CoastLine Candidate Interview Samples from 2016

Aug 9, 2017

This is a small sample of interviews with candidates in the 2016 election seeking federal, state, and local office. 

CoastLine Candidate Interviews during the 2016 election season included:

North Carolina's 7th Congressional District (David Rouzer vs. Wesley Casteen)

North Carolina House District 17 (Frank Iler, R-Brunswick County)

North Carolina House District 19 (Ted Davis, R-New Hanover County)

North Carolina House District 20 (Holly Grange, R-New Hanover County)

North Carolina House District 18 (Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover County v. Gerald Benton, Republican Challenger)

North Carolina Senate District 9 (Michael Lee, R- New Hanover County, Andrew Barnhill, Democratic Challenger)

Brunswick and New Hanover County Boards of Education candidates

Brunswick and New Hanover County Boards of Commission candidates

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On this edition of the CoastLine Candidate Interviews, we’re talking with David Rouzer.  He’s North Carolina’s  Republican Congressman from Johnston County in the 7th District who has served one term and is seeking a second.  Before winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, David Rouzer served in the North Carolina Senate for two terms – representing the 12th district. 

North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District stretches from the southeastern coast of North Carolina encompassing Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender Counties and then west to the more rural Columbus, Sampson, Wayne and Duplin Counties.  The district also includes portions of Johnston and Bladen County.  70% of voters in the 7th district are white, 21% are black and 9% identify as Hispanic. 

Registered Democrats make up the lion’s share of the district at 44%.  Republicans claim 32.5% and unaffiliated voters make up 23%.

It was 2012 that David Rouzer challenged Democratic incumbent Congressman Mike McIntyre for the seat in the 7th District.  Rouzer lost that election, but it was a close one.  Two years later, McIntyre decided not to run again, and David Rouzer won the seat in a race against Democrat Jonathan Barfield.  This year, he faces Democratic Challenger Wesley Casteen – whom we met on the October 6th edition of CoastLine.

RLH: During your time in the North Carolina State Senate, you helped to get a law passed in 2012, I think it was, that barred state agencies from considering accelerated sea level rise in decision-making until July of this year. This was essentially a moratorium on accepting recommendations from a science panel based on their research.

David Rouzer: Well, you have to go back and look at what they were proposing at the time. They were basically saying, “Here’s a model. The model assumes that the sea level—for example, here in Wilmington—will rise by 39 inches within one hundred years.” Well, Rachel, we just had a hurricane come through. Was that model correct the entire time? No. My point is this: How are you going to make a decision, that’s based on a projection one hundred years from now, when we can’t even get the hurricane forecast right six days out, three days out, two days out? Nobody anticipated the flooding that we had in the inland part of this district, and that’s because the models are not perfect.  

RLH: That’s right, but Climate Central, which is made up of scientists and science journalists—it’s been cited by the Associated Press, Reuters, all the major news networks, Nightline, Time, Scientific American, National Geographic—this group just published a study that shows that over the last decade, human-driven climate change has caused 82% of the flood days in Wilmington, North Carolina. It also says that in the last decade, human-driven climate change has caused 308 out of 376 flood days for Wilmington. Has your thinking on sea level rise and climate change changed at all in the last several years?

David Rouzer: Let’s talk about our areas of expertise and everybody’s role in this. I’m not a scientist. I don’t pretend to be a scientist. I do know this: scientists disagree about what is causing climate change. I do know this—

RLH: The largest part of the scientific community says manmade climate change is a thing. Do you think it’s real?

David Rouzer: That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right. I was a chemistry major at NC State. One of the things you learn early on in science is you have a hypothesis. You keep trying to prove, prove, prove until it is disproven. Well, the fact of the matter is, none of this is absolutely proven to be true. We don’t know yet. It’s all based on models. From a public policy standpoint, I don’t get in the middle of the debate between the scientists. What I say, from a public policy perspective, is we need to be basing public policy on what we absolutely know to be the case, not based on a hypothesis.

RLH: Is manmade climate change real?

David Rouzer: I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is the earth has warmed and cooled since the beginning of time. And obviously it was warming and cooling long before the manmade combustible engine. We have volcanoes. We have all kinds of natural disasters, such as forest fires, etc. I’m certain all of that has a lot of influence on the climate change as well. The question becomes, as a lawmaker, you’re making public policy decisions, and these public policy decisions have huge impacts. They impact property rights. They impact property values. They impact whether or not you can have insurance in certain areas, for example. They impact a whole slew of things which, because of all those individual impacts, you have community impacts. So for example, if you’re a coastal community, and they’re projecting that you have a 39-inch increase in sea level rise in one hundred years and they make certain modifications based on that, well all of a sudden, you have property owners that lose all of the value of their property. You have a tax base that declines. The coastal community doesn’t have the amount of tax revenue coming in that it once had.

RLH: It is a complicated issue, but then you can also have people building homes on areas that will flood before one hundred years comes along.  

David Rouzer: With everything, there is a balance, for sure. What I’m saying is, it’s faulty to go and make a public policy decision based on a hypothesis that has not been proven. That’s the bottom line. And that has always been my position on it. Now, at some point in time, I’m sure the scientists will be able to come to an agreement about climate change, what causes it, what doesn’t cause it, etc. But right now, there may be a consensus in some circles—

RLH: 97% of scientific -- climate science—

David Rouzer: I don’t know if that’s 100% accurate. I know there’s a lot of scientists that have real questions about these models and about the argument on the other side. Until the day it’s unanimous where we can actually have forecasts that we absolutely are certain are accurate, it makes it very difficult to make those public policy decisions. My position all along has been, rather than looking at a model one hundred years out, why don’t we look at the trends from the past ten, twenty, thirty years and going back, use the historical data to make our judgments because we know that data is absolutely accurate because it is historical?

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North Carolina House District 18 -- Hamilton vs. Benton

On this edition of the CoastLine Candidate Interviews, we meet North Carolina Representative Susi Hamilton, a Democrat from New Hanover County, who has held the seat for three terms and is seeking a fourth. 

But first, we hear from her Republican challenger this November – Gerald Benton. 

North Carolina’s House District 18 includes a northwestern portion of New Hanover County -- most of the downtown area and Wrightsboro – just south of Castle Hayne. The larger geographic part of District 18 covers a northern swath of Brunswick County, dipping down into parts of Winnabow and Leland.  But from a population perspective, there are more voters in New Hanover:  64% live on the Wilmington side of the river. 

Across the entire district, Brunswick and New Hanover Counties, 62% of residents are white, 31% are black, and 6.5% are Hispanic.   Nearly 49% of the voters are registered as Democrats, 24% are registered Republicans, and about 27% are unaffiliated.

RLH: And so, if you’re leading on the issue of education, what is it then, if you didn’t have to build consensus and if you could just shape this system according to how you think it needs to go, how would you do that? What would you engineer it to be?

GB: I think we need to push for educational savings accounts, which would wrap into the pre-K programs and the head start programs so that the money would be state-deposited into your account, you could use that money at a school and put your child right into a pre-K program and pay for whatever pre-K program you want, no state-approved system. That way, you can use what’s convenient to you as a parent and what your goals are as a parent. It would also allow you to put money into those accounts, and that would be tax deductible. So if you want to send your child to Cape Fear Academy, let’s say, you could pay the tuition out of your pocket, and it would be tax deductible.

RLH: Critics of this idea would say you’re taking money away from the public school system and it’s the state’s responsibility to educate all children effectively in this state.

GB: Absolutely.

RLH: So why shouldn’t the public school system then just get all of the resources and be the finest possible school system it can be so people don’t want to send their children anywhere else?

GB: Because money doesn’t solve the public schools’ issues and they don’t cater to all children equally. That’s a huge issue. Government is very inefficient. They waste a lot of money.

RLH:  Anna writes:  I would like to know where the candidates stand on offshore drilling. Although we have been taken out of the federal plan for offshore drilling, Donald Trump and Pat McCrory have advocated for it in the past. Should Trump win the presidency, the federal plan may be altered to include North Carolina. If this were to happen, would you support a plan to drill or oppose it?

GB: At this point in time, we no longer have a choice. It is approved in the state legislature. Representative Hamilton did vote to override Bev Perdue’s veto. She was the overriding vote. She cast the one vote that put us over the edge to make that go through. So at this point, all we can do is make sure the environmental standards are open and public because the way the law is written right now, once they tap in the ground, all of that becomes proprietary corporate information, all the environmental reports, and we can’t see them. So I would probably propose to make sure that those are public record because—

RLH: Are you talking about hydraulic fracturing or offshore drilling?

GB: Both are going to be protected as corporate information. So we need to make sure that everything is as transparent as possible. Like I said, at this point, it’s very unlikely the legislature is going to overturn that. I live on the river here. I mean, I go fishing. I have a boat. I live here, and I don’t want to see any oil wash up on our beach, kill our wildlife. In fact, I’m a big proponent for regulating commercial fishing, oyster renewal, all of those types of things, because I’m concerned about our natural resources.

RLH: So do you oppose or do you support offshore drilling?

GB: If it can be done safely, I would support it, but we have to make sure that this is done correctly. We have to make sure the state has regulatory action here and is keeping an eye on this because we’ve seen how the feds are not doing their jobs in regulating this properly, making sure the proper cement is being put in. There are a lot of concerns, and at this point, I don’t think it can be safely done. So until I could see something— I’d become a little more knowledgeable on it. I’m going to say I’m hesitant on it, to be honest with you, but I’m on the fence. I see a great opportunity for us to pull taxes in, I see a great opportunity for employment, but a lot of concern over the marine environment. I’m not on the in of this. I’m on the outside here, going for office. I’m not in office, I don’t know all the reports that they have had presented and all the information—

RLH: So it sounds like your gut reaction to this is, “No, I don’t trust the process, but I’m open to—”

GB: I see a lot of benefit in doing it.

RLH: Okay, and tell us about that benefit.

GB: I think that it will create jobs here, for sure. It’s going to create tax revenue for us. We are able to issue permits and things like that, so we do get a lot of that money.

RLH: Well, we wouldn’t be issuing any permits for offshore drilling because that’s federal waters, and so most of that money goes to the federal government

GB: The state has to put in the regulatory actions, and of course all of that is going to have money involved with us. There are benefits here. Not to mention we do have a large gas port here, so we could possibly get a refinery. You know, there are job creation opportunities for people working on these rigs that would have to be stationed here because they’re not going to fly them in from all over the country. There’s tax revenue out of those folks. There’s a lot of infrastructure issues that will need to be met, including their food and water being taken out to them, so those are more businesses that are going to be created. Things of that nature, and that will create economic development here.

RLH: You’re saying to serve the crews on the oil rigs.

GB: Correct.

RLH:  Okay.  Gerald Benton, you said, across the board, you’re against corporate incentives. How do you feel about film incentives because that is something that has been such an integral part of southeastern North Carolina’s economic landscape?

GB: Sure. At the state level, I do not support them, and the reasoning is, we have two counties who primarily benefit: Mecklenburg and New Hanover. For us to go in front of a hundred other counties and ask them to support a credit that only benefits two counties means we’re indebted to them. The legislature, while I’m not sitting there, I know it is a give-and-take situation. So when they ask for the sales tax redistribution to go after our tourist money, we’re going to have a hard time saying no after they just coughed up millions of dollars throughout their counties to support us.

RLH: So how do you balance your responsibility towards the constituents here in southeastern North Carolina versus all of North Carolina? I mean, if you were elected, you are from this area, and your job, people elected you to represent them here.

GB: Sure. I support a county incentive. I support an incentive at the state level that has an ownership issue so it’s more of an investment. So if we owned a small portion of the box office sales, if they took our money, that would be wonderful. I mean, we look at Iron Man, what was that, $1.5 billion? If we just had even a percent, it would have paid back everything we paid into the film, plus a little bit.

RLH: Well, they spent money here, so we gave them a tax rebate. That wasn’t—

GB: We did, but we got no tax money off of it. The best money amount of money we ever recover off of the incentives, according to the film industry even, is like 75 cents on the dollar.

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North Carolina Representative Susi Hamilton, Incumbent, (D-New Hanover County)

RLH: When you look back at the time that you’ve served, and you have been in the minority party, do you consider yourself a power broker? How do you get anything done?

Susi Hamilton: That’s a fair question ... It’s just collaboration. There’s outreach. You know, there’s certainly more outreach from my end of the initiatives that I want to take and things that I want to accomplish, and I work very well in a bipartisan way. When we disagree, obviously we disagree sharply, but every issue creates a different opportunity. You never really know where your allies are going to be found. For instance, film. Danny McComas and I worked very closely together. We got the incentive program extended for two years, and in that two-year period from 2012 to 2014, the state did record numbers of filming. That’s the year we did Iron Man. I believe that we collected over $300 million in sales tax revenues and paid out right around $80 million.

RLH: On your opponent’s website, he accuses you of voting against a bill that would ban the sale of fetal tissue, baby body parts. There’s a link to a story on WWAY TV3 about an unrelated bill, a story about a bill that Governor McCrory signed in June of last year which expands the waiting period for a woman to get an abortion. So, let’s just tease apart these issues here. First of all, why would you vote against a bill banning the sale of fetal tissue?

Susi Hamilton: Because it was what I would refer to as a “poison pill.” It was put into the bill to defund Planned Parenthood. I find the question ironic in the month of October, being Breast Cancer Awareness Month because Planned Parenthood does so many things for women’s health and reproductive health across the country. They fund free mammograms for women who otherwise would not be in a position to receive one. So, of course, I was unable to support a bill that defunded Planned Parenthood, no matter what was in it.

RLH: What would you say to critics of Planned Parenthood who say that is an organization that sells fetal tissue and commercializes a horrible practice?

Susi Hamilton: That would be incorrect as well, and the facts don’t support that they’re in the business of selling body parts. So I think it’s really a sensationalistic issue. It was intended to be. They knew we were all, as Democrats, were going to vote against defunding Planned Parenthood, so they figured they’d just load it up with whatever they could come up with, which they knew would be distasteful to the public, and put it in there.

RLH: The voter ID law in North Carolina was struck down by a federal appeals court, described as targeting African Americans with almost surgical precision and imposing cures for problems that don’t exist, and I think you’ve been fairly vocal about where you stand on that law to begin with, but what do you say to people who argue that you need a state-issued ID to buy certain over-the-counter drugs at a drug store, you need an ID to open a bank account, to apply for a job, to apply for unemployment, welfare, Medicaid, food stamps. You need a photo ID to apply for Social Security, so why shouldn’t you need a photo ID to vote?

Susi Hamilton: You have to look very specifically into what state IDs the legislation allowed. If you read the total brief that the courts sent back when they struck it down, they’ll tell you that there are certain IDs that were excluded that were state-issued ID, one of them were college IDs, that favored a population: young students, elderly people, African Americans. When you look into the details of the bill, that was the problem with the bill. In addition to that, where would you think the most opportunity for voter fraud would be? I would think it’d be in the absentee ballot process, and this legislation specifically excluded absentee ballots from a voter ID requirement. As the judges have recognized is that it was very targeted, and in the language and in the discussion behind the scenes, they were looking for very specific information on a very specific demographic.

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North Carolina Senate District 9 -- Michael Lee, Incumbent (R-New Hanover County) vs. Andrew Barnhill, Democratic Challenger

This district covers most of New Hanover County, with the exception of a small patch in downtown Wilmington, which is part of Brunswick County Senator Bill Rabon’s District 8. 

In North Carolina’s 9th District, 80% of residents are white, 13% are black, and the rest of the population breaks out into multiple ethnicities, Hispanic, and Asian.  36% of the voters are registered as Democrats, nearly 35% as Republicans, and almost 29% are unaffiliated. 

Senator Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) is seeking his second elected term.  He was first appointed to replace Senator Thom Goolsby, after Goolsby resigned from his seat in 2014.  Michael Lee went on to win the seat in the November election.

RLH: Many of the people who wrote in, wrote in on the topic of HB2, popularly known as the bathroom bill. This is something the Star News recently wrote an editorial about, talking about the stalemate between Governor Pat McCrory and the City of Charlotte.  In the meantime, where do you stand on HB2, and what would you tell your constituents about what’s going to happen with it?

Michael Lee: Sure, and I’m going to give just a brief bit of background first because a lot of folks that I’ve talked to haven’t read the bill, so I think it’s important to walk through what my reasoning was for voting for the bill and talk about what’s in it. Charlotte passed an ordinance that applied to everyone—small businesses, large businesses. Number one, they, by statute, did not have the authority to pass the bill. In North Carolina, we have something called Dillon’s Rule. So, just at a threshold level, they didn’t have the authority to do that. The second part of that relates to how I reviewed, which was really the bathroom piece, the bathroom/locker room piece. What the ordinance said was essentially that you can’t discriminate based on gender identity or gender expression but then didn’t define what that was. It applied to YMCAs, any public accommodations, restaurants, swimming pools, whatever you could think of. If my wife and I were to bring our fourteen-year-old daughter to Charlotte to swim in a swim competition, she’d be changing in a locker room where you had to allow someone who could be a 50-year-old transgender woman, anatomically a man, and that person could just take off all of their clothes in front of our daughter....