DOBSON — A former educator is hoping to come out on top in a race against a veteran lawmaker.
On Tuesday, voters will decide if incumbent N.C. Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-90) will get a fifth term in office or if Democrat challenger Vera Smith Reynolds will take the seat.
Stevens, 55, is a Mount Airy attorney, and Reynolds, 67, is a retired teacher who also lives in Mount Airy.
Reynolds said she spent more than 32 years reaching students. For the past few months, however, she’s been trying to reach voters with her message — change is needed in Raleigh.
Reynolds said she takes issue with the manner in which the GOP-led legislature has addressed education needs in North Carolina.
“It really concerned me when they got rid of tenure for teachers,” said Reynolds.
While acknowledging there were a few tenured teachers who probably needed to go, she said the effects have been devastating for the education system.
“They got rid of a lot of good, dedicated teachers when they did that,” explained Reynolds. “Others feel as if their jobs are now threatened.”
She said teachers have their hands tied when it comes to available resources such as books and school supplies. There is simply not enough money in school budgets to purchase everything which is necessary to lead students to success.
“It bothers me when students don’t have what they need and are forced to make do,” remarked Reynolds.
However, Reynolds’s life experiences aren’t limited to the classroom. After becoming the caretaker for her elderly mother, Reynolds believes an overhaul of the Medicaid program is needed.
“There is a lack of funding there and many issues,” said Reynolds. “Changes need to be made to that program.”
Reynolds also questioned the reasons for the passage of House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill.”
“It was an absolute waste of taxpayer money to hold a special session for that law, and it has hurt North Carolina,” said Reynolds.
Stevens said her fifth term in the General Assembly may yield a position of increased responsibility. She has been asked to seek the seat of Speaker Pro Tempore, the second in command in the House of Representatives. However, it has been her hard work throughout the course of the past eight years which has led to that development.
“I’m really proud of my work in the foster care system,” said Stevens. “We have done some great things there.”
Stevens said prior to the efforts she led, foster children weren’t allowed to take part in school activities, as foster parents lacked the legal authority to sign a waiver or permission slip. Foster children were also “thrown onto the streets” at age 18.
The veteran lawmaker said she spearheaded changes to the system. Foster parents can now sign a permission slip so a kid can go on a field trip or to prom or a waiver so he or she can take part in extra-curricular activities. Foster parents can continue to receive benefits for a foster child after the child reaches the age of 18, allowing for a transition into the adult world.
Stevens said work is underway to set up an automobile insurance policy for foster children. The children could get their driver’s licenses even if the foster family cannot afford an insurance policy for the child.
Though she likes to tout her work in the foster care system, Stevens said the General Assembly has been busy doing much more throughout the course of the past few years.
“We’ve changed the tax structure and have gotten spending under control,” said Stevens as she listed accomplishments. “We have seen a $452 million increase in tax collections, and we’ve set aside $1.5 billion in the rainy day fund.”
If she gets another term, Stevens said she will look forward to continued work in the area of foster care and efforts to overhaul the courts system.
Stevens said her record makes it quite clear what voters are choosing should they pull the lever for her name on Tuesday.
“If you want experience, school choice, the continued right to bear arms, smaller government and wise spending, then I’m the one for the job,” said Stevens.
Reynolds can’t make a run on experience in government, but she said she will go to Raleigh with the best of intentions and many life experiences on which she can base decisions.
“I have the interests of residents at heart,” said Reynolds. “I will represent the people the way they want to be represented, and Surry and Wilkes Counties will always be in my top drawer.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.