Carolina Democracy

Democracy: A Team Sport!

April 29, 2024 JD Wooten Season 3 Episode 16
Democracy: A Team Sport!
Carolina Democracy
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Carolina Democracy
Democracy: A Team Sport!
Apr 29, 2024 Season 3 Episode 16
JD Wooten

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by State Senator Lisa Grafstein of District 13 in Wake County. Plus, we kick off with some updates from around North Carolina and various legal battles across the country.

Learn More About Lisa Grafstein:

Democracy Docket: Federal Judge Strikes Down North Carolina Law Criminalizing Felony Voting

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Show Notes Transcript

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by State Senator Lisa Grafstein of District 13 in Wake County. Plus, we kick off with some updates from around North Carolina and various legal battles across the country.

Learn More About Lisa Grafstein:

Democracy Docket: Federal Judge Strikes Down North Carolina Law Criminalizing Felony Voting

Contact Us:

Follow Us:

Support the Show.

Lisa Grafstein: One thing about campaigns and about democracy is that it really is a team sport. And it's going to take all of us and it just takes a lot of investment by everybody to make sure that we're moving the ball down the field.

[music transition]

JD Wooten: Welcome to Carolina Democracy. I’m JD Wooten, and today we’re joined by State Senator Lisa Grafstein of District 13 in Wake County. Our conversation ranged from her early memories of politics—which might surprise you—to how her career as a civil rights attorney led her to putting her own name on the ballot, to several of the things she would like to see out of this year’s short session at the General Assembly. We also covered some of her best guesses as to what we’ll actually see from the General Assembly in the coming months and which districts she thinks will be the key battleground district in the fight over whether North Carolina Republicans hold on to their supermajority.

Last week, I mentioned the districts I thought were at the top of the list, which include District 7 in New Hanover County, District 11 in Nash, Franklin, and Vance Counties, District 13 in Wake County, District 18 in Wake and Granville Counties, and District 42 in Mecklenburg County. That list again with candidates is Districts 7, last week’s guest Dr. David Hill, 11, James Mercer, 13, today’s guest Sen. Lisa Grafstein, 18, State Rep. Terence Everitt, and 42, Woodson Bradley. As you’ll hear, Sen. Grafstein’s list sounds pretty similar.

Now, some of the recent big news impacting democracy in North Carolina includes the projected budget surplus of $1.4 billion for this year, while the long-term budget issues due to projected declines in tax revenues remain. Governor Cooper put out a proposed budget that would give public school teachers an 8.5% raise, invest over a $1 billion into our woefully underfunded public schools, and provide $745 million to strengthen early childhood education and child care. It would also stop the tax giveaways for corporations and the ultra-wealthy while giving tax cuts to middle class families and small businesses. Meanwhile, over on the Republican side, the rumors include possibly taking another stab at allowing casinos and diverting another $300 million of public funds that could go to support public schools to the Opportunity Scholarships. 

As a reminder, recent polling shows that only 32% of North Carolinians support sending public money to private schools, whereas a solid 47% oppose such policies. While the other 14% were unsure, it’s clear that far more North Carolinians oppose policies like the Opportunity Scholarships than support them. However, the gerrymandered General Assembly is insulated from having to follow the wishes of their constituents. There’s also been some talk that the General Assembly might take up anti-diversity measures similar to the UNC Board of Governors, but that talk has been more muted so far so we’ll see what actually happens. As Senator Grafstein noted in her interview, DEI is the new CRT, another ambiguous acronym the GOP can turn into a boogey man of fear and distrust to fire up their base.

And before turning to a few legal updates, let me give credit where credit is due – Speaker Mike Johnson coming down on the right side of history to support Ukraine. The list of things on which I agree with Speaker Johnson would probably be pretty short if I actually tried to write them down, but this would be towards the top of that list. The fight for democracy cannot be limited to our domestic efforts to fight against the growing authoritarian threat of the MAGA wing of the GOP. It must also include our international efforts to protect liberal democracy against illiberal authoritarian regimes, whether Russia, China, Iran, or any number of others autocratic nations. Speaker Johnson stood up to the most extreme elements of his party to ensure that critical aid for Ukraine could pass through Congress and help ensure Ukraine can continue fighting known and unapologetic enemies of American interests – Vladimir Putin and Russia. So, again, credit where credit is due. I was genuinely surprised and pleasantly so that he stood up for this issue despite the threat it posses to his job as Speaker. Few politicians, especially in his party, are willing to stand on principal when the stakes are so high, but he did. Thank you. Now Speaker Johnson, see how good it feels to be on the right side of history? Surly you want to try it again with a few other things you could reconsider, right? I’d love to give more credit where credit is due!

Anyways, turning to legal issues, last week a federal judge here in North Carolina struck down a 19th century state law that imposes criminal penalties on residents who vote while on parole, probation, or post-release supervision for felony convictions. Judge Loretta Biggs wrote, “The Challenged Statute was enacted with discriminatory intent, has not been cleansed of its discriminatory taint, and continues to disproportionately impact Black voters.” Under the law, Black North Carolinians have been significantly more likely to be prosecuted. Not only did Judge Biggs find the old law intentionally discriminates against Black North Carolinians, she also found that law ‘lacks sufficient standards’ to protect against inconsistent or discriminatory enforcement by district attorneys, essentially giving district attorneys far too much discretion. 

I should also note that unfortunately, this ruling has no bearing on the state’s felony disenfranchisement law, which denies the right to vote to those convicted of felonies while they’re still on probation, parole, or a suspended sentence. While that law was temporarily invalidated by a North Carolina state trial court in 2022, the state Supreme Court reversed the decision in April 2023 as part of their assault on democratic values at the same time as the ruling that greenlit gerrymandering and reinstated the racist voter ID law. Don’t forget, judicial races matter, and there are four state-wide judicial races on the ballot this year.

Next on our legal updates, cases of the former president. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about the former president’s outrageous immunity claims, and in a day that both shocked everyone and no one all at once, far more of the justices seemed inclined to entertain at least some form of immunity than nearly any legal scholar would have guessed. It’s notoriously difficult to guess or predict what the ultimate decision of any case will be based on oral arguments, at least in detail, but the general vibes of the oral argument can certainly lead to some educated guesses. And one such educated guess based on last week’s oral arguments is that the Court will neither outright adopt, nor outright reject, President Trump’s arguments. 

Unfortunately, given the extreme arguments in favor of Trump, even a purported middle ground would still leave a pretty extreme precedent allowing for at least some level of immunity from criminal prosecution for personal acts—and remember, no one has questioned legal immunity for official acts, but only those done in a personal capacity, like trying to overturn the results of an election to stay in power. And anything other than a swift, outright rejection of Trump’s arguments almost certainly means a trial in this case will be delayed beyond the election. I personally don’t think American voters should have to vote for someone who hasn’t either been exonerated or convicted of serious criminal charges involving efforts to overturn an election, but it strikes me that the Courts don’t feel quite the same sense of urgency some of us do.

And finally, we had the first full week of former President Trump’s first criminal trial in New York. The prosecution has added a few more examples to their list of times President Trump has allegedly violated the gag order in the case by making threatening or otherwise impermissible statements about personnel involved in the trial, but no word yet from the judge on whether he considers these purported violations sufficient to constitute contempt. While such flagrant disregard of a Court’s orders might land anyone else in jail, I’d be a little surprised if the judge in this case decides to cross that threshold. Still, we’ll see what he does and he’s got pretty broad discretion to enforce order in the courtroom and outside it as it relates to the trial. 

We also had a full week of testimony from the former publisher of the National Enquirer and got confirmation of what I think everyone assumed to be true at this point – the National Enquirer bought and suppressed stories harmful to the former president and outright fabricated harmful stories about his opponents. I was a little surprised by the outright admission of the fabrications, but I suppose since no one questions the veracity of such stories, the admission isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Anyways, we have a long way to go in this case and we’ll see what other twists and turns it takes.

Ok, that’s enough out of me for today. Let’s get to our guest, Sen. Lisa Grafstein, hope you enjoy! 

[music transition]

JD Wooten: With us today is State Senator Lisa Grafstein, North Carolina State Senator from District 13 in Wake County. Welcome Senator Grafstein. 

Lisa Grafstein: Thank you. It's so good to be here. 

JD Wooten: Wonderful to have you. So first question, as with all my first time guests, what's your earliest memory of politics or getting involved in politics?

Lisa Grafstein: Well, I actually did not grow up in a political family or really around politics at all. So my earliest memory is not that early. It was the 1984 elections. I'll just go ahead and age myself right out of the gate. It was my first opportunity to vote. I voted for Ronald Reagan in the presidential race. So this was the influence of some teachers in high school. And I felt like that was the choice that I wanted to make. And so I made that choice in 1984. And I remember a friend who was very much on the opposite side of that feeling very hurt about the outcome of the election. So that's my first memory of even voting or being involved in the electoral process at all.

JD Wooten: Well, I did not vote for Ronald Reagan either in 84 or 80. But when you said it was not that early, I was afraid it would be well, let's just say, I've had some other guests who talk about their earliest memory of politics, and the name Obama comes up and I say, oh, no, 

Lisa Grafstein: I do remember him. I also voted for him. Right. No. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. But you get a lot of side eye from Democrats when you tell them you voted for Reagan in 84. But that's okay. 

JD Wooten: I understand. And you know, I grew up in a military culture and around that, you so I have not always voted straight party ticket for Democrats. And so I understand and appreciate that, but back to you, let's start with some background. You studied for your undergrad at Northwestern and earned your law degree from UNC. What led you to the study of law in the first place? 

Lisa Grafstein: Right. So it kind of actually dates back to politics as well. I was thinking about this a little bit in another context. I was thinking about law school when I was an undergrad and I didn't feel like it was time yet. And then I moved to North Carolina, to Wake County in 1990 right in the height of the Helms Gantt Senate race. Obviously, you know, you remember a very heated and very intense time in North Carolina politics. And so, you know, I got right involved. knocking doors for Harvey Gantt, handing out literature at polling places and things like that. He was really, really invested, and I believed that he was going to win. And as you may recall, he did not win, you know, to the point where it was election day, and I was working one of those polls that had to stay open because people were in line waiting when the polls closed, and I rushed home to change to go to the victory party, and they were already calling it for Helms. So it was a tough decision. Introduction to North Carolina politics. And then you know, a short time later it occurred to me, you know, I really want to have an impact and I think to do that I'd like to go to law school to figure out my path toward having a bigger impact. So that's how I ended up going to Carolina.

JD Wooten: I understand those sentiments with the less than exciting election night watch party, but such a historic race. So once you decided to go to Carolina, you then went on to pursue a career in civil rights law. And you have a particular focus, as I understand it on disability law. How'd you end up finding your way into that field and that specialty, especially? 

Lisa Grafstein: When I was in law school and shortly thereafter, I got really involved in workers rights employment issues, mostly for employees, and that had to do with some coursework that I took at Carolina. And then when I graduated, I opened up my own practice and that was my focus was on working on behalf of employees, including by the way, doing things like non compete agreements when companies are trying to hold folks to non compete agreements, which really recently there's been a federal rule passed that's, if it goes to effect, will bar non competes in certain areas or most areas. So that was sort of my background, just kind of working on behalf of individuals who were struggling with issues with the workplace. And then about a dozen years ago a friend reached out about a job opening at a non profit called Disability Rights North Carolina. They were looking for somebody who did employment work. I have family members with disabilities and interest in the area. And I just kind of seen the work of disability rights and just thought it would be a good match. So I got involved in that a dozen years ago. And I've been very grateful for the opportunity to do the kind of work that has an impact on just kind of broad range of people. It's great to work for individual clients. It's, it's gratifying to get them a result. It's really, really fun to work for groups of people where you feel like you're having a broader impact. 

JD Wooten: That sounds like a wonderful transition and I'm very curious with your work in that field and really anything else in your background that led you eventually to get involved in politics by putting your own name on the ballot, but especially that work, how did that maybe shape your political philosophy today and how does that weigh into that?

Lisa Grafstein: Yeah I think for me, a lot of it is really seeing how policy plays into people's real lives on a day to day basis, and that's really true for folks with disabilities, where there's so many policy issues around things like Medicaid, around things like access to voting, that have deep and profound effects on people and that really start at a policy level. So, that to me was not only an inspiration, but also something that I thought that I could be useful in running for office. So just having that connection between policy and people's real lives to me was really an important decision point, I guess, when I decided to run.

JD Wooten: I've heard that theme from a lot of professionals. Recently we had Dr. Hill, who's running for State Senate District 7 talk about his experiences in the medical community and thinking, hey, I can treat each patient as they come in, or I can try and go to Raleigh and influence the policy. And you're talking about from the law perspective, it's fascinating to hear different people in different professions, but kind of that same theme. 

Lisa Grafstein: Yeah, I mean, it is kind of interesting because a lot of what you do and as somebody who does disability rights work, sometimes when I think the government's doing something wrong, I have to challenge the government and then you start to think, well, I can go try to change things from another angle by having some influence in the policy arena. So, yes, sort of sounds like a similar journey that you know, it really matters. To have some understanding of an issue to sort of see where, where the rubber meets the road and how things really change when it comes right down to it. 

JD Wooten: Absolutely. So we'll get to your campaign in just a moment because you are running for reelection, but you're also a sitting state senator and the short session just kicked off. So I want to briefly ask about the short session while I've got you here. I joked with Representative Clemons, who's in the Guilford delegation on the House side, that, you know, the GOP is famous for telling Democrats ahead of time what they plan to do. But, you know, setting that aside, any insights on what we might be expecting to see in the next couple of months at the General Assembly?

Lisa Grafstein: Sure, and you're right to joke about that. I mean, it's, I was telling somebody the other day about you know, the agendas that we get for committees, like as soon as the committee meeting starts, we'll get that agenda. So, which is sometimes an exaggeration, but not always. So yeah, I mean, I don't, you know, I don't have, you know, a list of the issues that are going to be raised by the Republican majority. I think we can, we've seen some of it in the media. Certainly, there is a desire to continue to put public funds, public school funds into private school vouchers to the tune of 300 million for folks who are higher income who have not yet gotten access to the, to those state funds.

And I was disappointed, I saw a while back that Speaker Moore had mentioned that. I saw more recently that some folks on the Senate side are talking about that. And so it seems like that's something that's actively in the works, which is deeply disappointing. I think we'll see more culture war stuff just because I think because it's an election year, we're going to see issues that Republicans want to bring up as things to run on or things to run against Democrats on. So I think those will be the kinds of things that come up unfortunately. We've seen some of that happening already, and I don't know what other pieces, obviously we'll be working on the budget or there will be work on the budget that will have some adjustments here and there. But truly, I think the best indicator of what's going to be coming up is if you look at the political arena and what, what Republicans are talking about is what they're going to want to be talking about on the floor of the House and Senate.

JD Wooten: Certainly. And then I believe, correct me if I'm wrong, I believe that that would mean for the biennium, talking about those Opportunity Scholarships that that takes funding, if they were to do what you just mentioned, takes the funding to something like 800 million dollars over the biennium that they've looked to putting in the Opportunity scholarships.

Lisa Grafstein: Yeah, I can't recall the exact amount. It's a significant sum of money. And I think the thing that folks don't always realize is that that's money that's directly that's coming out of your local public school, and certainly is coming out of a lot of local public schools, for example, in rural areas where there might not even be a private school for people to attend, even if they wanted to. So it's money that's being pulled from areas that can least afford to lose public funding for their local public schools and go into these private school vouchers. 

JD Wooten: Well, we'll continue to try and make sure we remind people and sound the alarm on that huge divestment from our public schools. And on the culture war side, you know, looking at the news, I think at one point I had seen Speaker Moore make a comment in the press about leaving DEI type issues to the Board of Governors at UNC. And we've seen what they've started to do. And I believe Senator Berger made some comment that maybe it could be, maybe it wouldn't be part of things come up to this session. Have you heard any further on that? Or is that in the ballpark of what you were talking about? 

Lisa Grafstein: Yeah, I've been hearing the same things, I think, and certainly you know, it's certainly possible that they'll bring up DEI again, which is really just this year's CRT, right? It's just choose a different acronym. It's the outrage machinery that's meant to distract from the lack of funding in our public schools and other things that are happening. And, you know, again, as with other things, it's the use of acronyms and jargon. That doesn't actually describe a problem that's happening in any kind of explicit terms. So I expect we will see that again. I don't know if they will just leave it alone based on the Board of Governors. I think a lot depends on what happened with that policy, whether we'll see anything more at the state level. 

JD Wooten: Well, we'll stay tuned and keep our listeners updated, because I'm sure that like you said, it's an election year. I'm sure they'll be doing something that they can put in their mailers or something. So so shifting to this current election cycle, then speaking of you're running for reelection, as I mentioned, and as I understand that your district's been redrawn pretty significantly, and you're definitely one of those battleground districts that we absolutely have to hold on to. So first, very basic question: what parts of Wake County is the new version of District 13 covering? 

Lisa Grafstein: Sure, so first the old version of District 13, actually the current version, my current district that I represent is North Raleigh. So basically 440, if you're familiar with Wake County, 440 to 540. The new version of district 13 is Southern Wake County. So it actually does not include any of the city of Raleigh. It includes a lot of unincorporated Raleigh. It includes the city of Fuquay Varina. It includes a little bit of Apex, a little bit of Holly Springs or about half of Holly Springs, some of Garner a little bit of Knightdale and for folks who are familiar with Wake County, you'll realize what a weird shape this has become. So it's really just kind of the southern part of the county with some, you know, tendrils drawn into areas to pick up less favorable precincts to try to make the district more, more competitive. 

JD Wooten: Wow. Okay. So that's not a little change. That's the opposite side of the county.

Lisa Grafstein: Right. I mean, in fairness, every single sitting senator in Wake County has a dramatically different district. It's just that mine was literally moved to a different part of the county. But if you look at the maps and compare them, there's significant change for everybody. 

JD Wooten: I remember when those maps first came out. I was like, okay, these aren't even close. Who's going to play the musical chairs and how's that kind of work out for people?

Lisa Grafstein: Right. Yeah. And I, I was double bunked with Jay Chauduri and so when my old district was carved up, the part that had my house in it is now in his district or will be in his district next year. 

JD Wooten: That's unfortunate, but I'm glad that you're still running and running to keep fighting a good fight. So speaking of those districts, they've changed all over the state as well. So you've probably got a little bit more insight being in the current caucus than those of us on the outside would. So there's no question that your seat is one of the key seats to protect and give our next governor, who better be Josh Stein, an effective veto. But including your own district, where do you expect the bulk of the attention this cycle to go in terms of battleground districts for trying to break that supermajority? 

Lisa Grafstein: You're right, mine will be one of the key ones to protect. The other, of course, in Wake County, the Mary Wills Bode seat that as you know, she's not running again. Terrence Everett's running in that seat, Northern Wake and Granville. There's the Rachel Hunt seat in Mecklenburg Woodson Bradley, fantastic woman running for that seat. So those are the ones that Democrats currently have that have the tightest margins, I guess. And then, you know, kind of some of the perennial areas of the state, like New Hanover as, you know Dr. Hill, of course, running in New Hanover County. That's one that Republicans currently hold that we can all look at the same math and see where things are tight. There are other seats like Senate District 11, where James Mercer is running that again, the numbers just dictate that that is another potential toss up seat.

And then, you know, I think there are also just kind of areas sort of in the area surrounding a lot of the growth where we maybe haven't seen as much competitive races before where I think we'll be seeing more as each cycle goes by, just because the growth in those areas, it changes the dynamics. And then I will also say, I think, you know, economic opportunity has not been uniform across the state, and I think you'll see Josh Stein out talking about that a lot in the coming months. And that might change the dynamic in some parts of the state where folks maybe who were Democrats 20 years ago have been voting Republican, maybe rethink party affiliations or, or at least alignments on certain races.

And I think and I think it's also true of just the extremism that we've been seeing a lot of those areas around the urban growth areas where people are living in the suburbs, commuting in or living closer to kind of growth areas. There's less of an appetite in those areas for extremism around things like reproductive freedom around, you know, taking money out of the local public schools so there's gonna be a lot of backlash I think in some areas that may end up surprising us. So, that was a long answer to your question, but I think it's a really dynamic year and it'd be really interesting to see how much of this pans out. 

JD Wooten: Well, by the standard of some of our other guests, that was still a concise answer, so I appreciate it. And it was extraordinarily insightful. So again, I appreciate it.

Lisa Grafstein: Yeah. 

JD Wooten: So speaking of that economic opportunity, I think that might be a good place to transition then to issues that might be facing voters, you know, kind of top of mind when they get to the ballot box this fall, and I know we're a long way from the election. I know we're probably still a long way from even working on those big benchmark polls that we'll be putting out in the field in the summer, which, you know, hopefully they're accurate enough to rely on this year. But what's your gut telling you right now that will be the winning issue for Democrats this year that drives voters to the polls? 

Lisa Grafstein: I think the winning issues really go back to some of the extremism that we're seeing on the right, honestly, and around things like reproductive freedom, which, you know, we had the abortion ban last year. And I think, and I'm still hearing from people about that. But I think there's also a lot more going on that means that people are still paying attention to that issue, first of all, because it's still there. But also, you know, you see things in other states like IVF and we can't even get Republicans to agree to protect contraception in North Carolina. I filed a bill last year, just basically saying the government's not trying to interfere with your use of contraception, could not get a single Republican to sign on. So I think those are issues that will help people understand that basic freedoms are an issue in this election. And that extremism really has consequences for their lives.

I mean go back to the school funding issues and just the ways in which public schools are being drained. I think also, a lot of what we're hearing on the doors is about some of the economic issues like housing is really expensive, and there's a lot of growth in this area of the county where I am, and prices are up, of course, right? So just talking about some of the solutions on those economic issues I think is going to be important for us as well because they may or may not be the thing that drive the people to the poll but I think folks need to understand that Democrats actually have better solutions on those issues.

JD Wooten: So in terms of those better solutions then, I know one of your campaign priorities or, you know, the way you've talked about it in terms of campaigning is that budgets should reflect priorities. And we are in a short session, and the short session is usually about budget adjustments. So, what would be some of those priorities that you would want to see in our budget, either this particular budget or maybe even, you know, hypothetical ideal budget when there are 26 Democrats in the state Senate?

Lisa Grafstein: Oh, which I dream of, yes. The governor's budget just came out and there's a lot in there that actually reflects what I think we need to be doing in terms of stabilizing revenue. Right now we are aiming to eliminate the corporate income tax by 2030, which will lose us 2 billion dollars a year, billion with a B. And, you know, other kinds of revenue reductions that it's not Democrats saying this, the neutral General Assembly staff have calculated that we will have a structural deficit in the budget unless we make a change and the Governor's budget does that I agree with what he's suggesting, which is freezing the corporate income tax rate at 2. 5%, which the Chamber of Commerce has said is fine with them. Nobody's actually asking for it to go to 0. So there's no reason for us to send what would amount to 68 percent of that revenue actually goes to out of state corporations, right? So no point doing that. Freeze, freeze the income tax at certain income levels reduce it for folks under 250, 000 as between sort of the last tax year and the coming tax year. You know, really reasonable reductions that are targeted as opposed to sort of slashing revenues in a way that's going to hurt us in the long run. 

So I know people like to talk about priorities from a spending point of view, but we have to get the revenue part right before we can make sure that we're doing sustainable spending. And then on the on the priority side, you know, I go back to school funding. It's just like one of the biggest things, it is the biggest thing we do, right? We're not currently meeting our obligations to kids, and we're going the wrong direction with these unaccountable private school vouchers, so that's a huge piece of it. 

For me, there's other parts like infrastructure, we also have some issues with not just physical infrastructure, but our human services infrastructure. We have the childcare cliff that's coming up, hundreds of millions of dollars needed to make sure people have access to childcare and another, here I am, quoting the Chamber of Commerce again, another Chamber of Commerce priority, like making sure people can put their kids in daycare and go to work.

 I work with people with disabilities. There's a huge, huge unmet need in the mental health and developmental disability context, as well as other disabilities, places where we can be investing in services, that means jobs, right? And those jobs are not only in the growth areas. It's there in every part of the state where people need services. So this is a way for us to reinvest some of the funding that we could be spending more wisely as opposed to corporate giveaways and things like that. 

JD Wooten: So much of that answer has me sort of in this like odd alternate reality in the sense that I came of age under the, what I now believe to be something of a myth, but this idea that the Republican Party was the party of fiscal responsibility, you know, and we talked about at the very beginning, the 1984 election with Reagan and here we are now, and you're a Democratic candidate for the state Senate, and your intuition was to immediately talk about stabilizing the revenue and then refer back to the Chamber of Commerce, who's sort of famously not been on the same side of a lot of things as Democrats over the years. In my mind, that's just sort of an alternate reality of, okay, you know, the, the current Republican Party has drifted so far from where they were even just 5 or 10 years ago that Democrats are having to be the party of fiscal restraint, reasonable fiscal policy, but also individual freedoms and voting rights.

Lisa Grafstein: Yeah, I think that's true. And like, the chamber themselves came out with that concern, the letter that they published raising concerns about extremism in the state and what it's gonna do to recruiting businesses and that sort of thing. So I feel like the popular media talks about polarization in our society and like it feels that way, but I think polarization means like everybody starts here and then you go to opposite ends. I think in a lot of things we've stayed right here. And I say, we, I mean, Democrats or even moderate Republicans on things like public schools are good and, you know, you should have stable revenue and that sort of thing.

And then there's just been this extreme movement in a way that that is destabilizing. And I think that's a lot of what we're feeling. And so I think that's an important piece of what I hope to be able to convey to folks is like, this is not polarization in the traditional sense that everybody should just try to get along better and come to the middle.

 we're talking about democracy as a moderate issue, right? Democracy is an issue we used to be in the middle on, and there have been extremists who've moved away from that. And that's concerning. We used to be moving together on the question of basic bodily autonomy for people, that there's a certain level of freedoms that we all enjoy and should enjoy, that we should live in a, in a robust democracy.

And, and those are things that I think, it's not that I think Democrats have changed on or, and people who, you know, support Democratic causes. Because there are a lot of unaffiliated folks who, who have sort of the same feeling. We haven't changed on that. We've stayed where we were. I think we're just having to be much more vocal about it because we didn't think we ever had to talk about it before. And now it's become so basic and so challenged by this extremism that we have to start talking about it more. And I think it's uncomfortable to do because it's like a thing you shouldn't have to, belabor as I am right now, but you shouldn't have to belabor, or we shouldn't have to be having that conversation, but, but we have to, because as someone told me recently every election is going to be the most important one until we have sort of more normalcy on the Republican party side. I would love to work with some moderate Republicans on things. It's just real hard to do when you have their party being really dominated by extremists. 

JD Wooten: And I think that's a difficult conversation to have at least in my own experience when it's on more subjective things like voting rights and other culture type issues. But going back to what you mentioned about taxes, like, let's just look at the corporate tax. Like, okay, even at two and a half percent where we currently are, that's half or less than the closest neighboring state. 

Lisa Grafstein: Right. 

JD Wooten: And now they want to take it even further when the business community is not even asking for that. And oh, by the way, these are companies that are using our roads and our utilities and our resources that the state is paying for. I don't know how you frame that as anything other than extremist in the fiscal irresponsibility to go from two and a half to zero. 

Lisa Grafstein: Right. I think it's really concerning and it's true that everybody should pay their fair share. I did my taxes. I paid my fair share. That's all we're asking for anybody to do. And again, nobody really asked for it. I think it's sort of just a philosophy, I think, and it's not one that ought to drive our policy because what happens, of course, is when you start having these revenue shortfalls what, what you're not going to see is, oh, let's, let's go collect some more money from corporations. What you're going to see is even less money into our infrastructure and our schools and all the things that we rely on. 

JD Wooten: I want to ask sort of a hypothetical that maybe puts a little bit more of a gloss and a happy note on, on campaign priorities and ideas. Let's imagine that Democrats take control of the State Senate and State House and that we've got the Governor's mansion. What are your top 2 priorities that you would want to see addressed right away to help everyday North Carolinians? 

Lisa Grafstein: I go back to the same priorities. To me, really, it is the same thing about stable revenue that makes sure that we have a solid middle class. I grew up in a in a family that was kind of relatively economically challenged, we were not poor, we were probably lower middle class, but like, you know, it really drives my desire to sort of make sure that we're giving everybody an opportunity to, to thrive and to live good lives. And to me, that means schools, it means keeping our water clean and our air clean, those kinds of investments that are really about helping people have a good life, right? That's what you want your basic government services to do so it's really just as simple as that and making sure that we're doing the things we need to do to not do things to give people a good life, but giving them an opportunity for a good life. I think that's what we all we can do.

JD Wooten: That would be a wonderful situation. Anything else policy or campaign related that we've missed that you want to share with our listeners? 

Lisa Grafstein: No, I mean, first of all, I just want to thank you for doing the podcast but I genuinely believe it's going to take all of us to do this, right? This is something that really drives me is that having served now, a little over a year in the super minority and seeing all the opportunities missed for good things and some of the bad things that have happened. It really is not an individual effort anymore. Being a lawyer, I sometimes I litigate cases, right? I try to win. And that's, in some ways you work with a team, but it's also kind of a solitary pursuit. And one thing about campaigns and about democracy is that it really is a team sport. And it's going to take all of us and it just takes a lot of investment by everybody to make sure that we're moving the ball down, down the field. So I appreciate what you're doing. And I hope that folks are going to get active over the next six months to make sure we preserve our democracy. 

JD Wooten: Well, thank you for that. And I hope so too. Most important question of the day then where can listeners go to learn more about you and your campaign?

Lisa Grafstein: Absolutely. is my website. Believe it or not, was not taken when I got the URL. You can also contribute there if you'd like to do that, sign up to volunteer and help and just be in touch with us. So thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity to share that information.

JD Wooten: Well, we'll leave a link in the show notes so listeners can get right to it. And Senator Grafstein, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a real pleasure. 

Lisa Grafstein: Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity. 

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JD Wooten: Thanks again to everyone for listening today. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, send me an email at 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!