Pat Smathers | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Pat Smathers

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Pat Smathers
Date of Birth: Jan. 8, 1954
Campaign web site: www.patsmathers2008.com
Occupation and employer: Attorney / Self
Years lived in North Carolina: 54



1. What do you see as the most important issues facing North Carolina? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

I believe North Carolina is like a chain, with its communities forming the links in the chain. If any of those links should fail, the chain will break.

We must focus our energies on repairing our chain’s weakest links. Whether the problem is sewer line access in the east, overcrowded classrooms in the Piedmont or methamphetamine addiction in the mountains, it needs to be immediately addressed for the sake of the state. To build a better, stronger North Carolina, we must work to strengthen our cities and towns.

There is no shortage of pressing issues facing North Carolina. Citizens across the state are struggling to pay their bills and secure adequate mental and physical health care for their families. Communities are struggling to improve their school systems and protect their environments. But I believe the single most important issue facing North Carolina is how we decide to address these problems and institute effective solutions.

My campaign slogan is “local leadership, statewide.” That slogan doesn’t refer to a mayor running for state office; it’s about empowering and supporting our talented local leaders who understand their communities’ unique priorities, challenges and strengths.

The vast majority of services and protections we enjoy are provided by local government. We rely on our local governments to safeguard our streets, keep our water clean, pick up our trash and educate our children. Yet when it comes time to make decisions regarding those critical tasks, we too often turn to Raleigh. We’re bypassing the people best equipped to solve our state's problems, and tying the hands of forward-looking leaders from both parties trying to invigorate traditional Democratic values in their hometowns: Good jobs, strong schools, a clean environment, fairness and justice.

As I have traveled across the state, I have met countless North Carolinians who are frustrated by the concentration of power in Raleigh. I have heard from local leaders and community activists who have garnered widespread support for taxes underwriting new transit projects and childcare centers, only to be stymied by the meddling of state legislators.

Our current system doesn’t make sense. We must allow local leaders to make meaningful decisions about the fates of their communities, freeing up state government to focus on truly statewide issues, such as our colleges and universities, prisons and highways. To strengthen our cities and towns – and build a better, stronger North Carolina – we must enable, fund and support our local governments.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you’ve identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.

I understand the power of local leadership because I am a local leader. I am a lifetime resident of Canton, and proud to say my children represent the eighth generation of my family living here in the mountains.

When I was a boy, downtown Canton was a vibrant place. But by the 1990s, it didn’t look anything like the town of my childhood. Stores were shuttered, power lines criss-crossed the streets and our river was horribly polluted from decades of use by the paper mill. A group of residents who knew we could do better approached me about running for mayor.

I was elected in 1999, and immediately embarked on an ambitious rejuvenation plan. Working closely with local businesses and community groups, the town undertook a number of projects to boost our residents’ quality of life and civic pride. We buried the power lines, began cleaning up the Pigeon and developed business parks. We extended water and sewer lines, and established new parks. While few of our initiatives merited statewide attention, they put Canton on the path back to excellence.

But an unprecedented natural disaster in 2004 threatened to undo all our hard work. We were hit by two 500-year floods in the span of ten days, submerging our streets, tearing trailers from their foundations and dashing our citizens’ newfound morale. When the waters receded, we were left with $100 million worth of damage. Some folks were ready to just walk away.

In the days after the flood, I and my fellow local leaders did what state legislators couldn’t: We knocked on our neighbors’ doors, held their hands and reassured them we wouldn’t give up on our hometown. We immediately began rebuilding, making numerous trips to Raleigh to secure the funding we needed to restore our town. Today, Canton is better than ever.

I believe the same vision, experience and leadership I demonstrated during the floods will make me an effective lieutenant governor, and allow me to use the office’s bully pulpit to press for the empowerment of local leaders statewide.

3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I believe the Independent Weekly was the first publication to describe me as a populist. If that label means I put people first, it’s an accurate one. I believe our citizens’ interests should be paramount in our policies. Elected officials’ constituents are not the deep-pocketed lobbyists and corporate attorneys who try to steer legislation in their favor; Politicians must serve the people.

Another important component of my political philosophy is my commitment to finding creative and workable solutions. Grandstanding, power-grabbing and greed all too often inhibit efficient and effective problem-solving. I believe in getting things done; that’s what mayors do, and it’s what our Council of State members should do. Politics is not about power. It’s not about personal ambition. It’s about the people.

My record of pragmatic leadership and vision for North Carolina are grounded in my political philosophy. And, I think, the way I have conducted my campaign is further evidence of the depth of my beliefs. If you really want to know how someone will govern, it’s worth examining how they run for office. Is their campaign schedule a series of fancy $100-a-plate fundraisers, or do they spend their time among the people? Do they fund their campaign by collecting contributions from out-of-state corporate attorneys and lobbyists, or do they rely on the support of working North Carolinians?

I have not raised the most money in this race. Until recently, when a former client wrote me a generous check, my biggest donor was Wade Howell, a retired mill worker whose father worked for my dad. Every few months, Wade comes into my law office with a small donation. Like the deli clerks, schoolteachers and laborers who have given to my campaign, Wade doesn’t anticipate any personal gain if I am elected. He is supporting me because he believes in my platform and cares about our state.

My campaigning has involved visiting with voters across North Carolina. Until public financing programs are made available for all Council of State offices, my solution is to listen to my fellow North Carolinians and personally share with them my ideas for bettering our state. It seems to be working: Recent polls have consistently showed me in the lead for the Democratic nomination. I am counting on the people to help me stay there.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.

One of my earliest memories is of standing outside my father’s grocery store, stumping for Terry Sanford and John F. Kennedy. I was proud to be a Democrat even before I could pronounce the word.

I am still proud to be a Democrat. My dedication to our party’s core values has never wavered. I am a firm believer in equality, fairness, justice and treating our fellow citizens with decency and respect. As lieutenant governor, I will work to animate those guiding principles in communities across the state, including the Triangle.

Justice is at the heart of my plan to enable, empower and support local governments. If a city decides its residents need improved senior services, better public transit or enhanced kindergarten programs, it is unjust for legislators from far-away districts to stop them. If a town wishes to adopt stronger environmental protection standards than those adopted by the state, North Carolina should encourage and endorse them. My platform calls for trusting the Triangle’s local leaders to do what is reasonable, proper and good for their citizens.

5. Is there a stand you’ll take on principle if elected, even though it may cost you some popularity points with voters?

Yes, I already have. I have strongly supported equality for all North Carolinians, and continue to advocate for the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Unfortunately, in certain corners, this remains a controversial issue. Perhaps even more shamefully, many people still don’t consider it an issue at all. I believe discrimination of any form is unacceptable, and should not be tolerated in North Carolina. If elected, I plan to keep speaking out about this issue and others.

I often quote the North Carolina state motto: Esse quam videri; to be, rather than to seem. I will not say something I do not believe because I think people want to hear it, or the press will cover it or it will win me votes. Nor will I hold my tongue because of the risk of losing popularity points. Hypocrisy is not compatible with good leadership. I try to always speak candidly, govern openly and act responsibly. North Carolinians should hold every candidate seeking their votes to the same standard.

6.If these issues haven’t been addressed above, would you please comment on:

  1. Poverty: What steps, if any, do you advocate to lift up the poor in North Carolina?
  2. We should never shirk from our obligation to make sure the basic needs of all North Carolinians are met: We must continue to support and fund programs to feed, clothe and house citizens who need urgent help.

    But these stopgap measures alone are insufficient. We must also immediately address the root causes of poverty. If we want to eliminate poverty in North Carolina, we must improve our education system for children and adults; create well-paying jobs suitable for our population and make safe and adequate housing, health care and child care accessible and available.

    While North Carolina’s economic growth of the 1990s has become an oft-told success story, we learned the arrival of new industries isn’t a silver bullet solution for the persistent problem of poverty. More than one million North Carolinians are still struggling to clamber up the economic ladder, and it’s the job of state and local governments to give them a boost.

    Poverty afflicts every one of our state’s 100 counties, but it has increasingly become a rural issue. As a lifetime resident of the western mountains, I am very concerned about the economic futures of my fellow rural residents during this time of economic crisis. Child poverty is especially serious in the state’s least populated regions: The child poverty rate for children in rural areas is 45 percent higher than urban centers.

    It is exceedingly important that we work to strengthen small businesses in these areas. I am opposed to shortsighted incentive programs that lure companies here from out-of-state with cushy tax exemption programs that do not serve our people. These companies, which have no roots in our communities, are likely to leave when offered a sweeter deal. North Carolina’s great family-owned small businesses are here to stay. A man who runs a small market, like my father did, isn’t going to pick up and move to Nevada. A woman who offers tax preparation services isn’t going to relocate to China. I believe we should dance with the ones who brung us, and create training programs and tax credits for these small business owners, who are our most reliable source of good jobs. We should also introduce programs to cultivate entrepreneurs in rural counties.

    Many of the jobs forecasted for North Carolina do not match the skill sets of our workers. More than half of our workers have only a high school diploma, and are not prepared to work in high-tech sectors. The state should continue to collaborate with our community colleges to create targeted job training programs, including programs for prospective green-collar workers. North Carolina should also fully fund financial literacy and credit counseling programs – and consider granting a tax credit to those citizens who successfully complete them.

    Finally, North Carolina should move to increase the eligibility cap for Medicaid, provide funding to eliminate the 20,000-person waiting list for subsidized child care and again revisit the state’s tax system. Although the recent adoption of the refundable earned income tax credit was a step in the right direction, our taxes still place an unfair burden on our low-income residents. North Carolina should immediately increase the earned income tax credit and expand its property tax relief program to keep more seniors in their homes.

  3. Transportation needs in the state, including roads and transit in the Triangle?
  4. North Carolina’s transportation problems are about to get worse. The American Civil Society of Engineers has given our aging roads a nearly failing grade, and rated our bridges a C-minus on its assessment scale. Yet these problems aren’t keeping drivers off the road. Our state’s urban regions are already coping with terrible traffic congestion, and projected population growth is likely to exacerbate it.

    Alarmingly, much of our current funding is being directed toward building new roads, instead of first fixing our current infrastructure. Many of these projects are spearheaded by special interests. We need to immediately shift our focus from supply to demand, finding meaningful ways to reduce use of our roads and highways.

    We must significantly increase our investment in buses, light rail and rail. As the price of oil increases, single-passenger car travel – a major pollutant statewide – will become unaffordable for many of our state’s residents. As our population ages, many residents will also face physical impediments to self-transport. We must ensure these citizens have the same access to jobs, affordable housing and community services as car owners.

    We must make smart decisions about mass transit to develop systems statewide that are energy efficient, attractive and economical. I strongly support regional collaborations in this arena, and believe North Carolina should support and fund local programs to improve citizen mobility. This is especially important in rural areas, where inadequate transportation networks pose a threat to community and economic development.

    North Carolina should also work to invigorate telecommuting statewide. In addition to providing teleconferencing centers, reducing local leaders’ trips to Raleigh, North Carolina should enhance its digital infrastructure so telecommuting is a real choice for businesses across the state. Telecommuting has tremendous benefits: it reduces strain on our state’s roads, allows offices to reduce their energy use and lets workers with various family responsibilities – such as an elderly parent who doesn’t require care, but feels more comfortable with someone in the home – attend to them. State and local governments should encourage telecommuting by proposing plans for their employees, rather than waiting for their employees to approach them.

  5. Overcrowded prisons: Should we be moving toward more alternative-sentencing programs instead of prison time?
  6. North Carolina has been a leader in alternative sentencing, and I strongly support continuing to explore ways to strengthen the system. Our prisons are horribly overcrowded, and every study suggests we’re facing a severe bed shortfall. The state is already asking its prisons to cope with a multilingual population of violent offenders; Forcing these institutions to accept more residents than they’re equipped to handle doesn’t simplify their task or contribute to the rehabilitation of inmates.

    When a man or woman is sent to prison, it is often a highly traumatic event for his or her family. Whenever possible, we should try to keep people in their communities, and provide them with the education and job training programs they need to become productive members of society. Many of our current alternative sentencing programs have proved very successful in this regard – it’s up to North Carolina to fully fund these programs, so they can continue to serve our citizens. The state should also work to keep judges informed about various programs, so we can eliminate the current problem of some programs being oversubscribed while others are underutilized.

  7. Health care: What should the state do next to address the problem of adults and children without adequate health care or insurance?
  8. Our current health care system is in desperate need of reform. It is unacceptable that North Carolinians can’t afford to get sick. While I believe a comprehensive, national plan is the only real solution, there are a number of policies North Carolina should pursue to improve the availability and affordability of health care statewide.

    Many workers are terrified of getting sick. Without the safety net of paid sick days, missed work means missed wages – or a lost job. Faced with such a stark choice, many workers opt to work through their illness, making themselves sicker and exposing co-workers to their germs. To improve the state’s overall health, we should require businesses with a certain number of employees to provide paid sick days.

    I also support workplace wellness and education programs to keep North Carolinians healthy. But even if we are successful in reducing obesity and smoking rates, people will still get sick and need health care.

    North Carolina must help small businesses provide health coverage for their employees. Today, the cost of insurance is so exorbitant that many small business owners must choose between covering their employees and hiring more workers. We should not inhibit job creation by forcing business owners to shoulder the burden of health care costs alone. The state should issue significant tax credits for these businesses, offer discounted plans and work to facilitate purchasing pools for small businesses.

    North Carolina has taken some important steps to keep its children healthy. But if we can’t make the same commitment to their parents, we’re undermining our efforts.

  9. Foreclosures: What more should the state be doing to help consumers avoid foreclosure and hold onto their homes?
  10. I commend state legislators for addressing the foreclosure crisis, and look forward to supporting future bills to protect consumers in North Carolina.

    Perhaps the most significant item absent from the newly passed legislation is financial literacy: I believe we can avert future loan crises by giving our citizens the opportunity to learn more about money management. While the new requirement mandating five days of personal finance instruction in our high schools is a good step, we must also emphasize financial literacy for adults by fully funding cooperative extension and community college programs.

    I also think we should explore state legislation to close loopholes left by federal lending laws. Although most mortgage brokers conduct their businesses with honesty and integrity, we should institute further safeguards to protect borrowers from those who don’t. Currently, lenders are required by RESPA to provide borrowers with a good faith estimate, but aren’t required to honor it. This allows unscrupulous lenders to engage in bait-and-switch tactics at closing, demanding buyers sign on to higher rates. By holding lenders accountable for estimates issued within a reasonable number of days prior to closing, we could better protect prospective homeowners statewide.

  11. The mental health crisis: Everyone agrees it’s a mess. Now what?
  12. As a veteran, I am particularly concerned about this issue. Untreated mental illness takes a tremendous toll on North Carolina and its families. A 2006 study showed we needed to increase funding by $285 million to bring our per capita mental health spending in line with the national average. Even a massive nine-figure investment wouldn’t be adequate to ensure our citizens the best mental health care available nationwide: It would guarantee them average care. We can, and must, do better.

    While the media and elected leaders have lately recognized the magnitude of this problem, we cannot allow this issue to disappear after election season ends. We must continue to attack this problem with urgency and compassion until we have a mental health care system that works for all North Carolinians.

    Our overriding goal should be securing adequate funding for our citizens’ needs. While Medicaid is one important source of funds, we do not want to become overly dependent on it, especially since the federal government may decide to ultimately reduce its investment. Although we should optimize our use of Medicaid, we should also work to supplement our mental health budget with state funds.

    There is no shortage of statewide mental health programs which would benefit from immediate, increased funding. But I believe our allocation priority should be full funding of the basic one-stop, safety-net clinic initiative proposed by Drs. Harold Carmel, John Gilmore and Marvin Swartz. North Carolinians diagnosed with mental illness and their loved ones need a physical place where they can go during a crisis. When a homeless vet needs his meds refilled, we shouldn’t expect him to make a series of phone calls, as the current four-tiered system requires: We should open a door for him. When a single mother is considering suicide, we shouldn’t ask her to spend hours awaiting care in an emergency room: We should open a door for her. When one of our fellow citizens is alone, delusional and scared on a Saturday night, we shouldn’t make him take his problems to a homeless shelter where nobody is equipped to deal with mental illness: We should open a door for him.

    But it is not often to merely open the doors to these clinics. We must fund them so they can employ the best professionals and offer the transport, child care and other services their clients require to render them fully functional.

    I believe locally-based programs that keep citizens in their communities, and their homes, are the most economical and effective. Working with state guidance, local leaders are often best situated to determine how mental health care dollars should be spent in their hometowns. Economics and good sense requires us to listen to them. By improving mental health care statewide, we can make North Carolina a better place for everyone to live.

  13. Taxes: Given the needs, are they too high? Too low? Too regressive? What direction should the state be taking on the revenue side?
  14. North Carolina is saddled with a 1930s tax code. When we had an agricultural economy, our taxation system not only made sense, it was celebrated nationwide. It was a great tax code. But now it’s an old tax code. We don’t drive 1930s cars, we don’t wear 1930s clothes and we shouldn’t depend upon a 1930s system of taxation.

    This issue is at the heart of my campaign: We must immediately give communities the full range of tax options, including sales and transfer taxes, so they can fund their services. Currently, our citizens are sending too much money to Raleigh and then having to send their leaders to the capital to reclaim it. We need to keep more money in our communities, where it can be put to work.

7. What is your position on capital punishment in North Carolina? If in favor, will you support a moratorium on executions while the question of whether the death penalty can be administered fairly is studied by the General Assembly?

I believe the question of capital punishment should be put to the voters, but only once it is determined the system can be administered in a fair and just manner. The reports of racial disparities in capital sentencing and cases of wrongful convictions nationwide are horrifying. I support extending the moratorium on capital punishment until North Carolinians can make a decision on its fate.

8. What is your position regarding LGBT rights? Please address whether gay marriages or civil unions should be made legal in North Carolina; also, whether sexual orientation and identity should be added as a protected class under state anti-discrimination laws, including state personnel laws.

As an attorney, I have worked with many gay and lesbian couples to establish joint tenants with rights of survivorship, but I do not believe any North Carolinian should have to seek legal counsel to secure his or her basic rights and protections. I support civil unions, and believe we must strive to eliminate discrimination in housing, adoption and all other legislation, including state personnel laws.

I am also very concerned about our young LGBT population, and strongly support anti-bullying ordinances, such as the one recently passed in Charlotte, which explicitly protect students of all sexual orientations. As Facebook and other social networking programs have intensified the reach of bullies, we must also work to monitor cyberbullying, which often has ugly, homophobic overtones. If we really want our kids to stay in school, we must make our schools safe and welcoming environments for all students.

9. Do you support women’s reproductive rights, including the “right to choose” as set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade?

Yes. I have also voiced my support for reutilizing the State Abortion Fund, since I do not think a constitutionally protected right should be made available only to the wealthy. Lower-income women deserve an equally meaningful right to choose.

10. Should public employees have the right to bargain collectively in North Carolina?

I support allowing employees in the public sector to exercise the same collective bargaining rights available to employees in the private sector. I would advocate taking steps to ensure negotiations do not impede government functioning or lead to a strike. As a mayor, my first priority is protecting and serving the residents of my town: While I am open-minded on this issue, I hope to find a solution that will work for public employees and their fellow citizens.

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