Many modern GOP lawmakers are by nature whackjobs, but it’s their overwhelming job security that brings out the truly evil stuff. North Carolina, where a racist gerrymander allowed Republicans’ most reactionary lawmakers to run wild, is a prime example.
From the infamous “bathroom bill” to voter ID and abortion restrictions, it’s been a true conservative nightmare. Since 2015, State Senator Joyce Krawiec (R-SD-31) has taken advantage of her gerrymandered seat to push some of the worst Republican laws, including the noxious “born alive” anti-abortion bill, which she introduced and sponsored (it was later vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper).
Thankfully, the gerrymander was finally thrown out by a state court last fall, leading to redrawn maps that made Krawiec’s district significantly more competitive and give Democratic challenger Terri LeGrand a real chance at flipping it.
LeGrand, a lawyer who has spent years working in higher education, first ran for State House in 2018 and swung an extremely gerrymandered House district by 20 points; she made it competitive for the first time in years and drove its Republican into retirement this cycle. Now, in a fairer district, she’s got a chance to straight-up take down a far-right Republican and turn North Carolina blue.
“I always paid attention to politics, but before I ran in 2018, I just kind of assumed that there was a bold line between two groups of people and there were stark differences [between Democratic and Republican voters],” LeGrand tells Progressives Everywhere. “But as you’re out on the trail and you’re talking to voters and listening to voters, you realize that we’re all united in far more ways than we’re divided.”
LeGrand hits all the litmus test positions for NC Democrats, including expanding Medicaid and drawing fair maps. But given her career background, it should come as little surprise that LeGrand spends a lot of time talking about education and the outrageous cost of attending college. North Carolina has one of the best public university systems in the nation, but a decade of spending cuts has led to steep tuition hikes and other unfair expenses being foisted on students and families who frequently can’t afford them.
Working in financial aid, she had a view of the front lines in an ongoing war on working families.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but that experience really informed how I understand the challenges that families face,” LeGrand says. “I got letters and phone calls all the time from families who had one set of experiences and circumstances when they made a commitment to send their child to our school, but then those circumstances changed. They get laid off with no severance. So many times we were working with families whose primary breadwinner was laid off from their good-paying job and the best job that they could find after a year or two years of looking was paying 50% less.”
Anything could devastate a parent’s ability to send their kid to school. Maybe unexpected medical bills after a car accident or bad diagnosis put them in $20,000 or more of debt. Or a contentious divorce wrecked both parents’ retirement savings. In some parts of North Carolina, looming natural disasters always threaten to create financial ones. LeGrand spent her days talking to people who are struggling to make ends meet and desperate to ensure that their kids can get the education they deserve.
“Those are things that I came to understand, how impactful those life circumstances could be,” she says. “They affect people’s ability to pay for their kids’ college. They affect people’s ability to pay for healthcare and pay for housing. And so all of those experiences have really formed how I look at the issues that I feel like we have to deal with at the state level.”
Democrats’ priorities we’re missing out on this year: Medicaid expansion; School construction; Ending tax cuts for huge corporations; Protecting our environment and holding corporate polluters accountable; Expanding paid family leave protections; and Eliminating pre-K waitlist.
— Terri LeGrand (@LegrandWSNC) February 12, 2020
So how does she think North Carolina should deal with the issues? Investing, for starters; the state pulled back on funding public education during the 2008 financial crisis and unlike many states, never truly re-invested. The teacher strikes of 2018 there made national headlines and helped return a bit of the financial backing, but there’s still a long way to go in order to satisfy’s the state constitution’s guarantee of public education.
LeGrand’s focus on public education is not only based on her professional experience, but it’s also reflective of her values. North Carolina’s legacy of voter suppression has played a major part in the state’s devastating funding cuts and assaults on minority and LGBTQ communities. A state court ruling temporarily tweaked the worst of the gerrymander for this election cycle, but if Democrats can’t take back at least one house of the state legislature, it’s likely that the GOP will install something just as bad once again. Preventing that from happening is LeGrand’s top priority; this may be Democrats’ last chance for a long time.
“The first thing we do is restore democracy by voting in an independent, nonpartisan redistricting committee,” she says. “Making sure that we ensure access to the ballot for every single North Carolinian, restoring our democracy, it’s gotta be number one because everything else can flow from that.”
From there, LeGrand cites increasing North Carolina’s miserable and miserly unemployment benefits, rewriting the rules limiting labor organizing, and reinvesting in the state’s devastated Department of Environmental Quality as other premium priorities.
Getting all these things done won’t be easy in a purple state, but the redistricting gives Democrats a fighting chance. In 2018, they won the major statewide elections and a majority of the legislative votes, so things are trending blue there. And LeGrand’s race was just named a DLCC spotlight race, indicating that national Democrats think she’s got a great chance of flipping the seat. She already sounds like a candidate determined to make sure that everyone in the district feels represented.
“It’s a very, very diverse district. You’ve got some very rural areas, some farming communities, manufacturing, suburban areas, and then downtown Winston-Salem. It’s a district with lots of different viewpoints. My message is that we should figure out what we can all agree on and work together to find solutions that will work for the most people.”