Editor’s Note: Today we begin our compilation of interviews with candidates seeking local office. The interviews will continue through Sunday with an overall election story and the sales tax referendum story.

FOREST CITY — Two candidates are on the ballot for the North Carolina State Senate seat for District 47. Republican incumbent Ralph Hise and Democratic candidate Mary Jane Boyd are vying for the seat, and each took time to respond to a series of questions regarding the position. District 47 is comprised of these counties — Rutherford, Polk, Yancey, Mitchell, McDowell and Madison.

Why are you seeking this office?

Hise: Our district has improved in every measurable economic indicator since I took office in January 2011. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation has ranked our state as the 11th best in the nation, while the 2017 State Business Tax Climate Index ranks North Carolina ahead of almost all other southeastern states, just two years after we attained the most drastic improvement in the history of the Index — jumping from 44th to 15th in just one year. This improved business tax climate has resulted in nearly 400,000 new jobs across our state in the last four years and low unemployment in every county across the state, as well as in our district. In 2010, the state’s average unemployment rate was 11 percent. Since I took office, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen to 4.6 percent (as of July 2016, the latest date for available figures). An even greater contrast is Rutherford County’s unemployment rate which has fallen from 16.7 percent in 2010 to 6.7 percent as of July, 2016.

I am proud of the accomplishments we have achieved in this short time, but it is evident that there’s more work to be done. If re-elected I will continue to look for ways to fine-tune and sustain our economic growth through de-regulation and tax reform, two key components of the best climate for job creation.

Boyd: I am running for the N.C. Senate because the people of North Carolina deserve to be well represented in our state government and not be at the mercy of special interests. Growing up in a large close-knit family, I learned to reach out and extend a hand up to the people in our community.

Like most people here, taking care of each other is a part of my core ethics: We need someone in Raleigh to address these important issues facing us by: (a) keeping our Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, strong to protect your home and family; (b) holding Duke Energy accountable for the coal ash being transported into Rutherford County without considering the effects on the residents; (c) making health care work for everyone(d) supporting local educational needs whose funding and support have faced major cuts

What experience/qualifications do you have for the position?

Hise: I was ranked the sixth most-effective NC state senator in 2016 by the NC Center for Public Policy Research, and, as a political leader, I have played a critical role in some of the largest transformations in our state. My election in 2010 marked the first political party leadership change in North Carolina in more than 140 years. I was cast into an environment of turmoil with immediate responsibility. In fact, I was called upon to chair my first committee, the Senate Standing Committee on Insurance, on only my second day after being sworn into the Senate. During my nearly six-year tenure, I have successfully created and navigated major legislation including the largest ever reform of our Medicaid system, the restructuring of a new Department of Information Technology, and the creation of North Carolina’s Government Data Analytics Center. Before being elected to the NC Senate, I also served two terms as mayor of Spruce Pine.

Boyd: In running for this office, I bring small business ownership and management skills to the table. Small business is one way the rural communities can find economic recovery. I know firsthand the challenges of making a living wage outside the urban cities. Like the people of RC, I work hard, and promise to listen to people’s concerns and needs and to treat everyone with respect to propose common sense solutions. We can work together to bring rural economic recovery to our communities.

What are your greatest concerns facing this district?

Hise: One of the biggest challenges facing not only our region, but also our nation and state, is the epidemic of drug abuse and addiction. The tragic loss of so many young people with lives full of promise troubles me greatly. Many families in my district have been destroyed by addiction. However, drug addiction not only affects the addicts and their families, but, rather, has a ripple effect across our communities. Our social services system is strained to find enough stable foster homes for affected infants and children. Law enforcement, first responders, and health care providers are also burdened by increased interactions with drug-addicted individuals. Employers across my district have told me they have trouble finding enough drug-free employees to fill open positions. Lack of a qualified labor pool, due to drug use and addiction, results in a huge negative impact on our ability to recruit industries and jobs to our area. This is a serious issue that needs real solutions.

Two bills passed in this biennium deal with preventing death from drug overdose. Senate Bill 734 authorizes pharmacy dispensing of naloxone hydrochloride, an opioid antagonist, for administering to a person at risk of death from an opioid overdose. Senate Bill 154 provides certain immunities from prosecution for persons seeking medical assistance for someone suffering from a drug- or alcohol-related overdose. Among several other provisions in this year’s budget related to drug abuse prevention and treatment is over $1.2 million for the Controlled Substance Reporting System, and $10 million for implementing the Governor’s Task Force Recommendations on Mental Health and Substance Use. Other provisions increase treatment options, including detox and mental health beds.

The epidemic of drug abuse and addiction is a pervasive problem that requires a multi-prong approach, including incentivizing people to work, rather than not work, and ensuring that public assistance and entitlements are not contributing to the problem.

Boyd: One of the greatest challenges facing us is the support of public schools. We need a well educated workforce in order to attract and keep new businesses here. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, our state funding has been cut for teacher assistants and supplies each by 38 percent. Also, the weighted evaluation funding for transportation has put the widening of Hwy 221 through our county on the back burner. I will work towards reviving that project and towards the creation of Hwy 74 as an interstate to help bring industry to this area.

What are your goals if re-elected/elected?

Hise: One of my main goals since taking office has been the implementation of Medicaid reform through transforming our state’s current Medicaid program into one which provides budget predictability for our state’s taxpayers while ensuring quality care to those in need. The task of Medicaid reform began this past June and is a multi-year process which should be fully implemented by July, 2019. As Senate chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice, I look forward to building on the progress we’ve made and continuing the work of transforming and reorganizing our state’s broken and costly Medicaid system.

Boyd: My goals when I am elected are to: (a) implement the Medicaid Expansion so that we have health care for everyone. My opponent has donors from the insurance industry and he voted against the Medicaid Expansion. I assure you I will represent the people’s needs, not the special interest groups;( b) represent the people and not Duke Energy in the coal ash management crisis; (c) propose a tax cut, that isn’t followed by 60+ new taxes and (d) return financial support to our schools and support to our local governments

What changes would you like to see happen if re-elected/elected?

Hise: Although much progress has been made with regard to tax reform, I would like to see our state eliminate the personal income tax, and take advantage of job-creating opportunities through NMTCs (New Market Tax Credits). On the education front, I support expanded STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) opportunities for students, and a change to the school funding formula, which has favored the larger, more urban counties such as Wake and Mecklenburg. I would support a change to this funding formula and work to see more funds directed to schools in Western North Carolina counties.

Boyd: I would like to see these changes when elected: (a) I want to make us proud of North Carolina again by listening and representing the constituents of my district; (b) I want to ensure that the beautiful resources of Rutherford County are protected as well as have safe, clean drinking water; and (c) let’s make government work for all people. Let’s work for reasonable and responsible solutions to our economic, cultural, and educational issues.