Name as it appears on the ballot: Graig Meyer
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.graigmeyer.com
Occupation & employer: Social Worker & Educational consultant
Years lived in North Carolina: 24
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 first sought my current seat in the NC House of Representatives in 2013, while I was still working full-time in North Carolina’s public schools. Earlier that year, new Republican majorities in the legislature had enacted a slew of anti-public education policies. I sought office by suggesting that we needed someone currently working in our public schools to represent Orange and Durham Counties in our legislature. Since then, I have worked on almost every major issue area in front of the legislature: education, environment, voting rights, criminal justice, tax policy, and more. I pursue my public leadership and legislative work with the same three approaches that I used as a social worker and educator: listen first and seek out marginalized voices, help people see where they can unite around common interests, and provide bold leadership for moving communities forward.
One career accomplishment to highlight from my time prior to entering the General Assembly was my work at the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program. During my sixteen years leading the program, our students had a 97.5% high school graduation rate. And all of those students enrolled in some form of post-secondary education. But while we were successful with helping individual students succeed by helping them navigate the systemic racism in our educational system, that experience also drove me into political service because I saw how those students and their families needed systemic reforms in our education, economic, health care, and other systems.
Since I have been in the legislature, we have made some progress on what I would consider to be systemic reforms, such as the important legislation we have passed on criminal justice reform and on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. I played a major role in negotiations on our bill addressing energy and climate, but I wouldn’t consider it my largest accomplishment in the legislature because negotiating compromise hasn’t been my most important legislative role. Instead, I have often been the person who leads our work on setting out a bold vision on important issues. For instance, I am the primary sponsor of the Marijuana Justice and Reinvestment Act, which sets out a process for creating social equity through cannabis legalization. I am the primary sponsor of the Paid Family Leave Insurance Act, which would create a universal paid family leave system for those who have a child, care for an elder, or care for a military family member who comes home with injuries. I was a primary sponsor of one of two bills we introduced to fulfill the court’s mandate in the Leandro case to ensure the State fulfills its Constitutional to educate our children. When the constitutional amendment requiring photo Voter ID became law, I was the primary sponsor of a bill that would ensure universal voter registration and a free photo ID issued by the Board of Elections to every registered voter. With each of these pieces of legislation, my job has been to provide thought and communications leadership about what progressive legislation would look like.
Finally, I have been a leader in building the team we need to have a Democratic majority in the legislature. I have played roles in the House Democratic Caucus as the Recruitment Chair, Finance Chair, and Campaign Chair. During those elections, we broke the Republican supermajority, and we did so by recruiting record numbers of candidates, including having more female candidates than male and more candidates of color than white for the first time ever. Over my eight years in office, my campaign committee has raised and given more than $1 Million to help elect other Democrats – more than any other legislative Democrat in the State.
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?
Climate – Climate change is the existential issue facing us all right now. If left unaddressed the climate crisis will impact every aspect of our lives. We have already seen the deeply inequitable impact of the crisis as hurricanes wreck underserved Black communities in Eastern North Carolina, as kids already at risk from pollution surrounding their low-income neighbors suffer from exacerbated asthma, as low-income mountain communities are ravaged by devastating floods they cannot afford to fully recover from.
At the same time, climate action can be a tremendous economic opportunity for our State. I envision a future where we connect our rural areas with our economic hubs through commuter rail, where we manufacture and produce wind turbines and harness clean energy, where we sit on the front lines of battery and electric vehicle manufacture.
In 2022 we have to view everything we do through a climate lens. Doing so can help lead us to both a more equitable and a more prosperous future.
As I will discuss more below, legislative solutions to climate change must include a continued focus on energy legislation- building on the steps set out in House Bill 951, and expanding to more substantive programs such as entering the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, as well as a complete overhaul of our transportation policy, which is now the leading sources of greenhouse gasses in North Carolina. There are important steps we need to take in the agriculture, forestry and manufacturing sectors also, as well as paying attention to new threats such as crypto farms.
Education – In the legislature, I have focused my education advocacy on improving public schools so that they will better serve students who are most likely to struggle. I have been a fierce advocate for fully funding our schools to meet our constitutional obligation to provide every child with a sound, basic, education. And I have introduced groundbreaking legislation that would provide students in our lowest performing schools the chance to have an extended school year so that they can catch up to where they should be.
I know that educators are the most critical asset we have to improve our educational system. I have consistently argued we must pay our educators at or above the national average. I have sponsored legislation that would expand the pipeline for teachers. As a former school social worker, I have been among the most consistent voices for expanding the number of student support personnel in schools. And I have introduced legislation that would give teachers more time and pay for professional development opportunities that emphasize their ability to learn from each other.
While my career and legislative committee assignments have been focused on K-12 education, I am also committed to early childhood education and post-secondary education. I was a co-founder of the General Assembly’s bipartisan Early Childhood Caucus. And I have supported many bills to strengthen our community college system, keep UNC among the top higher education systems in the country, and to ensure that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are funded equitably.
I will discuss more on how we meet the promises of Leandro below.
Equity – A commitment to equity runs through everything that I work on. Racial justice has been a cornerstone of my work throughout my career. It drives my work in the education space. It is a central principle behind the voting rights proposals I have sponsored and championed. Until everyone has their voice both heard and counted we will not have true representation and justice in North Carolina. Equity is also central to criminal justice reform. Our criminal laws were written to be racist and undoing the systemic racism in the criminal justice system, and more broadly is necessary to improve more just, and bright futures for all North Carolinians. As discussed below there are important racial equity aspects to environmental protection, to energy policy, to housing reform, to healthcare expansion, to education and much more.
In addition to my work on racial equity, I have been a consistent ally to the LGBTQ community. I have opposed all Republican attempts to treat our queer brothers and sisters as “other”. I voted against HB2 and was the primary sponsor of legislation to repeal HB2. And I have been forceful in ensuring gay marriage is as easy as any other loving marriage. I will continue to push for statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ citizens.
I also work hard for the equal rights of women. Women deserve to be paid equally for equal work. As an economic driver of the New South and a hub of education and higher learning, North Carolina is uniquely poised to educate and employ a new generation of both male and female business leaders. I have led the charge for paid family leave, which by ensuring all parents can take the time they need to care for loved ones, boosts female participation in the workforce and normalizes a task too often left to women.
To ensure equity in our legislative work we need to be deliberate at viewing everything we do through a legislative lense. We need to approach our work knowing that the systems we are working within are inherently, and systemically racist. And we need to increase participation and representation throughout State government.
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?
All over North Carolina, we see progressive towns and cities wanting to make progress and being stymied from doing so by the legislature.
Republicans sometimes say they support “local control”, but really they only support control that they agree with. Time and again we have seen our Republican dominated legislature strip power from our municipalities – on transportation, on land use, on equity, on racial justice.
North Carolina is such a diverse state- with the mountains, piedmont and the coast, small rural towns, large dense urban cities, that local control is often essential to ensuring we get policies that are right for communities.
In Orange County I have worked with municipalities to push back against bans to non discrimination ordinances. I have helped municipalities navigate funding prohibitions on certain types of transportation spending and development. Across both Orange and Caswell Counties, I have worked with local government on broadband expansion, economic development, and transportation needs.
I do support the ability of local governments to meet local needs on the issues you reference here. And I applaud what my local governments have already done on these issues, such as Chapel Hill’s Re-Imagining Community Safety Task Force.
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?
I completely support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. In the past I have sponsored legislation that would raise the minimum wage to this level and increase it annually to match the consumer price index. That would ensure that we never again reach the point where the minimum wage and a living wage are as far apart as they are today.
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?
It is astounding to me that during the eight years I have served in the General Assembly, we have not done a single piece of legislation that addresses affordable housing. This is such a complex issue that we need to start working on it quickly and with a wide variety of creative ideas. I am currently working with the NC Justice Center and Orange County elected officials to craft language that could help protect mobile home park residents from losing their housing altogether when the land they live on is sold. I am very proud of the work being done by many local partners here to train more young people in the skilled trades, which could help address affordability by supporting the creation of more supply of housing. We should enact legislation that makes it easier to build multi-family housing, which is among the most affordable issues. And I’m trying to listen to all sorts of experts and stakeholders about what other creative ideas might help us with this challenge. I do feel optimistic that we might see new legislative interest in this topic, given that GOP-dominated exurban counties like Johnston, Harnett, Cabarrus, and Union are facing affordable housing issues that they never have before.
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. Climate Change has to be a primary focus at all levels of government, and the State has an incredibly important role. I was appreciative to see Governor Cooper reaffirm the State’s goal to dramatically reduce carbon emissions in Executive Order 246. Over the next three years we need to start turning these goals and plans into meaningful action and emissions reductions.
This year I have been proud to co-lead the House Democrats’ environment working group. My most ambitious and visionary bill was a proposal to use the accumulated tax surplus to benefit both schools and education. I proposed we make every school bus in North Carolina electric, and that we weatherize and solarize every school building. This vision would have important climate benefits, it would create local jobs, and it would save schools money in the long term as their power and transportation bills would be dramatically reduced.
I spent much of this year advocating for North Carolina to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – essentially a cap and trade program that would significantly reduce North Carolina’s greenhouse gas emissions. I have continued to push Governor Cooper’s administration to join this initiative. I will work hard to ensure that the ambitious GHG reduction targets from the energy sector set out in HB 951 are met, and that the costs are not borne by those least able to afford it.
A huge climate action priority over the next few years needs to be transportation. Transportation is the leading the source of greenhouse gas emissions in North Carolina, but to date we have done relatively little to address the sector. I was excited to see Governor Cooper sign Executive Order 246 earlier this year which requires the state to start thinking about reducing emissions from transportation and create a Clean Transportation Plan. We need to have Governor Cooper’s back as this plan begins to be implemented and we can do this in numerous ways.
We need to make both administrative and legislative changes to our transportation spending priorities. I was proud to co-sponsor a bill that would eliminate the prohibition on spending state money on bike and pedestrian projects in North Carolina this year and will continue to work with advocates to get this done. We need to go further – there are a whole bunch of unhelpful limitations on how transportation dollars can be spent, with artificial limits placed on spending for commuter and light rail projects, limitations on how cities can collect and spend tax dollars, limitations on how much money can be spent on adaptive maintenance and resilience projects in place of new construction. We need to entirely rethink our spending priorities. We need to allow municipalities like Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough the freedom to pursue the climate friendly transportation and land use future they desire. I have been proud of the DCHC- MPO leadership on this issue and would look to use my place in the Senate to help them realize their vision. I see commuter rail being a hugely beneficial tool for connecting the rural areas of our state with our economic hubs. I will push to fund a statewide commuter rail study, and then keep pushin until we realize a completely different transportation future for our state.
Transportation electrification will be another key component of our long-term transition to a zero carbon future. North Carolina needs to move forward and obtain a waiver under Section 177 of the Clean Air Act so that it can set California’s more stringent emissions for trucks and cars. I will make sure that if Governor Cooper’s administration takes that bold step we will have their back and protect against any legislative push back. We have already seen the economic benefits that can result from the Governor’s strong commitment to electric vehicles. The recent announcement of the Toyota battery manufacturing facility at the Greensboro megasite is just the start of investment in EVs that our State can start to benefit from.
I have had some exciting conversations recently about offshore wind and look forward to working with the Governor’s office to help this become a reality in North Carolina. Again there is tremendous economic opportunity for us in this space as we can manufacture and install wind turbines using local companies and labor, and then transmit the power throughout our state.
7. Would you support an independent process for drawing new legislative and congressional districts?
Yes. I have been a consistent sponsor of bills to create an independent redistricting commission in North Carolina and will continue to push and support legislation to create one. As we do so, however, we need to look around the country to see where such commissions have fallen short, and to make sure that we set up North Carolina’s process in the fairest way possible. EveryNorth Carolinian deserves to have an equal voice in our electoral process, and it is only with independent redistricting that we can ensure that they do.
In the meantime, I am working hard to protect our courts. With the important ruling in Harper v. Hall, partisan gerrymandering is now illegal in North Carolina, we need to ensure our courts stay strong and uphold the promise of fair elections in our constitution. Judicial elections need to be the significant focus of Democratic efforts this November, and I plan to do everything I can to ensure that voters are paying attention to these important races.
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?
Absolutely. We should fully fund the Leandro Plan. This includes increasing salaries for teachers, increasing state funding for low-wealth school districts, increasing funding for special education students and other students who struggle, increasing funding for early childhood education, and investing in diversifying the teacher workforce. We don’t have to do it all at once, but we should start making investments now while our fiscal situation is strong enough to begin.
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?
Absolutely not. Government has no place in women’s health care decisions. I have voted against every Republican bill put before the General Assembly that would restrict access to abortions, and I have fought against all Republican efforts to restrict access to birth control. Behind the scenes, I have been in a communications leadership role on many of our reproductive health legislative battles, coordinating our floor debate strategy and media strategy. And I have joined with other legislators nationally to prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court to send this issue to the states, by being one of the original members of the national Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council. I am very proud that my leadership in this area has earned me the endorsement of Planned Parenthood and Pro-Choice NC for this election. I will continue to support women and push back against any attempts to limit access to healthcare.
10. Should North Carolina expand Medicaid? Where do you stand on increasing the number of slots for the Innovations Waiver for special needs individuals?
Yes. I believe that we should absolutely expand Medicaid. It would provide more than 600,000 working North Carolinians with health insurance. It would create more than 43,000 jobs. It would bring down the cost of health insurance for everyone who already has insurance by an estimate of 7%. It would decrease the time that people have to wait for emergency room visits. It would bring back billions of dollars of taxes that North Carolinians already pay to the federal government but are currently spent on healthcare in other states. There is no down side to doing this.
I have also been a steadfast advocate for increasing funding for the Innovations Waiver program. As a social worker, I understand how important this funding is for the behavioral health consumers who need the services directly and for their families as well. My legislative office has helped several constituents get access to the limited waivers currently available, but no one should have to depend on a legislator’s intervention to get the help we need. Behavioral health supports should be as easily accessible to these folks as it is to get the prescriptions they need.
11. Do you support reforming North Carolina’s marijuana laws? Do you support full legalization? Please explain your position.
Yes, I support full legalization. I was proud this year to be the lead sponsor in the House of the Marijuana Justice and Reinvestment Act. The bill creates a framework for full medical and recreational legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of marijuana related offenses (with a few exceptions related to public safety). The bill also ensures that people currently in prison or probation for marijuana related offenses would have their records expunged. The bill also sets up a system whereby revenue from the taxation of marijuana would be reinvested in the communities most hurt by the criminalization of marijuana over the past several decades. These communities would also be given first access to licenses for distribution and sales of marijuana.
The current legislature will not likely go as far as my bill proposes, but I do believe we could pass a medical marijuana bill this year. I have been working with the Attorney General and other legislators to prepare for those negotiations. We have set out standards that we believe any bill should meet:
• Uses generated tax dollars to reinvest in communities of color. Taxation of cannabis will be a huge windfall for North Carolina. We must use a large portion of these proceeds to invest in communities that have been hardest hit by racist selective enforcement.
• Allows North Carolinians to benefit from raising, producing, and selling cannabis. In other states, multinational corporations control the marketplace and take profits away from the community. North Carolinians need a chance to prosper from every part of this new economy.
• Uses safeguarding mechanisms even stronger than our liquor distribution model. Love them or hate them, ABC stores allow the state to control place, price and distribution, leading to one of the lowest rates of alcohol abuse in the country while also generating more revenue for the state than a private sales model. Cannabis should have even stronger state control, including the use of a state lab that is responsible for testing and labeling product.
• Supports a robust public health advocacy campaign to discourage underage and other irresponsible uses — such as driving while intoxicated — and inform residents about the science behind cannabis, not the hype. If there’s ever been an industry that doesn’t need advertising to be popular, this is it. Simply put, cannabis should be legalized but not glamorized.
12. Are there any issues this questionnaire has not addressed that you would like to address?
Thank you for the chance to share my perspective on these important issues.