funding to Macon, Clay, Graham, and Cherokee counties. In this new Senate district, I will do the same adding Swain, Jackson, and Haywood to my radar.”
What strengths do you have as a candidate?
Conway: “I like to think of myself as a great listener. Great leaders need to be great listeners. Each of my counties has their own unique needs which require attention.”
Corbin: “In one word….Experience. Having served in local government, I know the challenges and pitfalls. Now, being an experienced legislator, I know how the system works and will continue to work in the NC Senate for my district. It is about serving and prioritizing the folks and needs of this district.”
What is your top priority if elected?
Conway: “Addressing the Opioid Epidemic. Other goals include access to reasonably priced health care; cut spending; and term limits.”
Corbin: “Without question, my top priority is constituent service. My office has helped literally hundreds of folks in my four county district with issues with the state of N.C.I have answered every call and have tried my best to address every need. I have had about 90% success in solving issues for my constituents and I will continue the same in the NC Senate. In most cases, I would be the only voice available for the 210,000 folks in this large Senate district. I love WNC and will continue to work hard to make sure our voice is heard.”
Conway: “I am running organically. No one asked me to run for this office, but I love the people of Western North Carolina, so I am determined to work hard to make a difference. If I am blessed to be elected, much of the time I will physically be located in Raleigh, but please remember: I am working for you, the people. I am working for the West.”
Corbin: “Serving in the NC General Assembly is truly a labor of love for those who attempt it. With an annual salary of $13,941 it is certainly not for personal gain. The meager per diem of $104 and the mileage of .26 cents a mile are barely enough to cover expenses back and forth. I come home pretty much every weekend, having only stayed in Raleigh three weekends in my nearly four years of service. My home is WNC, not Raleigh. I come home every week to be with my family and to stay in touch with the people of my district. As long as I enjoy it and can stand the drive back and forth, I am willing to serve if the voters give me that honor.”
Early voting begins Thursday, Feb. 13, and will continue until Saturday, Feb. 29, at 3 p.m. Macon County residents can vote at either the Robert C. Carpenter Community Building or in Highlands at the Highlands Civic Center.