U.S. House District 2: Steve Wilkins

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Name: Steve Wilkins
Party: Democrat
Occupation: Contracts for Boeing, retired military
Time in district:16 years total
Endorsements: None
Amendment 1: “I am opposed to amendment one. For a lot of reasons I think it is unnecessary, and I’m afraid it will have unintended consequences.”

What do you think is the central issue for this election?
I can think of a whole lot of issues. I think the economy is one. I think the other is … the three things that I am running on are service, accountability and courage. The U.S. Congress deal with a lot of different issues and they change throughout one’s term, but I think it’s important, what’s really important, is what kind of people we send to Congress.

My first issue, service, what I’m talking about is something I learned in the military, called selfless service. That is, you serve the people that you work for, you serve the nation first. And I think that we have too many people in Congress that haven’t been doing that. We hear that every election cycle. Everybody likes to get up and complain about the Congress. But I think we’ve kind of reached the height of that in this day and age. And I know the lady that has the Second District right now, Ms. Ellmers, she said, and it’s still on her website, she went to Washington because she heard a briefing on the health care act and didn’t like it. She’s in the health care business; they own the health care business so I don’t think that’s selfless service. As far as I’m concerned, she went to defend her own personal interests and I think we need people in Congress with more diverse backgrounds that are really willing to serve us.

Accountability is another thing that I think is lacking very much that I think is important across all issues. By that I mean, saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Just in the past few months we’ve seen so many examples of bills that Congress puts together so people can come back to their district and say, ‘Well you know I didn’t vote for that’ or ‘I did vote for this.’ Whatever, they really didn’t. I think the sequestration act, or the automatic budget cuts as people refer to it, that we’ve seen is a good example of that. Congress appointed a very small group of individuals to go try to solve the budget crisis and set up this big tripwire of the trillion dollar cuts, not a lot of specifics, and said, ‘Well if they can’t decide what to do, that’s going to automatically get cut.’ Well that didn’t decide what to do and so now we have these huge automatic cuts that are going to kick in. They’re going to hurt defense, they’re going to hurt disadvantaged people. The elderly and disadvantaged: that’s where it’s going to hit the hardest. I don’t think that’s an appropriate way for members of Congress to act. They, including our representative, then came home and said, ‘Well I didn’t vote for that.’ Well they did, by voting for the process, they voted for the result but then come home and tell us they did not. So I think accountability is lacking quite a bit also.

And I think the third thing is courage. Courage to tell people the truth, you know, about what’s going on and what we need to do is sorely lacking. We can’t continue to just … we can’t put forth the platform that we’re just going to cut the budget, slash the budget, cut the deficit all in one year and solve our economic problems. We can’t keep borrowing 40 cents on the dollar and continue just printing more money and have a sustainable economy and a sustainable budget. We can’t continue in this perpetual state of war we’re in. I’m retired military; I’m all for a strong defense. And I think the president has to have the ability to react to emergencies when Americans abroad are in danger. The sea lanes, the air lanes, our allies are in imminent danger – the president has to be able to respond. But I think Congress has abdicated their responsibility for national defense, per the Constitution, in warmaking. And too often going to war has become the solution, the first choice rather than what has been a traditional American value in using our other three elements of national power: diplomatic, economic and informational. And if I go to congress I’m not going to vote for open-ended multi-year conflicts where we send large numbers of soldiers including myself. I went to three conflicts: the invasion of Grenada, Desert Storm and in 2003, the invasion of Iraq. But I believe these open-ended engagements violate the intent of the Constitution and people in Congress are abdicating their responsibility to question these activities. And they either stand up and re-authorize them, or they don’t authorize them instead of leaving them open-ended. So that kind of courage is lacking as well.

So I focus more, rather than on any single issue or specific issue because there are so many, on more the attributes that we need for people in Congress.

What are the specific issues facing your district?
The economic issues are terrible in our district. Now some of this gets into state issues with the federal. Our federal representatives have to team and work with our state officials to solve these problems. The gap between people in rural North Carolina and people in urban areas is significant, and it’s growing even more. We see it in schools, we see it in training, we see it out in the economy, we see it in the workforce.

When you get down into a lot of the second district areas outside of Wake County, in the more southern counties, the differences are stark between what we’ve done for rural people and what we’ve done for urban areas. High-speed Internet access is sorely lacking. I talked with an economic developer in one of our counties the other day. And I asked her, ‘What’s the No. 1 economic issue in your county you think is affecting you as an economic developer?’ Without hesitating, she said, ‘It’s high-speed broadband Internet access. We have people in the rural areas that want to be entrepreneurs, and they have to come to town to have good Internet access.’ And you just can’t do anything that way.

We’ve got to work on entrepreneurship. I think we have to work on preserving agriculture in this state and this district as well. The counties in our district used to be agricultural powerhouses in North Carolina and to some degree they still are. But it’s becoming harder and harder to make a living doing that. But at the same time, more Americans want to know where their food comes from. Just in the county I live in, Moore County, and the surrounding ones, more and more people are trying to get into small farming and do those kinds of things. It’s very difficult for them to do that. So I think we need some assistance in that area, and I’m not just talking about federal handouts. I’m talking about looking at tax breaks, looking at laws. Yes in some cases, looking for grants.

Another economic developer in another one of our counties told me the other day — I asked her also, ‘What’s the No. 1 issue.’ And she said, ‘When Bob Etheridge was our Congressman I had no problem getting small federal grants that his office would help us on. And you wouldn’t believe sometimes how such a small grant can multiply itself many times over in our community.’ And she used agriculture as examples of that, where they had started a farmer’s co-op, started a farmer’s market. And she said that had paid for itself many times over even though it was very small. And she misses that kind of support from our Congress.

Why should your constituents elect you?
First of all I’ll talk about what I think some of my personal attributes are and then of course they’ll have to decide. I served 24 years in the military, two in the National Guard. After I graduated from college with a degree in political science, I was commissioned and went on active duty in the army, completed the army special forces training, served in that, served all around the world, and I think I gained a very good understanding of our defense establishment in doing that. In fact I served with a lot of people who are senior leaders in the military today and I understand how that works not only in the trenches, at a senior level as well. And defense is an important part of what we do at the federal level. It’s one of the largest pieces of the budget.

In my district we have Fort Bragg, that’s the largest army base that we have in the United States. Camp Lejeune down the road is the largest Marine Corps installation. Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is to the north. We have over 100,000 active duty soldiers, sailors, airman and marine in North Carolina. The overwhelming majority live on our local economy. They don’t live on base. Only a small percentage live on base. We have a lot of military retirees. Those issues are important. Our state is a very military friendly state. But in addition to that, as I talked earlier about war, and how we solve problems and how we interact with the rest of the world, military affairs and security affairs are very important and people in Congress need to understand Congress’ role and I understand that.

I’ve never served in Congress, which I think is an attribute these days. But when I was in the military, I was a legislative affairs officer. I was a legislative liaison. My primary responsibilities were to write Congressional testimony for our senior leaders, help them prepare, go with them before subcommittees to testify, set up their appointments. I did tours for members of Congress and their staffers. I’ve been in and out of there quite a bit. I know how the institution works some. And I think that’s important, too, because a Congressman or woman’s tour is only two years. And we can see right now, 18 months into it, you start running for re-election. So the people need representatives who can go there and be effective early on. You have to hit the ground running and I know a little bit about that.

Education. I think education is very important. I was fortunate enough to where I earned an undergraduate degree and the army gave me a year to earn a master’s degree. My mother was a career schoolteacher. My wife is a teacher’s assistant for a county school. I served as an elected member of a school board in Kentucky when I was stationed there in the army. So education is very important to me and I think I have some experience. I’ve also put two children through school, 12 years, moving around the different school districts. One just graduated from college, another is in college. So I understand what parents are going through these days with trying to help their children decide what do you do next and how do you pay for it? That’s a struggle that most people have to deal with, lots of decisions that have to be made. So I understand that.

I understand quite a bit about economic development in our area as well. I served on the 11-county BRAC regional task force headquartered in Fayetteville a few years ago. It included all but two of the counties in our district right now. In that capacity, I was our director of workforce and economic development. I administered our Department of Labor grant in that position. And I worked with our county economic developers. I worked with the community colleges, worked with the universities in the areas, worked with the workforce development boards. Some of those organizations, most people don’t even realize they’re out there every day doing things for them. Those are the people trying to make a difference in our local economy. And I not only know a lot of those people personally, but I know who to go talk to about — because solutions have got to come from a local level. You can’t sit in Washington and decide here’s what you do. It’s got to be a two-way street. So I know where to go find these people that are in our local areas trying to make a difference every day.

I think the qualifications are important and I told you earlier about the attributes that are important.

What are the biggest accomplishments and failures of U.S. House over the last two years?
I think passing the universal health care, the affordable health care act was a monumental accomplishment. It’s historic in nature. There will probably be some problems with it as we go down the road. Any sweeping legislation is going to have some problems with it. And you know we’ve already seen some of that. Late last year there was an aspect of the affordable health care act it was discovered that had an unintended negative impact on small business and people that work at small businesses. So we saw a bi-partisan effort, Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly took that out of the bill. But unfortunately we haven’t seen bi-partisan efforts on it since then.

I think the greatest failure has been to deal with the federal deficit. Again the earlier example I gave about frustration where rather than getting down to the nitty grittys and looking at the major line items in the budget and making decisions it was just simply ‘all right if this small group we appointed can’t decide we’re just going to hack a trillion dollars off and tell the federal departments, figure it out yourself.’

What’s your guilty pleasure?
My guilty pleasure. Wow, that’s a good question. Well although I’m doing much better about it these days, I love to eat. And I’ve never had a weight problem. I’ve been very fortunate. A lot of that has been the physical fitness routine that I had in the military I carried on. But I really love to eat. And I love to eat snacks. I gained a little bit of weight when I got out of the military and then had to discipline myself to cut back and learn to eat better. My cholesterol was a little high as a result but not high enough to take medication, so I think looking after my diet is probably the part I have to focus on the most. I get that from my mother. She loves to eat any and everything she decides to. So that’s probably the one I can think of the most.

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