Sam Turner, the Democratic nominee for North Carolina's 6th Congressional District, in Greensboro last night.
An anxious voter stood up in the fellowship hall at Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro last night and asked the two candidates for US House District 6 what they would do to help create jobs.
Sam Turner, a 49-year-old US Airlines pilot from Salisbury and the Democratic nominee in the race, took a stab at the question.
“If you remember, President Obama’s first act was the stimulus,” he said. “It gave us a short-term stop to the downfall of the economy, but it didn’t provide the necessary uplift that we need here. But in my opinion it took us 30 years to get here, and we’re not going to fix this in two years.”
Later, Turner reflected that another voter at the candidate forum told him that he liked what the candidate had to say but that he would never get elected talking like that.
Turner’s opponent is a political institution of North Carolina’s north Piedmont region. Approaching the age of 80, incumbent Republican Howard Coble has served in Congress since 1985. He handily fended off five challengers energized by the conservative tea party grassroots, from which he has his supporters. With the right-wing base energized this year, it’s hardly an opportune moment for a Democrat lacking in name recognition and elective experience to launch a challenge in a heavily Republican-leaning district against the Coble brand of strong constituent service and fiscal restraint. Campaign finance records indicates that Coble enjoys a fundraising advantage over Turner of almost 100 to one.
A onetime Republican who cheered for Ronald Reagan at the party convention in 1976 but became disillusioned with the party during what he characterizes as the “charge and spend” administration of George W. Bush, Turner is not exactly an Obama loyalist. He more closely resembles the populist fair-trade wing of Democratic Party circa 2006, mixed perhaps with a little Republican Mike Huckabee circa 2008.
“All of this is interrelated,” Turner told the voters at Congregationalist United Church of Christ, responding to a question from someone concerned about the widening income gap between the poor and wealthy. “A lot of problems with income go back to trade because if you ask for a raise you’re going to get a threat that they’re going to move your factory or job overseas. That depresses wages here, plus the jobs that go overseas that help suppress wages by putting more people on unemployment. We have to address trade to get the incomes up. And quite frankly, we have to address taxes. And one of the ways we could address taxes is take a serious look at the flat tax, just so everyone pays their fair share. Now, corporations are paying half of what they were back in the fifties.”
Turner argues that the limited government versus big government discourse framed by the tea party movement active and prominent in District 6 misses the point: Government should be more efficient. And Turner traces many of the nation’s problems to corporate power, with its money sloshing around in the campaign finance system and its lobbying influence capturing and perverting the regulatory process.
“Wall Street spent $5.4 billion between 1998 and 2008 on financing congressional campaigns,” Turner said. “If you do the math, that’s more than a million dollars per legislator. That got them the legislation to go in and gamble on the mortgage industry. When the crisis broke, their lobbyists were able to get a taxpayer-funded bailout for them.”
Although Turner indicates he supported last year’s stimulus bill as a way of triaging the economic crisis, the candidate does not champion increased federal spending for the express purpose of creating jobs or increasing demand for services.
“Unfortunately, we have to cut spending and raise taxes,” he said. “We can’t continue to spend at this rate. As far as stimulating the economy at the same time, honestly it’s only small things that I would propose putting money into. Our patents are backed up. The patent office needs one or two billion dollars to get patents rolling again. Our internet is probably the slowest internet in the developed world.”
A former US Air Force pilot, Turner suggests that spending cuts could start in the Department of Defense by paring back the United States’ vast array of foreign military bases.
To make the tax code more equitable and to bring in additional revenue, Turner proposes instituting a value added tax that would force corporations that shift production abroad to pay taxes on profits generated after paying costs for materials and labor.
“You hear corporations argue that we have too high of a corporate income tax,” he said. “Our rate is high. The stated rate is 35 percent. By the time you get through all the loopholes, they’re only paying about 16 percent. They’re effective rate is half of their stated rate. They never bring up that other countries have a value-added tax.”
Turner also favors reforms to the political process. He said he has signed a bonded term-limit agreement stipulating that, if elected, he will serve no more than eight terms in Congress.
He favors passing a law that would limit campaign contributions to naturalized US citizens for the purpose of preventing foreign corporations from funding political campaigns by routing money through US subsidiaries.
And he proposes a redistricting system similar to one in place in Iowa that uses a computer program to draw compact districts along county lines. One hurdle is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which includes certain jurisdictions, including Guilford County, to obtain permission from the Justice Department to redraw district lines. District 6 is next door to District 12, which was drawn to create a majority-minority demographic to help ensure black representation.
“You don’t know if you’re going to get the waiver until you ask,” Turner said last night, “and I’d like to at least ask for a waiver from that legislation to try to implement an Iowa-type system here.”