U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, state Sen. Ted Alexander and Lincoln County state Rep. Jason Saine were all present at a luncheon held by the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Friday. All three were given an opportunity to address chamber members and McHenry chose to speak on all the good things that are happening in Washington and not being reported in the news media.
“It’s not that the news media does this intentionally, but it doesn’t sell eyeballs on the screen,” he said. “It doesn’t sell more copies of the newspaper to tell a good and happy story of people working together and getting things done. There’s a lot that happens behind the big controversies.”
In the month of July, McHenry detailed, a major natural resources bill was signed into law, as was a major rewrite of consumer rights against the IRS for pursuing refunds or objections against the IRS. A bipartisan budget agreement, that’s imperfect in so many ways McHenry admitted, that will ensure that there isn’t a default in our debt or a government shutdown in the fall was signed.
“We also had a bill that’ll cut down on one-third of robocalls in America,” he said. “Did you hear about any of those things? Of course not. Because it’s getting things done, it’s progress and success and there weren’t any fistfights about it.”
McHenry said that he prefers to spend his time on substantive policies rather than complaining about what’s happening or yelling at someone on social media.
“There’s a lot that happens in Washington that’s not in the news,” he said. “That’s where I try to spend my time and be productive. There’s a lot of discussion right now about our political discourse. That’s not who we are or how we treat each other. We can’t control what other people say. What we can control is what we say and how we treat each other. I ask you to engage with other people, not those that you agree with, that’s easy. Be polite to people who you fundamentally disagree with and try to regain who we are as Americans so we can have our system of government work. That’s how we change things.”
Alexander, who is serving his first year in the North Carolina Senate, detailed some of the bills that he’s been involved in.
“I like to paint,” he said. “I don’t find time to do it much, I’d like to do more. When you’re a painter, you paint with broad brush strokes sometimes, then you paint with a little detail. I think in terms of the legislation, so much of what’s been done in the previous years has been done with very broad strokes which really set the stage for the detail painting which I think we’ve done over the past year.”
The small business health care act is one of the things Alexander said he has been working on which he thought chamber members would be very excited about. It allows independent contractors and small businesses to pool together for insurance coverage.
“For a while, back during the Affordable Care Act, that association was discouraged if not prohibited,” he said. “Under the new administration, there are new guidelines that allow it.”
Another bill that Alexander was involved with that was passed allows retired teachers to return to teach in low-performing schools.
“You all have an excellent school system here and I’m really pleased to work with your superintendent and the board there,” he said. “We also helped pass a bill that allows more internships to learn skills by reducing the age that they can start internships. It was just one of those small details.”
Alexander also spoke briefly on the budget, saying that he’d rather leave that to Saine. The 2019-2020 budget was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper and to get around that, several bipartisan “mini budget bills” have been passed without override. These bills, Alexander said, are allowing for five percent state employee pay raises as well as raises for State Highway Patrol, certain state employees, correctional officers and State Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol Law Enforcement.
“We’re working on other areas where we can find common ground and pass things such as funding to eliminate the rape kit backlog, more school safety, more prison safety measures, and disaster relief,” he said. “Because we’ve had such good financial management through the legislative budget in the past, we have a surplus of something like $900 million. The first thing that we thought of is to give the money back to the people who paid it. We’re looking at giving families up to $250 and individuals $125, if you have a tax liability.”
Saine, who originally wasn’t going to be at this luncheon because he had a family trip planned to Nags Head, which was cancelled due to Hurricane Dorian, did speak on the budget.
“Being now the senior appropriations chairman, thanks to our governor, I’ve had to spend a lot more time in Raleigh than I wanted to,” he said. “This year, Ted and I worked together to include the budget for Lincoln County by $4.5 million for the courthouse renovation and repair, a new district attorney investigator position, a new public defender position for the district, $375,000 for a Lincoln County EMS Substation, $13 million for Lincoln County Schools capital money, $75,000 for a Lincoln County Veterans training and conference room, $94,000 in Emergency Management grants, $150,000 for public safety grants to Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, $45,000 for a literacy vehicle for Lincoln County Public Library, inclusion in the Life Changing Experiences Pilot, $25,000 for Crisis Pregnancy Center of Lincoln County and $25,000 for Heartbeats Pregnancy Center in Denver.”
Saine said he was unable to give any real budget insight because it’s still at a standstill but that he would give the chamber members the “lay of the land.”
“We just needed one more vote, by our calculations for a veto of the override,” he said. “Unfortunately, the governor brought in a lot of members of his party and threatened them with primary campaigns and introduced them to their primary opponents. That’s real politics y’all. It’s a brutish move and nevertheless it’s prevented the budget override. What we’ve been doing is basically piecemealing the budget and packaging it together with things that the governor really can’t veto – it would be politically stupid to do so. We’ll keep sending him these nice gifts.”
During the quick question and answer period, one chamber member asked McHenry about the speed of action for gun laws.
“We did pass a major change to our gun laws and background checks last year,” he said. “As soon as I did it, no one said ‘thank you’ or acknowledged it. People were yelling at me saying we had to pass it and we did and nobody said anything. The problem is in this country is that we have more guns than people. That’s our culture.”
McHenry said that he doesn’t support buyback programs or compelling people to give up their weapons.
“I believe our Second Amendment rights are fundamental rights that politicians should not take away,” he said. “The action that’s been demanded, taking weapons away, doesn’t get the same results as taking those people that have committed these acts and getting them off the streets or away from a weapon. We have a major lack in our country of mental health professionals and access to mental health and health care facilities. Those who have committed these acts have all shown different signs of mental illnesses. We have to get to that issue and achieve results. America’s divided on these issues and therefore the politicians are divided. We need to make sure our schools are protected and we have those resources in our communities and that’s where we’ve seen the fastest action.”