By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on October 26, 2020
In the race for the District 6 seat in the NC House of Representatives, Republican incumbent Bobby Hanig and Democratic challenger Tommy Fulcher agree that the COVID-19 epidemic has highlighted a crucial issue for residents of that district — health care.
“Obviously, it’s the pandemic,” Hanig told the Voice when asked to identify a top issue. “Health care is without a doubt the number one priority throughout the state, throughout the country. Getting this vaccine is going to be critical in how we move forward in .”
“I think the pandemic that we’re currently still fighting our way through has really magnified issues that were already there,” said Fulcher, citing “access to affordable health care.” He calls the N.C. legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid an “outrage,” adding that such an expansion “would be probably the biggest single act they could take to lift rural North Carolina,” where access to health insurance can be a challenge.
The two candidates offer largely contrasting messages to the district’s voters. Fulcher, a Southern Shores resident and political consultant who is making his first bid for elective office, told the Voice: “I’m an independent thinker…This is where I have lived my whole life. I will work for the people of our district, not the party bosses in Raleigh.”
“I believe what we have now in the General Assembly is not working,” he declared. “One side, the minority party, is completely closed out of the process and a decisions are made by just a handful of top leaders on the House side.” That dynamic, he said, precludes the kind of “moderate, mainstream legislation that appeals to where most people in North Carolina really are.”
Hanig, a Powells Point businessman who was elected as a Currituck County Commissioner in 2015 and defeated incumbent Beverly Boswell in a primary on his way to winning a House seat in 2018, said that for voters, the race “basically comes down to your beliefs — whether you believe in Republican conservative values or Democratic values.”
“I believe in protecting the Second Amendment, I’m a big pro-life advocate,” he added. “I believe in education. I believe in school choice. I believe in less taxes, less government…I’ve proven that I work for our communities and our citizens and that’s my first priority.”
And while both candidates cite education as a very important issue, they come at it from very different perspectives.
Given the restrictions of the COVID pandemic, Hanig emphasized that, “My biggest concern…is getting our youngest kids back in school. They’re not learning the fundamentals of how to learn.” At the same time, he stated, “this pandemic has catapulted us into the digital age of education,” which he sees as potentially offering significant benefits.
“Where we would have concern with overcrowded schools in middle schools and high schools, [that] may not be so much of a concern in the very near future because so much can be done in virtual classrooms.” He explained. “I think it gives kids a little more discipline, because they’re on their own.”
For his part, Fulcher asserts that “public school are under siege…I think the [legislative] leadership has worked to undermine our public schools, in terms of defunding our schools, the explosive growth in charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools.” While he lauds the intent behind charter schools, Fulcher said that has now “turned into more of a movement to undermine traditional public schools.”
Fulcher also identifies the state’s tax structure as something that needs fixing.
“The General Assembly, under Republican leadership, has really heaped massive tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations,” he stated. “The fine print is the majority of the tax cuts went to upper income [citizens], and the working class is paying more in taxes…When you add in all the fees and sales taxes that are a lot harder to track, it’s been a bait and switch. I would like to see a progressive tax reinstituted.”
Hanig cites “the constant” battle to protect the region’ fishing industry as one of his priorities, suggesting that a more collaborative effort by the parties involved is needed to pave the way toward progress.
“It’s like the same battle for twenty, thirty years,” he added. “Both sides are entrenched…That has to end for anything positive to come out of it.” The solution, he said, is for “commercial fisherman to be honest about what they’re doing and recreational fisherman to be honest about what they’re doing.”
One issue that finds the candidates in agreement is offshore drilling. I am vehemently opposed to that…I support a permanent ban on offshore drilling,” Fulcher said, acknowledging that while Hanig is also opposed, “his party leadership hasn’t walked away from that.”
“We are energy independent,” declared Hanig. “We are a net exporter of fossil fuels and natural gas. When we need [offshore oil], let’s go get it. We do not need it. It’s not worth what could happen…From day one, I’ve been against [offshore drilling] and I’ve caught a lot of flak for it.”
With both candidates identifying health care and the COVID-19 pandemic as a key concern, they were also asked to assess how well the administration of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper had responded to that challenge.
“I would say in the beginning, they handled it very well and took appropriate precautions,” offered Hanig. “After that, it became political. I believe they see an opening to cause trouble at the state level and at the federal level with our current elected officials, and they see this as an avenue to take them out…Quite frankly, the numbers aren’t there to justify shutting down an entire economy.”
“We are in unprecedented times,” Fulcher stated. “There’s no playbook for this…I think Governor Cooper has made good, balanced decisions. I will say some of his decisions have caused economic hardship for business and workers, there’s no doubt about it….But the truth of it is, there is no way to revive our economy without getting control of the virus…He’s had a measured approach here.”