Over the weekend candidates for United States House of Representatives NC Congressional District 11 met for the first round of debates this election season. Democrat Colonel Moe Davis and Republican Madison Cawthorn participated in a two-night event hosted by Blue Ridge Public Radio, Mountain Xpress, and Smoky Mountain News in partnership with Western Carolina University.
The weekend debates were contentious, to say the least, following months of back and forth between the two candidates on social media.
Friday’s round of questions included questions from Lenoir-Rhyne University Equity and Diversity Institute developer Aisha Adams, former Asheville Citizen-Times political reporter, and current Mountain Xpress contributor Mark Barrett, and Pete Kaliner, longtime N.C. political reporter, radio host, and podcaster. The questions focused on international, national, state, and urban issues.”
Aisha Adams asked the first question to Madison Cawthorn “You’ve been accused of sexual assault. What do you say to women, Black and brown people, LGBTQIA people,” she asked.
“I won’t lie to you: in high school and after I did try to kiss a girl – I kissed many girls – and some of my attempts failed. But I believe there is a large difference between a failed attempt versus sexual assault.” Cawthorn went on to “categorically deny being a white nationalist.”
And while he said over and over he wanted to bring people together regardless of their political party, at one point even saying, “I want to get rid of the two-party structure that’s tearing us apart,” Cawthorn said in response to Adams’ questions, “What is it about the Democratic party that makes them want to engage in character assassination?”
Pete Kaliner followed Adams’ question by listing many insults Davis has hurled at Cawthorn, Trump, and GOP on social media and asking about the divisions they cause. “Those examples are in contrast to your promise to represent all residents of the 11th district.”
Davis responded by explaining his comments about Cawthorn were to show voters who is away from politics.
Recently messages from Cawthorn to a friend have been made public in which Cawthorn refers to his friend by using the N-word. Western Carolina University made national headlines after students’ social media posts went viral in which they used the word in the same fashion as Cawthorn. The students in the videos were expelled permanently from WCU.
When asked about his use of the language, Cawthorn responded that he had used a “Variation of the n-word that ends with -a,” offering a modicum of regret before returning fire on Davis that these personal attacks were a deflection from Davis not wanting to talk about his policy positions.
In attempt to return the debate back to policy Mark Barrett asked each candidate, “To what extent do you believe that human activity is causing climate change?”
Cawthorn responded by explaining that Climate Change is something he believes in. “This is one area where I differ from many conservatives,” he said. “However, the Green New Deal is a joke.” Cawthorn criticized the Green New Deal because he believes it would create an unacceptable level of debt, that it is unsustainable, and because it would not do anything to boost the economy.
“I see myself as a green conservative,” said Cawthorn. “I want clean air, livable temperatures and I want “all of the above” strategy for green power. I think we need to reform rules and policies that delay rollout of new technologies. But we have to be able to afford it without taking on more debt.”
Davis however, lists on his website that he supports the Green New Deal. “I do believe in climate change. I do believe in science,” said Davis. “Fourteen of our 17 counties in this area are above the national average in poverty. Green economy is the best path forward out of that. Has installed solar power at his new house. Green energy also good for national security.”
Barrett also asked candidates their stance on what role Congress should take regarding police violence toward Black Americans?
Addressing claims that he supports defunding the police, accusations Cawthorn has made against him, Davis explained that is far from the truth. “I have a background in law enforcement and I support it,” said Davis. “Whoever came up with the label “Defund the Police” did a huge disservice to the intent. I have attended peaceful Black Live Matters marches and I have attended Back the Blue Rallies because when elected, I will represent everyone. “I do think we need to look at what we want law enforcement to be doing and give them the training and tools to do those things. Serving in law enforcement has a lot in common with serving in the military. I’d like to see us have something akin to the GI Bill for first responders and law enforcement. You don’t do it to get rich. In the military have to get rid of folks who don’t live up to standards. Have to do the same with law enforcement.”
Cawthorn denounced President Trump’s response to Black Live Matters protests across the country and explained that he does not support the President. “We have to treat every person in the country with respect,” said Cawthorn. “Of course Black Lives Matter. I was disappointed in the President’s response to George Floyd’s death. I represent myself as an outsider, as someone who’s going to come in and disrupt the system.”
Moe Davis took issue with the optics of “defund” the police, asserting that the word “Does a huge disservice and is a lay-up for the other side.” He went on to clarify that issues like substance abuse should be a “Mental health issue, not criminal justice.”
Cawthorn responded that “I’m unhappy with how the president treated George Floyd’s death,” but insisted that his opponent secretly believes in a literal interpretation of “defunding the police” and questioned the efficacy of a social worker responding in a situation where one needs law enforcement.
Addressing healthcare, Adams asked Cawthorn “You say you want to be the face of health care, what do you think needs to be done so that people get the health care they need?”
“Our System has to be reformed,” Cawthorn said. “I don’t think anyone even knows what Republican strategy is for health care. I do know that the free market has never been able to work in health care. Right now, Blue Cross Blue Shield has a virtual monopoly and they don’t have to compete with anyone. I believe that we need to fix that. I want you to have more choices. My opponent wants to introduce a public option and I believe that would make the consumer market so small wouldn’t be viable. Then we would end up having a system like Canada.”
Davis explained that he believes the public option is the best strategy for America.
“I am for a public option in regards to health insurance,” said Davis. “Six out of 10 personal bankruptcies in this country are caused by medical debt. We spend the most in the world on health care and a huge number of people don’t have coverage. I also believe that we must decouple health care from employment.”