CoastLine Candidate Interviews: Wesley Casteen (D), Challenging Rep. Rouzer for U.S. House

Oct 11, 2016

On this edition of CoastLine Candidate Interviews, we meet J. Wesley Casteen, a Democrat who is challenging Republican Congressman David Rouzer for the seat in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District.  The district stretches from the southeastern coast of North Carolina (encompassing Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender Counties) to the west, with more rural counties such as Columbus, Sampson, Wayne, and Duplin.  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%.

David Rouzer has held the seat for one term and is seeking a second.  In the 2014 race for this seat, Wesley Casteen entered the race as a Libertarian candidate.  He has since changed parties and is David Rouzer’s Democratic Challenger in November.   

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Rachel Lewis Hilburn: You ran in 2014 as a Libertarian. Why should longtime Democrats not view your party affiliation change as simply an opportunistic move, considering that so far, a Libertarian has not been elected to federal office?

Wesley Casteen: Well, prior to running in 2014, for a number of years before that, I was actually unaffiliated, or independent, some people call it, without having registered with any party. The registration as a libertarian in 2014 was to run for this seat in Congress. In running for the seat in 2014, I came to understand the needs of southeastern North Carolina and the importance of the people of southeastern North Carolina having a voice in Congress, an effective voice in Congress. To do that requires a seat at the table, and unfortunately, libertarian candidates have not enjoyed the benefit of being elected to public office, and in looking at what alternatives there were, being elected as an unaffiliated candidate was not a realistic option, and I looked at the Democratic party, and the Democratic party fortunately has a very big tent, and that tent was big enough to include those matters that are important to me, and I think the matters that are important to me are also the ones that are echoed throughout southeastern North Carolina.

RLH: Tell us a little bit about who you are. What do you do for work?

Wesley Casteen: I’m an attorney and I’m also a CPA. I’ve practiced those two professions for about twenty-five years, having graduated originally from Wake Forest University, later from Campbell University Law School, and then most recently, received a Master of Laws Degree with a concentration in taxation from the University of Alabama. So, my practice is primarily in the areas of commercial transactions, business law, taxation, and estate planning.

RLH: You grew up in Duplin County?

Wesley Casteen: I grew up in Duplin County, and not only that, it’s the area that my family has called home for more than seven generations. The initial census of the United States in 1790 included my four-time great-grandmother and her two sons, and my family has branched out throughout North Carolina since then. My part of the family remained in Duplin County, and that’s where I grew up. Graduated from James Kenan High School, having lived in Warsaw most of my formative years.

RLH: If you were elected to this seat, would you move to Washington, DC, and stay there? Or would you come back on weekends? How would that work?

Wesley Casteen: I think it’s important for any representative to maintain touch with the area that he or she represents, and I have no interest in making a permanent move to Washington, either as a resident or a professional politician, so I would maintain as close a connection as I possibly could to my home area. In that line, I would anticipate staying in Washington as much as I needed to perform the job but also coming home on the weekends and when time allows. Fortunately from Wilmington, Washington, DC, is not that much of a travel.

Don (email): One criticism of Congress is that members now fly back to their district whenever possible rather than staying in Washington to get to understand and influence their colleagues on a personal and a family basis.

RLH: What would you say to someone like Don who says, “Hey, your time would be better spent in Washington on the weekends, forming those relationships that are so important to getting things done.”?

Wesley Casteen: I think there’s some benefit to that, but there’s also pros and cons, and you have to weigh them. I was fortunate as a young attorney, having met Senator Robert Morgan, who was a North Carolina Senator working in Washington in the mid- to late-1970s. Before his passing recently, Senator Morgan spoke of his time in Washington and of standing dinner engagements that he and his wife had with the then-sitting president Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty. Gerald Ford, of course, was a Republican, and Senator Morgan was a Democrat. He spoke very fondly of the ability to sit down and act socially and speak person-to-person rather than as adversaries. I would agree with Don, that is an important element, and we need to move toward that. It’s a balancing of maintaining a relationship with the home district, to be able to talk to the people and know what’s important to them, but also to maintain the relationships that are necessary, to know one’s colleagues in Congress as individuals rather than just persons from the opposing party.

RLH: If you were elected to this seat that is currently held by Representative David Rouzer, the Republican incumbent, how would you handle this first time in elected office? You haven’t held elected office of any kind before, so this would be a first. Why are you starting at the federal level?

Wesley Casteen: I think that my background lends itself to some of the issues that are important at the federal level. As a said a few moments ago, I’m an attorney and CPA, and many of the issues that affect the federal government relate to taxation and budgeting and the rise of perpetual budget deficits and an accumulation of the national debt quickly approaching twenty trillion dollars. It’s the funding cycle from taxation to budgeting which leads to much of the haggling, stagnation, and polarization in Congress, in being unable to address those difficult issues—where does the money come from, how does it work, what are the priorities, and who gets paid. I think the skill set I possess would lend itself to trying to resolve some of those issues.

Earle (caller): I would assume that a Libertarian would be more likely to become a Republican than a Democrat, so I’d just like to get a perspective of why Casteen chose to run as a Democrat rather than a Republican. Does that mean he more closely identifies with the policies and suggestions of Hillary Clinton over Gary Johnson?

Wesley Casteen: Libertarian is a party—much like Republicans are considered many times, conservative, and Democrats are considered many times liberal—the political equivalent of conservative versus liberal for a Libertarian is a classical liberal, whose emphasis is on individual liberties and personal rights. So from that standpoint, both the Republican party and the Democratic party share elements of classical liberalism, which was pretty much the foundation of our Founding Fathers. You see a lot of classical liberalism in the Declaration of Independence and the writings of Thomas Jefferson. More recently, other candidates who have sought public office have opted to run as Republicans. Examples of that would be Ron Paul and Rand Paul, both of whom are associated with classically liberal ideas or the Libertarian party even but who chose to run as Republicans.

RLH: And so does that mean, in this case, do you identify more with the policies of Hillary Clinton than a Gary Johnson?

Wesley Casteen: On certain issues. The issues of the Democratic party suit better than what I’ve seen recently from the Republican party, primarily on social issues where I think the Republican party has gone somewhat far afield on those issues. I think the Democratic party is better suited to address that. Much like there was formally a liberal arm of the Republican party, in the not too recent past, there’s been a conservative arm of the Democratic party. The former congressman for the 7th district, the last Democrat to hold the office, Mike McIntyre, would have been fairly described as a conservative Democrat, or a blue dog Democrat.  

Nat (caller): What are Casteen’s views on HB2?

RLH: Obviously, this is a state law, but if you were to have any influence on this, what would you say about HB2? This is popularly known as the bathroom bill. 

Wesley Casteen: The easy answer on HB2 is that any law that is brought up in a special session, passed subject to limited debate with nearly no public input, and signed by the governor in less than 12 hours, essentially, is almost certainly indefensible. Many of the issues that have brought fallout to North Carolina—the performers, the businesses that have refused to come or relocate to North Carolina, the relocation of sporting events from the NCAA, the NBA, and the ACC from North Carolina. Many of those things were completely unanticipated by the legislators who voted in favor of HB2, not to mention the removal of the state court cause of action for all discrimination, which was abandoned as part of HB2. That has since been corrected, but much of this fallout was completely, as I said, unanticipated. Had it been considered, number one, I don’t think HB2 would have ever passed at the legislative level, but it certainly would not have been the fiasco which it has turned out to be in the intervening months.

RLH: We have an email from Bob who wants to know about your views on climate change. Is climate change real, first of all?  

Wesley Casteen: Certainly, climate change is real from the standpoint that nothing is stagnant and the status quo does not maintain. The issue becomes what is the human effect, or is there a cause and effect from human development and industrialization. I would argue that, yes, there has been an effect from human development that has made a change to our earth’s climate. The next question becomes somewhat more difficult. Acknowledging that there is change and that human being have had an effect on that change, what do you do about it? That’s when it gets a little more difficult because the changes you make—whether it be carbon tax, cutting greenhouse gases, or requiring the conversion of automobiles or power plants—all of those have cost requirements. So it becomes a cost benefit analysis as to whether or not the projected costs have a benefit that can justify those costs of change and development and change of doing business.  

RLH: Have you taken a look at the Paris Climate Change Agreement?

Wesley Casteen: I have not looked at the agreement, but I am familiar with the Paris Agreement as it replaced the Kyoto Protocol. The Paris Agreement is better than the Kyoto Protocol, in that the Kyoto agreement placed very little burden on developing nations as opposed to already developed, industrialized nations. The Paris Agreement does attempt to bring in the developing nations. So, from that standpoint, it is a better starting point than what had been available previously.

RLH: So you think there is something the United States, as a world power, needs to do to address what you’re calling manmade climate change. Is that a fair characterization?

Wesley Casteen: I think it would be appropriate for the United States, as the world’s leading economic power, to lead the discussion about what options are available and to try to develop consensus among the economic nations of the world as to how to handle it. It would be of little benefit for the United States to unilaterally adopt policies and regulations if other developing countries—such as India, China, and Russia—chose not to adopt similar restrictions and regulations.

RLH: We’ve heard a lot from North Carolina coastal stakeholders recently about offshore drilling and concerns around offshore oil and gas exploration. This is something that would be part of a federal initiative. Recently, the mid-Atlantic was removed from the federal government’s near-term plan, this five-year plan from 2017-2022. Of course, it could reemerge in the not-too-distant future. Where do you stand on that? Is offshore drilling for oil and gas something that you would support?

Wesley Casteen: Offshore drilling for gas is not something that I would support. The beach areas, the environment for southeastern North Carolina are very much an economic engine for the area, and tourism plays a bit part for our beach communities, whether it be Brunswick County, New Hanover, or Pender County. I think the risks that have been demonstrated in months and years outweigh the potential benefit. Of course, we can all still remember the Deep Water Horizon spill. We’ve also seen the Dan River Spill of coal ash. And more recently, there was the pipeline spill that affected gas prices locally. My concern is that the producers and the folks that would manage those operations have yet to demonstrate that the risk is either nonexistent or manageable within reason. I also don’t think we’ve demonstrated a need that would justify looking offshore to the Atlantic coast. I think the options or opportunities that are already available would more than satisfy our near-term needs for fuel and energy.

RLH: What about the potential for North Carolina entering into a revenue sharing agreement with the federal government?

Wesley Casteen: I think if you look at the risk that North Carolina would have, it’s likely the revenue would not be sufficient to justify that risk. There’s no doubt that a single spill off the coast of North Carolina, as tar rolled up on our local beaches, would quickly negate any perceived political benefit from folks who thought it would be a good idea to participate in those royalties from offshore drilling.  

RLH: If we’re looking at our coastal areas as assets, beach nourishment and shoreline stabilization is an important component of that. That’s a serious concern for most coastal stakeholders. Federal funding for such projects has been falling away. It’s been hard to plan for. You told me two years ago that you think coastal residents and possibly the state should bear the lion’s share of the financial responsibility for beach renourishment. Is that still your position?  

Wesley Casteen: I think that’s the realistic position, yes. As I said, one of the biggest issues at the federal level is how to address annual deficits that are approaching half of a trillion dollars a year, and that deficit is projected out probably for at least the next two decades. We’re dealing with a nearly twenty trillion dollar national debt, and we’ve been fortunate that the interest on that debt has been accruing at historically low rates. Were we to be paying historically average rates, that interest accrued would be approaching a trillion dollars a year, which would essentially exceed every budgetary item except for Social Security and Medicare. Realistically, the federal allocations for things like beach renourishment are going to diminish in the near-term. So long as those funds are available, I think it’s appropriate to fight for them, but I also think it’s prudent for beach communities—whether it be the municipality, the county, and even the state has a vested interest in seeing tourism flourish—but I think those stakeholders would be prudent to look and make sure that there was an alternative funding mechanism were those federal funds no longer available.

RLH: You raise the issue of Social Security. What’s the future of that program? If you were king of the world, where would you take that? Does that need to be privatized to be able to survive, or is there a way to ensure its continued existence?  

Wesley Casteen: The continued existence is certainly not a question. We have millions, tens of millions of retirees who have spent their working lives contributing to the program and are vested in receiving those benefits and depend upon those benefits as part of their retirement. So the program itself is certainly not going away. The issue is how to make it financially viable. Over the long term, projections for Social Security predict an approximately twenty-trillion-dollar shortfall. So it will be necessary to develop plans to address that shortfall. You either address the benefits or you address the revenue stream. Realistically, being that Social Security and Medicare together represent approximately 60% of all federal spending, it’s going to have to be a multifaceted approach. There’s not going to be one single answer, and it’s going to involve give and take by the stakeholders. Social Security is described as the third rail of American politics, from the standpoint that anybody who touches it is dead politically. But the reality is, because Social Security and Medicare represent nearly two-thirds of federal expenditures—and that’s a growing proportion—it’s an issue that’s going to have to be addressed. If we do nothing, then in roughly twenty years, it will be necessary to cut about 25% from the monthly payment from Social Security, and no one wants to see that sudden change. So doing something now, proactively, where we have time to plan and adjust, is something that’s going to benefit everyone eventually.

RLH: Obama’s announcement that America would take in 110,000 refugees from around the world in 2017, which is a 30% increase over the last year, was met with fierce opposition by Republican lawmakers. The Chicago Tribune reports that more than half of U.S. governors have called for a ban on Syrian refugees until stricter national security screening is put in place, and Congress has introduced bills that would restrict funding. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has characterized Syrian refugees as Trojan horses for terrorism. How would you handle the rising tide of refugees, particularly those from Syria?

Wesley Casteen: The refugee issue can be looked at as just a single element in the long-term need for immigration reform. I think the immigration policies of the U.S. need to undergo a top-to-bottom evaluation to make sure the immigration program—not only for refugees but for new residents from around the world—is made more streamlined, efficient, and understandable by those who are choosing to come to the United States. United States is a melting pot of individuals, and we have benefitted for decades and for centuries from the assets, the skillsets, and the individual initiative that comes from people who choose to live in the United States. As to the refugees, the United States along with all countries of the world have an obligation to those who have been displaced to allow them to resettle and to provide them with a safe environment in which to live. Part of that process of relocation is vetting and screening, and we have witnessed some rather astounding failures of that process over the last several years, so strengthening that process as part of the overall immigration reform is something that I think would be entirely appropriate.

RLH: Would you support some form of moratorium or ban on the influx of refugees until some of the screening and vetting processes are what you call strengthened?

Wesley Casteen: I think if the screening and vetting processes can be demonstrated to be valid, then I don’t think a moratorium is necessarily. If an evaluation does identify shortfalls such that the American people cannot be confident that the refugees or other immigrants who are approved to reside in the United States are who they say they are, have the histories and backgrounds that they say, and do not pose an imminent threat to the United States, if that failure does exist, it would be necessary to correct the system before making any wholesale changes or increases in the influx of refugees.

Michael (caller): My question has to do with HB2. Earlier, Casteen addressed the management of that bill. My question has to do with the content of the bill and whether you agree with transgender using the bathroom they identify with versus their gender on a birth certificate.

Wesley Casteen: HB2 as it relates to the use of restrooms by transgender individuals has no enforcement mechanism. Again, just as I said, it was indefensible to have a bill passed without careful consideration. I would also say it’s unreasonable to have a bill that has no enforcement mechanism, so I’m not sure what the expectation would be of transgender individuals, as far as carrying a birth certificate, and who would be checking it, and who would be enforcing it. Again from that standpoint, I just think the expectation of the bill that folks are committed to use a restroom that may be completely incompatible to their gender identity is unreasonable.

RLH: You’re addressing this in a pragmatic, legalistic way. I think Michael was asking about how you feel, in general, about the social element of that issue?

Wesley Casteen: I think the social element is the actions of the legislature were trying to address a perceived problem which in reality didn’t exist. I personally was not aware of a rash of problems related to transgender restroom use prior to the bill. I think it was a solution in search of a problem and had legislature not involved itself, then everyone would have been much better off.  

RLH: We’re not going to spend much more time on that because that is a state law at this point, but earlier, you talked about coming under the Democratic tent because of social issues where you identify more clearly with Democrats than Republicans. What are some of those other social issues, specifically, that you embrace as a Democrat?

Wesley Casteen: Social issues, it goes across the board. Republicans, unfortunately, over some period of time have become too focused on the remnants of trickle-down economics, that if taxes are cut, eventually the benefits will go down to all Americans. The result of that has been a perception that ignores a large segment of the population. One thing I would argue would benefit everyone would be looking at minimum wage and an increase that might be necessary. That follows also the Democratic leanings toward civil liberties and making sure issues like HB2, which disproportionately affects a small portion of the population, making sure that voting access is as high as possible. We’ve had some issues in North Carolina related to gerrymandering, not only of congressional districts but of state districts, and there’s the voter ID bill, which has been called by some in the media as the monster voter ID, which included everything including the kitchen sink as far as trying to limit the availability of voting.

RLH: And so you side with the Democrats on the issue of voter ID.

Wesley Casteen: Yes.

Lisa (caller): Regarding immigration, why aren’t we trying to go back into the countries and rebuild? You’ve got a lot of manpower that is coming into all these counties as immigrants and refugees. Why aren’t we rebuilding like we did after World War II? Why aren’t we—

RLH: Is there a specific part of the world that you’re talking about, Lisa?

Lisa (caller): Well, most likely the Middle East—Syria, Libya, the areas that are war-torn, and Africa, where there are safety zones. So I’m just curious. I mean, we’re spending billions of dollars all over the world, but these people probably want to be in their own country. I know I would want to be back where I came from. Why aren’t we helping rebuild, sending our forces there and rebuilding, making better contacts, making better lives instead of trying to assimilate, which is having problems and also costing us a lot of money.

Wesley Casteen: Lisa was correct that after World War II, the U.S. did a substantial amount of rebuilding both in Japan and in Germany, and as a result, Japan and Germany are two of America’s greatest allies. There has been some efforts post-Afghanistan and Iraq to rebuild the infrastructure, some of which has been lost in the subsequent conflicts with ISIS. So first, I think, the area would have to end its current conflicts before it would be realistic to go in and consider investments in infrastructure and rebuilding, but ending those conflicts are important for a stable Middle East, and a stable Middle East is important to the United States in the long-term.

RLH: An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times asserted that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would allow the U.S. to write the rules on international trade and security for years to come, and if the U.S. doesn’t take this opportunity, it says China will likely pick up the slack. Both presidential nominees, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, say they do not support this trade deal. What is your position on the TPP and why?

Wesley Casteen: The candidates generally oppose the trade deal because the history of past trade deals have meant that much of the manufacturing base of the United States has deteriorated—when you look at the North American Free Trade Agreement and similar agreements. The failing of those agreements was that there was not a concerted effort to acknowledge and recognize that some of those manufacturing efforts would be lost, and there should have been a greater effort for retraining and providing opportunities for those displaced workers. So that was the failing of those prior agreements. However, to look at potential trade agreements as being inherently bad could create a longer-term problem because much of the loss of jobs related not directly to someone else in another country taking that job, much of the loss of jobs came from technological advances, and those technological advances are going to take place regardless. So either the United States is proactive in taking advantage of changes in technology, industrialization, and manufacturing, or it’s going to become stagnant and start falling behind. So what the TPP does is it allows the United States to participate in the development of additional trade and the development of new technologies and making those new technologies available throughout the world. So those opportunities are there. It’s just necessary to recognize that workers who have a history with certain industries and technologies may have to be retrained and assisted in looking for additional employment.

RLH: As it exists now, is it something that you would support?

Wesley Casteen: I think with China being the world’s second largest economy, if we leave the Pacific basin to whether China becomes the dominant player, I think that would be detrimental to the United States. So yes, I think the U.S. needs to be a player in the Pacific basin and that likely means participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Gunner (caller): Are you in favor of free tuition for college, as Secretary Clinton is?  

Wesley Casteen: Much of the discussion of free tuition, and you have to look closely at the proposals. Some proposals which have been described as free tuition are actually interest-free tuition, and they were presented in such a way that the students would have a lower rate of interest, essentially equal to the rate of inflation, such that they would not be burdened so much with tuition repayment or student debt. True free tuition programs I think have been less common, and I’m not sure that that’s the proposal that Secretary Clinton has in fact proposed. There are issues with providing free tuition, namely the quality of the education, the potential cost increases of secondary education. We’re seeing some of those problems in private, for-profit colleges which have been closed by the Department of Education because they abused the system, most directly with veteran’s benefits, and as a result of that have been closed. A free college option would have to be looked at very closely, but I think lessening the impact and the detriment of student loans is certainly something that should be looked at. The federal government should not be earning a profit from student loans. It’s an encouragement to allow students to get better jobs, be more productive, and contribute back to the wellbeing of the country. So, anything that lessens that burden would be a good thing.

RLH: It was earlier this year that U.S. News and World Report said Republican’s self-inflicted wounds—from Trump’s boorish behavior to the party elite’s half-hearted attempts to sabotage his march to the nomination to the Senate’s blockade of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee—have triggered a fundraising deluge for down-ballot Democrats. Have you seen any of this deluge, and how much have you raised? How are you doing on that front?

Wesley Casteen: I have not seen a deluge by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been happy with the folks who have chosen to contribute to my campaign. We have the resources to continue and see this through to the end.

RLH: And what does that mean? Are you doing television or print ads?

Wesley Casteen: I do not have the funds presently to do television ads. I have been working diligently since December of last year. I just completed a summary this week, and I’ve gone about ten thousand miles across the district over the past nine months, and I’ve made several stops in each of the nine counties in the district. I’ve been very happy that the local county parties have been very receptive and supportive. All of them have been active in campaigning for all of the candidates, from the top to the bottom of the ballot. I’ve been very fortunate to have that infrastructure to help our campaign, and I’ve been very happy to take advantage of the opportunities which have made themselves available.

RLH: So this has been a boots-on-the-ground kind of campaign?

Wesley Casteen: It’s a boots-on-the-ground kind of campaign, yes. We have made some circulated literature, done certain mailings, but the idea of doing a half-million-dollar ad buy is not something in my future, you’re right.

RLH: When we look at the practical reality of this—and you chided me two years ago for pointing out that a Libertarian had never been elected to federal office—but the practical reality is that Ballotpedia predicts that only 24 of the 435 House races—and that equals about 5.7%—will be truly competitive in the general election. This race is not one of them. David Rouzer is considered to have a very safe seat at this point. You said earlier in our discussion that you are doing this because you want to have a seat at the table. How are you going to get that seat at the table?

Wesley Casteen: I’m going to get that seat at the table assuming your listeners who are obviously informed and interested in politics use the information that’s available to them to evaluate the candidates and decide who speaks best for them and for the 750,000 other residents in southeastern North Carolina. You know, if any party assumes that they have a lock on any House seat or any political position, inevitably what you’re going to lose is the voice of those persons who don’t subscribe to every single tenant of that party. It doesn’t do anybody any good for a politician to go to Washington or go to Raleigh serve as a lobbyist for his or her chosen political party. The purpose of any politician is to be a representative of the people and to speak in the voice of the people.

RLH: And that’s something that just about every candidate starts out with. Everyone says, “I’m driven by this notion of public service and I have my own particular cause.” It often starts out as this very laudable, noble drive, and then they get to Washington. [Laughs.] If you did go to Washington, how would you walk that line between constantly needing to raising money— That’s just a reality, that’s just the way it is. You don’t keep your seat unless you can keep wealthy, powerful interests happy. So how do you balance that with genuinely serving your constituents? How do you keep yourself aligned with true north?

Wesley Casteen: The only thing I can do is to vote my conscience and and act in what I believe is in the best interest of the people. You’re exactly right that traditionally and historically, a good part of any representative’s day, week, or year is spent fundraising. That is an unfortunate reality. But if we look at that reality as being unchangeable, if we say that the 7th district is safe so there’s no reason to offer an alternative, if we say that it does no good for half of the electorate to show up on Election Day, then we’re losing the point of a representative government. What I think is that there are people who recognize that their voice is not being heard. There are people want to step out, who want to vote, and those are folks that I am trying to reach, and if those folks come out to the polls, if those folks exercise their right to vote, then there’s going to be some surprises in my race and other races throughout the country. The expectation that those folks will become discouraged and stay home is what makes races supposedly safe, and I don’t think there should be any safe races anywhere—in local, state, or federal government. It is the competition, it is the need to have to respond to constituents across the board that makes a truly productive and effective representative.

RLH: When you consider the protests that we’ve seen across the country, triggered by officer-involved shootings of African American men, most recently here, the fatal shooting in Charlotte of Keith Lamont Scott, do you reach the conclusion that there’s something wrong with our current, American method of policing? Or is this more communication with the community that needs to happen? How do you solve this problem? Is this an epidemic or is that just the perception?

Wesley Casteen: In the last cycle, WHQR sponsored a forum, and I spoke at that forum, and at that time, an almost identical question was asked, and at that time, it related to Ferguson, Missouri, and Michael Brown, and my response to that question then was that we likely did not have enough information and that it would be beneficial to wait until all the information was in before we were able to lay blame or to understand exactly what went on. At that time, there were riots in Ferguson. The facts played out that the officer acted in self-defense, that Michael Brown had in fact reached into the officer’s car in Ferguson and had, at some point, his hand on his weapon, according to DNA evidence. So the picture that came out immediately after wasn’t the picture that played out. And that’s not to say that in every incident, the officer is completely innocent or without fault. Officers can act irrationally, imprudently, accidentally, or negligently, and those incidents should be dealt with, but I think the incidents of bad apples is not something that’s endemic or systematic throughout law enforcement.

RLH: What about the system itself? When you say bad apples, you’re talking about the people, the law enforcement officers. What about the system?

Wesley Casteen: I don’t understand exactly what element of the system you might be asking about. I think there is an idea that’s been fed recently that police see their job as us versus them. I don’t know that that’s the case. I think most law enforcement officers are truly dedicated to their work and see their role as peace officers to protect and serve. They have a very difficult job, and most of those officers do their job very well on a day-to-day basis. 

RLH:  That's this edition of the CoastLine Candidate Interviews.  Wesley Casteen, it's been a pleasure having you on today.

Wesley Casteen:  Thank you, Rachel.  I appreciate it.