Rep. Patrick McHenry holds town hall meeting in Womack Building

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, August 11, 2016

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) made a visit to Polk County Wednesday afternoon to first speak with St. Luke’s Hospital’s newly-appointed CEO Jim Bross, left, to discuss healthcare issues on a national and local scale. Bross then lead Rep. McHenry on a tour of the facility, highlighting the hospital’s new orthopedic wing built in 2013.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) made a visit to Polk County Wednesday afternoon to first speak with St. Luke’s Hospital’s newly-appointed CEO Jim Bross, left, to discuss healthcare issues on a national and local scale. Bross then lead Rep. McHenry on a tour of the facility, highlighting the hospital’s new orthopedic wing built in 2013.

COLUMBUS – Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who is running for re-election to Congress in North Carolina’s 10th Congressional District for his sixth term, held a town hall meeting Wednesday evening to discuss political issues facing local residents.

McHenry also visited with St. Luke’s Hospital administrators and CEO Jim Bross to discuss local and national healthcare issues during his visit to Polk County Wednesday afternoon.

Nearly 25 members of the community, including Polk County Commissioner Ted Owens and Polk County commissioner candidate Jake Johnson, were present at McHenry’s meeting.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I want to give you a little context for what has been happening in the backdrop of politics, of American politics. I say the backdrop because we all know the two presidential candidates by their first name, Hillary and Donald or ‘The Donald,’ right?” McHenry said to begin the meeting. “And everyone has an opinion about that. That’s consumed all of the rhetoric, all of the attention of the national media, all of what we think of as American politics and, because of that, the day to day work of Congress has been in the shadows.”

McHenry continued to outline a few issues Congress has tackled in the last year that he said hasn’t “risen to good coverage.”

McHenry on highway infrastructure funding

“I say this mainly because it’s important to know we can still get things done as Americans,” McHenry explained. “We’ve just passed a long-term highway bill, it’s the first one in 15 years, and it sets the funding levels for the next five years. It’s important for western North Carolina, important for the state of North Carolina so we can build infrastructure and make sure we have infrastructure here. We can bring goods and services to market and bring people to the county.”

This highway bill, according to McHenry, was a bipartisan achievement done with a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Democratic president and bipartisan votes in both the House and the Senate.

McHenry on education reform

“We had meaningful education reform that ended No Child Left Behind and the redundant testing regime we currently have,” McHenry said. “The national testing regime is veered off our state testing regime and so the number of students that are taking, in some cases, two tests in order to measure one result. That takes time out of the classroom. We’ve taken away that national mandate and recognized the state-based testing in North Carolina and other states that have accountability regimes and within that education bill, now law, we end the mandate of common core on our state and on our local school boards. I think that’s a win for parents and certainly a win for students.”

McHenry on healthcare issues

McHenry spoke on healthcare issues such as Medicare and the opioid epidemic.

“We changed the way doctors and hospitals get paid on Medicare, again a bipartisan achievement,” McHenry said. “We recently passed legislation and the president signed it dealing with the opioid crisis. We know we have this heroin and opioid epidemic across the country, not just in Polk County, but across western North Carolina, and not just across western North Carolina but in cities like Charlotte and New York and Chicago. Rural areas and small towns have been even more affected, in many cases, by this heroin and opioid epidemic.”

Making a recovery drug known as Narcan more available will help first responders save people’s lives that have overdosed, according to McHenry.

“What we do with this legislation makes the recovery drug more available,” McHenry said. “We’ve also had a collaboration between law enforcement and health for the first time at the federal level, and that brought federal resources to local law enforcement and brought the DEA to meet with our local law enforcement across all of the jurisdictions along our district and hopefully to foster that conversation and relationship between local law enforcement and federal law enforcement.”

McHenry on elections and federal issues

After outlining these achievements, McHenry said these are not the most important or significant issues faced at the federal level. Balancing the budget, tax reform and healthcare delivery are “major debates” that could be resolved by the American presidential election.

“The American public gets to decide which direction America is going to go in,” McHenry said. “That’s why I am actually hopeful because every two years we have elections and the American people are in charge. Our system is a tough one to legislate and a tough one to make change in, but it proves the voters have the power to change the course of our country. I think that’s a positive thing whether it be at the national, county or city level.”

Questions were then welcomed following McHenry’s opening speech. Attendees who had questions for the Republican representative were asked to line up on either side of the commissioners’ chamber.

On which presidential candidate McHenry supports

Pat Salomon of Mill Spring asked McHenry how he feels about current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. McHenry responded by saying it has been since he was able to vote that he has always supported the Republican nominee for presidency.

“I support the Republican nominee as I have done in the fullness of my adult life,” McHenry responded. “Since I’ve been old enough to vote, I’ve had a disagreement or multiple disagreements with the nominee of the Republican Party and this year is no different than that in terms of having differences in the approach to policy. We have two choices, and you have to weigh out the two choices we’re presented with.”

Salomon rebutted by saying Trump is not Republican and told McHenry that Trump does not stand for any Republican principles. McHenry responded by saying he knows what Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stands for.

“You have no idea what Donald Trump’s principles are,” Salomon said. “You cannot say from today until tomorrow what he’ll come up with. There are a lot of well-known Republicans who are declining to support Donald Trump out of principle.”

On McHenry’s stance on immigration

Another attendee at the meeting then addressed McHenry about his feelings on immigration.

“Trump says he’s going to build a wall between us and Mexico, which fact-wise doesn’t seem to add up since we’ve got the lowest point of illegal immigration in this country since 1973,” the inquirer said. “I would like for you to reconcile these issues if you could.”

McHenry said the way the nation is handling immigration is opposite to how he would, saying the nation wants to deal with the illegals that are already here in the nation first rather than stemming the flow of more immigrants into the country.

“When we deal with immigration, when we allow people to come into the United States, there are a couple of key tests we should be applying,” McHenry explained. “Is there a national and economic interest? Are these folks willing to be a part of our society and support our society in the way that we live? If they aren’t willing to do those things, then we shouldn’t open our borders to them at all.”

On McHenry’s viewpoint on horse slaughter

Libbie Johnson of Tryon asked McHenry his view on horse slaughter.

“I’m very involved in promoting our equine industry here which is the number one economic driver we have,” Johnson said. “In light of looking back at some of your voting records, you did vote for slaughter. I’ve called your office a couple of times to ask you to sponsor the SAFE Act, and I want to know, aside from visiting the new equestrian center, what you plan to do for our equine industry here.”

The equine industry is a new industry for McHenry and he said he has not yet co-sponsored the SAFE Act.

“I am aware of the bad actor in the community,” McHenry said, referring to Justin Scott White’s Southeastern Cattle Company business in Green Creek. “The reason why this should be addressed, the question the legislation on this matter is a thing that I need to get, I need to understand and see if this would have the proper effect on this community. My background is not with the equine industry, so it’s taken me a considerable amount of time to determine how the legislation is impacting the equine industry and my stance when it comes to these equine issues.”

On the issue of banning assault rifles

Another Saluda resident stood to ask McHenry about his stance on assault weapons.

“People with unstable and mental disabilities can buy weapons easily, and with Orlando, it’s just one after the other and it involves the same weapon and the same laws that allow people to buy them easily,” the Saluda resident said. “My question is you’ve voted consistently against any ban on assault rifles. I just don’t understand how anyone of good conscience can allow someone of unstable mental consciousness to buy such things so easily. Why wouldn’t you be fighting and standing up against that?”

Restricting law-abiding citizens their civil liberties, according to McHenry, will not prevent “bad actors” from getting weapons. McHenry said mental health is the underlying issue and is larger than the debate over firearms.

“Seeking to find a solution to these major societal challenges is a struggle,” McHenry said. “We have 11 million Americans that are bipolar, schizophrenic or living with depression. We have a mental health crisis in America, and it’s health. We talk about physical health comfortably, but we need to be much more comfortable talking about mental health.”

In response, the Saluda resident said he does not take issue with the Second Amendment, but said it is military style weapons at the center of the issue, something the founders of the nation could not have envisioned. He added that people can go out and easily buy a car, granted they follow the rules, but could not buy a tank because they kill massive amounts of people in a short amount of time.

“I think we need some common sense and compassion for the terrible suffering the families of these people are going through every time a mass shooting happens,” the Saluda resident said.

On McHenry’s stance on the minimum wage versus a living wage

McHenry also talked about the minimum wage in America versus a living wage and said increasing the minimum wage will not help those get on the “on ramp” to the jobs they want. He described his time as an 11-year-old helping his father in his lawn business by picking up trash as something that helped him acquire the job skills he needed.

“The on ramp to learning job skills is what I experienced as a kid,” McHenry said. “ What I was paid as an 11-year-old probably should have been mandated by the federal government. The skills I learned where I had to report to a boss, show up on time, which I still have a problem with, and having to work through a day that I didn’t want to because I was mad that I was picking up trash for my father, those skills helped me more than the wage I was getting.”

Raising the minimum wage, according to McHenry, will not help those seeking a job and will not lead to economic prosperity nationwide.

“Doubling, tripling or quadrupling the minimum does not actually help the median, it does not help those who need a job get on the on ramp to get the job they want. Simply mandating a wage by law is not the way to ensure prosperity,” McHenry said. “I think we have to actually ensure that people have the skills to get the jobs they want and we have to have a flexible workforce and affordability for employers to hire more people. When you have that, you have better economic outcomes.”

At the close of the meeting, McHenry said he wanted to thank local law enforcement for the work they do daily in response to the climate of America between law enforcement and citizens.

“With all that’s going on in America, we have great local law enforcement here in Polk County and I want to say thank you to all of our men and women that serve on our police and for our sheriff’s department as well,” McHenry said. “They are the ones who are running to danger while others are running away and I want to say thank you.”

Having an honest dialogue with an educated populous, McHenry said, is important to the republic.

“An educated populous on the subject matters that come before Congress is the best security to preserve our liberty and best security for better outcomes in our government,” McHenry said. “What town hall meetings do is they remind me that we do have an educated populous that cares enough to come out to make their voices heard.”