Candidate forums draws large, diverse crowd

By Kyle Perrotti | Oct 08, 2016
Audience members listen as Haywood County commissioner candidates respond to questions. From left are Democrats Robin Black and Steve Brown, and GOP candidates, Commissioner Kevin Ensley and Brandon Rogers.
Legislative / Commissioner Forum
Watch the forum in its entirety here. (Video by: Allison Richmond)

Thursday night’s candidate forum sponsored by Mountaineer Publishing, Inc. featured four heated and hearty sessions where legislative and county commissioner candidates shared their campaign platforms.

While opinions on who emerged victorious in the debates will vary, one thing remains true — voters came away with new perspectives and in some cases, new opinions.

Candidates, dressed their best and showing off political polish, stood by the front door, greeting familiar and unfamiliar faces alike.

The forum brought out a large, diverse crowd of local residents, some of whom were ardent supporters of one, two or a few candidates, while others came in unsure of whom they wanted to vote for.

Bruce and Anne Martin moved to Haywood County last year from Charleston and were excited to get their first real glimpse of the local leaders.

“We’ve never really been to anything like this,” Anne Martin said.

Eddie Cabe, who has lived in the area all his life, said he is looking for an alternative to the status quo.

“I think the most important thing Haywood County can do for its kids and grandkids is change out the county leadership,” he said.

Jim Doyle, who attended the forum with his wife, was most interested in the state legislator and county commissioner discussions. More specifically, he wanted to see what candidates planned on doing about a few key issues important to him.

“The school funding situation and health care issues are important to me,” he said. “I don’t know why North Carolina isn’t participating in the (expanded) Medicaid program. We’re looking to see what they have to say about that."

But by the end of the night, many undecided voters had made up their minds.

"This is the first time I'd ever been to something like this," said Donna Crusius. "It was an eye-opening experience."

Her sister, Debbie Crusius, said she had picked out her candidates after listening to them talk, adding that issues important to her were education and Medicaid.

Both are taking a Constitution class taught by Kay Miller, and said that was the impetus that brought them to the forum.

Beth Johnson of Maggie Valley is a self-described political junkie.

"I liked the questions the candidates asked each other," she said in reference to the last question which each legislative candidate posed to his or her opponent. "That was very well done."

Bill Covin, who is a teacher at the Haywood County Learning Center, the comments pertaining to education were of special interest. As candidates sparred about whether education priorities and funding were where they need to be, Covin compared the answers to his own experience.

"Presnell (Rep. Michelle Presenll, the Republican incumbent in the 119th House District) said it was the largest education funding ever in the state," Covin said. "That might be true, but it is also true we are at the bottom when it comes to per pupil funding and at the bottom half of teacher pay when you look at national figures."

Many of the debates featured heated exchanges, catchy soundbites and occasionally, even surprising moments, giving people plenty of insight into the individuals who have the potential to have such a major impact on their lives.

The race-by-race comments will be examined in future issues of The Mountaineer. Those who missed the forum can watch the full video on the newspaper's You Tube channel, or wait until the forum footage is available on the government access channel closer to the election.

For those who don't have high-speed internet or access to cable television, DVDs of the forum will be placed in each of the libraries in the county for check-out.