One candidate for the Fifth Congressional District said she wants to see the minimum wage increased to $15 an hour, while the other Democratic candidate feels $10 an hour is more reasonable.
The minimum wage was just one of several questions pitched during a recent Democratic candidate forum to D.D. Adams and Jenny Marshall, both of Winston-Salem. The two Democratic candidates will face each other in the May 8 primary, with the top vote-getter moving on to represent her party on the November ballot for the seat now held by Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx.
The Young Democrats of Surry County hosted the forum in Dixon Auditorium at Elkin High School on a recent Tuesday night, with the evening kicking off with an informal meet and greet in the auditorium lobby.
Marshall is a public school teacher, who quit her job last year to focus full-time on her campaign, and a mother of seven. She said she also formerly owned and operated two construction-related small businesses from her home.
“You see I believe in the American dream, that if you work hard and get good grades, you can be anything you want to be,” she said in her opening statement. “As the years went on, I can see the dreams slipping through the fingers of my students, no matter how hard they worked they just weren’t getting ahead.”
She said she organized more than 9,000 parents and teachers “to push back against educational reform that helped strip money away from public schools.”
Adams, a sitting member of the Winston-Salem City Council, has worked in manufacturing for more than 40 years. “I was a teamster for almost 10 years,” she said. “Like many of you, my parents worked hard and taught me the value of perseverance and service.
“I know we all want the same thing – someone in Washington who will stand up for what we want at home – better jobs, health care, education and protections for our seniors, farmers and small businesses,” Adams said. To get there, she said it would take “a fair tax plan, better health and educational opportunities, access to quality health care for all, ending privatized prisons, finding real-world solutions for communities struggling with opioids, creating a path for college grads that don’t include indentured servitude because of their student loan debt.”
Questions from the panel were posed by Ashley Diamont with the Surry Young Democrats and Matthew Brooks with the Wilkes Young Democrats. Topics included healthcare policies, gun control and safety, student loan debt, ways to bring young people back to rural areas, the proposed federal gas tax increase, the federal minimum wage, protecting elections from foreign interference, controlling the power of the presidential position, working with younger constituents, being involved in all communities in the district and the federal deficit.
On a number of points the candidates agreed, but some of the specifics, such as the different proposed minimum wage amounts, with Marshall proposing $15 and Adams $10, differed. The existing minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Adams said in dealing with funding city employees in Winston-Salem, they are still working to get employees at increased pay rates closer to $15 an hour, but it can’t be done all at once, because then new employees coming in would be at the same level as employees with years of service. Marshall, despite supporting a $15 minimum wage, worried about the strains a higher minimum wage would put on small business owners.
Both candidates said the country needs a single-pair healthcare system. Adams added her desire to see Medicaid expanded and making sure the healthcare system opens Medicare options for everyone.
Marshall said, in reference to shootings being the third leading cause of deaths in children, smart gun technology needs to be employed. That technology “would eliminate children getting the weapons and being able to fire them, because they’re locked out essentially,” she said. “We need to make sure that people who own guns have the proper education, and we need to make sure that they have training, places to store those guns and that we’re pushing forward with smart gun technology.”
Adams clarified, “We’re not talking about taking away anybody’s guns. That won’t happen, but because of what’s been happening in our country, we’re becoming almost numb to it.”
She said automatic weapons, bump stocks and magazines should be eliminated. “Nobody needs that, whether they are a hunter or anybody else,” said Adams.
In addition, she said guns should have similar licensing and registration as drivers and vehicles, as well as insurance. She also wants to ensure loopholes are eliminated, 24-hour waiting periods are enacted to purchase a weapon and gun shows are closed.
Later, when asked by an audience member, both candidates said they would stand up to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and refuse funding for support of NRA goals, and they encouraged voters to take out of office anyone accepting money from the NRA.
“My grandparents had guns in every corner of their four-room house they lived in. They kept the shells in bowls, but we knew as children, you didn’t touch them. They were there for protection if someone rolled up in the yard and tried to hurt the family and for food, to kill a hawk taking chickens, wolf, coyote, rattlesnakes out in the field,” said Adams. “I don’t have any problem standing up to the NRA, but young people, this is your time to stand up and make it happen.”
With in-laws in law enforcement, Marshall said, “I know what it feels like to wonder if they’re going to make it home, and we need to make sure they have weapons to protect themselves, but the NRA has hijacked this conversation and made it so polarizing that commonsense gun owners like D.D., like my parents, like a lot of my relatives, we can’t even have a conversation about it, and that needs to end. The hysterics need to end.”
The education system as well as ensuring that young people have an opportunity to further their education, despite financial limitations and without causing financial strains after graduation, were the sources for several questions to the candidates.
Adams said the cost of higher education on students is causing “indentured servitude” due to the high amount of student loans they are exiting school with, and Marshall recognized that there is $1.3 trillion in student loan debt but she said Foxx’s PROSPER Act proposes killing a program available now to help pay some of that debt through public service.
Adams and Marshall both support some sort of tuition-free higher education, with Adams believing since taxes help pay for public community colleges and universities that the tuition should be free to community colleges and at a reduced rate for four-year colleges, and that there should be a cap on student loan debt. Marshall said she believes the higher education costs could be offset with a “small speculation tax on Wall Street,” because “they make enough money that they can pay a small half a percent tax on Wall Street.”
When asked what three pieces of legislation the candidates would support to encourage young people to return to rural communities after college, Adams and Marshall said agricultural business is one area of study they would emphasize for young people and ensuring “our business practices and legislative practices are fair to small farmers just as much as they are to Tyson and Smithfield Farms,” Marshall said.
Support for small business entrepreneurship and young people looking for trade jobs was another point for Marshall, who reemphasized the need to deal with student loan debt issues so that people can afford to move back to small rural communities where the pay may not be as high as urban areas. “We know these people are moving away because they just can’t find and cannot start a good quality life with the kinds of jobs that are found in small communities,” she said. “I grew up in a small community, and we called it grain drain, where you went off to college and you didn’t come back because there just wasn’t the opportunity made for you.”
Adams said students need to be thinking about their careers even younger than middle school, and she said public partnerships with corporations, businesses and nonprofits can be used to ensure that happens. “We need to open up more internships, and we need to make internships part of education,” she said. “Again it goes back to not waiting until they graduate from college to offer them internship. They should be offered internships right out of grammar and high school, which opens up their mind to decide what it is that I want to do. Do I want to own my own business? Do I want to be the next Bill Gates and create the next big thing? We need again to have partnerships to do that.”
Both said they would favor an exhibition on any increased federal gas tax rates, which has been proposed by President Trump to fund infrastructure projects, for states, such as North Carolina, who already are charged a large gas tax rate at the pump.
The candidates agreed that defeating Foxx, who is facing a Republican challenger of her own in the primary, is going to take hard work, but both think it can be done if they reach out to every voter in the Fifth District and talk to them about their positions on the issues.
“Whatever promises you make, my mom and dad taught me never to make a promise you can’t keep,” Adams said. “You make a promise to always be accessible, you make a promise to always get back to constituents within 24 to 72 hours on any issues, you make sure you represent their interest, you vote for their interest.”
Marshall encouraged everyone to knock on the doors of their neighbors and to talk to them about the issues and encourage them to vote.
When talking to Republicans, they both said economics is an issue that they discuss, because it is something they can find agreement with. “How we’re going to get better, how we’re going to spend our dollars better and how are we going to make sure the programs the government is providing are doing that in the most viable, most sensible way economically,” Marshall said of her talking points.
“They’re business people, that’s what they do, so if you can show them the data of how their business and their pockets thrive if everyone else’s is thriving, they understand,” Adams said. “I think in the Fifth District as well as across the state, those are conversations we can’t be afraid to have. Those Republicans that I work with on a daily basis, they know I’m real and I don’t sugar coat it.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.