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Complete coverage of Elections 2020. Reporting on major contested races in New Hanover and Brunswick Counties.

Candidate Interviews: NC House District 17

Graphic, Katelyn Freund; Images Provided by Candidates
Frank Iler and Tom Simmons are the candidates for NC House District 17.

With the 2020 election now less than a month away, Frank Iler and Tom Simmons are the candidates for NC House District 17. But it isn’t the first time the two have faced off in the race. 

Frank Iler has represented District 17 for over a decade. Two years ago, he was challenged by newcomer Tom Simmons, but scored a victory with 64% of the vote.

Now, Simmons is challenging him again. Simmons says he made that decision because he feels Iler doesn’t prioritize the people he serves.

“I just felt that the current representative was not looking at the needs of the county, voting a lot along party lines. We just need to get some better representation.”

One of Simmons’ biggest concerns is healthcare. He would like to see North Carolina expand Medicaid, and argues that expansion would create new jobs in the healthcare field and strengthen rural hospitals.

“We need to make sure that everybody needs to see a doctor can see a doctor. Children, if they don't get pre and postnatal care, their futures in the school system is going to be bleak. So I just think that the fact that expanding Medicaid is just an important thing that we need to do.”

Frank Iler says the state has been putting more money into Medicaid. But he does not think expansion is the right solution, and argues it’s too expensive for taxpayers. 

“I think everybody has access to healthcare. It's just how you go about it. I mean, emergency rooms don't turn people away. And a lot of doctors and dentists do pro bono work. But we're trying to do Medicaid transformation -- more efficient use of the money we do put out -- and fixing the system before we throw more money into it.”

Iler says his main priority, if re-elected, would be a return to normalcy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“...help return a wellbeing to North Carolinians, the health-related and economic wellbeing. Good tax policy and good reforms. So I think we can do a lot of relief like tax benefits, lower people's costs to rebuild, and lowering people's costs to pay taxes on their income. And we've already done some of that.”

If elected, Simmons would like the state to expand gun background checks, and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. He also wants to communicate directly with North Carolinians. 

“I think the biggest difference between Mr. Iler and I is that I've committed myself to hold a monthly town hall meeting, so that I can be held accountable for what I do in Raleigh. If the citizens say ‘we don't like this legislation, we think it's going to hurt our tourist industry, our fishing industry,’ then I will go back to Raleigh and vote again.”

Iler’s perspective is that his party stands for law and order, while he says the Democratic party stands for “denigrating, demoralizing, and defunding police.” He also argues that he’s simply more experienced, and that right now, that experience is more important than ever. 

“I've been able to participate in passing laws to benefit families, small businesses, veterans, seniors, schools -- all facets of the county and state. And economic activity has never been better until this pandemic hit. So I think, a freshman -- he'll be lost for about a year. That’s why I'm running -- I can maximize my contacts from the district and the state, the inner workings of the legislature, to better represent the district than any brand new guy could do.”

The deadline to register to vote in North Carolina is tomorrow.


Listen to the full interview with Tom Simmons.
Listen to the full interview with Frank Iler.

Hannah is WHQR's All Things Considered host, and also reports on science, the environment, and climate change. She enjoys loud music, documentaries, and stargazing; and is the proud mother of three cats, a dog, and many, many houseplants. Contact her via email at hbreisinger@whqr.org, or on Twitter @hbreisinger.