Hurricane, opioid crisis issues in Brunswick NC House race

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Iler, the region’s longest-serving legislator, challenged by Simmons

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Hurricane Florence recovery efforts, the opioid crisis and education are among the topics voters will have to consider as N.C. Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick, faces a challenge from Democrat Tom Simmons.

Iler is the longest-serving member of the General Assembly from the three-county Southeastern N.C. region, having been appointed in 2009 and re-elected by wide margins since then.

Simmons is a former Boiling Spring Lakes councilman and has been active among Brunswick County Democrats.

The seat, which represents most of Brunswick County, has a base salary of $13,951, plus $559 per month for expenses, with higher salaries possible for leadership positions.

What improvements or changes, if any, would you advocate for in public policy or infrastructure needs in the wake of Hurricane Florence?

Iler: Needs in the wake of Hurricane Florence include housing, subsistence, infrastructure, and safety. We have and will continue to use the “Rainy day fund” to provide infrastructure such as water and sewer systems, dams, roads, and other needs, including agriculture damage. Federal funds are available for food, housing, and other rebuilding needs, but we will look at policies and funding to fill in wherever needed.

Simmons: Increase funding for the DEQ in order to monitor the containment effectiveness of hog lagoons and coal ash pools.

What level of state support, if any, is appropriate for local beach nourishment projects?

I: The state has established a fund with a two to one match that local governments can use for dredging inlets and waterways. We are trying through past and future legislation to allow that dredge material to be available for beaches. We would most like to have a match for beach nourishment or beach maintenance also, but have to fight the environmental lobbyists on the opposing side and those in the opposing party who would like us all to move off the coast.

S: I will advocate for state level matching funds.

Outside of responding to the hurricane, what is the single most important initiative the state General Assembly should enact over the next two years? Why?

I: The single most important initiative after our hurricane recovery for the long term is addressing the drug crisis and associated mental health issues. It is complicated, but the state can take more of a lead in the treatment, law enforcement, and health fields to address these large issues. Some of my colleagues with medical, hospital and legal backgrounds are working hard on this, and I will be lending my full support to them.

S: Raising per pupil spending and educator salaries to at least the national average. In order to attract and keep the best and brightest teachers in the classroom, NC cannot remain 39th in the education funding.

What can realistically be accomplished in the next two years for per-pupil school funding and teacher pay, both of which remain below national averages?

I: Education is 58 percent of the state budget. Your question appears to assume that all funding comes from the state. There are federal programs and local supplements that add to the per pupil funding and teacher pay. I believe if one includes this that we are not below the national average. However, as most readers know, I have advocated for competitive teacher pay, teaching assistants, and the Teaching Fellows program ever since I have been in the House. This is one reason our teachers have received raises the last five years, after the opposing party froze their pay in 2009.

S: NC teacher salaries are $9,000 below the national average, while per pupil spending is approximately $2,900 below the national average; I would like to see a plan to increase funding by 50 percent in next two years and 50 percent in the following two years.

Should North Carolina’s General Assembly and congressional districts continue to be drawn by legislators or should an independent body be created to handle redistricting? Why?

I: First, the question assumes there is such a thing as an independent body. Second, I have sponsored a bill the last three sessions to have an independent commission draw the districts. The final approval would still be in the hands of the legislature, which is elected by the people. I wonder if the people want a faceless, unknown group deciding this for them. So, the answer is yes, but not entirely out of the hands of the people’s duly elected representatives.

S: Politicians should not be picking their voters. With the technology available, I would favor using computers to draw district lines, thereby taking the human element out of determining where lines are drawn.

Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or