Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we’re joined by State Representative Ricky Hurtado to talk about recent legislation from the General Assembly and what's on the ballot this November. Plus, still more U.S. Supreme Court decisions that should alarm us all.
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Ricky Hurtado: Regardless of what the Supreme Court does with this Moore v. Harper case, we're going to need some frontline support. And part of that will require more Democratic legislators that are willing to uphold our democracy in the General Assembly.
JD Wooten: Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. I’m JD Wooten, and today we’re joined by Ricky Hurtado who represents District 63, covering part of Alamance County, in the North Carolina House of Representatives. But first, we have several important reminders and I want to review a few more of the monumental U.S. Supreme Court cases and decisions that dropped at the end of June.
So, first reminder – please share this episode with a friend, or post about it on social media. Our audience continues to grow, which means that interview guests keep reaching larger audiences. And, it also means that more and more people go back to listen to past episodes, so it’s not just helping future guests reach large audiences, it’s helping past guests as well.
Second, don’t forget that numerous counties and municipalities across the state have run off primary elections or general elections on July 26th. Early voting has already begun and will run until July 23rd, with election day being Tuesday, July 26th. Check your local board of elections website for more details.
Third reminder, our friends at Carolina Forward will be hosting a Justice for All event on Saturday, July 23rd from 1-4 at Natty Greene’s in Greensboro. North Carolina Supreme Court Justices Sam Ervin and Anita Earls, Court of Appeals Judge and Supreme Court candidate Lucy Inman, and Chief District Court Judge Teresa Vincent of Guilford County will all be there. I’ve already got my ticket, and I’ll leave a link in the show notes for you to get yours as well.
Finally, don’t forget we’ve got a YouTube channel now, featuring video from our various guest interviews. We’ll do our best release video interviews the same week that those interviews come out on the pod. There may be times when getting quality video just isn’t an option, but hopefully those occasions will be rare. Link to our YouTube channel is in the show notes.
Ok, business out of the way, it’s actually been a relatively quiet week in North Carolina, which is kind of a nice change of pace after all the horrors of the weeks prior. The General Assembly ended their short session without passage of Medicaid Expansion or legalization of medical marijuana, but they also didn’t pass the State Senate’s Don’t Say Gay Bill, so mixed bag overall. The budget adjustments were announced and passed quickly without any debate, and left a lot of funding that I think could have gone to quite a few good causes to help struggling North Carolinians, but instead went to the rainy day fund. I’m not sure they looked outside, but it’s raining. We sure could have used some of that to help people out, especially our public schools.
There were also two more recent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court I want to briefly discuss. The first case is Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which Coach Kennedy was dismissed from his position as a high school football coach after praying on the 50-yard line after games. Not only is the outcome notable, which overturned decades of precedent to allow for the public prayer at a school function, but also notable is the extreme difference of the facts as presented by the majority and the dissent. By all accounts of the reporting around the case, the majority deliberately misconstrue the facts of this case to arrive at their preferred outcome, whereas the dissent faithfully captured the actual facts. This is alarming because if the majority’s telling of the facts had been correct, this case would have never occurred. Which is to say, if the coach had been engaged in quiet, private prayers, generations of legal precedent would have protected such activities. The School District even acknowledged this directly to the coach at the time of the conduct in question. Instead, the coach made a deliberate, public showing of his prayers, in a public space, and in a way that made students feel coerced to join him. That’s not conjecture, that coercion was reported to the School District by the parents and the lower courts acknowledged it.
As the dissent summed it up, the coach “was on the job as a school official on government property when he incorporated a public, demonstrative prayer into government-sponsored school-related events as a regularly scheduled feature of those events.” The violation of the Establishment Clause is obvious here. Coach Kennedy even went so far as to advertised his conduct to local media and the media was there to record the prayers in quite a large fanfare. And this was not an isolated incident, and the School District went to great lengths to accommodate the coach while also emphasizing that he could not pray while post-game activities were still going on or with students. It eventually escalated to local politicians joining him in support of the prayers on the 50-yard line after the game, surrounded by media. To drive home the point that these were not quiet, personal prayers of an off-duty employee, the dissent included multiple pictures confirming its description of the facts.
The Court also over also pretended that it had long ago overturned the case of Lemon v. Kurtzmen, which all law students learned and established what has been known for generations as the Lemon test. Under the Lemon test, which anyone who has ever studied for a bar exam will likely remember for the pneumonic device SEX, the government action around religion must be secular in purpose, it must have a neutral effect, the E, and it must avoid excessive government entanglement with religion. And the excessive was the X so I’ll admit, it wasn’t a perfect pneumonic device, but I remember it to this day so I guess it worked all the same.
As the dissent noted, the majority “relies on an assortment of pluralities concurrences, and dissents by Members of the current majority to effect fundamental changes in this Court’s Religion Clauses jurisprudence, all the while proclaiming that nothing has changed at all.” The dissent further noted, “The Court now says for the first time that endorsement simply does not matter, and completely repudiates the test established in Lemon. Both of these moves are erroneous and, despite the Court’s assurances, novel.” The dissent even went so far as to call out one of the majority’s arguments as a strawman.
The majority effectively side steps any discussion of stare decisis, which we talked about with the Dobbs decision, and which essentially holds that to overturn established precedent, the Court needs to show that the original case was egregiously wrong, that wrong must cause significant real-world harms, and overturning the precedent cannot dramatically upset the reliance people and society have placed in the prior opinion. By falsely claiming that the Court had long ago abandoned Lemon, it avoided any justification of its decision under stare decisis doctrine. Perhaps worst of all, the new test under this Court’s ruling is to “interpret whether an Establishment Clause violation has occurred mainly by reference to historical practices and understandings.” The Court explicitly writes that this depends on, and I quote, “the understanding of the Founding Fathers.” That’s right, make up whatever you like, and as long as you can tie it back to the opinions and beliefs of those who believed that only land-owning white males could participate in government and vote, you’re all good. They are literally taking us back not just decades or generations, but centuries. And once again, we have a case that’s egregiously wrong on its face, which will cause real-world harms, and there really can’t be future reliance on this because it gives zero guidance to Courts or the public on how to judge future cases. It leaves everyone to be their own amateur historians and apply history as they understand it, right or wrong as that may be.
And as disconcerting as the Supreme Court deliberately misconstruing facts and overturning generations of law while telling us not to believe our lying eyes, a few days later the Court announced it would take up the North Carolina case of Moore v. Harper. This was the redistricting case from earlier this year in which the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the new legislative maps, both state and federal, were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. Normally, once a state supreme court interprets a state constitutional issue, that’s it, case closed. The U.S. Supreme Court does not have authority to overrule a state supreme court on state constitutional issues. However, Republicans are advancing a radical legal theory — the independent state legislature theory — that would limit state courts’ ability to interpret their own state’s laws and apply their state’s constitutions to federal elections.
I struggled at first with how to explain this theory and just how monumental the Court even entertaining this theory might be, but then I came across a great summary from the Democracy Docket. Democracy Docket is an organization founded by Marc Elias, long-time lawyer to countless prominent Democrats, and it’s dedicated to legal updates impacting democracy nationally. Consider this my free advertisement of their great work, and I’ll leave links in the show notes if you want to learn more about this subject or their work in general.
As a quick reminder, in Moore v. Harper, the GOP-led general assembly adopted extreme partisan gerrymandered maps and the state supreme court ruled them unconstitutional under the state constitution. The General Assembly was ordered to redraw the maps, they did, and the trial court found that the remedial congressional map was still unconstitutional. With the help of independent experts, including a former Republican state supreme court justice, the trial court adopted constitutional maps.
Last spring, North Carolina Republicans requested the U.S. Supreme Court block the remedial congressional map via its shadow docket on the basis that the state court system was exercising authority outside its limits in imposing a map for federal elections. Again, this theory is called the independent state legislature theory. The Supreme Court denied the request, allowing North Carolina to hold the 2022 elections under a fair map, but Justice Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch dissented from the order, and Justice Kavanaugh concurred in the denial, writing separately to indicate his interest in taking up the case on the Court’s merits docket—which is exactly what the Court did.
Now, the Supreme Court will consider this North Carolina case with full briefing and an oral argument, but it should ring every alarm bell that at least four justices think that a fringe constitutional theory—one repeatedly advanced by former President Donald Trump’s hodgepodge legal team in 2020—warrants serious review by the Court. The independent state legislature theory interprets the word “legislature” in the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause to literally mean legislature, and legislature only. This is crucial because right now, long-standing precedent holds that “legislature” means the state’s lawmaking process—including state court review in North Carolina. In other states, it may also include gubernatorial vetoes, independent redistricting commissions, and citizen-led ballot initiatives, although none of those are available n North Carolina. Still, if the Court adopts the independent state legislature theory, all of those checks across the country would almost certainly be unconstitutional.
If embraced, the independent state legislature theory would give state lawmakers free rein, without state legal oversight, to set federal election laws, draw illegal gerrymanders, and at its extreme, take steps to interfere with presidential election results because the U.S. Constitution uses similar language giving the legislature the power to appoint electors for the Electoral College. This is a dangerous and radical theory that could do grave danger to our democracy if adopted.
So, what can we do today to protect democracy? Well, we can work to elect more pro-democracy candidates up and down the ballot, which these days, basically just means Democrats plus Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. It’s a sad state of affairs, but that’s just where we are right now. I recommend checking out The New North Carolina Project and the New Rural Project for groups doing the tough work on the ground to organize and build an engaged electorate, and you can look to lists like the ones from Carolina Forward to see where the most competitive races will be and thus where your time and treasure will have the greatest impact. As Representative Hurtado suggested at the end of our interview, I’ve got the lists for you and links will be in the show notes. Now here’s my interview with Representative Ricky Hurtado.
JD Wooten: With me today is State Representative Ricky Hurtado who represents District 63 Alamance County in the North Carolina House. Welcome Representative Hurtado!
Ricky Hurtado: Hey, JD. It's great to see as always appreciate being here today.
JD Wooten: Great to have you. First question, what's your earliest memory of politics or getting involved in politics?
Ricky Hurtado: I didn't grow up in a particularly active family when it comes to politics and civic engagement the son of immigrants, and two parents who cared deeply about our future, but didn't exactly know what American politics, or I guess the systems in place here sort of looked like, and felt like. And so my first memory really is in college in the first election that I ever voted. That was a 2008 election where President Obama made history. I remember going to my polling place early voting and calling that a wrap. And the night of the election, my friends along with the rest of UNC felt like rush Franklin Street when Obama won. But I went to bed, and I didn't participate in any of that. And, and I sort of always share that story with young people to people assume that if you're in politics, you've been engaged your whole life and you sort of know what this looks like. But for me, it was always a story of like figuring it out and, and thinking about what I cared about and what that looked like in my own life. And so it wasn't until Obama's reelection, where I feel like I fully knew what was going on, what my role was, how I could get involved, and how I could participate, and how important North Carolina was in the whole equation.
JD Wooten: So you grew up in rural North Carolina. You're a product of North Carolina public schools. You're also, as you already mentioned, son of working-class immigrants. With those backgrounds, are there any particular experiences growing up that still really drive your thinking and political philosophy today?
Ricky Hurtado: Yeah, absolutely. I share a lot about my background and my upbringing with constituents as I talk about politics, as I talk about my campaign, because that experience still to this day is just the whole backdrop to why I do what I do. I think there's two big things that I remember growing up and one was that public schools and my public education experience was just so formative in the sense of it being my doorway to learning what life could be like in North Carolina. And public-school teachers played such a pivotal role in that from mentorship, to support, to everything that happens outside of the formal classroom, to teachers, my calculus teacher literally paying for my laptop to go to college. It was a loan, not a grant, so I paid them back. So it sort of showed me what it meant to have a village around you to support me in this new journey of becoming a first generation college student. So I think about my teachers and my public education experience is so important in getting me from being the son of working class immigrants, living paycheck to paycheck, to then having an opportunity to transform the lives and not just myself, but my parents as well. I think the other part that made that education part of my life so important was the fact that I was also growing, as you've mentioned, JD, as a son of working-class immigrants. And what that meant in small town, North Carolina, even to this day, right, is that you're probably living paycheck to paycheck. You're probably working one, two jobs. You're probably working second, third shift. And all those things were true for my parents. And so I would stay up late and drive off after finishing my homework at about 11 or 12:00 PM to go pick up my mom from her job at a local factory. And those are the sorts of responsibilities that I grew up with. When I turned 16, I got my first job. And then shortly after I got my second job and it was working two jobs while I was in high school, making sure that I had enough to pay my own bills to sort of pay for SAT prep and things of that nature, as well as other things. As well as, making sure that I could help up my family as we were making ends meet in our own lives. And so I feel like those two things are really formative for me, as you think about sort of the economic security and opportunity that is required to chase your dreams and so education and the economic security are the two things that I'm currently thinking about and working in the General Assembly now, as the legislator, as well.
JD Wooten: So you ended up at UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergrad, as Morehead-Cain Scholar, and eventually found your way into education, helping other first generation college students and immigrant families break down barriers to educational opportunity. What are some of those barriers and what more can we be doing at the state level to facilitate those efforts?
Ricky Hurtado: That is the number one question that I think about every day as a educator, as a legislator, and through all the work that I'm doing in North Carolina. As I've mentioned, right, my own personal and lived experience has really influenced how I think about this issue in the General Assembly. And I think that the most important part for me is really understanding all of the non-academic factors that go into a child's success. And so we have a very well-known proverb, right, that we all use around, "it takes a village to raise a child." But oftentimes we don't think about our education system in that way. And, and we don't think about the support systems that exist for every child.
I think about this as we think about COVID recovery too, right? It's going to take much more than just the teacher in the classroom to make sure we catch all of our students up. But when you think about a teaching assistant in that classroom, that helps lighten the load for that teacher. When you think about the social worker and the psychologist and the nurse that is going to make sure that those students have the social-emotional and health sort of support needed to make sure that child is successful.
I think if there's one thing we've learned in the pandemic is that without healthy children, we cannot have healthy learners. And that was true even before COVID, right? Sure, we're thinking about COVID-19 and vaccines and making sure kids are healthy, but at the same time, the other thing that's been exposed is mental health, social-emotional health things that kids need support every actually every person, not just kids, right? Adults as well, need supports to make sure that they're living healthy, successful lives and are thriving in the classroom. And so I think that those are the things right now that I'm really trying to push my colleagues to think about because we think about the academic portion of school, I think pretty well. And, you know, there's debate on how we fund those things. But at the end of the day, it's the wraparound support around each child that we're really going to have to nail if we want to make sure that we have the workforce that we need for the future, but also we have healthy, thriving communities across North Carolina.
JD Wooten: I think that makes so much sense. Just stop to think about how productive a day do you have at work if you've got a mild headache?
Ricky Hurtado: Exactly. Exactly. It's not rocket science, right? We, we try to make it out to be, but if you think about how productive we can be and we, we feel down or are stressed or anxious, like why would our kids be any different?
JD Wooten: Absolutely. So you decided to jump into state politics by running for the State House in 2020. What led you to run for office in the first place?
Ricky Hurtado: So I got into education work before I got into politics as a way to give back to my community and really think about what my place was in North Carolina after graduate school. And part of that journey around education led me to the general assembly because I started to think about college affordability and what that meant for first generation college students and began to realize that so much of that conversation takes place in the General Assembly when you think about state policy and the impact that has around our UNC system and our community college system. I realized that there was so much more that went into policy making than just the right decision, right? You talk about money, you talk about power, you talk about political philosophies, Democrat, Republican, all these things, and I got angry. I got frustrated because it, it just felt really unfair that there's so many students in North Carolina that are working their tails off. And at the end of the day, some folks may have a different set of opportunities just based on what zip code they're born into. And so I began to connect the dots around we need better representation in Raleigh, who is actually connected to our communities. And so, you know, the stars sort of have to align right for you to run for office and, and to be successful at it. During this whole journey had met my wife or soon to be wife Yazmin who grew up in Alamance County. And, you know, she happened to have grown up where we ended up moving to in the most competitive House District in North Carolina. And so they were in need of a candidate and I was more by the week, I felt like getting more and more interested in politics. And so when there was an opening and the local party approached me about running for House, I felt like a no brainer after all those conversations I was having in Raleigh.
JD Wooten: I remember having been campaigning over in Alamance when your name first came up and when we even met, I remember that conversation pretty well over at that Starbucks. I also remember thinking, all right, whatever he decides to do, I hope I'm not in a primary against him. But I'm glad it all worked out. I feel like it worked out quite well, especially for the constituents of Alamance. So you ran a heck of a race with some amazing field organizing despite the limitations of the pandemic in 2020. Can we expect to see all that more as the general election cycle search to heat up?
Ricky Hurtado: Oh we never stopped, JD. So we feel really...
JD Wooten: I love it!
Ricky Hurtado: We felt really strongly about in person contact and the field game, despite the challenges that COVID presented us, right? So even in COVID, we were really active in our community. We transformed our phone banks into almost like frontline support, right? Where we were delivering mask as part of our phone calls, right? We were like making sure people had the latest information on COVID 19, because we felt like we needed to meet the community where they were. It was hard to talk about elections and politics when people just didn't feel safe and they were scared and they were isolated. And so that was largely over the phone, right? Not in person during 2020. And even during early voting, I felt strongly about, you know, safely canvasing, but still being out there, right? Literature dropping, knocking on doors, standing really far away in the road and being like, hey, I'm running for office, right? And getting my own knocks in, at least, even though we didn't have really any canvassers out in the field. And we continued doing that in 2021. So even after I won, there was still a lot of work to do, right? And we had an opportunity to show folks that we could govern differently and that we could show them that at least in our little piece of government, that it could work better and there could be some goodwill and trust built there.
And so beginning of March of 2021, as soon as the first wave of vaccines hit our communities we were on the phones helping people understand where they could get their vaccine, help them understand what group they were in, etc. And so we've been running constituent canvases since March of 2021. Now it's game time though, right? We're in a heated reelection campaign. And now we're doing candidate canvases, we're talking more politics and issues, and making sure folks know who's on the ballot, i.e., me. And making sure they know, you know, when the election is coming up. And so we've started doing that a lot more intensely since May of this year. And yeah, like you said more of the same and more.
JD Wooten: I love it. All right, so now with the fun background and that part out of the way, let's shift gears a little bit to the ballot this year and not just how you're going to win reelection, but also the issues that we're facing. Every poll that we've seen, the economy and the inflation seem to be the number one priority on everybody's mind. How do you think we need to be addressing those concerns at the state level?
Ricky Hurtado: It's again, one of those concerns that keeps us all up at night, you know, regardless of politics. So much of what I learned in Alamance County in the last three years of just getting to know the community, running for office is such a great way to get to know parts of the community that you've never met before. And folks were hurting even pre-COVID. I think it feels so long ago that people forget that things weren't exactly rosy for a lot of working families where it felt like life was just getting more expensive year after year. And so one of the big things that is happening in a Alamance that I started working on in, in drafting at least some legislation to begin to think about good ideas is cost are rising, right? And inflation is, is impacting all of us. And we often point to our gas tank as sort of the easiest indicator. And that's true, we got a lower cost, but at the end of the day, State Legislature, and even Congress doesn't have a ton of levers that they can use there. And we're using all of them right now through President Biden's leadership. It is a global sort of challenge right now as fuel costs rise, but there's certain things that I think we can be addressing to lower the overall sort of accounting like the books of families, right. When you think about lowering housing costs, lowering the cost of healthcare, making sure that life is more affordable for working families. I think that if we begin to address those, we begin to see that folks will have more money in their pocket, sooner rather than later. You think about capping the prices of certain prescription drugs. That's been a popular proposal across the country over the last few years that has gaining steam nationally, at least through the leadership of Senator Warnock in Georgia. But I believe doing some of that stuff in North Carolina as well will certainly help people's bottom line and help them see some relief sooner rather later.
There's also been talk about how we can provide immediate relief right now to working families. When you think about perhaps a gas rebate or something that will allow folks to sort of get some relief now. And honestly, I'm for all of these proposals, if it helps working people. We won't get into too much in this, in this podcast, JD, but we just wrapped up the short session and did adjustments to the budget and we essentially put away over $4 billion in different reserves. One of them being an inflation reserve to address future challenges, rainy day funds, if you will. But it's raining right now. And then one of my biggest frustrations is that over the last three years, it's been pouring on so many people in North Carolina and the Republican Party continues to sort of point at well, you know, we need to hold onto some of this money for that rainy day. And I don't know if you can come up with crises that are looming larger than the last three years of COVID-19, and now economic inflation, and other things that are really pummeling families. And so I think there's a lot more opportunities to support these families. I just don't see that same urgency across the aisle right now on this issue.
JD Wooten: Yeah, and I so many great points there. I, I think working backwards, you know, not only do we have a public health crisis that we're still reeling from and getting through. Not only do we have inflation, we're still dealing with a racial injustice reckoning that's really a crisis in this country and we're dealing with let's just say an upheaval in some pretty fundamental, constitutional rights that we thought were there. So last month we saw some surprises out of the State Senate which haven't yet been taken up by the House, two in particular being Medicaid Expansion and legalizing medical marijuana. Since they haven't passed the House yet I'm operating as if they're still on the ballot. So what are your thoughts on those two bills, and have you heard any whispers that maybe they could get taken up later this year?
Ricky Hurtado: It probably shouldn't come as a shocker to most folks, but Medicaid expansion has a much greater chance of seeing Governor Cooper's desk this year than medical marijuana from everything that I've heard. There's a lot of opposition to medical marijuana in the House. I am supportive of that bill. I would certainly tweak any proposals around legalizing cannabis, just because at least in the way that these Republican led proposals are approaching it, there is no sort of justice lens to it that really compensates for the injustices that this issue, this topic has brought among Black Americans in particular, right? I really struggle with that. And so I'll continue to follow those proposals. I think we have some time to get it right. I don't think it'll be passing before this election cycle, but who knows, right? Never say never in Raleigh, who knows what'll happen.
Medicaid Expansion we're as close as we've ever been. When you have the leaders of the Senate and the House using Democratic talking points to push why we should be having Medicaid Expansion over the summer. I just think it's really interesting how the ball has sort of moved, right? The goal posts have moved on this issue. And we're not quite there yet, but we have different proposals from both the Senate and the House to get this done in some way, shape, or form. I think that there's still negotiation on the details, right, between Governor Cooper and leadership of the house and the Senate. But at the end of the day, I feel like there's enough people in Raleigh right now to where we can make something happen. And so I really do want to see this happen, preferably before the election. We'll see if that's actually possible. The Speaker was trying to push to have this done by December at the latest. We sort of ran out of time, the sort of the buzzer went off in the short session in Raleigh so we didn't quite get there with that proposal. But yeah, keep following the news because I think that this will certainly be a topic of discussion over the next few months.
JD Wooten: Well, that's great to hear. I know it had just passed the Senate when Senator Michael Garrett was on the show and he said that sitting there on the Senate floor as Senator Phil Berger got up and started giving his talking points. He is like, wait, did they hack my emails? What's going on here?
Ricky Hurtado: You would've thought as a Democratic press release. You're like, what's happening?
JD Wooten: Yeah, what's happening? Wait, wait. Hey, hey guys, is hell frozen over, are picks out there flying? Hey, we'll take it. We'll take it. Unfortunately, we also saw some stuff out of the State Senate that wasn't so great, another of these Don't Say Gay bills. Thankfully the State House hasn't taken that up yet, but I do think the House had its own version at some point. Any thoughts on these and, you know, wanna share with listeners where that stands?
Ricky Hurtado: Yeah. It's, you know, they tried to muddy the waters as to the, the intent of these bills by really framing it around issues that aren't as relevant in our school system right now, because there's a lot of laws in place that already provide the protections that these bills were seeking. And so I was wholly against this bill. It, it was reminiscent of legislation like HB2, for example, that really divided our community. And you saw backlash, not just from the LGBTQ community and Democrats, but from the business community as well. And so I was, I wasn't. Super surprised to see it die in the House. I think that folks have started to see the, the politics of these issues and, and how problematic they can be. And it's an election year. And so I, I wouldn't be surprised if you see legislation like this again, next year. And that's why it's so important to make sure that we maintain a Democratic Caucus in both the House and the Senate that can uphold and sustain the governor's vetoes because these are the sorts of pieces of legislation. Even if it had passed the house that with Governor Cooper's veto, we can sustain. We can make sure it never becomes law in North Carolina.
JD Wooten: Yeah, I don't think we can emphasize that enough. What's the magic number in the House that we need to keep the caucus at at a minimum?
Ricky Hurtado: Yeah, so we are at 51 right now and if we lose three members down to 48 we lose that, we get put in the super minority.
JD Wooten: Sounds like 61. Let's get to 61.
Ricky Hurtado: Yeah, right. Let's get the 61, right? That's that's the goal.
JD Wooten: Okay, so as a former educator and product of North Carolina public schools, and having been on the ballot with you before, I know public education is near and dear to you. We've already talked around it a little bit, but I, I think just about everyone who supports public education feels like that North Carolina is coming up short right now and has been for a while.
Ricky Hurtado: Mm-hmm.
JD Wooten: What do we need to be doing right now to start restoring our public education system?
Ricky Hurtado: Well, we can come up with the greatest plan that our, our educators, our policymakers can devise, right? They can dream with unlimited resources, but if we don't have teachers in the classroom, none of it matters, right? And I think that's where I'm getting stuck right now, where we really wanna overhaul so many things in our education system. And some of it sure, I think is debatable and we need to always be exploring new innovations in education. But at the same time, we can't get the fundamentals right, right now, right? Like between COVID-19 and low morale and low teacher pay, teachers are saying, well, why, why stick around, right? I can make more working at Target and be half as stressed as I am right now. And so I think that that is where a lot of our focus should be. And there should be a real sense of urgency there. We've talked about teacher shortages before. We are approaching, if not have already entered a crisis when you think about the number of teachers that are leaving the classroom. And I just I'm, I'm disappointed in talking about this issue every time, because North Carolina and the U.S. as a nation sort of prides itself in these moments, right? In moments of crisis, what do we do? We respond, right? And we mobilize resources, we tackle the problem, and we are triumphant and it feels like not enough people are seeing this crisis in front of us. And we talk a big game about COVID-19 recovery, and investing in our schools and, you know, debates about, you know, how important in person learning is. But without a person teaching those children in the classroom, there will be no in person learning, right? There will be no learning. And, and I think that right now that we need to be like zeroing in on this effort more than we ever been before. And there's the challenging part is that there are no quick fixes, right? Because this is a pipeline issue where we're having teachers leave the classroom and we have slowly but surely decimated so many of the pipelines that are bringing teachers into the classroom. And so if we want to see a really healthy workforce in the future, we have, we should have invested in it yesterday, but you know, the second best time is today. And we need to be doing that with the resources that we have at the state level.
JD Wooten: So I know that your reelection messaging and I'm hearing it right now throughout this interview, talking about improving family wellness and health and investing in our future workforce, protecting our environment. These are all things that are either campaign promises that you're running on, or things that we're already talking about right now. It seems to me that I'm hearing a broader vision of really just cutting to the core of improving quality of life and increasing opportunities for all North Carolinians. Am I tracking that quite right?
Ricky Hurtado: Yeah, I think you're reading through the issues correctly. And, you know, these are issues that I've worked on, politics or not, right? These are things we need to be doing for people in North Carolina. These are the things that we need to be working on whether you're work at a school, you're at a nonprofit, at a foundation, or in politics. There're some foundational things that have gotten lost in the chaos, I guess, of the last few years. But I think fundamentally what you're describing is absolutely right. I think access to opportunity, and also think about safe, healthy communities, right? Not just the healthy part. I think the safety part is also key. And I mean, we just celebrated the 4th of July and there was a mass shooting just north of Chicago, right, in Highland Park. That has really rattled folks, right? And I don't think every community at this point feels connected. When you think about Uvalde, you think about Buffalo, New York, and you think about things that have really shaken us as a community, but especially families who have to send their children to school every day. And I do think about the safety piece a lot now lot more than I have, because we've also been having a lot of forums in our community around how do we make sure we keep our community safe. And I think that is on top of mind for me. It's hard to think about sending your kids to college when you're worried about, you know, like, can they make it through elementary school safely, right? And so that for me is another big piece to it beyond the opportunity part, because we got to make sure that we have each other's back, and we are keeping each other safe. And I think that's become a huge priority for me here in Alamance County.
JD Wooten: I love all of it. So shifting away from the local community and the safety and wellness to thinking more broadly at, you know, state and national level for the wellness and more on the political front. Our democracy seems to be on the line and thus on the ballot right now. Perhaps more than in many, many generations. We've had several hearings from the January 6th Committee so far. There are more to come. We've struggled here in North Carolina with gerrymandering and voter suppression for decades or more. What are your reflections on all of this and what we should be doing right now to fight to help protect our democracy?
Ricky Hurtado: Whew. That's, that's a, a big one to end on JD.
JD Wooten: Yeah, let me just step back there for you.
Ricky Hurtado: I've said this a few times, right, about things that keep me up at night and a lot is keeping us up at night right now. But this is the issue that if we get wrong over the next few years, I really struggle to see how we come back from it. And I don't mean to sound alarmist, but I think we're there at a national level, right? The January 6th Hearings have really shined a light on, I feel like an issue that a lot of us were either avoiding or ignoring. It happened, you know, life moves forward. And even for folks that are politically connected, like you and I, I don't know how much attention you paid to it when it, you know, last year. We paid a lot of attention to it, but you know, like most things they sort of fade. But really walking through detail to detail, I was reminded of where I was a year ago and some change where after January 6th, I was getting sworn into the General Assembly and we had to have a briefing with the Capitol Police to think about what the safety plan was. Like are we gonna be safe? I had to think about like, am I going to be safe being inaugurated in this, what should be special moment for me and my family? There were bomb threats and sort of threats of violence across state capitals across the country. I dunno if you remember that post January 6th, right? And I had to make a call about am I going to invite my parents to this, right? Like, am I going to regret inviting my family to this celebratory moment? And so it just took me back to like how dark that whole month was for the nation, and where we are now. And so, yeah, I think that's in the back of my mind, but then combined with where we are as a state in North Carolina and the piece that I'm even more worried about is the news that the Supreme Court just decided to take up Moore v. Harper, which I think could fundamentally transform our democracy for the worst. And so for state legislatures that have full control over the election process around state electors, around gerrymandering, we're not even a state court, which has been our guardrails here in North Carolina, would have a say as to how they draw maps, or what decisions they make around, around our elections. It's so alarming that you need another whole podcast for this JD, right, because it there's just so much to dive into there. And for me, the, the one thing that I have control over, and this isn't just a bit to sort of like plug our races, but Democrats need control of a chamber if we're gonna protect democracy at home here in North Carolina and across the nation. And thankfully there's a pathway to the majority in a North Carolina House. Our leadership fought tooth and nail to make sure that we, and obviously after the courts struck down the initial gerrymandered maps this year, we got some somewhat favorable maps that show us a clear pathway to the majority to North Carolina House. Maps much better than we've seen in previous years, right? And so when you think about the seats that are up for election this year, the ones that we have to hold onto, like mine in Alamance, and, you know, you have Brian Farkas out in Pitt County and a number of seats we can pick up in Cabarrus and Cumberland County. Obviously the Triad is a hotspot for, since we can pick up. I think of all these things and if, regardless of what the Supreme Court does with this Moore v. Harper case, we're gonna need some frontline support here to make sure that if that case doesn't go our way, that we have some frontline support here. And part of that will require more Democratic legislators that are willing to uphold our democracy in the General Assembly. And so that's what I'm fighting for, making sure that people who care about democracy in North Carolina, right, independents, Republicans, anybody who care about the sanctity of our government and democracy are willing to put up a fight to make sure we don't go down a dark, dark place, because that's sort of where we're at right now. And we're gonna have to fight tooth and nail this year to make sure it doesn't happen.
JD Wooten: I couldn't agree more. I will say I wholeheartedly agree. You know, it's yes, Democrats need to stand strong, but we also have to welcome anybody into the pro-democracy tent, whatever the label wants to be. And oh, my gosh. If you had told me a month ago that I'd be cheering so hard for a Cheney...
Ricky Hurtado: What a world we live in, JD!
JD Wooten: I know, I would not have believed you. So anyway, let's wrap up with a lighter note. Is there anything else you want people to know about your campaign platform or why they should support you?
Ricky Hurtado: I think you mentioned this earlier, but you know, Alamance County's just down the road from a lot of the Triad. It's not a too long of a drive to, to come visit us. Come hang out at a brewery after a canvas, you know, we got plenty of those here in downtown Burlington and Graham and Mebane. There's a lot to, to see and do and eat. But more importantly, I think District 63 is one of those really important districts we have to protect. But there's also a number of other candidates that need your support. And so I think that making sure you're aware of where those competitive districts are. Like I mentioned, there's several in the Triad, some out in Pitt, Cabarrus, Cumberland. There's a list that exist online and I'm sure JD can point you towards. But yeah, I think as far as supporting my campaign via volunteer support, or donations, you can check all that information out at RickyHurtado.org, and that'll have all information and point you in the right direction.
JD Wooten: I love it. In case our listeners haven't figured it out just yet, by and large, especially as we get to this time of year moving forward, if somebody's on the pod, it's a pretty good chance that that's a seat we need to be taking very seriously, so I feel privileged to have had the chance to speak with you today. So thank you so much Representative Hurtado for all you do, for keeping up with the good fight for us in Raleigh, and thanks for being here today.
No, thanks. It's always great to see you, JD. I really appreciate you having me on today.
JD Wooten: Thanks again to Representative Ricky Hurtado for joining us today, and to everyone for listening. Links are in the show notes for everything from today’s episode. If you have questions or comments, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And again, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and share this episode with a friend. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!