By Ginger Livingston Staff Writer
The Daily Reflector
Questions about funding law enforcement, Medicaid expansion and a new medical school drew contrasts between the candidates in the State House District 9 contest during a virtual forum on Tuesday.
Republican State Rep. Perrin Jones, who was appointed to the District 9 seat last year, and Democratic challenger Brian Farkas sparred during the online event hosted by the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce.
District 9 encompasses eastern Pitt County and includes Grimesland, Simpson and portions of Greenville and Winterville. It is one of three state House seats in the county with contested races in the Nov. 3 election.
The candidates were asked how they would have voted on the state’s 2019-21 biennium budget that Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed, an action the General Assembly failed to override.
The budget included $215 million to build a new facility for the Brody School of Medicine, funding for a food commercialization center in Ayden and utility improvements in Bethel.
The governor’s vetoed the budget because it did not include Medicaid expansion and would not hold subsequent talks about its inclusion. House Speaker Tim Moore offered to discuss expansion once the budget was approved but Senate leader Phil Berger signaled his chamber wouldn’t take up an expansion vote.
“I am not going to speculate on how I would have voted; I’m not in office I don’t think that’s fair to ask. I will say I would be a champion for ECU,” Farkas said.
“It’s kind of amazing I’m being blamed for not passing a budget and I’m not in the legislature,” Farkas said. Current legislators need to be accountable and answer the question, he said, including why the Republican leadership did not compromise with the governor.
“One thing about consensus building is you need to understand when you have a good deal,” said Jones, who was appointed to the House District 9 seat in September 2019, after the governor vetoed the budget.
“This was a good deal for Greenville and Pitt County. This was an opportunity lost for Greenville and Pitt County.”
The candidates were asked where Medicaid expansion fell among their priorities. They also were asked for “common sense, cost-effective” solutions to fill the state’s health care coverage gap.
Farkas said Medicaid expansion has been implemented in states with both Democratic and Republican leadership. About 13,000 Pitt County residents and an estimated $113 million in revenue would be brought in the county if expansion was implemented, he said.
Rural hospitals have been left teetering without expansion dollars and Vidant Health’s leadership has urged elected leaders to develop a reimbursement strategy.
No other business in the state could do a third of its work for free, Farkas said, but hospitals are required to provide care without funding.
“This is one area where there may be some consensus between Mr. Farkas and myself,” Jones, an anesthesiologist, said. “I’m for expanding Medicaid in a responsible way.” Farkas’ proposal for expansion is irresponsible, he said.
“Quite frankly it’s much too simplistic and the answer to a very complicated system,” he said.
Republican leadership has not brought expansion proposals from party members to a vote.
Jones said the medical system needs to be reformed to focus on the value of care given by promoting systems where providers form networks to provide care. Farkas said the medical system needs to focus on preventive care.
Farkas frequently referenced televised campaign ads that he said have made false claims about his views on calls to defund police departments in the response to the killing of black men and women by officers. The candidates were asked where they stood on the topic of “police defunding.”
“It’s unfortunate that Perrin Jones and the (House Speaker Tim Moore) have chosen to lie and go negative on this issue,” Farkas said. “I have never in my life said I wanted to defund the police. I’ve never in my life said I want to weaken police. … All I have ever talked about was bringing accountability to law enforcement.”
Farkas said he wanted to see more money put toward training police in de-escalation techniques and toward the purchase of body cameras for officers to wear.
“The reality is the status quo, where we are at, is wrong. I don’t know why Rep. Jones is OK with keeping things as they are because people are getting hurt. Battle lines are being drawn and something different must be done,” Farkas said.
Jones said if Farkas is against police defunding he should return a $5,400 donation from a group called “Future Now,” a progressive political action committee.
“The fact is in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s unfortunate death there was what I consider a moment of true nation introspection where there were a number of people who wanted to see substantive change in how police interact work and interact with the community,” Jones said. “Unfortunately the legitimate peaceful protest that a number of people undertook were usurped by people who wanted to add violence to the mix.”
Jones accused Farkas of not renouncing the violence that occurred in downtown Greenville on May 31 following a peaceful protest over George Floyd’s death. The focus should be on bail bond reform and providing substance abuse assistance to people in jail, Jones said.
He said a Farkas proposal to establish a statewide police oversight board is wrong because the entity could be politicized and promote Monday morning quarterbacking that would encourage more violence.
Farkas said organizations like the state bar and N.C. Board of Architecture have committees that review complaints. A statewide police review board would eliminate the need for each community to have their own review board, which would save money.
The candidates were asked how they would help educators manage workload expectations created by having to prepare lessons for both in-person and virtual instruction to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Farkas said the limitations of internet capacity mean student needs aren’t being met so he wants to pursue the expansion of broadband internet access.
Teacher pay needs to be raised, the N.C. Teaching Fellows scholarship needs to be restored and lottery revenues need to be rededicated to education spending.
Jones said the state Department of Health and Human Services has to come up with an effective testing and tracing program so schools can reopen.
The candidates were asked how the state should position itself to avoid harm if exports to other countries drop because of the pandemic damaging their economies.
“Quite frankly I think what we are going to see is an economic realignment of the states with those that are able to open in the safest, most efficient way possible being the ones that are most prosperous,” Jones said.
The state’s current COVID-19 response is jeopardizing its ability to reopen and gain normalcy, he said.
Jones supports re-establishing the state’s manufacturing base by bringing industries that moved overseas, like some pharmaceutical companies, back to the state.
Farkas said it’s the federal government that failed the state “because people did not get the information they needed and the shared sacrifice wasn’t instilled in us from the top.”
Grants and low-interest loans targeting small businesses should be created.
Farkas said he specialized in emergency management when he worked for the National Institutes of Health and can use that experience to plan for the state’s economic recovery.