Watch video of WFJA’s interview with North Carolina Senate District 12 candidate John Kirkman, a Democrat who is challenging incumbent Republican Jim Burgin for the seat. District 12 includes Lee, Harnett and part of Johnson County. Below, read answers submitted to The Rant monthly in August, September and October.
Visit Kirkman’s campaign website here.
Briefly introduce yourself and describe why you’re seeking election to the Senate.
KIRKMAN: I was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I graduated from UNC-G with a degree in history and international studies. My whole career was focused on Labor Relations and Human Resources. During my career I have lived in NC, TN, CA, NJ, NY and CT.
My wife Pat and I moved to Sanford in 2004. We have a son who lives in Los Angeles. We are members of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church. I have been chair of the Lee County Democratic Party since 2015.
I am running for the North Carolina Senate because I am tired of watching the Republican Legislature neglect our school children and their teachers. There is a shortage of school supplies and low teacher pay. In 2013, the Republicans drastically slashed the NC unemployment benefits and the number of weeks of payments to just 12 weeks.
At the end of 2019, when the economy was still strong, fewer than 1 in 10 jobless Carolinian received unemployment benefits. With a pandemic raging in our state the Republicans still refuse to expand Medicaid to 500,000 citizens who would qualify. That is heartless!
What is your view of North Carolina’s process of closure and subsequent reopening in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how best do you think an elected senator can support his or her community during a time like this?
KIRKMAN: I believe we should follow the advice of health professionals in the face of COVID-19. As inconvenient as it may be, I believe we should stay at home as much as possible. When we must go shopping or to work or run errands, we should maintain social distance and wear a mask. We are facing the worst pandemic in our lifetime and we must follow the only proven steps to combat the virus.
The elected Senator for District 12 should set a good example for his fellow legislatures and for his constituents. As the elected Senator for District 12 I would work for the immediate expansion of Medicaid coverage for the 500,000 North Carolinians who are currently being denied that coverage. As the Senator for District 12 I would work to increase the weekly benefit for NC unemployment and lengthen the maximum from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
I would also work as quickly as possible to expand broadband service throughout the rural areas of District 12. It is another failure of our school children to ask them to attend virtual classes and to deprive them of the needed bandwidth.
The method by which political maps are drawn has been an issue of contention in the General Assembly. Do you support an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission which will draw maps in the future, or any other changes to the process, or do you think legislators should continue creating political districts?
KIRKMAN: I strongly support an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission to draw future districts maps in NC. Gerrymandering voting districts is wrong! The voters should elect their politicians, but under the Republican drawn maps the politicians have selected their voters!
Partisan balance in the Senate has grown tighter in recent years, forcing legislators from different parties to work together more often. Assuming this trend continues, how will you look for opportunities to work across the aisle? And if you are elected as a member of the Senate minority, what will you do to ensure that your ideas are heard and your constituents are well represented?
KIRKMAN: Just because the Democrats picked up enough seats in both chambers of the NC General Assembly in 2018 to break the Republican’s veto proof majority, does not mean the legislators from the two parties have worked together more on the big issues like increasing teacher’s pay, the state budget and expanding Medicaid. Unfortunately, my opponent has voted in lock step 98% of the time with the ethically challenged President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
The Republican leaders in both the NC House and Senate have refused to bargain with the governor to an agreement over the state budget. Most of the legislation passed by our General Assembly draws support from both parties. I believe in win-win negotiations to achieve the best possible results for our citizens and that includes working across the aisle. If the voters in the 12th District send me to Raleigh to be their voice in the NC Senate they will be heard. I am not shy. In order to represent my constituents well I will need to continue to get their feedback on the issues most important to them and to make communication with me as convenient as possible.
The News & Observer reported in July that roughly 1.2 million adult North Carolinians under age 65, or about one in five, live without health insurance, a number that was exacerbated by job losses occurring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What, if anything, should the General Assembly do to ensure these people have access to affordable care?
KIRKMAN: We are in the midst of a pandemic that has taken more than 3,300 North Carolina lives and sickened more than 196,000 of us. And 1-in-5 adults under the age of 65 does not have health insurance.
The number of uninsured adults has been exacerbated by job losses occurring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If the General Assembly had expanded Medicaid, every man and woman who lost their job as the result of COVID-19 would be eligible for Medicaid. But for years, the Republicans have refused to act, forfeiting $21 billion in tax dollars North Carolinians have paid to the federal government.
That is money that would come back to us to pay for 90 percent of Medicaid expansion. As a result of this health-related catastrophe, 1.2 million N.C. adults have no health insurance, five rural hospitals have closed, and 16 more are in danger of closing.
How can the Republican-controlled legislature continue to refuse to expand Medicaid during a pandemic? Gov. Cooper has fought for Medicaid expansion to save lives, bring thousands of jobs to NC, lower the cost of private insurance and keep rural hospitals open.
If elected to the Senate, I will vote to expand Medicaid.
Pandemic-related job losses have also led to situations in which renters are being evicted from their homes because they can no longer afford rent. One such situation here in Sanford was even covered in The New York Times. Does state government have a role in addressing these situations, and if so, what do you think should be done to prevent individuals from being evicted?
KIRKMAN: I have been involved with S3 Housing Connect since it started. S3 seeks to bring together the needed resources in Sanford and Lee County to create a coordinated and comprehensive approach and to ensure that homelessness is prevented whenever possible, or is otherwise a rare, brief and non-recurring experience.
I have learned that governments at every level — city, county, state and federal all have a role in addressing homelessness. Evictions in North Carolina were put on hold on March 15 of this year at the direction of N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. That hold was allowed to expire on June 20.
Evictions were allowed to resume until Sept. 4, 2020, when the CDC issued a nationwide ban on evictions for the rest of the year. The vast majority of unemployed North Carolinians do not qualify for N.C. unemployment compensation.
The Republican majority legislature savaged the program in 2013, making it one of the stingiest in the nation, with just 12 weeks of coverage. The program should be returned to 26 weeks of coverage and pay a higher benefit to more laid off workers. A state rent subsidy should also be considered for Covid-19 related job loss.