SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — Harper Peterson, former Wilmington City Council member and mayor, is running for North Carolina State Senate District 9, serving New Hanover County.
Peterson served as a city council member in the 1990s and one term as mayor, from 2001-2005.
Peterson is running against Republican Michael Lee, the two-term incumbent, and Libertarian candidate Ethan Bickley.
Below are Peterson’s answers to Port City Daily’s questions:
How has your previous career or record as an elected official experience shaped your view of state politics and what you’d like to accomplish in Raleigh?
As a small business owner, I understand the importance of surrounding oneself with talented, energetic, and passionate people. The same holds true in government. As a City Council Member and Mayor of Wilmington any success and credit we would claim was always shared with the individuals, typically staff, that made it happen. In addition, when serving locally, party affiliation took a back seat. Issues mattered foremost and finding solutions to community challenges, sometimes through consensus, sometimes compromise was our main focus.
At the state level, I would carry my party’s values and perspectives, but listen to and work with opposition parties to find common ground and work to serve the community first. Civility and collegiality over partisan politics and acrimony
What can the General Assembly do better to help Wilmington New Hanover County? What state legislation do you personally think will benefit the region?
First, we need a senator from New Hanover County that represents the values and interests of our citizens in Raleigh. Senator Lee answers first to his party bosses in Raleigh, not us. He has voted 99.9% of the time along party lines: 534 out 535 votes taken in the last two legislative sessions. While this benefits his political career, it does not benefit the people of New Hanover County.
Specifically, we saw the interests of our community for clean water ignored when Senator Lee’s “Clean Water Act” was given to Raleigh lobbyists, including Chemours, to rewrite this legislation to protect their interests before ours. Shameful. New Hanover County deserves better than that. I will put the interests of our residents back on the agenda in Raleigh.
GenX Legislation I Would Propose:
-Appropriate the necessary funding for DEQ [Department of Environmental Quality] and DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services] to be fully operational to perform their responsibilities. This includes the necessary staffing for research, permitting, monitoring, enforcement that has been systematically defunded by this legislature over the past 8 years.
-Appropriate funding for state-of-the-art scientific equipment, including the “high mass spectrometer” that was substituted in SB 724 for a less desirable and comprehensive model.
-Require all industries to fully disclose, in their environmental permits all chemicals and compounds discharged into the air or water
-Empower DEQ to immediately suspend the discharge permits of industries that allow unregulated toxic pollutants to enter the air or water.
-Establish conditions whereby the Governor and DEQ Secretary can “declare an emergency” where the discharge of contaminants can be effectively reduced or discontinued if the public health and safety are in imminent danger.
-Require companies guilty of illegal discharges to provide immediate and long-term treatment solutions and pay related costs. Example: CFPUA has already spent $2 million in costs responding to the GenX crisis and is proposing a $46 million filtration upgrade that customers will pay for, not Chemours. The public should not bear the cost.
-Require discharge violators to pay all expenses related to the cleanup costs.
-Require discharge violators to be responsible for a “health monitoring program” for residents who could suffer health impacts from exposure.
-Repeal “The Hardison Amendment” which prohibits state legislators or agencies from passing stricter standards than those established by the EPA.
It’s a tense political atmosphere in Raleigh. What’s one specific bi-partisan issue you feel you could and would work on?
I would hope we could work on the GenX safe drinking water crisis. People expect and deserve safe air to breathe and clean water to drink. It shouldn’t be political but it is. Quality education for every child is a constitutional promise and shouldn’t be a political issue. But it is. The defunding of our public school system in favor of charter schools and vouchers is crippling our system. The only issue right now that both parties seem to agree on is that we need an independent non-politicized approach to drawing our new voting districts in 2020. We will see if both parties can keep their word.
Do you feel like water-quality issues in the region have been handled acceptably so far? If not, what steps would you take?
Definitely not. When the GenX crisis was exposed on June 8th of 2017, my opponent was not seen or heard for seven weeks. Leadership? When Governor Cooper asked for $2.6 million in emergency funding in July 2017 for the agencies that were in place to address the crisis, DEQ and DHHS, Senator Lee first supported the Governor’s request but then, a few weeks later, after receiving direction from Raleigh party bosses, opposed the governor. Instead, he diverted considerably less funding to local agencies (UNCW and our water authority, CFPUA) to “study” the crisis.
Not until May of 2018, eleven months later, did he get serious by introducing legislation to address the lingering problem surrounding GenX. But before it was brought for a legislative vote, he shared it with private industry for their changes and approval. They got what they wanted.
Of the thousands of emerging contaminants in our river and drinking water, this bill is limited to only a few in the GenX family. To Lee and industry, ignorance is not only bliss, it’s essential!
What role, if any, do you see for the state in beach renourishment?
I believe a partnership and long-term commitment between local, state and federal agencies to fund beach renourishment program is essential. Climate change and sea level rise must be accepted as a reality, and not suppressed, as it is now by the legislature. Climate science must be a part of our policy, planning and funding priorities. Not only is our coastal environment at great risk but also our coastal economies.
I’ve been a small business owner in the tourism and hospitality industry for many years and I understand how important it is that we protect the natural resources that bring visitors to our communities and support the local businesses in the area. When elected, I will fight tirelessly to secure funding to maintain our beaches.
What’s your opinion on the rail-realignment project in Wilmington and the surrounding areas? Is state-level investment warranted?
I support the realignment of the Wilmington rail lines. Again, a commitment of local, state, federal dollars along with private industry’s participation is essential.
North Carolina’s General Assembly banned Medicaid expansion in 2013. Do you think that was a good idea? Why or why not?
The decision not to accept Medicaid expansion in NC was purely political. These politicians all ran against the Affordable Care Act and so now they cannot accept the federal government’s offer to expand, as 33 other states have done. We have 500,000 North Carolinians without healthcare as a result, thousands of our friends and neighbors dying each year simply because they do not have access to affordable healthcare. It is hurting our fight against the opioid crisis by not having essential dollars for prevention and treatment. Rural areas throughout the state are the most severely impacted. Rural hospitals have had to close and economies have suffered and jobs opportunities lost. It’s federal dollars and again is simply political stubbornness.
Do you think the shift to the current grant system hurt the local film industry? What can Raleigh do to help reinvigorate Wilmington’s film scene?
The grant program has absolutely killed the film industry in NC, an $8 billion industry we created in NC over three and a half decades.
The first thing the Legislature should do is bring back the film industry by a simple stroke of the Governor’s pen: Scrap the grant program and reestablish the film incentive/rebate program that made us the Hollywood of the East.
Senator Lee went to Raleigh in 2014 and film went to Atlanta. In 2014 there were 40 productions driving a $280 million industry employing over 18,000 skilled workers. Today we have 3 productions and a grant program that is a pitiful substitute. Last year Georgia generated $2.6 billion in film revenues.
My opponent and his friends in the General Assembly gave the industry away on a silver platter and Georgia has been eating our lunch ever since. We can bring film back home to North Carolina, and with it, our hardworking crew, but we cannot do that with the current legislature, as they are the very ones that gave it away to begin with.
Is school safety a state issue? If so, what state-level measures would help address the risk of school shootings?
Yes. Great attention has been given to security and safety inside our schools, as should be. But we cannot begin to address this issue unless we undertake comprehensive gun reform and legislation to address this problem outside our school walls. Common sense gun control is supported by nearly 90% of Americans. There are things that we can do to protect our children, while still respecting the rights of gun owners. Big lobbyists need to step aside and let the voice of a majority of North Carolinians be heard. In the General Assembly, I will not be beholden to gun lobbyists and will be able to work on comprehensive legislation to keep our kids safe.
Is education adequately funded at the state level? Are their changes you’d make to the way funding is currently delivered to schools?
Less than a generation ago NC was a national leader in public education. Now we are a national embarrassment, at the bottom of the barrel. We have some of the greatest universities and community colleges in the country. Why not the same for our public education system. The legislative actions I would promote are:
- Funding for all three- and four-year-old children to have a PreK education.
- Raise student spending to the national average. Presently 37th in the country. To compete in 21st-century economies, we need 21st-century classrooms.
- Raise teacher salaries to the national average. National teacher pay is at $60,000 or more, annually. NC is [around] $51,000. At the very least we need to reach this national average within 5 years. Teachers are the most important professionals in our community. Pay them accordingly. Budget surplus in 2017 was $650 million. Spend it on public education.
Is North Carolina economically competitive enough? If not, what can Raleigh do to change that?
I think the biggest opportunity is putting our future investment in renewable, clean energy sources. Solar and wind energies are reliable, efficient and unlimited and they have worked well in many other states. Solar is now our nation’s second largest job creator. Fossil fuels are finite and dirty: carbon and methane emissions are a major contributor to global warming and sea level rise.
Raleigh can aggressively promote these new energy sources through incentives to private industry and governments, to develop and adopt, and not delay or obstruct as is now the state policy.