SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — Representative Deb Butler is running to serve a second elected term in House District 18.
Butler was first appointed to the seat in 2017 when former Representative Susi Hamilton stepped down to serve as Governor Cooper’s Secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. She was elected to a two-year term in 2018 and is seeking re-election.
Butler will appear on the ballot alongside Republican candidate Warren Kennedy.
Early voting begins Oct. 15. Same-day registration is available during the early voting period, which ends Oct. 31. Election day is Nov. 3. Check your voter registration and county elections office to confirm polling locations, dates, and hours.
Port City Daily emailed both candidates the below questionnaire and will run their responses ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Port City Daily edited responses for spelling and grammatical errors only.
Port City Daily (PCD): How would you grade Governor Roy Cooper’s response to the pandemic (A-F)? Did the state’s executive branch overstep its authority or are you comfortable with actions taken to protect public health? What, if anything, do you think should have been done differently?
Deb Butler (DB): I give Governor Cooper, his staff, and the team at the Department of Health and Human Services, particularly Dr. Mandy Cohen, a grade of “A.” Unlike many of our southern neighbors, Governor Cooper and Dr. Cohen let science be their guide. Tried-and-true public health guidance kept us from suffering worse than we have, and if this approach had been used to formulate a national strategy instead of the piecemeal approach we are suffering, we would be have suffered far less death and economic devastation in this country.
PCD: Do you support the current flexibility given to the state’s elementary schools to reopen, or do you think there should be more concrete recommendations and guidelines? Should this same level of flexibility be extended to all grade levels?
DB: Yes, I believe principals, teachers and parents are in the best position to determine the best path forward for their particular schools. It is important to test this approach with our youngest students because, again, the current science seems to indicate the youngest students are less impacted by the disease and are less likely to transmit the virus. But we are learning every day, so we must be nimble and adaptive as we learn what best practices to employ.
PCD: Are you satisfied with the state’s current grant-based film incentive program? Should the state aim to bring back its previous refundable tax credits to entice filmmakers to bring projects back to the region?
DB: No, I am not satisfied with the current program. There were several things that conspired to destroy our robust film industry, such as regressive social policies (think HB2, the bathroom bill), as well as the scraping of our successful rebate program. The Republicans in Raleigh disingenuously say they don’t like “incentives” as they explain their apparent disdain for NC film—but, look, we give incentives ALL the time (think Amazon). The rebate program was working extremely well, the grant program is not. We should return to the successful program post haste.
PCD: Over the past decade, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has lost more than one-third of its funding. Should the state increase funding for DEQ?
DB: Yes, we are discovering more PFAS, GenX, and other perflourinated compounds all across NC. Testing our water, holding polluters accountable and enforcing regulations takes personnel and resources. Undermining the capacity of our watchdogs emboldens polluters. We cannot allow that to be the case.
PCD: Should the state increase teacher pay? Why or why not?
DB: It is an absolute necessity. How can you recruit the best and the brightest to teach in NC when they can go to at least 35 other states, and earn a better living for themselves and their families? NC has a strong legacy of superlative public schools and teachers. Regrettably, however, we have seen this decline over the recent past. It’s time to reinvest in our children, our teachers and our schools.
PCD: If elected, what local issues do you plan to advocate for at the state level?
DB: While not specific to our region alone, we must expand Medicaid for our citizens so they can get the care they need. Right now, instead of more affordable and consistent care, people are waiting until their health issues become emergencies and they flood the ER. This is bad for them, bad for the system, more expensive and wrong. If we have learned anything during this pandemic, hopefully, it is that it is long past time to expand Medicaid in NC, thereby bringing much needed care for our citizens, creating tons of jobs, and increasing productivity at our hospitals.
Further, as stated above, we have got to invest in schools, students and
teachers. We need to implement a strong schedule to get our teachers to at least the national average in pay, and we need to pass a school bond to meet an existing 8 billion dollar need for classroom space. And, my goodness, we have got to ramp up our efforts on water quality. I would like to see NC embrace the precautionary principle that says, unless and until you can prove that your manufacturing by-products do no harm, then you are not
permitted any discharge into our public trust resources.
Lastly, in the area of job creation, I am anxious to cultivate clean energy
technologies to our region. Further, we can expand our leadership role in this country in the area of solar energy, wind and wave technologies.
PCD: If elected, do you plan to advocate for stronger water quality monitoring and contaminant limitations of public drinking water and discharges? If yes, what specific solutions do you think are needed at the state level to address the region’s water quality concerns?
DB: Yes, see the answer above. Additionally, I am working on legislation that would expand our polluter pay statutes to enhance the remedies available to public and municipal providers of water for the damages they suffer when implementing technologies to rid our drinking supply of toxins placed there by corporate polluters.
PCD: How would you rate the economic health of southeastern N.C. and what would you like to see happen to strengthen these numbers?
DB: If it wasn’t clear already, the pandemic has highlighted that diversifying job opportunities in this region is well-advised. Of course, hospitality and tourism are important, but particularly vulnerable to this type of downturn. Nurturing and expanding the clean energy technology sector, as well as the financial software sector, rekindling our film industry, and recruiting clean water technologies and research are all areas I would like to explore.
PCD: The N.C. Division of Employment Security was slow to respond to millions of unemployment insurance claims filed this year in response to the pandemic. What would you do to address such a logjam in the face of a future crisis?
DB: The volume certainly did overwhelm the system. There is no doubt about that. But, in their defense, the volume was not just high, it was crushingly high—like tenfold in one month what they had typically seen in a year. But I am informed the number of servers has been expanded exponentially, the staffing is more robust, and the training has been enhanced. These are all mechanical problems that are fixable. More important, is the disgrace that NC’s unemployment insurance program is the LOWEST in the country. That is the biggest issue in need of a remedy. We must increase the weekly limit of the claims, and we must expand the duration of the claim to allow people the ability to survive while they adapt and secure other gainful employment.
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