The North Carolina General Assembly makes the laws for our state. It can also stand in the way of the changes that our state needs. Our focus should be improving the lives of North Carolinians, especially those who struggle with access to basic things like healthcare, housing, and living wages. One key to making progress on these issues is protecting the right to vote.
Below are some of the ways we can move forward if we build back the power to change the outcomes. That power includes electing those who will choose better policies. More important, though, is the power of the people to demand that our lawmakers work for the good of our communities.
Jump to an issue:
Economic Justice and Workers’ Rights
Our budget should reflect our priorities. A just economy requires living wages, safe working conditions, and fair tax policies. Our state’s policies for the last ten years have been harmful to workers and our economy, and have failed to fund critical public goods like healthcare and education. The move by the General Assembly to phase out the corporate income tax beginning in 2025 will cost us billions in lost revenue unless we stop it before then.
Our minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living. North Carolina’s unemployment benefits are among the worst in the country, and the state’s anti-union laws undermine the ability of workers to organize for better conditions and wages.
Having a strong workforce and fair policies is good for business as well. Businesses that benefit from North Carolina’s workforce and quality of life should pay their fair share of taxes, and we should ensure that those who benefit the most economically do the same.
Decades of work on wage issues, discrimination, and other labor matters have equipped me to work toward progress on these issues in the General Assembly.
Healthcare & Reproductive Freedom
North Carolina has some of the best healthcare facilities in the country. But not everyone has access to healthcare. For years, Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have refused to approve Medicaid expansion. As a result, 600,000 people have gone without affordable healthcare, the state has lost out on billions of dollars in federal funding, and too many hospitals and medical providers in rural areas have closed or have reduced capacity.
This is a wholly avoidable tragedy.
People in states that have not expanded Medicaid are more likely to have medical debt. Medical debt is a significant burden for many people. I was interviewed regarding my efforts to raise funds to release medical debt. You can listen to that here: Lisa Grafstein: Judaism Unbound Episode 312 – Jewish Debt Relief.
Improving healthcare includes addressing unmet needs in our state’s behavioral healthcare system for those with mental illness, developmental disabilities, or substance use disorders.
My work as a disability rights attorney has included helping people access behavioral healthcare services and making sure they are able to live and work in their communities. I have seen first hand that lack of access to behavioral healthcare keeps people out of the social and economic mainstream of the community. The human toll is incalculable.
The promise of Roe was never fully realized for those for whom geography or poverty made access to abortion illusory. But overturning Roe has signaled a retreat from equal rights. It is up to us to step in – first, to protect Governor Cooper’s veto against abortion bans, and to build a Democratic majority to pass protective legislation.
We have come too far to accept losing the right to control our own bodies. As President of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys and the Women’s Forum of North Carolina, I worked with advocates across North Carolina who are determined to move our state forward. My earliest cases as a lawyer involved sexual harassment and gender discrimination. I represented those who refused to back down in the face of power. We will continue to fight back.
We will have a healthier and more equitable community when we:
- Expand Medicaid.
- Make community-based services available to more people with disabilities, including increasing the funding for those services.
- Protect the right to abortion and reproductive freedom.
Our democracy has been eroded by extreme gerrymandering and efforts to make it more difficult to vote. There are three core values that should drive our system of elections:
- Voters should choose their representatives – not the other way around. We need a non-partisan redistricting commission.
- All voters should have ample opportunities to vote, in person and by absentee ballot.
- Our electoral system must be equitably funded so that we have strong processes and adequate staffing at every level and in all locations.
I have worked for voting rights for many years, including litigating voting access cases, registering voters, and serving as an Election Protection monitor. I have volunteered for and run campaigns for others under North Carolina’s short-lived publicly financed system and under its current privately funded system.
My experience has given me an in-depth understanding of the state’s electoral system, which I would use to shore up our elections system and ballot access. This is our only means of keeping our democracy alive.
Our state does not use enough of our budget to provide kids with a basic education. We have known this since 2002, when the North Carolina Supreme Court found in the Leandro case that the state was violating students’ rights by not providing them with a “sound, basic education.”
In 2021, the courts once again said North Carolina is failing and ordered the state to provide additional funding to schools. But the Republican-controlled General Assembly gave out tax cuts instead. Even now, when we have a $6 billion surplus, the Republicans in control of our legislature are refusing to comply with a court order to spend $1.7 billion of those funds to provide every child in North Carolina with the education that they have a right to.
We can do better. And we have to. The Leandro court adopted a plan—which Governor Cooper is in agreement with—that will make sure we fix our education system. We know what needs to be done; we just need to pay for it with the tax dollars you and I already paid to the state.
As a lawyer, I have worked on a variety of education issues, including access and accommodations for students with disabilities. As a parent, I worked with my son’s teachers on special education services throughout his time in the Wake County public schools. Dedicated professionals made sure my son had what he needed to graduate high school and go to college.
Teachers are working harder than ever and getting less respect. We have to equip our schools to meet students’ needs, and that includes treating and paying teachers like the professionals that they are.
Affordable Housing / Housing Affordability
Housing prices are all over the news – and on many people’s minds. Recent reports confirm what everyone knows: the affordability gap is growing rapidly in Wake County and around the state.
When people talk about affordable housing, they may mean one of two related issues: affordable housing (typically thought of as subsidized or other housing support for low-income families) or the increase in housing prices and rents for those who have generally paid market rates for housing.
The housing crisis is complex, and it will not be solved overnight, but there are concrete steps we can take. In addition to long-term investment in a variety of housing options, we can and should expand access to housing support for low income families. This includes restoring the depleted North Carolina Housing Trust Fund, which provides support for affordable housing options. It should also include increasing access to housing vouchers and subsidies, and prohibiting discriminatory refusal to rent to people who rely on those supports.
On housing affordability, costs have been driven up by demand. But some of the pent-up demand for single family homes is caused by investment firms buying up properties. When investors own a significant part of the single family housing stock, first-time home buyers are quickly priced out of the market. While the development and use of housing is controlled at the local level, we can discourage the depletion of local housing options through tax policy that discourages the use of housing stock as an investment vehicle.
The other side of the ledger when it comes to housing affordability is that income has simply not kept pace with the increase in home prices and rents. Wages are up slightly – but not nearly enough to meet the nearly 30% increase in median home prices in the Raleigh area. Access to housing, for many, depends on raising wages.
Climate Change and Environmental Justice
The climate crisis calls for bold and immediate action. Faced with a complex problem that we have to solve, we must work to implement as many known and innovative solutions as possible. At the state level, we should be investing more in renewable energy, including making solar a greater energy source used by governments. We should incentivize the shift to solar in the private sector, including reinstating the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit. Developing our public transit systems will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly if we invest in transit that is built on clean energy. North Carolina should be at the forefront of innovation.
Environmental issues are also racial justice issues. Communities of color have endured disproportionate exposure to pollutants. We have been too willing to accept environmental harms when they are largely enacted on marginalized people. Environmental justice is a key component of addressing the climate crisis.