WILMINGTON — Harper Peterson, the former Wilmington mayor and city councilman, announced his campaign for the North Carolina State Senate last week.
Peterson sounded off on a range of issues, from affordable housing to GenX, but if he wins the 2018 election over incumbent Michael Lee, he’ll be dealing with a Republican majority and tensely divided generally assembly.
Acknowledging that he would face a difficult time against a Republican majority on some of his key issues, Peterson stopped short of framing the challenge in combative terms.
“I wouldn’t call them big battles, I would call them conversations. But they’re conversations I don’t think are happening now, and there are other voices, other opinions, that aren’t being heard — that I’d like to hear as part of the discussion,” Peterson said.
Peterson said he hadn’t initially planned on a 2018 run, but that the political handling of the GenX situation made him reconsider. Partisan maneuvering over the issue, including a stalemate between Governor Roy Cooper and state senate Republicans over funding for the DEQ, is just the latest in a series of political fights that started before Cooper even took office.
So how would Peterson make headway in such a climate?
“There are some things we won’t agree on. I’m sure,” Peterson said. “But how would I have a conversation with them? I think with Ted Davis and Holly Grange, I’d approach them as a parent. ‘Look, we have kids here, we have family here. There are some issues that are really just about the kind of place we want them to grow up in.’ ”
Some issues, like GenX, shouldn’t be political, Peterson said.
“That’s health, that’s clean water, that shouldn’t be a political issue — we should be able to have that conversations like adults,” Peterson said. “I do think we all want the same thing, to drink a glass of water and know what’s in it, and know it’s safe.”
Other issues are far more likely to generate resistance, not the least of which is Peterson’s desire for higher salaries for teachers and more funding for schools; Peterson said he wants to push back against the Republican strategy of using charter schools as an alternative to funding public schools.
Peterson said he knows he’ll be wading into “sandlot politics,” here. He referenced a late-night Republican move in May that had attached $1 million in funding to fight the opioid crisis; money came from defunding education programs in several predominantly Democrat districts.
“So, yes, I know what I’m getting into there,” Peterson said. “But there are things I think we can agree on, too.”
Peterson said he believes he could make headway on economic development.
“I think economic growth is something we all agree we’d like to see, but that only works if there’s a plan, and if that plan is followed. I’m not trying to shoot arrows, but there have been a number of developments recently that just do not take into account traffic – which is a public safety issue – or housing costs,” Peterson.
Peterson said as a state senator he would avoid “micromanaging” city and county development, but that he would weigh in on projects, both on the campaign trail and – if elected – in office.
“I’ll definitely speak my piece about it,” Peterson said. “And you’ll be hearing from me at some of these upcoming public hearings.”
Historically, Peterson was known for his contentious time on City Council and as mayor. acknowledged his infamously contentious time in local office. But for those who expect him to “raise hell” in Raleigh, Peterson said he’s mellowed a bit.
“I know that people say I’m a hard-headed kind of person, you know they like to mention how the city manager was gone the first day I took office,” Peterson said. “But that’s not what this (campaign) is about. I’m not looking to kick rocks or be an agitator. But there is important work to do.”
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