Sunday, June 26, 2022

2018 Election: Democrat Leslie Cohen running for House District 20 seat

After winning a three-way primary run-off, Leslie Cohen is now running to unseat Republican Holly Grange, who won an uncontested 2016 general election.

After winning a three-way Democrat primary election, Leslie Cohen is now running to unseat Republican Holly Grange. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy Leslie Cohen)
After winning a three-way Democrat primary election, Leslie Cohen is now running to unseat Republican Holly Grange. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy Leslie Cohen)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Leslie Cohen is running for re-election to represent District 20, which covers parts of northern Wilmington, New Hanover County, as well as Figure Eight Island.

Cohen, a Democrat, won a three-way primary election, besting Gary Shipman and John Bauer. She is running to unseat Republican incumbent Holly Grange, who was appointed in August of 2016 and ran unopposed that year in the general election.

Below are Cohen’s answers to Port City Daily’s questions.

How has your previous career experience shaped your view of state politics and what you’d like to accomplish in Raleigh?

I am a business owner, an artist, a mom, and an activist. I have travelled around the world and seen unspeakable poverty. I have also seen incredible human resilience. In my own life I have struggled to pay my bills and I have enjoyed success. I have seen people that I love suffer physical and mental illness. I have always been politically active and made sure that I passed that civic-mindedness on to my children.

But, before I was approached to be a candidate this year, I never imagined that I would run for office. Then the legislature passed HB2. The government was playing politics with my kids’ rights, so I did what any mother would do; I stood up and spoke out. As I did that I realized that the politicians in Raleigh were not just playing games with my family, they were playing games with all our families, with our schools, with our healthcare, with our jobs, and even with our drinking water.

I want to enhance the quality of life of every citizen, instead of promoting the needs of a few at the expense of many. I’m sick of seeing our legislators choose to line the pockets of corporate interests at the expense of our families and neighbors. I’m sick and tired of political games. I don’t want another two years of inaction on the issues that directly affect our families. It is time to redefine our values and move North Carolina forward again.

What can the General Assembly do better to help Wilmington New Hanover County? What state legislation do you personally think will benefit the region?

Cleaning up and protecting our drinking water, rivers, and beaches is critical. Our neighbors should not be afraid to drink out of the tap or have to drive for miles to fill up jugs for their homes. Restoring our permanent film incentives is also vital to Southeastern NC and has the potential to bring millions of dollars to our region through good, clean jobs, and increased tourism.

We must expand Medicaid so that everyone in North Carolina can visit a doctor when they are sick. We have left those Federal dollars on the table for too long. That is our money. We paid those taxes and each of us deserves to reap the benefits of that program rather than paying the price in higher costs to cover indigent care every time we seek care or pay our insurance premiums.

After Matthew and Florence, we know which major roads are most vulnerable to flooding and we must make improvements so that evacuees can evacuate safely, people can return in a more timely manner, and aid can reach our communities more quickly.

These are issues that our General Assembly should be dealing with. These are the issues that matter to the folks I’m talking to every day. It’s time for the governing body to start governing, and stop playing games with our health, safety, and prosperity. All of these will be far easier to accomplish once we have fixed our voting maps. We should be choosing our representatives rather than letting legislators choose their voters.

What’s your opinion on the rail-realignment project in Wilmington and the surrounding areas? Is state-level investment warranted?

Rail-realignment makes sense, but it needs to be done carefully to ensure the protection of our natural resources and existing neighborhoods and communities. This is a huge undertaking, and it will involve considerable expense, but doing nothing is not an option. The problems with the current rail crossing system will only continue to grow, stopping traffic and slowing the economic activity in the port. I certainly think that it makes sense to have state-level funding available for this project, as the benefit extends far past our region. Improving rail access will also likely help spur economic development beyond Wilmington in Brunswick, Pender and Columbus counties. There is potential for the old rail lines in Wilmington to be reimagined into a community asset, such as a trolley line or trail project.

It’s a tense political atmosphere in Raleigh. What’s one specific bi-partisan issue you feel you could and would work on?

Universal Pre-K. It shouldn’t be controversial to give our children the best possible start. I am sure we will be able to find common ground across the aisle to fund and implement this basic education program. The benefits are clear and all children deserve the same opportunity to learn and excel.

Do you feel like water-quality issues in the region have been handled acceptably so far? If not, what steps would you take?

The Republican supermajority in Raleigh has actively worked to protect polluters, including Chemours, rather than putting our health and safety first when it comes to our drinking water. We have been drinking GenX for over 30 years without knowing it. I want to know what else we are drinking now. The Department of Environmental Quality asked for equipment to answer that question. After lobbyists suggested that they should buy a less sophisticated model to avoid upsetting the public and hurting business, our representatives decided that we should not fund the purchase of a mass spectrometer that would tell us exactly what is in our water. They opted for the less sophisticated machine, keeping us in the dark about what is coming out of our taps.

Clean drinking water is more than a health issue. It’s an economic issue. It’s an environmental issue. It’s a social justice issue. All the talk of growth and development in our community is moot unless we seriously begin to address this crisis. Cleaning up this mess and carefully protecting our river going forward may be expensive, but not taking those steps will be catastrophic.

Chemours must have their license to operate revoked. They have been given the opportunity to clean up yet have refused. We should demand restitution for our citizens, many of whom aren’t able to drink the water coming to their homes and some of whom have been seriously harmed. Going forward, we need comprehensive, transparent monitoring of our water quality and regulation reform to ensure that we never have a situation like this again.

I’ve spoken with scientists and policy experts to craft a detailed, step-by-step legislative plan to address this issue. But the current legislature has made it abundantly clear that they are not interested in solutions. They are playing political games with our health and the health of our children. If we want to stop industries from using our drinking water as their sewers we have to elect people who will stand up to lobbyists and special interests.

What role, if any, do you see for the state in beach renourishment?

Since beach renourishment is very expensive and complicated, it is best handled at the Federal level. In the future, it may be necessary for the state to take the lead in the funding and implementation of these projects. Our beaches are a public benefit, and it’s up to all of us to protect them for future generations.

North Carolina’s General Assembly banned Medicaid expansion in 2013. Do you think that was a good idea? Why or why not?

Absolutely not. Thousands of North Carolinians were left without any affordable options for health insurance. There is no excuse for this. Expanding Medicaid would have saved lives, and saved the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.

Do you think the shift to the current grant system hurt the film industry? What can Raleigh do to help reinvigorate Wilmington’s film scene?

You only have to look at how few film projects we have seen in Wilmington since we moved to the grant system to see how the industry has suffered. By restructuring and partially eliminating our film incentives, we lost a clean, renewable, vibrant part of our economy. You can look to Savannah and Atlanta to see where all our jobs have gone. It was short sighted and unwise to revoke these incentives. Restoring full, permanent incentives is one of my top priorities.

Is school safety a state issue? If so, what state-level measures would help address the risk of school shootings.

School safety is a problem we should all be looking to address, but school safety is about more than metal detectors. Children need to feel safe at school. They need adequate access to well-trained social workers, psychologists, and school nurses. We must do more on a state level to restrict access to guns by folks with mental health issues, violent criminal backgrounds, and without proper ID and vetting. Increasing armed patrols at schools will only make children feel more unsafe, and has not been shown to decrease violence at all. We must pass common sense gun laws, fully fund our school staff, and ensure proper mental health treatment is available to everyone.

Is education adequately funded at the state level? Are their changes you’d make to the way funding is currently delivered to schools?

Education is one of my top priorities. A strong, well-funded education system is key to our economic future. If we want to hire and retain the best teachers and we want to attract businesses from out of state, we have to offer a system with reasonable class sizes, competitive teacher pay, and well-rounded educational programs.

We must eliminate school vouchers and for-profit charter schools, which drain funds from our public schools. We need to fund the arts, physical education, and practical skills classes so that our young people will receive a truly well-rounded education. We need economically integrated school districts because all children deserve the same opportunities to learn and grow, regardless of socioeconomic factors or race.

Is North Carolina economically competitive enough? If not, what can Raleigh do to change that.

North Carolina is falling behind. Legislation like HB2 and HB142 cost our state billions in lost revenue. Without equal rights for all our citizens, we will not be able to attract and retain 21st Century industries to help drive North Carolina forward again. A change in state budget distributions and priorities would give us the resources needed for a comprehensive overhaul of many of North Carolina’s 20th-Century infrastructure. We should fund capital improvements to our water-related infrastructure, our schools, provide for public WiFi access, improve roadways, and expand mass transit systems. We must restore full, permanent film incentives.

We need a living wage. We must invest in early education and technical programs or we will not be able to produce a workforce to meet our 21st-Century labor needs. And, again, I return to education. A strong, well-funded education system is key to our economic future. Without this, we will never be competitive. We must step up, work together, and move North Carolina forward again!

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