Gillespie, Landis face off for local House seat

  • Karl Gillespie / Susan Landis
    Karl Gillespie / Susan Landis

The 2020 general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 3. Early voting begins Oct. 15, and citizens can request absentee ballots through Oct. 27.

With only two months left until voters go to the polls, the Cherokee Scout is interviewing all candidates in local races. Up this week are the Republican and Democratic party candidates for the District 120 seat in the N.C. House of Representatives, placed in alphabetical order.

Karl Gillespie – Republican

As a fifth-generation native of Macon County, Karl Gillespie today serves as one of its commissioners. He worked for a communications company out of Durham for about 17 years prior to starting his own business in 1999. He sought an elected office for the first time in 2016, after other prominent leaders and politicians convinced him the county needed his expertise.

“I’ve always been in business; I can’t take that out of the equation,” Gillespie said. “When I make a [political] decision, it gets treated much like a business decision. Good, bad or indifferent. Thus far, it’s worked well for me.”

His experience in telecommunications helped Macon County lawmakers devise a way to expand broadband to communities that lack internet service.

County officials recently issued a request for proposals seeking companies that will commit to providing broadband service to unserved and underserved areas. The county will offer partial grant funding up to $580,000 to “tip the scales” and ensure the initiative is profitable for companies that may otherwise lose money from providing broadband service to areas with small populations.

Gillespie said at least two dozen customers have already signed up and committed to future broadband service, ensuring the winning bidder will begin to collect revenue from the expansion project on the day of completion.

“The beauty of this program is that it’s not a build-it-and-they-will-come project,” he said. “We already have names and billing addresses on the list ready to go. As soon as the provider builds the pathway, they can go ahead and run the cable all the way to the house because the customers have already committed.”

Gillespie intends to use that same out-of-the-box thinking at the state level and help expand broadband to rural areas across North Carolina. He said ultimately it will take federal USDA grant funding, state monies and county dollars to significantly expand broadband service to unserved and underserved areas across the state. 

“Forty percent of folks can’t even do [telemedicine] due to lack of broadband,” Gillespie said, adding that improving health care in rural areas is one of his chief concerns.

Gillespie also feels his experience in agriculture will be a great asset as a state legislator.

“Being involved in the $90 billion industry of agriculture will give the House of Representatives a much-needed perspective on the impact of agriculture,” he said. “North Carolina feeds the world.”

Gillespie hopes that as a state legislator he can convince federal lawmakers to pass reform that will improve manpower shortages in agriculture. 

“When a crop goes in the field and comes out of the ground, it takes a tremendous amount of manpower,” he said. “We have not been able to fill those slots with U.S.-based citizens. The feds have to revisit the legislation that governs how the H-2A visa program works. It’s not a funding issue; it’s a federal law issue.

“We have tried to create pathways for kids to go into agriculture, and we’re doing a better job than what we were in getting kids to take over the family farm and run corporate farms, but that’s just one piece of it. You gotta have somebody to manage it, but you also need somebody to [do the hands-on work].”

Gillespie said sustainable employment and livable wages are also important issues that lawmakers must address, but he does not support a mandated minimum wage increase. Instead, he believes lawmakers must further understand why some Americans are forced to work underpaying jobs. 

“As we move forward, things are going to become more expensive. So at some point, $15 an hour is not going to buy the same thing it does today,” he said. “If we just raise the minimum wage, all we’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on it for today. The minimum wage may need to be raised, but first we must ask, ‘Why are these people working at minimum wage jobs? Is it by choice? Is it because they didn’t get any job training? Is it because they’re not capable of a job that pays more than that?’ ”

Gillespie added that “our educational system fuels our economy.” Gillespie believes society must do a better job at helping citizens evaluate themselves to determine a career field and whether they should pursue a professional degree or vocational training.

“There’s room for improvement in making those determinations and feeding people into those various slots so our economy runs healthy,” he said. “I think society as a whole has failed to recognize the value of tradespeople.”

Gillespie also wants to use his position as an elected official to preserve the natural resources and rural character of western North Carolina.

“Given that so much of our acreage is U.S. Forest Service land, I can’t overemphasize the importance of a forest plan that allows for the use of those renewable resources,” he said.


Susan Landis – Democrat

Originally from Chattanooga, Tenn., Susan Landis moved to Murphy about seven years ago. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She worked in the mental health field for about 10 years, then as a school psychologist for nearly 30 more.

While she has been a political volunteer throughout adult life, Landis said she decided to increase her involvement in politics after watching the 2016 Democratic National Convention on television.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to do whatever I can to get a Democrat elected,’ ” Landis said, adding that she loved the convention speeches. “They were inspirational. So I volunteered with the Hillary Clinton campaign, and that kind of led me to be in touch with the local people and subsequently the state people.”

She describes her political views as being a little left of center. However, she tends to behave a little more conservatively.

“People think of liberals as [rule-breakers], but I’m definitely a rule follower,” Landis said. “If you look at my behavior, I would not appear to be a liberal at all, but I am when it comes to social causes.”

Landis feels her professional experience as a psychologist is an advantage in politics and will help her be an ideal elected official. She also believes being a woman allows her to govern in a more cooperative fashion.

“I think women are conditioned to work toward agreement. I think men are conditioned to be in charge,” she said. “That’s a broad generalization and it doesn’t apply to everybody, but most of the time women work toward keeping the peace and trying to get the best out of everybody. Men are often conditioned to be in charge, and it’s more of a top-down approach instead of a cooperative approach.”

If elected, Landis would make it a priority to improve broadband access in rural parts of the state. She would like to see the N.C. Legislature provide greater monetary incentives for companies to provide broadband to entire counties, as opposed to just portions that would immediately turn a profit.

“I don’t see that we can make progress without [broadband expansion],” she said. “We can’t bring in jobs [without broadband], and we’re obviously having trouble educating our kids in this pandemic without it.

“The General Assembly could pass legislation that would require everybody in a county to have internet access. People would have to pay for it, but there could be supplements for people who can’t afford it. And a company couldn’t pick and choose their customers. They would have to commit to covering an entire region, just like electricity.”

Landis believes the cost of health care in rural North Carolina can be reduced by first understanding what treatments are costing hospitals the most money, then devising a plan to reduce those expenses through preventative care. Additionally, she would like to see regional medical centers employ more specialists so patients wouldn’t have to travel so far for treatment of certain ailments.

“A place like Murphy is never going to have a huge hospital with every specialist you need,” she said. “There are a lot of different programs around the country that have worked to reduce health costs, but they cost up-front to set those up and to manage them.”

Landis would also like the Legislature to strengthen gun safety laws and either require a trigger lock on all guns in a home to prevent accidental fire by a child or impose greater penalties for gun owners who fail to keep firearms out of a child’s reach. She also opposes the civilian use of assault rifles.

“I don’t believe assault rifles should be in the hands of civilians,” Landis said, adding that she is not seeking to take guns from the citizenry. “The point is to be safer.”

To increase jobs in the area and convince small businesses to relocate to rural parts of North Carolina, Landis believes the Legislature could allocate more funding to fix roads. She also believes the western portion of the state could be marketed in a more effective fashion.

“I don’t think this area is marketed very well, with all the natural beauty we have,” she said, adding that more local drug treatment programs could help improve the economy of rural areas as well. “I see drugs as being a symptom of despair. Not that everybody who does drugs is living in despair, but a lot of times that’s what keeps people using. They’re addicted and they don’t see a way out.

“I think a lot of people here don’t see opportunity. And opportunity isn’t just jobs; it’s also education.”

If elected, Landis would also work toward improving equality for the LGBTQ community.

“There are some remnants of that bathroom bill that still exist but don’t need to exist,” she said. “It’s not like people are going into the bathroom to peek over the stall wall. They’re going in there to do their business like everybody else.

“There’s never been a case where a transgendered person attacked someone in the bathroom.”