Woody White is hoping to represent North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District in Washington.
His competitor for the Republican nomination, David Rouzer from Johnston County, came close to winning the seat in 2012 from the long-time incumbent Mike McIntyre. So far, Jonathan Barfield is the only candidate on the Democratic side that has declared his candidacy.
In this Candidate Profile, WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn talks with Woody White about why he thinks he’d do a good job in Washington, whether he can rise above partisanship, and his Priority Number One if he’s elected: the repeal of Obamacare.
Text in italics is not included in the abbreviated audio version.
RLH: Why, first of all, are you running for the 7th Congressional District?
WW: Rachel, as a 44-year-old lifelong resident of this district, I felt that it was time that we have a fresh, new voice in Washington, D.C. And now with Congressman McIntyre’s announcement that he’s retiring, we’re going to get that. Washington needs more average people from the real world to go up there and solve its problems.
You’ve heard me say this before about our local government. And there’s no worse example of people not working together than Washington, D.C. And so I have a proven track record of being innovative and building consensus and seeking common ground, considering dissenting voices, and so forth. But I also have a record of providing leadership.
And I am very frustrated, as many North Carolinians are, with the Obama Administration and his allies’ attack on our state, its economy, and its overtaking of the health care system with Obamacare.
A lot of these issues are what led us to this decision.
RLH: What other ways do you see the federal government as being adversarial with North Carolina?
WW: It’s virtually in every way, Rachel. When our Founding Fathers set up this incredible experiment, as they called it, of democracy – and participatory democracy, people coming together and choosing and electing their leaders – as opposed to a kingdom – they did so with the notion that federal government was there to protect us, protect our civil liberties, to provide the basic needs. But fundamentally, the people would govern themselves at the local level.
And over the last 200 years, we’ve seen an inversion of that, and no better example now than the tipping point that we’ve reached with our federal debt and spending and our divisiveness.
You know, but politics is always divisive. There’s always people up in Washington shouting and screaming at each other and that dates to the very first moments of our country’s birth. But recently it’s gotten so bad that the dysfunction has really garnered the attention of the average person. The average person would prefer to go about their life, go about their business and their job, raise their children, and let government operate real quietly in the background, you know, protecting us and giving us fire and police and the basic needs, and providing for our security and so forth.
But government now is in your face. It is intrusive in your business, in your life, in your community. It’s everywhere. And it starts in Washington.
RLH: And how can you do that? Because we talked about this, I think, during your campaign for county commissioner. We talked about this vitriolic dialogue that has grown on both Capitol Hill and in parts of this state. Having intractable positions has almost become a way of attaching to a political agenda that serves personal ambition. How do you approach that differently?
WW: Well, a couple of ways. First, I think you look at my record. When I campaigned last year, I campaigned on the notion of ‘let’s bring people together in this community. Let’s talk to the City of Wilmington. Engage them in the big issues facing our region. Let’s don’t treat them as an enemy or as a step-brother or as someone we don’t want to work with. Let’s engage them.’
That’s what we’ve done. We’ve engaged our beach towns on a number of issues and other regional partners. And that’s how I’ve led the commission. So that’s an example of what I’ll do in Washington, D.C.
Now, as one congressman – can one congressman change the world? No.
Rachel, let me say this. I am a true believer. I think if you want things to change, you have to believe that things can change. Now think about that. I believe I can go up there and make a difference. And if I didn’t think that, I would not sacrifice my time, my name. I am sure there are going to be plenty of people saying horrible things about me and my family. That’s the way this goes.
But the end game here is fighting – fighting for a cause, fighting for our country, and fighting for the 7th District of North Carolina. And doing it in a way that’s responsible and thoughtful, disagreeable with other people sometimes on issues, but understanding that we live in America. Everybody’s got opinions. You sit around the kitchen table at my house every night and you’ll hear four different opinions about something. That’s the way we are. That’s why we love our country.
But when we disagree and we argue and we debate, we always have to understand that there’s an end to that. We need to come together and we need to move forward. Now the exception to that in my view is Obamacare. And I will fight as hard as I can to repeal it and to do away with it.
RLH: Let’s talk about unemployment benefits for a moment. The General Assembly last year – at the state level – passed a law essentially ending long-term benefits for North Carolinians. President Obama is pushing a bipartisan bill that would extend emergency unemployment benefits. There’s a provision, inserted by Senator Kay Hagan that would specifically re-activate benefits for North Carolinians. Where do you stand on that?
WW: Well, the fundamental premise of helping people in a time of need is a core function of government. And so there’s no one out there that suggests that unemployment benefits are not a worthy function of government. The question is when do they start and when do they end? And what the Obama Administration is doing is trying to, subtly, move us toward a full welfare state. He said it in the campaign years ago. He’s always governed that way. He wants to spread the wealth. And this is a way that he is doing it.
Now, if you continue to extend unemployment benefits, you de-incentivize people from seeking employment.
RLH: Do you think that the voter ID law as it was passed in Raleigh last year is something that is constitutional and that should be defended?
WW: Well, that’s a state issue. I will say that in 19 years when I took an oath to become a lawyer in this state, Rachel, I swore to uphold the United States and the North Carolina Constitutions. And every day in courtrooms for 19 – almost 20 years – that’s what I’ve done. The voter ID issue – that’s more of a state policy issue and I’m going to watch that unfold like everyone else.
RLH: If you win the primary, would you consider stepping away from your role as county commissioner?
WW: No, I wouldn’t – at this time. I’d certainly leave my options open. But the way I see it now, I was elected last year. I was re-elected as Chairman in December, and there’s a lot of benefit in continuity. And one thing I’m not going to allow this campaign to do in any way is to encroach on the public oath I took to be a county commissioner and the real challenges and issues we face every single day in the county.
I work hard to provide that leadership. I work hard to continue to move this county forward. And I’m going to keep doing that throughout this year.
RLH: There was an editorial recently addressing that very issue. You know, how is Woody White going to undertake the responsibilities of a full-blown campaign for congressman and at the same time do what essentially seems to be a full-time job as county commissioner?
WW: Well, you know, you manage your schedule and I’m good at that and it’s not even an option for me to neglect the county commission duties I have. That’s not how I live my life. I’m a very honest and ethical person and I swore to uphold the job I have to do as a county commissioner. But it’s also not uncommon for people to campaign and serve at the same time. We see that everywhere – always have. I think it’s a fair question, though, to scrutinize people and ask – or watch them. Are they missing meetings? Are they providing leadership? Are they doing their job? And if they’re not, I think it’s a fair question.
RLH: What do you want to see happen before the end of your term as county commissioner?
WW: I would like to see us pay teachers more. Rachel, in our peer counties across the state, Orange, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Wake, we are consistently in that cluster of counties with our test scores, with our graduation rates and the key metrics of how we measure educational success. In that same core group, we are 34th in teacher supplements. Now, I think Raleigh needs to find a way to pay teachers more. Hopefully, they’re going to do that over the next short session.
But I know we can do better here in New Hanover. Because when we’re 34th in the state, and we’re not in our peer counties in how much we pay teachers, we’re losing teachers to other areas. We’re not retaining the best and we’re not able to recruit the very best. We need to be in that peer group. And so I hope we can accomplish that this year – paying teachers more, raising our supplement from 8% up to something much more meaningful.
RLH: Who are your heroes?
WW: My mom and dad, first off, and how they raised me in Elizabethtown and the work ethic they taught me. And in the political or the historical arena, my favorite member of our founding is John Adams and just how diverse he was and how open he was to dissenting views, but the leadership he always provided. He never really swayed from his core, central beliefs despite vicious storms around him all the time from his friends and his foes. He always seemed to keep his center and his balance and move the country in the right direction.
In sports, one of my heroes is Tom Osborne, legendary coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Dean Smith of the Tar Heels.
RLH: During the last election, David Rouzer came very close to defeating Mike McIntyre. Some could argue because he laid the groundwork, he’s already got a lot of name recognition around the region. How do you expect to beat David Rouzer?
WW: Well, I’m not a political pundit. What I can tell you -- just in the differences between he and I. He has led a public life in Washington, for the most part, lobbying for things like amnesty for illegal immigrants and the 2006 bill that he lobbied on behalf of a client to benefit China.**
And you compare that and contrast that with the life we’ve led. Tammie and I are raising our kids here in this community. I’ve met a payroll every two weeks for almost 20 years growing a business, serving in our local community. I’m a lifelong resident of this congressional district. I am not a classic Washington insider. That’s exactly what he is and the last thing this country needs is another Washington insider.
WW: Thank you for the invitation to come on.
RLH: Thanks so much for joining us today, Woody White.
**The Rouzer Campaign disputes the veracity of this statement and looks forward to addressing this issue in an upcoming candidate profile.