The Democratic incumbent and his Republican challenger in the 1st District congressional race both said the economy is among their top concerns, but that is where the similarities end.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, 73, of Wilson, a retired judge who has served in the House of Representatives since 2004, is facing newcomer Sandy Smith, 46, a businesswoman, farmer and mom from Winterville, in the Nov. 3 election. Early voting started Thursday and continues through Oct. 31.
The two are vying for a seat that represents portions of Greenville and northern Pitt County along with parts or all of 15 other counties stretching from Gates in the northeast to Durham in the west.
Butterfield said this year his biggest concern is saving lives threatened by the pandemic and repairing the damage it caused to the economy.
“The pandemic has exceeded our worst fears,” he said. “There are things the federal government can do to off-set the harmful impacts on families and businesses of the pandemic for those who are suffering.”
He said the CARES Act, passed in late March to provide a variety of relief to business, government entities and individuals, has proven insufficient. He supports extending relief with the $3 trillion Heroes Act, but Republicans and Democrats have not been able to agree on competing proposals.
His next priority building a modern infrastructure, which he said will create short and long-term employment. “Years ago, when we talked about infrastructure, we were thinking about water and sewer and highways. But now infrastructure is about clean energy, reducing our carbon footprint and expanding broadband — because so many communities don’t have sufficient broadband. Infrastructure is particularly important in rural communities,” he said. “I have spent a lot of energy over the years, trying to steer Federal dollars into low-income rural communities.”
He’s had success along with others in the state’s congressional delegation in securing funds for job creation and infrastructure. Greenville leaders named the city’s modern transportation hub for him in recognition of his efforts to fund its construction.
Smith said the district needs “bold new strong leadership” and wants its people “to succeed and live the American dream.” But they have to safe in order for the economy to thrive, she said.
“That means we need safe streets — no criminal illegals causing mayhem and socialist radicals burning down buildings or attacking police officers,” she said. “I stand with our law enforcement and support all of our men and women in blue. As Americans, we must reject the anti-police rhetoric of the radical liberals. In addition, I support the use of body cameras for our officers, to help keep them safe and provide a video record.”
She points to long-term, extreme poverty in much of the district and believes she can be more effective at helping to change it.
“I want to grow infrastructure and attract businesses to our part of the state. My district has been forgotten about for far too long and I want to change that,” she said.
Smith and her husband William live in Winterville and share four adult children. The Smiths have a farm in Ayden where they raise honey bees and a rare species of free-range pig from New Zealand. She is the chief financial officer for the family’s business Green Power Construction, a solar energy equipment supplier in Greenville.
She feels her background in business and her role as a mother have shaped her values and prepared her for the challenges of Washington.
“I am a successful businesswoman, mother and farmer,” she said. “I care about people. I have successfully run a business and have successfully raised a family. I am also a military mom and spouse.”
While she was working and raising a family, Smith finished her education, graduating Cum Laude from East Carolina University with a bachelor’s of science degree in University Studies in Business and Technology.
Since her youngest left for college, Smith has shifted her focus to serving her community and country. She bills herself as a conservative who is pro-Trump, pro-America, pro-Second Amendment and pro-life.
“I will fight every day to protect and defend the sanctity of life, including the unborn. I believe that late and so-called “fourth term” abortions must be prohibited without exception. As we continue to fight for every life, we also need to look at reforming adoption policies and costs so more orphaned children can live their dream of having a family of their own,” she said.
She said the government cannot continue “its path of uncontrolled taxing and spending. I believe that deep budget and tax cuts are required to bring America back to fiscal responsibility and accountability.”
Growing the economy is the best way to ensure the government is able to meet its obligations.
“Thanks to President Trump and his pro-business policies, the American economy is booming again,” she said. “I am proud to stand with the Trump administration’s economic agenda of reduced regulations and free markets. A booming economy is good for all.
“Today, there are more jobs in North Carolina than there are applicants,” she added. “I strongly support a renewed focus on education and job training to ensure that North Carolinians are able to fill those high-paying jobs. This means lower taxes, less regulation, and more trade to allow education to flourish. I will support states and local communities and will get the federal government out of managing education.”
Smith’s large campaign signs carry labels like “Pro-Trump” and “Pro-Gun” to make sure people in the Democratic-leaning district know where she stands.
“As our founders declared, ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ I am a proud gun owner with a North Carolina concealed carry permit. I believe that the right to self-defense is a basic human right, and will work tirelessly to defend our Second Amendment rights.”
Smith wants to secure the border and provide better care for the military.
“I support President Trump’s Border Wall and strong border security, and will work with Trump to finish the wall, end chain migration, and fix the crisis on the border,” she said.
“We have to do better supporting our military service members, on and off the battlefield. I will fight for the best care for our veterans. As a military wife and mother of a Marine, I’ve seen first-hand what’s wrong and will work every day to fix it.”
Butterfield said limited access to health care and struggling health care systems have hurt the district and he supports maintaining and improving the Affordable Care Act and expanding Medicaid. He said Republicans are trying to dismantle both programs.
“I was on the committee that wrote the bill, some people call it Obamacare, which expanded access to healthcare to millions of Americans,” he said. “But it also expanded the Medicaid program — because one demographic was left out of Medicaid in 1965 — that was low-income, healthy adults with no children. The Affordable Care Act expanded the Medicaid program and we wrote it into the law that 90 percent of the cost would be paid by the Federal Government, which meant North Carolina and other states would have to pay ten percent.
“Thirty-nine states have expanded Medicaid. Eleven states have not, including North Carolina. Because of that, we have thousands of low-income North Carolinians who do not have access to healthcare,” he stated.
Butterfield supports preserving the social safety net and other programs supported annually by about $650 billion in non-defense discretionary spending. “In this discretionary spending account, we do a lot of things — we take care of the court system, the FBI, law enforcement, border security and all the other stuff. We also take care of low-income families. We provide a safety net for poor people so they will not suffer unnecessarily in poverty.
“Every year, Republicans chip away at the social safety net, giving huge tax cuts to wealthy people. So that is a priority. I have been opposed to tax cuts to the wealthy and I have opposed cutting the social safety net that benefits low-income people who are black, white and brown.”
Like Smith, he said he is concerned about the government’s budget, but he’s concerned recent tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations have accelerated a debt crisis.
“Every president in recent memory has contributed to the deficit,” he said. “The national debt is $26.8 trillion. Even though I am a progressive on social issues, I am a conservative when it to some aspects of tax policy. I believe rich people should pay their fair share of taxes and should not benefit from a tax cut. That includes the president of the United States. Rich people should pay their fair share of taxes. I support increasing taxes on the super-rich and I support corporations paying their fair share of taxes. I do not support increasing federal taxes on middle income taxpayers. Once we can get the federal budget back in some semblance of regular order, I support a tax cut for middle-income taxpayers.”
Butterfield said his long experience in public life and seniority in the House have helped him be of service to the region. He was an attorney and judge for nearly 30 years before winning a special election to the seat.
In the 110th Congress, he became part of House leadership with an appointment as chief deputy whip, the first Democrat from North Carolina to serve as such, he said. He serves on the Energy and Commerce committee and subcommittees on Health, Communications and Technology and Energy. As a judge, he said, he developed a tool that serves him well in Congress: discretion.
“I use it almost every day in my vocabulary. Judges use a lot of discretion in their decision making. Sometimes you just have to be quiet and pick your battles. I have taken that quality of knowing right from wrong, and I have discretion of when to speak and when not to speak. I have many years of experience and I know how to manage myself in controversy. I know when to fight, and I know when to compromise.”
President Donald J. Trump urged his eastern North Carolina supporters to set aside their applause and cheers and cast their ballots during the early-voting period.
“This is the most important election of our lives, maybe in the history of our country so get your friends, get your family, get your neighbors and get out and vote,” Trump said.
Using Air Force One as a backdrop, the president rallied about 5,000 supporters at the Pitt-Greenville Airport on Thursday, which was the first day of the early-voting period. It was his fifth appearance in the state in the last six weeks.
“This is Trump Country, and everybody is really excited to see the boss,” said Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. “There’s no place like eastern North Carolina, and we wanted to make sure President Trump came in here and got everybody riled up on the first day of early voting.”
“Citizens like you helped build this country and together we are taking back our country,” Trump said. “We are returning power to you, the American people, and we are returning it faster than anyone possible.”
The president touched on a wide range of topics during an 80-minute speech, including the economy, his efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and his coronavirus response.
The bulk of his talk focused on what he said was Joe Biden’s inability to help the American economy during his nearly 50-year career in the U.S. Senate and as vice president.
He also repeatedly referenced the radicalization of the Democrat Party.
When discussing COVID-19, The president said he was working to make the antibody treatment he received widely available and free of charge to citizens. He also promised that 100 million doses of vaccine will be available by year’s end.
“Hey North Carolina, tell your governor to open up your state,” Trump said. “On Nov. 4 we are opening up North Carolina. ... You’ve got to open up. The kids want to be back in school.”
The president left Greenville and flew to Miami where he was scheduled to participate in a town hall event being aired on NBC.
Thursday was supposed to be the second of three televised debates between the president and Biden but it was canceled when the president wouldn’t participate in a virtual session that organizers wanted because of his COVID-19 diagnoses earlier this month.
Thursday was the two-week mark since the president announced he and his wife contracted the virus. Doctors cleared him for travel earlier this week.
A large portion of Thursday’s crowd didn’t wear masks in the tightly-packed audience area on the Pitt-Greenville Airport tarmac.
It didn’t bother audience members who were wearing masks.
“Wearing a mask is a personal choice. God gave us choices from day one,” said Sonya Blizzard-Smith, a farmer from Pink Hill,
“I’m more concerned right now with corruption in the government right now. That’s a bigger issue,” said Thomas Alcock of Greenville. Alcock was referencing a New York Post story about emails that reportedly show Biden’s son Hunter helped a Ukrainian executive meet his father when he was vice president.
A congressional committee concluded last month that there was no evidence of wrongdoing in Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian energy company.
The president referenced the Post’s report and the fact that Facebook and Twitter took steps to limit sharing the story on their sites. Trump said he would revoke a section of Federal Communications Commission rules that prevents social media sites from being held responsible for what is posted on their sites.
Thursday’s rally is the president’s third visit to Greenville since the 2016 campaign.
Alcock said he has attended other rallies but never got as close to the president as he did on Thursday.
Jonas Williams of Greensboro has sold Trump T-shirts, hats and placards since the president “came down the escalator.”
Williams was among a half-dozen black vendors plying their wares at the Pitt County Fairgrounds, where attendees parked. He said the president has been a boon to his business.
“I was always selling paraphernalia. I would go to sports events. But Trump has took it to another level,” Williams said. “The enthusiasm from the people, sales are just off the chain. It’s been a boon to my economy.”
People accuse the president and his supporters of being racists, but he finds them to be “a bunch of good ol’ American people.”
Chris Hobbs of Clinton brought his daughters Madelyn and Molly.
“We appreciate what he has done for our country. Been very focused on the economy and helped us.”
Attending the rally will be a good life lesson for his daughters, Hobbs said.
Hobbs grows grain and sweet potatoes along with raising poultry and hogs.
When China stopped buying grains in retaliation for tariffs the president placed on the country, Hobbs said it was an economic hardship, but a necessary one.
“It was going to be an ongoing pain. What was done with China was a temporary pain,” he said. “It had to be done.”
And it paid off, he said.
“In the last few weeks there have been historic orders for grains. I store grains and it’s been very beneficial for me and family,” Hobbs said.
More importantly, the president acknowledged the economic hardship created by the tariffs and provided a $28 billion farm relief package that cushioned the losses, Hobbs said.
The president ended his speech with a pledge.
“We are going to keep on working, we are going to keep on fighting and we are going to keep on winning, winning, winning,” Trump said.
“We are one people, one family, one glorious nation under God,” he said. “With the incredible people of North Carolina we have made America wealthy again, we have made America strong again, we have made America proud again. And we will make America safe again and we will make America great again.”
Opponents used a visit by President Donald Trump to Greenville on Thursday to stage events demanding social justice, affordable health care and an effective response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Representatives of social justice groups gathered at the Willis Building in downtown Greenville to talk about voter suppression. The event included an appearance by Dontae Sharpe, a Greenville man who was exonerated of a murder conviction after almost 26 years of incarceration. He later voted in Durham for the first time since his imprisonment.
The Rev. William Barber co-chairman of the national Poor People’s Campaign, said Trump has lied about voter fraud, voter suppression and mail-in ballots.
Barber said that Trump and Sen. Thom Tillis have stated that a photo ID is needed to vote. As of a December 2019 federal court ruling, North Carolina voters will not be required to show a photo ID to vote in this year’s general election.
Barber said voter suppression is always targeted at black, brown and indigenous people but ultimately hurts everyone and undermines America’s democracy.
“So it’s important today, what we want to do is challenge these lies so that when they come up today you will already have sound and facts and you can say ‘No that’s not true,’ because lying is a form of voter suppression,” Barber said.
Sharpe said voting is a way to change things. He said that in prison, it was often stated that voting was useless.
“If you’re not going to vote you shouldn’t even whine and complain,” Sharpe said. “I think it’s a life or death situation, because my life was taken from me, and I did have to get it back, but God and people fought for me and with me and got me out. This is one of the ways, to get out and vote and change that.”
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield and state House Rep. Kandie Smith rallied later in the morning at the “Believe in Greenville” mural on Dickinson Avenue to advocate for healthcare.
Butterfield said in the last seven months, North Carolina has small businesses due to COVID-19. More than 3,000 people have died from COVID-19 in North Carolina, and more than 216,000 people have died from the virus across the country, he said.
He said Trump talks as if the COVID-19 pandemic is over, but the people in Pitt County who are struggling to find work and stay healthy know that is not true.
“Meanwhile instead of trying to make sure that every American can afford to see a doctor when they need a doctor, this administration, Donald Trump, is still actively working to tear apart the Affordable Care Act by any means necessary,” Butterfield said.
“That would mean millions of seniors across our state are forced to pay more for their prescription drugs,” he said. “It would mean 5 million North Carolinians with a pre-existing condition could be discriminated against by health insurance companies. They have done it in the past and they will do it again.”
Butterfield said Democratic nominee Joe Biden would be able to get the country out of the COVID crisis. He said Americans have given Trump many opportunities to step up, and he has failed every time.
“For him to come to Greenville today and hold another super-spreader event while he tries to pat himself on the back isn’t just dangerous ladies and gentleman, it is offensive,” Butterfield said.
Smith said Thursday was a great day for North Carolina’s democracy.
“In spite of the fact that Donald Trump is coming here, it may actually be fitting that he is going to be here in Greenville today so that North Carolinians are beginning to put an end to his presidency,” Smith said. “We all know that we can’t afford another four years of Donald Trump.
This administration has been marked by scandal, failure, and not only do North Carolinians deserve better but especially in this moment of crisis we need better.”
Smith said Trump had put the country in a deep hole but Biden is the person who could lead the country in the right direction.
“Right now more than ever, elected officials should be willing to do everything in their power to make sure that we have our citizens to get medical care that they need but Donald Trump can’t even grasp the reality,” Smith said. “Instead he’s trying to throw millions of people off of the insurance they have gotten through the Affordable Care Act.”
Other counter-protest in response to Trump’s rally included:
Members of the Committee to Protect Medicare held a Zoom call where they read a letter, signed by 38 physicians, urging Trump to cancel his rally, citing the endangerment of public health.