BYH, have the courage to be disliked....

Competing billboard messages vie for Smith's vote

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Ginger Livingston

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

WINTERVILLE — Dueling billboards — one supporting the state budget, the other supporting the governor’s veto of that budget — are being directed at state Rep. Kandie Smith.

The two electronic billboards are located within several hundred feet of each other along N.C. 11 South, near its intersection with Davenport Farm Road and Mill Street.

Smith, in a statement released on Tuesday morning in response to the first billboard, said she appreciates hearing from her constituents, even if the message is delivered through a billboard.

“This is politics. I guess everyone wants to make sure I hear their voice,” Smith said. “People are calling me, I am receiving emails and now billboards.”

The first billboard, located right at the intersection, states “Kandie Save Brody! Vote Yes On State Budget!” Another image stated “Kandie Our State Employees Need Raises.” Kinston-based Riley Outdoor Advertising owns that sign. Its owner, Robert B. “Robbie” Moore Jr., told Smith “some concerned citizens” paid for the message but did not provide their names.

Efforts to reach Moore on Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful. Last week Moore was appointed to East Carolina University’s Board of Trustees.

According to Edward “Eddie” Sheehy, Smith’s legislative assistant, the North Carolina Outdoor Advertising Association said private citizens can purchase billboards without identifying themselves in the messaging. A disclaimer is needed when the billboard space is purchased by a political entity such as a campaign, a political action committee or a candidate.

By Tuesday afternoon, a second electronic message had gone up on a billboard located at the rear of Fred’s Food Club. That message, paid for by Progress NC Action, stated “Rep. Kandie Smith Our public schools need you NOW! Stand with Gov. Cooper and sustain the budget veto!” Progress NC Action is a nonprofit advocacy group. It is unclear who owns the actual billboard.

Smith said she learned about the first sign shortly after it went up on Saturday but didn’t know about the Progress NC Action message until contacted by The Daily Reflector.

The message urging Smith to vote yes on the budget appeared two days after she joined with 48 other House Democrats to vote against the $23.9 billion budget for fiscal year 2019-20. The budget passed 64-49 in the House and 33-15 in the state Senate.

Smith said she is continuing to hear from individuals and organizations urging her to join House Republicans in overriding the governor’s veto of the budget. It’s unclear if any of them are reaching out because of the billboards.

“I accept feedback whichever way people are giving it to me,” Smith said. “I would like to know who is doing it. Progress has their name on it and that makes me feel better to know the group versus not to know the group.

“I always welcome the residents of Pitt County and my district to inform me of their stance and position on any issue facing our state, especially issues as important as the state budget and state employee pay,” Smith said.

“Throughout my time in office I have committed to transparency and accountability, and receiving feedback from constituents is a crucial part in making sure I am doing my job,” she said. “I always have and always will take the opinions of those living in our area seriously and will listen no matter how they choose to communicate with me, whether it’s through a billboard, a phone call, social media or any other method.”

Smith said she has not made her final decision about whether she will vote to override the governor’s veto. The budget approved by the General Assembly has many good things for eastern North Carolina, including a commitment to fund the planning and construction of a new facility for ECU’s Brody School of Medicine and restoration of $35 million in Medicaid reimbursement to Vidant Medical Center for serving as the medical school’s teaching hospital.

However, the budget doesn’t include Medicaid expansion, which would provide more eastern North Carolinians with access to preventative health care, she said. Smith said she also believes the budget does not do enough for teachers.

Smith said the House leadership has scheduled a veto override vote for Monday. She said she make her final decision about whether to support an override when it comes time to vote.

“I am not in a rush to make a decision,” she said. “I am doing what I need to do to weigh everything from listening to everybody.”