Government shutdown headlines District 11 congressional debate

Western Carolina’s campus filled with eager voters who were mostly older men and women with a sprinkle of youth here and there among the crowd as incumbent Mark Meadows (R-Jackson) and Rick Bryson (D-Swain) took center stage for debate.

The Black Lives Matter movement, government shutdowns, and law enforcement were just a few of the highlighted topics of debate between Meadows and Bryson that raised emotions of outrage, standing ovations, and whispers among the audience.

Photo by: David Johnson

Both candidates answered questions provided by the moderator and WCU students. Photo by: David Johnson

The crowd became energized when the moderator asked the candidates if they would ever support a government shutdown midway into the debate, which sparked vocal responses and applause from the crowd after each response.

Meadows answered first, clarifying that he was not the architect of the government shutdowns in Washington D.C. According to Politico story from 2015 Meadows “has been leading member of the group of GOP lawmakers who forced a government shutdown in 2013.”

“How can a man, in his first eight months in Washington, shutdown the whole federal government by himself?” asked Meadows, which got a few chuckles from the crowd.

Meadows went on a long monologue regarding the Appropriation Bill, and stated that he and Jim Jordan devised an amendment on Monday morning called the Anti-Shutdown Provision (see his statement in our twitter feed). If congress can’t come to an agreement, this amendment would allow existing funding for agencies to extend for 40 days until a new president and a new congress are elected.

This news inspired a standing ovation from the audience. Bryson exhibited an unamused expression as he waited for the applause to die down.

Bryson stated that he does not support government shutdowns, and even held up a paper signed by Meadows that showed him supporting government shutdown to remind the crowd that Meadows was strongly for government shutdown at one point.

This response from Bryson was met with applause and cheers from his supporters.

Bryson said that the shutdown supported by Meadows had costed the district alone $23 million, and questioned why Meadows, who is suppose to represent us, was willing to hurt us.

Bryson took it a step further, holding up a photo of a local woman who has a severe form of cancer, stating that she had exhausted all possibilities for treatment except for a drug testing opportunity that was closed due the shutdown.

“Meadows shut the door on this lady’s treatment because of his support of the government shutdown,” said Bryson.

Mark Meadows emphasizes his point about government shutdowns. Photo by: Haley Smith

Mark Meadows emphasizes his point about government shutdowns. Photo by: Haley Smith

The tension and emotion of the debate had declined following the topic of government shutdown through questions about Black Lives Matter and gun laws that had a lesser effect on the crowd.

Regarding gun violence and the ongoing protests in Charlotte, Bryson said he believes the solution is to better integrate law enforcement into the community. Meadows disagreed.

“To say that law enforcement is not part of our community is part of the problem,” said Meadows. “They are in our churches, they are in our restaurants and I have nothing bad to say about them.”

In regards to gun laws specifically, Bryson said that he wants to see every person have registration for the guns that they own. Meadows doesn’t think that the law is the issue.

“It has nothing to do with the laws,” said Meadows. “It has to do with the hearts of the individuals.”

Bryson believes that the freedom to own guns should take a backseat.

“What is the greater freedom? I say it’s the freedom to live,” said Bryson.

The candidates finished with their closing statements, during which both candidates got two minutes to make a final impression on the audience.

Bryson spoke first, putting heavy emphasis on Meadows harming the district with his support of the government shutdown, jobs that have fell while Meadows has been in office, and Meadows’ use of “sly political tactics” to fool the voters into to electing him again.

About 200 people were present for the debate. Photo by: Haley Smith

About 200 people were present for the debate. Photo by: Haley Smith

“I still support Rick Bryson because I feel like, being a Democratic candidate, he has promoted more change in this county. Being an African American in a rural area, I feel like he is trying to help change and make a more safe environment,” said Western Carolina student Hlekani Totten.

After applause in support of Bryson, Meadows replied in his two minute closing speech by stating that he goes to Washington for the people of North Carolina, he listens to the individuals who reach out to him with his personal responses to them, and closed by holding up his voter badge.

“This badge may have my face on it, but it does not belong to me, it belongs to the people of this district and North Carolina. I go to work for you every day and with you all in mind,” said Meadows.

“I still support Mark Meadows. I think his wrap-up comments summed it up for me because I was one of those people he looked in the eye and said he would do everything he can for and represent this area. I feel like he has done that and done a good job,” said local citizen Gail Debnam.

The night left many people confident in Meadows, but a lot of people are now paying more attention to what Bryson brings to the table as the challenger.

“Both candidates made some strong points tonight that saw potential policy differences between the candidates. Both candidates had some high points. Meadows needs to remind voters about what he has done in office, and Bryson needs to get his name out there and show himself as a better alternative and what plans he has to improve the region,” said political science professor and Director of the Public Policy Institute, Todd Collins.

Haley Smith contributed in reporting and editing of the story.