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Business
Black Friday ads in the Journal are available on the day before Thanksgiving

Black Friday ads available early

The Thanksgiving Day newspaper — one of the biggest of the year and packed with Black Friday ads — will once again be available a day early this year.

The Journal is printing Thursday’s edition early to give readers the best chance to map out their shopping strategies.

You can buy a copy of Thursday’s edition for $4 beginning at noon Wednesday. The paper will be available at regular sales locations throughout the region.

For home subscribers, delivery schedules should not be affected.

Because of early deadlines, though, lottery numbers for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday drawings will in Friday’s edition. Obituaries not included in Thursday’s paper will also be in Friday’s edition.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Enjoy your time with friends and family, and thank you for reading the Journal.


Local
Conrad chooses to not seek re-election in 2020, endorses Lewisville councilman Zenger for district seat

State Rep. Debra Conrad said Monday she will not seek a fifth legislative term, expressing readiness for the next chapter of her business and Republican political careers.

Conrad, the owner of a marketing firm in Winston-Salem, confirmed she will finish her current term in the legislature.

“Representing the people of Forsyth County is a tremendous honor, and I will continue to stand up for their conservative values as long as I serve them,” Conrad said.

Conrad, 68, timed her announcement to coincide with the decision of four-term Lewisville Town Councilman Jeff Zenger to pursue the GOP nomination for what will be an open District 74 seat.

Zenger, 55, has owned real estate, building, and development businesses for three decades. He is currently president of Lisha Construction LLC.

“I have been thinking about this step since January, talking with key advisers back home and colleagues in Raleigh about opportunities that might come up over the next 12 months,” Conrad said.

Conrad did not mention any political statewide office she may be considering.

“I’m not the retiring type,” Conrad said. “I have lots of energy and passion about politics and enjoy being around Raleigh and sorting out state issues.

“It’s just time to transition into something new and exciting.”

Conrad’s decision comes as the latest redrawing of the state’s legislative maps may make District 74 more competitive in 2020 than it has been in recent elections.

Conrad won re-election in 2018 with 54.5% of the vote to Democratic challenger Terri LeGrand’s 45.5%.

The District 74 configuration would take in southwestern Forsyth County and reach into Winston-Salem at various points.

Although the proposed district includes strongly Republican parts of western Forsyth, it also includes substantial areas of dependably Democratic voting on the southwestern side of Winston-Salem.

Democrat Dan Besse, a Winston-Salem city councilman, announced in September plans to “vigorously contest” Conrad for the District 74 seat. Besse unsuccessfully ran against GOP Rep. Donny Lambeth in 2018 for District 75, which contained Clemmons but not Lewisville.

District 74 would be pivotal to Democrats’ chances of regaining control of the state House for the first time since 2010. Republicans currently have a 65-55 advantage.

Of the state’s five urban counties, Forsyth is the only one where Republicans have an advantage, at 3-2. Democrats hold all 10 House seats in Mecklenburg and Wake counties, all four in Durham County and have a 4-2 advantage in Guilford County.

Conrad said the redrawn District 74 did not play a major role in her decision, nor the length of the 2018 and 2019 sessions.

“If I chose to run for re-election in 2020, I have no doubt that I would win,” Conrad said. “The newly drawn 74th District still leans Republican, and I previously won election to the General Assembly by overwhelming margins in all four campaigns.”

However, Conrad said “it has been a juggling act running my business, given the time commitments the recent sessions have required.”

“I wanted to wait until the dust settled with the legislative redistricting maps so to see what District 74 looked like and who might be interested in serving.”

Besse said Conrad’s decision to not seek re-election is “definitely an interesting announcement.”

“I had been looking forward to a great debate over our contrasting view on access to health care, fully funding public schools and clear air and water.

“It’s likely the winner of the GOP primary will represent similar views as Rep. Conrad.”

Besse said “we already knew District 74 would be a toss-up. That speaks to the competitiveness of the race and how hard we will have to campaign to be successful.”

Conrad said she stressed to Zenger the realities of running for what would be an open seat, particularly the expense, given she said there was nearly $1 million spent on the 2018 campaign by herself and LeGrand.

“I am pleased to announce that (Jeff) will be running for the General Assembly, and he is a solid conservative,” Conrad said.

“He is well known and well liked in Lewisville and Clemmons. He seems to have a lot of energy and passion to serve in the legislature.”

Zenger said in a statement he believes Conrad’s endorsement will resonate with District 74 voters.

“I want to go to Raleigh to fight for the traditional values and conservative principles that make North Carolina great,” Zenger said. “I will work tirelessly to win this campaign, and continue to work hard for the people of Forsyth County as their state representative.”

Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, rates both Conrad’s and state Sen. Joyce Krawiec’s (R-31st) potential districts as competitive districts that lean Republican. Bitzer published his analysis of the new districts on his Old North State Politics blog on Sept. 18.

Bitzer “predicts” the Republican should get 54.5% of the vote in House 74, and 54.1% of the vote in Senate 31. The prediction word is in quotation marks because Bitzer takes pains to point out that his model isn’t attempting to say who’ll actually win. He’s only looking for patterns based on 2016 voting.

Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said that “it’s entirely possible that new district lines helped prompt Rep. Conrad to consider a change.”

“Rather than relearn her reconfigured state House district constituency, it sounds as if she’s ready to tackle a new challenge.

“Given that more than one statewide Council of State position will have an opening next year, it’s possible that she figured now was a good time to make a move.”

Two of Conrad's Forsyth Republican colleagues praised her legislative work, particularly with constituents.

"I have witnessed first hand her passion for less government, lower taxes, less regulations, yet a champion for economic growth for our region," Rep. Donny Lambeth said.

"I am proud of her accomplishments and the passion she brought to the different positions she has held."

Sen. Joyce Krawiec said she considers Zenger "as an excellent replacement" for Conrad.

"He knows the district well. Having served as a councilman, he has gained valuable experience that will be a valuable asset in the N.C. House."


Columnists
Winston-Salem surgeon who wants to offer low-cost services wins round in legal battle

Despite the surgical scrubs and puffy winter coat, Dr. Gajendra Singh looked to be in a celebratory mood. And why wouldn’t he be?

Singh, a surgeon, small business owner and the guy armed with a slingshot, had just won a large first-step victory allowing his lawsuit against the state of North Carolina to move forward.

He’s suing the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Healthcare Association because he wants to buy an MRI machine.

Bigger picture and much longer term, his legal challenge is about much, much more: whether the state can continue knee-capping the open market for health care through arcane regulations that promote monopolies by big hospitals.

“If you can make a better pizza for less and want to open a pizza shop down the street from another one, you can,” Singh said the other day. “This is about competition. But because this is health care, you can’t. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Lower costs, up front

A quick drive past Singh’s office on Maplewood Drive shows that he’s committed to running his business a different way: the prices for an array of surgeries and tests he runs are printed on a banner by the front door.

$199 for an ultrasound … $400-$600 for a CT scan … $70 for an x-ray.

Ever drill down deep in your own medical bills and explanation of benefits to try and find the actual cost? Good luck in the age of $500 aspirins.

Singh opened Forsyth Imaging on Maplewood Drive two years ago with a simple idea. He wanted to provide general and laparoscopic surgeries (and the required tests) for affordable, transparent fees. Like, say, repairing a hernia for $2,500 instead of $25,000 or $27,000.

“Our prices are all right there where people can see,” he said during an open house this summer. “No hidden fees. No facility charges. No second charges.”

Sounds nuts, right?

There’s one big problem — the state’s certificate of needs (CON) law. That’s the process, in place for 40-odd years now, required of medical professionals who want to purchase such equipment as an MRI machine.

Providers have to demonstrate annually that there is a need for such machines and tests in a particular area. The state’s theory is that doing so helps spread out the availability for such services and prevents overlap in densely populated areas.

To Singh’s way of thinking, that limits competition and serves to drive up prices. It restricts who can purchase medical equipment and protects hospitals.

It’s like having the state require that pizza makers get a license and prove people will buy a $10 pie with twice the pepperoni before she (or he) can compete with a chain that sponsors Super Bowls.

Singh’s suit, filed in July 2018 and backed by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest think tank near Washington, challenges the constitutionality of such a requirement.

Long slog remains

Naturally, the first move by the lawyers representing the state was to try and get the suit dismissed.

A Superior Court judge in Wake County had other ideas, however, and ruled last week that Singh’s lawsuit can proceed.

“This decision clears the way to litigate the question at the heart of this case: Can the state ban Dr. Singh from providing low-cost MRI services for patients who can least afford them just to protect established providers from competition?” said Josh Windham, an Institute of Justice attorney who represents Singh in a statement.

Singh, dressed in his blue scrubs not long after a morning surgery, put it more simply.

“The biggest hurdle was the state’s motion to dismiss,” he said. “The first step was going to be the most difficult. But we won.”

The next move in the lawsuit is discovery — the lengthy process of gathering evidence through an exchange of documents, interviews and depositions.

Because there are lawyers and nothing gets done without a squabble, it’ll be months, if not years, before the case is decided. But it’s a start.

“Health care costs in this country are going crazy,” Singh said. “The hard part is seeing people put off scans because they’re too expensive. By the time they get one, a cancer has spread everywhere.

“It makes me sick to my stomach.”


Local
Christmas trees plentiful in Winston-Salem area. Prices range from $10 to $15 a foot

Looking for a live Christmas tree? They should be pretty easy to find in Forsyth County and Northwest North Carolina as lots will have plenty of Christmas trees during the holiday season, experts said.

Growers in North Carolina will cut 4 million evergreens in the coming weeks, and 3 million of those trees will be harvested within 100 miles of Winston-Salem, said Heather Overton, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“Winston-Salem and Forsyth County will have an ample supply of Christmas trees,” Overton said. “They are looking really good this year.”

Bill Glenn, a marketing specialist for the state agriculture department in Asheville, acknowledged that there are rumors about a Christmas tree shortage this year.

“I have a hard time conceiving that somebody in North Carolina, especially in Northwest North Carolina, not being able to find a tree in the next two or three weeks,” Glenn said.

North Carolina is the second leading producer of Christmas trees in the United States, statistics show. In 2017, 27 percent of the Christmas trees in the country were grown in North Carolina.

One in every four trees harvested in the United States is a Fraser fir from Western North Carolina, Glenn and Overton said.

The fall drought in much of North Carolina didn’t affect the growth of the Christmas trees, Glenn said.

“The availability of trees for retail sale in Forsyth County should be very good,” Glenn said.

The trees will cost $10 to $15 per foot, he said, meaning a 6-foot Fraser fir would cost about $60.

Ron Rash is selling about 100 Fraser firs in a lot at the Coffee Park Airstream on Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem.

The trees are from his property, Rash’s Tree Farm in West Jefferson in Ashe County.

Rash is confident that customers will buy trees from his location in Winston-Salem, he said. Prices range from $25 to $160 per tree.

“People are calling for our farm for trees,” Rash said. “We tell them we have a limited number of trees for sale. We will have enough for the retail business in Winston-Salem.”

Doug Hundley, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association in Littleton, Colo., said that the average retail price for Christmas trees has increased from $40 in 2013 to $60 in this year.

“You may pay a little more, but local tree-growing farmers are way overdue for a raise,” Hundley said. “There is a tight market. We have enough supply to meet demand.”

There are about 1,500 Christmas trees growers in North Carolina, Hundley said.

Joey Miller, the owner of Miller’s Choose & Cut in Boone, said he expects to sell his supply of Christmas trees within about two weeks.

“Right now, I have a good selection of Fraser firs,” Miller said.