Rep. Wesley Harris, D-Mecklenburg, is in his second term representing the southern end of Mecklenburg County, including the Ballantyne community and the town of Pineville. He’s the only economist serving in the legislature – something he’s quick to remind colleagues when taxes and economic issues come up in floor debates.
He’s currently serving on House committees dealing with finance, universities, transportation and marine issues.
What are the current and past jobs you’ve held outside of politics? Currently I’m serving as an adjunct professor of economics at UNC Charlotte in addition to some part-time economic consulting work when the legislative/campaign schedule allows it. In the past I have been an International tax economic consultant with a few accounting firms, started a small digital media start-up with my twin sister, and worked as a lecturer/adjunct professor at Clemson, University of South Carolina and now at UNC Charlotte.
What lessons from those roles have you applied to your elected position? All those jobs have taught me that nothing can really be done on your own. You can have the best idea in the world, but implementing it really does take buy-in from a lot of people. Because of that, relationships matter, and you should never stop trying to build relationships and network with everyone you meet because you never know when there is something great and mutually beneficial you can do together.
If you could enact a single piece of legislation into law today, what would it be? The single piece of legislation I would enact would be to shift the responsibility for public school construction and capital improvements to the state. Currently the state is only legally responsible for the operating expenses of our public education system while school construction and capital improvements fall to the counties.
This means the quality of our school buildings across our state depend on the wealth of our individual counties, which drives a huge wedge in opportunity between rich and poor counties. Our public schools have about an $8 billion capital need across the state which dwarfs the size of the Leandro ruling, but doesn’t get much airtime because the state isn’t responsible for school construction. We need to take this burden off our counties.
Where do you most enjoy taking an out-of-town visitor in your district? While my district isn’t very large in size, but we have some great spots for the community. When I have visitors come in, I like to take them to Ballantyne’s Backyard. The area used to be a large public golf course but the course was closed to make room for a new mixed-used development on half the course, and the other half has been transformed into an amazing community park. It is a great place to bring the family, visit one of the pop-up farmers markets that happen on the weekend, or catch one of the summer concerts or festivals that are always going on. It’s a perfect place to really understand the pulse of our community.
What is your favorite hobby outside of work? I’m a real history nerd, so when I’m not working you can usually find me reading a new history book I’ve picked up (or telling you about it) or trying to convince my family and friends to check out a new museum exhibit with me.
Who do you most admire, and why? Jim Hunt. I wasn’t born during Gov. Hunt’s first go-round as governor but he was elected for this third term when I was in kindergarten. Being a North Carolina public school kid and having a mom who was a lifelong public school teacher, it is really hard to grow up and not be able to admire what he was about to get done for North Carolina. One of the greatest thrills of my life was getting elected in 2018 in the district beside his daughter, Rachel, so I got to talk to him a lot of the campaign trail and see that the fire in him is just as strong as I remember when I was just a young kid. I try to bring that same passion and drive to make NC better with me every day when I’m at the legislature.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about how to get legislation passed? You’ve got to bring every group on board early and make sure you get buy-in. Doing that makes sure you really know the far-reaching impacts a bill may have and makes sure that you aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes who may have been also working on that topic for a while before you thought of it. Plus the more buy-in you have, the better you’re able to side-step any potential landmines and unintended consequences.