DPR’s Liz Brown sat down with Josh Stein, Minority Whip in the North Carolina State Senate, for a conversation about midterm elections in North Carolina.
DPR: What would you say is currently the largest issue being debated in the NC Senate as we near midterms?
Josh Stein: Perhaps the most fundamental choice the legislature faced was whether to invest in our school kids, our teachers, and our future or to spend our scarce public funds on the well-to-do and well-connected.
The Republican General Assembly chose to cut funding for public education well over one billion dollars over the past two sessions to finance tax giveaways to large corporations and people who simply don’t need the extra money.
The cost of their tax plan over the next five years is $5.4 billion dollars. This year they spent $800 million in tax giveaways to large corporations and very wealthy people, approximately $500 million of which went to the few thousands of North Carolinians who earn on average $1 million per year. That $500 million is the same amount they cut K-12 this year.
In my opinion, this was the wrong choice for North Carolina.
DPR: What is your top priority in the State Senate, should you win re-election?
JS: My top priority is education. We must continue to invest in our kids and our future. We must make sure that we recruit and retain the best possible teachers by compensating them and treating them with the respect that they deserve as professionals; we must keep classroom size as small as possible so that teachers can provide students the attention they need to learn; and we must reduce the socio-economic achievement gap and continue our progress on lowering the high school dropout rate.
DPR: What do you see happening in the state of education in North Carolina over the next 5 years?
JS: I am gravely concerned about the future of public education in North Carolina. North Carolina was just ranked the worst state in the nation to be a teacher according to a variety of metrics. Our kids learn because of our teachers, but the current leadership simply does not respect them appropriately. The legislature and Governor have cut the budgets of K-12 and our universities. They authorized vouchers which drain millions of dollars from public schools to send to unaccountable voucher schools. If we stay on the current path, we will continue to lose great teachers and our education system, our work force, and economy will suffer for it. I am working to change the direction we are going and get North Carolina back on track.
DPR: There is currently a big push to get Duke Students registered to vote for the mid-term election. What is your opinion towards the seemingly complex new voting laws passed by the NC Legislature?
JS: I spoke out strongly against the changes to our state’s voting laws. Eliminating same day registration, the pre-registration program for high school students, the convenience of the straight party voting option, and the ability to count a vote cast at the wrong precinct all serve to make it harder for people to vote. To impose barriers to people’s participation in their democracy, as the Republican legislature did, is not only wrong; it’s un-American. It’s also illegal. I was gratified that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting must be allowed this November.
DPR: What do you see ahead for your political career?
JS: I am currently focused on my re-election campaign to the NC Senate and serving my district and our state to the best of my abilities. I desperately want to restore balance and moderation to state policymaking.
Prior to being elected to the Senate, I served as North Carolina’s Deputy Attorney General for Consumer Protection in the NC Department of Justice for 8 years. As an attorney, I’ve always been passionate about protecting consumers and creating a level playing field for businesses that play by the rules. Down the road, I have interest in serving North Carolina families as their Attorney General.
DPR: What would you say to Duke Students interested in politics/public office?
JS: Serving in public office can be tremendously fulfilling and provides an opportunity to impact many people’s lives for the better. I would encourage students to get involved with a political campaign or government agency now and see the impact you’re able to have. There are many ways to serve one’s community. Experiment and find out what excites you and then dive in. We need every bright, energetic person who is willing to serve a greater purpose.
DPR: In light of the 4th Circuit decision regarding gay marriage, what do you see for the future of gay rights in North Carolina?
JS: The 4th Circuit Court’s decision, and many similar federal court decisions across the country, is a step in the right direction toward guaranteeing equal treatment under the law for all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation. My hope and expectation is that all loving committed couples will soon have the same opportunity to marry and that North Carolina’s divisive Amendment One will be overturned.
Gay rights involve more than just marriage, however. Today in North Carolina, a gay state employee can be discriminated against because of his or her sexual orientation. That’s wrong, which is why for the past three sessions, I have introduced legislation to ensure that hiring and firing decisions are based on performance, not sexual orientation.
DPR: You are a passionate advocate for the environment, specifically in Wake County and surrounding areas (Durham County). What is your top priority, moving forward, to ensure environmental protection in the area?
JS: Our local area and our state are facing a number of important environmental issues – fracking and coal ash are currently receiving the most attention. Clean drinking water has been a particular priority for me. Jordan Lake provides drinking water for 300,000 people and recreation for more than a million each year. Over the past 15 years, many people worked diligently to create a comprehensive, flexible set of rules to improve the lake’s water quality. The current leadership in the NC Senate eliminated all of that hard work by scrapping those rules altogether. This decision was bad for water quality, public health, and the region’s economic prospects. I will continue working to restore protections for Jordan Lake.
In my first term, I sponsored legislation to draft rules to clean Falls Lake, Raleigh’s polluted source of drinking water. Those rules have been drafted and I will fight to protect them from a legislature that I do not believe adequately values the importance of clean drinking water.
DPR: What do you hope to see in North Carolina’s future regarding health care over the next 5 years in conjunction with what is going on at the national level?
JS: Our current Governor and legislative leaders have refused to accept federal Medicaid funding for our state’s citizens. I want to help our hospitals and medical professionals work through the dramatic changes in the financing and delivery of health care by accepting the federal government’s offer to return $51 billion of our own tax money over the next ten years at no cost to the state’s general fund. Doing so would save lives, improve health, strengthen hospitals, and create more than 20,000 jobs in the first year alone.