Full text: Gubernatorial candidates’ responses to Agenda’s questionnaire

Full text: Gubernatorial candidates’ responses to Agenda’s questionnaire
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These are the full responses to our questionnaire from gubernatorial candidates Roy Cooper and Dan Forest, lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

Affordable housing

The issue: Real estate prices are soaring, but Charlotte still has a shortage of an estimated 34,000 affordable units.

Brookhill Village on South Tryon Street

On South Tryon Street, developers are working on plans to redevelop the long-standing Brookhill neighborhood without displacing residents. (Photo by Alvin Jacobs)

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the local affordable housing crisis?

Cooper: Housing is an increasing challenge in both urban and rural areas in our state. The state should work with local and federal housing entities and community members to determine the appropriate course of action to expand the state’s currently limited role to ensure North Carolinians have access to affordable housing. Traditionally, this has been mostly a role of the federal and local governments.When these hurricanes struck, we saw the need for affordable housing in eastern North Carolina, and we know it’s a challenge statewide. We should look at innovative ways to help, like tax credits and incentives for teachers, law enforcement and other frontline workers to be able to get these professionals affordable housing where they live. I look forward to doing that in my next term. We also need more resources invested. My proposed budget already recommends placing a $4.3 billion infrastructure bond on the ballot that would invest $500 million for affordable housing. We also must strengthen programs including the NC Housing Finance Agency, community reinvestment and duty to serve programs. I support down payment assistance as a tool to help address the disparities in homeownership for communities of color.

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Forest: Government rules, regulations, and zoning add costs and often prohibit local developers from providing affordable housing. We must work with the developer community to determine the barriers to entry in serving this market, and communities must be provided with quality affordable housing to keep property values high. These decisions should not be made in a bureaucratic bubble. In existing housing programs, we must ensure they appropriately serve citizens with disabilities in accordance with all laws.

One Charlotte-specific question: What should be done about source of income discrimination — i.e. should the state take the city of Charlotte’s recommendation to change a state law and ban landlords from refusing vouchers, or from asking tenants about previous convictions?

Cooper: As Governor, I signed an executive order instituting a Fair Chance hiring initiative for state government that prohibits screening job applicants based on criminal convictions. This allows qualified workers to get into an interview or into most job pools without penalizing them for a past mistake. This idea has also been adopted by some private industry, and it could be considered for housing as well. People deserve a second chance to rebuild their lives, and that includes work and a place to live. Tackling the severe housing shortage in Charlotte and across the state could include a review of income discrimination, but should also include insistence that Washington address the disparity in support for our cities. Supporting renters and homeowners also includes stopping unfair lending practices. As a legislator, I helped write our state’s and the first in the nation’s anti-predatory lending law, credited with enabling North Carolina to avoid mass foreclosures. As Attorney General, I negotiated a landmark settlement with mortgage lenders to help families facing foreclosure. I also helped protect homeowners from unfair loans and made mortgage fraud a felony. These initiatives kept creditors from shortchanging homeowners and led to national reform.

Forest: No. The vast majority of landlords are families who rent out a single property, which they often pay a mortgage on. Their right to vet tenants and otherwise manage their home as they see fit should be preserved within current state law.

Homelessness

The issue: In Charlotte and other places, homelessness is more visible than ever. A new report out from Mecklenburg County shows that affordable housing is disappearing in the Charlotte area, while homelessness is increasing. As of June, 3,111 individuals were actively experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Tent City Charlotte covid 2020

Tent city on North College Street grew rapidly as the coronavirus pandemic settled in. (Photo by Travis Dove)

What is the first thing that comes to mind for you when you think of homelessness in North Carolina?

Cooper: The first thing that comes to mind is a deep concern for homeless people, particularly when children are involved. We are working to prevent homelessness and keep people in secure housing during the pandemic by using federal funds for assistance. Starting with the NCDHHS Back@Home program and with the help of nonprofit partners, the state will continue to address homelessness with direct help and wraparound services. There is more work to be done, and the state should assist local government with these challenges. In August, I announced $175 million to help North Carolinians with rental and utility payment support due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I prohibited utility companies from cutting service for nonpayment or charging unfair late fees so that North Carolinians wouldn’t have their vital utilities shut off during the pandemic, and I encouraged telecommunications companies to do the same. I’ve called on Congress for the continued funding of expanded unemployment benefits. I’ve also pushed the legislature to fix the state’s own unemployment compensation.

Forest: I believe a state is judged by how we take care of the vulnerable among us — the elderly, unborn, orphaned, disadvantaged and homeless.

One Charlotte-specific question: What should cities like Charlotte do to help people living in places like the so-called Tent City?

Cooper: We know coronavirus is shining a light on the massive inequities that existed before. We need to continue to fight to expand Medicaid, make record investments in our public schools, invest more in our efforts to prevent and treat substance use disorders, invest in our workforce and create jobs that lift all incomes so we can continue to work towards a state economy that works for all North Carolinians.

Forest: The homelessness problem in Charlotte and across North Carolina is typically not at its root a housing or employment problem. Many people in our homeless population find themselves in that situation due to suffering from drug dependence or an untreated mental health condition that prevents them from earning a living.

I’m proud that when she was mayor of Charlotte, my mother Sue Myrick led the effort to build the Uptown men’s homeless shelter. My wife and I volunteered in that shelter and saw the many challenges of homelessness up close and personal. I support further efforts to help get people off the street and into shelters where they can more easily access substance abuse and other mental health treatments. As a state, we also need to take a deeper look at the root causes of the homelessness problem — including opioid addiction and the collapse of the family.

Coronavirus response

The issue: 2020 is the year of Covid-19, and how we’ve responded to it. More than 3,000 North Carolinians have died from it.

masks coronavirus

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the governor’s role in pandemic response?

Cooper: During this pandemic, I will continue to make the tough decisions based on science and data while putting the health and safety of North Carolinians first. We are slowing the spread of the virus while helping the unemployed, our schools and teachers and our small businesses. We have taken a dimmer switch approach to all decisions. These decisions aren’t easy, but by making them, we’ve been able to work to get the virus under control. We also know that communities of color have been hit the hardest and we are concentrating resources in the areas of greatest need. I am committed to getting us through this pandemic, as well as rebuilding North Carolina even stronger than before.

Forest: We can and must do two things at once: protect lives and livelihoods with the same intensity. With more than 1 million North Carolinians out of a job, we need to quickly get our state back to work and repair the damage to our economy. This is more important than just subsistence: So many of society’s ills can be cured by a good job. The Governor’s role in protecting people should start with directing the bulk of our time, money and resources toward protecting elderly residents of nursing home and long-term care facilities.

One Charlotte-specific question: How has the state fared in protecting people in urban areas like Charlotte — both economically and health-wise?

Cooper: At every point, I’ve used data and science to make the hard decisions, and I will continue to do so while putting the health and safety of North Carolinians first. That includes the hard decisions about getting our children back to in-person instruction as quickly and as safely as possible. I put in a mandatory mask mandate back in June which has shown positive effects and kept numbers stable. Our economy is getting better as we’ve slowed the spread of this virus. But many people are still hurting and that’s why I’ve provided funds to help small businesses and I ordered a stop to evictions and utility shut-offs. But our economy can’t fully recover until we’ve dealt with this pandemic and people feel safer. We have a chance to emerge on the other side of this even stronger than before — if we stick together, stick with the science and stick with leaders who take it seriously. Finally, we must expand Medicaid like 39 states have done to provide health care to more than half a million people in North Carolina, including Charlotte.

Forest: Urban areas have lost the most jobs due to the Cooper administration’s coronavirus shutdowns, especially in areas like the service and retail sector. As Governor, I will not pick winners and losers in the economy with poll-driven restrictions. Instead, I will implement policies that are proven to keep people safe, within the state and U.S. constitutions, while freeing the rest of the state to get back to their lives. We will fix the state’s broken unemployment system. And we will replace the current climate of fear and panic with hope and opportunity.

Public safety

The issue: Thousands of people protested police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota this summer — and not just in urban areas. Suburban towns like Waxhaw and Huntersville held protests with large numbers.

waxhaw protests

Protesters gathered all over the Charlotte region in June, including in suburbs such as Waxhaw.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind on the topic of policing?

Cooper: As Attorney General for 16 years before I was elected governor, I’ve worked hard to fight violent crime and protect people, and I know law enforcement have difficult jobs. We have to make sure that we invest to attract and retain the best law enforcement officers that we can and make sure they reflect the communities they serve with more diversity. We also need better training of law enforcement on de-escalation and bias training. The deaths of George Floyd and other Black lives broke open painful wounds. We have to listen to the people lifting up their voices for equality, and we have to keep pushing for justice and solutions. We have to have those hard conversations, and then make sure those translate to real action to fight racism and build safer communities. In June, I established the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice. Already the Task Force has made recommendations banning choke holds and installing a duty for officers to intervene in excessive force or abuse cases. I look forward to hearing their other recommendations soon.

Forest: As Lieutenant Governor, I constantly meet with law enforcement officers who have sacrificed to serve our communities. Their stories are inspiring. These men and women continually put themselves in harm’s way, defuse domestic violence situations, help the elderly, give directions, rescue children, save hopeless people from suicide, pull over drunk drivers on country roads in the dead of night and pull the helpless from burning buildings. That’s why I led the effort to declare September 11 a state holiday as First Responders Day, honoring the people who put their lives on the line every day.

One Charlotte-specific question: CMPD accounts for 40 percent of the city of Charlotte’s budget? Should some of the money that we spend on policing be shifted to other social services?

Cooper: Police have difficult jobs, and defunding them is not the answer. I believe that local governments should listen to the voices of their residents and work to address the unique problems within their communities. At the same time, we must do much more as a state and as local governments to address the needs of our communities, such as food scarcity, disparities in health care and quality education and lack of access to jobs.

Forest: We can’t afford to defund the police. In Charlotte and across North Carolina, violence is spiraling out of control. Homicides have spiked in Charlotte yet again, and our children are paying the price. When I’m Governor, I’ll defend the police and put an end to the culture of violence in our state.

Homicides

The issue: Charlotte had 107 homicides in 2019, more than in any year since 1994. This year’s pace is even higher, with nearly 90 homicides before the end of the third quarter.

Beatties Ford shooting

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about our rising homicide rate?

Cooper: We must work hard to reduce it. I’ve proposed meaningful, common sense changes to promote gun safety and better protect our communities. I signed an Executive Directive to strengthen the background check system to keep guns from criminals and the dangerously mentally ill, increase protections from gun violence and improve our public health and incident response.

Forest: The rising rate of homicide and other violent crime is the biggest issue facing Charlotte. After suffering from the most homicides in nearly 30 years last year, the number may be even higher this year. It’s time that North Carolina got back to law and order. A government’s top priority should be the safety of its citizens, and when I am elected governor, we’re going to make that a reality again.

One Charlotte-specific question: Homicide is often seen as a local issue. But it’s true that state policies can exacerbate inequities that lead to crime. What role can the state play in reducing Charlotte’s homicide rate?

Cooper: I am concerned about the correlation between gun violence and domestic violence. Nearly sixty-one percent of North Carolina’s intimate partner homicides involve a firearm, and abused women are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has a firearm. This needs to end. I support state legislation that prohibits gun possession by domestic abusers convicted of domestic violence and closing the “boyfriend loophole.” As Attorney General, I opposed a legislative proposal to eliminate the need for getting a pistol permit from a local sheriff before buying a handgun. I believe that sheriffs know the people in their community best. Implementing unnecessary restraints around their public safety authority is overreach by the state and not in the interest of our residents.

Forest: As Governor, I will support law enforcement and make sure our communities have the resources they need to keep the public safe. I will also hold sheriffs accountable who refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement and release dangerous illegal immigrants to the detriment of U.S. citizens of all races. And I will not hesitate to call in the National Guard to put a stop to rioting, looting and violence if necessary.

Education

The issue: CMS accounts for about 30 percent of Mecklenburg County’s budget. Still inequities exist, with some kids getting better education based on their neighborhoods.

Earnest Winston

Earnest Winston talks to a student at Highland Creek Elementary School on December 4, 2019.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about improving schools in large districts like CMS?

Cooper: I’ve pushed the legislature to raise teacher pay, expand pre-K programs and re-establish the Teaching Fellows Program. But instead of investing in public education, legislative leaders have focused on passing sweeping corporate tax cuts. We need to do more for public schools, not less, especially right now. That’s why I directed $95.6 million in new funding to help support K-12 and postsecondary students most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. I will keep fighting to give teachers and school support staff the pay raises they deserve. I support raising pay for public school teachers to at least the national average and reinstating master’s and other relevant advanced degree pay. My plan allows teachers with up to 30 years of service to earn more for each year of service. Inadequate funding has forced schools to cut back on critical positions, like school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers. That’s one of the reasons why I devoted a substantial amount of CARES Act funding for our schools for these critical positions.

Forest: For too long, our education system has prioritized the system over the student. Parents know best what classroom setting works for their child, and we must protect school choice options so all students have access to a good education, regardless of ZIP code. Right now, that includes reopening schools so every family has the option of in-person instruction.

One Charlotte-specific question: What steps can be taken at the state level to ensure equity in education, to ensure kids in poor neighborhoods of west Charlotte have the same opportunities as those in southeast Charlotte — and for that matter, the students in rural Montgomery County have the same opportunities as those in Wake?

Cooper: I’m pushing to raise per pupil funding for all public schools to at least the national average. This will help us fund more teacher’s assistants, counselors and other school support staff. It’s also going to be critical when it comes to recruiting teachers. I called for a school construction bond to invest in repairs and construction for aging schools across the state without cutting resources from other vital programs and services. The legislature’s budget didn’t do enough for our schools and offered no guarantee any school construction would be completed. Budgets are about priorities. My budgets favor public education over tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. We have to do better. We are working to make sure all parts of our state have high speed internet access which will help close the gap for children. I have also established the DRIVE Task Force to recruit more teachers of color into the system. Studies show diverse teachers improve performance of all students.

Forest: As Lt. Governor, I championed the effort for North Carolina to be the first state in the nation to have every classroom connected to high-speed broadband. That was a $100 million annual investment that will pay off by closing the education gap and allowing students access to the best and brightest teachers regardless of ZIP code. When I’m elected Governor, we will make North Carolina the first state to ensure all children have access to high-speed Internet at home as well, connecting all of rural North Carolina to broadband.

Transportation and climate change

The issue: Hurricanes hit our coast more frequently and with more ferocity than before. FEMA money has been slow to arrive in places like Fair Bluff. Recent reports show that there will be a migration of people moving from coastal NC in the next 30 years.

Charlotte Blue Line stop view from North End

Charlotte Blue Line stop view from North End

What is the first thing that comes to mind when considering the state’s role in addressing climate change?

Cooper: Fighting to make sure North Carolinians have access to clean air and clean water and doing our part to reduce dangerous emissions is how we build a true line of defense against climate change. My Clean Energy Plan established a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025 and 70 percent by 2030 with carbon neutrality by 2050. We’ve fought offshore drilling and have stood against those who would threaten our coastal economy and our beaches. We are second in the country in solar energy and that’s bringing thousands of renewable energy jobs. We need to continue to invest in renewables and make sure we achieve a carbon neutral North Carolina and stay on the path to a clean energy economy. Climate change has intensified storms. We’ve invested $3.5 billion to recover from these hurricanes, helping people rebuild their homes to withstand future storms. We need to continue to push for greater resiliency to protect from natural disasters and move forward to grow smarter and stronger.

Forest: I strongly believe in good stewardship of the environment – protecting clean air, clean water and conserving land for future generations. The problem is that the term “climate change” has become a catch-all for both environmental stewardship and apocalyptic alarmism. If we want to address these issues, then we must stop tossing everything into one basket and begin tackling one solvable problem at a time. I believe there is a place for good regulatory policy related to the environment, but I also believe in innovation over regulation. It’s time to stop using the environment as a political football and start solving problems.

One Charlotte-specific question: If people keep migrating to cities like Charlotte, what should be done to prepare, and should we as a city and state be investing more in infrastructure such as light rail and bus routes?

Cooper: Our state is only as strong as the bones of our infrastructure – roads, bridges, public transportation and high speed internet. Our economy depends on all of these. I got bipartisan support for the Build NC program, and after I signed it into law we were able to start road projects more quickly and at historically low interest rates.

Forest: Our state needs a long-term vision for the next 20, 30, or even 50 years that plays to North Carolina’s strengths and mitigates its weaknesses. Then we need a plan and the right team to move our state toward that vision. I will bring in the state’s best and brightest minds to help in this effort, especially leaders from the private sector with proven experience in job creation, infrastructure and logistics. But this much is already clear: We can not create jobs or grow our economy without an efficient and fully functioning Department of Transportation. Our current DOT is broke, broken and in dire need of restructuring from the top down. This will take place immediately upon my assuming the office of Governor.

Health care

The issue: Medicaid expansion was front and center of the state budget stalemate this year. Generally, Democrats support it; Republicans do not.

Skyline night healthcare

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you consider Medicaid expansion in North Carolina?

Cooper: No person in this state should have to choose between basic necessities and access to quality health care that saves lives. Right now, thousands of working North Carolinians fall into a health care coverage gap, which means they are working, but still can’t afford health care. When they seek care in the emergency room, it’s expensive and the cost is increasing insurance premiums for everyone else. Though legislative Republicans and my opponent have stood in the way, I’m fighting to expand Medicaid to close that coverage gap and extend coverage to half a million people, including families, veterans and people who’ve lost their job during the pandemic, at no additional cost to the state.

Forest: I am for high-quality, affordable health care for all North Carolinians. Medicaid expansion does not fit the bill. The Affordable Care Act promised hardworking families more access, better care, and no tax increases to pay for it. These were broken promises. Now these same promises are being made by Governor Cooper regarding Medicaid expansion. Our people are smarter than this political rhetoric.

One Charlotte-specific question: The coronavirus pandemic has hit communities in Charlotte with poor or no health care particularly hard, and on top of that, it’s dealt an enormous financial blow to hospitals throughout Mecklenburg County. What role do you see the state playing in ensuring that North Carolinians have affordable and accessible health care in the midst of an ongoing pandemic?

Cooper: Right now, we are facing an unprecedented challenge and a public health crisis. The pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for Medicaid expansion to ensure every North Carolinian can access quality and affordable care. Expanding Medicaid would cover more than half a million North Carolinians, boost the economy by $4 billion and create 40,000 jobs. I was proud to sign into law bipartisan legislation earlier this year that included $1.6 billion in assistance for families, schools, hospitals and small businesses. It was a bipartisan bright spot in the midst of this crisis. But, the legislature’s sweeping corporate tax cuts and their tax cuts for the wealthy must be stopped and instead those funds should be invested in health care and education. Our Early Childhood Action Plan aims to decrease infant mortality and improve maternal health with a specific focus on the racial disparities in maternal health and infant mortality. This year, I announced one of the state’s largest infusions of new dollars in our early childhood system: $56 million which will go toward improving early childhood education and health outcomes for at-risk children. We need to continue to expand these opportunities. Earlier this year, I established the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force to address the social, environmental, economic, and health disparities in communities of color that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forest: When I’m Governor, I’ll focus on providing better access for patients by encouraging doctors to practice in our rural communities. I’ll work with the General Assembly and the State Treasurer to ensure more price transparency so citizens know how much prescription drugs and vital health services cost. And I’ll fight to get those left in the coverage gap created by the ACA on private insurance. But right now, the quickest way to get people health insurance is to help them find a job. As Governor, I will reopen the economy and get people back to work.

Guns

The issue: North Carolina has seen increases in gun permits issued by county sheriff departments since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Guns seized by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department

Guns seized by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (courtesy of CMPD)

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you consider Second Amendment rights in North Carolina?

Cooper: Reasonable gun reforms are long overdue that are not in conflict with the Second Amendment or our nation’s values. I signed an Executive Directive to strengthen the background check system to keep guns from criminals and the dangerously mentally ill, increase protections from gun violence and improve our public health and incident response.

Forest: The Second Amendment secures all the rights enshrined in our Constitution. I stand with the North Carolina counties that are affirming our right to keep and bear arms. When I’m Governor, this right will never be in jeopardy in our state.

One Charlotte-specific question: Firearms are the primary weapons used in homicides in Charlotte. A recent increase in cases of children getting a hold of guns prompted elected officials to focus on gun safety through a lock giveaway with CMPD. What role can the state play in gun safety measures like this?

Cooper: We need real action on gun safety measures. I ordered our state to add 280,000 criminal convictions to our background check system, making it stronger so we can help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals. I have also called on the legislature to pass a red flag law to allow courts to take guns from those who are known threats. I will keep pushing for a universal background check law. But there’s more to do. The General Assembly needs to pass reasonable and effective gun safety measures like a red flag law and stronger background checks.

Forest: The Second Amendment protects the people’s right to own and carry a firearm, and I am deeply skeptical of laws that undermine this Constitutional right. I don’t believe we need new gun laws to protect public safety, but instead enforce existing laws against violent criminals and prevent the mentally ill from buying and accessing firearms.

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