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Election 2020: In state Senate race, Ford says governor exceeds authority, Ellis support COVID-19 response

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Sen. Carl Ford doesn’t approve of how Gov. Roy Cooper has led the pandemic response in North Carolina and wants a full reopening. But his opponent, Tarsha Ellis, said she believes Cooper’s efforts have been based on science.

Ford, a Republican, currently represents District 33 in the state Senate, which consists of Rowan and Stanly counties. Before his election to the Senate in 2018, he served in the state House for three terms, representing District 76 from 2013-18.

He’s being challenged by Ellis, a political newcomer and Democrat who lives in Salisbury.

Ellis said Cooper’s response has been responsible and science-driven. She noted the pandemic cannot be taken lightly and referenced an elementary school teacher from Stanly County who died from COVID-19 on Oct. 4. The teacher, Julie Davis, taught third grade at Norwood Elementary School.

Ford, however, said he doesn’t think Cooper has responded effectively to the pandemic because the economy should be opened fully. He noted other states have reopened more than North Carolina and added that “bumps” are possible but that “everything’s better” once the state gets past those bumps.

“This COVID thing — it’s real. There are people getting sick. There are people that have it that never get sick. God help us, it’s terrible there are people that have died from it,” Ford said. “But when you look at the numbers, and how they keep changing … you get skewed data and it’s hard to make decisions.”

Ford referenced a mistake in data reported from state officials. In August, the state announced an error in hospitalization data reported on the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services website, which resulted in a higher count of tests performed. However, they noted the error didn’t affect the overall key metrics and trends used to monitor and better understand the pandemic in North Carolina, and that it didn’t impact the reporting of results to patients or doctors.

In reference to the data error, Ellis said it’s normal to have hiccups throughout the process, especially when dealing with a novel virus. But it’s important for people to continue doing their part to stay safe, she said.

Ford said Cooper “should reopen everything,” even if that means requiring extra safety precautions like face masks or extra sanitation. Business owners are hurting, and the death rate has plunged, he added.

Cooper’s biggest mismanagement, however, is what Ford views as Cooper’s abuse of emergency powers. Ford said he’d like to see state laws changed because they were intended for responding to natural disasters that lasts for weeks, not months. Ford supported Senate Bill 105, which would have required the governor to receive approval from the Council of State before closing businesses further or exercising other emergency powers. Cooper vetoed it, saying that the extra bureaucratic and administrative obligations would hamper the ability of executive branch officials to respond to such a devastating pandemic.

Ideally, Ford said he would like to see the governor have powers for four weeks and then require full approval from the Council of State for further actions. Once 60 days pass, Ford said the governor should reconvene the General Assembly and allow each district to be represented and a part of the decision-making.

“I think we need to change it, regardless of who the governor is or what party they’re in,” he said. “It just doesn’t need to be one person making these decisions for months on end.”

Health care and economy

Ellis values education and health care as two particularly important pieces of the state budget. Additionally, she wants to see more North Carolinians earn wages that support working families so they can afford housing and “put down roots here.”

“A lot of it goes back to (whether we’re) paying folks an affordable wage so they can afford housing,” she said. “And the more successful we are talking with each other and working with each other to create those opportunities just makes the family structure even stronger.”

She supports the expansion of Medicaid, which she views as “just caring for your neighbors and your friends and family.” And expanding it would help address opioid crises being experienced in both Rowan and Stanly counties, she noted.

“We have so many states that have already (expanded Medicaid) with little impact to no impact to their state budgets and they’ve had nothing but positive things to say about enacting that piece,” she said. “So why wouldn’t we want to do that here for North Carolina citizens?”

Currently, North Carolina is one of 12 states that has not expanded the Medicaid program despite it being jointly funded by the state and federal government.

Ellis said she wants to work with local and state leaders from both sides of the aisle to enhance economic development in the district.

Ford said he supports a full reopening of the economy to get businesses back on track and people back to work, especially as legislators will soon work to recover a different economy impacted by the pandemic. He wants to continue efforts in transportation development in the district, such as repairing small local bridges impacted by Hurricane Florence, which hit in 2018.

He credits the General Assembly with reducing corporate tax rates, which is currently at 2.5%. Despite past efforts from legislators, Ford said he’d still like to see the franchise tax eliminated to keep businesses looking at North Carolina. Currently, the franchise tax rate is $1.50 per $1,000 of a corporation’s net worth.

He also credits the district’s current infrastructure with being an ideal location for new businesses. In particular, he cited the widening of Interstate 85 and new interchanges, sewer and water line extensions as well as the North Carolina railroad corridor, which spans more than 300 miles from Charlotte to Morehead City.

“That’s why Chewy’s here. That’s why Gildan’s here,” he said. “We’ve got a better tax base and stronger tax base than we’ve ever had. And tax structure for businesses and individuals. So there’s a lot more we can do for economic development. But we’re blessed here with what people are looking for.”

Ford also wants to work with local officials to make changes that “cut the red tape” and limit government interference. For example, he’d like to have some procedures normally conducted at local DMV offices moved online.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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