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11th District GOP candidates make opening arguments

Joey Osborne and Lynda Bennett test a microphone during an 11th Congressional District forum. Joey Osborne and Lynda Bennett test a microphone during an 11th Congressional District forum.

ASHEVILLE — Ten candidates for the Republican nomination for the open 11th Congressional District seat gathered at an AB-Tech auditorium  Saturday to introduce themselves, make their opening arguments to Republican voters and pledge their unwavering support of President Trump.

Along the way, candidates and the audience heard Madison Cawthorn’s astonishing personal story — he nearly died in a horrific car crash that left him a paraplegic — watched as a party executive tried unsuccessfully to expel an Asheville Citizen-Times reporter and editor from the venue and tried their hardest to project to the back row when the sound system failed.

“Good afternoon,” moderator Dale Folwell, the state treasurer, said to open the show. “Is this working or not?”
Not, would be the answer for all but one microphone until that one quit working, too.
The candidates on stage Saturday are competing for the Republican nomination for the seat that U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows has held since 2012. A little known sandwich shop owner who became a real estate developer, Meadows won the election to the newly redrawn safe Republican seat and rose to rock-star status among Tea Party members and became one of Trump’s staunchest allies in Washington. Although a court-ordered redo made the district slightly more favorable for a Democrat — now all of Buncombe is in the 11th instead of just the red-leaning parts — most analyses have projected that it will remain in the Republican column.
The 10 candidates uttered very little that would separate themselves from one another. (Asheville investment CEO Matthew Burril has dropped out and Wayne King, Meadows’ top district-based aide, had a previous commitment at a family event.) All who mentioned him professed to support Trump unequivocally, all strongly supported the Second Amendment, opposed abortion and lamented what they agreed was an unacceptable erosion of states’ rights guaranteed under the 10th Amendment. To a person, they pronounced themselves free traders who had been converted to supporters of tariffs because, they said, Trump had made them work.
Here are brief capsules of the candidates and their opening statements:

Madison Cawthorn, Hendersonville. An eighth generation native of Western North Carolina, Cawthorn has the most dramatic personal story. Six years ago, after his high school graduation, he had won a nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy. “My plans were derailed, though, when I was on a road trip with a good friend of mine,” he said. “We were driving at 70 mph down in Florida and for whatever reason he fell asleep at the wheel. The car ran headlong into a concrete wall and my life was changed forever. After being burned alive, having every major bone structure in my body broken and coming to within an inch of death, I spent a long time in the hospital. There was months and months in the ICU and in a rehab hospital before I was able to return to my wonderful mountain community. Many of you in this room have prayed for me and those prayers sustained me and they got me through.”
Back home, Meadows offered him a job as a staff aide.
“I learned what it is to be a statesman from him,” he said. “I saw him work up close. When I heard that he was stepping down, I realized that now is the time to act. I realized we have no time to waste.”

Vance Patterson, Morganton. Seated next to the handsome young Cawthorn and his thousand-watt grin, Patterson quipped, “Before my time starts I want to announce that Madison will be doing the smiling for me today.” A graduate of Hanover College, Indiana, in 1972, whose graduates include polar opposites Mike Pence and Woody Harrelson, Patterson is a father of four who calls himself “a serial entrepreneur” who has started 21 companies (“my wife calls it Fruit Loops cereal entrepreneurship”). “My campaign is about supporting Trump in Washington with his agenda,” he said. His national issues are “health, security, reducing the debt and term limits, drug abuse, security at the border, better paying jobs, education and infrastructure.”

Steven Fekete Jr., Lenoir. A native of Brooklyn, Fekete, 62, moved to the North Carolina mountains 40 years ago after serving in the Air Force. His family in Hungary was “invaded by the Russians after World War II. After the war was over, they didn’t want to leave.” In 1956, his parents, part of the resistance, came to the U.S. because it “was either leave or die,” Fekete, a retired UPS automotive technician, said. “The ones who remained either submitted to the Russians or were hung from trees or shot or killed by the river until the river was red with their blood. So every day is a crossroad. You follow empty promises or follow the freedom to create your own rights. Your rights are limited to life, liberty and happiness, those given by God. The rest of opportunity is your responsibility. And when Bernie says, ‘Health care is a right.’ Your right is my responsibility. His right to health care is not my responsibility.”

Albert Lee Wiley Jr., Atlantic Beach. Although his address is Atlantic Beach, Wiley has deep roots in Western North Carolina. He married a girl from Haywood County whose roots go back generations. His mother grew up in Rutherford County and his father was from Highlands and he has maintained a home in Rutherford County for the past 25 years. A graduate of N.C. State University in nuclear engineering, he later earned a medical degree and became a cancer specialist. He served in the Navy Reserves veteran in the Vietnam era and has worked in clinics from Cherokee to Buncombe counties. Over the past 10 years has deployed with a nuclear response medical team to Iraq, Israel, Russia, Venezuela and elsewhere. He ran for Congress in 1984 in Wisconsin. “If I were fortunate to be in (Congress) I’d like to focus on medical care, public health, conservation as well as foreign policy issues such as preventing nuclear war,” he said.

Joseph “Joey” Osborne, Hickory. A lifelong North Carolinian, Osborne is CEO of Authority Franchise Systems, a mosquito control company that serves 85 client in 35 states, Puerto and Canada. “Take back control of government” sums up his campaign, he said. “There’s a reason that 85 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with Congress. Sixty-five percent think America is on the wrong path and the reason for that is we’ve had our government stolen from us by politicians.” He quotes James Madison, who wrote in 1780 that founders’ “biggest fear is that entrenched and established faction politicians would become so pervasive that our system of checks and balances cease to function.” “If our checks and balances have not ceased to function,” he said. “I don’t know when they will.”

Lynda Bennett, Maggie Valley. Bennett moved to Hendersonville in 1983 after graduating from college. She and her husband, Pat, moved to Maggie Valley 26 years ago. A real estate agent for more than 32 years, Bennett claims the only Meadows endorsement among all candidates — the congressman’s wife, Debbie. “Always try to negotiate from a position of strength,” Bennet said. “And that is why I am going to join the Freedom Caucus on Day 1. The Freedom Caucus is one of the most powerful and important caucuses in Washington, D.C. They’ve actually killed bills and pulled legislation to the right. I am also a pro-life, pro-Trump, pro-Second Amendment. I am a small business owner and I will defend small business owners from burdensome regulation and taxation.”

Jim Davis, Franklin: An orthodontist, Davis served for 10 years as a Macon County commissioner before winning a state Senate seat. “What do you suppose is the question on everybody’s mind? Where do I stand for Trump? I will tell you that I support Trump,” he said. “As a matter of fact I was voting for Trump’s policies five years before he was president in the North Carolina Senate. We have transformed the state” from heavy debt and overspending to a $900 million surplus and an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent. Voted one of the six most conservative members of the Senate, he boasts the highest rating from NRA and “a zero rating from Planned Parenthood.”

Dillon Gentry, Banner Elk: A six-year Marine Corps infantry squad leader, Gentry is a sales rep who also works as a firearms instructor in a “small tactical school” that he started with a former platoon commander. “Honestly I don’t particularly want to be a congressman,” he said. “I like where I live and I don’t want to have to spend a lot of time in D.C. I think we’re all on the same page as far as small government and reducing the deficit, etc. etc. It goes to what your fundamental view of what the federal government is and if you think that the federal government should be relatively limited in its power then you have to acknowledge the fact that a single congressman is not that powerful, nor should they be. I believe we need to change the way we view our representatives. Stop acting like they’re leaders. They’re supposed to be representatives of the geographic area they came from. The job is to simply preserve the republic. I don’t see putting their name on a bunch of bills necessarily as a mark of success. I’m just an average person. I don’t have the traditional pedigree of someone that would hold this office and that’s precisely why I’m running.”

Dan Patrick Driscoll, Winston-Salem: A graduate of Watauga High School in Boone, Driscoll graduated from UNC in three years and joined the military during the Iraq surge under President George W. Bush. After completing officer candidate school and Ranger school, he deployed in 2009 to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Light Infantry Division, serving as a Calvary Scout platoon leader. Back home, he earned his law degree at Yale on the G.I. bill. He works for a company that helps small businesses in North Carolina. He and his wife, Cassie, have children ages 4 and 2. “The reason I’m running, I care about my kids, the country’s in a weird state and we’ve got to step in and fix this,” he said. “Our debt is not sustainable. As a small business owner, regulation has crushed us in some of the things we’ve tried to do. We have to rein that back. National security is the No. 1 thing our government can possibly do, to keep us safe,” and his background and experience give him credibility on security.

Chuck Archerd, Asheville. After working as a managing partner for a CPA firm, he founded a real estate investment company in 2001. He said that in a recent conversation with Rep. Meadows, the congressman had lamented “Washington speak. That’s where politicians talk about what they’re going to do and then they talk about what they’re going to do, and then they don’t do anything. He said when you get a small business person up there, they go in and they start saying what is our objective, what is our timeline and how are we going to accomplish it. … I’m 110 percent behind President Trump. What they’re doing right now with that impeachment sham is absolutely ridiculous. I think that we need to work to get him re-elected in a landslide this fall and retake the house and send Nancy Pelosi back to San Francisco to pick up the needles.”

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Return to the Hendersonville Lightning and see this week’s print issue for more on the 11th Congressional District Republican forum.