CHARLOTTE – The day before heading to Greenville to attend a rally hosted by President Trump, Dunn Republican Renee Ellmers swung by Charlotte for a series of stops in her campaign to become North Carolina’s next lieutenant governor.
Ellmers began her day talking with former Gov. Pat McCrory on his WBT radio show before heading to a Charlotte Rotary Club meeting. She later visited Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly’s office to discuss her vision for the state.
“I want to run because someone has to take charge of the healthcare solutions in North Carolina,” she said. “I realized that the lieutenant governor’s office would be the perfect place to really be the champion to bring people together for solutions.”
Ellmers can speak authoritatively about healthcare. She worked as a registered nurse prior to politics, spent six years drafting legislation in Congress and served as a regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
She believes North Carolina should embrace technology and innovation when it comes to healthcare.
“One of our biggest problems is not whether or not someone has a health insurance card, but whether they have access to care,” she said, noting that telehealth services could help struggling rural hospitals bridge the gap.
With her experience at the state and federal level, she believes she can bring stakeholders to the table to discuss solutions for problems, such as expensive prescriptions, mental illness or opioid disorder, without picking winners and losers.
“Healthcare should not be a partisan issue, and I think it, overtime, it became partisan,” Ellmers said. “When President Obama was putting forward his healthcare initiative, I think it became very political. I’m not putting blame on either side. I think we all contributed to that.”
It was Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act that motivated Ellmers to run for Congress in the first place.
Though she wasn’t able to repeal the act during her time in Congress from 2011 to 2017, she takes pride in other accomplishments, such as passing the 21st Century Cures Act, which was designed to expedite production of medicine. She also helped pass the doc fix bill that ensured physicians would be reimbursed for Medicare.
Ellmers also takes pride in drawing attention to what she described as the “immigration crisis” at the border.
“When I was in Congress, I learned early on, serving in the 2nd District, that immigration was an issue that we needed to address,” she said. “That there were many things that needed to be updated and reformed, whether we were talking about illegal immigration, legal immigration or border security.
“It’s very interesting to me because I had political opposition because of the position I was taking on immigration, which was, ‘We got to fix this.’ It wasn’t about amnesty, and that’s, of course, what I was being accused of. It was about fixing a problem that I knew was possible to fix.”
Redistricting had Ellmers running for reelection against fellow incumbent George Holding in the 2016 primary. Ellmers lost that race, but she rebounded by joining the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As a regional director, she oversaw eight southeastern states, including North Carolina.
“I really became familiar with what other states were doing on healthcare initiatives and how they were working through some of the same issues that we have here in North Carolina,” she said. “Again, rural health being one of those, and how you can bring together community leaders to really focus on the issues and help your hospital be that center of a community.”
During hurricane season, her staff reached out to mayors in coastal cities and towns to assure them they had the department’s support. HHS also helped coordinate the relocation of patients in danger of hurricanes or flooding.
Ballots for the lieutenant governor’s race won’t be determined until December. The primary is scheduled for March 3, 2020, followed by the general election on Nov. 3, 2020.
Running for a statewide race, Ellmers hopes to spend more time in the main centers of commerce, such as Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Asheville. She hopes to visit as many of the state’s 100 counties as possible.
“I feel very strongly that the more folks you can reach out to and the more discussions I can have, the better I can share my vision,” Ellmers said.
She’s been pleasantly surprised that people recognize her name. There are a few reasons for that.
“American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken launched a congressional campaign in Ellmers’ district in 2014, generating national media exposure. Ellmers defeated the pop singer.
Two years later, she made national headlines when she became the first female congresswoman to support Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump would return the favor with an endorsement.
“What really opened my eyes to the fact that President Trump was going to win and be our next President, was the reaction that I saw from the people of North Carolina to him,” she said. I listened to all of the candidates, and many of them had great policy positions that I agreed with, yet I saw this interaction, this relationship, that Trump was building with the American people and definitely with North Carolinians.”