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“It’s not about the party; it’s about what’s best for North Carolina.”
Chris Hayden, Press Secretary for North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, answers Duke students’ most pressing questions about Senator Hagan’s reelection campaign.
By Megan Steinkirchner
1) Recent voter ID laws, as well as additional restrictions on voting, will likely have a disproportionately negative impact on college students—especially students at Duke. What is the Senator’s stance on the voter ID laws, and how does she plan to engage students in the upcoming election? – Megan Steinkirchner
Kay was very much against those new laws. She believed they could be a red herring to a lot of things that would put up a barrier to the ballot box, including shortening early voting, [taking away] same day registration, as well as changing the [location of] polling places. This voting law also took away “Stand By Your Ad” legislation for state races. So now if Speaker Tillis is running for a state race, you’d have no idea the difference between one of his ads and one of the Koch brothers’ ads. In terms of our election, we’re going to have the biggest set of ground games that North Carolina has ever seen for a Senate race. Part of [our mission] is making sure that North Carolina voters understand what the new rules are, and when and where you can vote.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted before a federal appeals court ordered two restrictive voting measures to be struck down. The repealed measures had restricted same day voting and voting outside one’s home district. Read more here.
2) Where does Senator Hagan stand in regards to the Second Amendment, and does she have any reforms in mind that might affect gun ownership laws in North Carolina? – Jullian Goncalves
Kay is supportive of the Second Amendment for law-abiding citizens. She comes from a family of North Carolina hunters and believes in making sure our sportsmen have their rights. She supports the Manchin and Toomey Bipartisan Compromise that is going to allow universal background checks. She also had a bill with Lisa Murkowski, the Alaskan Republican Senator, called the Sportsmen Act, that ensured hunting and wildlife in North Carolina and in our country is preserved, done in a responsible way, and had conservation provisions in it. So Kay believes there are ways that we can make our community safer while protecting the Second Amendment.
3) Senate Committee leadership is invaluable—what does the future of the HELP Committee look like with the retirement of Senator Harkin? Can you speak about Senator Hagan’s leadership of the Children and Families Subcommittee and whether or not she plans to take on new leadership roles, if reelected? – Ray Li
Leadership roles will be determined by how the election shapes out and which incumbents are still there. In terms of the HELP Committee, a huge part of what Kay does is being involved with the reauthorization of federal education law, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Strengthening Schools Act. She has her STAR Act, which is a School Turnaround Act, to help failing schools. She includes language in there to promote technology in secondary education and grades K-12 because she believes in the importance of students being trained on 21st century technology. Another huge part of that is her financial literacy bill. Once again, she pushes schools to have curricula that teach students about financial literacy, taking on debt, opening a bank account, and what it means to take out student loans – before they’re actually [dealing with those issues]. That’s something Kay has championed in both the Senate and in the North Carolina State House.
4) This summer, a great deal of news coverage was centered on the VA scandal. As an advocate for Veterans’ Rights, what has Senator Hagan’s response been, and in what direction does she see reform headed? – Tess Harper
Kay has been at the forefront of this issue her entire time in the Senate. She comes from a military family. Her husband, Chip, is a Vietnam veteran, her father-in-law is a Two Star General in the Marine Corps, and she has two nephews on active duty right now. Couple that with North Carolina having the third largest military force in the country; this is a real personal issue for Kay.
When it was believed that Fayetteville had the one of the longest wait times in the country, Kay took immediate action. She called on Secretary Shinseki to be directly involved. She sent the Under-Secretary for Benefits out to North Carolina and they hired more staff. But she knows that more work needs to be done. More recently, there were some leases for estates in the VA in Fayetteville and Jacksonville, North Carolina, being held up by bureaucracy. She cut through the red tape and got those leases approved.
One example of Kay being on the forefront of these military issues happened during the sequestration. There’s a program called the Tuition Assistance Program for Active Members where they can take one class per semester that’s paid for by the Department of the Defense. While they’re in active duty, they can still be working towards getting their degree and furthering their education. That program was going to be cut with the sequestration but Kay came together with Senator Jim Inhoff, a Republican from Oklahoma, and within two weeks they had an amendment that was passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama. That program was put back into place and our members on active duty can further their education.
5) What are Senator Hagan’s next steps in order to ensure equal pay for women after the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became law? – Keizra Mecklai
Kay is obviously very supportive of equal pay. The first bill she co-sponsored in the Senate was a fair pay bill. Kay always says, “I didn’t raise my two daughters to get paid 82 cents on the dollar” as they are here in North Carolina. She’s continuously working to make sure we have equal pay for equal work. She doesn’t care if it’s a Republican or a Democrat’s idea; she will work across the aisle to ensure that we’re putting forward solutions for North Carolina’s families.
6) Senator Hagan’s opponent has framed the race as a referendum on the Obama presidency—claiming that she has acted as a “rubber stamp” for his administration—while others consider her one of Washington’s most moderate Senators. How has she charted her own path in Washington? – Tanner Lockhead
That’s a fact—the nonpartisan National Journal rated her the most moderate member of the Senate. She has been named the most likely to buck her own party. She definitely looks at things in terms of what is right for North Carolina, and that’s the way she votes. There have been several times where Kay has gone against her own party and the President. Kay supports moving ahead with the Keystone Pipeline. She has fought against measures that have been supported by the administration but are bad for North Carolina, like shipping jobs overseas. She fought an FDA rule that really hurt tobacco farmers and wouldn’t allow them to receive crop insurance. It was part of an anti-smoking movement but really, it would have forced us to import tobacco rather than growing it at home. Kay fought and killed that bill, even though it was supported by the Administration. When the budgets were being discussed, she was the only Democrat that voted against the Democratic budget because she believed it cut too deeply from military spending. It’s not about the party; it’s about what’s best for North Carolina.
7) As a member of the Senate HELP Committee, what is Senator Hagan’s vision for encouraging increasing enrollment for higher education institutions given the rising tuition rates? – Tara Bansal & James Ferencsik
Last year when the student interest rate was going to double, Kay fought against that and we were able to ensure that student loan interest rates were kept at bay. Since her time in the State Senate, Kay has been very supportive of the UNC system. Speaker Tillis has drastically cut funding from that system and public higher education.
Most recently, Kay has been supportive of a bill that would allow students to refinance their student loans. She says that student loans are the only loans that legally you are not allowed to refinance. She’s been working on that with a vast amount of Republicans because she believes that students really need to given more flexibility. Kay sees this as an economic issue, especially for young people. They want to invest in the economy and they want to start their own businesses. Having crippling student loan debt is a real hindrance. To be able to refinance that loan would be a huge advantage for our young people trying to go out there, take chances, take risks, and trying to think of the next big idea or find a way to put people back to work.
8) Senator Hagan has been very vocal in her opposition to Thom Tillis’ support of budget cuts for women’s health care programs. Should she be re-elected, what active measures does Senator Hagan hope to take to further women’s access to healthcare? – Hilary Zarnett
One of the things we talk about [on the campaign] is how a lot of states have talked about this idea, but Thom Tillis actually [wants to] defund Planned Parenthood. Kay’s focus really is on preventative care, and Planned Parenthood is where many women receive breast examinations, CAT scans, and other preventative measures. To take that away is completely wrong and unfortunately, it is something that’s decided at the state level. Another thing that Speaker Tillis has talked about recently is over the counter birth control. Kay is all for access to birth control – the issue is affordability. Speaker Tillis wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Right now, under the ACA, there is no co-pay for birth control—it’s free. Taking something that’s free and putting it over the counter could be costing someone up to $600 a month. So one of the things we’re talking about is a preventative care measure.
The more preventative care we have, the less burdensome healthcare costs will be. The most expensive part of health care is treating chronic illness and going to the emergency room. Obviously there have been some distressing things done here in North Carolina and unfortunately a lot of these are state decisions. So it’s a little harder for Kay but she’s fighting every chance she gets to make sure women have access to preventative care.
Stay tuned for our upcoming interviews with Thom Tillis’ Press Secretary Meghan Burris and Libertarian Senate candidate Sean Haugh.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.