Congressional candidates Moe Davis and Madison Cawthorn traded jabs last week during two nights of political debates held at Western Carolina University campuses, which were live-streamed and archived online at Blue Ridge Public Radio’s Facebook page.
Over the course of an hour on both Friday and Saturday night, Davis often attacked Cawthorn’s character, youth and education. In response, Cawthorn accused Davis of being a “carpetbagger” and swung at his policies, which the younger candidate described as being the views of a “typical liberal lawyer.”
During his opening statement, the 25-year-old Cawthorn – who was born in Asheville and is poised to become the youngest congressman elected in modern history – said he is running to represent North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District to “fight against these career politicians who have become the new American oligarchy.”
“We, in this country right now, have a deficit of courage, specifically on the Republican side,” Cawthorn said. “And on the Democratic side, I believe they are being controlled by a fringe left element of their entire party, which is leading them very, very far away from the party of JFK. The two-party system is failing us. It is forcing us further and further apart with these partisan politics, when in reality I believe that what unites us is so much greater than what divides us.
“If you sit down with 80 percent of our population and spend more than 10 minutes talking to them, you’ll find that you agree on almost every single issue. And maybe on the issues that you disagree on, you just disagree on how to get to the end goal, which is a more perfect union.”
During his opening statement, the 62-year-old Davis – who was born in Shelby and retired from the U.S. Air Force as a colonel – said he decided to seek office in the U.S. House of Representatives after the state’s congressional district map was redrawn last year.
“For the first time in about a decade, the Democratic Party had an opportunity to compete,” Davis said. “So, I looked and I thought, I have more than 30 years invested in defending this country and defending democracy, and I can’t sit back and watch it go down the drain as it’s been doing for the last several years. …
“We’re behind in this district. Whether it’s health care, education, broadband, employment, the environment – we’re behind. And we can do better. So, I’m running to make us that proud, progressive, forward-leaning state that embraces the future and doesn’t run from it.”
On the issue of climate change, Cawthorn said he strives to follow the Bible’s call to be a “steward of the Earth.” He feels that nuclear energy is a “great alternative to the fossil fuels we’re using now,” but stressed that it is “imperative for our country to remain energy independent.”
“I do agree with what President (Donald) Trump has said that climate change is not a hoax, but the Green New Deal is a joke,” Cawthorn said.
“My opponent is a firm supporter of A.O.C.’s (U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, R-N.Y.) plan to have the Green New Deal enacted, which would waterboard our future generations with over $51 trillion of debt every decade. This is something that I believe is unsustainable and would do
nothing to actually help our economy.”
In response, Davis said he doesn’t “believe in putting profit first, whether it’s with COVID-19 or with the environment.” He also touted lower energy bills associated with solar panels and said green technology could improve western North Carolina’s economy.
“In our area, 14 of our 17 counties are above the national average in poverty and I think green technology is the path forward,” Davis said.
“North Carolina is No. 2 in the country in solar energy production, and western North Carolina ought to be the epicenter of alternative energy for the East Coast. Those are good jobs that pay a good wage. ...
“It’s also good for national security. If we can make energy on the roof of the house, we don’t need to guard pipelines and shipping lanes in the Middle East. I think there’s an opportunity to do good things for the economy and the environment, and to leave this place better than we found it for future generations.”
Law enforcement, protests
On the issue of law enforcement and recent civil unrest, Davis said he doesn’t condone violence by anyone and condemned the vandalization of small businesses during protests. With a background in criminal justice, Davis said he supports law enforcement but feels the nation should reimagine the roles of police.
“In every agency, we ought to be constantly reimagining what the agency is doing, what are the roles and missions that we want them to be doing today and tomorrow, and I think that applies in law enforcement as well,” Davis said. “I think there are missions that we put on law enforcement, similar to what we have done with teachers, that are in addition to what we really want them to do.
“So, I think issues like mental health and alcoholism and drug addiction should be treated as health issues and not criminal justice issues. I’d love to see us reimagining law enforcement and looking at what our communities want our law enforcement professionals to do. I think the ‘defund the police’ label is a horrible label, and I certainly don’t support that concept.”
Cawthorn, who has been endorsed by more than a dozen sheriffs throughout North Carolina, said individuals need to treat others with “dignity, honor and respect.”
“Of course, I believe that black lives matter,” Cawthorn said. “I was unhappy with the way the president treated the death of George Floyd and the lack of empathy he showed after that death happened. I truly believe we should always hold each other to a higher standard.”
On the issue of health care, Cawthorn said he feels Blue Cross Blue Shield holds a “virtual monopoly” on health insurance throughout the state, which forces consumers into “artificially high prices.” He said he wants to be the “face of health-care reform for the Republicans” and will strive to pass legislation that allows consumers more choices.
“This system needs to be reformed because the rules were written in 1943, and they’re antiquated and outdated,” Cawthorn said. “I believe that you can not only keep your plan, but you can actually pay less and have more choices with better benefits. …
“The problem with health care is that the free market has never been allowed to actually work in it.”
Davis said he would like to “decouple health care from employment” so people without jobs could still seek medical treatment if needed.
“I am for a government-funded public option so that everyone from cradle to grave can go to the doctor if they get sick, and they don’t go bankrupt if they have an accident or illness,” Davis said.
“I’ve met folks that are in jobs that they’re not passionate about, but they got to keep it because they need the benefits. So, we have to decouple health care from
In regard to gun laws, Davis said he supports a “national standard” on assault rifles but does not want to take guns from the citizenry, as he is a “multi-gun owner” himself. He said he “would like to have no assault weapons on the street,” but would support letting people “keep their assault weapons if they go through a process.”
“If I don’t keep my word [on assault rifles], then fire me in 22 months,” Davis said. “I do support strict background checks and red flag laws. And I think if you want to own something beyond a pistol, rifle and a shotgun, that the law here in North Carolina on concealed carry permits would be a good basis for a national standard on a more enhanced weapon like that.”
Cawthorn said he is passionate about the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because he “loves freedom.”
“The Second Amendment was not written so that we can go hunting or have a sporting rifle,” Cawthorn said. “It was so that we could be able to defend our families and defend ourselves from a tyrannical government.”
Public debt, student loans
Regarding public debt, Davis said he believes in being fiscally responsible but recognizes there are times the nation must incur debt.
“Our fiscal policy is upside down. It’s driven from the top down, not from the bottom up, and we’re forced to spend tens of billions of dollars on things we don’t want and we don’t need,” Davis said. “I don’t think we have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.
“My opponent supports a balanced budget amendment – I don’t. There are times when it’s appropriate for the government to incur debt and run a deficit. Times like the times we’re in now, when people are struggling. But when times are good, we need to pay down the debt.”
Cawthorn said the best way to reduce debt is to “encourage investment,” which would create jobs, increase wages and reduce the dependency on welfare programs.
“Yes, I do believe we need to have a balanced budget amendment on the Constitution, but I also believe it needs to have a caveat to where if we are in wartime or an emergency time, we can borrow more money to go into deficit spending because sometimes that is necessary,” Cawthorn said.
“The No. 1 way we can begin to pay down our debt is to create a better economy, and I believe the Republican plan is the only way to do that. One that lowers taxes and puts more of your money into your pocket, one that can reduce the welfare state.”
Additionally, Davis said he views education as an investment, not an expense, and would support an initiative to have the U.S. Department of Education buy student loan debt from private lenders at 0 percent interest, with an option for borrowers to pay it back through service.
“Some have proposed eliminating student debt, and I think that’s a slap in the face to those that worked hard to make sure they didn’t have student loan debt,”
Davis said. “But I think an option to pay it back with some form of military service or public service is a win-win.”
Cawthorn said the country needs to “funnel more money into trade skills” to foster “a more efficient economy.” He also criticized Davis’ student loan plan, arguing that it would instantly add $1.6 trillion to the national debt, “which people would not pay interest on and most people would probably default upon.”
“My plan is to create a better market with less taxes and less regulation so the job market can explode here in western North Carolina, so you can find a job directly after college and do not have to be stressed about how you’re going to pay down student loans,” Cawthorn said.
“I do believe it’s imperative that we make the cost of college tuition cheaper, though.”