Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, I'm joined by State Senator Valerie Foushee to talk about her campaign for North Carolina's Fourth Congressional District. We also discuss Judge Jackson's confirmation hearing, the GOP leadership's reaction to Madison Cawthorn's latest controversy, and important deadlines for the upcoming primary elections.
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Valerie Foushee: What I've learned in serving in elected office is that representatives don't determine what the issues are. The people determine the issues. And it is our responsibility to be responsive to and to address the issues.
JD Wooten: Hey everyone, JD Wooten here. Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. Today we’re joined by State Senator Valerie Foushee, running to represent the North Carolina 4th Congressional District. But first, let’s catch up on some of the news of the last few weeks. I’ll start with the great news and work my way down to the absolute ludicrous, but sadly not surprising news.
So, at the top of the list for outstanding updates is that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been confirmed for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. She’ll replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Court when he retires at the end of the current term, likely in late June or early July. The U.S. Senate voted 53-47 in her favor, with three reasonable Republicans voting to support her. Unfortunately, that seems to be about as bipartisan as things get these days. Regardless, Justice Jackson will be the first Black woman and 8th non-white man to serve on the Court in its 233-year history. She also brings another first to the Court with her professional experience as a public defender. Interestingly enough, there hasn’t even been a criminal defense attorney of any kind, from public or private practice, in decades.
Now, the less than stellar part of this update is the confirmation process she was put through to get there. Some members of the Republican Party were quite civil and reasonable, even calling out the extremism from their own party. I absolutely commend those voices. Unfortunately, that still leaves us with those who have all but replaced dog whistles with bullhorns. We had one Senator reading a children’s book at the judge—not to the judge, that’s how we read to children—but he read it at her, asking asinine questions like whether a cartoon baby was racist. I guess he hasn’t lost his dog whistle.
Then we had another Senator making a play for the QAnon crowd trying to tie Judge Jackson to pedophilia. And no, this is not a stretch or some wild interpretation. That was exactly the Senator’s point, and the conspiracy theorists understood exactly what he was doing and were immediately abuzz with the attacks. QAnon conspiracy theorists immediately picked up these accusations and attempted to tie Judge Jackson to the absurd conspiracy that the Democratic Party is a satanic and pedophiliac cabal. A 2020 poll actually showed that 50% of Trump supporters think top Democrats are involved in child sex-trafficking. This is the same Senator who gave a fist pump to insurrectionist just over a year ago. The White House called this an “embarrassing QAnon-signaling smear,” and it’s not even a dog whistle, but an outright bull horn to the conspiracy base of the GOP.
Oh, and let’s not forget that another Senator asked Judge Jackson is she could define what a woman is. Ironically, quite a few Republicans have been asked that question since the hearing and have stumbled to find an even moderately coherent answer themselves. It’s a little amusing now, but it certainly wasn’t amusing at the time.
And speaking of GOP controversy, of which there’s never a shortage these days, we’ve got North Carolina’s own Madison Cawthorn running around talking about his GOP colleagues doing key bumps of cocaine at orgies. Given his propensity for lies and absurd statements to get attention, I don’t really see any reason to get worked up one way or the other about the truth of his accusations. I also didn’t talk about it when it first came up because talking about people who are seeking attention feeds the problem, and I have better things to do with my time. That said, something that did get me worked up in the aftermath was that one the one hand we’ve got GOP members of Congress headlining white supremacy events and their fellow members can barely be bothered to care, while on the other hand we have an immature twenty-something freshman congressman known for lying getting under their skin for discussing the GOP’s coke orgies, which may or may not actually be real. The story here, at least for the moment, is not whether the GOP is raging at coke-filled orgies, but how GOP leadership reacted to this versus GOP reactions to things that should be far more serious and are grave threats to our democracy, like armed insurrections, voter suppression, and a resurgence of white supremacy. I continue to be disappointed, but alas, not surprised.
Ok, enough with the frustrating news. Before we turn to my interview with the Sen. Foushee, here are some important North Carolina 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.
Something I haven’t highlighted yet is that in order to register to vote in North Carolina, an eligible voters must be at least 18 years old. However, 16- and 17-year-olds may preregister to vote. Preregistration means that once you become eligible by age to vote, your voter registration application will then be processed. And until you are registered, you will not be eligible to vote. So, if you will be 18 years of age by November 8th of this year, the date of the next general election, your application can be processed now, even if you will only be 17 years old during the primary. You will then be qualified to vote in the primary election for all eligible contests. Again, if you will be 18 by the general election on November 8, 2022, you can vote in the primary on May 17, 2022 as well.
Also, don’t forget that in North Carolina unaffiliated or independent voters can still vote in the primary, you just get to choose which party’s ballot you want when you request a ballot. So if you’re registered to vote, but not registered with a particular party, that’s perfectly fine, you can still cast a ballot in the primary of your choice on May 17th.
As I’ve said before, if you’re listening to a political podcast, you’re probably registered to vote and your registration is up-to-date. Excellent, 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, as well as links to the voting information and resources I mentioned earlier.
And now, here’s my interview with Sen. Valerie Foushee.
JD Wooten: With me today is state Senator Valerie Foushee who has represented District 23 in the North Carolina Senate since 2013. She previously served in the North Carolina House of Representatives and on the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School Board, and the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Senator Foushee is running to represent the North Carolina Fourth Congressional District. The newly drawn Fourth Congressional District includes Alamance, Orange, Durham, Person, and Granville Counties. Welcome Senator Fouhsee.
Valerie Foushee: Thank you, JD. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be with you today.
JD Wooten: Well, thank you so much for taking the time. So I'll begin with my customary first question. What's your earliest memory of politics or getting involved in policy?
Valerie Foushee: I would say that my earliest memory of politics, probably, you know, during the sixties, when there was so much racial unrest in our community, but my first dive into politics as you've noted, was to run for the Chapel Hill Carboro City Schools Board. And that came out of the experience of having two sons in elementary school, and having done some research on student achievement, because at that time there was a lot of conversations about the achievement gap between minority students and majority students. And so after having done some research, I learned that regardless of what a family's income level was, particularly for black families, young black boys would drop in achievement at grade four. And it was like this phenomenon that could not be explained, even though there were lots of suggestions about what might be attributable to that. And one of the things was about parental involvement, making sure that children had read a certain number of books before they started school, and that you kept up reading and that sort of thing. And so I started to volunteer in classrooms and started to see some things that I thought needed adjustment, shall we say? And so I joined a number of school governance committees, and task forces that dealt with the achievement gap. And from that, I was urged from some friends and supporters to consider adding my voice, to represent their voices on the board. So that's how I got started. It was about my children and understanding that what was applying to my children was certainly applicable to other children.
JD Wooten: So you started with just some activism in and around the school and the school board, but then that propelled you to actually running for the school board. How long did you end up serving on the school board?
Valerie Foushee: So I served on the school board for seven years. I was elected to two terms, but I was elected to the Board of Commissioners, my last year of service to the School Board. So I left a year early to join the County Commission.
JD Wooten: Certainly, and those two boards, commissions work hand in hand in a lot of issues, especially around education. Out of curiosity, was there anything in particular that led you to that transition from the Board of Ed to the Board of Commissioners?
Valerie Foushee: It really was about school funding. As you've noted because the majority of school funding comes from the local government. And so understanding that there were some needs that I thought were not being represented on the commission. And at the same time, we were having some issues as we are now with affordable housing. I wanted to ensure that there was funding from the local government that could address affordable housing in my county. Another issue if I recall correctly was providing for seniors by establishing senior centers in the county. Those were the three issues that were most prominent to me, it was education, providing for seniors, and providing for affordable housing.
JD Wooten: The education funding, I'm sure that's been a constant issue in every position you've held. So you've served on a school board, a county commission, you've been a state representative and a state senator. How do you think those experiences, especially that breadth of experience, will inform your work when you get to Congress?
Valerie Foushee: What I've learned most in serving in elected office is to always be reminded that representatives don't determine what the issues are. The people determine the issues. And it is our responsibility to be responsive to and to address the issues. What I like most about serving is finding resolutions or finding solutions to issues. I think that having dealt with situations at the local level and at the state level gives me an experience that will certainly be helpful because I have sat across tables in kitchens. I've sat on porches. I've sat on daises you know, I have sat and listened. And I have learned how to find points of intersection for any of our discussions, understanding that all of us are genuinely affected similarly, on those issues. At our core, we all want the best for our children. We want our children to be educated. We want to have clean and safe housing. We want to have clean air and water. What I've learned is that since we all want the same thing, we have to figure out how we get to those goals in a way that all of us are served. And so those experiences having served on so many levels have taught me that again, we're all striving for the same goals. Maybe in different ways, maybe deploying different strategies, but ultimately, we want the same things. And so being able to take those experiences to the next level, I'm hoping will not just benefit my ability to serve, but certainly benefit the people whom I serve.
JD Wooten: Well, I love all of that. And I remember my first opportunity, full disclosure for our listeners, my first opportunity to actually have a chance to work with you at all, was the beginning of the pandemic when I was a candidate for the State Senate. And I remember that the world was just kind of upside down. Nobody was quite sure what we're supposed to be doing. And there was a real drive from the State Senate Caucus as I recall it to help facilitate and coordinate messaging so that we were getting the same consistent message out to all of our people and just put the pause on the campaigning side of it and just do what we could to help our neighbors. And I remember you being on most all of those calls. So thank you.
Valerie Foushee: Thank you for that.
JD Wooten: Turning to your current campaign. Unfortunately, there's probably just no way we can do justice to every important issue, so let's focus on three broad topics that I hope will resonate with most of our listeners. For a first topic let's start with the economy. I know as a state Senator, you've fought to increase the minimum wage, you've supported unions and collective bargaining, you've supported programs to help reduce the financial burdens of pursuing higher education. Just moments ago, you were talking about other issues that you've addressed in your past positions. So what are some of the things you hope to do in Congress to continue fighting on these and other issues to help strengthen our economy?
Valerie Foushee: Thank you for that question. And certainly I would continue to fight for a minimum wage of $15. We see where people are from the pandemic and people have lost their jobs. People coming back into the workforce. With all of the increases in what we're purchasing for our everyday needs, we need to ensure that there is no less than a $15 minimum with built in increases that will adjust for inflation. I think that we need to make the child tax credit permanent. We saw how that helped families during the pandemic. I would continue to fight for universal childcare and pre-K because families are using a large chunk of their income for childcare services, then that doesn't leave a lot to participate in the economy, such that we can continue to keep it strong. And I, of course I would oppose anything that would suggest that we cut benefits to Social Security, Medicaid, and we need to continue to work to expand Medicaid eligibility. So those are a few things that I think that we could start to work on with me being representative in Congress right away.
JD Wooten: I love it. Two things I'd love to circle back on, on that one. think I understood you correctly, the minimum wage and that you would advocate for provisions to not have to come back and readdress it regularly, but rather automatic. Would that be like tying it to a consumer price index or something?
Valerie Foushee: Correct. Exactly that, because I think that's an easy way to do it. And certainly having started a process such as that, that can be evaluated and reviewed would keep it in the forefront. Such that we don't have to continue this conversation because we've had this conversation for a long time JD.
JD Wooten: I have no doubt. I know that if we were to leave it to Congress, to have to continually come back and readdress it and readdress it, the conversation we continue going for a very long time as well. So I love that idea. I think the next area that I'd like to cover, would be voting rights because this one is near and dear to my heart as part of that broader fight for democracy. I know a lot of issues surrounding voting rights and democracy in general can and should be addressed at the local and state levels. But I think Congress has the opportunity to play a vital role in protecting democratic norms as well. What do you hope to see Congress do to strengthen some of our basic democratic rights and democratic norms?
Valerie Foushee: Yeah, I agree with, with what you said because I do believe that there should be a national standard. It's such that people understand what their voting rights. think that one of the things that I want to do is to push forward the passage of the for the people act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, because part of this, as we know in this state has to do with gerrymandering. And so to ensure that voters are choosing their representatives rather than representatives choosing, who gets to vote for them is essential to strengthening our democracy. I think that the John Lewis voting rights act is a mechanism to limit gerrymandering and at the same time, expanding access to the ballot box. So those are a couple of things that I think that I would like to work on right away.
JD Wooten: I think that's all sounds wonderful. And let the record reflect for the benefit of a couple of listeners that have teased me about the amount I talk about gerrymandering. I'm not the first one that mentioned it, but now that the, uh, can is open, thank you. It sounds like what I'm hearing is that even in areas where maybe it's not Congress's direct role to legislate on certain things, even in those areas, making sure that we're protecting people's constitutional rights requires at least putting some guardrails on to keep the states in line.
So I'm curious,
since you've started campaigning for the fourth congressional district, what's maybe one of the issues that surprised you most in terms of what's at the forefront of people's minds right now, or was there anything that caught you by surprise that you might not have thought it was so high?
Valerie Foushee: I don't know if I was surprised by it but hearing people talk about their status right now as it relates to COVID, as it relates to adjusting to not working in brick-and-mortar buildings, the whole notion of course, of the lack of access to broadband, and when are we going to do something about it? Given the problems or the issues we had with access to broadband when we first entered into the pandemic, and school shut down, and students had to learn online and many students didn't have access. And so the whole notion of now dealing with mental health issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, because so many of us were isolated, and issues or situations that could have, and have been monitored here before in schools were not addressed. And then the big issue that's related to both of those things is access to health care. No access to telehealth because you don't have access to broadband. And no access to being able to have your mental health issues addressed because you don't have access to healthcare in general. I sat with a group in Granville County last week, and most of our conversation had to do with dealing with mental health issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. I don't know whether it was surprising to me that it was a topic. What may have been surprising is that it pretty much was the total conversation. Now there were situations that were attached to, or, you know, collateral damages to what has been brought to us by the pandemic, but that was most of the conversation. And people wanted to talk about particular incidences where folk who had had some challenges are now at their lowest point. That's what I'm hearing from people now when I sit down and talk with them. That there has to be a way that we deal with these issues before people go back to workplaces. So that people can feel comfortable with work and even feeling comfortable around other people.
JD Wooten: That is an astute observation, no doubt, but also perhaps a great transition opportunity to what I wanted to ask for that third point of your campaign platform, addressing those very issues in the mental health care, but also healthcare broadly. I think you've written that quality healthcare is a right, which should be guaranteed all Americans and the support Medicare for All system. So what do you think would be some of our first steps towards ensuring everyone has that access to quality, affordable health care?
Valerie Foushee: Well, first of all, the state of North Carolina needs to expand Medicaid.
JD Wooten: Amen.
Valerie Foushee: We can do that right here. And I'm proud to say that I think we are closer to getting there than we've ever been. I came to the General Assembly in 2013, and that was one of the first pieces of legislation that we passed, that we would not expand Medicaid. And so being at a point now where that is a conversation that has gained support broadly in the General Assembly certainly makes me feel good about that. But I think that, you know, there are a number of things we can do. One of them is you know, we can support policies that would require pharmaceutical companies to negotiate with the government to lower prescription drug prices. When we talk about healthcare in general and access to affordable health care, then you know, it shouldn't be that just those people who are well employed or well-connected can have access. It shouldn't be that given where we are after having not expanded Medicaid and coming through the pandemic with the number of rural hospitals that have closed. As I said to some folks last week, when we don't have access to healthcare, when we have people who live in communities where they can't get emergency care within a reasonable amount of time, then when those emergencies happen, people die. And that's not necessary. We can do better because we can ensure that these hospitals are able to remain open, that they are there for folks when they need emergency care. We can ensure that people are not making choices about whether or not they're buying groceries or they're buying medication. And if they're not buying that medication, then they are committing themselves to early deaths or in living conditions where their quality of life suffers because they're not healthy. Everything is tied to healthcare. Whether, you know, we have the ability to work, whether we have the ability to learn, whether we have the ability to just interact with other folk, because we are healthier, we're not passing on some type of health conditions. All of that hinges on the right to access quality and affordable health care. So certainly I would continue to work on providing that access. And I think that Medicare for All is one way of doing it. Expanding ACA is another way, whatever works. Here's what we should try and we should complete that task so that that is not a situation where we're talking about people not having access. It just does not make sense in a country like America for that, not to be a given.
JD Wooten: I couldn't agree more. I think one of the points you just made, tying in all the way back to your earliest days on school boards. Okay, great. So you get the funding for the schools, but you know, if the students aren't healthy or if their families aren't healthy, you could have the best facilities in the world, and if a student's not healthy in the classroom, it's, it's not going to do a whole lot. I think also these numbers are, are certainly dated. But if I recall, when I first started getting really involved on the political side, I think it was something to the effect of 23,000 veterans in North Carolina were in the coverage gap and that are not covered and that's veterans. And then I believe it was, you know, these are obviously pre pandemic numbers. A conservative estimate was somewhere in the ballpark of a thousand preventable, unnecessary deaths of people that would have been covered and could have been covered if we had expanded Medicaid.
Valerie Foushee: Absolutely. And, you know, that's a goal that should be near and dear to all of us.
JD Wooten: So I'm curious. Do you think there's a way for states and you know, fingers crossed, I would love to think that North Carolina does get there on its own here in the near future, but assuming that you make it to Congress and that Democrats hold the majority, do you think that there's an opportunity in there to also revise the Affordable Care Act in order to go ahead and expand Medicaid for any states that have not done so voluntarily?
Valerie Foushee: I do. And I hope to find that that is the case. Certainly we have time to see if the other 12, including North Carolina will do that prior to, but if not, certainly I think working to expand the ACA such that those states are doing that, Expanding Medicaid, such that we are ensuring the most number of people in each of these states, I think is paramount.
JD Wooten: I think people will be thrilled to hear that. So Senator Foushee, anything else on your campaign platform that we've, that we've missed or that you'd like to highlight? And I know there are a ton of topics we could talk about, but anything near and dear to your heart, for sure.
Valerie Foushee: Yeah. I do think JD, if there is any one thing that we haven't talked about would be criminal justice reform. And I think that with that we really do need to talk about, how should I say, what is happening with guns in our country. That there needs to be a national standard again, about what is permitted that there should be a ban on assault rifles. There should be a ban on these high-capacity magazines. All of these things that we know are not connected to the Second Amendment rights. Certainly I'm not a proponent of doing away with Second Amendment rights. But what I am concerned about is the number of shootings that we're having. Almost to the point where it seems that we're becoming numb to mass shootings. And I would hope that that is never the case. But certainly we need to move towards addressing the proliferation of guns in our country.
JD Wooten: Gun violence is in and of itself its own pandemic in this nation, and I wholeheartedly agree. As a veteran, I feel very strongly that weapons of war don't need to be in our streets. I don't think that that's an infringement on a Second Amendment right. It's just responsible, reasonable limits.
Valerie Foushee: That's right. And so I would say criminal justice and guns violence are two other issues that I'd like to work on, should I be elected to Congress.
JD Wooten: Well we would love to see that work continue. Perhaps the most important question yet. Where can people go to learn more about you and how to support your campaign?
Valerie Foushee: I'm glad you asked. You can simply go to www dot Valerie Foushee dot com. Thank you for that.
JD Wooten: Absolutely. All right, so for all our listeners, go check out her website and her social media to learn more. Senator Foushee, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.
Valerie Foushee: It was certainly my honor and my pleasure. Thank you, JD.
JD Wooten: Thanks again to Senator Valerie Foushee for joining us today. Visit valeriefoushee.com to learn more and follow her 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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