ARCHDALE — Community involvement was on the menu for the Lunch with Lawmakers, hosted by the Archdale-Trinity Chamber of Commerce at Guil-Rand Fire Department Monday.


On hand for the annual luncheon were Republicans N.C. Rep. Pat Hurley, N.C. Rep. Allen McNeill and N.C. Sen. Jerry Tillman. All are also candidates for re-election in November.


On the federal level, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker was represented by Julie Emmons, his district director; U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis represented by Nick Wilkinson, regional director of strategic operations; and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr represented by Mike Fenley, field representative. Walker is running for re-election to the District 6 seat. Tillis is not up for election again until 2020. Burr has announced he will not seek re-election in 2022. All three federal officials are Republicans.


Most of the comments from the audience of roughly 20 people were directed to the state representatives and covered education, economic incentives and infrastructure. Federal representatives answered questions about immigration and the ongoing Russian collusion scandal.


Community college


Randolph Community College (RCC) President Dr. Bob Shackleford kicked the discussion off by asking about funding for community colleges. While thanking the panel for their support for the community college system, Shackleford pointed out what he felt was an inequity in the distribution of funding from the ConnectNC bond that was approved by voters in 2016.


He said RCC will receive $5.1 million in funding for a new health center. The proposed facility will contain classrooms and labs with state-of-the-art equipment for health care offerings ranging from surgical technology to home health careers.


However, Shackleford said, East Carolina University was initially scheduled to receive $127 million for a new science building. That amount was eventually adjusted down to $90 million, still an amazing sum when compared to what RCC will receive, he said in an interview after the luncheon.


“I could rebuild our whole campus with that,” he said.


Specifically, Shackleford asked local legislators if their colleagues in the General Assembly understood the importance of community colleges to the economic success of the state.


Hurley, who is on the General Assembly Appropriation Committee for Education, told Shackleford she supports the work of the community colleges but added, “There is only so much money to go around.”


McNeill told Shackleford his competition for funding isn’t the college system; it’s the K-12 schools. He said that part of the state’s education system gets roughly 57 percent of all education funding.


Immigration


Lois Bohnsack of Archdale asked the representatives from the U.S. House and Senate about the status of the push to resolve the immigration status of the roughly 800,000 Dreamers in the U.S. Dreamers are young people of various nationalities, but primarily Hispanic, who were brought to the country illegally as children.


President Barack Obama issued the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by executive order in 2012 to protect those young people from deportation. President Donald Trump ordered an end to the program, effective in March. The issue is now in the courts.


Speaking for Sen. Tillis, Wilkerson said three bills to address the issue were introduced and failed to get the necessary 60 votes for passage in the Senate. Currently, he said, there is no bill on the table and no consensus or drive to fix the problem.


Petty grant


Judy Saunders of Asheboro asked state legislators why Richard Petty was able to benefit from taxpayer money to the tune of $1 million.


Tillman corrected Saunders, explaining that Petty, owner of Petty’s Garage in Level Cross, applied for and received a $200,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation. McNeill added that money from that fund does not come from taxpayers.


Tillman said he was also able to get the business a $250,000 appropriation from the state budget. Tillman said Petty’s business is booming and currently employs 80 people. In the grant application, Petty has proposed to make an investment of $2,415,000 in the business and add 36 jobs.


“If you got a business hiring eight to 10 employees a month, I’ll help them, too,” Tillman said.


NCDOT


Danny Phillips of Trinity asked for intervention from state legislators as the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) moves ahead with plans to expand Finch Farm Road from two lanes to four. The project is proposed to run from the intersection of Interstate 85 to Kennedy Road and would include sidewalks and bike lanes.


Phillips said he understands improvements must be made to the road, but homeowners in the Steeplegate community are bearing the brunt of the losses in land to the construction and easements. Hurley said she is aware of the problem. She said when she asked NCDOT officials about the reason for the proposed road construction, she was told, “That’s where the original road construction was.”


McNeill, Hurley and Tillman all urged Phillips, who is representing others in the Steeplegate community, to meet with them. They promised to put pressure on NCDOT to consider the concerns of the community.


“DOT thinks these things are carved in stone, but they’re not,” Tillman said.


Tillis or Tillman?


As the luncheon was winding down, Tillman directed a question to Wilkerson. He said as he speaks with voters in the area, it is not uncommon for them to confuse him with Sen. Tillis due to the similarity of their names.


In particular, he said, some voters are very angry about Tillis’ proposed legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from termination by Trump. Mueller is charged with investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. A vote on the measure is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee as of Monday.


Tillman argued that Trump has a constitutional right to fire anyone he wants. While some legal experts have expressed an opinion that a president can terminate a special counsel, others have argued he cannot. The issue, if tested by Trump, would likely set off a “constitutional crisis,” requiring interpretation by the Supreme Court.


Wilkinson said Tillis’ measure is not designed to protect Mueller so much as to put in place an orderly process for such action to take place. If Trump were to fire Mueller, Wilkerson explained, it would give Mueller a clear process for a judicial review within 10 days of dismissal to determine if the firing was justified.


The answer did not appease Tillman who insisted such action was “cutting the legs out from under the president.” He said some people have pointed out that Tillis’ 2014 Senate race against incumbent Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan was very tight and that support for Trump was likely a factor in Tillis’ victory. Trump deserved Tillis’ support, he said.


“I want Republicans to be Republicans when they are up there (in Washington).”