Three Republican candidates are running in the March 15 primary to fill the 91st District North Carolina House of Representatives seat formerly held by Bryan Hollaway. A sole Democratic candidate, Eugene Russell of Mayodan, will also be running for the seat in the November election.
Incumbent Kyle Hall, who was appointed to fill the seat for the remainder of Hollaway’s term last fall, is facing challengers Robert Knight and Ira Tilley.
The Stokes News sent the candidates 14 questions about their lives, ambitions and hopes for the 91st District. Their responses, in alphabetical order, are listed below
1. Please provide a history of your public service including any boards or councils you have served on and any subcommittees you have served on. Are you involved any any civic organizations or church groups? If so which ones?
Hall — I’m currently serving the 91st District (Stokes & Rockingham Counties) in the North Carolina House of Representatives. I serve on the House Committees of Appropriations, Education Appropriations, Information Technology, Public Utilities, and Insurance. In addition, I am the vice-chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development. In the community, I’m a member of the Lions Club and a City Planning Board member. I attend First Baptist Church of King.
Knight — I attend First Baptist Church in Mayodan. For the past three years I have attended NC Farm Bureau’s Conferences as well as other meetings held in Stokes and Rockingham counties. Although I have not held a political office, I feel that I am a qualified, concerned citizen, who goes to work every day, has a family to care for, and has a good understanding of the issues that my family, friends, and neighbors face.
Tilley — I have been involved with various charitable groups raising funds and civic organizations where I have served in multiple leadership positions. I served as President of Madison-Mayodan Jaycees and Vice-President of Reidsville Jaycees. I served as Vice-President and President of the Men’s Garden Club of Reidsville. I served on the Allocations Committee for both the Western Rockingham and Rockingham County United Way. I was a member of the Rockingham County CrimeStoppers board and executive board and served as chair on numerous successful fundraising projects. I served as Vice-President of the Rockingham County Historical Society (now known as MARC) and was the first treasurer of MARC also serving on their Executive Committee for the new Museum and Archives for Rockingham County. I served on the Executive Board for both the Reidsville and Western Rockingham Chamber of Commerce. I am a member of Jefferson Penn Mason Lodge No. 384 and I have past involvement in the Reidsville Elk’s Lodge. I also served on the Reidsville All-American City Executive Board. For the past two years, I have been a member of Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup, No Fracking in Stokes and Good Stewards of Rockingham. I was raised in Mayodan Pentecostal Holiness Church and my faith is both strong and deep rooted. I am an active member of the Rockingham County Republican Party and recently served as a co-chair of a successful fundraising and outreach project. Since 2004, I have served as a regional representative for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Commissioner’s Circle appointed by Commissioner Steve Troxler.
2. What do you consider to the best assets/skills/experience you will bring to the table if elected to serve in the House of Representatives?
Hall — I was appointed to the North Carolina House by Governor Pat McCrory following the resignation of Rep. Bryan Holloway. Since January 2015, I’ve worked for U.S. Congressman Mark Walker. Prior to that, I was a state budget researcher for the North Carolina Senate. I have a clear understanding of the legislative process and in particular, the complexities of writing a state budget. I believe I can effectively represent the people of Stokes County and the 91st District.
Knight — I am willing to listen and look at issues objectively. That, combined with my experience in many types of businesses throughout Stokes and Rockingham Counties gives me the knowledge to make decisions that will help promote business in our area. My best asset is my children. Every decision I make will have them in mind because what is good for their future is good for the future of the district; whether that be our education system or promoting fiscal responsibility.
Tilley — I have extensive involvement in the community and have a unique ability to portray my thoughts. For the past two years, I have worked with local governments and municipalities across the state from both political parties regarding the environmental issues of Fracking and proper cleanup and disposal of Coal Ash. I am passionate about Rockingham and Stokes Counties and in seeing this area flourish. I am a good listener and want to listen to resident’s concerns. I have skills of being a spokesman that I can use. I have experience in running my own businesses so I understand budgets and the state and local bureaucracy that can affect businesses. I have nearly 50 years of life experience to draw from to help me serve as your legislator.
3. Why have you decided to run for a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives?
Hall — I’ve lived in Stokes County my entire life. My parents, George and Janet Hall, are both retired Stokes County teachers. I’m a proud graduate of the Stokes County School System. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, I chose to plant my roots in Stokes County. I want to see our county and district succeed. I want Raleigh to take us seriously. I recently read a poll where half of those surveyed believed the American Dream is dead and no longer a reality. I think the reason Americans feel this way is due to a lack of confidence in government, elected officials, and politicians. I, like any candidate, can promise a whole list of items, but I seek God’s grace in serving the people of Stokes and Rockingham Counties in Raleigh – to do what is right for my constituents and restore confidence in our state government.
Knight — I have always wanted to become more involved with politics, but felt the need to prove myself in the business world first. With the direction we are headed and the burden on businesses and families becoming greater, I realized now was the time to become a voice for small business and working families in North Carolina.
Tilley — I believe I have the unique set of life skills that can help move our district forward. I want to demonstrate what a true public servant can be if given the opportunity. From King to Reidsville and all areas inbetween, I love the people and area of this district. I want to serve as a true representative and bridge that is beholden to the residents of this district only and not special interest or PAC groups.
4. Environmental issues, including coal ash and fracking, have been key issues for Stokes County residents in recent years. What is your stance on these issues? If elected, what would you do at the state level to address these issues?
Hall — I’m opposed to fracking and will vote against it in the North Carolina House. Fracking is not economically feasible in Stokes and Rockingham Counties. Our roads are not fit for the tanker trucks, oil companies typically use migrant workers instead of hiring local, and tests have shown that there’s simply not enough supply here. There’s also too much environmental uncertainty. As far as coal ash, I believe we must ensure the Dan River is clean and that safeguards are in place in order to avoid future problems.
Knight — Coal ash cleanup is underway and Duke Energy is following the guidelines for the cleanup process. I am open minded to fracking, but honestly do not see it being pursued in Stokes County by the gas companies because of the small amount of gas we have, the population, and the low prices of natural gas. I support the moratoriums our local governments have put in place until we can see the results of the tests being conducted by the state. I feel sure the decision will be left up to the government agencies that oversee the protection of our environment.
Tilley — I do not support fracking. For almost two years, I have worked with citizens from Stokes and Rockingham counties from both political parties regarding the environmental issues of Fracking and Coal Ash. I have traveled our state extensively speaking to municipalities and county governments regarding the known wellness/health risks associated with the fracking industry. I am a proud member of No Fracking in Stokes and Good Stewards of Rockingham. No amount of money is worth the further destruction or risk. I am passionate about protecting our God given natural resources. My opinion regarding this topic has always been consistent unlike my opponent. I am also a member of Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup. I have spoken publicly several times about the risks our area has because of the coal ash ponds. To prevent further seepage into our water supply, Duke Energy needs to excavate and encapsulate the coal ash ponds. Regardless of the outcome of this election, I have made it part of my life’s mission going forward to work on these issues. I have already reached out to other candidates and elected officials throughout our state about these issues. If I am fortunate enough to be elected, I will tirelessly continue to talk to my House and Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
5. Stokes County, like many rural counties, is facing a variety of financial issues ranging from aging schools to a lack of funding sources for economic development and infrastructure improvements. If elected how would you address these issues on the state level to try to help relieve the burden on local tax payers?
Hall — There’s no doubt that Stokes County is hurting. We lack jobs, new industry, and revenue. For the past couple of years, the County has been operating on a shoestring budget following the loss of hold harmless funding from the State. I supported the original tax fairness legislation from this session. This legislation would have ensured that sales tax revenue would go back to the original purchaser’s county instead of the county where the sale occurred. Stokes County would have benefitted tremendously from this change. We need leaders that understand rural North Carolina’s issues are not the same as Charlotte’s or Raleigh’s issues. I will work with my fellow legislators to ensure we get the funding we need, but I will also continue to keep in contact with our county and municipal leaders to protect our interests in Raleigh.
Knight — When state government is responsible, and economic growth is encouraged by the right policies; our state’s budget will be in much better shape to address these needs and the burden of taking care of these problems will be much easier to bear.
Tilley — During summer 2015, our governor touted a budget surplus of $456 million. In addition our state has been able to bank $1 billion for the rainy day fund. Rather than the surplus money going to pork barrel projects, the money needs to be made available to counties like Stokes to help with what they need. The lottery proceeds also needs to be used as it was intended so school infrastructure can have proper funding. Today only 27% of lottery funds are being used on schools while the rest is taken and used on other projects by the legislature (source of percentage is from a NC Lottery Commission representative).
6. Local schools get a good portion of their annual operating costs from the state. Do you think the current funding formulas are appropriate? Why or why not? What would you work to change if elected?
Hall — As the son of two lifelong Stokes County teachers, I understand that teaching is a valuable and noble profession that deserves respect. Our state must work harder to provide more of the necessary funds for education. Also, our teachers need to be paid more, and though efforts have been made to increase pay, we do need to make an effort to reach the national average. As far as funding formulas go, funds are currently distributed by the number of students enrolled in a school system (Average Daily Membership or ADM). I can’t think of a fairer formula then by funding the number of students a county has in their system. However, sales tax distribution formula changes could help rural counties with schools, and I absolutely support the tax fairness measure Senator Harry Brown proposed this past session that would have significantly helped rural North Carolina.
Knight — I think there is always room to discuss the funding formulas and spending levels for our schools. My children will be entering the Stokes County education system soon and I want them to have the best education possible, so whatever it takes to get us there I will support. This is something that would be ideal to discuss with the school board and county commissioners to make sure we have a formula that fulfills needs of the teachers, gives the students an education that prepares them for life, and does so in a fiscally responsible way.
Tilley — No. Lottery proceed allocation needs to be sent to schools as it was intended and not used by the legislature on other projects. This would solve a huge part of the problem. It would free up money to pay for teacher assistants, increase entry level salaries, reward long time teachers and work on aging buildings. No teacher should be forced to supply his/her classroom in any county in our state. While I support homeschooling and other forms of education, our public schools should be priority to the NC General Assembly.
7. Transportation is a growing issue in Stokes County with many in more rural areas of the county having a hard time getting to needed services. What would you do if elected to help address this issue?
Hall — We need a Representative who understands the budget process starting on Day 1. As a former state budget researcher, I understand how this process works and how to be effective. I will work with our transportation budget chairmen to ensure that Stokes and Rockingham Counties are not thrown under the bus in complicated transportation funding formulas. In addition, raising the gas tax is not the answer to fixing our transportation problems. The government should live within its means without placing the burden onto the taxpayers.
Knight — State highway projects and infrastructure improvements have to be done in a responsible manner so that the true dollars we pay actually results in road improvements that we expect. We pay a higher gas tax than most states in our region and I think those tax dollars should translate into the best roads.
Tilley — Transportation needs is currently being addressed in Stokes County and I would support these services and vote in favor of keeping the future project in the budget.
8. State government is a complex animal with many moving parts and it is frequently hard for one person to make a major difference. How would you approach dealing with requests from party leadership versus the needs of your constituents?
Hall — Americans have grown disgusted with government and they lack confidence in their elected officials. This is because too many promises and deals are made behind-closed-doors in smoke-filled rooms by party leadership. I will never forget who sent me to Raleigh: the people of the 91st District. I believe in transparency and accountability. As your representative, I will stay in contact with you through public events, newsletters, social media, and other mediums.
Knight — I understand the need to compromise, which is part of politics and honestly part of life. No one gets everything they want; everyone has to give a little. But there is no reason why we can’t look at things with a win-win mentality. I can work with other lawmakers to help them meet the needs of my constituents as well as theirs. At times there will be conflicts, but I’m sure when others see that you are honest, that they can work with you and that you want to understand and reach agreements; they will be much more likely to respect you and arrive at those compromises that benefit everyone.
Tilley — The needs of constituents will always come before party leadership. While the party is important and can work together to pass certain legislation that adheres to our common principals, accountability to our district should be paramount to any member of legislature. I truly believe that one person can still make a difference.
9. Voters will be voting on a $2 billion bond package during this primary which will provide some funding for both Pilot Mountain State Park and Hanging Rock State Park as well as for Forsyth Tech. Do you support this bond package? Why or why not?
Hall — I understand the value of this bond and that it will help our state parks, but I do have reservations about where most of the money would be allocated. Our state is one of the fastest growing in the nation and while interest rates are low, it seems reasonable to issue a bond instead of raising tax rates. However, I have huge disagreements with the fact that transportation was completely stripped out of this bond proposal and given mostly to the UNC system instead. I believe our state’s transportation needs should have been addressed in this bond.
Knight — The bond could be a good program to bring money into the area for much needed projects. I hope the local leaders across the state will use this in a fiscally responsible way that helps the community and doesn’t jump into programs requiring matching funds that aren’t pressing in their area.
Tilley — While I am in favor of these projects, like former Rep. Holloway, I too am opposed to this bond. There are many unknowns about the bond but one thing we do know is nothing is free and while some money may be available to counties outright, we do know that matching funds will be required for most money dispersed in the bond which means that counties would be forced to come up with matching funds that could put county commissioners in situations of contemplating tax increases which no one wants. My solution is, if the need is great enough, put it in the budget. Our state doesn’t have a money problem, we have a failure to prioritize and spending restraint problem.
10. Even if the bond package does pass, it will not provide enough funding to get the Vade Mecum addition to Hanging Rock State Park fully operational? What would you do to find funding for this project if elected?
Hall — In January, I toured the Vade Mecum property and I have been in contact with Hanging Rock and NC State Parks officials to see what can be done. This project has enormous potential and can be an incredible asset for Stokes County. As a former budget researcher, I understand how to effectively allocate needed funding for local projects like Vade Mecum. I also believe that this project requires the help of our local community. I hope that some of the needed funds can be found not solely from government entities, but also through private donations and fundraising.
Knight — In state budget negotiations there is always discussion about where tax payer dollars will go. I believe Hanging Rock State Park is one of our states’ best natural attractions and it should be reflected in the dollars that are allocated to our state park system.
Tilley — With proper prioritization of state funds and reducing spending on unnecessary or excessive items, the project can be funded. For example, instead of using $500,000 in Madison for drilling a fracking core sample which a clear majority of North Carolinians are opposed to, the money should go to our state park system. I will work tirelessly as your personal advocate in Raleigh with my colleagues in the House and Senate to see that true needs are met.
11. What are your thoughts on redistricting? Are the lines in North Carolina drawn fairly? Do they need to be revised, and if so what method should be used?
Hall — This is the first time in our state’s history that Republicans have had control of the redistricting process and now some are crying foul. The simple fact is this is the same fair process that North Carolina has used for generations. I have explored other redistricting models from other states. A majority of states use the same process as we do, but some use a “non-partisan” redistricting commission. The problem: everyone has a political agenda and political ideology. I remain skeptical of a commission that is labeled “non-partisan” because I have high doubts such a process like this – establishing political boundaries – can be performed in a truly non-partisan manner.
Knight — Our lines are drawn by the majority that was elected by the voters. I would not want to take away the right of voters to select majorities that draw those district lines.
Tilley — Like former Governor Jim Martin and John Hood of the John Locke Foundation, I also agree and support an independent commission going forward to prevent gerrymandering from both sides of the aisle for both legislative and congressional districts. Voting districts would be simple and fair. The fact that we can not get from one side of District 91 to the other without driving thru another district multiple times is a testament as to why our districts need to be reviewed.
12. Medicaid and mental health funding will continue to be major issues for the state, what are your thoughts for how the state legislature should address these major issues?
Hall — I believe there is a role for government to help those who absolutely cannot help themselves. However, I fear that safety nets have turned into spider webs. They’ve kept people in a constant cycle of poverty instead of promoting work. Medicaid at its current state is unsustainable. The Medicaid rolls must be checked to ensure that it is helping those who absolutely need the help and not those who abuse the system. In addition, we simply cannot afford Obamacare’s unfunded mandate of expanding Medicaid and I will fight efforts to do so. Mental health is a huge problem in our state. Since taking office, I’ve been in contact with law enforcement and social services professionals in Stokes and Rockingham Counties to see what can be done on the state level to address this issue. I understand that this is not going to be an easy fix, but we must explore how other states deal with this issue.
Knight — We need to make sure that state government is efficient and that the majority of the dollars spent on these areas actually goes to patients in need. So we need to look at how much we are spending on administration versus actual payment for services that patients need. We also need to make sure that the people who qualify for these programs are in need of these services.
Tilley — A few years ago our state closed down the mental health hospitals which was a wrong move and forced counties to attempt to handle mental health issues throughout our state as best they could. Our state should revisit this issue and in my opinion reopen hospital facilities to adequately address the mental heath issues in our state. In addition, based on per capita population, our counties should receive funding to help offset the cost incurred by our law enforcement , EMT personnel, etc. as mental illness is a real and serious issue throughout our state. While I want to help the less fortunate, Medicaid expansion does not need to happen until we are certain wasteful spending in the program is under control. Between state and federal funds, we are already spending billions. Proceeding with caution to avoid future tax increases is common sense.
13. What do you see as the three biggest issues facing the state in the next two years, and how would you address them?
Hall — Improving our economy is critical. I want our state to have a business-friendly environment to attract companies and promote job growth. This can be achieved through reducing taxes, cutting government red tape, and using our tax dollars wisely. I’m proud to vice-chair the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development to help address some of these issues. You can’t improve our economy without strong, well-funded schools. Our students must have the tools needed to succeed in our new competitive economy. Constantly testing our students does more bad than good and Common Core federal standards are failing our kids. In addition, we need to treat our teachers with respect and I think that means we must pay them more. Lastly, I think promoting family values is another important issue our state faces. I believe in the sanctity of life and that we must protect the lives of the unborn. I believe our Second Amendment makes it perfectly clear that we have a right to protect our families. Lastly, I believe the voters made it perfectly clear how marriage should be defined when they overwhelmingly approved Amendment One to our state’s Constitution in 2012.
Knight — Important issues facing North Carolina are the increasing cost of healthcare, including Medicaid, education is an issue in so many ways; and easing the regulations that are suppressing existing small businesses and preventing businesses from starting up.
Tilley — 1:Education – Stop Common Core and bring back Classical Education Standards. I will make education a top priority in our state’s budget. 2:Job Creation-I will work tirelessly with various agencies to promote our district for new job creation. 3:Budget – We need to get our spending priorities in order to be sure that we are taking care of the most important needs for all areas of our state and not put ourselves into situations that could lead to tax increases and wasteful spending on projects that don’t benefit our future.
14. Is there anything else about you personally that you would like voters to know?
Hall — No matter the outcome of this election, I’m deeply honored to have this opportunity to currently represent you in the North Carolina House of Representatives. If my office can ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us at Kyle.Hall@ncleg.net or by phone at 919-733-5609. You can also learn more about me on my website, www.KyleHallNC.com. This election is about a contract with the voters. I hope that on March 15th (and in November), you will vote to extend my contract for two more years. Let my political and community experience go to work for you.
Knight — I do not view this opportunity to represent our citizens in Raleigh as a political career, I view it as an opportunity to provide the type of voice in state government that really represent the citizens who struggle with the same issues that my family does. I want that for my kids and my family, and I think people in Stokes and Rockingham county want that too. Although I was raised and went to school in Rockingham county, I have spent a great deal of my life on the family tobacco farm in Stokes county and that’s where I live now. My family roots run deep here, my great great grandfather, Joseph Martin, was a commissioner at the time the courthouse was built and his great grandfather was Col. Jack Martin of the Rock House who actually held the same seat I am running for not long after the founding of this country. I’m not attempting to run on my families accomplishments, but I am bringing this up to prove my ties to the area and that I have leadership in my blood.
Tilley — I am a past recipient of the North Carolina Governor’s Award for Volunteerism. I am a past recipient of the Citizen of the Year awarded by the Reidsville Chamber of Commerce. I received the mayor’s award of excellence for chairing and restarting the Reidsville Independence Day Celebration. I have received numerous local and state recognition for my civic involvement throughout my adult life. I grew up in Mayodan and have made my home in Reidsville with my wife Aimee and our fur-baby Brandi. While we do not have children of our own, we care deeply for children and are fortunate to have several nieces, nephews, great-nieces and two God-daughters. My late mother and my father are from Stokes County where I spent as much time growing up as I did in Rockingham County. Combined with the deep family ties and friendships I have in both counties, I am in a unique situation to represent the entire district because I feel at home no matter where I am. I am sincere and real. In my free time, I enjoy traveling across our state, NASCAR, cruises and scuba diving.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.