Name as it appears on the ballot: Joe John
Party affiliation: Democratic
Campaign website: joejohnnchouse.com
Occupation & employer: NC House Representative, District 40 (elected 2016; completing second term); employed by the people of North Carolina.
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 have leadership experience at the highest levels of all 3 branches of state government, and, as far as I know, I am the only NC Representative ever to have achieved this distinction. I seek to continue applying this experience, coupled with my background of resolving conflicts as a Judge for over 25 years, to provide common sense leadership at the General Assembly and set aside extreme partisan bickering to work for the betterment of all North Carolinians.
My “biggest career accomplishment” may be successfully serving our State and its citizens across several decades and in all three branches of government. I am a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, traditionally presented, in the words of the award, “to honor persons who have a proven record of service to the State.”
As a NC Judge, I rendered decisions in thousands of cases, striving in each to be fair, follow the law, and give respect to all participants and points of view. 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.”
As Director of the State Crime Laboratory, I successfully led an agency whose reputation had been tarnished back to its true mission of presenting wholly accurate scientific results and “letting the chips fall where they may.” In assessing my performance, 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.”
My legislative record continues to develop. I have sought 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. I have also fought against unwise legislation, including attacks on an independent NC judiciary, such as the restoration of partisan judicial elections. Finally, our office strives to facilitate constituent service by responding to, examining, and making an effort to find a solution to every legitimate request for assistance.
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?
• Ending gerrymandering – The 2021 legislature will be charged with the redistricting task based upon the 2020 decennial census. That task must be taken out of the hands of the politicians and placed with a truly independent, impartial, non-partisan group. Creation of an independent commission and the subsequent establishment of fairly-drawn districts would create legislators far more willing and able to work constructively, and in a bipartisan manner, to resolve many of the divisive issues facing North Carolina today.
• Funding NC’s education system – A strong educational system, from Pre-K to community college and university levels, is essential, not only allowing NC children to develop their natural abilities to the fullest, but also promoting a robust business climate. I support funding the improvement steps set out by the court-ordered independent expert in the Leandro case, and raising teacher pay to the national average, on a reasonable, progressive basis.
• Expanding Medicaid/A non-partisan, independent judiciary – I support closing the health insurance coverage gap by expanding Medicaid without work reporting requirements or annual premiums. Expansion would provide health care to hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolinians (including many who have lost coverage due to pandemic-related employment disruptions), return to NC federal taxes that fund expansion in 38 states, and help our struggling rural hospitals.
Our judicial system must be able to stand as an 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.
3. Do you believe the Republican tax cuts over the last decade have been effective in stimulating the state’s economy? If given the choice, are there any tax cuts you would rescind or any new taxes you would enact? If so, what would you put the additional revenue toward?
The Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research and policy institute Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has reported that “looking back to when (the cuts) started at the end of 2013, [North Carolina] has underperformed most of its neighbors in terms of overall economic growth as measured by GDP.” Michael Mazerov, a Senior Fellow with the Center, concluded that “[t]he bottom line is that North Carolina, like Kansas before it, has shown that cutting taxes does not have much, if any, positive impact on job creation.” Further, the issue with those tax cuts is that any reductions appear to have accrued primarily to the top 20% of taxpayers as well as to corporations (many out of state)–now taxed at 2.5%, lowest among 44 states which tax corporations–while negatively impacting seniors and shifting the tax burden towards lower-income citizens. Bottom line, the Republican tax cuts have not been effective in stimulating North Carolina’s economy.
I support several tax reforms. First, as a parent who has watched a son build a successful small business from scratch, I believe we must take a hard look at the tax burden on start-up companies and small businesses. In addition, I support reinstating NC’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). North Carolina appears to be the only state to have repealed its state EITC, a bottom-up tax cut benefiting low-moderate wage workers.
Finally, the 2021-22 legislative session will feature difficult budgetary choices as a result of lost 2020 tax revenue during the pandemic. Any budget discussions, including the use of additional revenue raised, should be fully vetted in an open and transparent environment and fund ultimate priorities, not pork barrel projects.
4. North Carolina’s minimum wage is among the lowest in the country. Do you support raising the 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 the state minimum wage to $15/hr. over a five-year period. I previously have had some concern about the “one size fits all” approach in view of the wide disparity in local economies and standard of living among North Carolina’s 100 counties. However, raising the wage incrementally over a five-year period alleviates this concern. Alternatively, local governments could be given the authority to set the minimum wage within their jurisdictions, using the federal minimum wage as a base and $15/hr. as the desired goal.
5. Housing affordability is rapidly becoming an issue in the major metros like Charlotte and Raleigh and pushing low-income families further from their jobs. What policies would you support to ensure North Carolinians can live near where they work?
The lack of affordable housing in Raleigh and Wake County has created situations where individuals employed by local government agencies, such as teachers, first responders and law enforcement officers, cannot afford to live within the jurisdiction where they are employed.
Although affordable housing policies primarily reside within the purview of local governments, as opposed to the state legislature, measures such as allowing ADUs (accessory dwelling units) and cottage courts may help alleviate the situation, as were recently approved by the City of Raleigh. Also, Raleigh’s upcoming $81M bond referendum to assist in the creation of affordable housing (like similar ongoing measures in Asheville and Greensboro), and Raleigh’s establishment of an affordable housing fund similar to that in Charlotte, may also help address the issue.
6. Scientists say the increased threat of hurricanes and the resulting coastal devastation is only expected to worsen in the coming years due to climate change. Please state three specific policies you support to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard the environment in North Carolina.
As a legislator, I have advocated a healthy environment and have consistently supported, and will continue to support, 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 repeatedly 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 policies and goals to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard North Carolina’s environment.
7. Do you believe assault weapons should be commercially available in North Carolina? Do you support universal background checks for all gun purchases? What policies do you support to address gun violence?
I believe we must address the tragedy of random gun violence with common sense legislation. Consequently, I support, and have co-sponsored legislation establishing, “red flag” laws to set up an early warning judicial procedure for preventive action by those who report after every shooting that the shooter was a threat. I also support background checks and locked storage requirements to prevent unauthorized access or use of firearms, especially by minors or unstable individuals.
8. Do you support the Black Lives Matter Movement? What steps would you take to address racial equity in North Carolina?
According to former President Barack Obama, “Black Lives Matter” means that there is a “specific vulnerability” and “a particular burden” being experienced by African-Americans that is not necessarily experienced by others and that needs to be addressed. This disparity of experience is reflected in many contexts and facets of daily life, including data suggesting the disproportionate negative effects upon African Americans encountering the criminal justice system as well as the greater number of minorities suffering from contracting COVID-19. However, Obama cautions that it “isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives” and that we need to avoid the notion that “people who are asking for fair treatment are somehow anti-police or trying to look out for Black lives as opposed to others.” He concludes that each and every life should be treated with equal respect.
Unfortunately, racism persists in North Carolina, and must be addressed on multiple fronts. The General Assembly has an important role in that process. As a former Judge and as Chair of the NC Courts Commission, I will continue working, for example, for reforms in the NC justice system such as ending the “school-to-prison” pipeline, eliminating outdated offenses, reforming bail & pre-trial release policies, and increasing “diversion courts”. I also co-sponsored the Second Chance Act, which provides individuals with non-violent criminal pasts an opportunity to clear their record by an expungement process. And I support legislation allowing restoration of voting rights to felons released from prison.
In addition, I support addressing inequities in NC’s public schools, which disproportionately affect children of color. The “sound basic education” required by the NC Constitution and as stated in the Leandro decision, fairly provided across all schools, would begin to open economic opportunities more equitably for all NC children. I have co-sponsored legislation, including HB 1129 and HB 1130 in 2019, which would address these goals and provide appropriate funding to accomplish them.
9. One of BLM’s key demands is police accountability, however, municipalities have struggled to enact oversight boards with teeth as police records are safeguarded by state statute. Would you support bills that would make public certain police records, such as internal investigations after use of force incidents, body camera footage, and personnel files?
Racism and the senseless use of force have no place in the law enforcement process. With appropriate safeguards, internal investigation reports and body camera footage should qualify as subject to public records disclosure under state law. As a former judge, I am aware that personnel files have a long history of jurisprudence and it may be difficult to draft legislation to properly subject them to public records disclosure. Nonetheless, there should be an effort to do so by providing adequate safeguards.
10. The battle over gerrymandering has stalled out in the courts. What do you believe needs to happen with the state’s district maps? Would you support an independent process for drawing new legislative and congressional districts?
Yes, absolutely. Federal and state legislative districts should be drawn by an independent, impartial, non-partisan redistricting commission, replacing a system of politicians selecting their voters with one of citizens electing their representatives. This has been my top priority since deciding to run for office in late 2015.
11. Republicans boast to have increased school funding during their tenure controlling the legislature. Do you believe the state’s public schools are adequately funded? If not, would you support a tax increase to pay for it?
In the Leandro litigation, the Court found substantial evidence that many NC children are not receiving the “sound, basic education” required by the North Carolina Constitution and reinforced by the NC Supreme Court decision in Leandro. Meaningful access to public education depends on adequate funding, provided in significant part by the General Assembly. While every NC child is entitled to a uniform, free public education, that State constitutional guarantee is not meaningful if only minimally complied with. A detailed report filed in the Leandro litigation by a court-ordered independent expert sets out a road map for improving public education, and I support funding those improvement steps on a planned reasonable progression over time.
Likewise, I support raising the pay of North Carolina teachers to the national average within a reasonable, stable salary progression program over time so as to attract and retain capable, dedicated teachers and administrators.
As noted above, the 2021-22 legislative session will feature difficult budgetary choices, but nonetheless, we must at least begin to address these long-standing issues in our public education system. Generally, I am not a proponent of raising taxes. The budget process needs to be reformed and streamlined so as to eliminate provisions which are not fully vetted in an open and transparent environment and which fail to focus upon those monetary appropriations truly needed to fund ultimate priorities. Each budget contains millions of dollars in such provisions for what is called “pork barrel” spending, items sometimes meritorious enough in themselves but which do not raise to the constitutional obligation to fund public education.
12. Research suggests the state’s charter school system is increasing segregation in the schools. Do you support the expansion of charter schools? Why or why not?
Charter schools or “schools of choice” must meet the same standards as public schools and should be subject to the same accountability and transparency as public schools. I am opposed to the use of public tax dollars, through vouchers or otherwise, to support private schools, particularly those which are discriminatory in their admissions policies or practices.
With the pandemic-related focus on virtual education, it is also significant to note that the state’s two virtual charter schools recently received performance ratings of “D” for the fourth consecutive year. Prior to considering any expansion of virtual charter programs, a hard look at the quality of that education in North Carolina is imperative.
13. More than 3,000 North Carolinians have died from COVID-10 since the onset of the pandemic and thousands more left with crippling medical debt. Do you believe the state needs to invest in an expansion of Medicaid? How would you address healthcare affordability for North Carolinians?
As noted above, I consider Medicaid expansion to be one of the most pressing issues facing the next General Assembly. North Carolina is one of but twelve remaining states not participating in the program. I support closing the health insurance coverage gap by expanding Medicaid without work reporting requirements or annual premiums. Expansion would provide health care to hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolinians, including many that that have lost employer-provided insurance as a result of the pandemic. It would also create tens of thousands of jobs, and provide billions in much-needed funding to hospitals struggling to survive, particularly in rural areas. This is also the most fiscally prudent option, as North Carolina taxpayers, through their federal tax dollars and without any benefit flowing to our State, are currently paying for expansion in the 38 states which have closed the coverage gap.
14. The state’s Voter ID law, which has been criticized as targeted to disenfranchise African American voters, is temporarily blocked by the court. After the election, would you support repealing this law? Why or why not?
I believe strongly in the right to vote and universal citizen participation in the election process, and voted “No” on the 2017 legislation which proposed the Voter ID constitutional amendment. In addition, as a legislator in 2019, I was a primary sponsor of HB 589, “Let NC Vote.” This bill included the establishment of automatic voter registration at state agencies, DMV and colleges and universities, the reestablishment of pre-registration for 16 and 17 year old North Carolinians, and the restoration of the last Saturday of early one-stop voting.
15. North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006, and challenges to the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty continue. Would you support the repeal of the death penalty in North Carolina? If not, do you believe the legislature should change the law to restart executions?
Yes, I would support repeal.
16. Are there any other issues you would like to address that have not been covered by this questionnaire?
1) A non-partisan, independent judiciary. As a former NC prosecutor, litigation attorney, and trial and appellate court judge, I know from personal experience how important it is for every person to have a fair and equal opportunity for justice. Our judicial system must stand as an independent branch of government, free of partisan influence in operation and in the selection process, and able to exert its constitutional checks and balances upon the executive and legislative branches.
2) Unemployment benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted significant issues in our unemployment benefits system, primarily the availability of benefits and the administration of claims. As the result of cuts enacted in 2013, North Carolina has some of the lowest unemployment benefits in the nation. In addition, the administration of claims must be efficient and timely, and the issue of worker misclassification must be more thoroughly addressed.
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