Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by Frank McNeill to discuss his campaign for North Carolina Senate District 21, plus we discuss political updates from around North Carolina.
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Frank McNeill: I once heard that success happens when preparedness and opportunity meet. The town was prepared. We had the opportunity. And we were successful. And Aberdeen has grown and flourished since.
JD Wooten: Well, it sounds like that boy scout motto Be Prepared coming back full circle.
Frank McNeill: That's exactly right.
JD Wooten: Hey everyone, welcome back to Carolina Democracy. I’m JD Wooten, and today we’re joined by Frank McNeill, a former school board member, city councilman, and mayor from Moore County who’s running for North Carolina Senate District 21. We’ve also got more good news from the Biden administration and some North Carolina political updates to discuss.
So first, yet another blockbuster week for the Biden Administration as they continue adding to their string of successes in delivering on campaign promises, this time by announcing up to $20,000 student loan debt relief for low to middle income borrowers. That comes on top of the Inflation Reduction Act of a few weeks ago as well as countless other successes like the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the bipartisan semiconductor law, a bipartisan gun safety law, and more than 8 million jobs created so far. Oh, and a pretty good track record on federal judicial appointments, including Justice Jackson to the Supreme Court. Remember, let’s never miss a chance to emphasize just how successful the current administration and the current session of Congress have been so far. Republicans obstruct, Democrats deliver.
Now, for the student debt relief that’s been promised, there is of course plenty of criticism around it. Some economists seem to think it might fuel more inflation, while other argue it won’t have any impact. I’ve yet to see an economic policy that didn’t have economists unable to agree on the likely impact, so we’ll just have to wait and see on that one. Regardless of whether it’s good economics policy, it’s certainly good politics as it delivers a major campaign promise from President Biden. As for the fairness arguments, I’m enjoying the tough clap backs coming from the White House and other supporters and wish Democrats took such tough postures a little more often in defending policies. When Marjorie Taylor Greene complained in a tweet, for example, the White House retweeted her with the simple statement “Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green had $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven.” Brilliant. And when asked at a press conference if the forgiveness was fair to those who had paid back their loans, President Biden responded “Is it fair to people who in fact do not own multibillion-dollar businesses to see one of these guys getting all the tax credits? Is that fair? What do you think?”
Whatever you think of the student loan forgiveness, the fairness of it just really isn’t a concern for me. We’ve bailed out banks, auto manufacturers, and airlines to name a few, and given enormous tax breaks to the ultrawealthy that we couldn’t afford, so giving $10,000 of debt relief to those making under $125,000 a year just really isn’t registering. Also, the government has forgiven nearly $700 billion in PPP loans so far. This debt relief is estimated at less than half of that, or about $321 billion. Again, the fairness arguments just aren’t registering for me. As I saw one politician put it:
“Not every program has to be for everybody. People with apartments pay for first time homeowner benefits. Young people pay for Medicare for our seniors. People who take public transit pay for car infrastructure. Maybe student loan forgiveness doesn’t impact you. That doesn’t make it bad. I am sure there are certainly other things that student loan borrowers’ taxes pay for. We can do good things and reject the scarcity mindset that says doing something good for someone else comes at the cost of something for ourselves.”
And for those who like to turn to biblical support, check out Deuteronomy 15 which says, “At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts .” There you go. For all the Christian nationalist claiming the U.S. is a Christian nation, like our own Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, I look forward to your proposals to cancel all debt every seven years for all U.S. citizens, including student loan debt. I’ll wait.
And for anyone who missed last week’s episode, a couple of weeks ago, the North Carolina Supreme Court held open the possibility that two voter-approved state constitutional amendments which were on the ballot in 2018 were not permissibly on the ballot to begin with and might be thrown out. I say might because the Supreme Court did not actually make a final ruling. Instead, it merely held open the possibility that the General Assembly’s actions were unlawful, but that further review from the trial court was needed.
Basically, the Supreme Court has held that an unconstitutionally elected group of legislators cannot amend the constitution to insulate themselves from democratic accountability, entrench their power through voter suppression, or continue the same discrimination which led to them having the unconstitutional power to begin with. That certainly makes sense to me in a society that respects democratic norms. Also, it would not surprise me at all if the trial court finds that under this test focused on protecting democracy, the tax cap amendment is allowed to stand since it has nothing to do with the democratic process in and of itself, but the voter ID amendment is struck down. Again, great decision for democracy.
Let’s see, in other North Carolina news, a federal appellate court blocked a criminal defamation law that for some inexplicable reason, the Wake County DA was using to investigate Attorney General Josh Stein and his campaign team for an ad they ran in 2020. First, the Stein camp has defended the ad as true on its face and the State Board of Elections already reviewed it and dismissed the complaint. So there’s that piece of the equation.
Also, even if somebody wants to argue that it was biased or misleading, it was a political ad. It was up to AG Stein’s opponent to tell the other side of the story and leave it to the voters. But come on, a political ad. The whole point was to attack an opponent in an unflattering way, and that’s never done in an objective or unbiased way. We see those ads every cycle. Sometimes political ads really do go too far, like a series of conspiracy theory laden ads falsely accusing me of a federal felony back in 2020, so I mean if you’re going to use this statute…
Kidding. We never sought criminal prosecution of anyone under that law for the same reason the appellate court blocked the law – it’s an unconstitutional chilling of free speech. Now were they entitled to lie about me that way under the guise of free speech? Of course not, but the answer was a civil suit for defamation, which we filed, they stopped the ad, and we dropped the lawsuit. It should have never gotten that far, or even happened in the first place, but that’s how you deal with it. We don’t need our already overburden, underfunded prosecutors’ offices chasing down politicians who said mean things about each other. It’s an absolute certainty to me that there are better uses of our tax dollars, even if it just means a tax refund or setting the money aside to a rainy-day fund. Not to mention we don’t want to give permission for criminal prosecution, which could be easily abused, for political ads. That’s just not how a functioning democracy works. Bottom line, we don’t criminally prosecute people for saying mean things, even if they do happen to be false.
And again, Stein’s team says the ad was true based on their research, so there would have been that pesky problem during any prosecution as well. Regardless, the appellate court blocked enforcement of the law while it waits to hear oral arguments, which won’t be until December as I understand it. Since the statute of limitations for the criminal defamation law was only 2 years, even if the appellate court does the unlikely and allows the law to stand, it will be too late for the prosecution of anyone for any ads in the 2020 election cycle, including the Stein team. So functionally, case closed on that one.
Now there’s also another, more fundamental way to deal with lying politicians and that’s to call them out. We did that in 2020 as well, and it worked. It looks like at least one state senate candidate this cycle is already doing the same, and that’s Frank McNeill who you’ll hear from momentarily. This ad dropped after our interview and he’s a class act who didn’t bring it up and instead stuck to his campaign message, but it’s a great ad that really shows how a candidate can call out an opponent’s lies and pivot the narrative back to the issues they’re campaigning on. Let’s have a listen:
Frank McNeill: I've lived my whole life in Moore County. Built a business and raise my family here. And now I'm running to represent you in the North Carolina Senate. Some of you have been getting postcards from my opponent, Tom McGinnis. The things that he is saying about me are outright lies, and he knows it. He's attacking me, our employees, and our family business. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning. But here's what Tom McGinnis doesn't want to talk about. That he is near the top of the heap of lawmakers for taking money from special interests, like Big Insurance and big Pharma. Companies that are taking money right out of your pockets. And that he supported the bathroom bill and opposed Medicaid expansion. These cost our state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. And, McGuinness gave breaks to out-of-state corporations instead of properly funding our schools. We have real challenges here in North Carolina, from teaching shortages to rising prices. So Tom, let's cut the mudslinging. And focus on the issues that really matter. I'm Frank McNeill, and I'm running for the North Carolina Senate. I need your vote so I can go to work for you. Let's get to work.
JD Wooten: Again, great ad. And if I had known about this ad before we interviewed, I might have even brought it up during the interview. But alas, I didn’t have that chance. And since you can’t see this as this is a podcast, it looks like it actually started raining on Frank during the filming and he didn’t bat an eye or lose focus in the slightest. Masterful work from the whole team that put this one together.
Now, the last bit of political news from around the state, it looks like the Democratic nominee for state senate district 3, Valerie Jordan, is facing down a residency challenge. It also looks like the GOP stalker who went to a house she owns every day for 3 weeks is none other than the same GOP operative who invented the conspiracy theories of criminal misconduct against several state senate candidates in 2020, so I assume he’s lying no matter what he says. He’s a real class act, and I’m not surprised he’s still lurking around GOP politics. All that said, he took pictures of a parked car in the driveway and something like that and it sounds like that led the local board of elections to pass it up to the state board of elections. I haven’t seen the evidence, so I won’t comment on the actual facts, other than to say the law is pretty clear – you have to live in the district where you’re running for the General Assembly. In fact, you have to have lived there for at least a year prior to the election. If it turns out she doesn’t live in the district or hasn’t lived there long enough, well, she can’t run for that seat. If she does live in the district, then she can. I look forward to seeing how the board rules, and hopefully they make that decision on more than pictures of parked cars.
Ok, enough with the news. Don’t forget to subscribe or follow us wherever you get your podcasts and on social media so you never miss an episode, and share your favorite episodes with your friends to help our guests reach the largest audience possible. And now, here’s my interview with Frank McNeill, hope you enjoy.
JD Wooten: With me today is Frank McNeil. Who's running to represent District 21 in the North Carolina Senate. Welcome Frank.
Frank McNeill: Thank you, JD. It's great to be here with you today.
JD Wooten: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us. So first question right out the gate. What's your earliest memory of politics or getting involved in politics?
Frank McNeill: In 1964, I was eight years old. It was the year that Lyndon Johnson was running for reelection. Bob Scott was running for Lieutenant governor in North Carolina, and a lot of the Democrats in Moore County organized a caravan with their cars and trucks. In fact, we met at the Bethesda church parking lot, put posters on the vehicles and drove all over Moore County, just in a, a caravan. Remember we drove over a hundred miles that day. And so I rode with my parents. And so that was the, the first involvement actually with the political campaign.
JD Wooten: Well, I think we should, let y'all take credit from Johnson's wonderful reelection that year. So let's start with your background or dive into it a little more. You're a Moore County native and third generation business owner who has served on the Moore County School Board, and as a Council member and Mayor of Aberdeen. We'll get to some of your accomplishments in those positions in a moment, but what led you to that first run for office?
Frank McNeill: Grew up in Aberdeen, went to school there, loved my town. It was a great place to grow up, loved my school, my classmates. So when I came back from Appalachian state in 1978, the following year, there was a town election for, for commissioners. And so I decided to run. Because I wanted to be a part of making Aberdeen better. I enjoyed working with, with the others and, and doing things that would make my home a better place to, to live.
JD Wooten: I love that. And in that same vein, that giving back, I'm sure that this played a part into your thinking. You're also an Eagle scout. And you've called that experience. One of your most rewarding in your life as an Eagle scout, myself and the current President of my local council, I can certainly identify with all of that. So what are some of the lessons of scouting that you carry with you to this day?
Frank McNeill: Obviously you learn some basic skills in scouting, camping, swimming, lifesaving, first aid. So you learn some practical skills. But I believe the biggest thing I probably learned was, was leadership. And as you well know, scouting is a boy led organization. We have scout masters and adult advisors that certainly help, but the boys run the, the packs and run the troops. And so you learn a lot of leadership and of course the scout oath, on my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey scout laws, to help other people at all times to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. And of course, some of the scout laws, scout is friendly, courteous, kind. You know, if all of us would follow those laws, follow that oath, most of our problems in America would be solved just by treating people the way we wanted to be treated and following those principles. But the, the subtle development of leadership I think was probably one of the important things. And of course, what makes Eagle, so special only about one or 2% of all Scouts end up earning their Eagle badge. And so the fact that, and it took several years obviously to, to do, but the fact that I was able to continue through do all the requirements and, and achieve the, the rank, it meant a lot and even more so as time's gone by.
JD Wooten: Like I said, I identify with all of that. And the only, the only thing I would plug or add to it is, you know, in the last couple years, we've allowed young ladies to join our, our program too. So when you were mayor of Aberdeen, the town doubled in size and y'all built a new fire station, a new police station, and a new town hall. And just in case that wasn't enough of a Herculean feat, Aberdeen also significantly expanded water and sewer access during that time and greatly expanded their recreational opportunities. How did y'all manage to accomplish so much in that period and any secrets you want to share with our listeners or maybe current elected officials that want to do a little bit more?
Frank McNeill: Well, the first thing was the board of commissioners worked together to develop a, a game plan for Aberdeen. And most of them had grown up in Aberdeen like I had. And so we cared about our town. We, everyone on it wanted to see Aberdeen succeed. So it was just a matter of working together, reaching consensus, and making sure we were all rowing the boat in the same direction. And so that was a critical part of it. Another thing that allowed us to do that was previous boards had run the town in a very good manner. There was money in the bank, we weren't in debt. And so we had the opportunity to grow and expand; we were able to do. I once heard that success happens when preparedness and opportunity meet. The town was prepared. We had the opportunity. And we were successful with the expansion of what we did. And Aberdeen has grown and flourished since. Now I said that the previous boards left us in good shape and ready to are having the ability to expand and, and grow. Well, we did the same thing. When I went off the board, we still had very little debt, money in the bank, and so they were poised to continue to grow and, and, and prosper.
JD Wooten: Well, it sounds like that boy scout motto Be Prepared coming back full circle.
Frank McNeill: That's exactly right.
JD Wooten: So great things in your past, but I do want to focus on your current campaign. So turning to this, this campaign, this election cycle, you're running for District 21 in the North Carolina Senate covering Moore and a portion of Cumberland Counties. You're clearly a lifelong public servant, so the question of why you're running probably answers itself. Instead, I'll ask it this way. What convinced you to run for this seat, and this year?
Frank McNeill: This is a critical election. This seat is a Democratic seat. It's been redrawn, and so the current Senator Ben Clark was drawn out of the district last year, but it's essential that we maintain a Democratic seat in the legislature, in the State Senate. Currently, there are 22 Democratic senators. If we lose two of them, the governor no longer has a veto. And I think that's one of the things that has helped the state do so well past four years is that the Democrats and Republicans had to work together. You had to make compromises, but they worked together to things done. If one party is in charge and sometimes just ignore the other. And so we, we can't allow that to happen, but the things that are coming up education at a critical crossroads we need to expand Medicaid. A woman's right to, to choose, to make her own determination about her, her life and her, her body. These things are going to be in the legislature next year and in coming years. And so it's critical that this seat is maintained by a Democrat. Again, I love my community. I want to see Moore County, Cumberland County continue to prosper. And so that's why I got involved this year.
JD Wooten: Well, we're going to put a pin in the benefits of bipartisanship because we're going to wrap up with the recent ranking of North Carolina being number one for business. But when we come back to that, we'll talk about the benefits of bipartisanship a little bit more. So. I think the first thing that is on people's mind right now, even though gas prices are going down and job growth continues, the economy and inflation will probably stay top of mind for most voters. From your perspective, as both a business owner and as a former local official, what do you think the General Assembly should be doing right now to help everyday North Carolinians and the current economic climate?
Frank McNeill: Well, the, you know, I hear people say that the economy is suffering. The economy isn't suffering. The economy's running strong. Inflation is what's hurting us, obviously with rapid increasing prices just in the last year. There is a proposal to give a $200 gas tax rebate to all drivers that would put some money in his pocket right away. That would be a, a quick fix. The other thing would be the earned income tax credit or the child tax credit that we used to have. And it was voted out, I think in 2017 maybe. But those again are tax credits that would help working folks, people with children. And so that again, would put money back in their pockets that they could use. These are a couple things that, that, that could be done.
JD Wooten: I've heard a few of those before and, and it's always good to, to be reminded that we've got more tools in the toolbox that we could be using. But we've got to make sure we keep both parties at the table to, to see some of those through.
Frank McNeill: Right. And you know, the, one of the challenges for particularly women that have young children, they may have job opportunities, want to take a job, but if they've got a couple of children that are put into the daycare that eats up what they would earn on the job. And so it, it's kind of a double whammy, it takes them out of the job market. And then they don't have the satisfaction of, of following a, pursuing a career at that time. So there are things that can be done. We've just got to, to do 'em and, and I think what folks are wanting, we can sit around and talk, let's do something, let's get things done.
JD Wooten: Absolutely. All right, so another area that's gotten a fair bit of attention lately is public education. How is your experience working with the state legislature while you were on a school board and what do we need to be doing differently as a state to support our public schools and our students?
Frank McNeill: Well, I was only school board from 1998 to 2002. And so at that time, we didn't interact with the legislature a lot. They were doing a good job of funding the schools. We dealt more with the local county board for local funding, but we, we slipped back. You know, we had worked up to where we were in the middle of the pack with per spending, with teacher salaries. And now we're slipping to the back of the, back of the line. And so we’re, we’re at a critical state in education in my district, part of Cumberland County, all Moore County, today, there are 250 teacher positions open. Schools getting ready to start. 250 positions are, are open. We need to pay teachers better so that we can attract and retain quality teachers. But also we need more support staff. We need more counselors, probably SRO officers, psychologists. I think back to when I was in school, the teachers pretty much just had to teach the subjects in front of them, but there's so many more challenges to them now. Violence in schools. The problems at, at, at home that the children bring with them. Nutrition, many of the students, their best meals are the ones they receive at at school. And so there's so much more demand put on our teachers. So I think if we can increase pay to where it should be, then also provide the support staff that can take, take care of some of these other problem. Let the teachers concentrate on, on teaching.
JD Wooten: Follow up question on teacher pay. I'm curious your perspective as both a business owner, but also a former school board member. Some people focus on teacher pay, looking at things like those national rankings. Say North Carolina's 27th or 35th, or, you know, whatever we are when you do those national teacher pay, adjusted for cost of living, that sort of thing, as compared to other states. I've also seen another ranking that says, okay, we don't need to be comparing ourselves to other states for what the teachers are getting paid so much as we need to be looking at what people with commensurate education and professional experience are getting paid right across the street, in the private sector, so to speak. You know, so the idea being, we're not losing teachers to South Carolina or Virginia or Georgia or Tennessee so much as we're losing teachers to the job right across the street from the school in the, in the same economy, in the same market. Unfortunately on that measure, we're a whole lot lower as a state. Where would you tend to think that we need to be focusing more from your experiences with attracting top talent and, and retaining that talent?
Frank McNeill: Right. That's really, the bottom line is what does it take to fill your position? And you know, we could, some people say, well, it's at least get up to the national average of what teachers are earning, but you're right. Again, that's comparing teachers to teachers. And the competition's probably not other schools, it's their professions of the job opportunities. And so it's kind of the old, basic law supply and demand. We've got more demand than we've got supply. The way to increase supply is increase the, the pay, but then also the, the environment that they're teaching in. You can have a job that pays well, if you don't like your coworkers, if you don't like what you're required to do the job to where it's, it's no fun. Then probably not going to stay in that job. Same thing with the teachers pays an important part. Also, the being respected as a professional, having the support of their administration, their school board, having support of the parents. And so a lot going to making it a fun and enjoyable profession. And so we, we got to work on all of that.
JD Wooten: Now let's shift, if you don't mind, I know you're also very focused on economic development, especially bringing infrastructure improvements to support that development. What's your vision for your local area and how that can lead to long term good paying jobs for the Sandhills.
Frank McNeill: Several things that we need to be focusing on. One is broadband expansion. The urban areas, they're in great shape, but the rural areas, some even nonexistent or not very, not very good. And so to, for all of our district to be able to, to grow and prosper, we need good, strong broadband throughout the, the district and throughout the state. General infrastructure, water and sewer. If you have no water, you can't grow yet attract businesses to come in residential growth for that matter as well. Got to continue to improve our roads. I know over, around Fayetteville, it's getting all congested. And so there are road improvements a book they need to move forward, and we need to try to stay ahead best we can. So the, as used to say, so the farmers can get crops to market. The biggest, obviously economic driver is Fort Bragg. And so, as it has continued to grow, so has our area. But you know, not far from starting in a automobile plant, they're going to build a battery manufacturing plant up in Randolph County. We're not far from them. We don't have a lot of ancillary suppliers that will be suppling those huge factories. And so we need to position ourself to where we can take advantage of that. Hopefully attract some of those to our area. They'd be permanent, good paying job coming with those.
JD Wooten: Well, I know you're going to have some competition for attracting those ancillary services, cause everybody up here in Greensboro is talking about it too. You know, on that note, I suppose, turning back to that pen that we, we promised the bipartisanship and, and here's, how we make that transition. In a recent bright spot, North Carolina has been ranked as the number one state for doing business. And as I understand it, a huge part of that was it was twofold. One, the sources cited our economic development, but two, they cited our bipartisanship on matters pertaining to business and the economy. Now we may not have the greatest bipartisanship on a few other topics, but at least in that area, we seem to be getting along pretty well. So what do you think we need to be doing to make sure that all North Carolinians are benefiting from that business friendly environment we have?
Frank McNeill: Well you sort of hit on it? It truly has been bipartisan. The legislature made some tax reductions that helped attract. The Governor's come in and been a great promoter of the state. Also, I think we have, by by the Governor and the veto power and having to be a little more bipartisan in the legislature, we've started to stray away from some of the issues that really won't affect, cultural issues, that really don't affect people's daily lives. They don't affect our ability to attract industry. And so I think by concentrating on what really matters for people that that's, what's positioned North Carolina such a place right now. And hopefully we keep that going.
JD Wooten: Yeah. I like to think of 'em as the kitchen table issues. The culture war stuff makes for great click bait on the internet and headlines on cable news. But at the end of the day, that's the pocketbook issues. The kitchen table issues.
Frank McNeill: Right.
JD Wooten: So Frank, we've covered a lot already, but is there anything else we've missed that you want to highlight from your campaign?
Frank McNeill: We have covered a lot. You've done a good job of...
JD Wooten: Well, I appreciate that.
Frank McNeill: ...of asking me questions. No, this is going to be a very close rate. In fact on paper is probably the closest senate race in the state. Civitas rated is a D+0. North Carolina Policy I think had it as a R+0. So it's really a 50-50 race. And so it's going draw a lot of attention from, from both sides cause this is an important seat. Democrats can't afford to lose two. And and so this is going to be a, a crucial race. We're working hard to know that we do what we can to, to get the voters out, to get our message out. And so I appreciate so much the opportunity to chat with you and share a little bit about myself and, and about our race.
JD Wooten: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to do that. So the last question then, and perhaps the most important question of the day, where can people go to learn more about you, your campaign, sign up to volunteer, donate, and all that good stuff?
Frank McNeill: You can do all of that on our website mcneillfornc.com.
JD Wooten: Well, we'll make sure to leave a link in the show notes for everybody. Frank, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been a real pleasure.
JD Wooten: Thanks again to Frank McNeill for joining us today, and to everyone for listening. Links are in the show notes for everything from today’s episode. If you have questions or comments, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And again, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and share this episode with a friend. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!