There are several issues to consider throughout the election year in NC, especially in New Hanover County: House Bill 2 and LGBT rights, healthcare and drug abuse, economic growth, restoring film incentives, and the list goes on. In the weeks leading up to Nov. 8, election day, encore will publish Q&As with candidates running for local and state offices. Candidates running to represent New Hanover County in the NC Senate were all sent the same questions. This week meet NC Senate candidate Andrew Barnhill.
encore (e): Why do you want to serve in public office?
Andrew Barnhill (AB): Wilmington is my home. As a native of this community with a family that has lived here for generations, I have watched us become forgotten by members of the NC Senate in Raleigh. Through the years of seeing Southeastern NC shortchanged, I became convinced that it was time to provide my home community strong representation in Raleigh. We need a Senator who will open their door to all members of the community, and I look forward to doing that.
e: What is your leadership philosophy? How does it apply to government service?
AB: I believe in the importance of vigorous debate that leads to robust compromise. Each of the public figures who I consider mentors are people who have made it their career to draw support from all sides of the political spectrum. In order to do the same, I am committed to a form a leadership that shortens the lines between elected officials and citizens—achieved through making direct contact with as many members of the community as possible. Nearly every day I travel the district to host “Sweet Tea and Politics” sessions, house gatherings, where I visit voters in their homes and answer their questions. Every month I host town-hall meetings to provide an overview of the major issues facing our region. I will continue those when I am senator.
e: If elected, what are priority issues you will address in the next two years? Five years?
AB: I want to reinvigorate the visionary public education system that made us a leader in the New South, protect the natural resources in my district and elsewhere, and reverse the reactionary, fear-based legislation driving new investments away from our state. Locally, I would like to restore our status as a hub for the film industry. We are currently watching as associated jobs leave our state for other locales that have been more willing than us to provide incentives to attract and retain those crucial investments. If I have served five years in the legislature without effectively fighting on behalf of these issues, then voters should send me home.
e: HB2 is often called the “bathroom bill,” but it also prohibits NC municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination policies. Where do you stand on HB2?
AB: HB2 should be entirely repealed. If there are truly concerns about bathroom safety, they can be addressed without allowing discrimination against broad segments of the population. Meanwhile, the parts of the bill that have nothing to do with bathroom safety—limits on what municipal governments can do, the removal of legal protections against discrimination—continue to damage NC’s economy and reputation. Getting rid of this wrong-headed law is the first step we have to take if we are to bring jobs and dignity back to NC.
e: Do you think it is economically sound for NC to sue the Justice Department in order to defend HB2, despite losing an estimated billions of revenue from concerts, new businesses, and most recently NCAA pulling March Madness games from NC?
AB: No. Our efforts should be focused on repealing legislation rather than wasting money defending it, especially given the fact federal courts have already struck down not just one or two but six laws passed by our GOP legislature after they were subsequently found unconstitutional. The writing is on the wall.
e: What actions do think NC should take to regain monies and economic growth lost due to HB2?
AB: Voters can elect new leadership in the General Assembly that will focus on topics like economic growth instead of divisive and discriminatory social issues.
e: What are your thoughts on the NC film industry? Can and should NC reinstate film incentives as they once were?
AB: Yes, film incentives should be restored. Its elimination has lost our region hundreds of jobs and even more in economic activity.
e: During a particularly divisive time in politics, where do you think more people could find middle ground across party lines?
AB: I think the first step is to be willing to listen to and learn from those with whom we disagree, even vehemently. I am a Democrat, but I was glad to accept an award for service from President George W. Bush, someone with whom I usually did not agree politically. We are much more likely to find common ground if we engage people genuinely, finding points of agreement that serve to strengthen the bonds between us.
e: How might you help find and/or guide others to said middle ground?
AB: I’ve been endorsed by the Main Street Democrats, a group of moderate, business-friendly legislators who have worked with members of both parties to promote issues that are of importance to everyone, like public education. Their approach has been successful, and it’s one I think would benefit every member of the legislature.
e: In light of a recent study placing Wilmington as the number one city in the nation for opioid abuse, what do you think can be done at the Senate level to combat this issue?
AB: While the governor’s response has been reactive rather than proactive, the reality of heroin use and addiction is something that needs to be confronted before use begins. The state should look to coordinate with the federal government to secure funding for trainings for healthcare professionals. The sheer volume of opioids prescribed is at the heart of the crisis here in Wilmington. By first making sure that we have the drugs on hand to prevent an overdose, we can’t decrease the number of deaths that occur; by addressing the service providers who are inappropriately prescribing opioids, we can begin preventing addiction in the first place.