Name as it appears on the ballot: Allen Buansi
Party affiliation: Democratic Party
Campaign website: www.allenbuansi.com
Occupation & employer: Assistant City Attorney, City of Greensboro Years lived in North Carolina: 20
1. What in your background qualifies you to represent the people of North Carolina effectively? What would you cite as your three biggest career accomplishments?
I am qualified to represent the people of North Carolina effectively because of my experiences as a civil rights lawyer, an elected Town Council member and a working parent. I will be able to hit the ground running from day one to be a fighter for our community.
First, as a civil rights lawyer, I have experience on the ground with people suffering from harmful laws and practices by our state. I have also built connections with leaders outside of our district on common-ground issues, such as supporting public schools, affordable healthcare and the environment. I have worked on public education cases such as Leandro and school desegregation cases. I worked with families and children at poorly funded schools that face teacher shortages and inadequate school facilities. Other cases I have taken on include environmental justice cases. I have represented black, brown and poor communities and advocacy groups in suits against the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) due to the outdated, inadequate standards it maintained for industrial hog farms, which are among the most significant sources of greenhouse gases in our state. These industrial hog facilities have also contaminated drinking water and contributed to disproportionately increased rates of hypertension and heart disease among black and brown residents close to these facilities. The work I did yielded significant, much needed changes in the way that DEQ monitors hog farms and enforces its regulations on emissions and waste management. Much more work is needed from a legislative standpoint, such as updating regulations and restoring funding to DEQ so that it can effectively enforce its regulations. I also point to tangible work I did that moved the needle in protecting black, brown and poor communities, which border these industrial hog farms. In the wake of the passage of the “monster” voting law of 2013, I worked for voting rights organizations like Democracy North Carolina to challenge the component of the law that restricted early voting. In short, my experiences as a civil rights lawyer have steeped me in the ongoing challenges and hostile conditions that North Carolinians and advocates have long faced in the context of education, the environment, land use law and voting.
Second, as an elected Chapel Hill Town Council member, I have a track record of spearheading innovative and progressive policy initiatives and working across the metaphorical aisle to get these initiatives passed. I led on the adoption of policies including but not limited to:
• The first-ever town-created criminal justice debt fund, which assists low-income defendants in getting relief from the excessive court costs and fees that are imposed upon them, even without or before a conviction.
• The Town’s first climate action response plan, with a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050. Commitments include but are not limited to the following: net-zero emissions for new municipal facilities and upgrades for existing ones, an all-electric bus fleet and a town-wide electric vehicle (EV) charging station network.
• The Town’s first affordable housing bond in 2018, dedicated to developing 400 new affordable housing units and preserving 300 existing affordable units over a five year period.
• A long overdue nondiscrimination ordinance which extended civil rights protections to more people and added sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as protected classes.
• Resolution in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, to prohibit chokeholds as a policing tactic, prohibit low-level traffic regulatory stops and reimagine public safety led by a Town-appointed task force.
Third, in the 2020 legislative session, only three members of the State House had children under 18. This is a critical perspective our General Assembly is lacking, particularly when it comes to decisions to not increase the number of childcare subsidy slots, deny state funding for after-school programs and to otherwise not provide needed support to working parents across the state. My wife and I have three young children and have personal experience with education and the high costs of childcare. We see the need for our state legislature to alleviate these burdens on other working parents. I want to bring this perspective and push for much needed support for the parents and children of North Carolina.
Colleagues and constituents have recognized my ability to listen and be responsive to concerns, my ability to find common ground with others, my thoughtfulness, my work ethic and my ability to get impactful things done.
My three biggest career accomplishments include the following:
• The creation of the aforementioned Town Criminal Justice Debt Program, which is the first in North Carolina. It assists people who are working to get their lives back on track but who are burdened with excessive court costs and fees.
• Settlement with DEQ that yielded commitment to an adequate system for receiving and responding to third-party complaints and information against operators of industrial hog farms for violating permit standards and regulations. This provided affected communities with a powerful tool for holding industrial hog facility operators accountable for their violations.
– The creation of the Training for Action and Progress (TAP) program in 2018, which recruits and trains young people and people of color for public service, including town advisory boards and elected office. A few of the participants have served on town advisory boards, and one who helped plan and was a participant, has been elected to local office – Chapel Hill Town Council Member Tai Huynh.
2. What do you believe to be the three most pressing issues facing the next General Assembly? What steps do you believe the state should take to address them?
I believe the three most pressing issues facing the next General Assembly include: (1) public education, (2) the climate crisis and (3) lack of access to affordable healthcare.
Public education. I am a proud product of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro public schools. I am also a son and nephew of public-school teachers. From a young age, my mother and aunt taught me to always respect, value and advocate for teachers. So, I am committed to expanding access to quality education across the state, from pre-kindergarten to post-secondary education and training. I will push for the following measures, including but not limited to:
(1) Pay our teachers and other school personnel fair and competitive salaries;
(2) Fulfill our obligations under Leandro, commit resources to close the achievement gap and properly fund school infrastructure, in dire need of repair. Right now, there is over $12 billion in needed school building repairs across the state, which a state bond can help alleviate;
(3) Expand the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, so it can accommodate five times the number of current slots, from 200 to 1,000. This will help build a sustainable pipeline of teachers in North Carolina
(4) Increase parental leave for teachers from 8 weeks to 12 weeks and ensure paid leave is provided, so we can better support teachers and their families; and
(5) Make the UNC Board of Governors subject to more conflicts of interests rules and less partisan. I would support measures like Senate Bill 546 from the 2021 legislative session, which would keep members of the General Assembly, lobbyists and their spouses from serving on the UNC Board of Governors.
Climate justice. Many of my first experiences with organizing came in my teenage years when I helped communities fight for environmental justice (which I discuss more in my response to question 6). I have continued that fight in the years since then, as a civil rights lawyer and a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council. We must consider all North Carolinians in climate action and mitigation measures. Measures I would support include but would not be limited to:
(1) re-shifting the focus of key state departments like the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), so that people and the environment are the priorities, not cars;
(2) repealing a 2013 law that prohibits NCDOT’s financial support to towns and metropolitan/rural planning organizations for standalone bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects. Repeal of this law would open the way for more bicycle and pedestrian projects to be funded and help communities move away from cars as the only and main mode of transportation;
(3) removing the cap on NCDOT funding for non-highway projects and devoting more substantial resources to improving and in many cases, providing, public transit in all parts of North Carolina, especially in our rural areas;
(4) actively supporting clean renewable energy like solar and wind and fighting against efforts that would allow fracking or drilling offshore and;
(5) supporting and enhancing Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 246, with its goal of 1.25 million electric vehicles by 2030 and its direction to state agencies to incorporate environmental justice and equity in agencies’ decisions and work.
Healthcare. Even in a community like Chapel Hill and Carrboro, which has world-class healthcare, disparities in access persist. I will be a champion for affordable access to quality healthcare, including in our rural communities, and I would work for the following, including but not limited to:
(1) the long-overdue expansion of Medicaid;
(2) fighting against measures that would impose work requirements for those receiving Medicaid coverage; and
(3) restoring North Carolina’s Earned Income Tax Credit, so working families do not have to make hard choices in paying for healthcare, life-saving medications and other basic necessities;
(4) eliminating arbitrary restrictions on reproductive rights; and
(5) increasing funding for our local departments of public health services, so they each can provide family planning services, OB-GYNs and pandemic relief and preparedness.
3. To what extent do you support municipalities exerting local control over issues such as regulating greenhouse gas emissions, criminal justice reforms and police oversight, and passing development-regulating ordinances?
One of the reasons why I am running for office is to empower local governments to provide better for their residents. I have a great deal of experience in municipal law, having served on the Chapel Hill Town Council, taught a law school course on municipal law and practiced in this area of law as a civil rights attorney and assistant city attorney. I have seen up close how towns and counties are constrained by the General Assembly. Only a handful of the current State House members have previously served on a town or city council.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
As a Chapel Hill Town Council member, in 2019, I was proud to support and pass the Town’s first climate action and response plan, with a goal of zero emissions by 2050. We also set goals for the town to transition to 80 percent clean, renewable energy sources by 2030. According to studies conducted and reviewed by Town staff, they uncovered the fact that 95 percent of our community’s emissions comes from buildings and transportation. In light of this, I was also proud to support the Town’s acquisition of electric buses with the goal of having an all-electric bus fleet. In a town that has one of the largest fare free bus systems in the entire U.S. that provides more than 6.5 million rides a year, an all-electric bus fleet will make a significant impact. The response plan also involved measures to make owning an electric vehicle easier by developing a mapping tool that property owners can use to accommodate charging stations across town.
Statewide, industrial hog and poultry facilities are among the most significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Under state law, local zoning authority for industrial hog facilities is preempted, which means that neither counties nor towns can regulate these facilities, their emissions or their waste management in the interests of public health and safety. Currently, industrial poultry facilities are not subject to any regulations. I would fight to empower towns and counties to exercise zoning authority over these industrial operations.
In the most recent session of the state legislature, several dangerous bills passed the State House and failed in the State Senate and in some cases, passed both Houses but did not overcome the Governor’s veto. These bills will almost certainly be proposed again in the next session, and I would fight to defeat these measures. These bills include the following:
• House Bill 496: This would have prohibited local governments from passing local tree ordinances unless expressly authorized by the General Assembly. This passed the State House in 2021, but did not pass in the State Senate.
• House Bill 794: This would have required that schools be a permitted use in every zoning district (including industrial), and it would exempt them from any local government development regulations. This bill would threaten the safety and wellness of our children, since a town would not be able to impose safety standards or development requirements on schools. This passed the State House in 2021, but did not pass in the State Senate.
• House Bill 220: This would have prohibited a city from adopting an ordinance that bans connection, reconnection, modification, or expansion of an energy service based on the type or source of energy. For example, a city would be prohibited from adopting an ordinance that forbids the city from drawing energy from a gas-fired power plant. This passed the State House and State Senate, but Governor Cooper vetoed this bill in 2021.
I will fight to defeat these bills if proposed again. I will fight to empower local governments with zoning authority over industrial hog and poultry facilities. I will fight for more state funding to support alternative modes of transportation such as public transit.
Criminal Justice and Police Reform
My Council colleague, Karen Stegman, and I led criminal justice reform in Chapel Hill. We spearheaded the first-ever town-created criminal justice debt fund in North Carolina. This program provides low-income defendants with financial relief from excessive court costs and fees that are imposed upon them.
We also led other needed measures to decriminalize poverty and ensure racial equity in policing by prohibiting low-level traffic regulatory stops and police chokeholds and eliminating criminal penalties associated with activities like sleeping on park benches or panhandling. I and other Council colleagues successfully pushed for the creation of the Reimagining Community Safety Task Force. This Task Force made bold recommendations challenging the status quo and called for a fundamental re-shifting of our public safety paradigm, so everyone feels safe. For example, providing mental health resources, facilitating non-armed responses and supporting more crisis counselors to respond to nonviolent situations were among a groundbreaking set of recommendations. I want to elevate these measures to the state level.
Our state should also support community-based policing approaches in every community. This approach mobilizes and involves community leaders in concert with law enforcement. Supporting the increased use of foot and bicycle patrols can help integrate law enforcement better in a community. Providing funding for crisis counselors to respond to situations that do not require law enforcement presence would help communities too. Our state also should allow municipalities the authority to create civilian review boards that have the authority to act.
A community-based approach also invests in the prevention of youth violence and promotes restorative justice practices as opposed to simply increasing penalties. There is currently no state funding for after-school programs in North Carolina, despite the over 600,000 children in need of them. Providing funding to support after school programming to engage all youth is a must. Supporting job growth and improving the availability of affordable, safe housing especially in vulnerable areas are all measures that can help reduce and prevent violent crime. Just as I led on criminal justice reforms on the Chapel Hill Town Council, I am committed to leading on criminal justice reforms in the State House.
Local governments are constrained in providing affordable housing, transit-oriented development and using environmental protections to more effectively combat climate change. Now, more than ever, we need action to empower local governments with needed tools, including development regulations. First, I would fight to restore development authority to local governments that have been taken away in recent years. For example, Session Law 2018-145 prohibited local governments from requiring stormwater controls for existing impervious areas (e.g., parking lot and street surfaces). It is much harder for water drain in impervious areas, and so water is prone run off and flood lower lying areas. This exacerbates conditions for residents in low-lying lands and areas, who are more easily flooded with this runoff. We need to restore this regulatory authority to local governments, so they can better protect vulnerable residents in low-lying areas from flooding. Next, I would fight for greater protections for residents of manufactured home parks to better ensure housing stability. These residents are particularly vulnerable to displacement without other housing options.
The following measures passed the State House in the 2021-22 Legislative Session, and they are anticipated to be reintroduced in the coming sessions. They would restrict local government authority when it comes to affordable housing, regulating erosion control, tree canopies and traffic.
• I would fight House Bill 712. This bill would limit the use of conditional zoning if a project contained affordable housing. This measure ties the hands of local officials when trying to work with developers and neighbors in designing affordable housing that is harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood.
• I would also fight House Bill 853. This measure would prohibit local governments from requiring tree surveys as part of the approval process for developments, from requiring certain road designs and erosion control measures. This impacts important local aims for tree preservation, traffic management and safety and protecting natural ecosystems.
Lastly, I would explore requiring local governments to consider environmental justice factors in permitting decisions.
4. Do you support raising North Carolina’s minimum wage, and if so by how much? If not, what other initiatives would you take to support low-income families in North Carolina?
Yes, I support an increase in the minimum wage in North Carolina to at least $15 per hour, automatically indexed for inflation. I am open to a minimum wage higher than $15 per hour, but the fight for $15 per hour wages is a necessary first step. Two states have already implemented a $15 per hour minimum wage and nine others, including our neighbor to the north, Virginia, will reach that milestone in the next four years. There is no reason why we cannot and should not pursue the same change that would greatly improve the lives of low-income and working-class people and families in North Carolina.
Now is a prime time to act with this kind of measure. Labor shortages abound and many businesses, in response, have already undertaken efforts to recruit workers with higher pay.
I would work to implement this increase through a similar framework as California and New York, which each used a phased-in approach. California’s phased-in approach involved a five- year runway between passage of its wage increase and implementation for two classes of employers. Employers with 26 or more employees had to adopt a $15 minimum wage starting in January 2022, while employers with 25 or fewer employees must adopt a $15 minimum wage starting in January 2023. Meanwhile, New York’s phased-in approach is marked by different transition periods for different regions of the state and differently sized employers. Determining the best phased-in approach for North Carolina must include engaging with stakeholders, such as workers’ rights advocates, unions, business leaders and others to determine the best timeframe for a $15 minimum wage increase for employers in urban, suburban and rural areas. I would push for an increase as soon as possible.
5. With rent, property taxes, and home sale prices all rising, what, if anything, should the state legislature do to address this growing affordability crisis?
First, there have been a number of ongoing efforts in the General Assembly to undercut impactful work that had been done to increase and support affordable housing. I will fight these efforts at every turn. Among these harmful efforts are the following:
(1) reducing funding in budget appropriations for community development corporations, whose missions include building and maintaining affordable housing in poorer parts of urban areas and in rural North Carolina; and
(2) restricting state and local funding sources for affordable housing projects.
In the 2021-22 legislative session, a bill gained traction that would have prohibited local governments from negotiating for affordable housing when it exercises conditional zoning. Conditional zoning is an increasingly common form of zoning across towns and cities in North Carolina. Such a measure would remove one of the few significant tools local governments have to facilitate affordable housing. If proposed again, I would vigorously oppose it.
I would fight for the following to make housing more affordable to North Carolinians:
(1) increasing the budget appropriations for community development corporations, so they can provide much needed housing for low-income and working-class people and in doing so, relieve the burden on local governments as sole actors;
(2) empowering local governments with the ability to pass inclusionary zoning ordinances, so requirements can be made of developers to ensure a certain proportion of their new housing is accessible to working people and families; and
(3) increasing funding to the North Carolina Housing Trust, so the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency can effectively distribute significantly more money to support affordable housing projects across the state. The General Assembly created the NC Housing Trust Fund in 1987 and the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency administers this und. The Fund supports home ownership and rental apartments, new construction, rehabilitation and emergency repairs to homes.
Our tax revaluation process is well worth reexamining in order to ensure equity in the process. We need to create programs for tax abatements, so low-income people are not priced out of their communities when new development comes.
6. Do you believe that the state government has an obligation to prevent the impacts of climate change? If so, please state three specific policies you support to address climate change.
Yes, since my teenage years, I have believed that the state government has an obligation to prevent and mitigate the impacts of climate change and to protect our vulnerable communities while doing so.
As I teenager, my mother recruited me to help organize communities in eastern North Carolina against landfills and industrial hog facilities. In the late 1990s, she was a founding member of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), and she taught me from a young age the importance of the natural environment and the importance of the environment as a place where we eat, work and play. I would later go on to represent NCEJN as a civil rights attorney.
Later in my life, as a civil rights attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, my work helped in two landmark settlements with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). First, I was part of a challenge to DEQ in a Title VI complaint, due to DEQ’s insufficient regulations and inconsistent enforcement against industrial hog farms. I, along with two other attorneys at the Center for Civil Rights, represented the NCEJN, the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help in this complaint and in subsequent mediation. In North Carolina, industrial hog facilities are part of a powerful industry. Industrial hog facilities are among the most significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions, due to the enormous amount of animal waste produced, which is then kept in open air lagoon ponds and sprayed, often leading to the contamination of water and air. The standards and regulations in place did little to control animal waste and did not hold the operators of these facilities accountable. African Americans, Latinx and Native Americans who live near these facilities have been suffering disproportionate impacts, in their health, quality of life, air quality and water quality.
One settlement reached in May 2018 yielded several commitments by DEQ. First, DEQ committed to changing their draft industrial hog farm general permit to reflect updated standards and new technologies to mitigate the impacts of industrial hog farms on neighboring communities’ homes, water and air. DEQ also committed to developing an Environmental Justice tool to examine demographic, health and environmental characteristics of communities affected by DEQ policies. Lastly, DEQ agreed to create and maintain a language access program, to enable people whose primary language was not English to engage with DEQ on its policies and on complaints of noncompliance by industrial hog facilities.
The other settlement involved Cape Fear River Watch, Waterkeeper Alliance and NCEJN. The complaint alleged DEQ did not have an adequate system for receiving and responding to third- party complaints and information against operators of industrial hog farms for violating permit standards and regulations. This prevented environmental watchdogs from lodging complaints with accompanying evidence. DEQ committed to a new protocol with clear timelines for complaint investigation, consideration of all information submitted by complainants and the maintenance of monthly lists of complaints. DEQ also agreed to publish annual reports detailing the number of received complaints about animal operations, the number of complaints investigated and the number of complaints that resulted in a finding of violation. This settlement too broke new ground, as DEQ’s complaint process, to that point in December 2017, had no transparency or accountability to the public. Now, nearby residents, advocates and watchdogs can file complaints and submit evidence if they observe violations by industrial hog facilities.
As referenced earlier, I was proud to support the Town of Chapel Hill’s first climate action and response plan in 2019. We have set ambitious goals for transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources by 2030 and 2050. While on Council, I also supported the Town’s acquisition of electric buses. We also have encouraged the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles in all new development projects. The Town is committed to developing a town wide electric charging station network and mapping tool that electric vehicle drivers can use.
So much more work remains to be done, and I have seen the limitations of litigation and local measures in fighting climate change. We need change to come from the General Assembly. Combating climate change in the General Assembly will require implementing a range of immediate measures, so my three specific policy objectives below represent a start, not a finish, to my approach:
• First, I will strongly support reinstating the renewable energy tax credit. In the 2021-22 Legislative session, Representatives Harris, Autry, Lofton and Hurtado introduced House Bill 563, which would have re-established the renewable energy tax credit. The General Assembly allowed this credit to expire, as part of its agenda in the 2010s, to halt state incentives altogether to prioritize oil and gas and to de-prioritize renewable energy. This incentive had become one of North Carolina’s largest economic incentives. At that time of the tax credit’s expiration, North Carolina was the country’s second largest solar power market and the largest in the South. In 2014, the year before it expired, it brought in more than $700 million in investments. This tax credit helped to create jobs and spurred economic development throughout the state. In particular, utility-scale solar installations proliferated in the rural areas of the mountains and the coastal plain of North Carolina. Ultimately, the tax credit is a significant tool in the larger mission to lessen dependence on oil and gas for electricity. We need as many tools as possible in this fight to mitigate climate change.
• Second, I will prioritize repealing a 2013 law that prohibits NCDOT’s financial support to towns and metropolitan/rural planning organizations for standalone bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects. We need to re-shift the focus of key state departments like the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), so people and the environment are the priorities, not cars. Repeal of this law would open the way for more bicycle and pedestrian projects to be funded and help communities move away from cars as the only and main mode of transportation.
• Third, I will push for increasing state funding for mass transit projects across the state, such as bus rapid transit and light rail. Local governments should be able to choose the right mass transit option for their jurisdictions and not have to bear the principal burden of funding it. The expenditures of NCDOT need to shift dramatically, as currently, 94 percent of NCDOT expenditures have to go to highway projects. Furthermore, state transportation funding for bus rapid transit (BRT) depends heavily on gas taxes. Use of cars has been falling during the pandemic and probably is not helped much by recent circumstances involving shutoff of oil imports from Russia. We need a different funding mechanism, and we need the General Assembly to step up and provide more funding here. Restoring corporate taxes can contribute to the state’s General Fund and fund priorities like BRT. Mass transit is a terrific mode of transportation because it involves the movement of multiple people using one vehicle, rather than the use of multiple vehicles carrying one or two individuals. Communities can also be better connected to one another across the state through mass transit (e.g., commuter rail). There is a particular need for mass transit in rural, low wealth parts of the state. Whether on-demand mass transit, micro transit or mass transit with regular stops can be developed, it would be well worth the investment of our state. Mass transit can spur economic development because a workforce is able to use reliable transportation to get to work. It can also help increase the number of jobs for a given area, due to the need for mass transit vehicle operators, staff, maintenance and administrative support.
7. Would you support an independent process for drawing new legislative and congressional districts?
I strongly support independent redistricting and oppose gerrymandering. I have been a strong proponent for independent redistricting commissions since my law school days. I first learned about these commissions in my 2014 Election Law course with Professor Kareem Crayton, who later became the director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Later, I joined the Board of Common Cause North Carolina in 2018. There, I advocated for these commissions, and I even hosted a town hall session with three members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission—California’s independent redistricting commission. The session featured the commissioners, Representative Verla Insko, and Bob Phillips as they discussed with members of the public the merits of adopting a similar commission in North Carolina.
My civil rights work also informs my position on independent redistricting, especially when it becomes an infringement on the right to vote. I have dedicated my career to empowering people and ensuring people’s voices are heard. Over the years, many voters have confided in me their difficulties in voting and their lack of confidence in elections due to being in heavily overrepresented districts. Gerrymandering has been used over time to dilute citizens’ votes and to pack or split communities of interests – especially African American communities – so they cannot effectively speak for themselves through voting. There have been hundreds of cases under the Voting Rights Act that have challenged gerrymandered maps. In 2022 alone, there have been 58 cases challenging gerrymandered maps. The best solution is to have properly structured independent redistricting commissions, which decide state legislative and congressional maps at the state level. These commissions can help restore confidence in our election system, and they can ultimately result in fairer maps where voters are more empowered.
8. Does the General Assembly have a constitutional obligation to comply with the state Supreme Court order in the Leandro case to fully fund public schools and give every child in North Carolina a sound basic education?
The North Carolina General Assembly continues to fall short of its constitutional obligation by underfunding our public education system. In 1997 and 2004, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled the State has an obligation to provide every child the opportunity for a sound basic education. In 2003, then-deputy director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights Jack Boger came to my high school and spoke to my class about this constitutional obligation under Leandro. Shortly before that time, I had also read about Justice Thurgood Marshall and his work in Brown v. Board of Education. So I understood from a young age that the State has a constitutional duty to fund schools at such levels that each school can provide well-trained and qualified teachers and principals and sufficient resources to their students. Later on, as an attorney, I would contribute to the Leandro case and the fight for a sound, basic education for all.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction continues to highlight the inadequacy of public-school facilities across the state. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, $12.8 billion is needed for school facility repairs. This is nearly $5 billion more than what it reported last in its 2015-16 report. Inadequate school facilities impair safe learning environments for our children and hurt teacher recruitment efforts. Underfunded schools tend to be those in lower income areas, with lower property tax revenues and higher proportions of students of color and low-income students, who deserve a sound, basic education as much as their wealthier counterparts.
Average teacher pay in NC continues to rank in the bottom half of U.S. states. Teachers continue to not have paid parental leave. In fact, they don’t even get enough unpaid leave (only 8 weeks) – we should give them at least 12 weeks of paid leave.
Since 2013, school vouchers have diverted millions of public dollars from public schools to private schools, further hindering the State in meeting its Leandro obligations. These schools are free to discriminate against students of color and LGBTQ students, which our state should not support in any form or fashion. The total amount of school vouchers for the 2020-21 school year alone was $61,241,959. Per the budget approved in fall of 2021, school vouchers are estimated to cost North Carolina more than $3 billion over the next 15 years. That is $3 billion less for our public schools.
As a civil rights attorney, I have worked to hold our State accountable for its constitutional duty. At the UNC Center for Civil Rights in 2017, I worked on the Leandro case. Our involvement, at the time – on behalf of some parents and students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system and the Mecklenburg NAACP – was a result of the State continuing to fall short of its obligation to adequately fund our public schools.
One of the greatest challenges and barriers to increasing funding for public education is the agenda that Republican legislators have pursued over the past decade-plus. This agenda devalues public education, diverts public funding away from public schools, and attacks the credibility of our schools and teachers. As part of this agenda, attempts to pay teachers better and fund school infrastructure have been systematically blocked or undercut; instead, school vouchers and attacks on the teaching profession through measures to restrict school curriculum persist.
Another challenge is political will. Even when Democrats controlled the state legislature in the 2000s, the State still did not meet the state’s Leandro obligations. Regardless of party control, our state has consistently underfunded public education.
Regardless of state legislative district, quality public education ranks high on voters’ priorities for what government should provide to the people. This is a key priority shared by voters in both parties. The polling supports this.
According to a 2021 High Point University poll, 61 percent of respondents indicated they would support a state bond referendum to fund $8 to $10 billion of school construction and renovation. Public school teachers and principals garnered the highest level of respect in the same poll out of several listed government officials. This poll indicated two-thirds of respondents think that public school teachers are paid too little, and over half expressed a willingness to pay more in taxes, so public school teachers would be paid at the national average within five years.
Education cuts across rural and urban communities, and I hope to form a common cause with a variety of legislators to make progress on this. If not, I will work to leverage my connections in various rural North Carolina districts to work with, support and empower pro-public education candidates to win, so we can have a working majority to move the ball forward.
9. The U.S. Supreme Court may issue a ruling this summer that guts, or even overturns, Roe v. Wade. As a state lawmaker, would you support legislation that limits or prohibits abortion in North Carolina, or punishes/criminalizes abortion providers or patients?
No, I would not support legislation that limits or prohibits abortion in North Carolina or that punishes abortion providers and patients. I am a proud supporter of the right to choose, and my commitment runs deep. When I was 12 years old, my mother took the opportunity to talk to me about access to reproductive care. She explained that it was not only important to know about sex, contraceptives and consent, but “it is important to realize that women should have control and agency over their own bodies.” That means women should have access to safe abortions. Her words have stayed with me and inform my commitment to reproductive justice.
My wife has a PhD in public health. She consistently informs and reminds me of the barriers facing people in accessing healthcare, including abortion care and family planning services. She continues to guide me with resources that she shares regarding the experiences of women and their inequitable access to care, including safe abortion access. Reproductive health is a fundamental public health issue that I will always champion. When my wife was pregnant, I remember how she told me that she could never understand how someone could be forced to continue a pregnancy they did not want. Pregnancy takes a significant physical, emotional, and mental health burden on people and it is unfathomable that someone could be forced to continue one they did not want.
Women should be allowed to have the freedom to choose whether they want to experience it or not. My wife also taught me how most people who have abortions are mothers themselves. They understand the burden (and joys) of motherhood and are making a conscious decision to prioritize their existing children. I know people who have had abortions, including family members, and I will always recognize that it is an intensely personal choice.
Furthermore, I am a civil rights attorney, and I recognize that the right to an abortion is a fundamental constitutional right. Restrictive laws, like those of Texas and Mississippi, effectively undermine Roe v. Wade and make abortion punishable by law. These laws also have disproportionate impacts by race and class because women seeking an abortion have to take on burdensome costs, including travel expenses, child care expenses and arrangements or missing time on the job, in order to get an abortion out of state. Many low income women just cannot afford to take on these costs, and they have to risk their own health with self-managed abortions or by going through an unwanted pregnancy. As has often been proved, restricting access to abortion does not eliminate abortions; it makes them unsafe.
Here is what North Carolina has put in place to dissuade women from exercising their right to choose and shaming women: pregnancy crisis centers, ultrasound requirements and 72-hour waiting periods. Abortion access is also about reproductive justice and racial equity. Women from marginalized communities get short shrift when it comes to access to safe abortions and to healthcare. We need to expand access to reproductive support and family planning services. We need to fund public health departments. We need to repeal the restriction on public health insurance that keep women from using their insurance for safe abortions. We should allow anyone in our community to choose how and when to start a family.
In promoting reproductive justice, I am committed to advocating for the following:
• Pass the Whole Women’s Health Act, which would eliminate arbitrary restrictions on the right to choose, such as the currently required 72-hour waiting period to get an abortion. This presents an undue burden and obstacle on the constitutional right to choose.
• Increase funding to local public health departments, so each one may provide an OB- GYN and family planning services.
• Protect pregnant workers from discrimination by employers. North Carolina is one of a few states left that provides no protections for pregnant workers against discrimination, outside of federal law.
• Codify the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, so the law upholds a pregnant person’s constitutional right to an abortion without interference.
I look forward to the opportunity to use my experiences as an ally since childhood, an informed husband, a civil rights lawyer and a candidate endorsed by #VOTEPROCHOICE to ardently support pro-choice in the North Carolina State House.
10. Should North Carolina expand Medicaid? Where do you stand on increasing the number of slots for the Innovations Waiver for special needs individuals?
We must expand Medicaid. Medicaid expansion would add over a half million North Carolinians to needed healthcare coverage. It would add over 37,000 good paying jobs to our state. And it would throw a critical lifeline to rural hospitals at risk of closure. Five rural hospitals have closed since 2013 and dozens more are on the brink. Medicaid expansion would generate nearly $2 billion annually in hospital reimbursements and rural hospitals, in particular, would receive a substantial share of these financial benefits.
In the summer of 2015, I sat next to Reverend Dr. William Barber II during a trial that saw the North Carolina NAACP and the Republican mayor of rural Belhaven – Adam O’Neal – work together to challenge the closure of a nearby hospital. Rural hospitals are at particular risk in North Carolina for closures because a much higher proportion of patients who enter the hospitals are uninsured. Caring for uninsured patients means the hospital must spend scarce resources on a patient who is unable to pay for the critically important healthcare services they receive. As a result, hospitals are placed in a precarious financial position, when caring for a high proportion of uninsured patients. Medicaid expansion would turn many of these uninsured patients into insured patients, meaning that the hospital could recoup the money it spends on the patients through hospital reimbursements from the federal government with no cost to the state.
Even if we successfully expand Medicaid, our work will not be done. We would still need to fight measures that would impose work requirements for those receiving Medicaid coverage. Work requirements ignore the reality in some parts of the state where few jobs exist and the reality that some recipients have disabilities that prevent them from satisfying such requirements.
In short, Medicaid expansion has proven in other states to yield job gains and more importantly, health insurance coverage gains, which have then reduced hospitals’ uncompensated care costs. Medicaid expansion has helped those hospitals stay afloat and has also saved vital jobs in those rural areas.
Furthermore, we need to eliminate the waiting list for the North Carolina Medicaid Innovations Waiver and increase the number of slots immediately. The Innovations Waiver is a federally approved measure intended to help Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). These are individuals who prefer long-term care services and support in their home or community, as opposed to receiving services in an institution. We have a crisis on our hands, where our state is not supporting and meeting the needs of more than 15,000 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The waitlist for the waiver has 15,000 people on it due to the current, limited number of slots. Many families whose loved ones are on the waitlist have waited more than 10 years for this assistance.
Eliminating this waitlist would mean relieving an unnecessary burden on more than 15,000 families. Currently, these family members must provide financial and physical care in keeping their loved ones out of institutions. This takes a toll on families and cuts off a needed lifeline for their loved ones who need the help. In the 2021-22 Legislative Session, a bill would have added 1,000 slots. Just this month, NC Medicaid received approval to increase its Innovations Waiver by 1,000 slots. However, this is a paltry number compared to the need. A good start is a commitment to adding at least 2,000 new waiver slots per year, as Disability Rights NC has recommended, until the wait list is eliminated.
11. Do you support reforming North Carolina’s marijuana laws? Do you support full legalization? Please explain your position.
Yes, I support legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in North Carolina.
Medical marijuana has been shown to be a safer treatment for chronic pain in adults than some current legal treatments. It also reduces vomiting induced by chemotherapy and can improve outcomes for other health conditions. The majority of the country (37 states) has legalized medical marijuana and there is bipartisan support for it here.
In North Carolina, 22 percent of the state’s population is African American, yet over 50 percent of arrests for marijuana possession involve African Americans. This is in the face of data that indicates that people in every racial category use marijuana at the same rates. Legalization can remove one of the largest racially disproportionate practices our state has and keep many young people out of our justice system, where recidivism becomes increasingly likely.
Legalization and regulation of marijuana would create jobs, eliminate racially-disparate enforcement and promote safe use of marijuana through formal, science-based product testing.
12. Are there any issues this questionnaire has not addressed that you would like to address?
Please see below for my proposals and stances on other important issues facing our state.
Preventing Gun Violence
My plan to reduce gun violence starts with working with the advocates on the ground who, for decades, have told state lawmakers exactly what they need to do. I have spoken at a number of rallies across the state on our need to institute gun safety reforms now. Over the years, one of these advocates endorsing my campaign – Kaaren Haldeman, the former director of the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense – has consistently informed me on the steps we need to take. Thus, I would advocate for taking the following steps to reduce gun violence:
• Keep pistol purchase permits on the statutory books. Over the past several years, Republican lawmakers have consistently tried to repeal these permits, more recently through HB 398 in the 2021-22 session, which Governor Cooper vetoed. Pistol purchase permits remain one of the few effective methods of gun safety that North Carolina has at its disposal;
• Pass red flag laws that would empower healthcare providers, law enforcement and family members to petition a court to temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns when they show warning signs that they are a threat to themselves or others. Rep. Marcia Morey introduced such a bill (HB 525) in the 2021-22, which I strongly support; and
• Pass legislation that would require registration and a purchase permit for long guns and rifles. Currently, no state permit is required even though federally licensed dealers are required to run background checks on potential buyers of long guns. Rep. Julie von Haefen filed a bill (HB 623) in the 2021-22 session, to require such a permit, which I strongly support.
Defending LGBTQ+ Youth
Our LGBTQ+ youth and community have been under attack in recent years through legislation, most notably House Bill 2. We need systems in place to embrace our LGBTQ+ youth and community. Equality NC has laid out good first steps, and I am proud to be endorsed by the Equality NC PAC. I would look forward to working with advocates like Equality NC to provide needed support through the state legislature. With that in mind, here are the following ways in which I would try to create more inclusive spaces and support for our LGBTQ+ youth:
• Advocate for budget allocation for quality educational training programs for school staff, faculty and students on why trans inclusive spaces are important and how to support people of all gender identities;
• Pass House Bill 354, a bill introduced in the 2021 legislative session that I worked on, which would increase the scope of hate crimes to include disability, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity and establish a hate crimes database in the State Bureau of Investigations, among other steps;
• Fight against any efforts to pass “Don’t Say Gay” bills, such as the one recently adopted in Florida. We must be especially vigilant in North Carolina because in the 1990s, our state passed a law that prohibited discussion of same-sex relationships in schools in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis;
• Fight against any efforts to prohibit families and their trans children from using gender affirming medical services; and
• Fight against efforts by GOP leaders to exclude transgender student-athletes from participation in school sports, such as House Bill 358, which would prevent transgender girls and women from competing in school sports.
North Carolina must do better to improve workers’ conditions and to respect their rights. Hard working North Carolinians should be able to earn a living wage to support themselves and their families. I would look forward to working with workers’ advocates such as the NC State AFL- CIO and SMART Union, and I am proud to have their endorsements. I share with these organizations the commitment to the principle that workers should be able to organize, especially when faced with unfair conditions. North Carolina has the lowest private employer participation in unions of any state in the U.S. As such, I would support the following steps:
• Repeal North Carolina General Statute § 95-98, which would overturn the ban on collective bargaining for public employees;
• Amend the NC Wage and Hour Act to end wage theft. Low-income and immigrant workers are often subject to being underpaid and forced to work “off the clock” without pay and denied overtime;
• Repeal right to work laws, which currently make unions extremely difficult to operate; and
• Pass Senate Bill 598, which was proposed in the 2021 legislative session and would have required employers to give employees at least one paid break of at least 20 minutes. Right now, the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act does not require any rest breaks or meal breaks for employees 16 and older.
Supporting Small Businesses
Small businesses form the backbone of North Carolina’s economy and collectively, the greatest job providers in our state. They generate an excess of $29 billion in exports for North Carolina. Yet, during this pandemic, sorely needed economic relief and other assistance is not reaching every small business that needs it in North Carolina. I would support the following:
• Expand affordable broadband access in our rural communities. Rural communities continue to be at a decided disadvantage due to the lack of broadband access or spotty broadband access. Affordable broadband access will improve job access and support economic development;
• Allocate funding every year to expand Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) across the state. CDFIs can assist historically underutilized businesses (minority- owned) and low-to-moderate income small-business owners with securing capital needed in the startup and growth phases;
• Provide more support (e.g., state ombudsman offices) to assist small businesses with navigating the regulatory framework and overcome compliance challenges. Over time, these can also identify and inform on extraneous and burdensome regulations and how to improve regulations; and
• Increase state funding for Career and Technical Education program to build out the entrepreneurship curriculum at middle and high schools, especially in rural communities.