Name as it appears on the ballot: Joe John
Party affiliation: Democratic
Campaign website: https://www.joejohnnchouse.com
Occupation & employer: Legislator, State of North Carolina House of Representatives
Years lived in North Carolina: 64
1. What in your background qualifies you to represent the people of your North Carolina district effectively? What would you cite as your three biggest career accomplishments?
In 2016, the voters of NC House District 40 made me the first person in the history of our State to come to the General Assembly, the legislative branch of government, with significant experience at the highest levels of the judicial branch (legal aid attorney; prosecutor; attorney in private practice, and District Court, Superior Court, & Court of Appeals Judge) and the executive branch (DMV Acting & Deputy Commissioner; SBI Crime Lab Director). Now, with six years of experience in the NC House (member of the Appropriations, Judiciary, Justice and Public Safety Appropriations, Transportation, Family, Children & Aging Policy, and Legislative Ethics committees; the bipartisan North Carolina Legislative Working Group on Criminal Recodification and Chair of the NC Courts Commission), I seek the opportunity to continue bringing this unique experience, coupled with an independent, common sense approach to legislation, to bear upon the process of enacting laws. As I did during my many years as a Judge and as I have as a legislator, I will carefully consider all sides of every issue, diligently review the pros and cons, and make the best decision I can under the law and in the best interests of all North Carolinians.
My three biggest career accomplishments include 1) 25+ years of service as a trial and appellate NC Judge; near the conclusion of that service, a state newspaper described me as “the epitome of the career professional judge” who had achieved an “exemplary record”; 2) reforming the operations of NCDMV and the SBI Crime Lab while serving in the leadership of those agencies; in assessing my performance at the Crime Lab, the Raleigh News & Observer observed that I “took on some tough duty when called in to straighten out the SBI Crime Lab and … did an excellent job”; and 3) election to the NC House of Representatives by defeating a 5-term incumbent and subsequent service for three terms; my legislative record continues to develop as I (a minority party legislator) seek whenever possible to work across the aisle to promote meaningful legislation (such as a bill allowing inmates to pursue community college degrees and prepare for law-abiding careers when released), and to fight against unwise legislation, including the bill which restored partisan judicial elections in North Carolina.
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?
1) Protecting and preserving our democracy by ending gerrymandering through the establishment of a truly independent, impartial, non-partisan commission to draw Congressional and legislative electoral districts for our State, and by reestablishing our State’s judicial system as a truly independent non-partisan branch of government that exerts constitutional checks and balances on the executive and legislative branches and provides every person a fair and equal opportunity for justice; an essential component of the latter would be the restoration of non-partisan judicial elections at all Court levels.
2) Eliminating the health insurance coverage gap by expanding Medicaid with enabling legislation not containing barriers to accessing coverage.
3) Resolving the deficiencies in North Carolina’s educational system– regarding the State’s mandate under the NC Constitution to provide every child with a sound, basic education–revealed by the ongoing Leandro litigation. This would primarily be accomplished by targeted financial appropriations consistent with present and future decisions of the courts as that case continues.
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?
In a perfect world, these large-scale issues might well be resolved by state and federal governments. However, notwithstanding that government at both levels would seem to have a significant role in this process, the reality is that true action is not often taken at either the federal or state level, leaving local governments to deal with their concerned and troubled citizenry. Because local government is most likely to be aware of community circumstances and the closest to the voting population, I have consistently supported local government responsibility and control as opposed to ceding authority to the state or federal government.
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 support raising NC’s minimum wage to $15/hr. incrementally over a 5-year period. This graduated time period would accommodate the wide disparity in standard of living and local economies among North Carolina’s 100 counties.
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?
Dillon’s Rule, applicable in North Carolina, provides that local governments have only those powers and duties granted to them by the state legislature which could therefore control the exercise of local authority to address affordable housing issues. Although affordable housing policies primarily reside within the purview of local government, the legislature can avoid enacting measures under Dillon’s Rule that would restrict or abolish local efforts to increase affordable housing stock such as allowing accessory dwelling units and cottage courts.
One possible approach by the General Assembly and the executive branch would be the use of geographically targeted, or “place-based,” economic development programs designed to boost job creation and business investment, incentivize real estate development, or increase property values in specific locations which might most benefit from these changes. Measures might include authorizing tax increment financing (TIF), job creation tax credits, creating enterprise zones or other financial incentives.
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.
As representatives of the people, state government, and indeed all levels of government, each have the responsibility to take action to mitigate the growing climate crisis. Without action, I worry about the world that my grandchildren will confront.
As a legislator, I have advocated a healthy environment and have consistently supported funding the NC Department of Environmental Quality as well as measures to promote clean water, air and energy. My efforts in promoting environmental justice have consistently earned election endorsements from the Sierra Club and the NC League of Conservation Voters, and I have received the NCLCV “Green Tie Award.”
With reference to carbon emissions, Executive Order 80, issued in late 2018 by the Governor, contains a number of goals and strategies, including 1) reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity plants by 70% below 2005 levels by 2030, and reaching a zero-carbon footprint by 2050, 2) increasing the number of registered, zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to at least 80,000, to be accomplished in part by converting the state motor vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and 3) reducing energy consumption per square foot in state-owned buildings by at least 40% from fiscal year 2002-2003 levels. Although each has its challenges and there is continuing debate about implementation measures, I support these as continued policies and goals to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard North Carolina’s environment.
7. Would you support an independent process for drawing new legislative and congressional districts?
Absolutely. As indicated in the response to Question 2 above, my number one priority since declaring as a NC House candidate in late 2015 has been the establishment of a truly independent, impartial, non-partisan redistricting commission to draw NC Congressional and state legislative electoral districts so that NC citizens are able elect their representatives rather than politicians picking their voters. The goal must be to end gerrymandering which I believe is the root cause of the current toxic political atmosphere featuring partisan bickering. Gerrymandering tends to produce legislators from the extremes who typically are adherent to a rigid ideology and unwilling to compromise and seek the common good.
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?
In the long-running Leandro case, the North Carolina Supreme Court has twice ruled that North Carolina has an obligation under the State Constitution to ensure that all NC children have access to a “sound, basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals as well as access to sufficient resources. The General Assembly is without question the primary vehicle for appropriating education funding; however, the issue of whether the General Assembly must comply with Court orders to appropriate funding continues to be litigated. As one who served as a NC Judge for over 25 years, I await the Court decisions to come.
9. When it comes to teacher pay, North Carolina is one of the lowest-paying states in the nation. Schools across the state are facing shortages of educators, support staff, and other key personnel. Do you support raising teacher pay to at least the national average? What else can the General Assembly do to improve working conditions for teachers and make the teaching profession more attractive to potential future educators?
I do support raising teacher pay at least to the national average, perhaps on a progressive schedule over a 2-4 year time period.
Another action also strikes me as very important to encouraging teaching as a sustainable career. A provision (which I opposed) in the 2017 State budget terminated the practice of including state health benefits in retiree compensation; thus, state employees and teachers who began their jobs on Jan. 1, 2021 or after will not, unlike their colleagues hired prior to that date, receive health benefits when they retire decades later. As the prior head of two state agencies, I know that state benefits have been a strong selling point to prospective employees as a potential offset to typically lower state employee pay. Reinstating retirement health benefits would help ensure the teaching profession as an attractive and sustainable career path.
Reinstating pay increases for obtaining advanced degrees is a further potential action.
Aside from the foregoing, my primary personal concern is with what are called “specialized support personnel” or “SISP”–school counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers, the importance of which has been significantly increased by issues arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without doubt, any gap in their services unfortunately falls upon already overburdened teachers. As a legislator and attendee at proceedings of the House Select Committee on School Safety in 2017-18, I heard several expert presentations observing how these specialists often work in teams to serve students, but noting that statistics revealed that none of the specialized support staffing levels in NC meet nationally recommended student-to-staff rations. In the 2020-21 school year, the average NC school nurse to student ratio was 1:890, while the national recommended ratio is 1 per school. Additionally, the average ratio of school counselors in NC in 2019 was 1:367 compared to the recommended ratio of 1:250, and the average ratio of social workers in 2019 was 1:1,427 compared to the recommended ratio of 1:250.
Unfortunately, however, the Committee’s legislative recommendations were almost token, falling far short of closing the gap between NC totals and the recommended ratios. As with raising teacher pay on a graduated basis, I support raising the SISP numbers in NC schools to the recommended levels over a 2-4 year period.
Finally, it seems almost negligent to fail mentioning the necessity for expanding broadband to be available for use by teachers and students across our State
10. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling this spring that overturned Roe v. Wade. The legal cutoff for abortion in North Carolina is now 20 weeks. Do you believe the 20-week cutoff is too restrictive, not restrictive enough, or just right? As a state lawmaker, would you support legislation that further limits or prohibits abortion in North Carolina, or punishes/criminalizes abortion providers or patients?
11. Should North Carolina expand Medicaid? Where do you stand on increasing the number of slots for the Innovations Waiver for special needs individuals?
Yes. Since first declaring as a legislative candidate in 2015, I have consistently supported closing the health insurance coverage gap by expanding Medicaid without requiring work reporting, annual premiums or additional cost-sharing. As a legislator in 2021, I was a cosponsor of HB 470, “Medicaid Expansion,” which sought to add North Carolina to the list of states participating in Medicaid Expansion. Expansion would provide health care to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians currently without coverage and would provide billions of dollars to NC hospitals, many of which—especially in our rural areas—are struggling to survive. Significantly, North Carolina taxpayers are, and have been, paying, through their federal tax dollars—without any benefit flowing to our state—for expansion in 39 states which have acted to close the coverage gap.
Expanding the number of waiver slots for special needs individuals is a separate issue from Medicaid Expansion. The NC Innovations Waiver is a Medicaid program that serves people who would otherwise live in an intermediate care facility for people with intellectual disabilities, such as an institution or group home, and alternatively provides such individuals the opportunity to live in a community setting. Currently, over 14,000 people in our state are on a waitlist for community-based services like the Innovations Waiver and the wait time is on average ten years or longer. Increasing the number of waiver slots for special needs individuals would require additional funding from the General Assembly. I certainly support increasing the number of waiver slots for special needs individuals, but probably incrementally over time because fully funding all 14,000 slots is likely to be problematic considering the significant needs in other areas such as education.
12. Do you support reforming North Carolina’s marijuana laws? Do you support full legalization? Please explain your position.
Like the respondents in a recent Elon University poll indicating that 73% of North Carolinians favor the legalization of medical marijuana, I personally support the legalization of medical marijuana for individuals with a debilitating medical condition verified by a physician-issued prescription. SB 711, “The North Carolina Compassionate Care Act,” introduced in the NC Senate during the current legislative session, would provide a reasonable framework upon which to accomplish the legalization of medical marijuana. Whether it will move in the upcoming legislative Short Session remains to be seen.
As to full legalization, that will likely require a few years to gain sufficient support, but decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana seems a reasonable step for the present.
13. Do you support strengthening gun safety regulations such as expanding background checks, banning bump stocks, and raising the age to buy or otherwise regulating the sales of assault-style weapons? Please explain.
There are a number of legislative avenues that I support to reduce gun violence and improve safety in our communities. In light of the seemingly endless accounts of mass shootings and violence involving guns, one safety measure would be the enactment of common-sense legislation such as establishing Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs). After nearly every mass shooting, witnesses–typically family members, classmates or members of law enforcement–come forward who were aware the individual involved was at risk for serious violence to him/herself or others and had access to a weapon. ERPOs would provide such witnesses an orderly, formal process involving presenting the information to an impartial judge who could decide, following a hearing, to take temporary measures to prevent potential tragedy and death.
14. Are there any issues this questionnaire has not addressed that you would like to address?
No, it was a very thorough questionnaire, although perhaps voting rights, broadband accessibility, and students’ learning loss during COVID-19 remote instruction, among other issues, might have been included. For now, I would simply reiterate the critical importance of a wholly independent, non-partisan judiciary for the future of our State.
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