PENDER COUNTY — Carson Smith is running for the North Carolina House of Representatives seat for District 16.
The district covers Pender County, as well as Eastern Columbus County, from Whiteville to the eastern edge of the county. Smith chose not to run for reelection as Pender County Sheriff in order to pursue a seat in the house; he is running against Democrat John Johnson.
District 16 is an open seat with no incumbent; former Representative Chris Millis resigned in September after two terms and Representative Bob Muller, appointed to fill the vacant seat, chose not to run.
Below are Smith’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 have served for 35 years in public safety and have been privileged to serve as the elected sheriff of Pender County for the past 16 years. As President of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association I have worked with governors, legislators, and council of state members to help shape public safety in North Carolina.
I like the way North Carolina has been heading when it comes to protecting our rights, and creating a climate where businesses will continue to want to invest in helping create good jobs that improve everyone’s quality of life. I want to put more of a focus on our public education system, which is also crucial when bringing businesses here.
What can the General Assembly do better to help Pender and eastern Columbus counties? What state legislation do you personally think will benefit the region?
The best things the legislature can do to benefit this region is to promote ideas and take actions that help our businesses and workers, and to keep cumbersome government out of their way. As our economy improves we have to be sure that the living standards in our area improve as well.
We also must ensure our infrastructure does not hinder a good business climate. This area became isolated after Hurricane Florence because of flooding. We have to look at hardening and elevating key transportation routes so we always have a lifeline to other parts of the state during emergencies.
It’s a tense political atmosphere in Raleigh. What’s one specific bi-partisan issue you feel you could and would work on?
The mental health system in the state has to be changed and I believe improvements could be supported by both sides. As sheriff, I have seen a system that does not work. Two huge problems being discussed right now are illegal opioid use and student violence in schools. I believe both of these issues are tied to mental health. The opioid crisis is an addiction problem and violence by students in schools more often than not has some type of mental health origin. Another problem those who struggle with mental health, and their families, have to deal with is the involuntary commitment process. When a person has to be committed they do not go straight to a mental health facility.
In most cases, they go to emergency rooms first for initial evaluation and placement. I have seen those committed stay in those emergency departments for days and sometimes weeks. That model is not good for anyone. We have to increase the amount of resources in this state to deal with this often overlooked issue of mental health that has life-crippling effects on individuals and families.
Do you feel like water-quality issues in the region have been handled acceptably so far? If not, what steps would you take?
Trying to figure out what happened over the past several decades with our drinking water is hard. Everyone is pointing fingers at each other. I think no matter what happened in the past, the only thing that we need to do right now is, either through new or existing laws, make sure we know what is in our water and where it is coming from. While drinking water will never be “pure”, if we know what and how much of something is in it we can make informed decisions based on science.
North Carolina’s General Assembly banned Medicaid expansion in 2013. Do you think that was a good idea? Why or why not?
Expanding Medicaid is expanding Obamacare. The more our healthcare is controlled by government the more control the government will have over our individual lives. At my core I am against government taking over healthcare and each time we expand government programs we get closer to that. Our healthcare system needs to be fixed in Washington first and then allow the states to do what we need to make health insurance affordable to employers and employees. Everyone should have access to the great healthcare that we have in this country and there are ways to do it, but allowing government boards and employees to control our healthcare is wrong.
Is education adequately funded at the state level? Are their changes you’d make to the way funding is currently delivered to schools?
Ensuring access to quality education is one of the biggest responsibilities of state lawmakers. To that end, the General Assembly should continue to improve our education system and that will require continued increases in spending. Teacher pay is growing faster than other states and I will work to continue that trend not only by increasing starting pay but also by limiting the salary compression problem where teachers with years of experience are making only marginally more than those just beginning. Because it is our biggest general fund expenditure, I will look into all options when it comes to changes in the way we fund education.
Is North Carolina economically competitive enough? If not, what can Raleigh do to change that?
No, but we have seen large strides over the past several years that have made our business climate better. Our Commerce Department must go out and sell North Carolina. We have to continue to make it easier for folks to start businesses, help existing businesses grow and become more profitable for owners and workers. I will work to make sure our business climate is so good that outside businesses want to come set up shop and hire the people of this area. We also have to be sure everyone in this district has access to wired internet service so none get left behind in education and business.