Star News: Meet the Candidates for NC House District 17

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Candidates: N.C. House of Rep. District 17

By John Staton

Wilmington StarNews USA TODAY NETWORK


The race for the N.C. House of Representatives' District 17 will pit incumbent Frank Iler, a Republican, against Democratic challenger Tom Simmons.


It's a rematch of the 2018 race for the same seat, in which Iler defeated Simmons by a 27-point margin, garnering 63.5 percent of the vote.


Iler, of Calabash, has held the seat since 2009. Simmons, of Boiling Spring Lakes, served two terms on that town's Board of Commissioners. Early voting for the 2020 election begins on Oct. 15 and will continue through Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 3.


Frank Iler

Address: Residence: 330 S. Middleton Drive NW, Calabash, NC 28467. Mail: P.O. Box 1412, Shallotte, NC 28459 Date of birth: Not provided Education: BA in business administration from Campbell College, now University. One year of MBA courses at Washington University in St. Louis. Greensboro Sr. High School (now Grimsley HS).

Profession: Retired. Cost accountant in the textile industry. Budget director at major fast food headquarters. Franchise fast food owner/operator, Bojangles. Sales & Marketing positions in food & automotive industries.

Political affiliation/experience: Republican. Precinct and poll worker. Precinct Chairman, Oak Island #2. Brunswick County Republican Chairman, 2006-2009. N.C. House of Representatives, 2009-present.


Tom Simmons

Address: 1462 Longleaf Road, Boiling Spring Lakes NC 28461 Date of birth: 1/29/45 Education: University of North Carolina Wilmington, University of South Carolina, East Carolina University Profession: Retired educator. Political affiliation/ experience: Democrat. Boiling Spring Lakes Board of Commissioners, two terms; Brunswick County Planning Board; Brunswick County Senior Resources Board; Brunswick County Community Foundation Board; 1st vice-chair 7th Congressional District Democratic Party


Do you think N.C. House districts have been gerrymandered? Why or why not, and do you consider this a competitive district for you and/or your party?


Iler: The term "gerrymandering" has been misused in most cases. These days it means any district that one doesn't like. Our districts in North Carolina were just fine for 140 years. Oh, but suddenly in 2011 the Republicans had a seat at the redistricting table. Then they were suddenly not good and had to be described as unfair, biased, and yes, gerrymandered. There are so many federal requirements and rules when drawing districts, there is little chance to vary from fair districts. House District 17 is far more competitive than a district in downtown Charlotte.


Simmons: In the past and present, N.C. House districts have been gerrymandered by the party in control of the legislature as a way to maintain its power for as long as possible. That's why I support the drawing of districts by a nonpartisan commission. The new lines ordered by the State Supreme Court for House District 17 seem to be fair now.


Right now state law does not allow towns or municipalities to remove Confederate monuments. If you are elected would you support changing that law?


Iler: No.


Simmons: Yes. As a native Carolinian, I believe Confederate monuments have a story to tell in our history. However, the appropriate setting for these monuments is in museums.


What are the biggest challenges facing your district and what policy decisions do you think will help to tackle them?


Iler: We are dealing with infrastructure needs, job needs and beach and inlet issues. We are working on better future funding of roads, increasing our response to economic development, and a secure fund for dealing with dredging and engineering of our beaches. We cannot forget the communities north and west of highway 17. I am proud of our Brunswick Community College that has recognized the need for job training. One other issue is providing clean water. We need to build on the policy and funding changes we have made and hold polluters more accountable.


Simmons: The biggest issues are the rising costs and availability of affordable healthcare, attracting clean livable wage industries to our area, better education, clean water, offshore drilling, and infrastructure like the Cape Fear Crossing. I support Medicaid Expansion, Increasing teacher salaries, holding polluters accountable, legislation to protect our beaches, and the replacement of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge in a way that protects property rights and the environment.


How do you think N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper has handled the COVID-19 crisis in NC? Please name one thing you think he did well, and one you think he could've done better.


Iler: The Governor has talked about science and data a lot, but I question whether he has followed it or just used the parts that serve to keep as much of the economy closed as possible. We are trailing most states in safe reopening. One thing he did right was to allow our local governing officials to determine the reopening of beaches and short term rentals. One thing he could have done better was to NOT veto our bills to allow churches, gyms, and bars to reopen safely.


Simmons: Gov. Cooper has shown a great deal of courage and integrity while working under extremely difficult circumstances. Instead of bending his principles and playing politics with the lives of North Carolina citizens, the governor has based his decisions on facts and science. The only thing I believe he could have done better was to explain how some businesses can reopen while others cannot.


Systemic racism has been at the forefront of the conversation in recent weeks, especially with law enforcement. What steps would you take to address this at the local level in your district?


Iler: I reject the premise of this question. Systemic racism is a buzzword that has been politicized and is being used to justify lawlessness and destruction. Racism in any form is wrong. Violence in any form is also wrong. When you ask what I would do at the local level, I need to remind you that the House of Representatives operates at the state level. Our county officials, local officials, sheriff, and courts work hard every day to be fair and equitable. In my personal life, I accept people as individuals, not as groups.


Simmons: In one word - communications. I support and respect all law enforcement officers in Brunswick County and free speech. I have committed to holding town hall meetings every month in my district, and I intend to make systematic racism part of an ongoing dialogue with my constituents. Together, we will find a better way for all.


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Tom Simmons

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