Name as it appears on the ballot: Mary Bethel
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.MaryBethelForNC.com
Occupation & employer: Retired Aging and Human Services Administrator. Still actively serving on numerous boards and advisory groups.
Years lived in North Carolina: 65
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 had a long career working in the public and non-profit sectors in the fields of aging, health, and human services. During the last 20 years, I have had the opportunity to interact with the General Assembly and to gain a good understanding of the legislative process and the important role that the decisions made by lawmakers have on our lives. As a first time candidate, I am running for this office because I believe with my extensive work experience and my knowledge of the legislative process, plus my 35 years as a resident of my district, I can be an energetic and effective voice for representing the people in the district in the General Assembly.
My three biggest career accomplishments are as follows:
• Provided leadership for the NC Coalition on Aging becoming a strong 501(c)(3) entity comprised of diverse groups and organization (many of them state level associations) as well as supporting individuals that work collaboratively to be the key voice on issues that impact older North Carolinians. I became the first Executive Director of the Coalition.
• Helped to establish the formal grassroots advocacy network in the state for AARP NC and for the NC Senior Tar Heel Legislature that have become effective means of advocating with the NC General Assembly for issues that impact older adults and persons with disabilities.
• Played a key leadership role in the establishment of a new Presbyterian Church in Holly Springs that today is very actively engaged in the community.
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?
The three most pressing issues facing the General Assembly, in addition to continuing to stay on top of COVID relief efforts, are:
• Expanding Medicaid to cover as many as 600,000 North Carolinians (many of whom are working full-time) who do not have health insurance.
• Establishing and Independent Redistricting Commission or a similar type entity that is free from political influence.
• Fully funding all components of the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan which would go a long way toward helping to guarantee that all children in the state have access to a sound, basic education as prescribed by our state constitution.
The NC General Assembly has the authority to pass legislation to address all three of these issues. The question is, does the legislative leadership have the political will to move these issues forward? There is a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee currently looking at the issue of access to health care and Medicaid expansion. It is hoped that this body will recommend in the weeks to come that North Carolina move forward with seeking passage of legislation to expand Medicaid.
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?
There is often tension between local officials and state government/legislature over policy issues particularly when municipalities seek to assert control over policy decisions impacting their residents while the state legislature seeks uniformity in policy across the state. This tension gets even more heightened when the legislature seeks to pass legislation that just impacts one or a handful of municipalities and not everyplace in the state. I generally support municipalities retaining control to respond to specific local issues, however, there may be situations that arise where a statewide policy that can be uniformly implemented, such as some of those we saw with COVID, is needed. Local and county governments in North Carolina are very ably represented by the NC League of Municipalities and the NC Association of County Commissioners. There should be open communication between these organizations, the state legislature, and state government/Governor’s office, when issues of control and oversight surface so that all these entities can work together toward an equitable and common-sense approach to whatever problematic issues arise.
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?
Having a livable minimum wage is a goal toward which our state should be moving. There is still a lot of debate as to whether this should be $15 per hour or a lower amount or even a higher amount to account for increases in the cost of living. I support at least $15 per hour, however, I believe that setting the wage at this amount at this time as we are recovering from the pandemic and many employers, particularly small businesses, are still struggling to stay afloat will be a challenge. For this reason, we need to look at ways to provide incentives and supports to businesses to help pave the way for increased wages. We also need to look at ways to support struggling people in our state until the point in time where a livable minimum wage is a reality. To help struggling families, we need to expand access to health care and options for insurance coverage, strengthen resources to address food insecurity, examine criteria for assistance programs, make affordable housing more available, and invest in workforce development programs.
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?
There is perhaps no bigger challenge in our area than that of ensuring that there is affordable, safe, and accessible housing for those who live and work in the area. In the last several years, there has been an unprecedented increase in housing costs and in the availability of housing units to purchase or rent. The media has covered extensively how prices for rent and to purchase a home are rising in the Triangle. With the rising prices, it is not surprising that the NC Housing Coalition reports that 26% of Wake County households spend more than a third of their income on housing costs. It is imperative that all stakeholders work together to find solutions that create a healthier housing market. I believe that the state legislature does have a role to play in increasing affordable housing. It can adopt legislation and direct policies that stimulate the development of affordable housing such as tax credits for the construction of affordable housing units and the conversion of unused properties such as school buildings into affordable apartments. The state can also pursue federal funding and the legislature can appropriate state funding to support affordable housing. The NC Housing Finance Agency already administers a number of programs with such funding. The state can also look at supporting housing subsidies to assist families and first time homebuyers. Expanding programs such as property tax relief for older adults and persons with disabilities and increasing resources for home repair programs will also help to keep people in their existing homes.
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, I believe that the state has an obligation to help prevent the impacts of climate change. Three specific policies I would support to address climate change are:
• Reinstate the NC Renewable Energy Tax Credit.
• Support offshore wind energy development but ensure there are deliberate conversation about this with the leadership of coastal communities who may be concerned that this will have a negative impact on tourism.
• Support the expansion of public transit, particularly in underserved communities, to reduce the financial burden of auto ownership on the working class while reducing the impacts of vehicle emissions on the environment.
7. Would you support an independent process for drawing new legislative and congressional districts?
Yes, I support the establishment of an Independent Redistricting Commission or a similar type entity that is free from political influence. To help restore trust in our political process, we need to have a process where voters choose their elected officials rather than the elected officials choose their voters.
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?
Yes, I believe that the General Assembly has 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 the state the opportunity for a sound basic education. My mother, who was a teacher, used to say that an education is something that cannot be taken away from a person and that education is a great equalizer. Every child has to have access to a good education in order to succeed and the fact remains that we still have students in our state who are falling behind and school systems that are struggling to find, compensate, and retain adequate teachers and other school personnel. According to the National Education Association, our state ranks 33rd in the nation in teacher salaries and 39th in the nation in per pupil spending. We also have school systems that do not have adequate technology and students that do not have reliable Broadband at school or in their homes and these students have been at a real disadvantage during COVID and remote learning. Fully funding all components of the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan would go a long way to ensuring our schools have the resources to increase equity in education.
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?
I would not support legislation that limits or prohibits abortion in North Carolina or punishes/criminalizes abortion providers or patients. I also believe that women should have easy and affordable access to reproductive health resources.
10. Should North Carolina expand Medicaid? Where do you stand on increasing the number of slots for the Innovations Waiver for special needs individuals?
I believe North Carolina should expand Medicaid because as many as 600,000 North Carolinians who do not have health insurance, many of whom are working full time, would quality for health insurance coverage. Expanding Medicaid would help these individuals get care for chronic conditions and live healthier and more productive lives. Expansion would also help inject our tax dollars back into the state to provide coverage for more people and would allow state dollars currently spent on care to be redirected to other priorities. The infusion of additional federal dollars could also help hospitals, particularly those in rural communities, that are struggling to keep up with providing care for uninsured people. States that have expanded Medicaid have seen increased job creation and economic stimulus activity, especially in the health care industry. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that if North Carolina expanded Medicaid it could get $1.5 billion to $2 billion in additional federal funding.
Yes, I definitely think that the number of slots for the Medicaid Innovation Waiver – which is a program designed to meet the needs of Individuals with Intellectual or Development Disabilities (I/DD) who prefer to get long-term care services and supports in their home or community, rather than in an institutional setting – should be increased. There are many individuals on the waiting list for these services and supports. At the same time, there are thousands of frail older adults and persons with disabilities as well as medically fragile and medically complex children who are also waiting for services through other Medicaid waiver programs. The slots for these programs should also be increased. Waiver program provides a cost-effective alternative to institutionalization for a Medicaid beneficiary who is medically fragile and at risk for institutionalization (out of home placement) if home and community-based services are not available.
11. Do you support reforming North Carolina’s marijuana laws? Do you support full legalization? Please explain your position.
According to a WRAL News poll released on April 12 of this year, 57% of North Carolina voters feel recreational use of marijuana should be legalized and 72% feel the medical use of marijuana should be legal. I support the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana, but realize that legalizing recreational use may remain a difficult sell in our state legislature. I believe that if legalized, North Carolina should look to states that have already legalized marijuana for best practices related to regulation and health and safety guidelines.