ENC Regional News
12:34 am
Wed November 1, 2006

Profile: Willie Ray Starling, candidate for state House District 10

New Bern, NC – (Transcription of complete interview follows profile text.)

INTRO - The District Ten state House seat became open this year when incumbent Stephen Laroque lost a special election after he successfully challenged the initial primary before the state Board of Elections. He was defeated by Mt. Olive resident and former Wayne County Republican Party executive committee vice-chairman Willie Ray Starling, who faces Democrat Van Braxton in the General Election. George Olsen spoke with Willie Ray Starling and has this profile.

I'm not supposed to offer opinions on candidates, but I have a feeling that if I began and ended Mr. Starling's profile with this quote from the candidate, he'd be o-k with it.

04:59 and that's my goal is to be the Jesse Helms of the North Carolina State House.

Much like the man he referred to as my hero for Helm's Senate tenure, he doesn't hedge his opinions, as a quick scan through a listed top ten agenda on Starling's website indicates. Those priorities range from protecting private property rights to constitutional amendments regarding marriage and abortion though Starling notes the list isn't in order, just among the things he'd like done. Nevertheless, private property is at least the first thing he thought of when composing his list. His concern is linked not only to last year's U-S Supreme Court decision regarding eminent domain but local annexation issues in his resident Wayne County.

06:28 Here in this area Rosewood, they're trying to annex them here (interview was conducted in Wayne County) and in Kinston it's the same way. If you go out and annex another area, you're defeating the whole purpose of the U-S government, I think. The basic creation of this nation I think was Taxation without Representation, and when you go out and annex an area and people out there don't get a chance to vote on it, you're taxing them without representation. I think that it should be set up, and we're one of the few states in the nation that allow forced annexation right now and that needs to be changed.

His priorities also state balanced budget which the state is constitutionally required to do, but he feels the current method of producing that budget can produce wasteful spending and would like to see zero-based budgeting brought to the process.

27:47 You start off with you're not automatically getting anything. You come in and put your package together to justify your requirements and you look at what you did last year and you say you got a million dollars last year but you didn't get any return on it. You didn't accomplish anything for that million dollars, and the programs you have laid out this time don't warrant continuing this program, so maybe you abolish it.

He also wants to see a method used to help balance budgets abolished and that's transferring money from state trust funds into the general fund to help make up for shortfalls.

29:46 The Highway Trust Fund was put in place to build roads and maintain roads, and every year, they've taken over the last ten years billions of dollars out of that. I don't know the exact figure but they take 4-5 hundred million dollars out of that every year and move it to the General Fund. If it wasn't illegal, there needs to be a constitutional amendment state that a trust fund established is not used for any other purpose beyond what it was established for, and if that requirement goes away or its too much, then you should reduce the taxes.

He also advocates tax cuts, specifically the corporate tax, which he claims falls back on the consumer anyway. He pointed to the pen I was holding as an example of his contention.

31:26 All they do is increase the cost of the pen, the company, to pay the taxes, so really it's a double tax. The user is the one paying the taxes, not the corporation. The corporation has to collect it, they have to spend a lot of money on having people working in their audit departments and accounting departments to maintain those tax (unintelligible), so in my estimation we need to cut corporation/small business taxes, if not eliminate them altogether.

He'd also like a reduction in the gas tax, noting the taxes are higher than the per gallon cost he paid 35 years ago then jokingly notes some self-interest in that proposal in the decidedly unglamorous job of campaigning for a state House seat where the candidate handles the bulk of campaign activities himself.

31:26 That hurts yours and my pocketbook really hurts mine with all the riding up and down highways I've had to do campaigning.

Willie Ray Starling is the Republican candidate for the state House District Ten seat. I'm George Olsen.

Interview with Willie Ray Starling from October 11, 2006.

Was there a single determining factor that caused you to run for the state House of Representatives?

00:24 There's been a lot of deciding factors. I have run three times in the past. Seems like in the past I'd almost win every time. I worked with my heart about why I was doing it. It's always been my contention that North Carolina politics is kind of shady, at least since I've been back, and we needed someone to go up there who has what I call walking around sense, common sense, to be involved in it. I'm a country boy. I was born in Faison over there in Duplin County. I was conceived in Kinston so everyone knows my roots go back to Lenoir County. My father worked at Pulley's Barbeque and was killed in a car accident in February 1940. My mother was pregnant with me at the time, and when he was killed she moved back to my grandmother's which was over in Bear Swamp in Duplin County, and I was born in July of 1940 so I never really knew my father. I went into the service when I was 17 from Greensboro, which is where we were living at the time. We moved up there when I was in the 7th grade, but Bear Swamp and Faison was always home to me. I came back and it seemed like eastern North Carolina, east of I-95, was treated like a red-headed stepchild. The roads here are worse, and the middle of the state gets all the road dollars and everything else. The shenanigans that were going on, what they call the back-room deals being made in Raleigh, I looked at all of those and decided we need someone up there that is concerned with the working man and small businessman. I'm not rich. I'm 66 years old. I never set out to be rich. I worked for the federal government for 37 years in civil service worked in information systems all that time. I have a Bachelor of Science degree, and I said I'm a country boy but I'm an educated country boy, so the other three times I ran I prayed, I'm a religious man. I'm not a right-wing radical but I'm a Christian and I'm proud of it. I try to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I prayed real hard this time because it seemed the other times I was kind of doing it though I am a Christian I was doing what I wanted to do and didn't really know if that was what I was needing to do. I prayed for guidance and assistance and it all fell into place. Pastors got up, stood up with me, volunteers stood up this time, and I've got a sneaking suspicion that that's what brought it on is that people in my riding around and walking and talking and looking people in the eye and telling them what Ray Starling is all about, that they believe me, that that's what I'm for I'm not going to Raleigh to get rich. I never set out in life to be rich. I'm not going for my pocketbook or your pocketbook or my buddy's pocketbook. I'm going to Raleigh and do what makes sense for eastern NC for the whole state, for that matter.

If you had come out of the federal government rich, you know we'd have to investigate you.

04:13 (Laughs)

Have you held prior elected office?

04:22 No. I've worked within the Republican party. I was a vice-chairman of the Wayne County executive committee. I served on the executive committee for 6-or-8 years. I was a precinct chairman.

Looking at your website there doesn't seem to be much doubt on what you believe or where you stand on issues.

04:59 That's true. Jesse Helms was always kinda my hero when he was in the Senate. When he was elected in 1972 you always knew how Jesse was going to vote. His votes were always predictable. You may not have liked them, but you knew how he was going to vote. His votes were always predictable and always conservative. You didn't have to wonder when something came up in the Senate how Jesse was going to vote. You didn't have to wait until afterwards because you knew how he was going to vote beforehand, and the people of North Carolina as they came up with the term Jessecrats they kept voting him back in there, and that's my goal is to be the Jesse Helms of the North Carolina State House.

You have a list of ten priorities on your website. One of them concerned property rights. Was that a response to last year's U-S Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain or to local annexation concerns?

06:28 Both. That Supreme Court decision disturbed me tremendously as I'm sure it did most folks who own property. It's not right for the government to come in and take somebody's private property and give it to somebody else just because it will increase the tax base. That's not what established this nation. Forced annexation is another big deal of mine. Here in this area Rosewood, they're trying to annex them here (interview was conducted in Wayne County) and in Kinston it's the same way, but forcing people to be annexed into the city, the city fathers, if you would, the city fathers, they're putting the cart before the horse and what they need to be looking at, in my mind, is what are they doing in city government to leave the city rather than how can they keep expanding the tax base by going out and annexing other areas. If you go out and annex another area, you're defeating the whole purpose of the U-S government, I think. The basic creation of this nation I think was Taxation without Representation, and when you go out and annex an area and people out there don't get a chance to vote on it, you're taxing them without representation. I think that it should be set up, and we're one of the few states in the nation that allow forced annexation right now and that needs to be changed.

You've asked for a constitutional amendment toward that end. How do you see that worded?

08:02 I'm not a lawyer and probably it ought to be worded in just that way you will not annex an area without having the people voting on it. We don't have to get into a lot of legalese when we write constitutional amendments. You keep lawyers employed, and a lot of the problems we have in the state of North Carolina right now in my mind is that, I think it was four years ago that Carolyn Russell (former Wayne County state House Representative) said that it was 67% of the people who are legislators in North Carolina are lawyers. So they write laws so that there are loopholes in them and angles where you can go hire your lawyer and get out of it, like a speeding ticket. If you get a speeding ticket and you just go to court and pay the fine and we all speed but if you hire yourself a lawyer he'll find a loophole to get you out of it somehow or another. I don't think that's the way it ought to be if you've got enough money to hire a lawyer that you can worm your way out of whatever situation.

You discuss penalties for those who hire illegals, saying those jobs should go to teens and the unemployed. That would likely raise personnel costs and anger agricultural interests. How would you explain your viewpoint to farmers?

09:33 I don't know that it angers them. It's not cheap they pay about $10 an hour for illegal immigrants and its not illegal immigrants. It's illegal aliens. An immigrant is legal. If we put the situation together where people would go to work instead of sit on a front porch and sit and smoke and sleep at mine and your expense at taxpayer expense we did away with that and had a work program then farmers wouldn't have problems getting people to work the fields. People why should they go and work the fields when they can live off our tax money not do anything and make more than a farmer can pay them? The illegal aliens, they're a strain on our tax money. If you go to the hospitals today, they're full of illegals and they come in and whup a card on them and they don't pay anything and the cost of my insurance and your insurance goes up to pay for that. The social service programs that illegals take up on, it increases our taxes because it strains our system. They're printing ballots in Spanish today. They're you go to enclaves, and they're not trying to melt in. We're all immigrants, or most of us anyway, that came in here, but we came in legally through Ellis Island or however. My forefathers came in during the 1600's and served as an indentured servant for seven years to earn his way over here, and this was back in the 1630's or 1640's back there, so we're all immigrants here, but legal is what matters. We need to stop them at the borders, but that's a federal duty. They're supposed to do that. But in the state we can stop giving driver's licenses to illegals, which are used as identity cards and there's nothing been done to really stop that. They must use social security numbers but they didn't do that they must check but are they using a valid social security number. There are things we can do to stop illegal immigration in North Carolina.

We're changing over from a tobacco economy. What would you do as a state representative to aid farmers in the changeover?

12:41 I live in a farming community and they say they're getting away from tobacco, but as I ride around eastern North Carolina they've stopped the tobacco quota but I see more tobacco being grown than before. They're contracting now directly with the tobacco companies and growing it more, it's just not price controlled anymore, so they're making money. A friend who lives right up the street from me said it used to tickle me said the government's involvement in the tobacco program, it cut his tobacco allotment by 50%, and this has been four years ago now, but by cutting his tobacco allotment by 50% they cut his income by 50% because the tobacco crop is what was carrying him. His whole farm, that's where his profits were being made. He said that the government had cut his cotton allotment and had cut everything I've got except his ditch banks and now they won't let me cut them. There need to be these set-asides where you've got what's called a bluewater ditch that his grandfather dug and they want to call it a stream now not his grandfather, but his great-great grandfather grew. You can't cut 60 feet around it. They're taking a man's farm and not compensating him for it. That's not right in that area.

You've talked about reining in pork barrel spending. Are there specifics you'd like to see not funded and what would you like done to rein that it?

14:38 A teapot museum. They spent 3-or-4-hundred thousand dollars allocated to somebody who was a (House Speaker Jim) Black supporter to his area to build a teapot museum. I think there are more important areas where we can build than a teapot museum and that kind of thing. I know that if I go to Raleigh, you've got to compromise, and I will compromise. I will work with anyone that wants to work with us. Hopefully I can get the legislators east of I-95 to stand up and work together to bring industry and get eastern North Carolina moving like the central part of the state has. One of the areas that needs to be looked at is they spent I heard the figure of over a billion dollars on the Global Transpark in Lenoir County. The transpark got completed but no industry is moving in there, so why won't industry come in? Well, the infrastructure has never been completed. There's no road out of there well, there's roads, but you have to go through 72 stoplights to get to the interstate if you leave Kinston. There's no rail service into the Global Transpark. There's businesses that wanted to go into the Global Transpark, and there's one that comes to mind that was going to have 400 employees, it was a biodiesel outfit, but they needed a railroad spur and there's no railroad spur there. The state said they won't put a railroad spur because there's no requirement for it, but the businesses, they won't go in because there's no rail spur. That Transpark is a good idea. If they had planned it properly when they laid out the Transpark, when they ran I-40 from Raleigh to Wilmington as a direct route from Raleigh to the beach, if they'd been really looking they'd have looked at bringing I-40 down by the Global Transpark and down thru Morehead and then maybe a spur go to Wilmington. If they'd have done that, then maybe FedEx would be in Kinston right now if they'd have had an interstate out of there. If they'd have gone on down and put it down to Morehead, and they're talking about putting container ship ports in Southport, Southport's bedrock is at 25 feet and there's going to be some big money to make a harbor down there that a large container ship can come into, but you could go to Morehead, the depth down there is 40 feet, and they're right on the ocean, there would be no big development effort required to put a deepwater port in at Morehead, and that's where we're going to move out, it's imports and exports. Norfolk is a large ship area, Charleston, SC is a large ship area. South Carolina and Virginia have worked to expand that port capacity, and North Carolina is just sitting here doing nothing and we need to be working on developing a deepwater port for large container ships down at Morehead. If we did that, we could come out with railroads to the Kinston area and put a railroad distribution center somewhere around there and sit the containers right off the ships onto a railroad car, run it up to around the Global Transpark, take it off that rail spur and divide it up to that which go on roads if we had an interstate quality road out of there, and that which would go by air, and that which would go by rail, you'd have all that distribution right there in the center, just come in off of Morehead and get it out of the port just rapidly right into the distribution center, and that would cause a lot of industry to come into eastern North Carolina and those are the kind of areas we need to work on.

So at this point you think the Global Transpark is a good idea, just not particularly well handled to this point?

18:54. Yes. When they developed the Global Transpark, if they'd have looked at completing the infrastructure the railroads and highways out of there they've got a large four-lane highway out of Kinston they call the road to nowhere, right in front of the Global Transpark, it runs from 258 at one end to 58 at the other and that's the end of it that needs to be completed. What they really need to do is run an interstate quality highway out of there to the 95/40 interchange and industry would come there then. With that kind of with the rail capacity and road capacity, there's lots of good people in this part of the country who need jobs and are really capable, and the community college system in North Carolina is a great training program those are great training grounds and great opportunities to work with industry for training people, and we got the smart people in this part of the country who can be trained and can do these technical jobs if we bring them here so they'll stay. I'm from Faison, and this area is my home, but all my children live somewhere else because there's no jobs.

The ten priorities on your website don't directly mention education. Is there something you would like to see our education system doing in the way of improvements? How is our school system working?

20:43 The NC Education System is kind of like the whole state. The problems we have in education today in my mind is not a lack of funds. There are lots of funds. There's more money put in the school system per student today than when I was a child growing up. The problem we have in our school system today is they're dumbing down the schools rather than smartening them up. It's the lack of discipline in the classroom where our problems lie. I've had teachers who have retired and I've asked if you would go back to teach if you could get another job teaching and get your retirement check and they say absolutely not. I asked why not, and they say there's no discipline in the classroom and it was good for me to get out of the classroom because of that. The teacher's going into high schools today and some of them are scared of the kids. They just don't maintain discipline. So what's the answer to that? If we put discipline back into the hands of the teachers, at least have a teacher allowed to discipline a child who misbehaves out of the classroom, that would help solve the problem. If you get rid of the ones who are in there creating the problems, and there are always one or two troublemakers who are always stirring things up in a classroom and the other 25-30 children are being held back because the teacher is spending so much time on the disciplinarian role in the classroom, if they would go back and a child won't maintain discipline, they bring up reform schools they call them alternative schools today, I think get a child out of the classroom so that the ones who are in there are ones that want to learn and they can learn, and they won't be hampered and held back for the lack of discipline.

Sometimes the state community college system is referred to as a poor sister compared to the UNC system. Do you think it needs better funding from the state in light of your earlier mention about its status as an excellent training ground for industry?

23:07 I'm not 100% up to speed on the funding on the community college system. I think they just passed some bond issues to allow community colleges to build. If we get some industries in here, then those things will come. They can contract with private industry to teach, which Lenoir Community College does with this aircraft remanufacturing place they have over there. They've got a lot of equipment for remanufacturing where aircraft parts are no longer available they can make them and they've got the equipment over there to do that. There's a company just moved in over there that has the software where they do that. Those are the kinds of things the company will be paying the community college to train their people, and that will bring more funds. We need to prioritize it, and the education system needs to be at the top of the priority list, needs to be up high, to fund it adequately to do what its supposed to do, and I think we could do that if cut out on some of the other things. We need to prioritize them. I was in a meeting yesterday (Oct. 10, 2006) in Raleigh. They were talking about former House Speaker (Harold) Brubaker was talking about when the Republicans were in charge in 1994-95, that one two-year period, that when they went out of office they left a billion dollar surplus in the pot. They had rainy day funds, several of the funds that were pumped up they had cut taxes, and that when they went out of office within six months the Democrats squandered that billion dollar surplus and look where we are now under Democratic control with Speaker (Jim) Black and his shenanigans and raiding trust funds here and raiding trust funds there. They were saying that its over a billion dollars in the red for the next budget coming up because of spending with one-time money on recurring expenses, and that next year if I go up there we'll have a lot of trouble because we're a billion dollars in the red already for next year and we haven't even got there yet.

Let's talk about budget issues. You've mentioned that the budget needs to be balanced but the state is constitutionally required to produce a balanced budget. Are you concerned about the process that gets us there?

26:38 One thing they can do which has been presented from the Republican side is go to zero-based budgeting, and that means that every office has to come forward with their plan for the year for the next time that you don't start off the way it goes now if you get a million dollars this year in your budget, grant programs not policed, whatever if you got a million last year you start off with a million this year and then you just try to get more money. If we start with zero based budgeting you could determine areas that don't work and that haven't disbursed their funds and haven't got anything back for them, there's no return on it, you could eliminate some programs that way.

To make sure I'm clear on the concept of zero-based budgeting, rather than we received X amount of money this year so we'll start with that amount of money this year, instead you have to justify your existence by saying here are our needs, and then prioritize accordingly.

27:47 You start off with you're not automatically getting anything. You come in and put your package together to justify your requirements and you look at what you did last year and you say you got a million dollars last year but you didn't get any return on it. You didn't accomplish anything for that million dollars, and the programs you have laid out this time don't warrant continuing this program, so maybe you abolish it.

So more in the lines of you have to justify your existence on a yearly basis.

28:22 Exactly. That's basically what it is. You look at what you did and what you accomplished and what are you plans for improvement. If you don't put forth the right arguments, if your program is you're put together to decrease poverty, and your system gets a million dollars to decrease property and this year you have a hundred people below the poverty level. You spend your million dollars and the next year you come in and say I need two million dollars because I have 200 people in poverty. Well, you're not accomplishing anything. Your program needs to be reworked. You need to go look. We gave you a million dollars to take care of the hundred people in poverty last year and you spent the million dollars and you now have two hundred people in poverty. Something's not working.

You've said trust fund money has been misappropriated. What would you like to see done to keep that from happening in the future?

29:46 I'm reluctant to say let's pass another law because one of the problems we have is there are too many laws. The trust funds are being raided as I've said. The prime example that jumps out to me is the highway trust fund. The Highway Trust Fund was put in place to build roads and maintain roads, and every year, they've taken over the last ten years billions of dollars out of that. I don't know the exact figure but they take 4-5 hundred million dollars out of that every year and move it to the General Fund. They even went so far as the slush fund that (House Speaker Jim) Black dole out to the people who do their bidding and vote the way they want to, that you get a tea pot museum, and they take that money and move it. I think that was illegal anyway. If it wasn't illegal, there needs to be a constitutional amendment state that a trust fund established is not used for any other purpose beyond what it was established for, and if that requirement goes away or its too much, then you should reduce the taxes, not take the money out of the trust fund and spend it somewhere else.

You've advocated for tax cuts. Are there specific tax cuts you'd like to see?

31:26 Yes. I'm very much pro-business and pro-working man. Taxes in North Carolina are higher than in any state in the southeast. The gasoline tax is 53 cents a gallon. That's more than gasoline cost 35 years ago. I've pumped many a gallon of gas when I was a kid working at a service station at 17-9 cents. The gasoline tax is too high and that's a detriment to all of us. That hurts yours and my pocketbook really hurts mine with all the riding up and down highways I've had to do campaigning, but the corporate tax businesses are not going to move into North Carolina the way it is now because the taxes are higher than any other state in the southeast, and a corporate income is just another tax on the working man. Corporations don't pay taxes. They make profits. If a business is established, its established as a capitalist organization within a capitalist nation to make a profit, and he's going to invest his money in that business, and if he doesn't get a certain percentage of refunds on it, he's going to fold up and go out of business. When we put capital taxes on corporations, (pointing to pen I'm holding) that pen was manufactured somewhere, let's say it was manufactured here in North Carolina. All they do is increase the cost of the pen, the company, to pay the taxes, so really it's a double tax. The user is the one paying the taxes, not the corporation. The corporation has to collect it, they have to spend a lot of money on having people working in their audit departments and accounting departments to maintain those tax (unintelligible), so in my estimation we need to cut corporation/small business taxes, if not eliminate them altogether.