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CoastLine Candidate Interviews: Representative David Rouzer (R)

David Rouzer
David Rouzer

On this edition of the CoastLine Candidate Interviews, we’re talking with David Rouzer.  He’s North Carolina’s  Republican Congressman from Johnston County in the 7th District who has served one term and is seeking a second.  Before winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, David Rouzer served in the North Carolina Senate for two terms – representing the 12th district. 

North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District stretches from the southeastern coast of North Carolina encompassing Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender Counties and then west to the more rural Columbus, Sampson, Wayne and Duplin Counties.  The district also includes portions of Johnston and Bladen County.  70% of voters in the 7th district are white, 21% are black and 9% identify as Hispanic. 

Registered Democrats make up the lion’s share of the district at 44%.  Republicans claim 32.5% and unaffiliated voters make up 23%.

It was 2012 that David Rouzer challenged Democratic incumbent Congressman Mike McIntyre for the seat in the 7th District.  Rouzer lost that election, but it was a close one.  Two years later, McIntyre decided not to run again, and David Rouzer won the seat in a race against Democrat Jonathan Barfield.  This year, he faces Democratic Challenger Wesley Casteen – whom we met on the October 6th edition of CoastLine.

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: In past campaigns, you’ve talked about your time in Washington, DC, as an aide to longtime Senator Jesse Helms, one of the fathers of the conservative movement. You’ve characterized those years as formative for you, in terms of helping to inspire your commitment to public service and to the intent of the Constitution. Now that you’ve served as a congressman for one full term, how different is Washington, DC, and the process compared to how it was when you were there in Senator Helms’ office?

David Rouzer: Yeah, it’s amazing how different it is. Ten years can make a big difference. I left Capitol Hill in the Bush administration in 2006. I had been with Senator Helms from 1995 to 2000, then came back at his request to help him out again in 2001-2002. He retired, and Senator Elizabeth Dole succeeded him, and she asked me to stay on board with her to help see a few things through, and I was with her until the spring of 2005, and then at that point I moved over to the Bush administration. When I was sworn in—January will be two years ago—there were several things I noticed that were different. Number one, we had the largest majority in the House since 1928 in terms of number of Republicans, 247 of us. That’s still well-short of a super majority, which is what you need to override a presidential veto. That number is 290, but nevertheless, we had the largest number of House Republicans since 1928. The other thing that struck me is that outside groups have so much more influence over the election process today than they did when I was with Senator Helms. That has had, I think, a very interesting effect on politics, on how my colleagues make their decisions, in terms of votes. It takes a good two years to raise the $1.5-2 million that, on average, you need as a candidate to run for office. Well, when you have outside groups that can come in and spend half a million, a million, or two million dollars, whatever they choose to spend, in a very short period of time, that really has a very adverse effect on the Democratic process. So I think our campaign finance laws need to be opened up so that candidates themselves can raise the amount of money they need to raise and get their message out there without having so much influence from outside groups.

RLH: When you say “opened up,” what do you mean by that?

David Rouzer: What I mean by that is basically to enable the candidates to raise as much as they can raise from any individual or any group—

RLH: So lifting any kind of cap?

David Rouzer: Lift any kind of cap. You may want to have a cap at a certain level, but this would really help challengers. Make it so a challenger, for example, could go and raise $25,000 a piece from four different people. All of a sudden, they’ve got $100,000. Then they’ve got the seed money to really go out there and compete with an incumbent that has all the name ID. See, if you direct the money through the candidate, all of a sudden the outside groups have very little influence and the candidates would have much more control over their campaign and their political destiny, so to speak. So it’s a bit counterintuitive. People think, “Oh, you don’t want people buying elections.”

RLH: Exactly. That’s exactly what comes to mind, and that’s why those caps were put in place in the first place.

David Rouzer: See, the way it is now, all it does is advantage the incumbent because guess who has all the name ID? It’s the incumbent. When you have a cap at $2,700 for a federal race for a primary, for example, that means you’ve got to spread your net so much further and wider to raise that amount of money. Well, a challenger typically can’t because they don’t have that kind of network, they don’t have that kind of name ID. But if you open it up and you enable a candidate—whether an incumbent or a challenger—to raise any amount that an individual wants to give. Have it all disclosed, of course. Disclosure is incredibly important. Have it all disclosed. Have it immediately disclosed so that everybody knows what’s going on. See, money only helps you so much because you reach that point of diminishing marginal return. For example, my name ID in this district is probably about 97-98%. Most people in the district know my name, and a lot of people in the district—probably 75-80%—have a pretty strong feeling one way or the other. They either like me or they don’t like me, and that’s not going to change. A great example here is Jeb Bush. He had all the money in the world. Didn’t do him one bit of good because everybody had already made up their mind about a Bush. Now, perhaps if Jeb’s last name was different, his money might have had a different effect, but as it worked out, it didn’t matter that he had the vast majority of cash as compared to any other candidate.

RLH: So if you are elected to a second term, will you be sponsoring legislation that would open up some of that ability to fundraise directly?

David Rouzer: Well, I don’t know that I would personally sponsor it, but I certainly think we need to start talking about it. It certainly think that it would improve the process when the candidates have a direct say and a more direct voice in the fundraising process. For example, you campaign, you work really hard for two years, you have an outside group come in either for you or against you, and in some cases— I’ll use an example, in my case, I had some outside groups come in for me, but they ran ads that I didn’t like.

RLH: Can you give us an example of that?

David Rouzer: And in fact, I didn’t think those ads probably helped me.

RLH: Are you talking about the 2014 election?

David Rouzer: Yes. The 2014 primary, yeah. But I had no control over what that outside group was doing. In their minds, they thought that they were helping me, but I don’t think that they did. I think I lost votes over a lot of their ads. I still won in a major way.

RLH: You did, and it doesn’t help to necessarily disavow those ads because people say, “Right, but those ads are still running, and it benefits you.”

David Rouzer: Well, yeah, and of course, here’s the other thing. People look at you and say, “What do you mean you didn’t have any say over those ads?” Because it’s very counter intuitive to them. The fact of the matter is you don’t. By law, you can’t have any coordination whatsoever.

RLH: When you talk about your name recognition, it’s true. Ballotpedia calls this—and Ballotpedia is not alone in this—but this is widely viewed as a Republican safe seat. How is that affecting your campaigning this year?

David Rouzer: Well, obviously I’ve been on the campaign trail for a while. I’ve had a lot of money spent on my behalf. I’ve had a lot of money spent against me. I’ve raised a lot of money myself and run a lot of ads. In my estimation, we’ve put together a strong staff, both in Washington and throughout the district. We’ve been as responsive to the needs of every constituent that came our way with a legitimate need. We’ve been as we possibly could be. From that standpoint, we built a good name and good reputation throughout the district. That translates not only into greater name ID but that also translates into people’s impressions of you, one way or the other.

RLH: We have heard that legislators need to spend such a large percentage of their time raising money, campaigning through the entire term, this short two-year term that you have? How much of your time do you think you’ve had to spend campaigning, fundraising? And I’m using those two terms synonymously.

David Rouzer: Right, I understand. You spend a good bit of time. Now, you don’t spend thirty hours a week, like I saw in a recent TV program that was aired—60 Minutes or something like that. That is not the norm. You probably spend two to three hours a week on the phone, raising money, which is nothing close to 30 hours a week. However, it is a constant effort because you can’t raise $1.5 million or $2 million in two months or three months.

RLH: This is something that always has to be on your mind.

David Rouzer: It is a daily, weekly, monthly effort. Here’s the other thing—if you were to open up the system and allow individuals to give what they want to give to a candidate, have it completely and totally disclosed, it wouldn’t take all that time. And as long as it’s completely disclosed, I think it would be very, very healthy. Incumbents would not be able to skate right on into office like they do now. The challenger could raise the amount of money they need to raise to actually compete.

RLH: Well, let’s play that out. So many people go to Washington in their first term with idealistic ideas about what they’re going to do and how it’s going to work. You’re talking about lifting restrictions on a candidate’s ability to raise money. You’re talking about lifting caps and making it more transparent, potentially, thus making politicians more accountable for where the money comes from—

David Rouzer: Making it more competitive.

RLH: Yes. So, let’s say that happens and a special interest group, let’s say an industry group, makes a very large contribution to your campaign. How are you not then obligated—even subconsciously—when you consider the law of reciprocity, even if your ethics say, “I’m going to make decisions and shape policy based on what I believe in,” how are you not going to ultimately do favors for that particular special interest group?

David Rouzer: I think you’re looking at it through a faulty premise. When I cast my vote, I cast my vote based on what’s in the best interest of the country, of the district. I have my philosophical viewpoints, of course. I’ll give you an example. For a long time in North Carolina and even still today, tobacco is a huge component of the economy. Just about every member of the North Carolina delegation—whether they’re Democrat or Republican over the years—has voted in favor of tobacco. So the tobacco companies would support those who support them, and so it’s not a case where a company or a PAC gives money and then a candidate or an incumbent changes their position. There’s no way possible for that to happen, quite frankly, even if you were to use that as a metric, because you’ve got the other on the other side as well. So even if that is how people gauge their votes, there’s no way they could do it for long because you’ve got too many countervailing forces. So what happens is—let’s say you’ve got a health care bill on the floor. Well, you’ll always be able to tell what the central activity of the Congress is based on the money, but it’s not that the money is dictating the decisions. It’s that that issue is on the table, and so you’ll have all the health care PACs come in and they’ll give to folks on both sides. So you’ll see they’re giving at a higher level, say, when you’re dealing with reforms to Obamacare. When Obamacare was on the table, I guarantee you can go back and look, and you’ll see that the health care sector was piling in most of their donations in and around, thereafter or before that heavy conversation was in front of Congress. PACs and individuals give to people who are naturally supportive of their positions. They don’t give to people to change a vote. I’ve never ever seen that happen. Now that’s not to say that maybe in a specific instance it hadn’t happen, but that’s very, I’ve never seen that.

RLH: So your point is that politicians are not compromised by large amounts of money.

David Rouzer: I think as long as it’s disclosed, they are not. Now if it’s not disclosed, I could certainly see how that’d be a problem, but if it’s disclosed, no.

RLH: How is that different?

David Rouzer: It’s very different. If everything is disclosed or transparent, I think as an individual member of the legislature, you make your votes based on your conscience, based on what you think is right for the country and right for the district. Those groups that are opposed to you, they’re not going to give you money. The ones that do support your point of view, they do give you money.

RLH: Why do you want this job again? What’s your agenda for a second term?

David Rouzer: We have got to get this economy turned around and rebuild our stature in the world. I have worked very, very hard to push legislation that I thought was in the best interest of the country. We have a system of government, however, that makes it very difficult to get anything done unless you have a chief executive in the White House and a supermajority in the U.S. Senate that will go along with your ideas. Our system of government is designed to basically protect the voice of the minority. And by protecting the voice of the minority, what I mean is they made it difficult to get things done because they wanted to force consensus. And if you couldn’t get a consensus, they wanted to force compromise. I’m talking about our Founding Fathers. If you can’t compromise, it’s designed that nothing happens. So, if we’re going to have the major change that we need to move the country forward, you have to have a united government. You can’t have a divided government like we have today where one party controls the White House and one party has a majority in the Senate and a majority in the House. You need to have like minds on all sides. It’s kind of like a tricycle or a three-wheeler.

RLH: Or a willingness to compromise. And this is something that we’ve seen evaporate.

David Rouzer: It has, and I blame that, quite frankly, at the foot of the president. For example, when Bill Clinton got shellacked in the 1994 election, he moved to the center. He went to Capitol Hill and negotiated with Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich. They passed welfare reform. They passed a balanced budget. They did a lot of good things because Bill Clinton was willing to move to the center. This president has not been willing to do that. When he got shellacked in the 2010 elections and lost control of the House of Representatives, he said, “You know what, it really doesn’t matter. I have a pen and a phone.” What he meant by that was, “I can go and issue all these executive orders and rules and regulations,” which, by the way, we as members of Congress have no vote on. That’s part of the reason why I think you’re seeing such a political upheaval in the country.

RLH: So are you laying the responsibility for Congressional gridlock at the president’s feet? It’s one guy’s fault?

David Rouzer: Hey, he’s the guy with the megaphone. He’s the guy with the leadership stick. I can tell you there’s a number of Democrats who are looking forward to a new administration, whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, because he has not been willing to work with Congress. For example, we had the big debate on trade adjustment assistance. Obama had 80 votes in the house for trade adjustment assistance. He came down to the House chamber, met with the Democrat conference. When he left, he walked out with forty votes. He lost forty votes because of the way he treated his own members. He was very demeaning, belittling. Basically, it’s his way or the highway. He’s not willing to work with anybody on either side of the aisle. So yes, I do put a lot of the blame, in terms of the toxic atmosphere that we have in Washington at the feet of the president because he’s not been willing to work with us and compromise. When he got shellacked in 2010, he should have taken note of that and said, “You know what, maybe Obamacare isn’t exactly what the rest of the country wants. Maybe we need to make some modifications to it.” Did they ever do that? No. When he lost the Senate in the 2014 elections, has he moved to the center at all? No, not at all.

RLH: Let’s talk about what you can do to change that. How can you contribute to changing that vitriolic, divisive tone on Capitol Hill?

David Rouzer: One of the things I think you learn early on in life is that there’s only so much that you can change. You know, 99.9% of what we deal with every day is not of our own making. But what we do control is ourselves, what we say, our actions. I’m one of 435 in the House. So, I’ve got to find 217 other people who agree with me in order to move my bill forward and get it out of the House.

RLH: And how do you get people to agree with you?

David Rouzer: Well, the problem is not necessarily getting it out of the House. The problem is getting it through the Senate. There, you’ve got to have 60 votes. For example, this year, you’ve got 54 Republicans. That means Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has to go and find six Democrats to vote with him. It’s hard to find six Democrats who will vote with the 54 Republicans to get the 60 votes that you need.

RLH: Part of that vitriolic, very divided—

David Rouzer: On the big ticket items, in particular, that’s the challenge that you run into. Now, items like the Water Resources Development Act, where I have specific provisions included in that bill to take care of our beaches here in southeastern North Carolina. Well, that’s not so much a partisan issue. I have good relationships on both sides. That bill passed by a wide margin, a bipartisan margin. We got a version of the bill through the Senate. We’re going to go to conference, get it all of that worked out, send it to the president, and he’ll likely sign it. It’s your big ticket issues of tax reform, healthcare reform, welfare reform, rules and regulations, where you have more of a philosophical divide.

RLH: Right, some of that is just ideology, but—

David Rouzer: Yeah, that’s right, and that’s why these elections matter. Whoever wins the presidency is going to determine what direction this country goes in.

RLH: So let’s talk about the presidency. We’ve heard all about Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the election is rigged. We heard from one listener, Margaret, who is concerned about those allegations and what that could mean. Running mate Mike Pence, I think this was just last night, promised that he and Donald Trump will respect the will of the American people and will absolutely accept the results on Election Day. Not long after that, I think just hours later, Donald Trump tweeted, “The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places - SAD.” This concerns listener Margaret. She’s not alone in this. She says, “Trump’s claims undermine the fabric of American democracy and destabilize American government. Are you willing to state publicly that the United States’ election process is fair and that you will accept the results of the election both here in North Carolina and nationally?”

David Rouzer: I think we always have accepted that the election results are accurate and fair. I think you can enhance that, though, if you have voter ID, which has been struck down here in the state of North Carolina. All it takes is, as long as you have the right name and the right address, you can go vote for anybody. I think that’s problematic.

RLH: And that law was deemed by a court as going after African Americans with almost surgical precision.

David Rouzer: I don’t see how anybody can disagree with having a voter ID. You have to have an ID to do anything—to check into a hotel, to get on an airplane. Whatever it may be, they ask for your ID. I don’t know of anything more important and more precious than an individual’s right to vote, and I don’t know of anything more important than protecting the integrity of that vote. When you have other people that come in with a correct name and address, and there’s no photo ID, and it’s Suzy voting for Shirley instead, that compromises everybody else’s vote, and that’s not right. There’s no way to know how often that has happened here in the state of North Carolina before voter ID, but of course, as you mentioned, the courts have struck that down. But that gets back to this presidential election and who we nominate to the courts. I’m a strong supporter of Donald Trump as our nominee and Mike Pence as his running mate because I’m looking at the big picture. I’m looking at the future of the country. Words, comments, no matter how repulsive, no matter how regrettable, are not going to ruin the future of this country. What will ruin the country is Hillary Clinton and a very liberal Supreme Court.

RLH: What about those words, those xenophobic, misogynistic words, from the mouth of a world leader? Does that not give you pause?

David Rouzer: What gives me pause is a very liberal Supreme Court that will jeopardize our religious liberties, that will jeopardize our Second Amendment rights, that will approve all of these rules and regulations that our current administration has put in place that the court system, for the time being, has put a halt to. For example, executive amnesty. Another example is Waters of the United States, which would absolutely ruin the 7th Congressional district. The entire district could easily be classified as a wetland. Can you imagine what that would do to our farmers, business owners, homebuilders, realtors, etc.? That’s what gives me pause. Again, words and comments, as regrettable as they may be and as disgusting as they may be, from ten years ago, eleven years, thirty years ago, eight years ago, that’s not going to ruin the country. What will ruin the country is keeping in place these rules and regulations, having a liberal Supreme Court that jeopardizes our religious liberties and Second Amendment rights, keeping in place Obamacare, which is destroying the healthcare system and certainly not helping our Obamacare one bit at all either.

RLH: So what needs to happen with Obamacare? I remember in 2014, when I asked you then about your primary agenda, you said that the repeal of Obamacare was project number one. Do you believe that we should have some kind of universal healthcare available to people who can’t afford it?

David Rouzer: I think we have to understand that the only way you’re going to get the very best product for the lowest possible price is to have competition and transparency. We have neither in our healthcare system today or in the insurance markets today. When an individual goes to the doctor, they have no idea how much that doctor visit costs. That’s part of the ever increasing cost of healthcare.

RLH: What kind of plan would you support, if any?

David Rouzer: As a House Republican Conference, we have put forward our list of principles and ideas that we believe would substantially improve our healthcare system. Folks can go and find it at www.better.gop. First, though, you have to repeal Obamacare. What do you do after you repeal it? You enable health insurance to be sold across state lines to create more competition. You enable people to set up health savings accounts so they can save money tax-free to take care of—

RLH: Don’t those exist now?

David Rouzer: In some cases, but not for everybody, no. If you’re a government employee, you have the benefit of a flexible spending account. In certain other cases, you have the benefit of a health savings account. But it’s not wide open where anybody can go and set those up today. There’s certain restrictions in place. That needs to be open and available for everybody. You need to have tort reform to cut down on lawsuit abuse as it relates to healthcare. You need to be able to enable our doctors to make the decisions that are necessary for their patients, not based on what the government is telling them that they’ll pay for or won’t pay for. Those are the types of things that we propose in our alternative package. Another key point: Allow farmers, for example, to band together nationwide to purchase insurance. As a collective group, they have the leverage to get a much, much better price. Allow realtors to band together nationwide to purchase health insurance. They get a much, much better price. Pharmacists, you name it.

RLH: During your time in the North Carolina State Senate, you helped to get a law passed in 2012, I think it was, that barred state agencies from considering accelerated sea level rise in decision-making until July of this year. This was essentially a moratorium on accepting recommendations from a science panel based on their research.

David Rouzer: Well, you have to go back and look at what they were proposing at the time. They were basically saying, “Here’s a model. The model assumes that the sea level—for example, here in Wilmington—will rise by 39 inches within one hundred years.” Well, Rachel, we just had a hurricane come through. Was that model correct the entire time? No. My point is this: How are you going to make a decision, that’s based on a projection one hundred years from now, when we can’t even get the hurricane forecast right six days out, three days out, two days out? Nobody anticipated the flooding that we had in the inland part of this district, and that’s because the models are not perfect.  

RLH: That’s right, but Climate Central, which is made up of scientists and science journalists—it’s been cited by the Associated Press, Reuters, all the major news networks, Nightline, Time, Scientific American, National Geographic—this group just published a study that shows that over the last decade, human-driven climate change has caused 82% of the flood days in Wilmington, North Carolina. It also says that in the last decade, human-driven climate change has caused 308 out of 376 flood days for Wilmington. Has your thinking on sea level rise and climate change changed at all in the last several years?

David Rouzer: Let’s talk about our areas of expertise and everybody’s role in this. I’m not a scientist. I don’t pretend to be a scientist. I do know this: scientists disagree about what is causing climate change. I do know this—

RLH: The largest part of the scientific community says manmade climate change is a thing. Do you think it’s real?

David Rouzer: That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right. I was a chemistry major at NC State. One of the things you learn early on in science is you have a hypothesis. You keep trying to prove, prove, prove until it is disproven. Well, the fact of the matter is, none of this is absolutely proven to be true. We don’t know yet. It’s all based on models. From a public policy standpoint, I don’t get in the middle of the debate between the scientists. What I say, from a public policy perspective, is we need to be basing public policy on what we absolutely know to be the case, not based on a hypothesis.

RLH: Is manmade climate change real?

David Rouzer: I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is the earth has warmed and cooled since the beginning of time. And obviously it was warming and cooling long before the manmade combustible engine. We have volcanoes. We have all kinds of natural disasters, such as forest fires, etc. I’m certain all of that has a lot of influence on the climate change as well. The question becomes, as a lawmaker, you’re making public policy decisions, and these public policy decisions have huge impacts. They impact property rights. They impact property values. They impact whether or not you can have insurance in certain areas, for example. They impact a whole slew of things which, because of all those individual impacts, you have community impacts. So for example, if you’re a coastal community, and they’re projecting that you have a 39-inch increase in sea level rise in one hundred years and they make certain modifications based on that, well all of a sudden, you have property owners that lose all of the value of their property. You have a tax base that declines. The coastal community doesn’t have the amount of tax revenue coming in that it once had.

RLH: It is a complicated issue, but then you can also have people building homes on areas that will flood before one hundred years comes along.  

David Rouzer: With everything, there is a balance, for sure. What I’m saying is, it’s faulty to go and make a public policy decision based on a hypothesis that has not been proven. That’s the bottom line. And that has always been my position on it. Now, at some point in time, I’m sure the scientists will be able to come to an agreement about climate change, what causes it, what doesn’t cause it, etc. But right now, there may be a consensus in some circles—

RLH: 97% of scientific -- climate science—

David Rouzer: I don’t know if that’s 100% accurate. I know there’s a lot of scientists that have real questions about these models and about the argument on the other side. Until the day it’s unanimous where we can actually have forecasts that we absolutely are certain are accurate, it makes it very difficult to make those public policy decisions. My position all along has been, rather than looking at a model one hundred years out, why don’t we look at the trends from the past ten, twenty, thirty years and going back, use the historical data to make our judgments because we know that data is absolutely accurate because it is historical?

RLH: It’s historical, but it’s also based on factors that are very different today -- in terms of carbon emissions—

David Rouzer: That’s a point of argument though, and that’s where we can agree to disagree. My point is, I think it’s very dangerous to be making public policy decisions based on a hypothesis for the next one hundred years, and we may agree to disagree on this, where there’s no true scientific certainty.

RLH: We got an email from Cape Fear Students for a Free Tibet. This is a group that is represented at University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Cape Fear Community College, Brunswick Community College, and Mount Olive Community College. China has reportedly begun demolishing buildings at LaRung Gar. That’s one of the largest Buddhist academies in Tibet. The Cape Fear Students for a Free Tibet write, “This is a clear act of religious suppression on the part of the Chinese government, as well as a massive human rights violation. How does the treatment of the Tibetan people and other minorities in China affect your trade decisions? Especially given that we are aware of conditions in many Chinese factories, are human rights a deciding factor for you when voting on trade? And do you believe that North Carolina can be a champion for the Tibetan people and a more equitable relationship with the Chinese government?”

David Rouzer: First of all, I have to say the Chinese government has always been atrocious in terms of human rights violations. It’s an interesting dynamic. Obviously China is a huge market for United State companies, for economic commerce, but their human rights abuses are well-document and I think should be considered as part of every trade deal, and we should use every available opportunity to persuade them to change their ways. Economic opportunity, as it relates to these trade negotiations. In general principle, I’m in favor of free trade, but it’s got to be free, and it’s got to be fair. That’s one of the big points I agree with Donald Trump on is we can’t just give away the store for the sake of free trade. We need to make sure these trade agreements are fair. We need to make sure that we’re getting concessions out of these communist governments that treat their citizens so horribly when it comes to human rights issues, and I’ve been a strong supporter of Tibet and the people there and have great empathy for their plight. Senator Helms was a big champion of theirs as well when I was with him, and in fact, my old boss Senator Helms was very critical of China as it relates to their human rights atrocities. You were asking me earlier about those formative years. Well, that’s one of the takeaways from my years with Helms. You have what’s moral and good, and you have what’s immoral and bad. We condone what we turn a blind eye to, and we cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities.

RLH: What do you think about the prospect of drilling offshore for oil and natural gas? Recently, this mid-Atlantic region, which includes the area off coastal North Carolina, was removed from the administration’s plan for 2017-2022. Is that something you would like to see reopened? Would you support offshore drilling off the North Carolina coast?  

David Rouzer: I have always been very pro-energy because I think if you have the right agriculture policy in place, you have the right energy policy in place, and you have the right infrastructure policy in place, it enables us to be prosperous here at home and incredibly strong abroad. Energy is a key component of that, so I’ve always been very bullish on energy production. You also have to have a balance, of course. We have rules and regulations in place to help ensure that the environment is not compromised. Technology has come a long, long way, even since BP issue in the Gulf. From a general principle standpoint, I’m supportive of all exploration, wherever it may be. Now, it has to be done in the right way and you have to have the safeguards in place. Not only that, if we’re going to do anything off the coast of North Carolina, we need to have the money stream in place to address our beach issues, our beach nourishment issues, the dredging of our inlets and our waterways. This could be an exceptional opportunity to financially secure our coastal communities long-term. Of course, you always want to have every safeguard in place possible to ensure that that the environment is appropriately protected. Technology is an amazing thing. It has come a long, long way. The industry over a long number of years has really developed and progressed in that area.

RLH: Would you support hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina?

David Rouzer: If it’s done the right way and they follow the rules and regulations as necessary. I think probably many of your listeners have heard all the negative things about fracking over the years. So much of that is so erroneous and just flat-out false, particularly all of the horror stories coming out of Pennsylvania. I talk to my colleagues in Pennsylvania all the time who have gone through various examples and shown me where a lot of those stories were wrong.

RLH: How are some of those stories wrong? Can you be specific about that?

David Rouzer: Sure. The one most egregious case that I recall is where they took a lighter and lit the faucet there at the sink. The fact of the matter is, regardless of any fracking, gas had been in that water forever. It was not a result of the fracking, but yet fracking was blamed for it. So that’s just one example that comes to mind because I remember that being on a number of different news programs. The fact of the matter is, this technology has come a long, long way. You go to North Dakota, for example. That state is booming economically because of the new technological advances that enable fracking, they were able to get to shale resources that they’d never been able to get to before. Even if you’re an employee at McDonalds, you’re making a minimum of $15 per hour—I believe I think I saw somewhere up to $22-25 per hour. That just shows you what happens when you have a thriving economy and businesses can make a profit, they hire more people. And not only do they hire more people, they can increase the pay of the employees they have.

RLH: We’ve heard about a spate of earthquakes in Oklahoma, which is not a place that’s known for its earthquakes, and that’s been widely linked to the increase in hydraulic fracturing in that state.  

David Rouzer: Well, you know, I was talking to a colleague of mine from Oklahoma as well because I’d read that article and this is a gentleman who’s been in the House a long time, and I asked him about that. Basically, what he pointed out is there’s no scientific conclusion on that at all. There’s a lot of disagreement to the extent that it is related to fracking. They believe that it’s probably due to the fact that under EPA regulations, you have to take the water and pump it back into the ground. So they’re starting to think that it’s because of the EPA regulations ironically—that if there’s any correlation with the earthquakes and fracking, that might be the reason, where they’re pumping that used water—

RLH: The waste water.

David Rouzer: The waste water, yes, I was trying to think of the accurate name for it. They’re pumping that back into the ground whereas before, they didn’t. See, they’ve been fracking in Oklahoma for years—years and years and years. The earthquakes that they’re having now seem to be much more accelerated, much more frequent than what they’ve ever had before. They’re very skeptical that it’s related to the traditional fracking method itself, but what has changed is the pumping of that waste water back in the ground. To the extent that it’s related to fracking, they think it might be related to that, and that goes back to an EPA regulation. But again, there’s no consensus or no scientific evidence of exactly what all this is. The other thing is, the earth has been changing for years and years and years and years. Who knows— Hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. A lot of that, I think there’s only one person who understands, and that’s the lord above.

RLH: Since your time in the state senate, you’ve been a champion of regulatory reform, and that is actually a sweeping idea that encompasses a lot of specific points. You talk about the right safeguards being in place for offshore drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Are those two ideas conflicting—the notion of getting rid of what you call red tape that hamstrings business and having regulations in place that protect the environment?

David Rouzer: Let me make it very simple. We all need to have rules of the road. For example, we all need to know we drive on the right side of the road, not the left side of the road. We all need stop signs at certain places and stop lights at certain places. It’s appropriate on certain roads to have a speed limit at certain levels. Where we are today with our regulatory regime is we basically have a stop sign or a stop light every ten feet, and that makes it very, very onerous for business. Here’s where I am. There’s a balance to all of this. You need to have rules of the road. People need to know what side they need to be driving on. They to be taught correctly, and those laws need to be enforced, but you don’t need a stop sign every ten feet, and that’s basically what our regulatory apparatus is today.

RLH: So, if you didn’t have to build consensus, then what is one big regulation that you would just remove if you could?

David Rouzer: All the rules and regulations directly tied to Obamacare. I mean, if I could repeal any one thing, it would be all the rules and regulations directly tied to Obamacare so that we could have patient-centered reform again, patient-centered health care again.

RLH: There is always criticism of the current administration and the prevailing party, the majority. We know that. That’s just what Americans do -- criticize whoever is in office.

David Rouzer: That’s easy to do.

RLH: Yes. Approval ratings of Congress are not exactly at historic lows, but they’re close, according to Gallup. The last poll conducted in September showed that 76% disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job. 20% approve, 5% have no opinion. Why do you think people feel that way, and is it deserved?

David Rouzer: I think it’s because of the media attention. I think it’s because of the political divide that we have in the country. I don’t know that Congress has ever had a good approval rating, going back to the founding of the country.

RLH: I looked at this data though, and there was a time in the mid-1980s when Congress actually had a very high approval rating.  

David Rouzer: That was probably after the passage of Reagan’s tax cuts because Congress came together under a strong leader to get a monumental achievement done, and not only did they pass the tax cut package, they reformed and saved Social Security for a number of years. Again, it was because you had good, strong leadership in the White House working with members of Congress to get that done. If I had to guess, it was probably on the heels of the tax cut package, and it was probably on the heels of Social Security reform, which saved Social Security long-term. And of course, we need to have that kind of leadership today. 

RLH:  That's this edition of CoastLine.  Representative Rouzer, it's been a pleasure having you with us today. 

David Rouzer:  Great to be with you.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.