ROCKINGHAM — On his tour through the new 9th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger made his second stop this month in Richmond County to get a feel for what he hopes will be a new territory.
Pittenger, R-Charlotte, sat down at Pattan’s Downtown Grille Friday with Richmond County Chamber of Commerce President Emily Tucker, Chairman Terry Lewis and Vice Chairman Chuck Cobb for an informal discussion about the county.
Pittenger talked about the importance of being connected to his constituents saying his staff has handed out cards to people who have questions about topics ranging from Medicaid and Medicare to securing Visas and passports.
The congressman said his staff is “very proactive with calling out,” adding 75,000 calls have emanated from his office while on the campaign trail.
“We want to be accessible to people,” he said.
Pittenger also talked about the importance of small business owners when it comes to smaller communities such as Richmond County.
“They’re out of the loop. We want to bring them,” he said. “Capital is the biggest obstacle in the market today.”
When dealing with securing loans for small businesses, Pittenger said it can be difficult because “There’s not a box for character. The biggest challenge is a lack of getting access to capital for entrepreneurs and small business owners.”
Tucker agreed that a large portion of those owners don’t know the kinds of resources that are available to them.
Pittenger asked about the demographic of Richmond County, to which Tucker described as an overall older group.
“Younger people is our largest export,” she said, which the congressman responded by saying, “That’s the challenge. A lot of communities are aging.”
He was also interested in how agriculture plays a part in the county, and Lewis talked about the importance of agribusiness in the area, ranging from Perdue Foods to local farms in the northern end of the county who have had to shift from older cash crops such as tobacco to thinking more outside the box.
“A lot of these businesses can’t pass it on to family members,” Pittenger said about farmers. “They’re really challenged with continuing on their family farms.”
Pittenger met with the Richmond County Farm Bureau, Dr. Dale McInnis at Richmond Community College and Rockingham’s Mayor Steve Morris and City Manager Monty Crump last week and seemed impressed with the leadership of the county.
“Y’all have a lot going on for you. I’m impressed,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of dedicated people. I’m very engaged in wherever my district is.”
Following a change in district maps this past February by state lawmakers, the new 9th District comprises all of Richmond, Anson, Union, Scotland and Robeson counties, as well as parts of Mecklenburg, Cumberland and Bladen counties.
The redrawing was in response to a federal court’s ruling by a three-judge panel earlier this year that two North Carolina congressional districts, the 1st and 12th, were gerrymandered based on race.
In the new 9th District, Pittenger will face Democratic candidate Christian Cano, and when asked how he thinks the upcoming general election will turn out, Pittenger said he and Cano are miles apart.
“He would be very much led to the policies of Obama and Bernie Sanders. He’s self-defined as a socialist. He’s very much to the left,” Pittenger said. “I’m not certain that he has a full understanding of the threats we face in the world.”
Running primarily on a platform of fighting terrorism and fixing what he calls a stagnant North Carolina economy, Pittenger said the 1.3 percent economic growth is no longer going to cut it.
“Clearly we have a very tepid recovery. This is after 7½ years. We can’t keep blaming George Bush,” he said. “The policies of the federal government have been very top-down in terms of the role of the federal government. You look at Obamacare, which is basically a federal takeover of healthcare, financial services and the enormous burden put on financial institutions today that restricts capital and credit in the market where a small business cannot get access to it.
“Today you maybe only have three start-up banks,” he continued. “Used to be 100. It’s not a market they can get into. They’re hiring compliance officers. They’re not hiring loan officers. That’s the real challenge. That’s a real concern to me. There is not the ability for those small businesses to emerge and grow. I think it’s knowledge of markets and how economies work. Mr. Cano would believe it’s all about transfer of wealth.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.