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Candidates introduce themselves at Farm Bureau event


Pitt County deputy elections director Tony McQueen explain how the special election for the 3rd Congressional District works at a Thursday night candidates forum sponsored by the Farm Bureaus of Pitt and Greene counties. Eight candidates or the representatives spoke before more than 100 people at the event.


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Monday, April 22, 2019

Agriculture remains North Carolina’s biggest industry and members of the Farm Bureaus of Pitt and Greene counties got to hear how candidates in the special election for the 3rd Congressional District will approach farming issues.

Six candidates and representatives of two candidates attended a Thursday dinner and forum sponsored by the two county bureaus.

Among the candidates who didn’t attend the event was former Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas.

“I know our country has a lot going on; from all the political distractions going on at this time, budget issues and budget constraints,” said Sue Brock, president of the Pitt County Farm Bureau. “Like someone said earlier, if there was plenty of money we could do everything in the world, but there isn’t so we have to make choices. We want to part of the choices that are very important to our eastern North Carolina economy.”

Brock said most politicians start off saying agriculture is an important issue but seem to forget over time.

“But for us, nothing is more important than agriculture,” she said. “Labor issues are crucial to many of our farmers, minimum wage issues are crucial.”

Forty-seven percent of the United States’ net farm income has been lost since 2013 because of weather disasters, low prices and trade tariffs, said N.C. Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, who attended Thursday’s event with other Farm Bureau leaders from Raleigh and across the region.

“Particularly here in North Carolina, the tariffs have had a bigger impact because of our dependence on tobacco, pork and poultry,” Wooten said. “Tobacco has been just devastated by these tariffs in terms of the Chinese market.”

The 3rd Congressional District is holding a special election because the seat’s long-time occupant, Walter B. Jones Jr., died in early February. Special elections typically have low voter turnout, Wooten said, so the Farm Bureau is encouraging farmers and rural residents to learn about the candidates and vote.

“For Farm Bureau politics is not a dirty word,” Wooten said. “We are a legislative organization. We work with whomever the people of the state elect to represent us in Congress and the legislature of North Carolina.”

There are 17 Republicans, six Democrats and two Libertarians on the ballot of the April 30 primaries.

Tony McQueen, deputy director of the Pitt County Board of Elections, said a primary election winner must must receive more than 30 percent of the votes cast to be declared the outright winner. If the winner receives less than 30 percent of the vote, then the second-place candidate can call for a runoff.

If a runoff election, called a second primary, is held, that election will be on July 9 and the general election will be on Sept. 10, McQueen said. If there is no second primary then the general election will be on July 9.

Candidates at Thursday’s event were given three minutes to introduce themselves, explain why they were running and what issues they want to pursue in Congress.

■ Joan Perry, a Republican from Kinston was represented by Gram Spear, who said she considers herself a political outsider who will remain focused on eastern North Carolina. Perry wants to serve as a conservative counterpoint to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Perry is a pediatrician.

■ New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw, a Democrat, talked about his family’s roots in farming and how he was inspired to pursue public service by his father, who was a city manager in New Bern.

Outlaw said North Carolina and American farmers face great challenges in the global market and believes an aggressive branding campaign is needed to open world markets.

■ Greenville Democrat Ernest Reeves spoke extensively about his service in the United States Army and identified himself as the last Democratic to run against Jones, which he did in 2016. He said when he spoke to Jones, the congressman congratulated him on running an amicable campaign.

Reeves said he is committed to farmers and making farming work.

■ State. Rep. Greg Murphy, a urologist and surgeon, was represented by his wife Wendy.

She said her husband was a Ronald Reagan Republican who is committed to upholding the U.S. Constitution.

Her husband believes Congress must balance the budget, saying a $23 trillion deficit isn’t the legacy that should be passed on to the nation’s children.

■ Kevin Baiko, a Republican who lives in Moyock, described himself as medicinal marijuana specialist and believes eastern North Carolina’s agricultural economy will be empowered through the production of hemp.

He said he wants to get government out of people’s lives. The most recent Farm Bill was important because it made the farming of hemp legal, but with $800 billion in spending it needs to be dramatically changed.

■ Belhaven resident Don Cox described himself as a Jesse Helms Republican. Cox talked about growing up and working on his grandfather’s farm and performing, first with the Super Grit Cowboy Band and later as a solo artist.

He got involved in politics several years ago fighting for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also called ObamaCare. He pledged to pursue its repeal if election.

■ Tim Harris of New Bern, a Libertarian candidate, said people could save money by voting in the Libertarian primary. It would likely eliminate the need for a second primary in the Republican race.

The choices voters have made at the polls for decades has lead the country to its present state, he said. Voters should select a representative who believe in freedom, liberty and fiscal responsibility and who isn’t beholden to either Republicans or Democrats.

■ Celeste Cairns, a Republican from Emerald Isle, described herself as a conservative woman who is pro-life. She said she doesn’t claim to understand agriculture and said she would rely on the advice of the Farm Bureau and farmers.

She said the United States’ border should be closed but acknowledged farmers rely on migrant labor. She would work to streamlining the nation’s worker visa program. She also wants to streamline the Farm Bill, saying about 80 percent of the legislation is unrelated to farming.

The session ended with the night’s host, Benjie Forrest, reading statements from Republican candidates Gary Ceres, state Rep. Michael Speciale and Constitution Party candidate Greg Holt, who does not have a primary opponent.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.