Standing for eastern ‘Carolina

Published 5:02 pm Friday, February 24, 2023

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AHOSKIE – “This is our first town hall meeting, and we’re kicking it off right here in Hertford County,” said US Congressman Don Davis as he greeted the crowd on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Davis, who was elected last November to represent North Carolina’s first congressional district in the US House of Representatives, visited Roanoke-Chowan Community College on Tuesday evening to give constituents an overview of his priorities and answer their questions.

The congressional district covers 19 counties in northeastern North Carolina, including all four in the Roanoke-Chowan area. Before heading to Washington DC to represent the district on the federal level, Davis also previously served as a state senator and as mayor of Snow Hill, his hometown. Additionally, he spent eight years in the US Air Force.

“As your congressman, I’ve come to reassure you that we’re standing with you and we’re standing in this fight for eastern North Carolina,” Davis emphasized in his opening remarks.

Davis explained that he has been appointed to the agriculture and armed services committees in Congress, and providing support for both industries are some of his main focuses during the current congressional session. But healthcare access is another top priority as well.

U.S. Congressman Don Davis (left) chats with an individual following his “town hall” style meeting on Tuesday evening at Roanoke-Chowan Community College. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

“We tend to have the highest health disparities in the state,” he said, noting that those disparities include higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, as well as lower life expectancy.

Medicaid expansion, he noted, would help support the 95,000 people in eastern NC that fall into coverage gaps as well as help boost economic development by providing more healthcare jobs.

North Carolina is one of 11 states that has not expanded Medicaid yet, and even though the state legislature is currently working to finally do it now, Davis is working on exploring federal alternatives if necessary. If statewide expansion falls through, for example, perhaps they may be able to do a regional Medicaid expansion instead.

Davis also shared a few highlights from his “Live the Dream” tour, where he’s been learning more about opportunities for young people throughout the district. Many young people leave the area looking for better prospects, but Davis wants to reverse the trend.

“There’s vast opportunity here in eastern North Carolina, and I believe we need to, now more than ever, tell our story. Restore hope with our young people so that they see that, yes, they can live the American Dream in eastern North Carolina,” he said.

One person during the Q&A portion of the evening circled back to the topic of young people again, asking Davis for more insight into what can be done to reach that demographic.

“Seventeen of the 19 counties [in this district] lost population. This was the only place in the state it happened this way,” Davis said of the dire need to focus on supporting young people.

In his talks on the tour, Davis said he’s heard young people list the lack of education opportunities, amenities, and good-paying jobs as reasons why they would move away from the area. Some may choose to leave, but others may feel like they have no other choice but to leave.

He then opened the floor to any young adults in attendance to share their thoughts on the situation.

Both people who chose to speak were local teachers: one from Roanoke-Chowan Community College and the other from Hertford County Middle School. Their suggestions included providing more specialized schooling locally – so students don’t have to move away to further their education – and giving students more things to do afterschool to keep them safer and away from trouble.

Another citizen asked about providing more alternatives to college for students as well.

“Often, there are programs that are already out there,” Davis replied.

Rep. Davis responds to a question during his visit to the local area. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

But he noted that sometimes people aren’t aware of those programs or there are barriers to entry that keep people from signing up. Occasionally, there are also programs with good starts but not enough support to sustain them. Davis said it was important to continue the conversation about these programs in order to overcome those issues.

During the Q&A session, other citizens touched on a variety of topics, including Social Security funding, broadband expansion, and infrastructure.

In his responses, Davis said he firmly supported the Social Security and Medicare programs staying intact, and that they shouldn’t be tied to conversations about the federal debt ceiling. For broadband, he suggested that expansion could be deployed through a mix of both fiber and wireless options, which would speed up the process of bringing internet to unserved rural areas.

“I’ve been an advocate for wireless because I know it works,” he stated. “It may not be as durable as fiber, but I know wireless will work.”

At the end of the “town hall” meeting, Davis introduced his staff members who are available to help with a variety of issues. Each person works together with specific federal departments in order to get answers for constituents who have problems that need to be resolved.

“We’ve hit the ground running. We’re here to work for you, to work for our community,” Davis said. “We’ve not always received our fair share [in eastern North Carolina], so it’s time for us to speak up loud and clear.”