Editor’s Note: Sandhills Sentinel had originally scheduled an interview with Senator Tom McInnis for this article, but at the last minute he had to cancel due to the death of a friend and constituent. Senator McInnis’s stance on several of the issues can be found on his website at https://mcinnisfornc.com/
Helen Probst Mills is running for the State Senate District 25 seat currently held by incumbent Tom McInnis. Tom McInnis makes his home in Ellerbe and Pinehurst. McInnis has served in the North Carolina Senate since 2015. He is the owner of Iron Horse Auction Company in Rockingham.
Tom’s wife, Janice, is a retired Richmond County Schools teacher. They have four children and 10 grandchildren.
Helen Probst Mills and her family reside in Pinehurst. Helen received her undergraduate degree from The University of Chicago and her law degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Mills sits on the Board of Sandhills Community College Foundation and is also a Trustee of the college. She sits on the Board of the Northern Moore Resource Center. Mills founded the North Carolina Alumni Club for The University of Chicago, and she also serves on the University-wide Alumni Board. Her husband is the Executive Director of the Moore Literacy Council.
As a first-time candidate, what made you decide to run for the NC Senate?
Mills: I think that democracy works best when we participate. We can do this as a voter and as a candidate. Over the years in Moore County, there hasn’t always been democratic candidates.
In a role as important as State Senator, who represents the residents in this district, we needed a choice. As a member of the community, I want to be a voice for Moore County.
I was raised by a mother who instilled strong values and who raised my sisters and I by herself. She was very involved in a non-profit she organized that had a focus on early childhood education. Through her, we learned from an early age that you had a responsibility to be involved in your community.
Happily, I have been involved doing different things with different organizations. I sit on the Board of Trustees for Sandhills Community College. I’m also a member of the The Sandhills Community College Foundation where I helped develop a program allowing high school graduates to attend Sandhills Community College for two years without having to pay tuition. I also sit on the board of the Northern Moore Family Resource Center.
Where do you stand on education in N.C.?
Mills: I look at where my husband and I are in our lives, and it has come from a solid foundation in public schools. We live in a country that allows anyone to be anything, but success is founded in a good education.
I have been dismayed over the years in the cutbacks to our public school teacher’s salaries, the funding for schools themselves, and the decisions on allocation of funding. My sister is a public-school teacher in New Hanover County, and I know well the struggles that our educators have. When our Governor holds a drive for school supplies, we have a problem.
We need a different voice at the table like mine, with whom public education has been central to my life. In North Carolina, we are investing in universities and community colleges, but I think we are shortchanging our children in K-12. I also think we are shortchanging them by not providing an opportunity for Pre-K education across the board.
We also need to encourage students to continue their education past high school, such as trade schools and locally through Sandhills Promise. By doing so, we can enable them to get better paying jobs and give them a brighter future.
Give us an example of how you have reached out to Democrats and Republicans alike to accomplish goals?
Mills: There are people on both sides of the aisle with good ideas, and I think we just need to align ourselves along our common goals. I sit on the Board of Sandhills Community College, and I am proud of the work we have done.
When you look at the fact that Dr. Dempsey is on one side of the political divide and George Little is on the other side, yet they have common goals that they work towards together and accomplish great things. We just have to roll up our sleeves, take a deep breath, and look at what we need to get done, and can we do those things in a more equitable way.
What do you think the state of elections are in Moore County?
Mills: We are so blessed. We get a chance to go to the polls and decide who our leaders are going to be. We get a chance to peacefully go to the polls and vote for who we believe in. We have two sites for early voting and turnouts have been strong. The people at our election’s office work so hard and it is such long hours with early voting.
The one thing that would be phenomenal to change is to encourage more people to vote. We need to instill in our youth the need to get out and exercise their right to vote.
You have a unique perspective on healthcare in that you are a breast cancer survivor. What do you think about Medicaid expansion in N.C.?
Mills: I was fortunate to have a routine mammogram that was covered under my insurance as a part of my wellness benefit. Unfortunately, they found cancer, and I had several surgeries and chemotherapy.
It was a battle with the insurance company to get the medication that my physicians wanted me to have. I was blessed to have insurance but was forced to fight for the insurance company to pay for the medications.
I don’t know how we expect people to deal with major illnesses without access to health insurance. We see it in the number of medical related bankruptcies in the United States. People undoubtedly die as a result of not having access.
I remember vividly hearing that N.C. turned down the Medicaid expansion and the reason was primarily the expense. The other is that if we do expand, it will create about 40,000 good paying health sector jobs in N.C..
The expansion would cover about 600,000 North Carolinians and would pay for 52,000 annual mammograms. Of those 52,000 women, some undoubtedly already have undiagnosed cancer. Without this expansion and coverage, they will most certainly die. We are better than this. We can care for each other and still have a booming economy.
Is there anything you want to say in closing?
Mills: Senator McInnis and I have differing views on a number of things. If you are satisfied with the job he has done and his views, then you should vote to keep him in office. If you would like a change, then please consider my campaign.
In 2018, District 25 was redrawn to include Anson, Moore, Richmond and Scotland Counties. Election Day is Tuesday, November 6th. Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m..