ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) -- Rep. John Ager is a Democrat running for NC House District 115. His responses to our candidate questionnaire are noted below. Learn more about Rep. John Ager from his campaign website.
What do you feel are the biggest issues facing North Carolinians, and what will you do to address them?
Income Inequality and Climate Change are the two mega-issues facing North Carolina. Long term, education is the equalizer for providing better jobs and stronger families. Short term, shifting the tax burden to sales and property taxes and cutting income taxes for the wealthy makes the problem worse. Denying Medicaid expansion, and thus health care, to our neediest citizens cripples family finances and exacerbates the opioid abuse that is rampant. Climate Change mitigation will require all levels of government to coordinate a phase out of sources of carbon that are being dumped into the air, and incentives to promote alternative renewable energy such as solar and wind. I am hopeful that agricultural and forestry practices can be developed that will pull carbon out of the air and begin to return our atmosphere to a more natural state.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot in November—from the language to some saying they amount to “power grabs” by the GOP-controlled General Assembly. What are your thoughts on the amendments?
First of all, asking voters to amend the North Carolina constitution is a serious undertaking, and having six on the ballot at one time is probably unprecedented. My own views are as follows: Amendment #1 declares that a person’s right to hunt and fish shall be “forever preserved,” but still subject to laws passed “to promote wildlife conservation and management and preserve the future of hunting and fishing.” As a farm family that enjoys hunting and fishing, I support these concepts in general, but wonder if our state constitution is the place to put these protections. Hunting and fishing enthusiasts are declining in our state, in part because of the popularity of other forms of entertainment and the growing urbanization of North Carolina.
I support activities that encourage people to get out in the woods and appreciate these remarkable mountains. I would also hope that the hunters and fishermen would advocate for the protection of our wild areas and mountain streams. No one wants to eat fish from polluted waters.
Amendment #2 is known as Marsy’s Law, and increases the rights of victims in our court system. It would require notification to victims of court actions involving criminal perpetrators, and give them certain rights during a trial or parole hearing. The law is part of a national effort to bolster the rights of crime victims, and was passed in 2008 in California as Proposition 9.
Here is Marsy’s story that stands behind the effort. Marsy was a student at the University of California Santa Barbara when she was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after she was murdered, Marsy’s parents walked into a grocery store after visiting their daughter’s grave only to be confronted by the accused murderer. They had no idea that he had been released on bail.
Critics of the amendment worry about the burdens the law will put on the court system. The estimated cost in North Carolina is $32.5 million. Requiring the courts to notify victims of trials and hearings could slow down these proceedings if the victims cannot be found. My understanding is that the courts in other states have been able to manage these problems. North Carolina already enjoys many victim’s rights, and I am still talking with judges and lawyers I trust about whether added protections are a good idea or not and would suggest you do the same.
Amendment #3 involves the NC Elections Board. The Elections Board would become an eight-member board, with four Democrats and four Republicans all appointed by Legislative leaders. There is really no other way to describe this amendment other than as a power grab by the General Assembly. The separation of powers that is the core of our governance is being tested here. In response, five former governors of both parties joined forces to speak out against this amendment.
Amendment #4 involves the selection of judges to fill judicial vacancies. In NC, all judges are elected. If a judge resigns, retires or dies in office, the Governor appoints a replacement who serves until the next general election. This amendment would change that process, and give the General Assembly most of the power. If the amendment passes, the new process would begin with a commission set up by the General Assembly to declare whether or not certain candidates are eligible under the state Constitution. Those names would then come to the General Assembly, who would choose two to send to the Governor.
Amendment #5 would place a tax cap in the Constitution at a 7% rate for the income and corporate tax. It is currently 10%. The actual rate in 2019 will be 5.25% for income and 2.5% for corporations, which will not be affected by how you vote on this amendment. If passed, future legislatures will be unable for example to have a higher rate (over 7%) for high income earners. Long term, the effect of this cap could be to shift the tax burden to property and sales taxes. Everyone likes lower taxes, but no one knows what the future challenges of our state might be.
Amendment #6 requires that all voters produce a photo ID. This requirement has been debated for years now. If this amendment passes, the legislature will decide what ID’s will be acceptable.
Would you vote to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act?
Yes, it would be the single biggest benefit to the citizens of North Carolina of any policy change in Raleigh. It would bring much needed money into our hospitals, especially in rural areas. It could provide addiction help for those willing to beat their drug problems.
What approach do you believe is best to prevent mass shootings?
I like to say that I represent the 90% of gun owners who do not belong to the NRA. We need to research and implement common sense gun protections. Gun owners like myself must make safety the paramount goal. Guns need to be locked up when not in use. We need to look at ways to keep guns out of the hands of unstable people. Military style weapons need to either be banned or required that they are kept in safes at shooting ranges. Mandatory back-ground checks can be a deterrent. There is an argument to made for restricting ammunition purchases. We need to look especially hard at how to make a school children safe. All in all, we need to protect Second Amendment gun rights by taking politics out of the debate and making gun safety the primary focus as it was when I was growing up.
Do you believe marijuana should be legal either medicinally or recreationally or both?
I am convinced that medical marijuana has a legitimate place for those suffering seizures and pain. I had a dear friend who found much solace with marijuana while suffering from colon cancer. Regarding the sale of recreational marijuana, I think there would be some major benefits.
What is an example of a policy or issue you have changed your view on in the last 20 years?
I try to assess policies in as objective a manner as possible, and I think my constituents appreciate my independent stance on many issues. I have been willing to buck my party leaders when I think they are wrong. One example of my change in policy is the marijuana issue mentioned above. I am no fan of marijuana personally, and I have worried that it seems to take away some vitality in friends I know who are frequent users. But, for the reasons above, I think the time for change has come.
What question do you wish someone would ask you and why?
What are the strengths and weaknesses, and limitations, of North Carolina government? We collect $24 Billion in taxes from the citizens of this state, and our job is to spend it in a way that enhances opportunity, health, transportation and safety of our citizens. But caring for our family, friends and neighbors as people needs to be a goal of everyone.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you?
We are all insecure; don’t let your insecurities limit your courage.
Who is your favorite musician or band?
There is a long list. I am a Johnny Cash fan, along with the British bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones and others. I like the Avett Brothers and Brandi Carlile, and some classical pieces as well.
Duke or Carolina or neither?
I grew up a Duke fan because my Dad was in the class of 1939, and captain of the Duke tennis team. Many of my family members went to Carolina, so the lighter blue has grown on me over the years. My four sons went to A.C. Reynolds, and I have a grandson (Cyrus) playing soccer there and attending the Nesbitt Academy.