Voters in N.C. House District 43 have a choice between two veteran officeholders in the Nov. 8 general election.
Republican Diane Wheatley won the seat in 2020 after six-term incumbent Elmer Floyd was defeated in the Democratic primary.
Floyd lost the Democratic nomination to political newcomer Kimberly Hardy in 2020. But in a 2022 rematch, Floyd defeated Hardy in the May primary.
Wheatley defeated challenger Clarence Goins in the Republican primary.
House District 43 includes parts of central Fayetteville and a large portion of Cumberland County east of the Cape Fear River. Wade, Stedman, Eastover, Godwin, Falcon, Gray’s Creek and Cedar Creek are all within the district.
Wheatley, who is a nurse, served on the Cumberland County Board of Education from 1994 to 2004 and on the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners from 2004 to 2008. She said she is passionate about helping people and was one of the lawmakers instrumental in bringing $400 million in state funding to Cumberland County. That funding included $163 million for Fayetteville State University; more than $64 million for city and county governments, including Hope Mills and Spring Lake; $27 million for the military and veterans; and $87 million for capital investments, including for Cape Fear Valley Health.
Wheatley said she has made sure that state money is allotted for small communities like Eastover, Wade and Falcon.
Floyd is an Army veteran who was human relations director for the city of Fayetteville for 28 years. He represented District 43 in the state House for six terms, from 2009 to 2021.
He said some of his legislative wins include $800,000 for Fayetteville State University to cover a sinkhole on campus and $5.5 million for an FSU wellness center. He also said he secured funding for a much needed overhead bridge over N.C. 210 in Spring Lake.
“Without it, the city would have been divided in half,” Floyd said.
Floyd said he has also secured funding for parking spaces for veterans.
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Wheatley said her top three legislative priorities are the economy and inflation; crime; and education.
“For families to have so much coming out of their checks already and being able to take care of their families is really very essential,” Wheatley said. “I think some of the ways we can address that is striving for personal income tax reduction and making it easier for folks to do business in our state.”
Crime is another concern, she said.
“You want your family to feel safe. We want the law enforcement to have the tools they need to protect all of us and make sure we have adequate funding going to first responders,” Wheatley said.
Political controversy, she said, is affecting the school system.
“I believe we are getting away from the focus of making sure our classrooms are adequately prepared so our students can learn and our teachers can teach,” she said. “I believe there is some discourse that has gotten into the school system and colleges. I was on the Board of Education for 10 years and have never experienced any of this. I think we need to get back to what is best for our educational systems, that students are learning and our teachers are paid well.”
Floyd said his top three legislative priorities are women’s reproductive rights; voting rights and issues; and health care.
“One thing we have to do is look at women’s reproduction rights,” said Floyd. “Then voting issues as we move forward … and whatever comes with that. And of course, health care is a major concern.”
Abortion has become a more divisive topic since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Roe v. Wade decision, allowing states to impose more restrictions on the procedure and prompting legislators on both sides of the issue to move toward federal legislation.
“I am pro-life,” said Wheatley. “It is my wish that all children would be given the chance to live. The question is how to strive for this in legislation that won't be vetoed, overturned or replaced by subsequent legislation.
“I’ve always supported an exception to laws restricting abortion … when the mother’s life is legitimately and immediately at risk,” she said. “In the rare cases with rape or incest, I cannot bring myself to take that decision away from the person who has been so severely violated. I do reject the argument that the unborn are somehow not human or abortion is merely health care. I think this is a very difficult subject, and what happened in the Supreme Court shouldn’t affect the doctor and the patient.”
Floyd said abortion should be a personal issue.
“I think that decision is left with the female, her physician, and her spiritual beliefs,” he said. “I do not support restrictions, especially if it’s rape, incest or impeding the woman’s right. That should be the choice of the females, not the legislature.”
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The right direction?
The candidates differed on whether the nation is on the right track.
“I think it’s absolutely on the wrong track,” said Wheatley. “Nationally, the family is being undermined. Special interest groups are at the forefront instead of us being unified and on the track for success. Even our economy, which was growing and thriving, is in a very fragile state and endangering our way of living. We need to get back to taking care of our community and working together and continue to be the leader of the world and take care of business here in America. There’s too much division.”
Floyd said the country is emerging from difficulties related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It depends on who you ask which determines if we are on the right track or wrong track,” he said. “Coming out of the virus, the whole nation stayed at home and now they are coming back and traveling more than they were two years ago. Some would say we are not in the right direction. I say we are in the right direction. Some say we are now hovering at a 2.9% or 3.5% unemployment rate. Industries are hiring, and we are building. We can look at the new facilities coming like Amazon on Dunn Road and what the president tried to do to stimulate the economy with the infrastructure bill and American Recovery Act.
“If you ask someone who was paying more than $2,000 a year for copay or someone who was paying more than $35 for insulin that question, I think they would say the president is going in the right direction,” Floyd said. “If you ask the communities who didn’t have clean drinking water or good internet connection that question, I think they would say the president is going in the right direction. I think we are going in the right direction.”
Asked whether she approves of the job Joe Biden is doing as president, Wheatley said: “I disapprove.”
Floyd sees it differently.
“It’s rare to see a piece of bipartisan policy getting pushed through,” he said. “Given what he had to work with, I think he is doing well.”
The candidates also disagreed on the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan.
“I don’t know if all of us who paid for our children to go to college, which I also paid for when my children were in higher education, is something the taxpayer should be taking on,” Wheatley said. “I do think there are some students who have taken on debt that this should be allowed. A better way to do this was to have the education at the university level not to be so expensive, so you can pay your way through school. I did. I think funding should be there for those who need it, but I don’t think it’s the right answer.”
Floyd said the plan will help many families.
“We’re only talking about $10,000, at the most $20,000,” he said. “Kids who go to school and come from poor families look at all sorts of financial opportunities to complete their dream. So, we’re saying either the government is going to get it back through capital gains or sales tax or service charges. The government is going to get back whatever they perceive to tax that $10,000. The government is going to get the money back. The state will not lose money in the long run because the money will be there for the student to spend.”
Public safety a priority
On crime, both candidates agreed that the “defund the police” movement is the wrong approach.
“I think when you defund the police, you have people leaving the profession,” Wheatley said. “You can’t afford to pay them and their hands are being tied and unable to do their job. It has caused a lot of deaths. Crime was there before, but nothing like it is now after they started the defund the police movement. I think we need to do everything we can to support those who are out there protecting us. We need to strive to not defund but to fund them and have what they need to protect us in this country.”
Floyd said people should feel safe in their own homes.
“I don’t support ‘defund the police’ at all,” he said. “I live in a 301 ZIP code, which is an urban ZIP code. We need police and more police protection. Many older people fear to leave their homes night or day.”
Asked what other issues need lawmakers’ attention, Wheatley cited health care.
“Being a registered nurse, one of my issues is health care and that our community has a really good hospital and health care system,” she said. “Not only in our community, but the entire country. A community is only as good as the health care they can get. I want to make sure our hospitals and nursing homes and all areas of health care are looked at and that we are doing what we need to do to make sure our community has the facilities it needs to treat those who are sick.
“It’s an issue,” she added. “Health care is changing, and we need to advocate for better health care and facilities that provide for those who are sick. Everyone should be able to get into their hospital and get adequate and efficient health care.”
Floyd said infrastructure is a major concern.
“As we look at Cumberland County, we have to be more aggressive in pursuing infrastructure,” Floyd said. “Right now, we are ranked a Tier 1 community, meaning that out of the 100 counties, we are in the bottom 40%. We’ve got to get more infrastructure in our community so we can grow the type of businesses that will allow our minimum wages to increase. I’m one who supports a $15-an-hour minimum wage, which is now outdated today given our inflation.”
Local lawmakers also must address issues important to the military community, Floyd said.
“Many serve and stay here and will pay taxes here,” Floyd said. “We need to make sure they have skills and training. They are going to create more jobs. We need to make sure we reduce their requirements so they can remain here and grow North Carolina and their businesses. To me, that’s the No. 1 priority for our county.”
Early one-stop voting for the general election will end Nov. 5. Election Day is Nov. 8.