Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Al Swanstrom

Party: Democrat

Date of Birth: January 8, 1951

Campaign Web Site:

Occupation & Employer: Retired business executive

Years lived in North Carolina: 15

1) What do you see as the most important issues facing North Carolina? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

Education is the most important investment that we can make in our future. It is increasingly important the we hire great teachers, pay them competitively so that they can afford to remain in their profession, support them with the resources they need to succeed, and provide them adequate school infrastructure. We must particularly focus on reducing our high school dropout rate through programs that identify at-risk children and provide proven incentives and interventions that keep students in school so that they gain the skills required to compete in the global economy.

2) Are there specific needs in your district that you would add to that list? How do you propose to address them?

Our current North Carolina involuntary annexation law needs to be revised to give NC home owners targeted for involuntary annexation a much stronger voice in the annexation process. Home owners should be allowed to challenge municipal annexation actions early in the annexation process. If they feel that they have been inappropriately targeted for annexation, they should be able to bring their case to our court system. Municipalities should be required to justify involuntary annexations as a first step in the annexation process, and annexed home owners should not be required to pay higher municipal taxes until they have access to all of the municipal services that these taxes support.

3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you’ve identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.

I have a 35 year experience as a business executive during which I have had to optimize spending to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Much of my business career involved bringing people with diverse perspectives together to find common ground and forge consensus-based solutions to solve tough problems. Ultimately, effective government is about optimizing spending of limited tax dollar revenues and bringing people of differing perspectives together to solve problems.

4) How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am socially moderate and fiscally conservative. I believe that we must invest wisely to maintain and enhance our great quality of life. We must invest to ensure that every North Carolina child has the basic education that he or she needs to contribute to our society. We need to prudently invest and responsibly maintain our roads infrastructure. We need to strategically invest to maintain North Carolina’s advantage in attracting and retaining the high-quality jobs that support our economy. More importantly, we need to ensure that we get a good return on every tax dollar that we spend.

5) The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.

A quality education for all North Carolina children is our most important contribution to creating a just society. When we succeed at giving every child the education they need to find their potential, we will have achieved great progress toward a just community.

6) Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

My stand on involuntary annexation, as described in my response to question 2, will probably make some voters unhappy.

7) If these issues haven’t been addressed above, would you please comment on:

a. Poverty: What steps, if any, do you advocate to lift up the poor in North Carolina?

I believe that effectively addressing our high school drop-out problem and ensuring that every North Carolina child graduates from high school prepared to succeed in the workplace or higher education is the most effective investment that we can make to help our poor find their better life.

b. Transportation needs in the state, including roads and transit in the Triangle?

Anyone who has commuted on congested highways or has been victimized by a pot hole understands the importance of effectively managing our highway infrastructure. It’s critical that we invest prudently, build efficiently, and maintain responsibly our roads and highways. But expanding highways and building new roads will not address our growing transportation needs. We must explore and embrace cost effective and energy efficient transit options to ensure that we grow better, not just bigger.

c. Crowded prisons: Should we be moving toward more alternative-sentencing programs instead of prison time?

Every person who enters our prison system represents a failure of our social order. We will always have some criminals for whom prison is the only viable option. We must have adequate prison capacity for these people. The key to solving our growing prison population problem is to reduce the demand for prison space by addressing the reasons that people commit crimes. People with a good education and the right job skills are much more likely to avoid the path that leads to crime and prison.

d. Health care: What should the state do next to address the problem of adults and children without adequate health care or insurance?

Every North Carolina child should have access to adequate basic health care. In cases where parents truly can’t afford health care for their children, we need to provide an affordable option.

e. Foreclosures: What more should the state be doing to help consumers avoid foreclosure and hold onto their homes?

Foreclosures and the global debt crisis must be first addressed in Washington. Once we understand how our federal government will address this problem we will have a better view of what additional steps (if any) might be taken in North Carolina. Given our constrained resources and other priorities we may not have the resources to directly help people already victimized by this crisis. However, it may be appropriate to address the predatory mortgage lending practices that created much of our current problem, just as our legislature effectively addressed predatory payday lending practices.

f. Energy: Do you support off-shore drilling in the state’s coastal waters? Other state initiatives to reduce gasoline and other energy costs?

All other things being equal I would prefer not to risk the potential impacts that off-shore drilling might have on our environment, tourist industry and fisheries. But all other things are not equal. Even if we didn’t allow drilling off of our coast, our neighboring states probably will. So we probably will have drilling rigs off of our coast. If the rigs are going to be there, our coastal communities should have the opportunity to share in the business development opportunities that drilling will create.

g. The mental health crisis: Everyone agrees it’s a mess. Now what?

Our mental health system is clearly on the wrong track. There are many “hip shoot” proposals being discussed to fix it. We got into our current situation by jumping into a reform approach before we understood the operational issues that it would create. I believe that we need to carefully evaluate all of our potential options, with a particular focus on their potential operational challenges and costs. Once we have a comprehensive understanding of our options, we must craft a bi-partisan solution that brings us back to delivering cost effective mental health care to North Carolinians in need.

h. Taxes: Given the needs, are they too high? Too low? Too regressive? What direction should the state be taking on the revenue side?

I believe that our legislature’s primary responsibility is to protect and enhance the quality of life of North Carolina citizens. Additional taxes seldom improve citizens quality of life, so in general, I do not support tax increases. However, I will not broadly commit that I will never support a new tax because I believe that it would be irresponsible to make such a commitment without understanding the circumstances that might justify additional revenue options. For example, we may find that new transit options are required to maintain Wake County’s quality of life — options that might require incremental funding.

i. School vouchers: Should the state provide vouchers to parents who choose private (K-12) schools for their children? If so, for what amount?

I do not support state vouchers to parents who choose private K-12 schools for their children. At a time when we are underfunding our schools, the last thing that we can afford is to direct tax dollars to support private schools.

8) What is your position on capital punishment in North Carolina? If in favor, will you support a moratorium on executions while the question of whether the death penalty can be administered fairly is studied by the General Assembly?

If our criminal justice system were perfect, the death penalty might be appropriate for the most onerous crimes. Unfortunately, we have many examples of innocent people being convicted of capital crimes. I believe that we should maintain a moratorium on executions until we ensure that the death penalty can be administered fairly, with no risk of prejudice or error.

9) What is your position regarding LGBT rights? Please address whether gay marriages or civil unions should be made legal in North Carolina; also, whether sexual orientation and identity should be added as a protected class under state anti-discrimination laws, including state personnel laws.

I believe that we should not allow discrimination against any North Carolinian based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Couples in committed relationships should have similar legal rights regardless of their gender. What we call same sex unions should not be that controversial.

10) Do you support women’s reproductive rights, including the “right to choose” as set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade? Given that North Carolina has the ninth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, do you support medically accurate sex education that includes information about birth control?

I support women’s rights to make their personal health choices without government interference. I believe that abortion should be rare, safe and legal. This choice should be made by the woman with advice from her family, doctor, minister and other trusted friends. Government has no value to add in this decision.

I support fact-based sex education in our schools that includes information on birth control and disease prevention options. Abstinence before marriage is certainly the most effective birth control and disease prevention option. Unfortunately some young people will not accept the abstinence option, so it is important that we give them the information that they need to protect their health and their future.

11) Should public employees have the right to bargain collectively in North Carolina?

Public employees should have the same rights as every other North Carolina citizen. However, because of the critical importance of continuing government operations, we must restrict public employees from striking.

12) One of the most controversial issues in this election year is illegal immigration. Recently, several N.C. countiesincluding Alamance, Johnston and Wakehave employed the 287(g) program, which streamlines local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. What is your assessment of the success, or failure, of these programs?

I believe that our best approach to address illegal immigration is to focus on employers who hire illegal immigrants at well below market wage rates, with few if any benefits. Illegal immigrants come to the US because US employers offer them job opportunities that they can’t find in their home countries. If we enforce laws that require employers to verify legal resident status, to pay at least minimum wages, and to provide reasonable working conditions, we will provide job opportunities for legal residents and remove the primary work incentive that brings illegal immigrants to this country.

13) Despite the Department of Homeland Security’s finding that admitting Illegal Immigrants to college did not violate federal Immigration law, the N.C. System of Community Colleges ruled to maintain a moratorium on admitting Illegal Immigrants to degree-granting programs. How will you vote on legislative proposals to either ban, or permit, Illegal Immigrants attending college In North Carolina?

North Carolina tax dollars should not be used to support the costs of illegal immigrants attending our Community Colleges. If students from any other state or country have the option to attend our community colleges paying an out of state tuition rate that covers the full cost of their attendance, we should provide this option to illegal immigrants.