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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Gwenyfar Rohler interviews District 19 candidate Marcia Morgan

Encore continues 2018’s election coverage. With the filing deadline having just passed, coming upon us next is the NC primary election on Tuesday, May 8. This week Marcia Morgan, candidate for District 19 of the NC General Assembly, shares her thoughts on some of the issues at stake. 

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MEET THE CANDIDATE: Marcia Morgan vies for NC General Assembly. Courtesy photo.

encore (e): Why is it important for you to seek office now?

Marcia Morgan (MM): I’ve been blessed with an amazingly rich professional life. As a former educator and retired Army colonel, I have devoted my life to educating and protecting others. Although I had not considered state politics to be my “next career move,” I have become increasingly dissatisfied with current leadership at the NC General Assembly (NC GA). In talking with residents throughout District 19, my frustrations with the NC GA are shared—folks like the single mom in Myrtle Grove working two jobs, yet still struggling to provide for her family; the students at UNCW’s Watson School of Education second-guessing their noble choice to teach the youth of NC; and the family of five living in Pine Valley buying bottled water because they are frightened to give GenX-tainted tap water to even their family pets. These are real issues that require real leaders willing to work tirelessly, and across party lines, for real solutions.

e: Please, explain to us your plan for addressing GenX.

MM: Clean drinking water is not a luxury; it is a right. For decades tens of thousands of residents in New Hanover and Brunswick counties have been drinking water contaminated with GenX, an acid used to make Teflon, Gore-Tex, fast-food wrappers, and other products. Linked to health problems, including cancer and reproductive issues, GenX has been left unregulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and consequently has left residents of my district and others at huge risk.

Public knowledge of the contamination is nearing the one-year mark. Yet, in almost one year’s time, the NC GA has been unable to pass legislation that updates drinking water standards, fully funds state agencies to set and enforce standards, and holds polluters accountable. With more than eight months until election day, I implore current leaders in the NC House and Senate to come together now. Do not wait for new leadership in November—put the health of our district first!

When I arrive in Raleigh, I will continue the work I am hopeful current legislators will finally begin—the work to protect the right of my district and all North Carolinians to clean drinking water, the work to fund the DEQ, to amend or pass common-sense legislation, and to protect the environment and put our health above the bottom line of the polluters.

e: Public education is of paramount importance. What do you plan to do in the NC House to improve it in NC? What issues need to be addressed?

MM: NC was once known as the South’s “education state.” As a leader in education, we were a state of many firsts: the first to expand teachers’ contracts to 10 months to allow for planning and training; the first to offer full-day kindergarten, as well as a reading program for grades first through third; and the first to hire teacher assistants for every classroom from kindergarten through third grade. NC also spearheaded innovative schools and programs, like the NC School of Science and Mathematics, and former Gov. Jim Hunt’s signature Smart Start program.

Despite once being a forerunner in education, recent leadership in the NC state legislature has denied the key principle from our legacy of firsts: the belief that investing in the education of our children is an investment in our future. We must return to this fundamental belief before more damage is done. We must once again support our students by providing them the resources and environment necessary for success. We must attract and retain the best and brightest teachers by investing in them. We must offer competitive salaries that increase annually with experience and reward those with postgraduate degrees and/or National Board Certification. We must establish effective mentoring programs for new teachers and evaluation procedures for all teachers, while fully-funding opportunities for professional growth. To do this, we must refrain from prioritizing tax cuts over education. We must revisit the school-voucher program and insist on greater accountability for school choice programs.

Just as we have a duty to protect and serve the thousands of children attending our public schools, we also have the duty to protect and defend our teachers—the second largest workforce in New Hanover County. As a former educator, I know how important it is. We cannot get it wrong. Our future depends on it!

e: What are your thoughts on the Skyway Bridge? NCDOT says it is still part of future planning.

MM: As our area continues to grow, we must continually look for economical yet environmentally-responsible ways to keep traffic flowing smoothly and safely for our residents and visitors. The proposed Skyway Bridge or Cape Fear Crossing may be a viable way to do that. I would want to review the draft environmental impact study coming out in fall and take a closer look at the economic, human and development implications on both sides of the river before coming to any final decisions.

e: What are your thoughts on proposed passenger rail service to our area?

MM: There is no doubt a passenger rail service to southeastern NC would have a significant and likely positive impact on our district’s economy. Not only would it provide residents of my district an alternative to standard car travel to and from Raleigh, it would make it easier for folks from our state’s capital, and from possible connections in Goldsboro and Fayetteville, to enjoy our beaches, our riverfront, and everything in between—and spend their dollars here. Although I am enthusiastic about seeing the return of passenger rail to Wilmington, I will need something more than the Passenger Rail Study to understand the complete economic and environmental impact, as well as the source of funding for such an undertaking.

e: Deb Butler introduced a bill for NC to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. What is your position on ERA? In your opinion, how is NC doing protecting the rights of all citizens? What would you do in the NC House to improve the situation?

MM: Equality for all is one of the themes of my own campaign. It is something about which I feel strongly and, as such, I fully support Deb Butler’s introduction of the bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Under the control of the GOP, the NC GA has been leading the race to the bottom when it comes to protecting the rights of all citizens. The passage of unconstitutional voter ID laws and racially gerrymandered voting districts earned the state an election integrity score of just 58 out of 100 on Harvard’s 2016 Election Integrity Project, leading one author to declare NC was “no longer classified as a democracy.”

Additionally, women and members of the LGBTQ community are victims of the NC GA’s refusal to protect the rights of all citizens. The GA’s assault on women’s access to healthcare and the passage of the embarrassing and ill-informed HB2 “bathroom bill,” among other transgressions, really leaves NC citizens feeling dehumanized.

What would I do in the NC House to improve the situation? That’s easy: Treat all human beings equally, regardless of gender, color of skin, who they love, who they pray to (or don’t), or how much money they make. District 19 deserves a representative who will listen to and protect the rights of all. By supporting Rep. Butler’s bill and leading the General Assembly to its passage, our country is one state closer to amending the U.S. Constitution to include the ERA. 

e: What is your position on gerrymandering and voter ID laws?

MM: Gerrymandering, no matter which party is responsible, is wrong. Anything that promotes one citizen’s vote counting more than his fellow citizens’ is detrimental to the spirit of democracy and the democratic system. Voter ID laws are similarly detrimental. Since voter fraud is not a valid issue, then it’s obvious the true intent of such laws is to discourage and disenfranchise African-American, Latino, and even elderly voters from exercising their Constitutional right.

When I’m elected as the District 19 representative to the NC House, I’ll work to fight for the rights of every citizen to have their voices heard and their votes counted. When working on the redistricting process, I will maintain a constituent-first focus, and urge my colleagues to establish a neutral commission to redraw district maps without party and racial bias, ensuring that we create districts that are legal and make sense to our citizens.  In short, I will put my constituents’ needs first rather than worrying how a change to a district will impact my position in the legislature.

e: Is there a future for reclaiming our film industry?

MM: Yes—it brought so much to the economy of Wilmington and southeastern NC—not only in terms of jobs for our citizens but also in spending at local businesses, tourism dollars and more. The successful general-tax incentive program that led to $377 million in movie and TV spending across the state in 2012 was followed by the devastating grant-based program, which all but nailed the doors shut on the industry here.

The capped incentive program put in place in late 2017 is moving in the right direction, but we need to do much more. When I’m elected to the NC House, I’ll vote to reinstate the general tax-incentive programs that led to Wilmington becoming a leader in the film industry. State and local officials have offered incentives to businesses and industries that bring far fewer jobs, with far more concerns, especially environmental. Every chance I get, I’ll support a sustainable industry we know boosts the local economy across the board over businesses that don’t make good neighbors, like a gypsum plant that promises to hire 51 people but could potentially release nearly two tons of formaldehyde into the air.

e: What steps can our NC GA take to prepare for natural disasters? How do you plan to address climate change issues and its impact on NC citizens’ daily lives?

MM: Several factors need to be considered as we face the likelihood that southeastern NC will experience a superstorm like Harvey and Irma. With dated infrastructure on the one hand and continual development on the other, it is going to be a challenge of funding and patience for New Hanover County and my district.

In advance of the storms, it will be critical  the assembly work with local municipalities to find ways to minimize damage. Projects aimed to increase coastal resiliency will be key in moving forward. With the use of innovative technology and advances in engineering, citizens and municipalities can minimize the threat to life and property. Reconsidering building codes and best land use practices are an important part of the equation, as are stormwater retention and redirection.

One economic concern for all of us in eastern NC is skyrocketing cost of flood insurance—a necessity if we hope to rebuild after major storms. We must fight for fair assessments when compared to the amount of inland flooding and lower rates offered. Recently, our rates went up while inland rates were going down. We need to review the models being used and take a hard look at how rates are set.

Ahead of an approaching storm, hurricane preparedness must be a part of the package, including educational outreach, accurate predictive models, robust communication capabilities, and efficient state and local plans that deal with evacuations and the safe return of citizens. We must properly budget for all-hazards preparedness funding to be able to recover as quickly and completely as possible following a disaster. A 2016 special report listed NC as the fifth least prepared state, which is alarming in light of the probability of hurricanes in this area.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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