[media-credit name="Stephen Wilkins" align="alignright" width="150"][/media-credit]Stephen Wilkins ― U.S. House District 2
Political Party: Democrat
Occupation: Business Development at Boeing, Retired Army Officer
Campaign website: wilkinsforcongress.org
The economy is at the top of voters’ minds in this year’s election. What do you think elected officials can do to address it?
First of all, I believe that on economic matters in particular that it’s important for U.S. Congressional members to be really closely in the loop and closely coordinating with state and local officials in their districts. I used to work for a nonprofit that dealt with economic development, so I got to learn firsthand what all of our local economic developers do and what towns and municipalities do to promote economic development. One of the things that I’ll do as a member of Congress is stay in close contact with those folks at the state and local level to find out not only what they’re doing, but find out what their concerns are.
There are times when people want Washington to come and help and there are times when maybe Washington has created regulations or processes are in the way. Where a member of Congress can help is to eliminate some of those barriers and help bring some of those things to the district.
I think education is vitally important to economic development right now. The world that we’re living in is very hard for young people without some kind of training to break into the economy and really have any chance of getting a well-paying job or a fulfilling career where they can hope to advance. We need to continue to help and promote access to four-year colleges, and vocational technical school as well.
I have worked mainly in small business since I retired from the army. Everybody always says small businesses are really the innovators and they are really the economic engines and they certainly are in this district in most places. I hear a lot of politicians talking about helping small businesses, but I don’t really see a lot of things being done ― both within tax laws and education and other things needed to actually promote that. So, I think we really need to do some things with tax laws and job training and things of that nature to just make sure that they’re really doing the kinds of things that will really help people in small businesses, particularly entrepreneurs.
What do you think are specific things the federal government can do to help North Carolina recover from the recession?
Agriculture is the largest industry in North Carolina; a lot of people tend to forget that. I think we also need to make sure that we protect the agriculture industry and enhance it some. I have really been interested in looking at small towns and rural economic development and seeing how we can promote that.
I’m concerned that farmland, family-owned farms, are disappearing at an alarming rate. It happens to be right in the time when, people I know anyway, are more and more concerned about where their food comes from or are kind of interested in buying local. I would really like to work hard on working with North Carolina officials and local officials on promoting local agriculture as well. That’s not just an economic issue, that’s a quality-of-life issue, too.
Why should your constituents elect you?
There are several reasons. One of the biggest things we’re lacking in government right now, particularly in the U.S. Congress, is a spirit of statesmanship and compromise. I served 22 years in the army and since I’ve been retired from the army, for the past several plus years I have worked in some community development roles and have worked in economic development for a nonprofit regional task force.
I served on the school board. I serve on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors for Moore County right now. I have been chairman of my church council. I served in the army, which was a service environment where I had to work with all kinds of people. When I was on active duty in the army, I never got to choose where I was going next; I didn’t get to choose who my boss would be; I didn’t get to choose who the subordinates would be who would carry out the work that I gave them. It’s the most diverse group of people you could ever imagine in your life ― a real cross-section of our society.
We didn’t always agree on everything, but at the end of the day we got along to accomplish a mission for the country. That’s what I’m used to. I see the same thing in the local boards and organizations that I have taken part in since my retirement from the army. We need more of that in the U.S. Congress.
A big issue this year in the election is health care. What changes do you think (if any) should be made to Medicare to make the program more solvent? Now that the Supreme Court has found the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional, what should be Congress’ next steps?
The next step is the most important part of this. I am all for the Affordable Care Act. It’s going to be good for our country and it’s going to be good for our state. It’s going to be good for the district that I’m going to represent. There are parts of the second district that have over 10 percent unemployment still and at least that much underemployment. The health care bill is going to go a long way to making health care more accessible, and I think that’s exactly what we need to start with.
We are smart enough and wealthy enough in this country to figure out how to make this work and I think this bill is a good start point. My opponent says in her own campaign that she has voted 31 times on the floor to overturn the Affordable Care Act. So what point is that? I believe we need to get on with the implementation of it. It’s a good bill, and when I go to Congress, what I want to do is I want to work in a bipartisan fashion to improve this bill as it goes forward and it gets implemented. There’s no way that this bill is the perfect solution. It’s going to have to be doctored and tailored as it gets implemented, but it’s a great start point.