Name as it appears on the ballot: Natalie Murdock
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: https://www.natalieforncsenate.com/
Occupation & employer: Durham Soil & Water District Supervisor; Principle and Chief strategist for Murdock Anderson Consulting (MAC).
Years lived in North Carolina: 36
1) Identify the three most pressing issues facing the next General Assembly, and the steps you believe the state should take to address them.
- Public education. We need to increase teacher pay, staff schools with social services and instructional supports, and make sure students have access to fresh, healthy food served with plastic-free plates and utensils. We need to use every policy lever available to fulfill the criteria laid out in the Leandro decision, so that every child in NC receives a sound, basic education. I will write more about education below.
- Healthcare. We need to expand Medicaid, but we need to work towards Medicare for All NC as quickly as possible. I support presidential candidates hoping to achieve this at the federal level, but as Senator I will not wait for Congress to ensure that my constituents are covered and in good health.
- Transportation. We need carbon-neutral, accessible public transportation across the state, as quickly as possible. This is vital to ensure the environmental health of our state, but also for reasons of economic opportunity and equity. In the short term, massive infrastructure projects like public transportation present unprecedented opportunities for employment and job training. In the long term, efficient and accessible public transportation increases the flow of human and economic capital between cities, without increasing traffic congestion or pollution.
2) If elected, what in your record as an elected official or private citizen demonstrates that you will be an effective advocate for your priorities?
Durham Soil and Water District Supervisor:
Provide effective locally-delivered education and training programs to students, teachers and adults; Deliver the North Carolina Agriculture Cost Share Program; Provide natural resource information to local governments for planning and projects; Deliver federal Farm Bill conservation programs involving water quality practices, farmland protection, wetlands restoration, and wildlife habitat enhancement; Assist communities in erosion and sediment control, stormwater management, floodplain management and flood control, water use efficiency, stream restoration and open space management; Respond to natural disasters by helping local land owners and state and local government with clean-up efforts and restoration; Respond to local interest in conservation easements, environmental education centers and parks.
Deputy Director of Communications – North Carolina Department of Justice:
Coordinated communication and marketing needs for NCDOJ, an agency with over 800 employees; Served as the face of the Attorney General’s Office to communicate the benefits of various programs with external partner agencies and the public; Identified opportunities to partner with external agencies on projects and initiatives; Strategically identified opportunities to share the work of the Attorney General and NCDOJ with stakeholders and the people of North Carolina; Drafted press releases and other collaterals needed to communicate activities of the Attorney General and NCDOJ; Served as Assistant Public Information Officer; making on the record comments and statements on behalf of Attorney General Josh Stein.
Grants Coordinator – Town of Chapel Hill:
Assisted the Grants and Compliance Manager to ensure that federal regulations are upheld and enforced; Oversaw federal grant expenditures; conducted analysis quarterly to track progress; monitored over 42 million dollars in FTA assets. Worked with the North Carolina Public Transportation Association’s legislative committee to lobby for transit needs during the annual state budgeting process; Served as Project Manager for Chapel Hill Transit’s Drug and Alcohol Audit and updated Drug and Alcohol Policy and Manual; Modified department procurements procedures to ensure that we were in compliance with the triennial procurement audit; Negotiated and managed contracts for professional services for the department; Served as an alternate member for the Technical Coordinating Committee (TCC) for the Durham Chapel Hill Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Regional Transportation Planner – Land-of-Sky Regional Council:
As a Regional Transportation Planner I spearhead transportation planning for Metropolitan and Rural Transportation systems within Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson. Madison and Transylvania Counties; These short and long-term planning efforts were completed in coordination with NCDOT and FHWA; These efforts are multi-modal including bicycles, pedestrians, transit, roads, green-ways, freight and rail.
3) The legislature and Governor Cooper were unable to reach an agreement on a budget last year, owing to disagreements over Medicaid expansion and the size of teacher raises. Whom would you say is more at fault for the stalemate: Republican leaders, the governor, or both? Why or why not?
Republican leaders are to blame for nearly all of the harmful policies out of Raleigh for nearly the past decade. They have been ruthless in their use of nefarious policy levers, misinformation campaigns and gerrymandering to mislead the public and Democratic counterparts in the GA, and consolidate power in such a way as to guarantee a supermajority. Having said that, I believe the NC Democratic party is in need of bold, aggressive leadership to counter the Republicans in the legislature. We have to stop giving Republican legislators the benefit of the doubt, and we have to make them earn our trust. Particularly after pulling shameless, morally bankrupt schemes like they did on September 11th of last year, there is no reason to take them at their word. We need to elect bold progressives who will fight even more ruthlessly than the Republicans have; except now, Democrats like myself will be fighting for the working class and people of color in North Carolina, as opposed to Republicans who work for themselves and corporate private interests.
4) Citing a growing economy and budget surpluses, Republicans have called for additional tax cuts. Democrats, including the governor, have argued that the state has other needs, particularly education. 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 Republican tax cuts have not been effective. Any growth in NC’s domestic product follows national trends, and leading economists from UC Berkeley to Duke agree that another market crash is imminent as a result of new, unchecked speculation methods and a systematic erosion of the social safety net.
At the state level, we need to work fast to enact progressive taxes which would help produce the revenue streams we need to equitably push resources to people living in poverty in this state. In addition to expanding Medicaid, we need to enact progressive taxes which would help fulfill the criteria laid out by the Leandro decision: equity and adequacy in our public schools. By relying on local supplements, we are using policy to exacerbate achievement gaps across several criteria. In my district, academic and health outcomes for students of color are lower than those of their white classmates, but these disparities pale in comparison to those between counties. When I advocate for better public schools in Durham, it is as part of a larger plan to ensure that students in places like Hoke county and Swain county receive adequate, equitable funding in addition to experienced teachers and behavioral therapists.
5) In January, a superior court judge ruled that the state was not living up to its constitutional obligation to give students a “sound, basic education.” The judge relied on a consultant’s report, which some Republicans have criticized, that called for additional per-pupil spending. Do you believe the General Assembly needs to spend more on K–12 education, even if that requires raising taxes? Broadly speaking, how much more do you think the state should spend?
Let’s be clear: we have chronically defunded schools in North Carolina due to regressive policies by Republicans, led primarily by Governor McCrory. So, more precisely, we will not be spending more on K-12 education—we will be making amends for letting the spending sink to such abysmal levels.
Having said that, even once we reach national standards in funding, staffing and academic outcomes, I believe it is imperative that NC push even more to become a leader in public education once again. I take my inspiration from people like former Governor Terry Sanford, who demonstrated that a bible belt state could in fact become a beacon for innovative integration models and actual dedication to school funding through the university level. Governor Sanford understood the importance of ensuring high quality education for all North Carolinians, as well as the importance of the social environment in which our children are raised, which is why he led by example when he sent his own children to the first integrated schools. We owe it to our children and the memory of Governor Sanford to continue this legacy of pushing progressive education policies and ensuring prosperity for our students.
Conservative estimates say that for every dollar that goes into public education, a government will find societal returns of four dollars over ten years. More rigorous research by people like Dr. Sunny Ladd at Duke university demonstrates that for every dollar invested in public education, a government can expect to see at least a 12 dollar return over ten years. Even if so-called fiscal conservatives do not want to acknowledge the ethical and moral reasons for providing a sound and basic education, they would have to pursue an investment opportunity this lucrative, or give up their claims of being financially responsible.
To start, we need to increase teacher pay dramatically. A beginning teacher’s salary should start at $50,000 a year. Teaching is arguably the most important role to fill in our society, yet we pay our teachers using the propagandistic logic that “it’s an easy job, plus you get summers off!” This sort of logic is particularly damaging considering the number of women and people of color who pursue careers in education. In a very literal sense, how we treat our teachers and support our students should be seen as an insurance policy on the future of our state. Investments in teacher pay combined with improved teacher certification programs and supports provide the greatest benefits to our students. Teacher support would entail staffing every school with social services and behavioral therapists, as well as providing funding for school supplies so that teachers are not forced to spend portions of their own income on supplies for their students.
Secondly, we need to ensure that we spend enough on education to provide various educational opportunities in all of our public schools, so that we can beat privatization advocates at their own game of “offering choice.” Various public magnet schools throughout the state have repeatedly been listed in the top 50 public schools in the country—these magnet programs should not be the exception, but the rule. For example, the immersion language programs that started as experiments (as a result of Terry Sanford’s funding) in the early nineties has now grown to a K-8 magnet that offers full language immersion in French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese. The school, now Waddell Language Academy, has grown to over 3,000 students, with thousands more on the waitlist every year. We need to fund education to the point that programs like these can be offered in multiple schools, with other schools offering programs like Montessori, information technology and arts programs.
Third, we need to invest heavily in research and evaluation methods to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. In Durham, students of color are ten times more likely to be suspended than white students. This is an example of a pattern that takes place across the state. In addition to staffing social workers and behavioral therapists, we need to take the lead on research for how curriculum, school schedules, extracurriculars and broader community factors can be altered in order to reduce disciplinary rates and end the school to prison pipeline. This research should be done through the Department of Public Instruction, with collaboration from our local universities which have leaders in education research, such as NCCU, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State and Duke.
6) Do you believe that tax dollars should go to private schools? If so, under what circumstances? Do you support the expansion of charter schools? Why or why not?
Private schools should not receive any taxpayer funding. I do not support the expansion of charter schools, which should also be prohibited from taxpayer funding. As long as charters are not held accountable and to the same standards as public schools, they should not receive support from public funding. While an individual charter might do good work within its school, the macro effects of charter schools are detrimental to all.
First, these schools receive taxpayer money, yet have no public oversight or accountability to the community. This results in tax revenue being funneled into essentially private entities, to the detriment of students who remain in the public school systems.
Secondly, a lack of oversight allows charter school performance across numerous metrics to vary greatly from one charter to the next. In my district, a charter high school closed unexpectedly after distributing unearned diplomas for years. Although the school has made positive changes to its K-8 program, this issue could have been avoided altogether had the school been truly public and under the jurisdiction of Durham Public Schools. At the same time, charters across the state have reportedly used their lack of oversight to wrongfully suspend or expel students, deny access to special needs students, and employ unqualified individuals for teaching positions. Such decisions have contributed to NC’s school-to-prison pipeline, according to the NC Justice Center and researchers from Duke and UNC.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, charter schools can directly be blamed for much of the resegregation occurring across the state. When we allow so called public schools to cherry-pick their students, we allow unchecked segregation to manifest. Historically, we think of segregation and integration as an issue of certain “good schools” being almost completely white. With the “school choice” red herring, proponents for charter schools try to distract from the segregation caused by their schools by suggesting that if a charter school is mostly black, it’s because the parents of those children chose to send their student there. Or, if a charter school is mostly black, we should praise it for the apparent racial justice brought about by a homogenous learning environment. These arguments are not only disingenuous and misleading, they also completely contradict decades of civil rights activism to integrate not only our schools, but our neighborhoods and businesses as well.
7) Research suggests that schools in North Carolina are becoming more racially and economically segregated, which has significant adverse effects for low-income children and children of color. In addition, according to a 2018 report from the N.C. Justice Center, “In 72 percent of the counties with at least one charter school, charter schools increase the degree of racial segregation in the district.” What steps, if any, do you believe the General Assembly should take to address these issues?
Charter schools are increasing segregation while simultaneously siphoning money out of the public school system. They cannot be held accountable like every other public school, which results in mismanagement, neglect and lower performance outcomes for students who do not have the opportunity to leave a public school. Our first step should be to halt all public finance for charter schools.
From there, we can go in two directions. On one hand, we could work to integrate the charter schools into the public school system. Ideally, charter schools would be reformed into schools that charters claim to exemplify: Communities in Schools models. Durham has launched an exemplary Communities in Schools pilot in several schools, already showing positive outcomes a year after its inception. Charter schools, which have in many ways degraded communities, should necessarily be remade in a community based model. These schools are already reliant on the state for funding, so auditing the administrative processes in order to bring the charters into public accountability like other public schools would not be very difficult logistically.
Politically, however, there will likely be strong resistance from school privatizers, of whom there are many in NC politics. Therefore, on the other hand, we would have to relocate students in charters to their original schools. In doing so, however, we should take care to listen to parents and students as they explain why they chose to enroll in a charter school and leave the public school system in the first place. The concerns heard in these transitions should be prioritized as students are relocated to their original schools—we cannot fight to keep students in public schools while simultaneously ignoring their valid concerns about the public school system. This paradox is the crux on which school privatizers base their “school-choice” argument that has worked to such great, devastating effect in NC.
However, halting funding to charter schools will likely be strongly opposed by Republicans, and without a strong majority in the GA, the above proposals will be difficult to achieve. So, if charters are to continue operating, we need to introduce strong oversight and accountability measures. In this instance, we particularly have to focus on making sure charters are participants in district and state-wide efforts to achieve representative integration in all schools.
8) Gerrymandering has been the subject of debate and lawsuits in North Carolina for the last decade. Regardless of which party prevails in November, do you believe the state should establish an independent process for drawing legislative and congressional districts? If so, what would it look like?
To guarantee residents of North Carolina have free and fair elections that adhere to the one person one vote standard the General Assembly must change the state Constitution to put a stop to partisan and racial gerrymandering of legislative, congressional, judicial and other districts.
North Carolina needs an independent commission that will fairly draw legislative and congressional districts. Such a commission must remove all partisanship from setting up legislative and congressional districts. Further, all districts must be compact, have equal population as much as possible, and represent communities of common interest. The work of such a commission can be reviewed by the court to ensure fairness and compliance to the state and federal constitution. Such a commission can also set up judicial and other districts to ensure partisan and racial gerrymandering ends at all levels of government.
9) That National Popular Vote Interstate Compact has been approved by 16 jurisdictions controlling 196 electoral votes for president; it will become effective should states with 74 additional popular votes approve it. North Carolina has 15. Last year, a bill was introduced in the state Senate to join the compact, but it has languished in committee. Do you believe North Carolina should join this effort, or do you believe the current system should remain in place?
I believe NC should join this effort. The Electoral College is an anti-democratic, racist relic of the past based on an agrarian economy in which only land-owning white men could vote. It is no wonder, then, that a white man who has built a career on owning and selling land could win the presidency over a woman, despite receiving 3 million fewer votes than her. As Senator, I would work to pass this compact and increase the democratic capacity of NC.
10) Do you think that transgender individuals should have their treatments for gender dysphoria covered under the state’s health care plan?
Gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition. The American Medical Association and many other professional medical organizations have supported public and private health insurance coverage for the treatment of gender dysphoria as recommended by a patient’s physician and I fully agree with their recommendation. The Affordable Care Act prohibited discrimination based on gender identity. The Trump administration is now attempting to remove these vital protections. While NC does not currently exclude transgender health coverage does not explicitly protect transgender peoples right to healthcare. In 2016 the NC board of trustees of the state health care plan voted to cover treatments for gender dysphoria, this step was necessary to comply with the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately in 2018 the board trustees under republican control allowed the coverage for peoples with gender dysphoria to expire, calling care related to gender dysphoria elective and unnecessary. These sorts of decisions at the state level are why we need strong progressive voices in our GA, Council of State, and Board of Trustees.
11) Later this year, provisions of HB 142, the replacement for HB 2, will expire, including sections that prohibit local governments from passing higher minimum wages and passing antidiscrimination ordinances. Do you think municipalities such as Charlotte and Raleigh should be permitted to raise the minimum wage or pass an antidiscrimination ordinance that includes protections for transgender people in public accommodations?
The General Assembly needs to reduce its preemption stranglehold on municipalities, particularly when cities like Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham elect leaders who try to push progressive policies that will benefit working people, women and people of color. Not only do I support municipal efforts to increase minimum wage and pass antidiscrimination ordinances; I intend to pass these policies at the state level. I intend to follow the lead of municipalities that try to improve the quality of life of its residents, not preempt them from doing so.
12) In 2018, voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring voter identification, and the General Assembly soon passed a law putting it into effect. That law has since been put on hold, at least for the primary, pending a lawsuit alleging discrimination. Do you believe in-person voter fraud is a serious threat, and the law is a reasonable way to address it? Do you believe the voter ID law should be repealed? Why or why not?
The only case of serious voter fraud in NC since this amendment was passed has involved Republicans rigging elections for their own benefit. Once again, the Republican-held GA has demonstrated their lack of shame and commitment to gas-lighting North Carolinians. In-person voter fraud is not a serious threat, and voter ID laws will only hurt those who come from histories of giving their blood, sweat, tears and lives for the right to vote. If we want to improve election security, we need to invest in the board of election to ensure that we have adequate staffing to count and triple-check paper ballots. While electronic systems are attractive for environmental and convenience reasons, they have been proven to malfunction and sew distrust among the electorate across the country. This is mainly due to the fact that BOEs do not have the funding and capacity to maintain these systems over time, nor do they have the technological means to prevent cyber infiltration and fraud. This is why we should stick to the analog ways of the past, which can be clearly and objectively verified by employed people rather than malfunctioning machines.
13) North Carolina’s coast has seen several major storms in recent years, and scientists say this trend is likely to continue as the effects of the climate crisis become more pronounced. What steps do you believe North Carolina should take to mitigate the damage these storms can cause?
This is a very complicated issue to address, because despite Democrats agreeing on the existence and the threat of climate change, we still have not all reached an agreement on the timeline we should act on. Particularly in the case of the Outer Banks, we need to have a difficult conversation about relocation, in addition to preparing residents for the possibility of evacuations in the future. We need to ensure that residents have insurance against floods and natural disasters so that they do not experience extreme financial burdens on top of loss of property and potentially lives. Discussions around evacuation and relocation also mean that we will need to consider an influx of residents from the coast as we plan for housing developments in the Piedmont, Foothills and Appalachia.
This may seem dramatic, but we cannot afford to take any chances with the lives of North Carolinians. In terms of infrastructural projects to mitigate damage from these storms, we can follow the lead of cities like Miami to control flooding from rising tides. But we also need to remember that flooding and storms will likely present serious threats to our drinking-water infrastructure. As Durham’s Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor, I believe I am uniquely qualified to ensure that our coastal drinking water systems withstand the impacts of climate change. We also need to be smarter and strategic about moving large groups of people efficiently and safely, which is why we need carbon-neutral public transportation options across the state.
While there are serious threats facing the coast, there are also serious opportunities. North Carolina has more capacity for offshore wind than any other state on the Atlantic, yet we rank 30th in wind production. Further, Oceana estimates that offshore wind energy in NC could supply 112 percent of NC’s energy needs. When we combine this with solar across the state, we have the opportunity to actually put money back in taxpayers’ hands, much how residents of Alaska benefit from fossil fuel extraction. We should act as quickly as possible to build offshore wind turbines, and ensure that excess revenue goes into ensuring safe, healthy futures for coastal residents.
14) 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?
We should absolutely repeal the death penalty. It is inhumane, unethical and a shameful practice for a modern democracy to participate in.
15) What other issues do you believe the General Assembly should focus on that have not been addressed in this questionnaire?
We need to reform our criminal justice system in numerous ways. I plan on pursuing these changes through ending cash-bail, strengthening domestic violence laws, supporting expungement efforts and decriminalizing cannabis.
I want to reiterate my commitment to combating climate change. Similar to healthcare, we cannot wait on federal legislation to begin protecting the residents of our state. We need to invest heavily in a Green New Deal-type program for North Carolina, building clean energy facilities, carbon neutral transportation and LEED-certified buildings. In doing so, we need to employ women and people of color, preferably through unionized work, small businesses and worker cooperatives so that we ensure a just transition from fossil fuels.