On this edition of the CoastLine Candidate Interviews, we meet North Carolina Representative Ted Davis, Junior, a Republican from New Hanover County, who has held the seat in House District 19 for two and a half terms. In 2012, he was appointed to finish out the term of Danny McComas, who stepped away to take the helm of the North Carolina Ports Authority Board of Directors. Ted Davis went on to win the seat in the next election. He won a second term in 2014, and will soon embark upon his third as he is unopposed this November.
In North Carolina’s 19th House District, which encompasses the southern half of New Hanover County, 87% of residents are white, 6.5% are black, and 6% are Hispanic. 38% of the voters are registered as Republicans, 32% are registered as Democrats, and about 28% are unaffiliated.
Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Representative Davis, for those folks who have never met you before or heard you talk, let’s start by having you tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, and why you want to do this job for another term?
Representative Ted Davis. Jr.: I was born and raised in Wilmington, one of the few people you’ll find who has lived here for all their life, except when I went away to school. I graduated from New Hanover High School, and then I went on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I got a degree in political science. Then I went to Wake Forest Law School, got my law degree. After graduating, I worked first as an assistant district attorney for the state of North Carolina. I did that for about two and a half years. Then I got an appointment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the eastern district of North Carolina, where I worked for several years. And then I left there and came back home, and I worked with the county Attorney’s Office for a short period before opening up my law practice, which was a solo practice. I did that in 1984. I originally did criminal defense work, but then I developed a domestic law practice, and that’s what I did until I retired last December. I’m no longer practicing law actively.
I’m married to my wife Jane. We’ve been married for 32 years. I have two children that I’m very proud of: my son Ted the third, who is the father of my grandson, Ted the fourth, and my daughter Amy, and hopefully she’ll be starting a family soon. Both of them are married. I’m a member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, where I’ve been an elder and a deacon. I hold my faith very dearly. I try to be active in the community. When I was growing up, I just always felt like, when the community is good to you, you ought to try to give back to the community. I was approached to run for county commissioner in 1996.
RLH: And that was right here in New Hanover County.
Representative Davis: Yes. Actually, I was a Democrat. I’d been a lifelong Democrat. I’d met a lot of people, including Danny McComas, that were Republicans who I really liked and that we really had the same mindset about a lot of things. So they came to me and asked if I’d consider switching parties to do that, which I did, and I ran, got elected. I ended up serving sixteen years on that board. I learned a lot, obviously not only about local government but also the connection between the local government and not only the state of North Carolina but the federal government as well. Fifteen of those years, I was on the Board of Trustees at the community college so I really got to learn a lot about education and what it means to provide an education for those beyond just high school so they can go out and get a job. So, with that background, I was kind of tooling along, and Danny McComas came to me in 2012 and asked if he didn’t run again, would I consider running in his place? Quite frankly, I’d had people ask me to run for state office before. I didn’t because my children were young, but they were older then, and it was something I always wanted to do, to go to Raleigh. The opportunity gave itself. And of course, I would never have run against Danny. We were just too good of friends.
RLH: And he had held that seat himself for many years.
Representative Davis: I was a commissioner for 16 years. He was in the House for 18 years, I believe. When he did that, I gave it very serious thought, and I did, I got the appointment. I had a contested election the first time, and very fortunately, I have not had a contested election the last two times.
RLH: When you go back to that time, you said you were raised as a Democrat, had been a lifelong Democrat and then switched to the Republican party to serve on the county commission. What was the basic difference in the ideologies that caused you to say, “You know, I think I’m more aligned with the Republican philosophy”?
Representative Davis: As you know, when I was growing up, you had to be a Democrat if you wanted to get involved in politics. You could count the number of Republicans in Wilmington on your two hands. Actually, the primaries were the elections because whoever won the Democratic primary was going to win the general election. I just found in meeting those other people that they were just more in line with the way I was thinking and the things that were important to me. I’ve always been a conservative. I’m kind of a middle-of-the-road conservative. I’m not far right. I’m not far left. Like I say, I was just comfortable with them and what they believed in and wanted and that’s why I made the switch.
RLH: You said you learned a lot when you became a county commissioner, probably more than you learned getting your political science degree. When you went to Raleigh for the first time, you’ve been pretty open in the past about how that was a surprise for you.
Representative Davis: It was.
RLH: You went there and discovered that this wasn’t just about making the best decisions that you think exists for certain kinds of policies. It’s much more nuanced and complex. What surprised you the most when you first got there?
Representative Davis: First and foremost, going to Raleigh as a Republican, with a Republican-controlled House, with a Republican-controlled Senate, with a Republican governor, and finding out that no one really got along that well with each other, and that was probably my biggest disappointment. There are Republicans in the House that don’t get along and have different thoughts and ideologies, which is fine. The Senate has the same, the House and the Senate, the Governor. But I guess, for me, there was the realization that it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk at all. Also, learning how it works. I’m still learning how it works. The learning process really takes a long time, with all the maneuvering, how things are done, how things can be done. I have learned that if you want something done, it doesn’t matter if the bill is dead, if it has been defeated and is planted six feet in the ground and you put a building over it, there’s always a way to revive it. It’s been amazing to me to see the procedures about how you can do that.
RLH: Well, let’s talk about how you tried to do that with film incentives.
Representative Davis: That was the hardest thing I’ve ever worked on in my life.
RLH: It was very emotional for you.
Representative Davis: It was. I was very passionate about that issue because we have so many wonderful people that live in Wilmington, talented people that we are very fortunate to have, that worked at the studio, and of course their livelihood depended on the movie industry. It was fascinating to go to Raleigh and— Now, of course, anything I say is more toward my experience with the House because you’re limited in what your experience is in the other chamber, but I mean I was just shocked at those who did not believe in incentives no matter what, even though I tried to explain to them how the film credit worked, how important it was, not only to New Hanover County, but to the whole state.
RLH: You actually had to explain that to Representative Rick Catlin—who is from this area—at one point because he started out as an opponent of incentives of any kind.
Representative Davis: Yes, he and Chris Millis actually introduced the bill that really started putting the nails in the coffin for the movie industry, unfortunately. It was amazing to do that. Then I had to face those people— At that time, it was a tax credit, but it wasn’t a tax credit. Actually, it was a reimbursement because you would do an audit at the end of a production, and then there were certain expenses, qualified expenses, and then the state would reimburse 25% of those qualified expenses. The problem there was those in the House and the Senate who were trying to get rid of tax credits. There’s been a move for some time to get North Carolina to where we pay no income tax, a consumption tax. One of the things I told them up there was, you know, I’m not a rocket scientist, but if you do that, what are you going to do about real property tax deductions, what are you going to do about mortgage deductions, what are you going to do about charitable contributions deductions?
RLH: Because you’re saying structurally, they’re the same thing.
Representative Davis: The reaction was like, “Duh, I never thought about that.” With film, the misconception of it being a credit caused a lot of people to be against it because they didn’t want credits.
RLH: Now that it’s been reconfigured into a grant fund, you’ve worked to fill the coffers a little bit more with grant money. Can you tell us about the most recent—
Representative Davis: Sure. See, the beauty about the way it was—I’ll call it a credit, once again, it’s not—was that the state didn’t have to have the money up front. What you did is, you went along, you got the money into the coffers, and you paid it out at the end. With a grant, you have to have the money up front. What the Senate was only agreeable in doing— As a matter of fact, I got the film credit extension for a year to be passed in the House. Like I said, one of the hardest things I’ve ever worked on in my life, and then the Senate wouldn’t even look at it, wouldn’t even address it. So what was left was a grant with ten million dollars. That’s a joke. I mean, it’s an insult. It really is. I worked very hard, and the last session, with the help of the Speaker, Tim Moore, and the leadership, I was able to get the House to agree to thirty million dollars, and the Senate came on board with that, so that’s what we have now, which still is not very much.
RLH: Representative Davis, a political scientist and pollster from Elon University recently said the unpopularity of HB2 may actually have a reverse coattail effect on even the presidential race, generating a bit of added support for Hillary Clinton by mobilizing progressive voters to turn out. We’ve recently watched the state of North Carolina hemorrhage performance cancellations (Itzhak Perlman, Bruce Springsteen, Maroon 5), athletic associations and events being pulled out of the state, conferences being canceled. Just yesterday the state of California joined five other states that banned travel to North Carolina. You voted for HB2. What was your thinking behind that? Do you think that there are unintended consequences, and is this something that you’ll be taking up again in the next session? Is a repeal of HB2 on the table?
Representative Davis: I’ll try to answer those in order as best I can. When Charlotte did what they did, I took the position as did others that they did not have the authority to do what they did. Quite briefly, the reason why is, in that ordinance— Let’s say you have a business here in Wilmington and you want to bid on a contract in Charlotte, you would have to sign a statement saying that if you got that contract, you would have to abide by the Charlotte ordinance here in Wilmington, NC, with the company that you have. They have no authority to do that. That makes that local bill have the impact of a statewide bill. That’s why I did not feel like Charlotte had acted properly.
It was no secret that the Charlotte city council had been approached and told that if they did this before the House went into session, the House would meet, as well as the Senate, and look at the possibility of overriding it, depending on what the final language of the ordinance was. Well, they went ahead and did it. That special session was called. There was a public hearing. There’s a lot of misconception about the speed that it went through, and it did go through quickly, but quite frankly, I’ve had stuff go through a committee in the morning and be heard on the House floor in the afternoon. I mean, things go through slowly sometimes. Things go through very fast sometimes.
But I was at the public hearing that they had. I made a point to go because I wanted to hear from those people who wanted to speak not only in favor of HB2 but also against HB2. And I listened. But yes, I did vote for it. I can tell you that I was chosen with a small group of members from the House to try to work on a resolution. There was also a group in the Senate that was trying to work on a resolution, and we were making progress. As a matter of fact, we were keeping in touch with the NBA to make sure they would be on board with what we were working on. Very unfortunately, at the end, it just all fell apart. And it could not happen, and it did not happen. One thing we did do, when that fell apart, was there was a minor point about a particular type of employment discrimination lawsuit that might have been in jeopardy in the way HB2 was written. We cleaned that up so that there would not be any restriction whatsoever in any situation where someone who felt they’d been discriminated against could sue in state court.
RLH: Well, that is one of the major beefs about HB2 when it comes to opponents and the reason that so many people have been abandoning North Carolina because they say it strips away the ability for people in the LGBT community to have certain protections.
Representative Davis: That’s different than being able to bring a lawsuit, what you’re referring to. And there is a lot of misconception. There’s a lot of misconception when it started, and I think there’s a lot of misconception now because people have not truly read it and looked at it. The bathroom thing— I’m very careful and very limited in what I say because there’s a pending lawsuit about that, as you know. I’m not going to put myself in a position where I get involved in that lawsuit as a witness or otherwise. I wish that was not there. As you know, the latest attempt to try to resolve the situation— I know the Republicans met in the House and the Senate and there was enough support between the two chambers that if Charlotte, with no strings attached, would repeal their ordinance, then we as the General Assembly would call a special session and go back and repeal HB2. I wanted a committee to be appointed so that we could have input from different people that would be involved, stakeholders to carry the discussions further and maybe try to work something out. But as you know, the line has been drawn in the sand. Charlotte will not—
RLH: Charlotte refused to repeal that ordinance, and then Pat McCrory said, “Well, then, our hands are tied.” The Star News wrote an editorial about that and said the irony is Republicans are trumpeting the tax cuts and deregulation that have supposedly jumpstarted the North Carolina economy, ignoring these untold lost millions from the fallout from HB2. McCrory has just said, “Well, we’ll let the courts sort it out.” That could take who knows how long. Is that really the answer? Are you comfortable with North Carolina being viewed by many other parts of the country as a place that discriminates?
Representative Davis: Remember, the governor cannot repeal HB2. The governor has the authority to call a special session for the legislature to repeal HB2, and of course, the governor was not going to call a special session to do something unless he was comfortable that it could be done. That’s why the two chambers were being contacted and the discussions were being had to see if we had that majority vote so the governor could call. Actually, the legislature can call a special session without the governor under certain circumstances, but there’s no reason to do that if you don’t have the votes to do it. No one, including myself, had any idea— You talk about unintended consequences of the outfall that came from HB2. I mean, if I could have had a crystal ball and seen that, then I think a lot of people might have taken a different view of what was done. Do I like people saying that North Carolina discriminates? Of course not. I just wish things had not rolled so quickly with people just saying, “Okay, we’re just not going to come here because of this or that.” There’s a lot of hypocrisy in that. If you recall, PayPal was one of the first companies [to react to HB2]. Well, PayPal supports businesses in China and other countries where they torture, imprison, and kill homosexuals. But it’s not okay for North Carolina, but it’s okay for PayPal to do this elsewhere? You look at a lot of these other businesses, the countries that they do business in that do these things to homosexuals—
RLH: But this is the United States though.
Representative Davis: I understand that, but the hypocrisy to me is these companies saying, “Well, I’m not going to come to North Carolina because they have HB2, but I’m going to continue to do business with countries where they kill, imprison, and torture homosexuals and transgenders or whatever. I don’t think that’s right. I think that’s very hypocritical.
One thing, if I may, it’s the spin game. That’s another thing I’ve learned in state government is the spin. Being in the radio business know what I’m talking about. Right now, of course, you’ve got the spin from the governor and the Republican party at this point, saying— And we have. I mean, we have gotten rid of a 2.4-billion-dollar debt that we were handed when we took over that we owed the federal government for unemployment. Medicaid, my first term, we had to get five hundred million dollars to shore up the shortfall. We are now over, I mean, we are making money. Not making money off of it, but we are not losing money. We actually have a surplus. We had a three hundred million dollar surplus in our budget. That’s all fantastic and shows what has been done since the Republicans have been in office. What I’m trying to say is, that to me does not adequately show what’s been done as a result of HB2, just like people say, “This business didn’t come. That business didn’t come. Bruce Springsteen cancelled his concert.” We’ve got to wait and see, at the end of the year, at the end of the period of time, okay, this is what we know we lost. This is what we know happened with the economy that we have now. We have to compare the two and see how much did we really lose? If we still gained, then obviously things are not as bad as what people say. I’m just simply saying, obviously, there have been economic damages done.
RLH: There have, and some we can document through cancellations, and some we can never know about, as with the film incentives. You know, we watched some productions leave the state when the film incentive changed, and that’s documentable, but when you’re talking about the productions that never even considered North Carolina because we have a grant fund now, we’ll never really be able to quantify that, and I think HB2 is a similar scenario.
Representative Davis: I agree that there are things about it that we will never know because they don’t come to light. The thing that is amazing to me is that I thought when I got out of session, the hundreds of emails a day would stop. I mean, really. I don’t get that many, but I get a ton of them, and I’m amazed. I get, “Repeal HB2. It’s got to go. It’s an embarrassment. It’s horrible.” You know, yada yada yada. And then I have countless emails saying, “Don’t bend. Stand your ground. This is something we need. This is something we want.” It’s amazing how divided this state is. It is not in any way, shape, or form, in my opinion, that a majority of those are opposed to it, nor is there a majority that support it. I mean, it has really torn the state apart.
RLH: Representative Davis, you mentioned how polarized this state has become, and this is actually one of the reasons, according to political scientists, that North Carolina is such an important battleground state in the presidential election. As we watch this polarization, how do you, as a state representative, expect to bridge that growing gap? What can you do about that?
Representative Davis: Listen. That’s one thing I’ve always tried to do. I tried to do that when I was commissioner and I’ve tried to do that since I’ve been in Raleigh. I mean, there have been certain issues where I’ve gone over and talked to my Democratic colleagues about something and tried to get their support and tried to get them to understand why I was doing what I was doing. In other words, try to work across the aisle. I may be a Republican, but I am not an individual that says, “I am a Republican. I will only talk to Republican people. I will not listen to anybody’s views other than Republicans.” I don’t do that. I never have.
RLH: So tell us about a time— You do meet with constituents a lot. You do listen a lot.
Representative Davis: I try to.
RLH: Tell me about an issue on which you met with a constituent and you walked into that meeting holding a certain point of view and you left the meeting thinking, “I learned something today.” Or maybe even, “I changed my view.” Can you give us an example?
Representative Davis: The thing that sticks out in my mind the most is after my first session, I wanted to learn more about the educational needs in the state because I was hearing so much on one side about all the things North Carolina was doing, then I’d be hearing about what North Carolina wasn’t doing. I really didn’t know who to believe or what to believe, so in my district, I visited three of the elementary schools. I contacted each one beforehand and asked. I wanted to read to the class. I wanted to meet the students. I wanted to learn about the school. But I also wanted some one-on-one time with teachers and the administration, the principals. And I did that, and I learned more from that because I heard about teacher assistants. Well, I saw what teacher assistants do. I saw what happened to teachers that didn’t have teacher assistants when they’re trying to control all the students that they have. I listened to them about teacher pay, about teacher benefits. It really helped me so that when I went back to the next long session where we were considering the budget, it was very high on my priority list that we do as much as we could for our teachers, meaning not only in the pay that they receive, but also the teacher assistants and other things that have to do with education as far as their funding. That will always stick out with me.
RLH: We have a number of emails. People have taken issue with your support of HB2.
Representative Davis: And I respect that.
RLH: Someone has tweeted, “Davis is hiding behind procedure. Does he believe transgender people are a threat?” We’ve talked about the economic fallout from this, and you’ve referred to, is it Dillon’s Rule?
Representative Davis: Dillon’s Rule is a where a municipality or a town or a county can only have the authority that the legislature has given to it.
RLH: But when it comes to the actual group of people that— We call this the “bathroom bill,” popularly, and this is in direct reference to the fact that it says when in a public building, people must go into the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate. And so Andrew is asking, “Do you believe transgender people are a threat?”
Representative Davis: I’m sure Andrew wants to know why I voted for HB2. The reason I voted for HB2 is because that was an issue that we discussed in our Republican caucus. Our Republican caucus agreed to take a stand. The stand was to support HB2 and to pass it, and that’s what I did.
RLH: Let’s talk about Medicaid expansion. There was a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs that analyzes the impact of the decision not to expand Medicaid on rural hospital’s financial stability. This particular study looked at all of the states and compared them—those that chose not to expand versus those that chose to expand Medicaid. We know that approximately half a million people in North Carolina don’t have health coverage because of that decision, and this study says that, across the board, hospitals earned more if they were in a state where people had more health coverage. They also saw declines in the level of uncompensated care that they gave. In other words, rural hospitals particularly were impacted by this and were much more financially stable if they were in a state that had expanded Medicaid. How do you feel about Medicaid expansion at this point? Is this likely to come up, and would you reconsider that stance?
Representative Davis: I’m always willing to listen about anything. I’m always willing to reconsider anything I may have previously voted on if there’s justification to do it. As I alluded to earlier, one of the reasons that I know that I did not support the expansion originally was, as I said, my first term up there, we had to come up with five hundred million dollars to make up a shortfall. I mean, that’s a humungous amount of money that could have been spent for other things. My point being, why would I want to support something to expand a system that was losing and costing the tax payers so much money? Also, as you know, the federal government offers to help you, but as you know, the federal government never gives you anything without strings attached. Plus, that support that the federal government may have given was not a permanent support. It would have been weaned eventually.
RLH: It tapered off over time, but you were guaranteed, I forget what the percentage was, but it was a pretty high percentage, and the state would have only been responsible for a fraction.
Representative Davis: Once again, in a perfect world, but we were already seeing a deficit with the system the way it was working, and it seemed to me that it would continue into the future—
RLH: You didn’t trust the federal government.
Representative Davis: I wanted to try to fix— I’m a meat and potatoes guy. I’ve always been like that—in my law practice, in government. I look at a problem, I try to see how to fix it, and then I fix it or try to fix it. That’s why I felt like we had to get our Medicare system under control and working properly before we went and did something else.
Sue (email): Please discuss the provision that counties cannot raise minimum wage.
RLH: Once again, we’re back to HB2. That is part of the state law, that counties and municipalities can no longer establish their own minimum wages.
Representative Davis: The discussion that was had on that aspect of HB2 was really pretty straightforward, and that is, what would it do, for instance, if you had a state where Charlotte could offer one thing as an hourly rate, Raleigh something else, Greensboro something else, Wilmington something else, and have that all throughout the state? It just seemed that we should keep a consistent rate throughout the state, not give someone maybe a leg over somebody else because they may pay more per hour than somebody else. That was not a huge part of what I recall being a discussion of HB2. It was really just what I said, keeping it at a consistent rate and not allowing each one to start getting into a bidding war, if you will, against another city by, “Well, I’ll raise my rate to this.” And then they say, “Well, if they’re going to do that, then I’ll raise mine to that.” It just seemed to be counterproductive.
David (caller): It seems the Republicans in office at some point made a decision that transgender people seem to be a risk for sexually abusing children and others in restrooms, and that seems to be going in the face of actual facts and research, which shows that most people are sexually abused by people they know, by relatives, and not the case at all that it is strangers in restrooms.
Representative Davis: Once again, I don’t recall in my discussions when considering HB2 things that are being posed in the question. I mean, to me, it was just, very simply: Do you want people to use a men’s bathroom that are men, and do you want women to use a women’s bathroom that are women, as defined by what they were born at birth, and that was pretty much it.
Jason (caller): What is Ted Davis's thoughts on the voter restrictions?
RLH: Jason is asking about the voter ID law that was struck down by a federal appeals court as targeting African Americans with, I think they used the language “almost surgical precision” and imposing cures for problems that do not exist. What are your thoughts on that now?
Representative Davis: I’m on the elections committee, or I was. And we discussed this. I remember discussions being had as that bill was going through the process. What I recall is looking at these different provisions to be designed to prevent what I will call, in a broad term, voter fraud. We were trying to make it so that if people— Like the photo identification. I think one of the biggest ironies I recall hearing is that the legislature previously passed a voter ID law and Governor Beverly Perdue vetoed it, and yet when you went to Governor Perdue’s inauguration party, you had to have a photo ID to get in. To me, I don’t understand why this is such an issue with the voting. You have to have an ID when you cash a check, you have to have a photo ID— I could just go on and on and on and on and on. Quite frankly, I was shocked when you would go to vote and they wouldn’t even question who you were.
RLH: I think that the surgical precision also included cutting the early voting hours and ending Sunday voting. You know, targeting practices that African Americans typically use during the election season.
Representative Davis: If I may, the number of days of early voting were cut. The hours were not. What they did is they made the days that they had the voting longer. So the amount of hours, as I recall, were not cut, but you are correct, the number of days were. I certainly would never vote on something if I knew that I was doing it to try to prohibit—I don’t care who it is, what color, gender, whatever—and that was not my purpose for doing that, nor, in all honestly, was that a discussion that I took part in with anybody when we were discussing that bill.
RLH: Do you think energy exploration off the coast of North Carolina is something that should be explored? I think for the near-term, the mid-Atlantic is off the table. That was removed from the federal government’s plan for offshore drilling for oil and gas. I think that plan is for 2017-2022. Beyond that, is this something that North Carolina should be encouraging or, as a coastal stakeholder, do you say, “No.”?
Representative Davis: That’s an interesting question because I’ve heard and met with environmentalists who are opposed to it. The seismic blasting and other issues dealing with it could be harmful to our environment, and I would never want to do anything that would intentionally harm the environment. On the other hand, I’ve gone and listened to the oil companies to talk about how they do these procedures, how they’re not as devastating as people make them out to be, the economic benefits that would come from it. And I think you can throw in the mix not only that but the wind turbines off the coast. There are a lot of my fellow representatives who are from coastal counties that don’t want to look out into the ocean and see a windmill.
RLH: There’s some concern that that’s going to have an impact on tourism.
Representative Davis: Exactly. But then they say, “Well, but we’ll make it far enough away that you won’t see it.” But then I’ve been very interested in getting data on what the cost is going to be. Is that going to increase the cost? Because you have to get it from point A to point B. And if it’s going to end up costing more, then who is going to end up suffering the consequences? Well, that’s the consumer. I certainly would not want to do anything off of North Carolina’s coast that would result in another New Orleans situation. I mean, it’s a tough one, but I think for me, personally, at this point, it is not something that I’m out in front of, that we should do.
RLH: So you’re not opposed to it? The jury is still out for you.
Representative Davis: If I felt comfortable—in a perfect world, which it’s not—that we could do something that would be of economic benefit not only to North Carolina, but to the nation, but mainly to North Carolina. To feed back a minute, there was no guarantee about what North Carolina was going to get out of this economically—
RLH: That’s exactly right. There was talk of revenue sharing, but that certainly wasn’t a done deal.
Representative Davis: Well, I’d have to see it because an oral contract is not worth the paper it’s written on. I would definitely want to know what North Carolina was going to do and then look as it as, “Okay, if this is what we’re going to do, is this the right thing to do environmentally but also is it the right thing to do environmentally?” I just have to weigh the whole thing.
RLH: What is your position on hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina?
Representative Davis: I have listened to environmentalists who are totally against fracking. I have talked with people who are in the business of doing that. The thing that bothered me the most is that you had areas where fracking was going to take place. As you know, it’s difficult to do it in the mountains because of the rocks in the subsurface. Piedmont is sort of the same way. So there was a move that they were going to bring that material and put it in eastern North Carolina.
RLH: And you’re talking about the waste waster from fracking. They were going to truck out here to the coast.
Representative Davis: Right. So I said, “Well, if all of this is not as harmful as you say it is, then why are you bringing it to eastern North Carolina to put it in the ground?” And I would not support that. Once again, I’m still at the point where I’m willing to listen, but unless it’s economically viable for the state and unless it’s something that I can be sure won’t be negative to us environmentally, I would not want to support it.
RLH: Do you think climate change is real?
Representative Davis: Definitely. I think that there are things that happen with the climate. Now, that’s another fascinating subject that I’ve read on, the data that supports the fact that the sea level is rising. Is it caused by natural sources or is it caused by man? All of that is a very interesting argument, but that also gets into, if we’re going to have the ocean rising, then of course we have to look at, well, what are we going to do about our coastal areas and the home there—homes that are already there, plus structures that might be built in the future? And how can we help to make it so that those structures now or in the future are not destroyed?
RLH: Do you think the legislature in the past has put blinders on where sea level rise is concerned?
Representative Davis: I don’t know if I can answer that because, once again, I was not there previously. I’ve really not heard that much discussion about it since I’ve been in Raleigh.
RLH: Because there was a moratorium put on accepting a certain level of sea level rise or accepting recommendations from the science panel. I’m not sure if I have that language exactly right, but—
Representative Davis: But still. One thing I’ve learned about the legislature is that it’s good to talk to your other legislators about things. Even though it might not be actually under consideration at that point, it be something down the road, and if you’re interested in that, it’s always nice to find out who you might have along up there that could be your colleague.
Sarah (caller): I have a comment about voter ID and HB2. I’m a transwoman, and I’ve been here since 1996. I had my surgery in 1998, and I have a driver’s license that says female, and that’s plenty of identification, but when HB2 was passed, suddenly I had to go to get my birth certificate so that I could use the bathroom, and I never show anybody my birth certificate. My question is, it seems like an undo burden. It may not seem like a big deal to ask somebody to have a driver’s license to vote or to have a birth certificate that says “female” on it, but for some people, it’s an undue burden that people like Representative Davis apparently doesn’t see.
Representative Davis: Also, there are other ways that a person can identify themselves if they go to vote other than having a photo ID. That is not the only particular item that you have to have. Surely, that person could get another form of identification if getting the photo ID is a problem.
RLH: When you look at recent events like the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the ensuing protests over that, do you think there is a racial divide in this state that state legislators need to take stock of? Is there anything to do there? Do we need to look at our policing methods? Do we need to look at the relationship between law enforcement and communities? What’s your responsibility there?
Representative Davis: That is an excellent question because right now, people are mad. I’m mad. I’m upset. There are things that are going on that I’m not very happy with. It’s amazing with the political scene that we have now, and it’s going to be really interesting to me in this last month to see how people react to anything that occurs. But I mean, I was raised to respect authority. I think one of our biggest problems we have now is we don’t have the respect for authority. I don’t mean to step on anybody’s toes, but I think that a lot of things that happen where people play the race card where the race card really might not be involved. I think that is unfortunate because remember the little boy that would yell there was a leak in the damn, and there wasn’t. Or maybe it was the wolf. That was it, the wolf—
RLH: The little boy who cried wolf?
Representative Davis: And it wasn’t, and then finally when something did happen, nobody paid attention because he had yelled so many times when there wasn’t really something. I’m not making light of events, but what I’m trying to say is that when things happen, and once again, the race card or anything else like that is played where it really did not take part, it helps to damage those causes where it might have been.
RLH: Well, Representative Davis, I think we saw the wolf in the cell phone video. That’s the issue. A lot of white people have come through the years saying, “Well, if you just did things according to protocol, then it would all work out for you and you wouldn’t get shot,” and what we’re finding out now with social media and cell phone video is there is evidence of a racial divide in terms of how African Americans and white people are treated by law enforcement. There’s an issue there.
Representative Davis: And I’m not making light of that. It’s a very difficult question because there are a lot of different components that can go into that. There is definite distrust with the African American community with law enforcement. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. I don’t know what we need to do to get there. I’ve always felt that dialogue is good, but for instance, if you look nationwide, there have been shootings where it has been documented that an officer definitely used excessive force or did not have justification to fire their weapon, which resulted in the death of someone, and they’re being dealt with.
RLH: Right, in Tulsa, for instance, I think that officer is now—
Representative Davis: And that doesn’t help because once again— See, that’s what I’m trying to say, you can feed off of so many things and it can make people feel uneasy about being around police, you know, “Wait a minute, somebody somewhere just got shot, how do I know I won’t get that way?” It’s just so unfortunate.
RLH: Representative Davis, final word, what would you say to your constituents as you embark upon this third term?
Representative Davis: Just that it really has been an honor and a privilege to represent the people in my district. Time and time again, people ask why I do it. I do it because I try to help others, and any time I can help the people in New Hanover County, it makes me feel good.