Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by Amy Block DeLoach running for North Carolina House District 20. Plus, a few thoughts on partisan judicial elections and the latest round of Leandro hearings.
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Amy Block DeLoach: This year, you have a choice on who your representative's going to be. There's a clear difference between Ted Davis and me. I want to protect women's rights to make decisions about our own bodies. Ted Davis wants to take away women's rights. I want to ensure we have clean drinking water in southeastern North Carolina and Ted Davis wants corporate polluters to have minimal liability. There's a clear choice here.
JD Wooten: Hey everyone, welcome back to Carolina Democracy. I’m JD Wooten, and today we’re back to the usual format of updates impacting democracy here in North Carolina, followed by an interview with Amy Block DeLoach, running for North Carolina House District 20 in New Hanover County.
But before we turn to that, one highlight I didn’t mention last week is that the North Carolina Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the long-running Leandro case involving school funding. For anyone not familiar with the background, the Leandro litigation began in 1994 when five of the state’s poorer school districts sued the state claiming that it had failed to meet the constitutional requirement to provide equal education opportunities to students. By 1997, the case had made its way to the North Carolina Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court held that the North Carolina Constitution guarantees every North Carolina child an opportunity to receive a sound basic education in public schools. Bear in mind that by this time, Democrats had essentially been running everything in the state for a century, so this was not quite the partisan issue we see today in public education debates.
Suffice to say, the state has yet to fully fund public education in a way that has satisfied the courts. The parties to the litigation have changed, the circumstances in the local school districts have changed, the majority party in the General Assembly has changed, we’ve had numerous governors and state superintendents of public instruction, and the judges overseeing the litigation have changed multiple times. However, time after time, regardless of party affiliation, if they even had a known party affiliation, the judges have found that the state has failed to fully fund public education. The most recent set of issues arose when one of the trial court judges ordered the treasury to transfer state funds for public education. The precise question that is now before the Supreme Court is whether, as a remedial measure, the state courts have the power to direct state spending.
On the one hand, the General Assembly argues no, only the General Assembly has the power of the purse under the North Carolina Constitution. As a general matter, that’s true. However, in this case, the question is really whether the Court can order the transfer of funds as a remedial measure if the General Assembly refuses to comply with a court order. I can certainly see the argument that the court needs the power to enforce its orders, as would be the case in basically any other litigation. While I’m not thrilled about the idea of a court directing how funds are to be spent given the precedent that would set for who knows what kind of future disputes, at least in this case, we’re talking about a three-decade old case that transcends party lines and really does seem to be quite egregious.
As I understand it, there’s no precedent in North Carolina for this situation either way, for or against a court having to resort to ordering a state agency to do what it had already ordered the General Assembly to do. Of course some are arguing this whole thing is unprecedented, but so too are the General Assembly’s actions. It’s a lot like the unconstitutional amending of the constitution we talked about a few weeks ago – there just aren’t examples in North Carolina history of a General Assembly acting so egregiously. However, there are examples from other states that range from imposing a fine on the General Assembly for failure to follow orders up to doing exactly what the trial court did in this case. Those aren’t controlling by any means, but they may be instructive. Regardless, I don’t know how the Supreme Court will answer the difficult questions before it, but it does illustrate the difficult kinds of questions our Supreme Court faces and the importance of judges in our political system. If you want to read more of the details about the Leandro case, I’ll leave a link in the show notes to an article from the nonpartisan group EducationNC that nicely sums up the twists and turns of the case over the years.
This is also probably about as good a time as any to remind everyone we have two seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court up for election this year. We heard from Judge Lucy Inman of the North Carolina Court of Appeals a few months ago, and she’s running for a seat that will be open with the retirement of Justice Robin Hudson. Justice Sam J. Ervin IV is running for re-election to the other seat. Both are Democrats, but neither seem to love having to be partisan candidates. And it turns out, they’re not the only ones who don’t love that judicial races are now partisan.
As a quick reminder, and thanks to Carolina Forward for publishing some recent polling on this issue that I’m pulling from, North Carolina switched to non-partisan elections for superior courts in 1998. District and appellate courts followed suit in 2002, and finally the supreme court races became nonpartisan in 2004. More than a decade later, after Republicans took control of the General Assembly, they reversed course and made supreme court judicial elections partisan again starting with the 2016 elections. Then for the 2018 elections, all court races in North Carolina were partisan.
In the August edition of the Carolina Forward Poll, North Carolina voters were asked for their view of how judges should be chosen in our state. Their response was mixed, but unequivocal on at least one point: voters do not support partisan elections for judges. Nearly half of voters say outright that they’d prefer non-partisan judicial elections, while only 27% overall say they want partisan ones. Another 25% say they’re unsure or want the governor to appoint judges. The group with the largest support for partisan races was Republicans who still only support partisan judicial races at 41%, which was basically identical to the percent of Republicans who want nonpartisan races. Every other group has markedly lower support for partisan judicial races, especially independents, only 18% of whom want partisan races and a full 60% want nonpartisan races.
This poll confirms that as a general matter, voters in North Carolina do not want partisan judicial races. I can tell you a lot of judges don’t seem to like it either. I think we’re also seeing the divisive partisan fights that are so common in legislative and executive races now bleed over not into just judicial races, but also into the courtrooms, and that’s not healthy for our democracy. Litigants need to feel comfortable that they are going to get a fair shake in court, no matter who the judge is, and that’s tough if a judge has taken overtly partisan positions in the past. Even the most careful hypothetical judicial candidate who says nothing on the campaign trail may still have the appearance of bias based on party affiliation. Again, not healthy in a democracy.
Without giving away any future guests, just keep this background in mind as we think about judicial races, and maybe go back and listen to our interview with Judge Inman again to hear her talk about how partisanship has impacted the courts and campaigns.
Finally, as we enter the final stretch of campaign season, I thought I’d toss out a quick disclaimer that the Carolina Democracy Podcast is not affiliated with or authorized by any candidate, candidate’s committee, or other political committee or organization, and does not endorse any candidates. Our focus is on sharing newsworthy updates impacting democracy and interviewing candidates, organizations, and anyone else fighting for or supporting democracy. And as always, don’t forget to subscribe or follow us wherever you get your podcasts so you never miss an episode and share an episode or two with a friend. Now here’s my interview with Amy Block DeLoach.
JD Wooten: With me today is New Handover native Amy Block DeLoach running for North Carolina House District 20. Welcome Amy.
Amy Block DeLoach: Hey, how are you?
JD Wooten: I'm well, thanks so much for joining us today.
Amy Block DeLoach: Thank you for having me.
JD Wooten: You bet. So first question right out the gate like I do with all my guests. What's your earliest memory of politics or getting involved in politics
Amy Block DeLoach: My earliest memory would have to be of Watergate, though I will say I was very young and all I really remember about it is that it took all my favorite television shows off the air. My second real political engagement was as a college Democrat working on Jim Hunt's campaign.
JD Wooten: Wow. Those both sound like very memorable things to have in the background. So, as I understand it, you've got public service in your blood. Your grandmother was a mayor pro tem of Wilmington. Your father was a North Carolina State Senator. Your mother served on numerous county boards and fundraising initiatives. And to boot both your mother and your grandmother were awarded the Order of the Longleaf Pine by the governor for their lifetimes of service to the community. How did that legacy impact you growing?
Amy Block DeLoach: When I think of what's impacted my life the most, it would have to be my family and my family's commitment to public service serving on boards and eventually holding political office like my grandmother and father did. That's what shaped who I am. That's what I know and it's how I was raised. And I'm proud to be able to continue this family tradition.
JD Wooten: I love that. And that's just, that's so impressive. When abouts was that your grandmother was the mayor pro tem, if you don't mind me asking?
Amy Block DeLoach: Well, that was actually probably a little before my time. I was born in '63. She was probably in the early sixties. But what's cool about this JD is that my grandmother was on the city council when women couldn't go to the bank and get a loan without their husband's signature. So she truly was a trailblazer in that she had roles like this. She was also the first woman lifeguard, um, out of Carolina Beach. And, um, just did very pioneering things. She went to college, which was almost unique, but then she, um, ran away from college and made it as a successful nightclub singer in New York. So she was just a very strong, independent, do it her kind of way, woman. And I'm really proud of, to be her granddaughter.
JD Wooten: Well, I'm, I'm glad I asked and I suspected at least some of that would've had to have been true. Just thinking back to the, you know, kind of the timelines and stories I've heard, for example, from my own grandmothers about their challenges in society all those decades ago, and for your grandmother to have been the mayor pro of Wilmington at that period of history is quite remarkable in and of itself, but of, of course, all the other things you've, you've just mentioned as well. So...
Amy Block DeLoach: Thank you.
JD Wooten: Now, your service: you've served on countless boards and groups yourself over the years, ranging from your local PTA to the Children's Museum and the Bellamy Mansion Museum there in Wilmington. If I tried to list them all, I'm pretty sure I would invariably, leave something out and perhaps disappoint somebody. So instead, let me ask it like this and I'll put it back on you. I'm curious what stands out from those experiences that you'll bring with you to the State House?
Amy Block DeLoach: The most important thing I've learned by serving on as many boards as I've served on is assuring that every single person feels like they've been heard and to build a consensus. Those are really my guiding principles in all of my board work. I'm transparent in my decisions. And I know how important it is to hear from all sides of an issue. After listening to everybody, I have no problem making a decision. But I'll explain how I come to making that decision and knowing that everybody won't be happy necessarily with the decision I make, they'll at least know that they were listened to and how I came to where I did with my decision.
JD Wooten: I can certainly identify with some of that, serving on some boards here locally. I'm sure you've run into these, the occasional person that just wants to make sure their voice is heard at whatever meeting it is. But regardless of the vote, they're very happy as long as they feel like they were heard at the end of the day.
Amy Block DeLoach: You know, it's, it's basically like board work 101. If you didn't want the person on the board, if you didn't want to hear their opinion, then why should they be on the board? They've given their time and they deserve to be heard. You might not always agree with what they've said, but typically you're going to gain some insight or knowledge from listening to them that will help you make at least what you think is the right decision or is the best decision you can make at the time?
JD Wooten: Well, I'm sure that will be invaluable lifetime of experiences to bring with you to Raleigh. So shifting to your campaign, you're running for House District 20 in New Hanover County. What convinced you to run for this seat and in this particular cycle?
Amy Block DeLoach: To be honest, JD, it had never occurred to me to run for state office. When the courts redrew the lines, the district I live in became competitive for the first time in a decade. I knew how important it was to maintain Governor Cooper's veto power. And so it, it, it was on my right when they asked me to run, I had to really think about it. My problem was I'm not much of a policy expert, but even I could see that the General Assembly had failed to make several common-sense policy decisions, like expanding Medicaid, and investing in education, and protecting our drinking water. I also saw what they were doing to the electorate with voting rights. And I knew that they were making it harder for people to vote and that if given the opportunity they were going to ban abortion. All that being said, I saw what was at risk, I knew I was in the right place. And to add onto that a bit JD, I was in the right place in my life. My husband had just retired. My kids, thank God, were in a good place. I have no grandchildren. It was going to be the best use of my time. And I'm really happy, and to be honest with you, I've really enjoyed the campaign so far.
JD Wooten: I think all of that's commendable, especially for stepping up when the, when the call came. I know that all of us across the state appreciate you doing that.
Amy Block DeLoach: And I guess that goes back to my family history too. So that's all plays into it.
JD Wooten: Oh, absolutely. And for our, our diehard listeners, it sounds like you might have opened the door for me to ask about gerrymandering here later if we get to it and have time, but I've made a promise with one of my brothers. I won't ever be the first one to mention gerrymandering. He got tired of me mentioning it in the first several episodes.
Amy Block DeLoach: Okay, there you go. It's fair now.
JD Wooten: There, there you go. So, but shifting back poll after poll shows the economy and inflation staying at the top of people's minds right now, even as gas prices and inflation seem to be coming back in check or at least improving. So I've, I've taken, asking all candidates up front. What do you think the General Assembly should be doing right now to help everyday North Carolinians in the current economic climate?
Amy Block DeLoach: First JD, I'd like to point out that recent polls are showing that abortion and the state of our democracy are inching up in importance, but obviously the economy and inflation are huge. So it's definitely the fair question. You know, right now, North Carolina has a $6.2 billion surplus. The money should be going for relief to North Carolinians. As you said the gas price is going down. It is still expensive though. So I do support a temporary suspension of the gas tax to help relieve North Carolinians at the gas pump until they level out in price. And groceries are crazy right now. They're expensive. We have a lot of children going hungry in North Carolina, and that is absolutely unacceptable. When families can't afford to feed their family on a minimum wage, even working a 60-hour work week, something's got to be done. One thing that could be done quickly and easily is the General Assembly should provide the funding for a free breakfast and free lunch for all kids in the public school system.
JD Wooten: Well, I definitely have seen a couple of those polls, as you mentioned at the outset. And, uh, I didn't mention the shift in the polling just because I don't want to jinx it, but I do hope that that trajectory stays correct, because I think, I think that by and large candidates like you who are fighting for democracy also stand a much better chance, the lower on that priority list that the economy and inflation are. And you know, of course. Yeah, the lower economy and inflation are in terms of people's priorities and voting priorities. Usually it means things are better off and less likely to be blaming the current president's own party and members of the party. So, um, fingers crossed that that all sticks.
Amy Block DeLoach: Fingers crossed, we're headed in the right direction. We've got a little ways to go, but we're trending well.
JD Wooten: I like it. And that it's that kind of optimism. We've seen a lot of successes in the last few weeks, and a couple months, really. I think we need to, to keep hammering home, and as to all the ideas that you just offered for economic relief and helping families, I love all of those. So earlier this year in a surprise shift, the State Senate voted to expand Medicaid, but the State House didn't take it up, despite having passed it in prior years. So we had a little bit of a flip flop there. Did that surprise you?
Amy Block DeLoach: Well, it seems like they're starting to realize that blind support for a policy that's killing North Carolinians every year for no reason is just bad politics. What's really surprising is that after all this time, they still can't seem to get it done. My opponent, Ted Davis, said the other day, I was in a lunch and learn with him, that he supports expanding Medicaid, but he wants to study it first. Really what he needs is he wants to delay it instead of taking the obvious steps. You know, 38 states have already expanded Medicaid. Countless studies have been conducted. Doctors from around the state are begging us to. It would hardly cost North Carolina a dime, and it would bring coverage to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians that need it the most. I, I just don't see what he's waiting for. What else needs to be studied? I have a personal story, JD, if you will allow me about Medicaid. When my son was born, he was born with a brain tumor. It is because of a Medicaid program that he qualified for, that he is alive and doing well today. What's more than that, he's a productive tax paying citizen of North Carolina. So I'm tremendously proud of him and am thankful for the benefits that we were able to receive from this Medicaid program. But I also know that there's so many out there that aren't receiving them and they should be. This is a no-brainer. We should be taking care of our citizens. It makes this issue in particular makes me crazy. It's just too easy for us to be doing, and it doesn't make any sense, even they know we should be given expanded Medicaid.
JD Wooten: Wholeheartedly agree, no pushback here from me on that. I'm becoming more and more convinced with time and hopefully it's not just cynicism, but you know, to the extent that Republicans want to obstruct, I think they've also clearly recognized over the decades that when they want to obstruct something that's very popular, maybe just delaying is a better tactic. And, and that's what the study sounds a lot like.
Amy Block DeLoach: The problem with this one is that there's people's lives, they're children's lives, at risk here. It's not okay. It's just not okay. I'll leave that. But that, that one gets me crazy.
JD Wooten: Hundred percent agree. So, in addition to expanding Medicaid, what more can we be doing to help address the healthcare inequities across North Carolina?
Amy Block DeLoach: Well, we can pay our nurses and medical staff better. They're having to lead their jobs. For better paying ones, as well as, you know, with COVID in the last couple of years, just the burnout has just been dramatic. So I support tax breaks for hospitals under the condition that they raise the wages for the nurses and the doctors and the staff to ensure that we don't lose this crucial workforce to care for our communities. That's probably got some bipartisan support and let's start there and keep these hospitals afloat.
JD Wooten: A lot of people, you know, when you start talking about protecting their providers and their ability to access care, it suddenly it gets bipartisan very quickly. So we mentioned different issues that are, are polling different ways in terms of, of popularity and an important right now. We will come to abortion and women's reproductive health in a moment because I know that is critical to everyone right now, especially, especially your campaign. But another perennial issue that I'd like to, to hit real quick education. It's usually top of mind for many voters across North Carolina. And while interestingly, you know, some recent polling suggests that maybe public education is actually much higher for Independents than Democrats, I still think it's a very broadly important issue for a lot of voters. So how do you plan to address the shortcomings we've seen in recent years in support for public education?
Amy Block DeLoach: This is a timely topic, especially considering that the State Supreme court heard topics on the Leandro case. It could go a number of different ways, but hopefully we'll get a decision affirming the lower court’s ruling to transfer $1.75 billion to the department of education. This case, by the way, emphasizes the importance of having a Democratic majority on the State Supreme Court. So please everyone don't forget to vote in those elections as well. But from the General Assembly, we have to do more support for our teachers and for giving resources to our schools. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. And we haven't been paying our teachers that well, so they keep leaving the profession, I'm going to go back again to providing the free breakfast and lunch for the students, because if we want the students to do well in school, they have to be able to focus. And if you're hungry, you're not going to be able to focus on the schoolwork. So providing the resources for our children, as simple as even food, is one way to get us back on track with that.
JD Wooten: I look forward to seeing how the Supreme Court handles that case as well. I've been closely following it for a while and the importance of our Courts can't be understated, especially in light of other issues that we'll now turn to. So this past summer, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and in mid-August a federal judge allowed North Carolina's 20-week abortion ban to go into effect. There's been a lot of chatter about what North Carolina Republicans will do and how they'll approach abortion if they get the super majority in the legislature again. How do you and your opponent differ in your views on privacy, personal autonomy, the right to choose?
Amy Block DeLoach: There couldn't be a more stark difference on any issue than it is here with abortion. The continued legality of abortion in North Carolina could come down to this race. People forget how recently women have gained rights in this country. For example, when my grandmother was born, she didn't have the right to vote. When my mother was born, she didn't have access to contraception. When I was born, there was no access to abortion. This is the biggest step to take women back, backwards in a century. In 2011 or so, I think it's around 2011, Ted Davis was on the county board of commissioners. He made a comment that if women didn't have the sex to begin with, we wouldn't have this problem. He's just out of touch with what the real issues facing our community are. It kind of sums up Ted Davis's views on women's rights. He has no empathy for the loss of fundamental rights for women. If you care about protecting women's rights in North Carolina, the best thing that we can do is replace Ted Davis with a woman.
JD Wooten: Sounds like it. And the hypocrisy, the fact that, you know, when I hear things like that from Republican, especially Republican men all the time, it's like you understand it's not just the woman having sex that makes a baby, right? Do we need to go over that again?
Amy Block DeLoach: It shouldn't be this hard. It shouldn't be this hard.
JD Wooten: No. And you know, even, even the libertarian mindset would lend you into that, you know? So whether you're a social justice warrior or whether you are, you know, passionately care about equality for women or whether you just don't like government, it seems like that's why we see such a broad coalition of people and such broad support across political spectrums and across ideologies on this issue is just, no, the government doesn't need to be in the exam room with the woman and her doctor.
Amy Block DeLoach: They're out of line. They're out of line. And you can tell by the way, women are reacting to this across the country. I mean, it's a ground swell. They've just, they've taken on the wrong issue.
JD Wooten: I agree. And the referendum or the ballot initiative in Kansas gave me a little bit of hope, even in the, even in view of very conservative areas, what people would ultimately end up, how they would end up going.
Amy Block DeLoach: Yeah, I agree. I agree. This one, this one, I, I guess I was making reference earlier to how the Medicaid problem really got me fired up and it did, it really did. But it doesn't even hold a candle to how this one's gotten me fired up.
JD Wooten: Understood. So another area that I know is really important to y'all in Wilmington is the environment. So you're only the second candidate I've been able to have on from the coast. And I know y'all have mostly the same environmental concerns the rest of us do, plus your own batch of unique issues, you know, in that area, especially being at the end of the Cape Fear River Basin. So what are some of the environmental challenges that the people of New Hanover are facing and what do we need to be doing to address this?
Amy Block DeLoach: Well, we all know the history of Chemours dropping, I guess they call them forever chemicals in our water and polluting our rivers. And we're all living with the consequences of that today. Ted Davis is sponsoring a bill that would require polluters, like Chemours to be held liable for the cost of cleaning up our waters. But he introduced this bill in May. And he couldn't even get it out of his own committee. So you have to wonder how serious he really is in fixing this problem. He's going to be able to say I introduced the bill, you know, but he couldn't even get it out of his own committee, so you have to wonder how serious it was. And the bill was insufficient. It's lacking in detail about what it would actually require polluters to pay for. It basically says they have to to clean up, but that's vague as complicated, so they can weasel out of a lot of the liability that they should be held with. Chemours should be held, should be required to pay for the installation of water filtration systems in all the homes of Wilmington that have these chemicals coming in. And finally, the bill doesn't really include any room for punitive damages and with the cleanup and the suffering that southeastern North Carolinians have suffered for years because of these chemical damages, they need to be able to work some punitive damages into these bills.
JD Wooten: So, final area I'd like to ask about, you've written that you don't believe there's enough honesty and transparency in the political system. I think most people would agree with you. And I don't need a poll to know that right now. Trust in government and politics is at an extremely low point, perhaps the lowest it's been in generations or more. So how do you plan to address those issues and build trust after you're elected?
Amy Block DeLoach: And this is a huge problem. Government services are essential, and even when the government does something right, people don't tend to know about it and we have trouble helping people take advantages of the programs we can help them out with. One thing I plan to do is set up constituent services programs in my district that are designed to help people take advantage of government programs. For example, there are programs to help people struggling with home stability or food insecurities, but people don't know these programs exist, let alone how to fill out the forms. And that's something we could be hands on with and help people with.
JD Wooten: Well, Amy, we've covered a lot, but anything in particular I've missed that you want to share with our listeners?
Amy Block DeLoach: Well, because of this district being redrawn, we can choose who our representative is instead of it being predetermined because of gerrymandering. This year, you have a choice on who your representative's going to be. There's a clear difference between Ted Davis and me. I want to protect women's rights to make decisions about our own bodies. Ted Davis wants to take away women's rights. I want to ensure we have clean drinking water in southeastern North Carolina and Ted Davis wants corporate polluters to have minimal liability. There's a clear choice here.
JD Wooten: I don't want to interrupt the flow of how brilliant a closing thought was. So I'll just ask a very simple yes or no. If elected, will you support some form of ending gerrymandering?
Amy Block DeLoach: Yes. Absolutely, yes.
JD Wooten: All right, there we go. Um, we'll save the details for the next time you're on the show. So last and most important question of the day for today. Where can people go to learn more about you your campaign, sign up to volunteer, donate, so forth?
Amy Block DeLoach: Amyblockdeloach.com. Got it all in one place.
JD Wooten: Amy, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Amy Block DeLoach: I've enjoyed it. Thank you so much for having me.
JD Wooten: Thanks again to Amy Block DeLoach 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!