Name as it appears on the ballot: Vernetta Alston
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: vernettaalston.com
Occupation & employer: Self, Development
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?
Like many of my colleagues in the General Assembly, I am an attorney. I have litigated cases in various regions across North Carolina, negotiated death penalty cases, and delved deeply into complicated policy issues with lawyers and everyday people, including those with different ideological positions about the death penalty and the criminal justice system. Through my work, I learned that I do not have all the answers, that listening is critical to hard conversations; and that I that want to devote my career to issues that can make people’s lives better, no matter how challenging the issue.
Also, for a little more than two years, I served on the Durham City Council, where I worked on big issues that affect our everyday lives and basic needs, like land use, transportation policy, and other major pieces of our infrastructure like public utilities and public safety. I collected valuable experience in the complex and very hard work of municipal governments and learned more about how to try make sound policy decisions by listening to the people who are most impacted by those decisions.
My experience qualifies me to serve the people of North Carolina because I know how much hard work is required to do this job effectively. I understand the balance of confidence and humility necessary to make good policy decisions. I take the accountability inherent in elected office very seriously and I am up to this important task.
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?
There are far more than three issues that are “most” pressing for North Carolina right now but here is what I will say, North Carolina can and must restore fundamental touchstones of the democratic process by addressing unconstitutional voting requirements. Without a fair process, we cannot effectively meet the needs of North Carolinians or expect to deserve their trust.
Now, there are several issues that I consider priorities that I would like to work on as a member of the North Carolina House. A few of those issues include pursuing clean energy and transportation reform for our region and our state, adequate investments in our workers including our unemployment insurance benefit system which is critical for folks as a result of COVID-19, comprehensive non-discrimination protections, progressive housing policies particularly for renters who have been made more vulnerable this year, and full funding for our public schools, among others.
We need to achieve ambitious statewide clean energy goals, take active steps toward climate resiliency by leading the way in moving toward greener built environments that can help reduce emissions, encourage urban density, better connectivity, and make it easier for all North Carolinians to respond to increasingly frequent extreme weather events.
We cannot neglect the impacts of COVID-19 on our vulnerable communities, many of whom are experiencing economic instability, and in many cases, housing insecurity. We must treat safe and adequate housing as a basic human right. We can do that by helping renters and home owners recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 on their lives, enacting laws that protect the rights of tenants, allow municipalities to serve their residents through more aggressive affordable housing tools, and more direct investments from the state into the diverse housing needs of our residents.
Our schools, chronically underfunded, have been taxed beyond comprehension this year. There are few issues that could be more urgent than supporting the needs of our children. In the General Assembly, we can do that by fully fund our public schools, giving schools, students and families the resources they need whether that be food, broadband access, equipment, or transportation, so that they can continue to learn and survive the interruptions caused by COVID-19.
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?
Many Republican-sponsored tax cuts benefit the wealthy at the expense of fundamental needs in our State. For example, our low-income and middle-class residents continue to bear a disproportionate share of the state income tax. We need to compel corporations to be transparent and accurate in their income tax reporting so that they are forced to pay their fair share of our state income tax.
In the most recent short session, Republicans sponsored a number of new sales tax exemptions at a time when the state’s revenue projections were very uncertain as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown, and cost the state valuable revenue.
With increased tax revenue from corporations and the wealthy, we can invest in the continuing public health needs and outcomes from COVID-19, fund our schools, expand Medicaid, expand access to broadband across the state, protect and pay our workers, make investments in clean energy and other infrastructure that will not only move us toward a sustainable future but create economic opportunities move people out of poverty, and build strong connections across our state.
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?
Yes, all workers deserve a sustainable livable wage. Right now, in North Carolina, all workers deserve a minimum wage between $15 and $16 per hour and as time goes on, we cannot allow that wage to stagnate.
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?
This will largely be a repeat of my response to question two, but again, we must treat safe and adequate housing as a basic human right through legislation that protects the rights of tenants, provides additional support for renters and homeowners so they can more easily recover from the economic impact of COVID-19, allow municipalities who make the decisions about land use and how housing is organized in our urban areas, more say in how affordable housing is provided in their communities, invest in incentives to make stable housing more accessible to vulnerable populations as well as transportation policies and projects that promote connectivity.
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.
The State must play a leading role in building climate resiliency into our infrastructure, programming, economic incentives, and regulation of the energy market. We urgently need to plan for the impacts of extreme heat and cold, and more frequent and substantial rain events and flooding by incentivizing green storm water infrastructure, solar energy production, and consistent with the Governor’s Clean Energy Plan, support the provision of energy efficient resources for low-income households that are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather events. In Durham, there are daily reminders of the historic disinvestment in communities of color that result in higher rates of flooding, higher heating and cooling expenses, public health concerns related to environmental hazards, and lack of access to infrastructure that can help these communities recover from climate impacts. The climate is an equity issue that must be pursued aggressively.
Also, our mobility is a key area of our infrastructure where the State can have a huge impact on climate. Nationally, transportation is the largest carbon emitter, larger than power plants. Smart, innovative transportation policy, like affordable public transportation and mass regional transportation, particularly for our poorer communities who need it most, safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and electric fleet transition can help us achieve carbon neutrality goals, grow economically across the state that lack effective regional transportation, and create long-term workforce opportunities.
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?
No, I don’t think assault weapons should be commercially available in North Carolina. Across the country, we are in urgent need of sweeping gun reform. In North Carolina, we need statewide bans on bump stocks, trigger cranks, and high-capacity magazines. We should renew the ban on assault weapons, pursue extreme risk protective orders, and pass legislation that will create more accountability for legal gun owners who do not report their firearms lost or stolen. We also need tighter regulation of gun dealers, and restrictions on gun sales to people with violent misdemeanor convictions.
8. Do you support the Black Lives Matter Movement? What steps would you take to address racial equity in North Carolina?
Yes, Black Lives Matter. I support the movement and the message.
Our communities of color are reeling from a long history of racial violence and disinvestment, so we need to pursue racial equity in every corner of our lives and our government. We have to use racial equity principles to reorient and reinvest in basic infrastructure that for far too long has left Black people poorer, sicker, deprived of adequate education, and more likely to be locked up or killed in this state.
We have to change how we prioritize infrastructure projects so that projects that can mitigate the impacts of historic racism and help us achieve equity – like those that can improve the housing and transportation resources in historically disadvantaged communities, create job training and workforce opportunities, and mitigate the current cost burdens for public services and utilities that these households face — have a fair shot at being funded.
Criminal justice reform and law enforcement accountability are critical areas in our efforts toward ending the scourge of racial violence against Black people and achieving racial equity. We can do that by reforming cash bail, getting law enforcement out of our schools, not criminalizing kids in school, holding bad actors within our law enforcement agencies accountable for their misconduct and standardizing transparency in law enforcement through review boards and release of information that the public is entitled to, investing in mental health, and abolishing the death penalty in North Carolina.
9. 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, an independent process is essential to a fair electoral process that gives each voter the voice they deserve.
10. 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?
The State must fully fund our public schools and Republicans have failed to do it. We need to fund critical infrastructure needs across the state, including necessary capital improvements for school safety and energy efficiency. We must increase per-pupil expenditure for our students, raise teacher pay to at least the national average, restore incentive pay for advanced degrees and educator experience, recruit more teachers of color and work harder to retain them. We need to fully fund critical support services provided by teacher assistants and mental health providers, and provide comprehensive services for Spanish-speaking students and their caregivers so that they can fully advocate for the needs of their children.
11. 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?
I do not support the expansion of charter schools in North Carolina. North Carolina’s charter schools and voucher programs are, in fact, re-segregating our schools and diverting already scarce resources from the public school system, putting vulnerable schools at greater risk of poor performance.
We should respond to low school performance by committing our resources and political will to addressing the needs of our schools, their diverse populations, and their communities, not subjecting them to private takeovers or the continuing threat of charter schools.
12. 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?
Every human being deserves access to affordable, accessible, and effective healthcare. Medicaid expansion is critical to our ability to provide low-income North Carolinians with healthcare they need and deserve, leverage state and federal resources to improve other aspects of our healthcare system and combat rising healthcare costs that our residents are forced to bear. We must expand Medicaid in North Carolina, prevent restrictions to reproductive rights, support comprehensive and affordable healthcare resources for communities of color and LGBTQ individuals, support robust mental health awareness, and subsidize substance abuse treatment and education.
13. 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?
Yes, I would support repealing the voter ID law. Voter ID is a dangerous tool of voter suppression that has to be done away with.
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?
I intend to support repeal of the death penalty in North Carolina. There are more than 150 people on North Carolina’s Death Row. Approval of the death penalty is at historic lows. The death penalty perpetuates racism, does not deter violent crime, disproportionately impacts Black people in our country, and has frequently motivated prosecutors to abuse their discretion and/or violate the law in pursuit of the death penalty.
It is long past time for North Carolina to move away from the practice. The death penalty does nothing to advance public safety goals; it only destroys more lives and diverts resources that could be used to build up communities rather than disabling them with state-sponsored murder.
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