John Ager (I), Democrat
Place of residence: Fairview
Political experience: Two years in the N.C. House
Endorsements: League of Conservation Voters; Buncombe County Association of Educators; N.C. Association of Educators; N.C. Police Benevolent Association; State Employees Association of N.C.; WNC Central Labor Council; Sierra Club; Asheville Citizen-Times
Amount of money raised: $205,000
Top three donors and amount contributed: I would rather not put other people’s names in this questionnaire. This information will be made public in October. I have over 1,000 individual donors and very little PAC money.
Why are you running?
I am a Jim Hunt Democrat who wants to support education, clean air and water, a fair tax structure, job creation and Medicaid expansion. The current leadership in Raleigh has changed the reputation of North Carolina from the state with great education to the HB2 state of discrimination. I want to work for election laws that fairly draw districts and elect people from all walks of life to our General Assembly. I have a particular interest in promoting our small-farm economy in Western North Carolina.
Federal judges have deemed a number of North Carolina’s House and Senate districts illegal. How would you propose districts be drawn so that they are fair?
The courts have ruled that these districts were designed to bunch minority voters to make other districts more likely to elect Republicans. It is nothing less than election rigging. Districts need to be drawn by a nonpartisan commission that keeps economic and geographical relationships in mind and strives to keep precincts from being divided up. For instance, Fairview residents mostly work in Asheville, and their state representative should represent a part of Asheville.
Are you in favor of using economic development incentives? If so, what kind? If not, why?
I voted for economic development incentives and believe they are a necessary evil at this time. North Carolina competes with states in the Southeast for major investments, and we have to be able to compete in the incentives arena as well. However, the system is one more way that state policy is stacked against small businesses, which are the driver of our mountain economy. Hickory Nut Gap Farm is hiring workers but will receive no incentive to do so. In a perfect world, there would be no incentives.
Is HB2 protecting the residents of your district? Why or why not?
I voted against HB2 back in March. The unenforceable bathroom provisions were a smokescreen for wider discrimination policies in N.C. against our citizens and the powers of local government to enact ordinances beneficial to their counties and municipalities. I judged at the time that the real intent of the bill was to rally socially conservative voters for the 2016 elections.
Should Asheville City Council elections be held by district? Why or why not? Should it be decided by Raleigh or a city referendum?
I fought hard to stop Sen. Apodaca’s ill-conceived district bill for Asheville, and thanks to Republican support on the last day of the short session, we prevailed. I would still like to visit the district concept, but it should be decided by Asheville citizens, not politicians in Raleigh. If it can be determined that some form of districts would add diversity to the City Council, I would be in favor of holding a referendum for the voters to decide.
What is an underrated, underfunded economic engine that could help attract jobs to Western North Carolina outside of the service and tourism industries? And how would you recommend utilizing this untapped potential?
Our mountain lifestyle is our primary drawing card, and maintaining our rural landscape, clean air and water should be a primary objective of all elected officials. I am partial to supporting mountain agriculture, which has become increasingly innovative with young farmers and our “Buy Local” consumer culture. I worked hard in Raleigh to open up hemp as a legal crop. Health care providers have been crippled by our leaders not expanding Medicaid. Renewable energy development has also been successful in WNC, and the unfortunate sunset of the solar tax credits was an unfortunate policy coming out of Raleigh. I believe Buncombe County can become a high-tech hub, which relies on a critical mass of talent that is slowly becoming a reality.
What state-run service needs the most improvement and how would you address it?
I served on the General Government Appropriations Committee, and we listened to each department discuss their successes and failures. One overriding concern that came up over and over again was information technology failure. The Department of Revenue and the Department of Health and Human Services were having real problems upgrading their systems. DHHS has been poorly managed under the McCrory administration. We have met with many doctor groups complaining about reimbursement problems that are harming their businesses and adding unnecessary costs. We have a fine state-run drug rehab facility in Black Mountain that had its budgets slashed under DHHS. The Department of Environmental Quality has suffered under the McCrory administration, leaving our citizens vulnerable to present and future pollution problems.
What is the most important issue facing the state and how do you plan on addressing it?
Election reform is perhaps the highest priority, as it affects all other issues facing the state. North Carolina needs a nonpartisan election commission to draw all districts as many other states do. We need to enact voting laws that encourage voting, allow registration online and look to other states for election innovation. As a side note, we need to repeal HB 2 at first opportunity in January.
How do you represent a constituency with varied political ideologies?
I have found that the best way to represent my constituents is to study carefully legislation and try to make an informed vote, and then to explain why I voted as I did as clearly as possible. I try to discount political considerations when I am working on policy in Raleigh, and judge bills on their merits.
What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
I am an open-minded, moderate legislator with a broad range of experience and knowledge about Buncombe County and Western North Carolina. I want every resident in our region to have the opportunity to prosper and to offer them an educational system that aspires to be of the highest quality. My friendships all across Buncombe County help me to get good advice and counsel and to consider how legislation affects everyone, not just an elite. I consider my efforts to help constituents a major part of my job.