Renee Ellmers is campaigning as a candidate in the race for North Carolina’s lieutenant governor. She has a background in health care and wants to use that knowledge to provide affordable health care to as many North Carolinians as possible. The primary will take place March 3. She answered a few questions for the Record & Landmark on Friday.
R&L: Why did you decide to run?
Ellmers: My background is in health care. I’m a registered nurse. I was in Congress for six years, serving the 2nd District from 2011-2016. In 2016, I was the first woman in Congress to endorse President Trump. After the election, when President Trump became president, he gave me a political appointment to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Up until February, I’ve actually been commuting back and forth from Atlanta, serving as the regional director for the Southeastern region, so Region 4 is what North Carolina is in, so it’s North Carolina and seven other Southeastern states.
It was a great position, and I was working on a lot of health care solutions and issues with Secretary (of Health and Human Service Alex) Azar and the Trump administration, but on the political front, I saw how crazy things were getting, and I also saw that health care, being one of the top issues in the country, especially here in North Carolina, was really not being talked about enough. We need to put forward health care solutions, so I started thinking about how I could come back to North Carolina and serve within the state itself, and I realized that Dan Forest was going to be running for governor, so I thought what a perfect situation to become lieutenant governor, leverage the office of the lieutenant governor to really work on health care solutions along with the duties that belong to the lieutenant governor.
What does your ideal health care system look like?
Ellmers: I am not in favor of creating another government program. I’m not in favor of creating more government. I certainly don’t want to create another layer of bureaucracy. That’s why I think it’s so perfect for the lieutenant governor in North Carolina to be able to be able to work on this issue because at the state level, there really isn’t any one person that is in office that deals with health care, so I figured, what better place to be able to bring all the stakeholders together in health care, to bring down the cost of health care, the cost of services itself, the cost of health insurance, but maintain our system of Medicaid services and Medicare services in a much more efficient way. Those are the core pieces of what I would like to see happen in North Carolina.
I also see health care on the economic front. I think there are a lot of jobs that can be created within North Carolina within health care as well. I would like to see access increased in North Carolina. I think, again, when we talk about some of our rural communities, many of those hospitals are in need of assistance. I think there are ways that we can create a better system for those hospitals where they can be creating their own revenue and not be so dependent upon funds coming from the federal government and larger hospital systems.
I think there are a lot of things we can do from within the state level that will be essential to moving North Carolina forward on health care.
What is your opinion on Medicaid expansion?
Ellmers: I am not in favor of expanding Medicaid. No. 1, expanding Medicaid in North Carolina at this point is really breathing more life into “Obamacare” because the Medicaid expansion is the pinnacle of Obamacare, and although I think it seems like the right thing to do when we realize there’s a segment of the population is uninsured right now, so it seems like expanding Medicaid would fill that gap, it would actually be the wrong direction we need to go.
We need to move away from that idea of Medicaid expansion, and we need to really take the signs of the times. With the economy that we have right now under President Trump, with the number of jobs that are being created throughout the county but in North Carolina as well, wages on the increase, unemployment down to record levels, we should be taking those things into consideration to solve the issue of helping individuals to have health insurance.
If we expand Medicaid at this point, what we’re really going to be doing is jeopardizing those who rely on Medicaid services now because we’ll be extending the number of people who are on it, and that will spread the services thinner for those who depend upon Medicaid, but also what we’re doing is creating a system that will negatively affect access to care because there are a lot of physicians that are no longer taking Medicaid patients or new Medicaid patients.
While someone might have Medicaid, they’re going to have a very difficult time finding a provider who will take that Medicaid, so we’re not fixing the problem. It’s basically putting a Band-Aid on a bleeding artery, and what we really need to do is fix the problem from the root cause.
What are your opinions about how coal ash should be managed and Duke Energy in general?
Ellmers: I do know that this is a burden that Duke Energy is responsible for, and I do think it falls under Duke Energy. To be honest, I think this gets into the recent bill that was passed in the state senate on basically allowing Duke Energy to raise rates arbitrarily. I do not agree with that approach. If was lieutenant governor right now and there was a tied vote in the Senate, I would not be voting for that. I would have voted no on that. Obviously, the lieutenant governor being the tiebreaker in the Senate.
I don’t believe that ratepayers and families in North Carolina are responsible to take care of Duke’s problem. I think that this is something that needs to be dealt with Duke Energy, and I believe that the folks that live in Iredell County obviously have a concern there as well. I know that when I was in Congress and I know that we were active in trying to figure out ways the situation could be dealt with. It’s obviously taken many turns since that time, but I think ultimately, it falls with Duke Energy.
What are your opinions on the May 1 teachers rally and the demands made?
Ellmers: I watched that whole situation play out. I think it’s unfortunate when we’re using our students for politics to make political statements, and I do believe, although I would love to have our children involved in civic events, I do believe that was more political than anything, obviously headed up by the teachers union.
What I will say on that front for the most part, we need to do everything we can do help our teachers, our teachers and our students. Any of the dollars that are coming their way into our school systems have got to get into the classroom. I’m a big proponent in school choice. I believe that parents and families need to be making many of the decisions that belong to our children on the education front. I hate to see our children used for political purposes.
That’s obviously an annual event that takes place. If the subject matter remained on education, I would say that it’s probably beneficial although I do believe that it becomes much more of a pushing of liberal talking points. I took specific attention to this last May Day that took place. I’m just a big believer that our children need every resource possible.
I think it’s very unfortunate that our teachers have been used as political pawns, and I do believe that the impression is put upon our teachers that most of our teachers believe a certain way politically, and I do not believe that it is true. I have a lot of friends and family who have been in education for years. They do not necessarily believe everything that is being put forward by the teachers union. I would love to see the day that we do not use education as a political pawn and a political football because I believe that education is something that should be a nonpartisan issue. I just believe that, again, just like I believe that health care should be patient-centered, I believe health care should be family- and children-centered.
In such a crowded race, what do you bring to the job that your competitors don’t?
Ellmers: It’s interesting that you say that because there are, obviously, a number of folks especially on the Republican side, and every one of us is an individual. There’s definite diversity among the candidates, but we’re all conservative. We’re all pro-life. We’re all pro-Second Amendment. We all have conservative beliefs. I think the difference is who has a plan for Day One in office.
That’s where I think I have the unique advantage with my background in health care and with health care being such a top issue and really again, by and large being unaddressed in the General Assembly and by the governor. I think that from Day One my plan is to ask for a special duty to head up a task force or a health care commission to address health care solutions. With my background and with this being such a huge issue, I have that unique ability to tackle that problem and really bring forward solutions that will really bring North Carolina forward.
Do you have any concerns that being pro-Trump will challenge your campaign?
Ellmers: I really don’t. Being the first woman in Congress to endorse him, there again, when I put my support behind President Trump, there were a lot of Republicans who were not necessarily on board. I was definitely a lone voice. It was myself and a handful of others. I have stuck with President Trump through thick and thin. If there’s any way to possibly support him more today than I did when I first endorsed him, I would say my belief in his capability has grown because he has been able to show results in what I would think is a considerably short period of time. He’s obviously the hugest target from the left. As you see what’s happening in Washington currently and has gone on since he took office, there is just a need for the left to bring him down, and I just believe wholeheartedly that President Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do. He made campaign promises. He’s sticking to those promises, and he’s following through, and I think as a North Carolinian, as an American, I believe wholeheartedly that we need to be supporting our president in President Trump. While that may bring some political hits from the left, bring it on.