Name: Jeff Starkweather
1. What do you see as the most important issues facing North Carolina? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
The most important issues facing this state, which are also my campaign priorities, are how to strengthen the economy, education and the environment, with the latter including energy conservation and alternative energy. Overriding all three issues are the need to promote greater equality of opportunity so that all residents who work hard, get an education, and play by the rules can achieve the American Dream of upward mobility and a prosperous life, not just the privileged few.
On the issue of strengthening the economy, instead of the Tea Party “austerity” economic strategy, we need to have an investment strategy starting with an investment in public education, pre-K through higher education as the foundation. But we also need to publicly fund research into new technologies and science, building a new generation of public infrastructure like high-speed rail, mass transit, an alternative grid, energy retrofitting all public buildings. I believe we also need to focus on quality of life and place investment policies such as parks, hiking trails, state funded land trusts and land preservation, more support for affordable housing, downtown revitalization assistance, increased earned income tax credits for the working poor, and financial incentives and assistance for starting locally operated, sustainable businesses. While I oppose economic development incentives in principle, I realize it is difficult in practice to completely eliminate them. I would try to get the state to following what we have done in Chatham in having incentives more heavily weighted to local jobs, good pay and benefits, energy conservation and other sustainable practices as opposed to capital investment.
In the area education, first, I would support the state taking a greater share of the financial support for public schools. Where a child lives should not determine whether that child can get a quality education from an excellent and experienced teacher. I believe we need to dramatically raise teacher, teacher assistant and other professional educator pay and benefits and start providing the working environment of a professional.
Second, a related second major change I would push for is moving away from the alleged education “reform that, to some extent, both political parties have supported, which focuses on competition, choice, merit pay tied to the results of external testing of students with standardized tests. Of course, the Tea Party Republicans want to push this even further, as Republican Gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory confirmed this week when he called for merit pay based on test scores, grading school based on student math and reading test, faster expansion of charter schools and more e-learning. Instead, I believe what would help attract and retain high quality teachers, as well bring better educational results for our children, would be to follow the Finnish reform model which focuses instead on professionalizing teacher’s work, developing instructional leaders and innovation in schools, and enhancing by parents and the community in teachers and schools.
The several critical elements to the Finnish Model, or what has been called “The Fourth Way.” (The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley, 2009). Another aspect of this form of educational change would be getting away from just teaching the “basic” (reading, writing and math) and incorporate a more holistic approach that provides all students backgrounds, interests and styles of learning a change to succeed. This means more funds for arts, music, dance, physical education, exceptional programs, foreign language, dual language program, counseling, etc. The state needs to be providing greater funding for these teacher/professional educator services in all schools and not require these to be primarily provided by local property tax funded dollars, which by definition creates educational inequality. A principle objective and strategy in this model is to specifically promote diversity and equality, which may require putting more state resources in poor communities and providing financial incentives for teachers willing to work in school or classes with children from low-come families or other challenging student environments. While the state would fund a greater share and work to develop high quality curriculum guides, we should be greater control of classroom to professional teachers and educators in collaboration with student, parents and communities.
A third critical area of improvement I would promote is much greater funding and support for pre-k, quality day care and new mothers services and education. Given that fact that most of the students who fail in school can be identified on the day they walked into kindergarten. I believe we should start moving toward universal free pre-k, day care and other mother and family support services. It is more likely to receive sustained support if these programs are universal and free for all children, similar to the type of support social security and Medicare received as opposed to welfare and food stamps. Moreover, children from at risk will be better prepared if they are in pre-school day care and learning programs a diversity of other children in terms of race and ethnicity and parents’ income and education. We are falling seriously behind other industrial countries in terms of child well-being, health and education indicators and if we expect to compete for good jobs in a global economy and restore the middle class, we cannot afford to allow some many children be essentially discarded before they have even had an opportunity to get an education, work hard and play by the rules. Without this type of massive investment effort, like we have done previous with the G.I. Bill and universal K-12 education, we will not be able to restore ourselves as a “meritocracy,” which is now mainly a myth compared to other industrial countries.
Finally, we need to put sustainability practices into our schools, including making sure all new building meet LEAD energy conservation standards, incorporating sustainable principles in our science and social studies classes, growing their own food or utilizing locally grown food, running buses on biofuels, making green technology an integral part of the career technical programs, etc. As part of this we should abolish the free and reeducated lunch programs and make healthy lunches free for all children. Child and youth obesity may become the health crises of the 21st century and public schools is one place where we can attack this on a mass scale. Plus, no child should be stigmatized because their parents cannot afford to pay for their schools lunch. It is for this reason that students taking advantage of eligibility for free and reduced lunch’s drops off dramatically in high school.
In the area of the environment, my top three priorities would be as follows:
First, addressing urban sprawl and its impact on air and water pollution, green house gas emissions and climate change, loss of open space and destruction of natural habitats, solid waste disposal, etc. There are a host of legislative actions I would support in cooperation with environmental advocacy and smart growth groups in the state. I would like to see us have a growth management legislative strategy, related in part to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, similar to what California and other larger states have enacted. I would want to strengthen our state watershed, stream buffer, and other land use regulations to reduce impervious surfaces, and protect our streams, rivers and lakes. I would look for ways to encourage mixed-use developments and walkable communities. I would support greater public transportation. I would look to toughen our air pollution regulations. I would like to see more water and waste water reuse, including ways to incentive it in residences. I would push for policies to promote zero waste and eco-industrial waste parks and facilities. I would give local government more authority to limit homeowners’ association restrictions against sustainable practices such as rain barrels, solar panels, vegetable gardens. I would like to dramatically increase funding for preservation of natural resources and utilize state investments to finance and/or incentives state and local land trusts to be used for natural areas, parks, sustainable farming, and affordable housing. In other words, I will be looking for ways to collaborate with citizens and environmental experts to make North Carolina a model state in terms of sustainability.
Second, is stopping the fracking frenzy. I have been a leader in Chatham in the fight against legalizing fracking in North Carolina and in the communities in my district. As a legislator, I will continue what I have been doing for some time in terms of speaking out against legalizing fracking and educating citizens, community leaders, local elected officials and fellow legislators on the environmental, health and safety, social and economic costs of fracking on our communities. I would vote against allowing franking because there is no substantive information about how to implement it and safeguard health and environment, and there is no reliable data on what it would contribute to the local economy. I would push for a strong regulatory controls and enforcement resources as possible if my views opposing fracking do not represent those of the majority in the State House. I would also use my years of experience as a community organizer, grass-roots lobbyist and communicator to mobilize citizens across the state to lobby against fracking. (Note: I plan to utilize these skills whenever possibly with important environmental legislation to build grass-roots pressure on the General Assembly)
Third, promoting energy conservation and alternative energy: I believe we could do a lot more on energy conservation and promoting green building policies. I would look for innovative ways to utilize our building codes to incentives green building practices and allow local governments waivers of those regulations, as well as housing codes, to implement tougher green building regulations than those required by the state. I would work with our State Treasurer and the Local Government Commission to eliminate legal and financial barriers to implementing a statewide residential and commercial energy retrofit that would not cost the property owner anything, since they would be provided government and tax-base backed loans whose monthly payments would be less than the money they are saving each month on energy.
I would do whatever is pragmatic to promote the alternative energy industry and its use in North Carolina. We should be working to make our universities and community colleges leaders in alternative energy R&D, entrepreneurship, and career development. We need stronger requirements on our state utilities to provide greater energy conservation incentives to uses. We need to come up with innovative ways to incentivize business and residents to purchase energy conversation products and services. We should tougher our Renewable Energy standards. We should target energy conservation and green technology as industrial clusters we are going to promote and invest in at the state and local level. I would support a much strengthened Green Building Code and process whereby it is gradually upgraded in terms of both regulatory requirements (especially commercial building) and incentives.
2. What issue or issues made you want to run for this office?
The need for strong schools, good jobs and clean air and water. And the fact that the current Tea Party majority in the legislature are doing everything they can to dismantle these things, even as they launch an attack against women, gays, minorities and anyone who disagrees with their ideology. I’ve spent my 40-year career as a former newspaper editor/publisher and then a civil rights and employment attorney, working to give a voice to all people – workers, women, minorities, persons with disabilities, immigrants. We can’t let the Tea Party turn the clock backwards on all of these rights.
3. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective in the U.S. House? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I led a grassroots electoral movement that successfully elected a majority to the county commissioners from 2004 to 2006. While some people remember me both positively and negatively in this role, more are realizing that since that time I have been working quietly behind the scenes to advise effective policy changes. I’ve learned to collaborate across political and geographic divides to find common ground that can be a platform for progressive change. For example, I advised the county commissioners and helped them develop a smart growth land use strategy and environmental protection strategy for the county that remains in place today despite new conservative leadership.
As a member of the Economic Development Corporation, I was instrument in the drafting of a county economic development strategy based on investing in people and places to utilize our assets of quality of place, location near the creative class capital of the Triangle, sustainable farming, green tech community college programs, infrastructure, parks and trail, and the arts, and most importantly improve the quality of public education. Despite the long-held polarization between geographic locations, town and country, locals and newcomers, I worked with many different interests on the EDC to get local governments, businesses and non-profits pulling together behind this strategy, which has stayed together even after conservative Republicans took over control of county government. I advocated publicly for this strategic economic development plan and worked quietly behind the scenes to persuade diverse people and groups to find the common ground to support it.
I drafted and worked to get through an innovative economic development incentive program that put greater emphasis on companies promising jobs with better pay and benefits and facilities featuring energy conservation and sustainability practices.
I drafted the county’s moratorium ordinance that in 2007, before the real estate crash, which gave the county a year and half to develop land use and environmental protections to control the type of sprawl development that the previous board had allowed to approve 12, 000 homes in three years.
I was instrumental in pushing and helping develop a branding campaign for the County and Economic Development Corporation which is now also used as a basis for sub-brands for the town of Siler City and Pittsboro.
I made the initial contact with the North Carolina Rural Center and helped jump start a rushed application process that enabled Siler City to receive a STEP economic development grant for distressed cities.
I worked collaborative with representatives of the towns, affordable housing non-profits, developer and real estate representatives and interested citizens in developing a set of affordable housing recommendations that included unanimous support for inclusionary zoning in new subdivision. When this Affordable Housing Task Force was converted into a permanent Affordable Housing Advisory Board, I was named it initial. Unfortunately, these positive developments have been stopped with the election of new Tea Party commissioners.
As chair of the Green Economy Task Force, I worked with town representative, county administration officials, community college and public school representative, and green building and energy retrofit in designing an innovative residential energy retrofit program that we had hoped to initiate with stimulus funds. We eventually worked with Triangle J Council of Government, Durham County, and Orange County in designing an application for a regional residential energy retrofit program. Unfortunately, we were not able to actually implement these projects because of legal problems with financing these programs under current state finance and loan regulations. Before the legislature changed hands we had strategy meetings with the UNC Center for Environmental Finance, Sierra Club and other environmental groups and area local government sustainability administrative concerning strategies for legislative changes to overcome these legal financing and borrowing barriers.
Worked with a group of state and local environmental organizations to develop an anti-fracking resolution that was passed by the Pittsboro Town Board earlier this month, which is expected to be the basis for an ordinance banning fracking and the disposal of fracking wastewater in the town. I spoke to the Town Board on the economic development reasons for passing the resolution, and answered legal questions.
Worked behind the scenes with Hispanic Liaison officials to overturn a initial of the Chatham County United Way Board to defund that immigration rights and social services organization, located in Raleigh, because its Director, my good friend Ilana Dubester, and members of her staff, organized the 10,000 person march and rally in support of the Dream Act back in 2006. I also marched in the rally. We were successful in restoring their funds. I was able to use leverage through the county commissioner majority I had recently helped elect that this was a violation of First Amendment free speech because the funding process conducted by United Way was done cooperative with County government non-profit funding reviews and the administration of those reviews were paid by county funds.
I was able to get the arts funded on a continuing basis and tied to economic development through administration by the County EDC, when in the past there was no local funding for the arts.
These are just a sample of the many local government projects that I have worked on in collaboration with elected officials, non-profit representative, private business representative, government officials and citizens.
As a former newspaper publisher, attorney and community activist, I am not afraid to tell it like it is when that is what is called for. At the same time, I have learned to find practical ways to get things done. For example, in federal court, I had to have the courage to stand up for my clients while speaking forcefully and effectively to federal judges. I also had to learn how to negotiate the best possible settlement in cases that could never be won.
After several years as a community electoral organizer, I realized that I needed to take a different tact when I was trying to effect change at the local political level. In recent years I have focused more on knowing when to collaborate and negotiate and when to mobilize others to put pressure on public officials to get them to effect change.
When local party leaders drafted me to run for the state legislature I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all kinds of people, who were sometimes uneasy working with me in the past, were strongly supportive of my decision to run for the new open legislative seat. When I asked them what had changed, they said they wanted a fearless, experienced, local advocate in Raleigh who does his homework and knows how to get things done. I think the combination of my life’s experiences and challenges has helped me evolve into the person I am today. I’ve learned a great deal about people and politics, which I think will come in handy as I navigate the troubled waters of the current General Assembly.
4. District 54 spans all of Chatham County [and part of Sanford], a socio-economically and ethnically diverse area. How do you plan to connect with and represent its residents? As you’ve campaigned, what common themes are you hearing from voters?
I have lived, worked and been engaged in politics and public affairs in Chatham County for four decades, first as a newspaper editor and publisher, later as an attorney representing all kinds of workers, and most recently as a community advocate on key county and regional boards. My children went through the public schools; I coached soccer and cheered at Little League. Now my granddaughters are in pre-school and kindergarten. Over the years I have traveled nearly every road, visited in many, many homes, and gotten to personally know all kinds of people from all walks of life. I have special relationships in the African American community because my former newspaper was the first in our region to write positive feature stories about the accomplishments of African Americans and to report on their churches, businesses and recreational leagues. Our newspaper gave voice to the first African American county commissioner in Chatham, who has remained a close friend for 40 years and who decided to run again in 2006 with my support. I have strong support in the immigrant community and among environmental advocates, because I have strongly supported policies affecting these areas. I also have strong support in the local business community because I was a business owner during the earlier recessions and I understand the challenges facing anyone who is trying to make payroll in a challenging economy. I learned a lot when I lost my electoral bid in 2008 as part of a three-way race that divided my own base and the African American community. I’ve spent the last few years talking and listening, repairing relationships across those communities, and hearing the economic fears of residents all over the districts, as I served on boards addressing affordable housing, sustainable energy and economic development. I’ve also attended numerous meetings and public hearings of county commissioners, school boards and town councils. I’ve learned to listen as well as to talk.
I’m now canvassing door-to-door across the district, which provides another great opportunity to connect directly with the voters. When I do this, I hand them my brochure and spend most of the time asking them what’s on their minds. Their answers have informed my platform.
Local residents tell me they want good jobs, strong schools, a clean environment (very worried about fracking), and they want a chance to improve their status in life through hard work and giving back to their communities. This comes through in every conversation. They remember a better time when if you worked hard, you could move up. And if you fell on hard times, the government, church and neighbors would help. The Tea Party seems to be playing on the fears of people left out of the global economy, encouraging them instead to choose individual survival of the fittest over working together for the greater good. This is very disturbing.
When I am in office, I plan to undertake two citizen oriented initiative that I have not seen many other representatives undertake and for which my experienced and knowledge will help be effective in implementing. First, I want to work with legislative staff, fellow progressive legislators and progressive non-profit to provide regular communications to local government officials, non-profits, progressive activists in my district and elsewhere what is going on the legislature on a regular basis, including early warning of proposed or pending legislation that might adversely affect the interests of these constituencies. Here is Chatham this has been an ongoing problem and I can recall numerous occasions when I alerted local government officials and activists about adverse legislation that was about to be passed.
Second, I want to use my community and political organizing skills and experience to work with community groups and local advocacy organizations, in collaboration with other legislators and statewide advocacy organization, to bring more sustained and effective grassroots lobbying and pressure on behalf of progressive legislation and in opposition to reactionary legislation.
5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
Everyone says they support stronger public schools, but it will be difficult to find a funding mechanism that doesn’t alienate some fragment of the voters. Raising taxes would alienate the business community. Raising sales taxes seems regressive and will alienate some progressives. I don’t know yet what it will take, and what kind of revenue mechanism will be possible, but I am committed to finding a way to invest in our schools, even though the tide seems to be against public investment. We can’t continue to backslide on public education, which is the very foundation of economic opportunity in a democratic society.
I will support collective bargaining for state and local employees.
I will work to repeal the outrageous “stand your ground” statute that was passed by the General Assembly this summer without barely any public reporting.
I will oppose the death penalty in all circumstances.
I will support a state growth management policy.
I will oppose fracking until the EPA study of water quality impacts have been completed in 2014 and only when scientific evidence and research has “fully demonstrated that North Carolina public health, waters, land, air, economy, and quality of life can be fully protected from the impacts of allowing shale gas development in the state,” to quote from a resolution I co-authored with the leaders of the Sierra Club, Clean Water North Carolina, Haw River Assembly, NC Warn, Deep River Clean Water Society, and Connect and recently passed by the Town of Pittsboro. This will probably upset voters in Lee County who have already signed leases with the gas companies.
6. What do you see as the primary sources of our state’s budget problems? What measures should the General Assembly use to address them? The tax system needs to be reformed.
Wealthy taxpayers should pay a greater share than poor taxpayers, but few politicians have had the courage, or perhaps the votes, to tackle this, because they fear the business community (which is the source of much campaign finance support). We also need to expand our commercial tax base, attract new businesses and industries to our region. We’ve been growing residential developments whose property taxes do not cover all of the services they require. We need more of a mix of residential and sustainable business.
7. If you want to decrease state education spending please explain what you would cut? If you want to increase state education spending tell us what areas would see more money?
I support increased state educational funding at all levels from pre-k through college. First, I believe in order to provide equal opportunity for all children in all communities across our state, the state should be paying a greater share of providing a high quality education in each school district. When I worked for the Atlantic Center for Research in Education, located in Durham, in 1985-86, we did research in several schools system across the state that demonstrated the even where property tax burdens were the same, wealthier communities were able to provide much greater academic resources for their children and their more highly paid teachers were more experienced and more qualified than those provided to children in poorer schools. While efforts we made at equalization due to the Leondro decision, we still have a long way to go in terms of equity in funding. For that matter, thanks to our Tea Party legislature, we have now slipped back to 49th among states in per pupil funding, which is a disgrace for the state that considers itself a creative class, high technology economic magnet.
One of the most important areas that need more state basic funding are teacher, teacher assistant and professional education salaries and benefits. We need to reduce the disparity in salaries between schools systems based on how much property tax wealth can support local teacher supplements. I also believe the state should provide the resources needed by local schools systems so that teachers would be given a more professional and accommodating work environment, time for lesson planning, mentoring, etc. Of course, reduce teacher-pupil would aid in that area as well, but may be an even better benefit for children’s educational quality and progress. I support more spending in that area as well.
I am opposed to the current “reform” agenda of high stakes testing, teaching the test, competition, privatization through expanded charter schools, school choice, and merit pay and accountability schemes based on how a teacher’s student score on standardized tests. I support moving our school into a different version of reform, modeled after the Finnish educational system that promotes professionalizing teachers’ work, developing instructional leadership with schools and local school systems, and enhancing the trust between teachers, school systems, parents and the community. Testing should primarily be internal for the purposes of teachers determining students’ learning progress. Possibly a way to deal with the accountability issue and acceptance of greatly increased teacher salaries, would be for teachers to undergo a two-three year probationary period at a lower starting pay and would only be made career teachers if they have demonstrated high standard teaching through direct in-person evaluations by principle and mentoring senior teachers. Standardized tests have been shown to correlate primarily with the socioeconomic status of parents, which makes using the results of those tests to evaluate teachers unfair and unreliable. Instead, we should focus on teacher improvement strategies utilizing qualitative rather than quantitative evaluation methods.
Of course, this new reform approach is based on the theory that children have many different abilities and ways of learning, and, thus, the arts, music, physical education and other similar education beyond the “basics” are needed to allow every child to succeed and provide students with the type of curriculum needed to be competitive in a global economy. Moreover, there is also a need for more funds for exceptional programs and counseling services in our schools.
Additional, I am passionate advocate for more funds for pre-K programs. In fact, based on research on cognitive and emotional development of children before they reach school, most kids who fail in school were severely at risk due to poverty, lack of intellectual stimulation, poor nutrition and health, abuse or neglect, etc. before they even walked into the kindergarten classroom. I think it is time we recognized for the benefit of equal opportunity for all children and for the economic competitive of our state and country in a global economy; we need to be moving toward universal pre-K, day care and other family support systems. I am not suggesting this all needs to be public and mandatory, but all children and family should have such resources and services made available to them, whether through public programs or privately provided services paid for by public funds that meet minimum quality standards.
If we are to continue the policy of local schools district being responsible for the building and maintenance of schools, then I believe the state should provide funding for incentives programs that would help districts pay making their buildings and grounds more energy efficient and sustainable.
8. What is your position on Amendment One?
I am unequivocally opposed to the amendment. I see no legal, moral or practical reason to deny gay marriage as it has no affect on the institution of heterosexual marriage whatsoever. Regardless of one’s religious or personal views about gay marriage, there is no need to pass a constitutional amendment to limit the rights of any citizen.
This is a dangerous, symbolic and deliberately divisive referendum. Clearly, gay marriage is already statutorily prohibited here. So regardless of one’s view on gay marriage, there is no actual practical reason for putting this provision into our state constitution except to make an ideological statement.
It is dangerous because in addition to trying to narrowly define gay rights, it could have negative effects on committed, but unmarried couples’ ability to provide health care to their children and intervene in their partners’ medical decision, including those related to terminal illnesses, such as rights concerning health care and dying. It could also negatively impact older people who previously lost spouses, but fall in love later in life but never marry, in order to protect benefits their previous spouses earned including health care, pensions and social security. And in other states with similar constitutional provisions, courts had ruled that domestic violence laws do not protect unmarried women from stalking and violence.
The question I would pose to anyone wanting to support this Amendment is would you have wanted the Supreme Court in 1965 Loving v. Virginia case that eliminated the ban on miscegenation to be decided by a state popular referendum? What about segregation of our public places and schools? Or the rights protected by the Voting Rights Act? I am sure there are folks that would say yes, but I believe the vast majority of residents of this state, who now see the unfairness and immorality of Jim Crow segregation, would say no. Why is this assertion of a discriminated minority’s desire for the same human desire to at least have the same legal right to domestic partnership protection any different? How am I as a married heterosexual male, father of a married daughter with two granddaughters, in any way threatened by allowing domestic partnership for same-sex committed couples?
9. Do you support women’s reproductive rights, including the “right to choose” as set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade? Do you support the recently passed state requirements on ultrasounds and waiting periods for women seeking an abortion? Do you support attempts to eliminate funds for Planned Parenthood?
As a retired civil rights and employment attorney and grandfather of two young granddaughters, this is a personal and passionately emotional issue with me. I started college in 1965 before Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade were approved and implemented by the Supreme Court. I remember the difficulties and horrors women experienced in those day, including back-alley abortions and going away to have and give away a young woman’s child. I remember the fear and anxiety couples experienced when women feared an unplanned pregnancy. My daughter never experienced any of this and she, my feminist wife and the other strong women who support my campaign never want to go back to that era and have their granddaughters experience the discrimination and the lack of reproductive freedom and choice of that era.
My position is that it is absolutely a woman’s right to choose when to have a child and which measures to choose to prevent and or plan a pregnancy. I am also adamantly opposed to the government interfering with the doctor/patient relationship in this context. I am adamantly opposed to the recently passed North Carolina legislation concerning ultrasounds and the even more intrusive legislations passed in Virginia and other states. This is a direct assault on women and women’s rights and freedom. Why have they not attempted the same intrusion into men’s sexuality and reproductive rights (e.g. Viagra)?
I also strongly opposed the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, one of the most essential non-profit women’s and family health services in the world.
10. Would you support Gov. Perdue’s call for a 3/4 cent increase in the sales tax or another revenue measure to restore cuts or cover other costs? Would you support a revision of the state tax code that led to an increase of revenue?
Yes, see my answer to question 5. I wrote a letter to the editor of both the Chatham News and Sanford Herald (see attached) supporting Governor Perdue’s call for an increase in revenues for greater support for education. I indicated that I was not a fan of sales taxes because of their regressive impact and would prefer to put an increased tax responsibility on the wealthy, which have made out so well in recent years compared to average workers, or some other more progressive form of taxation. However, I did say that I would support the sales tax increase if that was the only way we could provide additional funds for education.
I believe progressive elected officials have not consistently communicated that taxes can and should be seen as an investment in our state’s or your family’s prosperity. We cannot grow jobs, increase wages, provide good work benefits if we do not have a world class educational system, because we are competing globally for innovative and growing industries not just against other low-road southern states.
Since I have been working on economic issues at the county and municipal level, I have focused my research and advocacy on creative ways to increases public investments in our people and places here in Chatham. As a state legislator, I will do similar research and explore with others creative ways to increase state revenues under a more progressive tax structure.
11. What is your position on capital punishment and the Racial Justice Act?
I adamantly oppose capital punishment on moral, due-process and practical grounds. As a federal and state criminal defense attorney I witnessed firsthand the potential for miscarriages of justice due to unreliable eyewitness testimony, racial prejudice, biased, rigged or false testimony by law enforcement and paid law enforcement forensic scientist, and incompetent, unprepared and/or under-resourced state criminal defense attorneys. Thus, I do not believe we have the moral and ethical right to subject the accused to such a potentially biased and flawed criminal justice system. Of course, based on my moral and religious belief that I do not want to support a political system that plays God and takes away persons’ lives, then I would opposed the death penalty in all instances. Moreover, I still believe that all people are potentially redeemable, especially if our system of mass incarceration included rehabilitation as one of its objectives. Additionally, there is no evidence that the death penalty has any deterrent effect on homicides, especially since most are crimes of passion; drug or alcohol aided or carried out in the spurt of the moment without reflection or planning. Finally, I do not believe in these tight state budget times of cutting education, economic development investments and environmental protection resources that we can afford to continue the high cost of maintaining the death penalty.
I also believe it lessens us as a people, focusing our criminal justice system and its prosecutors on a mission of victim revenge, rather than societal justice and hopeful redemption and reconciliation.
Obviously, based on these views and my personal observation of the structural racial bias of our criminal justice, I strongly support the Racial Justice Act.
12. Both parties have been criticized for overreaching during redistricting. Would you support an independent commission drawing the lines in the future?
I have been an outspoken supporter of a partisan and non-partisan balanced independent commissioner to draw redistricting lines, such as one used by my home state of California. One of the unintended results of partisan redistricting and gerrymandering is that the state General Assembly has become less and less competitive over the years. This impacts negatively on citizen interest and involvement in General Assembly elections, and, thus, what happens in the General Assembly. For example, although I have been happy that we have had progressive and responsive legislators representing Chatham County, we have not had serious electoral contests for these offices in years. Such non-competitive seats do not promote electoral accountability from our representatives.
This also gives special interests and their corporate lobbyists a disproportionate influence with our General Assembly. Legislators representing essentially uncontested districts can take campaign funds from corporate lobbyist without worrying about the electoral wrath of a grass roots political movement in their district.
I believe we could greatly enhance the accountability and quality of our legislature if we combined this reform with public financing of General Assembly races.