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Columnist warns against polarization

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Columnist John Hood speaks Thursday at the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly legislative forum at the Holiday Inn.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A statewide political columnist told the Twin Counties chief business and civic group that working to make the legislative process better in the midst of contempt, hysteria at election time and ideological polarization includes not just elected officials — but citizens, too.

John Hood, speaking at the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly legislative forum on Thursday at the Holiday Inn, emphasized no one is requiring people to live in two separate worlds. So he offered his advice.

“If you don’t have a good friend who sees Donald Trump or immigration or Roy Cooper and the state legislature very differently from the way you see those things, go get one,” Hood said. “Make a new friend across the aisle, not because I expect you to change your view or you expect to change that person’s view — though it might happen — but more importantly, you will learn not to have contempt.

“And that’s all I think is needed, to get the right ball rolling, is just to stop having contempt for people with whom you have a disagreement — and simply have a respectful disagreement, have a real conversation,” he said. “You will find that their goals are probably not that different from yours, but they have a very different sense of how to get there or maybe how those goals are defined.”

He also advised finding sources of information that are not the usual subjects.

“If you like watching Fox every night, turn it off for a night or two and watch something else,” he said. “You’ll get a very different picture.”

Hood is president of the John William Pope Foundation, a Raleigh-based grant maker, and chairman of the board of the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh-based conservative-leaning think tank, which also publishes the Carolina Journal.

While in Rocky Mount, Hood gave his view about the long-running standoff between Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat and Nash County native, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly in getting a state budget approved.

The governor vetoed the proposed $24 billion package, which the House majority overrode on Wednesday in a 55-15 vote.

The action came amid an uproar that made national news because most of the Democrats were not in the House chamber at the time and more than a few in the minority felt the majority pulled a fast one.

Hood said the financial document mostly has items both Republicans and Democrats have agreed on but some quite large disagreements.

Hood described three of them in particular.

Hood said one of them is Medicaid expansion, with Cooper strongly believing North Carolina should accept the federal Affordable Care Act’s offer of funding to expand Medicaid to those not currently enrolled.

Hood said Republicans strongly oppose the idea and think the proposal is an expansion of the welfare state.

Hood said the second dispute about the proposed state budget is about how to pay for construction of public schools, with Cooper arguing the state could issue bonds, given its low debt load and presently low interest rates.

Hood said Republicans are arguing for a pay-as-you-go approach, with the belief being the resources are available and spending directly would save the state interest payments over the next 10 to 20 years.

He said there is an argument for either side on the school construction funding issue.

The third disagreement is about specific budgets, he said.

He said Cooper wants North Carolina’s public school teachers to receive a larger pay raise than provided by the General Assembly, although legislators were a bit more generous in providing pay raises for state employees, at least in some areas.

By and large, Hood said he believes the second and third disagreements are really about numbers and the two sides should be able to end up meeting in the middle.

“Unfortunately, Medicaid expansion is more of a yes-or-no question,” Hood said. “And it is difficult to negotiate around a yes-or-no question. And so that’s really, I think, the main impasse here.”

Nash County board Chairman Robbie Davis asked Hood about his personal opinion of Medicaid expansion.

Hood said he does not believe such a proposal is a good idea in North Carolina for a couple of reasons.

One, Hood said, is that, “There’s just a philosophical debate about: ‘To what extent should people get things from the government for free?’”

Hood emphasized Medicaid was set up to address health care costs faced by the aged, children, people with disabilities, pregnant women and young mothers.

Hood made clear he is OK with governmental involvement there, although he prefers this to be a state program.

What he does not favor is an expansion of premium-free health care coverage to people who do not have any of those needs and to people living above the poverty line.

“I think there are better ways to either reduce the cost of care or make it easier for people to access care,” he said.

And he said he would even like for people to pay a bit and work for benefits if they are capable of doing so.

Also, he said, given the trillion-dollar deficits in Washington, D.C., every year, “If you believe that the federal government is going to continue to pay 90 cents on the dollar for newly-enrolled, able-bodied people, but only pay 67 cents on the dollar for people who are disabled, then I don’t think you have a realistic sense of reality.”

He said he believes the bottom line is the math is not sustainable. But he pointed out lots of conservatives say that.

“But who was in charge when the deficit shot towards a trillion dollars? It wasn’t the Democrats in Washington,” Hood said. “So the fiscal irresponsibility is absolutely not a partisan thing. It’s widespread.”

Hood, 53, is a native of Mecklenburg County and has been writing a statewide column since 1986.

He also has past ties to the Twin Counties, having worked for the Spring Hope Enterprise and its sister paper, the Rocky Mount Record.

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