Election 2018: Jones County legislative races
At the end of the early voting period and before Election Day on Tuesday, 1,553 voters in Jones County cast their ballots, according to ncvotetracker.com, a project of the Civitas Institute.
Two seats in the North Carolina General Assembly are up for election on Jones County voters’ ballots: N.C. State House of Representatives District 13 and N.C. State Senate District 6.
In the House, incumbent Rep. Patricia McElraft (R) is being challenged by Pene diMaio (unaffiliated). In the Senate, incumbent Sen. Harry Brown (R) is being challenged by Joe Webb (D).
House of Representatives District 13
District 13, which includes voters in Jones and Carteret counties, has been represented in the N.C. House by Rep. McElraft since 2007.
Challenging McElraft is diMaio, whose first goal in running for the office was “to get a different independent voice into the legislature.”
A self-described environmentalist, diMaoi is “looking to work towards a state that is more supportive of excellent, science-based education, more healthcare,” and taking care of North Carolina’s waterways.
McElraft is running for her seventh term in office.
“I’ve got seniority in the House and that affords me chairmanships on committees that can help Eastern North Carolina,” she said.
One of those committees is the disaster recovery committee, which was formed after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. McElraft is also on a new joint legislative committee to address river flooding concerns in the state.
“Our rivers need to be dredged and cleaned out of debris so that they flow properly,” she said. “I think we also need to address some kind of state flooding insurance coverage for those who are not in flood zones all over the state. It is not just the East that floods.”
McElraft also emphasized the size of the rainy day fund — over $2 billion — to deal with events such as this.
DiMaio’s major concern is if another disaster happens again.
“We have to be prepared with infrastructure in place,” she said. “There need to be shelters in every county that can withstand a category 3 or 4 storm because not everybody has the means to get out. If what happens in Florida happens in North Carolina we are not at all prepared, and that has to be Priority 1.”
Hurricane Florence also adversely affected many farmers in Jones County.
“We are looking at giving our farmers grants or loans to help them get by these hard times of losing crops and farm animals,” McElraft said. “We need to also encourage them to get federal crop insurance in the future.”
DiMaio emphasized the lagoon waste management systems used by many corporate farms contribute to pollution during flooding events and lead to large amounts of clean-up efforts.
“Not on the floodplains, please,” she said of pork and chicken producers. “We have to come up with a different system. Do I have that answer? No, but I know where I can find it.”
Regarding education, diMaio believes that excess money from the rainy day fund should be used for education.
“When our state was talking about the lottery, all we ever heard was that these funds would supplement the state and federal funding and would provide so much more money for education,” she said. “Once the lottery came in, it wasn’t supplementing the funding, it was supplanting it. We have no idea where that money went.”
McElraft said that the state is currently funding schools at a level that is ninth in the nation, and is in the process of raising teacher pay closer to the national average and the highest in the Southeast.
“Where we fall down is most other states ask their counties to fund more of the education costs,” McElraft said. “We realize many of our poor counties cannot fund another penny and still run their county.”
Part of that funding is in discussion to be used to provide more school resource officers to increase safety, said McElraft. She also believes that each school district should have the flexibility to set their own safety rules and protocols.
State Senate District 6
Senate District 6, which includes voters in Jones and Onslow counties, has been represented in the N.C. Senate by Sen. Brown since 2005.
Webb is running against Brown for the position.
A 50-year educator who grew up on a tobacco farm in Edgecombe County, Webb said he is running to establish a balance in government.
“I’m the first opponent that Sen. Brown has had in 12 of 14 years,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good thing for elected offices to go uncontested. I think our democracy withers and dies and we lose the habits of civic participation.”
Generally, Webb said he is running “to build a bold and bright future that works for everybody,” including a balance of political party representation and economic decisions at the state level.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, Webb pointed to several policies that he believes need to be changed in order to ensure better recovery in the event of future disasters.
First, Webb wants to increase unemployment benefits and index them to a regional figure instead of the state average.
“We would have a much better opportunity for everyone to get past and transition through tough times if we would restore what was there just a few years ago,” he said.
Medicaid is also important to Webb.
“Medical insurance is extremely critical in a time of stress,” Webb said. “If we used the federal dollars on the table to expand Medicaid, we would have individuals in eastern North Carolina today with medical insurance who do not now have that insurance.”
Overall, Webb emphasizes the necessity of cooperation between different levels of government, from local to state to federal.
“If I were to be elected, I know that I would be working closely with state and local emergency management to try and find a way to cut through the red tape with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and expedite everything we can at the state level.”
For farmers in Jones County, flood control is important, and Webb acknowledges the multidimensional issues of the various waterways that contribute to flooding, telling the story of one farmer whose field has flooded 5 out of the last 6 years.
“The resources in rural counties such as Jones are really limited to respond to a massive crisis, so the state is going to have to step up and play a major role in coordinating services and providing resources to help this community,” Webb said.
From his experience in education, Webb said, “I’ve been in classrooms from Cherokee to Carteret County, so I know what teachers are facing in the classroom and I know we have to provide increased funding for teacher pay, instructional materials, to replace aging equipment and to address issues of school safety.”
Teachers’ salaries, especially for veteran teachers, are stagnating, said Webb, and experienced teachers are either changing professions or are going out of state, so he advocates for increased salaries that get to the national average at every level.
As for school safety, Webb also believes school resource officers should be available at the elementary school level and additional funding should be used to provide wraparound services in the form of school psychologies and social workers.
“Students who are being bullied and who don’t have the coping skills we’re finding too often resort to violence or violent actions that could escalate, so we need more staff who are professionally trained to deal with troubled youth in our schools,” Webb said. “We’re well below the recommended standards for school psychologists and social workers. It’s a funding issue.”
Sen. Brown did not respond to questions.
Polls are open in Jones County from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.