Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by Tanneshia Dukes, candidate for North Carolina House District 59. Plus, some recent highs and lows from political news in North Carolina and the latest from one of the gerrymandering cases making its way through the courts.
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Tanneshia Dukes: I would say being in the classroom as a teacher, that was like my first time experiencing, oh my gosh, I'm my students.
JD Wooten: Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. I’m JD Wooten, and as promised, today we’ve got our first candidate interview of 2024. Joining us is Tanneshia Dukes, running for House District 59. HD59 covers eastern Guilford County as well as some of southern Guilford, including Pleasant Garden and Jamestown. You may remember that Nicole Quick ran for HD59 in 2020 under a prior map and had announced an intention to run again this year, but thanks to gerrymandering, the GOP took Nicole’s precinct, one of the most heavily Democratic precincts in eastern Guilford, out of the district to make it a little more favorable for the GOP. Thankfully Tanneshia has stepped up to run and as you’ll hear is more than up for the challenge ahead. And, to make her path a little more favorable despite the district leaning Republican, it’s an open seat as Jon Hardister, the multiterm Republican incumbent from that area, is running for Commissioner of Labor. Tanneshia and I had a great chat and I hope you enjoy hearing from her.
Before jumping to any news or updates, let’s hit the most important thing – deadlines for the upcoming primary election. The date of the primary is Tuesday, March 5th, which is about 5 weeks away. The voter registration deadline to be eligible to vote on election day is February 9th. If you miss the regular voter registration deadline, you’ll need to go to an early voting site to do same day registration during in-person early voting, which begins on February 15th. If you miss the voter registration deadline and you do not go to an early voting site to complete a same day registration, you will not be able to vote on March 5th. Finally, the deadline to request a mail-in absentee ballot is February 27th, but I really don’t recommend waiting that long. Under the new laws passed by the General Assembly last year, mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day to be counted. I’ll skip the side rant about how absurd this is, and just say this is the law currently in effect, so let’s get the word out, plan accordingly, and help everyone you meet be on time with their voting efforts this year.
Now, two headlines came up this past week that are good reminders of why we keep fighting, one good, one bad. On the bright side, Medicaid Expansion continues to take hold across North Carolina, with more than 300,000 new people signed up for medical insurance. While these are people that should have been covered a long time ago, and we cannot forget that, let’s also appreciate that the hard work finally led to it happening. Perhaps not surprisingly, the poorest counties in North Carolina are seeing the highest levels of enrollment and at least one reporting suggest that over 150,000 prescriptions have been filled for common medical conditions that people previously had to pay for out of pocket or go without. It’s a delayed win, but it’s a win none-the-less.
Now for some bad news, the News & Observer has reported that although the perpetrator of the deadly shooting at UNC Chapel Hill last August purchased his gun legally, records also reveal that he would not have been able to legally make that purchase under North Carolina’s prior pistol permit system. This is the same pistol permit system that the General Assembly tried to scrap in early 2023, Governor Cooper vetoed the bill, and then the GOP overrode the veto when 3 Democratic lawmakers were absent, including Tricia Cotham who switched to the GOP soon thereafter, as well as Cecil Brockman and Michael Wray. Would the shooter have still found a way to purchase the gun illegally with the permit process in place? We’ll never know, but we do know it would have been much less likely. But you know, thoughts and prayers, nothing could have been done, etc. Right, this was yet another avoidable tragedy.
There was also a bit of news on the gerrymandering front this past week. A federal judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction ordering the General Assembly to redraw the state senate map ahead of the 2024 elections in one of the 3 gerrymandering cases making their way through the courts. This particular case is the case that argues the General Assembly failed to draw a minority opportunity district in eastern North Carolina, a form of racial gerrymandering. Let me first say that preliminary injunctions are extremely difficult to get, and a lot of factors weighed against this one, so this ruling is not really a surprise.
First and probably most importantly, ballots are already being mailed out. There’s a good deal of federal precedent that federal courts will not step in to interfere with an election after it’s underway, and sending ballots out is certainly part of that process. This is also a big part of why the General Assembly waited so long to pass new maps – it was basically gamesmanship to decrease the likelihood that a federal court would even have time to intervene if it wanted to, practically speaking. Even if the Court wanted to act, and tried to act right now, the appellate courts would likely stop it.
Now this particular court also made clear it did not think the plaintiff’s will succeed on the merits of their case, but I’m still digesting the lengthy order and will circle back to discuss it in more detail sometime late this year. While disappointing, this ruling is not at all that surprising. We’ll keep an eye on that and the other cases and keep you updated as they progress.
Ok, now here’s my interview with Tanneshia Dukes, hope you enjoy!
JD Wooten: With me today is Tanneshia Dukes, candidate for the North Carolina House District 59 in Guilford County. Welcome Tanneshia.
Tanneshia Dukes: Hello, glad to be here, so thank you for having me.
JD Wooten: So first question, what's your earliest memory of politics or getting involved in politics?
Tanneshia Dukes: So thank you so much for asking that, because I think on this journey, no one ever asked about the earliest, like, what have you done being an adult? But actually as a child I was involved with politics at an elementary school that I went to. And so at Fifth Avenue Elementary School, I was in the first grade and we had the election dealing with Bush. And they had us to do like a voting thing. They were teaching us about democracy. And I remember I casted my vote and I went to tell my grandfather about it.
And then he had this full on conversation about politics, way over my head for first grade. And so just those conversations growing up with my grandfather being from Georgia, being african american, the things that he faced as we talked about policies, politics, state level of course, local level where we were that kind of got me a little bit involved.
And then, of course, as I had gotten older, went off to college, I did a little bit with S. G. A. Where I ran for Senior Class President, I won Senior Class President. And that was different, right? Like there's a picture that I posted because the history professor, Dr. Systrom came up to me and was like, I have to do an interview with you because I don't know if you know that you are like one of a very few number of African American people that were involved in government, like student government at Greensboro College since 1977. And so that is where I became really big on representation. Right. And what it really meant, not just for those of us that were African American, but even to our other, you know, counterparts that we're watching.
JD Wooten: All right. You've just mentioned you're native Georgian, but you made your way to North Carolina to attend Greensboro college. I'm curious what drew you to Greensboro either initially, or maybe deciding to stay after college?
Tanneshia Dukes: My first choice for college was the University of Alabama. At that time, my mom was a single parent. We were living with my grandmother. And so all she knew was Greensboro College, because that's where she sent my brother. And so, having no idea that, that gap between the years of him being there and graduating in 2009 and then me coming in 2012, that the tuition costs would drastically increase. So by the time I got to Greensboro College it was the cost of going to University of Alabama. And she, I remember her just apologizing and saying, Oh my gosh, I'm I'm sorry. I said, it's okay. You know, I'm going to make the best of it. Coming to Greensboro College was actually a culture shock for me because I did grow up in Decatur, Georgia, and our graduating class, our senior class was probably 399. It was probably 395, 98 of us that were African American. And so going into that environment was a little bit different for me. But I loved Greensboro when we would come and visit my brother at Greensboro College. So I said, well, it's like home. My brother's here. He went there and then staying afterwards was because I had a job opportunity to start teaching right out of college. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is starting my journey as an educator. This is starting my journey in adult life. I was engaged by the end of my senior year of college. And so it was all all the cards were aligning. So that way I would be able to stay here.
JD Wooten: So you had experiences with student government, you started off in Decatur, you came to North Carolina some of those experiences in student government, and then also issues with tuition, and realizing tuition changes, and then job and education. I'm guessing that somewhere in there were some experiences that shaped your political philosophy early. Anything in particular that stands out?
Tanneshia Dukes: Wow, I tell people every year that I was enrolled at Greensboro College, it was a struggle for my mom to pay so much. So even by the time I got to my sophomore and junior year, I actually had to get a job. And so going into college and seeing that extreme deficit and noticing that it was among a lot of us that were African American. And so seeing that was like, okay, financial aid isn't enough, right? Like what, what is it that's happening? What impacts, what systemic barriers are we still seeing that's keeping us stuck as people when it comes down to college being affordable. And that was an extreme experience for me in college was just the overall affordability, right? Most people left and went home. They didn't finish. And we're talking about still not being able to afford it with an academic scholarship.
JD Wooten: So that led you into the opportunity to be an educator. Right here in Guilford County. And as I understand it, you've had a variety of roles in education from being in the classroom as an elementary teacher to a school administrator as an assistant principal. How have those experiences shaped your political outlook?
Tanneshia Dukes: I would say being in the classroom as a teacher, that was like my first time experiencing, oh my gosh, I'm my students. I started at a Title 1 school here in Guilford County. I started at Bessemer Elementary School. I just remember having a conversation with someone and they're like, this is the list of your transient students and I'm like, transient? I mean, what is that, right? An educator, like your fresh end is your first year. And I remember they said, oh, these are students who either are without homes or they're living with a relative with their parent. And I remember calling my dad and saying, wow, I was considered as a transient student and it completely shifted my outlook from, oh, I'm teaching these kids just to help them. But no, I am teaching these students because I was you. Like, I had the experiences that you had, like, we're going through the same walks of life, and it makes it a lot more realistic for your kids when you can build that relationship to say, I'm not above you or your family. We're actually lateral, like, these are my experiences.
But it actually started to change my view of no, we have to do more for our kids. We have to do more moving into the leadership realm of it all. That's where you really get to see how politics affect our schools when you have to lead or co lead a staff with your principal and you're working through, how are we going to spend money on our kids that we don't have? That is the most devastating thing possible when you want to do so many things around your school. You want to hire an extra person to ensure that your test scores at the end of the year are higher because no one wants the pressure of their school being a failing school. And then parents pull their kids out, right? Like no one wants that pressure. Definitely not as an administrator and definitely from a teacher to administrator relationship.
Teachers don't want that either. They don't want to be in the red. And so you see how that stigma on our schools with the school report card grade. You see how that's something that we have to go back and look at that and really see what that does to our schools in the communities that have more needs than just, oh, I'm sitting down taking a test.
And so as we talk about being an educator, what we see politically as educators, it's the food insecurity. We're nurturing our students through that. In most cases, we're even nurturing our parents through unemployment. What that looks like. Well, I just don't have a job right now. It's okay. I'm going to make sure they eat breakfast. I'm going to make sure they eat lunch here. And if I have anything left over, guess what? I'm sending that home with them as well.
And so when people ask, why not the school board? Well, our school board does all that they can do. But at some point, those trickle down effects are not coming from the school board. It's coming from the state level. And so I got heavily involved with educational policy fellowship program with North Carolina School Forum.
And I learned about the policies that were affecting our students so much so that they can't perform in third grade if they don't have access to early childcare. And so diving into that with the Educational Policy Fellowship Program really shaped my advocacy. It shaped my outlook on politics.
JD Wooten: So, you've mentioned a little bit that may be part of the answer to the question I'm about to ask which is basically why this seat and why this year?
Tanneshia Dukes: I'm gonna have to be honest. I started the Educational Policy Fellowship Program because I was intrigued on, okay, how are the policies ran, like in North Carolina? What does it look like for our students? How can I best advocate to my representative in the district that I lived in? How can I best advocate to the school board, right?
If I had to stand before the school board and advocate for the school that I was an assistant principal at, what does that look like? And so also I was a doctoral student. So, I'm like, oh, I have to write my dissertation on something. So, what I'm writing it about is actually closely aligned to policies, specifically educational policies.
And so, when you say, well, why district 59? Why this year? It was not in my intentions to do this this early. We were doing a little bit of work on Capitol Hill last February in 2023 with Education Policy Fellowship Program. And so we were advocating, we were speaking to our representatives in D. C. and then we had an opportunity to come to Raleigh to the General Assembly to do the same thing.
And it was when I came to Raleigh that Representative Prather was there. And she was speaking about her experience, how she was just a teacher. And she came out to run for office and my group mates at the time we had a project that we had to do. And so that was the end of our project. We were receiving our certificate.
And so throughout that experience, we're talking about a full eight months of getting to know people, getting to know what they love, getting to know how they advocate. And they looked at me, we were all at the table and they said, this is you, like you can do this. And I remember saying no, this is not me.
I'm an educator. I love doing that. And the more she spoke, I was like, wow, wait, that really is me. Wait, these are the things that I love. Okay. So when I came home, I remember talking to my husband and being like, I think I want to run for something, you know, I think I want to make an impact on a greater level and on a greater scale.
My husband looks like. Well, what does that look like for us? What does that mean for me being your spouse? We did that like the end of March, early April, or it may have been the end of April and then about April May ish, the incumbent releases that he's running for something else.
And so I get a text and my friends are like, what are you going to do? It's either going to be now, or you don't know who's going to run for this seat. Like it's either going to be now, or you're going to keep waiting. When are you going to advocate for our, you know, for our students, for public schools, because a lot of times as an educator, you think, well, I'm just an educator, but that's, that's the most equipped place to stand up and advocate because you're working with families.
You're working in the community, you're working with students. And so you see a wide range of things that you can do and what you can become. And so I said, okay, well, I'm going to do it. I didn't know the underlying, like, things that would come with this, but I was like, okay, if it means I get to stand up for Guilford County knowing that we have roughly 126 public schools serving a plethora of students when most of those schools are in, are deemed as Title I, meaning that they're in areas that are low socioeconomic statuses, then I'll do it.
And so that led me to that, and I just so happened to be in District 59, and so when the incumbent released, I said, Oh, okay, it's time. This is what we're doing. And so that's what led me to this seat, this election, this time. And I'm really big on don't let moments pass you by because there are people that you are assigned to in those moments who need you and they don't even know that they need you.
JD Wooten: Let's stick with the education theme for just a second, as an educator, I don't want to miss the opportunity to ask you, so you get elected. You're in Raleigh. I'm sure we could go on for hours. And have a whole separate episode, or maybe multiple episodes about what North Carolina can be doing better for public education. But let me narrow it to just this - what are the top two things that you think the General Assembly should be doing to improve our public education for our youth right now?
Tanneshia Dukes: You're right, the list could be long, but I would say focusing on the affordability and access to early child care. What does that look like for our students? A lot of the deficits that we see, especially my bachelor's degree is an elementary K6. So, my experience K5 has been with students who I guess, lack of literacy came well, before you started with us. So, what does it look like to say universal pre K? What does that look like on a state level? And if we can't do that, what can we do to open up the margins of those families that qualify for pre k? Because if you look at it, it's very slim, right? It leaves no room even for the working class. Who are on the line of I can't afford daycare either, right? And so what does the early child care subsidy look like? What are we going to do to help families get access to early child care that is affordable for them? And then also, what does it look like for the universal pre K component?
And then how are we going to fully fund our public schools? Because as I told people, the voucher was released in about August, right? They released the big thing about the school voucher. Within two days of that being released, my son's school, he's in public school, they had to come home for one day so they could fix the AC unit because it was completely out. So children were coming home drenched in sweat. So now it's the conversation of, yes, I'm going to fight for, we need to fund our public schools equitably. Equitably means that if I'm in Guilford County, I'm not going to need the same thing that they need in Hoke County. Like poverty in Guilford County looks different from poverty in Hoke County, or even if we, we want to go a little bit further when we talk about Asheville. They're not going to need the same funds that we're going to need in Guilford County. And so it's being intentional in the General Assembly at looking at what does our school, our public school arena look like as a whole? And then what can we do to ensure that every school district is rationed out an amount that ensures that their public schools are successful and that their teachers are successful.
JD Wooten: Shifting gears just a little bit from education. So despite what some naysayers like to say in the news, it appears the economy is actually doing fairly well by a lot of indicators. Gas prices aren't terrible. Inflation appears to be coming under control. You know, that's at least relative to what it was not too long ago. That said, the economy is always top of mind for voters in an election year. And even when the economy is doing great, there are always some disparities across our community. So with all that said, what do you think the General Assembly could be doing better to help everyday North Carolinians as we look forward to say 2025 and beyond?
Tanneshia Dukes: I think the things that we're definitely going to have to take a close look at the enrollment of our public schools in comparison to this voucher and what the voucher really means. We're going to have to watch that very closely. I know you're like, we're moving aside from that. So, I'm really sorry, but with the Leandro case coming up in our state, we're going to have to watch that very, very, very closely because of the fact that is this voucher really doing what it is entailed to do? No, how do I know that? Because I have friends that have chosen different routes other than public school. It's a healthy debate we have all the time. They know where I stand, but I do not think that it will underlying do what it is entailed to do. So, we're going to have to watch that as we move forward to access and accountability for everybody and how they teach our students.
Another thing we're going to have to watch is definitely the maternal care and women's rights. we're going to have to watch that with a close eagle eye. Because of the fact that we can't talk about maternity rights and the rights of mothers and the mortality rate of our women because women of color are leading in that number of our women that are dying either during childbirth or postpartum, meaning when I get home, I'm having complications that had somebody had the conversation with me or I had the proper care, this wouldn't be here. So we're going to have to watch that.
We're also going to have to watch the idea of women's rights and how closely aligned it's going to be and how people are going to closely align that with religious values, right? I'm a believer, but I'm also a firm believer in love in Christ. And so give people the opportunity to do what they need to do for their bodies, right? It's my body. And I know how much I can handle on my body. And so I think that those are key things that we're going to have to watch.
And also affordable housing, right? And not that we're gonna have to watch affordable housing, but we're going to have to define what does affordable housing mean. Because affordable housing doesn't mean that we're just going to stick some building somewhere. We're not going to take care of these things. It's going to turn into a very poverous area, right? Like, what does affordable housing really mean? Where can we really realistically place these affordable housing and then what does it mean for those families to ensure that if it's affordable housing, what else can we provide to assist and help them? So, we're going to have to define what affordable housing means for North Carolina and then define what that looks like.
So, I think as 2024 progresses, these are going to be key things that people are going to look at aside from just the races, right? Like we have top races that are getting ready to happen in our state alone, that I'm telling my friends, my family, Hey, pay attention to that. Pay attention to this race, you know pay attention to my race in District 59, right? We're getting ready to hit a huge shift in District 59. So there are things, a few things on the state level that the general. The General Assembly, not just as they go into session in 2024, but definitely, like you said, as we move into 2025. I think those are going to be key things.
And as we talk about the economic development, now, this is a bit of a selfish moment, but in District 59, economic development is really what a lot of our constituents want to talk about. And it's not a race thing. It's a everybody in the community thing, and it's not even a partisan thing. It's a, oh, no, no, no, no, we all want to know, what's going to happen, what jobs are going to be created for us out here, right? Because as you look at District 59, a lot of our places their closest access to food is Family Dollar, Dollar General. What does that look like, right? So now we're talking about the food insecurity in some of our places in District 59, which also ties into that economic stability. And so I think that those are close things that 2025 and beyond, we're going to have to pay close attention to definitely if you live in District 59 as a constituent, regardless of how this race pans out, you're going to have to watch how your representative advocates for those things in this area.
JD Wooten: Oh my gosh, so much that I could follow up on, but I wanna be mindful of your time and I, I do appreciate the time you've already taken to be with us today. So I've got one follow up from, from all of that, and then maybe we'll have to do another episode at some point to dig in on all those other ideas. You mentioned, maternal issues and that that triggered another thought, you've shared a little in your past about your challenges you face as a new mother juggling the demands of working and taking care of your newborn. Are there any policies or programs you would want to push for to help other new mothers in similar situations?
Tanneshia Dukes: I'm going to definitely say that early child care policy that everyone is pushing for right now, that's going to help our mothers. And also the maternal care. We're going to have to look at the maternal care of our mothers. I didn't just struggle as far as juggling it all. I also struggled on the delivery table, right? And a lot of people don't know that because that's your personal business, right? But when I tell people, maternal rights is actually one of my platform key things that I talk about on my campaign journey, and I talk about it because of my experience, my experience as I carried my son in my womb to delivering him on the table was like none other.
I remember looking over at my husband and my mom on the delivery table. And my father walked in and he walked out quickly and my mom had to go tell him cause he was concerned like bloods everywhere, you know, not to be too graphic, but I almost lost my life delivering my son. And so I could have been in that number of that mortality rate of women, definitely women of color. And so we're going to have to pay close attention to our maternal care with our mothers. That's a big push for me. How are we educating our mothers? How are the doctors truly providing care with the insurance that mothers have? And how are we looking at, I think the, like you said, the Medicaid Expansion, that may have helped with our mothers who may not have had insurance, may not have qualified. So I think that that's 1/3 of it, but I think those other 2/3 are going to come from policies that we stand 10 toes behind Alma Adams is doing a great work with that, right? Like she's doing a great work on that level of advocating for, I think it's a mommy bus omnibus that they're doing on that level and pushing for what that looks like for our mothers at the state level. And so I think that those are key things that we're going to have to watch out for, because those are things that we stress about as moms. I can't afford early childcare, right? Like those are real conversations that we have to have as parents of affordability.
And then when you're pregnant of care, right? Like no one prepares you for what can go wrong during delivery. No one prepares you for that. And so we have to change that. We really have to change that. And what our maternal care looks like.
JD Wooten: Well, thank you for sharing all of that. I know that a lot of that's intensely personal, but I, I appreciate the openness with it. And I hope that we can move forward in the direction that you were talking about on some of that stuff. So, last and most important question of the day, where can people go to learn more about you, your campaign, sign up to volunteer, donate, so forth?
Tanneshia Dukes: So, to learn more about me, you can go to www.dukes4nc.com. I have a plethora of pictures up there, a little bit about my background, events, you can sign up for events. Of course, we have ways that you can donate to the campaign. Aside from the website, every social media platform that I have for my campaign, whether Facebook, Instagram, Twitter X, it's under Dukes4NC and so that's where you can go find me to follow.
You can also find me at any of if you live in district 59 and you live within those municipality regions, you can find me at those meetings. Usually I'm tucked away in the back. Sometimes I'll speak and sometimes I'm just coming to listen to the community and the concerns they have. And so any of the events that I have or any of those meetings, I show up there. And so you can find me there and yeah, I'm looking forward to connecting with the community.
JD Wooten: Well, we'll make sure to share all those links in the show notes. Tanneshia, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a real pleasure.
Tanneshia Dukes: No, thank you for having me. I've enjoyed it and I love having conversation as you can see.
JD Wooten: Thank you again to everyone for listening. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And as always, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and share this episode with a friend. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!