If you're not familiar with the politics of Virginia Foxx (NC-5), you probably haven't spent much time around BlueNC. She's a favorite topic (and perhaps the very anti-BlueNC). This November, she'll face lifelong public servant Roger Sharpe (D). Roger took the time to answer a few questions about his candidacy and public policy, and to talk about what's wrong with NC-5's current representation.
1. Tell us a little bit
about what first drew you to a life in politics.
My late father, H. Woodrow Sharpe, served for several years as Voter
Registrar for Eagle Mills Precinct in Harmony, NC (Iredell County).
Even as a child during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, I saw
by his role in registering our neighbors to vote how the privilege of
voting by secret ballot is the one method by which we select our leaders
in a free society. While many citizens have become cynical about partisan
politics and do not even bother to vote, the electoral process remains
the strongest option with which “We the People” have for removing
and replacing those who fail to represent us.
2. How has your political career led up to this race?
While teaching on the criminal justice faculty at Western Piedmont Community
College in Morganton, NC, I decided to run for state senator, representing
Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Mitchell, Watauga and Wilkes counties. In 1986,
at 29 years of age, I became one of the youngest senators ever elected.
Because I only had a baccalaureate degree at the time, I did not seek
reelection but pursued more education, including a graduate degree in
Public Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
University. Among the positions I have held in the arena of public advocacy,
I once served as executive liaison for the national association of the
95,000 locally-elected school board members to the White House and Congress.
Further details of my career and my concerns for the legacy of American
democracy for the next generation are recounted in my memoir,
Ceremony of Innocence, published by Mercer University Press,
3. What's wrong with the 5th Congressional District's representation
today? That is, why not Virginia Foxx?
As a rubber-stamp for failed Republican policies, Virginia Foxx is working
against us and our neighbors in Northwestern North Carolina, who she
claims to represent. She has allied herself with the Tom Delays, Karl
Roves and Jack Abramoffs of the Bush administration. She votes to benefit
the oil companies, insurance companies, banks, and drug companies whose
profits have soared in recent years and who are against the hourly wage-earner
deciding between groceries for the family and a tank of gas; against
affordable healthcare for the uninsured; against veterans, against seniors,
and against public educational opportunity of which she herself has
benefited both as a student and as an employee. Her vote against Katrina
victims is unforgivable even though she argued that it had to do with
fiscal accountability. Where is she when it comes to the billions of
dollars for no-bid contacts for her Haliburton cronies in Iraq? In the
last public reporting of political action committees’ contributions
to Virginia Foxx’s “bought and paid for” war-chest, including
contributions from the ExxonMobil Corporation and the Petroleum lobby.
One cannot underestimate the importance of the lack of representation
of Fifth District constituents among the 28 pages of PAC contributions.
4. How will you win this race?
The viability of our campaign
is enhanced by wide-spread dissatisfaction among the people with the
Bush/Foxx administration. Because of Mrs. Foxx’s extremist views and
abrasive style of operating, she also has alienated many in her own
Republican party-base in Northwestern North Carolina. She has often
walked out of public gatherings when individuals and members of the
press confront her with her voting record. We believe that our grassroots
campaign, in which we couple more traditional strategies of door-to-door
canvassing, phone call banks, and GOTV, with newer efforts, like blogging,
will deliver the margin we need to win on November 7th –
in what some predict will be a low voter turnout year.
5. What will your legislative priorities be if you find yourself
in the US House in January?
Our educational system is in
turmoil. Teacher retention is necessary, and increasing base salaries
for teachers will increase the applicant pool necessary to provide excellent
teachers. The cost of a collegiate education is rising, and steps
need to be taken in order to relieve this burden for North Carolinians.
Chief among those steps are increasing the number of Pell Grants and
making tuition tax-deductible. Rather than address these serious education
needs, my opponent has voted to slash over $12 billion from federal
student loan programs. Foxx has also voted against decreasing
loan rates and increasing scholarships to minority students.
As a member of the United States
Congress, I will continue to be a tireless advocate for public education
and higher learning.
North Carolinians should not
have to choose between gasoline and groceries. While the Big
Oil companies are recording record profits, the pocketbooks of many
North Carolinians are being squeezed. By raising fuel efficiency
standards, our Nation can drastically reduce its reliance on foreign
oil. America must also invest in and reinforce the development
of environmentally friendly, alternative fuel sources (i.e., ethanol,
biodiesel, electricity, and the like). Foxx’s plan to drill
off the Outer banks and open up the National Artic Wildlife Refuge are
shortsighted answers that pander to Big Oil profiteers, while placing
our environmental heritage at risk.
Stewardship of the environment
is a moral calling as well as a practical and urgent necessity.
Studies show that global warming is affecting our environment in serious
ways. This means holding business accountable for their hazardous
waste, promoting legislation that protects our air, soil, and water,
and keeping intact our coastlines and national parks.
While Foxx sees the environment
as a resource for corporations to exploit, North Carolinians recognize
that the environment is the place in which we live, work, and play.
Protecting the pristine environmental heritage of Northwest North Carolina
will be one of my top priorities in the United States Congress.
6. I want to focus on a few important issues. First, regarding the
Iraq war, what specific policies for the conduct of the war would you
support as a member of the US House? What specific actions should the
House take concerning the behavior of the Bush administration before
and during the war?
While the Iraqi war is draining on the American psyche, the situation
is complex and cannot be resolved with easy answers. We should investigate
the no-bid contracts to Halliburton and why our troops have not received
the best possible armor. The American public is upset with the
progress of the war and would like to see the troops begin to come home.
We should develop an exit strategy for Iraq.
Finally, we should re-institute the notion of shared sacrifice. The
rich are getting tax breaks while the bills are being paid by working
class citizens who are making less money in this economy.
7. What about jobs? North
Carolina's economy is changing. What can North Carolina's Congressional
Delegation do in the next two years to encourage an economy that offers
good jobs and fair wages for all North Carolinians?
The 5th congressional
district and our region of Northwest North Carolina have been decimated
by job loss in recent years. Our current representative and the Bush
Administration have done nothing to reverse this dangerous trend. I
believe that we must work towards meaningful employment for our citizens,
we must increase the national standard for a minimum wage, and we must
work toward a living wage standard for the near future. Democrats in
the North Carolina General Assembly have led the way on this issue.
Rather than wait on Congress, they voted to increase the minimum wage
to $6.15 per hour. While this is a step in the right direction, on a
national level we must go a step further. A minimum wage points toward
an ideal that a living wage grasps; a living wage truly provides
workers with the ability to meet the needs of their families such as
paying the monthly bills, providing adequate healthcare, education,
gas, and groceries.
One of North Carolina’s biggest
exports is jobs. While big corporations get tax breaks for outsourcing
our livelihoods, North Carolinians feel the burden. It is vital
that we prevent the loopholes that reward corporations for outsourcing
8. Healthcare: what's your view on a national health insurance program?
It is a shame that in the richest
country in the world so many of our citizens do not have access to healthcare.
No one should have to choose between healthcare, groceries, education,
and gasoline. Before we can make our healthcare system better,
we must stop making it worse. We must stop allowing our healthcare policies
to be written by and for the pharmaceutical companies. Healthcare policies
should benefit those in need, not those motivated by greed.
While I don’t claim to have
all the answers to solve our healthcare inadequacies, I will work with
colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find effective solutions and
to promote legislation that would make affordable health care a reality
for all Americans. This includes the ability for Americans to
negotiate their own prices for prescription drugs. Our Canadian
and Mexican neighbors can negotiate their prices for American prescription
drugs. Unconscionably, Foxx and her Republican colleagues have
given away our power to negotiate for prescription drug prices.
We must also close the gaps in Medicare, gaps that enable pharmaceutical
profiteering. Our healthcare policies will respect our sickest neighbors
instead of corporate cronies.
9. Immigration: what do you think about the proposals for immigration
reform now before Congress? What should our approach be?
Foxx’ strategy for immigration
is to promote fear mongering and bigotry. This strategy scapegoats
immigrants while neglecting the real problems in our neighborhoods and
communities. I advocate a moral, practical, and proportional response
to this issue. Most importantly, any response to illegal immigration
must respect the dignity of our neighbors to the South.
First, there is bipartisan
agreement that America should secure its borders. America, however,
should not utilize its capital and resources building a wall (the answer
of Foxx and her Republican cronies), but should hire more border patrol
and develop better detection technology. People aren’t cows;
they aren’t held in by fences and shouldn’t be treated as animals
that have no dignity. As immigrants also have proven in our recent past,
walls can be tunneled under, climbed over, or brought down. Second,
it is also important to fine and prosecute those companies that intentionally
hire illegal immigrants. Rather than simply give employers a slap on
the wrist, we must enforce serious fines on employers and corporations
who intentionally hire illegal immigrants. We should also establish
appropriate fines for illegal immigrants, rather than the harsh felony
penalties Foxx wishes to implement. Third, the deportation of
all illegal immigrants – advocated by Foxx – is inhumane, unrealistic,
and could drastically affect our North Carolina economy. The sudden
dismissal of a whole population surely will affect local businesses
and bottom lines. For this reason, a pathway towards citizenship
is necessary, one in which each immigrant is placed at the back of the
line towards citizenship. Fourth, illegal immigrants should be
encouraged to learn the English language to further their social mobility.
At the same time, however, governmental information should be provided
for every person in a readable and understandable format that includes
their native language.