Rick Wood is challenging for the local state senate seat.
He is challenging powerful six-term State Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville, in Senate District 48 which represents Henderson and Transylvania counties and much of southern Buncombe. Election Day is Nov. 4.
“The economy, schools and environment are my top three issues,” Wood said.
Wood, who led West Henderson Falcons in 1989-2006 for 17 of his 40 seasons as a head coach, winning 20 or more games 16 times and reaching the 1992 state title game undefeated. He won the 1995 award as top high school coach in the state. Two of his Falcon squads had the highest team GPA of any men’s basketball team in the state.
He is in his second term on the school board. Wood “is the most prepared of anyone,” colleague Mary Louise Corn said. “He brings a determined yet respectful opinion to all topics.” Wood is chairman of the Henderson County Education History Initiative. His wife Beverly taught elementary physical education for 41 years.
Wood, a 1966 Auburn alumnus, is a fit 71 years young. He taught mostly history. He demonstrates civics lessons. “I can set an example in grass-roots democracy, and act out principles I taught in history about being a good citizen.”
He can bring his coaching lessons to the General Assembly. “You learn the value of hard work, playing by the rules, accepting roles and teamwork. You deal with disappointment. Losses are not crushing, unless you let them be.”
Wood spoke out against officials’ calls cordially but vigorously as West’s coach, said his former point guard Luke Manuel who is Hendersonville Middle School’s principal. “Coach Wood was a competitor. He said ‘always respect an opponent. But never fear them, and never back down.’ He would stand up for what was right — such as in challenging a call. He asserted himself, by talking to the refs.”
He added, “He’s a man of faith. He’d lead by example.” Wood noted that “my faith is the compass that guides what I do.”
Wood campaigns an average of seven hours daily. He has spoken at numerous rallies and forums on social and financial issues. As the underdog, he is doing his best to connect with voters and make that “long shot” for victory.
“We’re taking on one of the most powerful guys, with a lot of special-interest money (received earlier) in a conservative district,” he said. “It is kinda a David versus Goliath situation. But our campaign team has Republicans and unaffiliated, in addition to Democrats. I don’t think it’s as long a shot as I once thought it was. We have a fighting chance. We give voters a good option.”
Wood said “I tend to be very fiscally responsible. Democrats have been accused of not caring enough about the deficit. My votes on the school board include to make do with less money.” He favored a state balanced budget requirement years before it was enacted.
A difference in the two main parties in Raleigh is on “how you balance the budget,” Wood said. “I put higher priorities on public education, the environment and jobs. He has some different priorities.”
He said the tax cut was too small for the middle class. He ripped the removal of the earned income tax credit, for poorer workers.
A prime issue separating the parties is Medicaid health coverage. The GOP wants to spell out payments better, and control spending. Wood countered that some “poor have been denied health care coverage, because of the General Assembly’s refusal to expand Medicaid. We’re losing many health care jobs, because of cutbacks hospitals have to make due to lack of (government) funding. I saw that Pardee Hospital is operating in the red this year after losing nearly $5 million for Medicaid, after several years in the black.”
He also wants unemployment coverage reinstated. “The recession is not over, for many North Carolinians. Many are still suffering.”
On teacher pay, Wood said “in 2013, they (GOP leaders) said they didn’t have money for teacher raises. In 2014, they scrounged around and found money for raises. But it’s about how they did it. The House version said to use more money from the lottery. But they went for the Senate proposal, to eliminate half of the teacher assistants in the state. They take away from education on one side, to give those raises. They said they’re giving teachers an historic raise. They didn’t study history or their math lessons. It’s not historic. And the math is fuzzy.”
He said Republican Gov. Pat McCrory “admits the average raises are 5.5 percent, not 7. They took away longevity they receive once a year” up front. “They put it in each month.” The pay structure subs merit pay for prior tenure guarantees, and no longer pays more for advanced degrees. “The raises are weighed very heavily for newer teachers,” Wood said. “Older teachers receive much less — 0.3 to 4 percent. A 29-year veteran teacher will receive an increase of $14.30 per month.”
Education funding can help produce a higher-skilled work force and in turn attract more industry, he said. He favors tax incentives for new industries, but with “guarantees in writing they’ll provide a certain number of jobs and be here for a certain time — or they have to pay it back.”
Wood opposes gerrymandering of districts, and calls for restoring funding of local mental health clinics. He is for further I-26 widening, the governor’s regionalizing of economic development, and greater Internet “broadband access to bring in more businesses.”
On regulations, “we need to lighten the hoops small business owners go through. They are a life blood of our economy.”
Wood said “I’m for fairly tough environmental standards.” This year, the GOP clamped down on coal ash ponds after a Duke Energy spill. “Before the big spill, some environmental groups were trying to sue Duke Energy. DENR fined Duke chump change, to try to get environmental groups off of their back.”
Wood is leery about legislators this year allowing “fracking” for coal off the state’s coast — which environmental groups say is extra porous, and vulnerable to contamination. Wood asked “why have a (proposed) rule saying it is against the law to reveal what chemicals the company shoots into the ground? Why hide that? In other states, they’re finding gas coming into water faucets.”
Early voting begins in a week, on Oct. 23. For more about Rick Wood, check www.voterickwood.com.