NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Democratic Senator Harper Peterson is running for re-election in District 9.
In 2018, Peterson narrowly beat then-Senator Michael Lee by just 231 votes.
Related: With roles reversed, Lee and Peterson face off again for N.C. Senate seat
Now, Lee and Peterson will face off again for the seat, with Peterson hoping to be elected for a second term.
Early voting is underway. 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 act in the interest of public health? What, if anything, do you think should have been done differently?
Harper Peterson (HP): I give Governor Cooper a very favorable “passing” grade. He has done a tremendous job with our state’s response to COVID-19, a health crisis of unknown magnitude. He has managed a delicate balance between protecting public health and keeping our economy from crashing.
Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues have treated this pandemic as a partisan issue, rather than focusing on what’s best for the health and economy of North Carolina.
Earlier this year, I introduced SB 788, the Save Our Restaurants Act, which would have established a restaurant and hotel stabilization fund for $125 million in loans to assist qualifying businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. The hospitality industry is a major economic driver of coastal Carolina, but Republican leadership wouldn’t bring this bill up for a vote, and my opponent, Michael Lee, even attacked me for attempting to help our struggling small business owners.
We must put politics aside and put people first.
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?
HP: The flexibility given our elementary schools, statewide, to reopen was the right move. We know the pandemic differs from county to county, and the decision to reopen in person, or virtually, should be left up to each local school board. Having said that, I am very concerned that the safety of our students, teachers, and parents in this equation is not being given the necessary attention it deserves. The first and most important calculus in reopening is the environments at home, in transit, and in the schools are as safe from the virus as is possible. To rush is a half-step forward and two steps back.
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?
HP: We are poised here in Wilmington and statewide to regain our stature as a leading film production center, not only nationally but worldwide. We lost that mantel due directly to the disastrous policy and legislation of the present Republican legislature. When the Republicans canceled the tax credit incentives in 2013 and then they and my opponent voted for HB2, production companies, like Disney and Netflix, turned their back on NC. We lost over 4,000 high-paying skilled jobs and billions in revenues as result.
Despite what Lee will tell you about the Republican’s grant program, he never fought to bring film back. Our film industry was built on the tax credit system, that’s what I’ll fight to bring back.
With a new Democratic legislature, updated and competitive legislation, and one stroke of the pen by Governor Cooper, we will bring film home to North Carolina.
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? Do you have a stance on the Hardison Amendment?
HP: The Republican legislature has tied DEQ’s hands in aggressively enforcing our state regulations. Our public health, our coastal economy, and our quality-of-life are dependent on protecting our rivers, our coastal wetlands, and our ocean. Companies like DuPont, Chemours, Duke Energy Progress, and the hog and poultry industries have treated our waters as their dumping grounds for years. Their profits should not come at our expense. For too long, our state leaders have protected polluters over people for political gain.
We need to know what’s in the water, its source, its degree of harm to public health and the environment, and require the perpetrators to pay for all remediation and damages.
My opponent voted to take funding from DEQ, while protecting corporations from paying for the damage they’ve caused to our environment. We must reinvest in our regulatory and enforcement agencies, specifically DEQ, DHHS and DOJ, in addressing corporate pollution, and we must remove the Hardison Amendment so we, at the state level, can properly protect our environment and the health of North Carolinians.
PCD: Should the state increase teacher pay? Why or why not?
HP: Teachers are the most important professionals in our community and must be paid accordingly. We must reinvest in public school education — our nation’s universal economic bootstrap — by demanding professional pay for teachers, administrators, and support staff and providing robust spending for students, from pencils and computers to classrooms, guarantee universal pre-K education for every child, support and provide funding and opportunity for both rural and urban schools, and support partnerships between scholastic research and the private sector to create and attract 21st century jobs and industries.
In passing the budget this year, the legislature had the opportunity to support an 8.5% increase in teacher pay, but Republican leadership rejected the budget, opting for a smaller increase in teacher pay. We must continue to fight for increased funding to our public education system and increases in teacher pay to the national average, and we will not settle for less than what is deserved.
PCD: If elected, what local issues do you plan to advocate for at the state level?
HP: 1. Climate change is a reality, and we need to understand, in real terms, its potential and crippling impacts on our environment, economy, and culture. The governor’s Executive Order 80 addresses resiliency and recovery in light of increasing and more violent storm events, carbon reduction and neutralizing goals, and the transition to renewable, clean energies. All of these proactive measures will also create a new generation of jobs and sustainable economies for our region.
2. Bringing back film, with a realistic and competitive tax-credit incentive policy will mean thousands of new jobs and billions in revenue.
3. Adequate funding for our regulatory, health, and enforcement agencies, DEQ, DHHS, DOJ, to address the human and environmental health challenges caused by the unregulated discharge of toxic chemicals into our public waters and air by both private industry and public utilities.
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? How do you expect to interact with companies such as DuPont and Chemours, which have been accused of contributing to water pollution in New Hanover County?
HP: I will reintroduce SB518, a comprehensive response to the unregulated and illegal discharge of toxic man-made chemicals, including GenX, into our public waters and air, and SB516, a study bill of the unregulated poultry industry that is a ticking time bomb, threatening human health and environmental justice. Poultry and swine are essential to our state’s economy, but that does not mean they cannot operate responsibly when it comes to the management of their animal waste, and the resulting health impacts on poor and minority populations that live within their shadows.
PCD: Do you support a national health insurance plan for all Americans? Why or why not? What will you do to bring down healthcare costs and help all NC citizens receive coverage?
HP: I will continue to support the Affordable Care Act, improving on its basic tenants in striving to provide health care for individuals and small businesses, while protecting those with pre-existing conditions. Furthermore, we must accept Medicaid expansion, federal dollars that will provide healthcare for over 650,000 hard-working NC men and women that are presently denied access. 38 states, both Republican and Democratic, have demonstrated the health and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion, especially in rural areas where it reverses hospital closings and bolsters local economies.
The evidence is overwhelming. Medicaid improves lives, particularly in southern states, and numerous studies confirm that expanding Medicaid would benefit every county, both health-wise and economically across North Carolina. Every time my opponent voted against expanding Medicaid, he left billions of dollars of federal money and over 37,000 new health care and community jobs on the table.
PCD: How would you rate the economic health of southeastern NC and what would you like to see happen to strengthen these numbers?
HP: We need to continue to build on the strong economies we have. Specifically our tourism and travel industry, our quality health care (NHRMC), higher educational institutions (UNCW, CFCC), our private sector pharmaceutical, marine science, and financial industries. Likewise, we need to realize the economic opportunities that climate change offers. As we transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy (solar wind), as we build a more resilient and sustainable coastal environment addressing elements of our vulnerable and aging infrastructure, as we protect our fragile environment of streams and beaches and wetlands, we will see new good-paying jobs and robust economies develop.
A coordinated and enlightened partnership between public and private interests, state and local governments, existing and emerging industries, and educational institutions at all levels, will bring prosperity and guarantee a bright future for coastal communities for generations to come.
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?
HP: North Carolina has one of the lowest unemployment insurance benefit levels of any state ($350), and one of the shortest benefit periods (12 weeks), and it has left thousands of people crippled during the COVID-19 pandemic. We must increase unemployment insurance benefits, modernize the Department of Employment Security (DES) IT infrastructure and dramatically increase personnel to make unemployment insurance more accessible, especially in times of emergency.
PCD: How do you perceive the evolution of the UNC System Board of Governors in recent years? In your eyes, has the Board become overly politicized? If elected, what would you do to ensure the interests of students and universities are represented in good faith by the Board of Governors?
HP: I believe the board of governors has become overly politicized in recent years. The original vision and mission for our state university system, a haven for academic freedom and research, has been blurred and undermined.
Politicized appointments since 2010 by the Republican legislature have been controversial and proven harmful. Decades of apolitical management of budgets and investment, new construction, academic expansion, and more has only recently become skewed with the appointment of Republican ideologues. Downsizing the board membership, weakening board diversity, ending academic centers, and the lack of transparency in board appointments are worrisome and need reversal by a declarative from the present board that this great institution must again be seen and respected as an apolitical academic driver.
PCD: Can you speak to your position on N.C.’s redistricting process? In your opinion, are there significant reforms needed regarding the processes by which N.C.’s congressional lines are drawn? If so, do you have any proposals?
HP: We need a fair redistricting process that has people’s best interests in mind, not political parties. I fully support establishing an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission to ensure we have fair elections. The voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.
PCD: Should localities and municipalities have the ability to enact laws that differ from N.C. legislation? Recently, this issue has come up with statue removal and civil rights legislation, but could also be applicable to other, not yet challenged areas of the law.
HP: City officials are duly elected to represent the interests of their local communities. The state legislature should not be in the habit of enforcing their will onto local jurisdictions in highly partisan or political matters. We should, instead, seek to work with these localities, understand their view, and the view of the North Carolinians they represent. My role is to partner with local government on core issues, not override.
I am happy to engage in the very emotional and divisive issue of confederate statues and listen to all sides, with the exception of policies that inhibit current civil rights policies. Civil rights protections are a national policy imperative and should not be infringed upon at the state or local levels.
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