State Sen. Bill Cook
State Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort), right, talks with constituent Leamon Allen of Belhaven. Photo courtesy of Bill Cook.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of interviews with candidates seeking to represent Ocracoke. The first profile was on Sen. Cook’s opponent Brownie Futrell

By Peter Vankevich

State Senator Bill Cook (R-District 1) thinks the state has made a lot of progress since he has been a member of the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly.

“I’ve seen tremendous change in the last six years,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m so proud of what we’ve done here.”

Born in Washington, D.C., Cook attended Ballou and Anacostia high schools, both predominantly African-American schools.

He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland, and worked for PEPCO, the D.C. area electric company, as an analyst/manager for 34 years before retiring and moving to Beaufort County.

“I have a pretty good record of taking a state from a relatively backward business environment to an environment that wants to see a continuation of lower taxes and keeping government small,” he said about his tenure.

First elected to the state House of Representatives District 6 in 2010, Cook was one of nine of North Carolina’s 45 freshman legislators who signed a pledge “to oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.” At that time, North Carolina was looking at a budget deficit as high as $4 billion in 2011. This year the state has a surplus of $237 million.

After one term in the House, Cook in 2012 was elected to the State Senate District 1 in a close race against incumbent Democrat Stan White, and he won reelection in 2014 by a much larger margin. This fall he will face Brownie Futrell, a Democrat from Washington.

Cook said he is a longtime opponent of ferry tolls for the Ocracoke-Hatteras route.

He recently introduced his first ferry-related legislation, SB812, that would eliminate all ferry tolls. The bill would also appropriate an additional $23 million of recurring funds to be allocated for ferry vessel replacement.

As to the chances of this bill passing the Senate, Cook expressed doubts.

“I’m not as optimistic as I’d like to be, but I’m going to ask for it till I get it,” he said. “A lot of folks in the west and in the central part of the state don’t see it our way, but I’ll keep trying.”

Unlike others who have expressed dissatisfaction with the way the General Assembly has handled public education, Cook is pleased with what it has accomplished.

“North Carolina’s commitment to K through 12 education is among the strongest in the nation country,” he said. “I think we are tenth in the nation and second in the Southeast state level for investment into education. We have increased teachers’ salaries faster than any state.”

He said the legislature has nearly accomplished the goal of getting the teacher-to-student ratio to about 1 to 15. While acknowledging teacher salaries are important, he stressed that what is most important is making sure the students learn.

Cook doesn’t think our culture supports schools the way it once did, noting that some parents leave teaching manners and discipline, as well as academics, up to schools.

“Teachers have a tougher job than they used to,” he said. “I remember when you got into trouble at school. That was nothing to the trouble you would get at home. Now-a-days, if you get into trouble at school, the next thing you know Momma is suing the school.

Cook feels community-supported schools are the best.

“I can’t yell and scream enough about community,” he said. “If you have the community and parents involved, the kids will do okay.”

Somewhere along the line, not only in our state but others, community support for schools has diminished, he said.

“We keep building bigger and bigger schools and the community goes away,” he said.

Cook voted for and remains a strong supporter of HB2, which repealed local LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies across the state. HB2 says transgender people in government buildings must use bathrooms or locker rooms that correspond to their birth gender.

The law also revokes citizens’ ability to sue for discrimination in state court and blocks localities from setting a minimum wage higher than the state’s.

HB2 has drawn national attention, resulting in some businesses refusing to work in the state and several high-profile cancelling performances, including Bruce Springsteen and Itzhak Perlman.

“I am very passionate about HB2,” Cook said.  “I have two grandchildren, 7 and 9, and don’t want them to share a bathroom with a man. If a man says, ‘I feel like I’m a woman today,’ according to the Charlotte law, that’s okay. There are some evil people out there who would use that loophole to watch young girls get changed. I won’t allow that.”

As evidence, he cited a news report from Seattle, Wash., where a man walked into a women’s locker room insisting he could be there watching young girls get dressed for swimming practice. 

Cook hadn’t expected the national negative reaction. For example, after HB2 passed, PayPal canceled its plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte and provide 400 new jobs.

“If I were a stockholder of PayPal, for instance, I would advocate strongly having their leadership fired,” he said. “Because no matter what side of the issue you are, they have lost a lot of customers.”

“Most people agree with me,” he continued. “They don’t want their children having to go to the bathroom with men, and that cost companies like PayPal a lot of money.

“I have met transgender folks, and God love them.  My heart goes out to them. Anybody that doesn’t know which sex they are has got really serious life problems, the least of which, in my mind, being which bathroom they go to.

“We should try to accommodate any way we can, but we can’t accommodate them by taking the rights away of heterosexual normal folks,” he said.  “I know there are a lot of liberals that want to change the world so that we are all unisexual.”  

In 2013, Cook voted for SB76, which authorized off-shore drilling.

“We need to do it in an economic and ecological manner,” he said. “I hope we don’t have to deal with this for a long time.” 

He is not a fan of solar power, noting that the 29 states with renewable energy mandates have electric prices 38 percent higher than those without mandates.

“Solar power is too expensive for the consumer and the tax payer,” he said. “Subsidies for other energy sources are $1 or $2 per unit of power and solar is $23 per unit.

“Electric power is very difficult to store. You want power now and don’t want to wait for the sun to come out. Solar power is useless.”

Cook recently sponsored legislation, SB843, which would require solar or wind farms to be built at least 1 1/2 miles away from a neighboringproperty line. A wind farm could not generate more than 35 decibels of noise, as measured from the neighboring property, which is equivalent to the volume of humans whispering.

“One of the ugliest things I see as I drive across this beautiful state are these facilities,” he said about solar farms. “They are just not very attractive and do not allow the beauty of North Carolina to come out. A mile and a half is a reasonable area to have them. If you are a homeowner and they build one next to you, it’s going to ruin the value of your house. It’s worse with wind power.”

In his 2012 election bid, Cook spent $72,000, and spent $710,000 for the 2014 election.

As to the exponential increase, he noted, “The last time I had a lot environmentalists say ugly things about me and they spent literally millions of dollars against me.

“But the fortunate things for me is that the ads were so over-the-top, people didn’t believe them. So I had to spend a lot of money to counter the things they were handling. This time I haven’t see those kinds of ads and don’t expect them. I hope to keep it down and spend about $100,000 to $200,000.”

Cook is skeptical about establishing an independent commission to handle political redistricting and supports the current system.

 “It’s very difficult to get an unbiased opinion from any human group,” he said.

He was proud of one of his recent local accomplishments.

“I was able to get the environmental agency off the back of the egg producer in Hyde County,” he said. “And the egg producer will be able to hire more employees and will be able to expand their operations.”

He concluded the interview with a bit of nostalgia.

“This job aggravates me,” he said. “I can never get to the beach. I love to spend time on the beach on Ocracoke. I have a memory of lying next to my car with my golden retriever next to me digging a hole for shade.”

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