Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, I'm joined by Crystal Cavalier to talk about her campaign for North Carolina's Fourth Congressional District, and I discuss the recent court ruling striking down portions of North Carolina's felon disenfranchisement law and a new tool at Carolina Forward to see how the Leandro Plan would impact your local schools.
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Learn More About Crystal Cavalier:
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Carolina Forward: What would the Leandro Plan mean for you?
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Crystal Cavalier: The reason I'm running is to represent the underrepresented and the unrepresented people.
JD Wooten: Hey everyone, JD Wooten here. Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. Today we’re joined by Crystal Cavalier, running to represent the North Carolina 4th Congressional District. But first, in a case with major ramifications for voting rights in North Carolina, a state trial court ruled last week that North Carolina’s felony disenfranchisement law is unconstitutional, or at least part of it. In short, the court held that the law discriminates against Black voters and denies people the fundamental right to vote.
For an extremely abbreviated background, the felony disenfranchisement law bars anyone serving an active felony sentence or who remains on probation, parole, or a suspended sentence from voting. This law dates back to the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, when southern states were looking for just about any excuse possible to prevent the newly freed former slaves from voting. There’s a well-documented history of the deliberate attempt to disenfranchise Black voters, so that’s not up for debate by anyone other than those who would ignore history entirely.
The News & Observer has reported that per the sworn testimony at trial, police would round up newly freed Black residents across the state and charge them with bogus crimes in order to prevent them from voting. Although the legislature made several significant changes to the law in the 1970s, the judges noted in their ruling that the law was still racially motivated. Perhaps most fundamentally, the mere passage of time does not erase the law’s racist history. The judges also found that there is no evidence the law ever would have ever existed if not for the purposes of disenfranchising Black voters.
It's critical to understand that being released from probation usually requires paying various legal and court fees, thus getting back the right to vote can depend on an individual’s ability to pay. In effect, it becomes a poll tax. The state trial court ruled that all individuals on probation, parole or a suspended sentence due to a prior felony conviction, regardless of whether they have finished paying all fees, can register to vote in North Carolina. This ruling immediately gave over 55,000 people the right to register to vote here in North Carolina.
However, the North Carolina Court of Appeals stayed the trial court’s order and the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed that stay. This doesn’t overturn the trial court, it just puts a hold on implementing it before a full review at the Court of Appeals and/or the Supreme Court. Interestingly enough, while those who would now be allowed to register to vote under the trial court’s order are temporarily barred from doing so while the case is on appeal, the Supreme Court did hold that anyone who registered to vote before the trial court order was stayed are still considered registered voters. I don’t know how many people that actually includes, but good on you for getting your registration completed so quickly.
I have heard conservatives try to argue that this is activist judges legislating from the bench, or that somehow the age of the law protects the law from being ruled unconstitutional. These are both nonsense and disingenuous arguments at best. In our system of checks and balances, perhaps the single most important function of our courts is to prevent the other branches of the government from acting unconstitutionally. This is not legislating from the bench. It’s striking down legislation which is unconstitutional. Conservatives just like the phrases legislating from the bench and activist judges because it motivates their base. Activist judges legislating from the bench would probably be something like taking away a fundamental constitutional right that has been recognized for half a century. But I digress. I’ll leave a few links in the show notes if you’d like to read more about the law and the court’s ruling.
Now, before we turn to my interview with the Crystal Cavalier, here are a few important reminders. For our Guilford County listeners, there will be a major education bond on the May 17th primary ballot. Please consider supporting the bond to help Guilford County address basic safety and wellbeing needs for our children in the schools. I’ll leave a link in the show notes if you want to learn more about the bond.
Here are some important dates to remember for voting over the next few months. April 22nd is the deadline to register to vote in person in the May 17th primaries. In person early voting starts on April 28th and runs through May 14th. Check your local board of election website for exact times and locations. During early voting, you can also do what’s called same-day registration or even update your voter registration. So even if you’re not registered, or your registration is out-of-date, go to an early voting site in your county and register or update your registration, then vote. The North Carolina Absentee Ballot Portal is open and you can request a mail-in ballot now. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is May 10th, but I definitely do not recommend waiting that long. I’ll drop a link in the show notes for the absentee ballot portal. The primary election is on May 17th and polling places should be open from 6:30am to 7:30pm.
As a person listening to this podcast, I’m betting you are registered to vote and your registration is up-to-date. You probably even have a plan to vote. That’s great, but now my challenge to you is to get someone else to go vote. Or better yet, volunteer for or donate to an organization dedicated to helping register and/or turn out voters, like the New Rural Project or the New North Carolina Project. I’ll leave links to both organizations in the show notes.
Finally, Carolina Forward has release a great tool to help understand how implementation of the Leandro Plan would impact each county. For those that don’t know, the Leandro Plan takes its name from a long-running court case by the same name in which our courts have consistently held that the North Carolina Constitution guarantees all children the right to a sound, basic education and that our legislature is failing to deliver on that constitutional guarantee. The Leandro Plan is a roadmap designed by legal and educational policy experts to bring our public schools up to meeting their constitutional duty to our children. Although the courts have ordered the state to implement the Leandro Plan, the GOP-controlled General Assembly continues to refuse to follow those orders, arguing that the courts cannot order the General Assembly to spend money in a particular way. The Supreme Court will hear the case at some point, and I’ll be sure to mention any major updates when they come. In the meantime, go check out the tool at Carolina Forward to see what the Leandro Plan would mean for your local schools. A link will be in the show notes.
And now, here’s my interview with Crystal Cavalier.
JD Wooten: With me today is Crystal Cavalier, an Alamance County native running to represent the North Carolina fourth congressional district. The newly drawn fourth congressional district includes Alamance, Orange Durham, Person, and Granville Counties. Welcome Crystal!
Crystal Cavalier: Oh, thank you so much. So I just gave you a traditional two to low grieving. I am relearning our language that our ancestors spoke here. And it's the language that the land recognizes because this was the first language that was spoken here. So thanks for having me on your podcast.
JD Wooten: You bet, and that's beautiful. So what's your earliest memory of politics or getting involved in politics?
Crystal Cavalier: So my earliest memory would probably be with my grandparents living out here in Pleasant Grove. I was born in Burlington. Grew up here in pleasant Grove. My earliest memory would probably be with my grandparents going to voting. After they will vote, they would stay and volunteer and hand out materials and campaign flyers. So I would always tag along. Cause my grandma always told me it's very important that we do our civic duty. I think I was probably like, maybe five or six. And then every year we would go with my aunt Roberta Mitchell to her precinct meetings and we would go out knocking on doors, canvassing, just getting people out in the community to come and vote, because that was so important.
JD Wooten: You are not the first candidate. In fact, you're not the first candidate in the last couple of weeks, even to mention voting with parents so that's just wonderful. I think that really speaks to the power of getting children involved and helping make it a generational practice for families.
Crystal Cavalier: Right.
JD Wooten: So building on that can you tell us a little more about yourself, your background, and how those early experiences led you to ultimately end up getting involved in Democratic politics?
Crystal Cavalier: My grandparents would always hold these events or attend these parties locally to meet the candidates and one candidate was State Senator George Daniels. George Daniels would come and he would just come through our community. And I remember just sitting down and talking to him when I was in high school. And he was talking to me about the Senate page program and where you could go work with your legislator. And I was like, wow, that sounds so exciting. And, you know, I did it and I worked with his office. I can't remember how long it was, but I learned so much about the general assembly and how things worked. You know, that just kind of really got my involvement in politics
I started off at UNC G in the nursing program. And when I got really involved into nursing, I decided that was not for me. I changed my major to political science. And from there, I started to work with model United nations and learning about working with the federal government in one of my college professors, he worked with the CIA or NSA and I just aspired to work in the federal government.
And I was like, that is one of my life goals is to work in the federal government in that type of environment. Cause he had all of these stories where he would go to foreign countries and do diplomatic work. And I was like, oh my gosh, that sounds so exciting. And that was my track. And then I met this man that was in the military and I kind of fell head over heels in love.
And he was stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and, and I was still at UNC Greensboro and we developed this relationship and he would drive six hours to come see me every weekend. And I was like, wow, the dedication for that. And we just fell in love and we knew he was going to get deployed to Kosovo. We were talking about it and he was just like, Hey, do you want to get married? And I was like, oh, I guess, you know, didn't know what to expect from the military.
So I left school and transferred to Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia. I loved everything about the military life. One, you got to live on a military base. This was before nine 11 happened. And so it was free. You could actually drive through the army base.
JD Wooten: Yeah. I remember growing up with my dad in the air Force. And if you had the decals on your front windshield, you'd just get waived right through the gate.
Crystal Cavalier: Yeah, and I loved doing that.
JD Wooten: So We could jump right into the spouse of the year and then go back, or.
Crystal Cavalier: So I had this image in my head of what army life should be like and of course it was not that way. We lived in a little quaint house at Fort Stewart. My husband at the time, he wanted to work in an embassy. We were on the way to working in the embassy, but then he had to go to Kosovo.
And so that kind of changed our focus and mission. We went through that transition. I had our first child, he deployed, he came back, I graduated from UNC Greensboro, and then we immediately PCS'd to Fort Riley, Kansas. That was like my first big move out of the state. And that's where I started to volunteer and do a lot of work and we were stationed at Kansas for six years. My ex-husband was deployed four times while being stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas.
And so I just remember being a young army wife and trying to figure out how to navigate things. How to do things without, you know, your partner and how to be a parent. But while I was there, I learned about how hard it was for military spouses to get jobs. And people didn't really want to hire spouses. When you have turnover in your resume just made you look less dependable. I was like, I'm paying the student loan. I want to put my bachelor's degree to work.
And then we finally got stationed at Fort Bragg. I was like, okay, I'm back in North Carolina, I'm here with my family. What am I going to focus on? So I started to go to school at UNC Pembroke and while I was there I started to work with Operation Joining Forces with President Obama and his spouse and Dr. Biden and at that time Vice-president Biden and blue star families. And we were able to help influence legislation to give spouses some type of protections, whether they were real estate or lawyers, or being able to have spouses be on orders to help get them a job to where they can have fitting in the door, because we had so many spouses that just could not get equitable jobs.
While I was there, my daughter experienced that health crisis, the base realignment and closure was happening, we were still trying to help military spouses learn about life, how to deal with rapid deployments, how to deal with spouses, coming back with PTSD. And so after a couple of unfortunate accidents, they started to give the counseling they needed to both the soldiers and returning members and sometimes to the families.
And what I saw there was a lot of gaps because there was such a stigma around needing help that most of the service members didn't want to get the help because they didn't want to get stigmatized or have their careers tarnished because it was looked at as being less than a service member or a soldier because you needed help.
So I volunteered with the national military family association, I guess all of my volunteer experience paid off because in 2011, I was nominated and won of the army spouse of the year. And I was so honored because that was through Military Spouse Magazine. Now people are taking military spouses serious. And so we were able to get a national platform.
JD Wooten: Yeah, that's amazing, congratulations.
Crystal Cavalier: Thanks.
JD Wooten: Turning back to your involvement here in North Carolina and the Democratic Party, I understand you actually founded the North Carolina Democratic Party's Native American Caucus, and I believe you helped charter nearly a dozen, maybe more county caucuses across the state while you were president of the state caucus?
Crystal Cavalier: I did.
JD Wooten: That's a lot of organizing,
Crystal Cavalier: It was hard to tell you the truth. I only wanted to just do Alamance County, but then I talked to one of our party chairs. Then he suggested that we go to the state. Sean Ewing was like, you should do it for the whole state. We actually wrote the bylaws in the constitution and we presented it at one of the SEC meetings and it was adopted. And I was like, wow, I can't believe this had never happened before. But then I was like, what am I going to do? How am I going to find other people like me that want to be involved?
And what we did was we just started to locally outreach and then it kind of spread out. And then I reached out to a couple of friends that I had made in some grassroots work and they would introduce me to their friends and say, oh, they might be interested in that. And so that's how we were able to organize and mobilize throughout the state. I had an ambitious goal of getting a hundred counties chartered, but that would take years to do that.
JD Wooten: That's a long-term plan.
Crystal Cavalier: That's a long-term plan. But getting those getting that those 10 counties chartered was huge and it helped give visibility to invisible group of people, because we always knew there was native Americans here. If you didn't learn about them in college or other places like attending pow-wows or something, you would never know that there's a whole state of Native American still here in North Carolina, because in the K-12 curriculum, we only learned about the Eastern Band of Cherokee who were federally recognized. We didn't learn about the other seven state recognized tribes such as my tribe. They didn't even teach us about the local indigenous people here in Alamance County. And I'm just like, you guys have a whole host of lived and learned experience that you can bring into your classroom and have them talk about their contributions to Alamance County. But again, that's a whole curriculum issue and it's being able to address this invisibility issue. I really think the K-12 could benefit from learning about local indigenous people. I do honestly feel that sometimes these divisive tactics or politics that are being spewed or spoken about it's just ignorance. People are just not using common sense when they're talking about things like this.
JD Wooten: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And I think that there are very difficult conversations that we as a country and society need to be having around all matter of issues of our history and indigenous people, people of African descent. Even just how we treated women up until, well, I mean, still today, looking at the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, very different than just a few years ago, but I digress.
You've got an amazing campaign platform. I really want to make sure we have time to hit all of that. So your campaign platform covers an impressive range of issues from environmental protection and expanding access to affordable quality healthcare to supporting education, women's rights, military service members and their families, veterans, you especially make a point about supporting rural North Carolina and American Indian affairs. I'd love to hear about all of these things, but why don't we start with environmental protection.
Crystal Cavalier: Okay. So I just want the listeners to know that the reason I'm running is to represent the underrepresented and the unrepresented people. Because I feel people like me and the life experiences that I've had such as working for the federal government, living in the community, living in a rural community, growing up on a family farm actually living in two different parts of North Carolina. I found myself in a pre-pandemic immersed in local justice battles for the environment. Local battles for equal treatment and justice under the law. And just personally being manipulated by the medical system social service systems in the judicial system. And I told myself that something has got to change because I know if I'm experiencing this there's hundreds and thousands of other people experiencing this. I'm just running to give people their voice back and to give back a sense of community.
On the environment, I'm no stranger to fighting this Mountain Valley Pipeline. Someone reached out to me while I was serving as an elected tribal council woman for my tribe the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, and said, hey, I hear the ACP is still coming through, but we also heard about the Mountain Valley Pipeline. And when I brought it up in a tribal council meeting, no one had heard of it. So that night I went home and I started to research and I was just like, this is now coming through our backyard. What do we have to do?
The environment is so important to us because all of the water is connected here. People who live in the rural part, they have well water that is connected to either a spring or aquifers underground, but that also connects to the streams and tributaries that lead into our major veins, which are the rivers that flow to the ocean. People always say water equals life and prosperity. Here in North Carolina, we have relied on these abundant water sources and you know, a lot of people kind of take for granted water. There's a huge economic and cultural impact that water plays on us, especially when there's industries that are promoting to dump their toxic waste into the waters. We shouldn't be dumping anything into the water because ultimately these chemicals are getting in our bodies and they're affecting us. They're affecting our wildlife, things that we eat, you know, people hunt and fish from the river. People don't know that these fish are toxic and it's killing them. And so we have to be able to have environmental sustainability and environmental resilience.
One more thing I want to talk about. We really have to divest from fossil fuels. All of this stuff is happening in Ukraine. You know, there's a lot of politicians, especially in Congress that are talking about, oh, we need more fracked gas just saying that because constituents don't really understand fracked gas is not the same type of gas you put in your car. People don't understand that. They don't understand that the crude oil that we produce here in the United States is sweet crude that has to get refined before we can put it in our cars. We have to have this climate restoration. It's necessarily for national security, because as you see it, we have a national security issue because there's a lot of people that depend on fossil fuels from Russia or Ukraine, and right now they're in a war.
JD Wooten: I love it, those are all amazing points. And I think it's so easy for people to lose track of just how intertwined all of that is, because the environmental piece, the climate change piece, the fossil fuel dependency piece, the national security piece, these are all part of an overarching set of issues. And I love just how you tied all that together, because I do think that we have to be mindful of all of those elements at the same time, so that we're not stove piping ourselves with policies and saying, well, we're just going to address this one issue or topic.
I had a mentor in grad school, a former Undersecretary of Defense, who was, I think, kind of ahead of his time. And he said climate change was one of the biggest national security threats we face as a country. And he was saying that twenty years ago. And he was looking at purely from the standpoint of, well, at the end of the day, what are people absolutely going to always go to war for, fight for, die for? Your most basic amenities, things like food. If climate change is robbing the land, that's going to really affect your international relations.
So I love all of that. Thank you. I do want to turn to healthcare access. You discussed this a little bit earlier. I understand you've had some challenges navigating the healthcare system yourself and your own family. Can you tell us a little about that, and some of the changes you plan to fight for in Congress?
Crystal Cavalier: So I'll give you two examples. So one coming from active duty military family. When we became retired, our access to care changed, going from living two hours away from army installation, you know, our copays changed, we went to Tricare Standard. It was hard to pay for these annual enrollment fees and network copayments. So my daughter, she actually experienced another healthcare crisis. She was diagnosed with another autoimmune disease, type one diabetes. And that was the reason that I actually moved home. What I found is insulin is a lot. My daughter needs insulin daily because she no longer has the ability for her pancreas to make it. Insulin is very expensive without insurance. Without insurance, it was $2,000 a month. But now with insurance, we pay $300 a month. And coming from a working family, $300 is still a lot of money.
JD Wooten: $2,000 a month is a nice house payment, that has a nice house. And that's a tremendous reduction to go down to $300 a month, but even still $300 a month. That's huge.
Crystal Cavalier: Right. And that's just one medicine. We pay probably about six, $700 a month just buying medicine.
JD Wooten: I'm sure that doesn't cover the regular visits you've got to have and yeah.
Crystal Cavalier: Yeah, it's crazy. But at the beginning of my campaign in January, my mom suffered a healthcare crisis. She actually suffered a stroke. And she's on Medicare. And I had to quickly learn to navigate Medicare for her because she had a really bad stroke. And what I found out is sometimes Medicare doesn't pay for the necessary things that she needs. And so we've been taking care of her at home while going through this campaign. So I've experienced that. I'm really for Medicare for all.
All of these things that I'm fighting for are all intertwined together. Like affordable housing is intertwined with medical care because at the end of the day, people have to live and they have to have livable wages. So we've seen the cost of living rise exponentially, but the cost of what they're paying these people. I'm telling you $7.25 for minimum wage, that's nothing you're still going, you know, from check to check and people cannot continue to live this way. Not sustainably.
JD Wooten: I love this idea that it's all interconnected together. I'd love to dive into that a little more. Rather than talk about individual pieces of your campaign platform, why don't we talk about it this way? What would be your top three priorities, knowing that all of these things are interconnected and they all impact each other. So what would be the first three things that you would just really put on the line and focus on in your first year in Congress?
Crystal Cavalier: First, the international introduction to the rights of mother nature and grandmother earth. What we're talking about, giving rights to rivers, to the water. To be represented as a person, because we have to be able to sue these corporations or take action against these corporations who continue to do these detrimental things. Because I always say the health of the water determines the health of the people.
Secondly, I would talk about Medicare for All and healthcare for all, we should not have to worry about just having access to that.
Then finally affordable housing for people. There's a huge epidemic in Durham. I've seen it in orange county. I've even seen it here in Alamance County. Well, we have these people who have just had a bad turn in life and they are out on the streets and there's nothing that we can do to help them and they need affordable programs that they can access.
And that all ties in together with women's rights, equal pay for women, that also ties into veterans, because I see a lot of veterans who have mental health issues coming back from a war. And it is heartbreaking that we turn our veterans loose. The VA health care system is not the best in the world and they need mental solutions. They have to be able to learn to cope and deal with these traumatic experiences.
I have gone out into the community to educate people because you have to be able to speak the language that people can understand. You can't speak academic to people who don't have an academic degree. You have to be able to be respectful and converse with everybody.
JD Wooten: I always like to think of it as trying to meet people where they are both literally and metaphorically.
Crystal Cavalier: Yep. That's exactly right JD.
JD Wooten: Your primary is on May the 17. What else do you want prospective voters to know about you before they go cast their ballot?
Crystal Cavalier: I want them to visit my website, you can learn more about me, we have some events on our event page. You can come out, you can meet me. I will be starting to door, knock and canvas, and just to try to meet people because I'm a relationship builder, this is where I was born and raised. This is where my ancestors are. We have got to get back to community living because people are hurting and they don't understand why they're hurting or why they're so angry. And I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to be on your podcast.
JD Wooten: Well, it's been such a wonderful experience having you on. Thank you so much for sharing all that with us. All right, everyone, crystalcavaliercongress.com. Go check it out. We'll have links in the show notes to that and all the social media sites. Crystal, thank you again for being with us today.
Crystal Cavalier: Thank you so much.
JD Wooten: Thanks again to Crystal for joining us today. Visit crystalcavaliercongress.com to learn more and follow Crystal on social media to keep up with her campaign, links in the show notes. Remember, if you or someone else you know should be on the show, send me an email at email@example.com.
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