Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Election 2022: Michael Lee campaigns to remain senator for N.C. District 7

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Republican incumbent Michael Lee is hoping to keep his seat for the N.C. Senate District 7. He is facing off against Democrat Marcia Morgan in the November election.

Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate running in local elections in the tri-county region.

Lee’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full; the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall is dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots will be available Sept. 9 and have a Nov. 1 deadline.
  • Registration to vote will open until Oct. 14; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration only will be available during one-stop early voting. 
  • Early voting begins Oct. 20 and remains open through Nov. 5 (3:30 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 8, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Locations to vote early in New Hanover County include CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 2nd. St.), Carolina Beach Municipal Building (1121 Lake Park Blvd.), CFCC North Campus (4500 Blue Clay Rd.), Northeast Library/Board of Elections (1241-A Military Cutoff Rd.), and the Senior Center (2222 S. College Rd.).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on the voter registration card.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

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Port City Daily (PCD): Name three projects you currently are advocating for and why.
Michael Lee (ML): Infrastructure, affordable housing, economic development and support for our nonprofits.

I will continue to provide significant infrastructure funding to our area from the state budget. I provided over $53.5 million to our area to address issues with PFAS mitigation and to bolster our access to clean water supplies. We have over $2 billion in transportation projects in our region. We allocated over $1.8 billion to affordable housing in our state with significant local funding to projects in New Hanover County to help in the crises we now face. 

Finally, as to economic development — I tripled the film incentive and made it permanent and will continue my other economic development work that saw record local jobs announcements in our area and North Carolina as a whole. In addition to working to create new jobs, I fought for the businesses that are already here through a low tax environment and continuing to minimize unnecessary regulation.

I will continue to fight for local nonprofits that provide the front-line support that many in our community need. I delivered significant funding to The Harrelson Center, Eden Village, Communities in Schools, the Child Development Center, Mt. Calvary Center, the Food Bank, Paws4People, Tides, WARM, the Arts Council and many others.

PCD: Do you support the expansion of Medicaid?
MM: Yes, I support Medicaid expansion and voted for it when it passed the NC Senate with a bi-partisan majority. I was on the Medicaid expansion and access to healthcare select committee this year in the general assembly and will continue to fight for expanded access to care for all North Carolinians.

PCD: Where do you stand on women’s reproductive health rights and would you support legislation to further restrict abortions in North Carolina?
ML: I have a wife and a daughter, and I am surrounded by women I love and deeply respect. I would never tell a woman she doesn’t have the right to make her own choices. I believe, like most North Carolinians, there is a balance in the middle: that abortions in the first trimester should be legal.  After the first three months of pregnancy, there should be exceptions for rape, incest, fetal viability and maternal health. 

Virtually, every country — except totalitarian nations like China and North Korea — have banned late-term and partial-birth abortion. Rather than listening to the extremists, let’s shift our focus to the human, personal and often heartbreaking reasons behind WHY women have to make this choice.

PCD: What else needs to be done to help all North Carolinians have access to affordable healthcare?
ML: Number one, Medicaid expansion will put downward pressure on healthcare costs for North Carolinians with private healthcare insurance because those people would no longer have to cover the uncompensated care of the uninsured. Medicaid expansion must be part of the solution on making healthcare more affordable.

Secondly, we must remove unnecessary regulations, so long as they are unnecessary for protecting patients, and encourage more healthcare services to locate in North Carolina and more providers to practice here.

PCD: What can you bring to the table to address the affordable housing crisis currently facing Residents?
ML: I will continue to support the various state programs related to home ownership, home rehabilitation and repair, foreclosure prevention/housing stability, rental development and supportive housing which saw an investment statewide of over $1.8 billion toward affordable housing effort resulting in over 6,000 additional new units.  We noticed inflation was putting many affordable housing efforts in jeopardy in our area and across the state. So, we funded $190 million dollars to provide gap funding so many of these projects would not be shut down. There are several local projects that will be saved as a result.

Finally, on a local level, I will continue to work with the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County on various policies to incentivize the development of workforce housing and will continue to do so.

PCD: What would your main priorities be to address infrastructure needs in North Carolina? 
ML: This is another area where my opponent is out of touch. She does not realize that significant infrastructure funding has been provided to our area as our roads, water/sewer infrastructure, airport and ports have been my priority since I was first elected. 

I was chairman of the board for NC Ports Authority prior to my election to the NC Senate and knew that the state was not supporting the ports with any capital funding. So, in 2015 I spearheaded capital funding of $70 million dollars over two years for the NC Ports. 

In 2017, I fought to raise it to $90 million every two years and that funding continues to this day. In addition, we funded $283 million dollars last year to the NC Ports for the harbor deepening project. 

In 2017, I worked with my colleagues to fund our airports in North Carolina. New Hanover Regional Airport received over $12 million dollars in this last budget as a result. 

Currently, there are almost $2 billion in road transportation projects underway in our region. This year, we made significant increases in transportation funding to provide much needed resources to keep up with our fast-growing population and economy. 

Finally, we need to make sure we have clean, efficient access to water and sewer capacity. That is why I fought for over $53 million of local funding in the state budget to our area for water and sewer improvements. This has been a priority for me this term and will continue to be in my next.

PCD: How do you propose the government assist with combating inflation and its ramifications — rising rents, groceries, utilities, prescription drugs, gas — on working families?
ML: North Carolina and the rest of the country is dealing with record-breaking inflation — and families are struggling with the rising cost of groceries, energy, housing, prescription drugs, etc. – due to wrong-headed policies in Washington, D.C. 

If I am re-elected, I will do whatever we can at the state level to help families dealing with the rising cost of living, just as I have done in my three terms: lower the state income tax for families and small businesses and increase take-home pay, fight for healthcare reform that bends the cost curve for patients and consumers, and encourage an all-of-the-above energy policy that bolsters renewable energy while ensuring that energy consumers pay the lowest cost available. 

Finally, I will continue to fight for policies that bring good paying jobs to our area as we have seen in recent announcements in the past few years.

PCD: There has been a lot of talk about reforming ABC laws in the state, often called “draconian” by business owners tied to them. Would you support revising some of the laws and do you support privatization — why or why not?
ML: First, we can never allow bars and restaurants to be treated differently than other businesses as we saw during the pandemic. We provided various relief to these business in our ABC system through permit deferrals and other relief. 

Second, we need to find better ways of regulating the distribution of alcohol that removes the unnecessary burdens and regulations on small businesses. We have already started this process with bi-partisan, common-sense legislation that modernizes many of the archaic ABC laws. The ABC system regulates beer and wine through licensing and have 170 different ABC local boards operating 436 different ABC stores. 

We will continue to modernize our ABC system while making sure it remains safe, efficient, and business friendly.

PCD: The state has been recognized as one of the best in business. How far should North Carolina go to attract companies and promote economic development?
ML: I’m proud of the work we’ve done in the General Assembly to make North Carolina the #1 state in America for business, as recognized this year by CNBC. I pledge to continue fighting to reduce taxes on families and small businesses, continue efforts to attract businesses, and make sure the state budget is fiscally sound. In my three terms, we have cut the state income tax rate, making the first $25,000 a family or small business earns free of state income taxes. I will continue to advocate for businesses to move to our areas with high-paying jobs – and continue to support the workforce development initiatives at UNCW and Cape Fear Community College so our citizens can get the education, skills, and training they need to be successful in this new economy. 

Specifically, as to our area, I provided significant infrastructure funding in the last few years necessary for New Hanover County to attract good paying jobs to our area. These businesses are interested in logistics and infrastructure. In the past biennium budget, we provided $12 million dollars to our airport, over $350 million to our ports, $53.5 million toward clean water and to mitigate the impacts of PFAS improvements made at the CFPUA, a new funding stream for transportation funding that our area will benefit greatly from, and various other capital funding to promote economic development in New Hanover County.

PCD: Coming out of 2021, wherein NC garnered over $400 million from film projects, should North Carolina take steps to strengthen the industry, such as improving grants?
ML: When I was first elected, I tripled the film incentive and then made it permanent. I worked hard to provide $62 million in every biennium budget to make sure our area has the support it needs to attract film and television productions. We crafted the legislation to promote a stable workforce that lives in our area rather than one that simply travels here for short periods of time. We did not get to these record-breaking economic opportunities overnight. It took me years of hard work, advocating for our area and we are now seeing the benefits. I will continue these efforts in the future to make sure the industry has an opportunity to continue this record-breaking growth.

PCD: Do you support the state’s progression toward offshore wind development? Clean energy tax breaks? Explain.
ML: Provided the offshore windmills cannot be seen from our beaches, there is no environmental impact of the windmills themselves or their underwater infrastructure, and taxpayers are not subsidizing the cost, I am not opposed to offshore wind development. 

Given the state of our economy and the dramatically increasing cost of living to our citizens, the only incentives our state should be pursuing are those that bring sustainable, good paying jobs to our area.

PCD: How does the state need to improve its flood resilience plan to prevent disaster scenarios, like Hurricane Florence’s aftermath?
ML: I am proud to have helped develop and support historic investments in Hurricane Florence recovery, with a strong focus on resilience. Flooding is the costliest natural disaster that our state will face. Our investments from the state budget help ensure that our state and local governments are using the most up to date and accurate data and mapping to inform decision making and investments. 

We have made significant investments, and continue to study, how we can make our transportation infrastructure more resilient to increased flood concerns. The state legislature has also provided funding to more regularly clear debris out of our waterways, stormwater infrastructure improvements and other efforts that will allow water to more effectively be moved during significant rain events. 

While we correctly invest in pre-disaster mitigation, we must acknowledge that four years after hurricanes Florence and Matthew made landfall, many of our citizens are still suffering and are trying to put their lives and homes back together. We have created a legislative committee on hurricane response and recovery to find out why the governor and his administration have yet to reach all of our residents impacted by Hurricane Florence and Matthew.   

Although we have taken great strides to improve our ability to weather future storms, this is a vitally important effort that will take time. We have, and will continue, to make the necessary investments to become a more resilient state to future flooding disasters.

PCD: What needs to be done to address PFAs in North Carolinians’ drinking water?
ML: First, the governor and regulatory agencies need to enforce our laws and take action to make polluters pay for impacts on our environment and water quality. 

Second, mitigation/water filtration is a key to fighting this problem. 

I authored the Water Safety Act of 2018 and 2021, which provided the framework and funding for new technologies to remove these compounds from our air, water and soil. As a result, we have teams of leading academic experts developing resins to remove PFAS from water that are more promising and effective than anything in the world. Because of the Water Safety Act, these technologies are now being tested here in New Hanover County. 

We have other university experts looking at reducing these compounds to their elemental form once they’re removed so they will no longer be considered “forever chemicals.” This all resulted from the Water Safety Acts of 2018 and 2021 which established: a statewide monitoring network (see www.ncpfastnetwork.com); funded DEQ for enforcement of bad actors; gave the governor the power to shut down polluters and make them pay; provided funding for cities and towns to begin the process of municipal connections for those on contaminated wells (with a provision of reimbursement from the polluter); invested over $40 million of direct and indirect funding toward PFAS research, mitigation, and filtration; and much, much more. 

I will continue these efforts to make sure we have clean, safe water to drink and that the technology is developed to remove PFAS from our drinking supplies.

PCD: What do you consider the top issues in our K-12 schools right now and how would you work to address it?
ML: Learning loss and mental health are persistent concerns among our children. I fought for significant funding and studies to address learning loss and for school psychologists and counselors in our schools. I will continue to work on the dramatic and continued impacts of the pandemic among our children through targeted funding, support, and creative programs within our schools. 

We increased education funding by $2.5 billion in this biennium budget, increased teacher pay (provided a $2,800 bonus this past year for most teachers), and will continue to invest in education. I fought to re-open schools when I was re-elected and my opponent, along with Roy Cooper did just the opposite. 

Not being in school has led to the record-learning loss we are seeing. I fought for a Parents Bill of Rights so parents could easily find out about their child’s education and mental health in school. My opponent opposes this effort. Parents deserve choice in their child’s education. 

My opponent opposes charter schools, opportunity scholarships and disability grants to those children with the most needs. I will make sure these opportunities are not eliminated as my opponent would like.

Finally, for more on my thoughts in the area of education, please see a bi-partisan commission I co-chaired that resulted in the Hunt-Lee Commission Final Report April 2021

PCD: Are there any actions you support to make North Carolina a more equitable state and provide opportunities to historically marginalized populations?
ML: I fought for opportunity scholarships for low-income families where a child can go to the school of their choice, the disability grant so that students with the most needs have the resources to help them reach their potential, and the NC Promise program which provides tuition of $500 per semester at four universities including three historically minority serving institutions.

My opponent opposes opportunity scholarships, the disability grant for our children who need help the most and charter schools. Giving families choice in their child’s education is an opportunity that children deserve.

PCD: Where do you stand on the decriminalization of marijuana? Explain.
ML: I sponsored the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act to provide a system whereby those suffering from debilitating conditions can have safe and regulated access to medical marijuana. We created a policy that will allow those North Carolinians suffering the most to have access to medical marijuana in a safe and legal process. When speaking of any reforms involving marijuana, enacting medical marijuana is the priority for me.

I sponsored the most significant criminal justice reform bill in our state’s history along with Senators Britt and Daniel. These reforms were supported by law enforcement and the various groups calling for the reforms. The common sense and significant measures taken were the first step in what will likely be a series of criminal justice reform steps in the future. 

PCD: What resources do we need in place to continue to fight Covid-19? How should the state prepare for a future pandemic.
ML: We, in North Carolina, are already on the forefront of research in recovering from the public health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic by utilizing the intellectual capital and research capabilities of our institutions of higher learning within the state that included both UNC System and non-system campuses.

Many of the technologies and concepts that were developed and deployed over the past few years with $74 million in direct investments by the NCGA included becoming global leaders in wastewater surveillance, development of next-generation Covid vaccines and therapeutics, multiple studies of long Covid, cold-storage storage freezers deployed to 15 UNC System campuses with the capacity to store more than 9 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccines, and statewide SARS-CoV-2 variant surveillance referred to as CORVASEQ (CORonavirus VAriant SEQuencing network) — efforts that are still active today and help continue to drive policy making decisions as we move forward.

The technologies, methods, and lessons learned over the past few years also allow North Carolina to be better prepared for the next public health crisis. The UNC Institute of Pharmacy Eshelman Institute for Innovation and Structural Genomics Consortium announced the historic Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative (READDI). The READDI program’s tagline is “The best time to fight a global pandemic is now. And always.”

The first five READDI projects were funded by the NCGA via the NC Collaboratory as well as a subsequent $18 million from the NCGA in November 2021 that helped secure the potential for more than $100 million in federal support. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the $74 million appropriated by the general assembly to the NC Collaboratory was used to support research on treatment, community testing, and prevention of Covid-19. These projects are based at 15 UNC campuses, including six Historically Minority-Serving institutions (FSU, ECSU, NCA&T, NCCU, UNCP, and WSSU) which each received initial grants of $1 million each. Many of these campuses continue their pandemic-related efforts, including community testing and studies on how best to understand and mitigate K-12 learning loss. 

Later this month, in partnership with the NC Department of Public Instruction, the collaboratory plans to announce a portfolio of 20 projects addressing COVID-related learning loss funded with $6 million in funding provided by the NCGA.


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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