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Thomas: Congress bid focused on region's needs

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Democratic Third Congressional District candidate Allen Thomas (center) laughs as he’s introduced by Dr. Hezekiah Brown (left) to a crowd of supporters at a meet-and-greet event at Brown’s house in Elizabeth City, Wednesday. Larry Brown is at right.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Democrat Allen Thomas said Wednesday he’s running for Congress to focus on the needs of eastern North Carolinians — in contrast, he said, with the recent Republican primary “dominated” by national interests and outside money.

Thomas, the former mayor of Greenville and former director of the Global TransPark in Kinston, discussed his candidacy and platform in an interview at the offices of The Daily Advance, visiting Elizabeth City and the northeast just hours after unveiling his campaign’s priority issues and plans in Greenville.

Thomas’ appearances also come on the heels of the victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary by state Rep. Greg Murphy, a doctor and fellow Greenville resident. Murphy and Thomas, plus two third-party candidates will appear on ballots for a Sept. 10 general election that will decide who finishes the two-year term of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who passed away in February.

Thomas won the Democratic primary in April decisively — meaning he wasn’t competing in Tuesday’s vote — but his campaign has stayed “extremely busy,” he said, building grassroots support, including talking with farmers, fishermen, small business owners and others. Third District residents are diverse but have many shared needs and interests, Thomas said.

He also described himself as focused on local needs, in contrast to a GOP primary he described as dominated by national issues and outside groups’ spending.

“There’s always folks that want to sensationalize and nationalize (elections), but at the end of the day, we have real urgent needs across eastern North Carolina,” he said.

Thomas said his priorities for the 3rd Congressional District include affordable health care, infrastructure and broadband, support for the military, education and workforce development, hurricane preparedness, and civility and bipartisanship.

Thomas said health care is at a “tipping point” in the United States and eastern North Carolina, citing the struggles of rural hospital systems such as Greenville-based Vidant and the rising costs of prescription drugs. Thomas added he even agrees with President Trump’s approach to trying to lower drug prices by having pharmaceutical companies share in more costs.

However, Thomas also argued it’s imperative to expand Medicaid. It’s not the long-term solution to better, affordable health care, but people are “dying” and need better access to coverage now, he said.

Thomas also said he opposes single-payer health care, which is favored by some Democrats, but does favor looking at a public option or a Medicare buy-in. Single-payer health care would have the government provide all health coverage, while a public option or Medicare buy-in would allow people to buy government or private insurance.

On infrastructure issues, Thomas said he has worked across party lines and levels of government before to bring investments to Greenville and the TransPark, including working with the state’s congressional delegation, former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and others. He pledged to bring that same approach to Congress.

He also said he would push for more investment to combat flooding, and worsening hurricanes across eastern North Carolina. While he acknowledged Trump and other administration officials have expressed skepticism of climate science, Thomas said the impacts of worsening hurricanes and rising seas are being felt across the region.

“If you want to understand climate change, go ask a farmer,” he said, adding he hopes Congress can agree to address flooding issues regardless of underlying views on climate change.

Though stressing his focus on local issues, Thomas did also address a few national issues Wednesday, including:

• The investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian intervention in the 2016 election, and Mueller’s suggestion that Trump tried to unduly influence his investigation. Mueller has stopped short of accusing the president of obstruction of justice. Thomas said he opposes trying to impeach Trump, barring a “smoking gun” of more serious issues emerging. Instead, he believes Trump should be held accountable at the ballot box. He added he’d rather pressure Trump on infrastructure funding than try to impeach him.

• Immigration issues. Thomas said he would have voted for a recent immigration bill that provided more than $4 billion for the nation’s response at the southern border, much of that funding intended to provide humane conditions for migrant families and children. Thomas said the humanitarian crisis at the border must be addressed. He also said that, while the nation’s sovereignty and borders must be protected, he believes a pathway to citizenship should exist for undocumented but otherwise law-abiding immigrants. He also described mass deportations of undocumented workers, which have been suggested by some politicians taking a hard line on immigration, as neither desirable or feasible.

• Escalating tensions with Iran. Thomas said Trump should not have withdrawn from the U.S.’ nuclear deal with Iran, describing it as part of an international approach to keep the nation’s nuclear program in check. He questioned what the president’s strategy is for Iran — Thomas described it as the “number one” terror sponsor in the Middle East — but also acknowledged sanctions are working against the country. Congress should have a say in hostilities against the country, if necessary, Thomas added.

In arguing voters should choose him over Murphy, Thomas argued he’s a native of the district and has deep family ties to it, as well as experience running businesses in the region. He also argued his depth of government and business experience make him the better candidate, and pledged that, if elected, his office will be more responsive to northeastern North Carolina, including trying to have a regional office or representatives.