Jay J. Chaudhuri - State Senate District 16 | Candidate Questionnaires - Statewide | Indy Week
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Jay J. Chaudhuri - State Senate District 16 

Name as it appears on the ballot: Jay J. Chaudhuri

Campaign website:  www.jayfornc.com

Phone number: (919) 423-5281

Email:  jay@jayfornc.com

Years lived in the district: 15 years

In your view, what are the three most pressing issues North Carolina faces? If elected, what will you do to address these issues?

First, I believe it is important to repeal House Bill 2 as soon as possible, a bill that critics have referred to as the most anti-LGBT bill in the country.  HB2 has written discrimination into law, damaged our State’s international and national reputation, and cost our economy millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs.  In Cary, part of State Senate District 16, the NCAA decision to move four championships out of our State will cost the town almost $2.4 million.  That’s why during my first week in the State Senate the first bill I co-sponsored was to repeal HB 2.  And, that’s why I have repeatedly called on the Republican leadership and Governor Pat McCrory to hold a special session to vote on this bill to repeal HB 2.

Second, I believe we must increase teacher pay to above the national average. I have proposed a “5 x 5” initiative which can dramatically impact our teacher pay:  increase teacher pay by five percent every year for five years.  With our proposal, in just two years, our State’s teacher pay would be closer to the median average (28th).  In five years, our teacher pay would be above the media average and the top among Southern states.  I will be a vocal advocate in the State Senate about our need to invest more in education.

Finally, I believe we must reduce our State’s income inequality.  In Wake County alone 100,000 people live below the poverty.  That’s why in the State Senate I will fight to restore the State’s Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the most powerful anti-poverty tools to combat poverty.  That’s also why I will fight to restore childcare subsidies because I believe childcare is both an investment and economic development strategy.

If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what in your voting record and experience do you believe entitles you to another term?

Prior to my appointment to the State Senate (to succeed Sen. Josh Stein who stepped down to run for Attorney General), I spent my career standing up and fighting for the people of North Carolina.  As General Counsel & Senior Policy Advisor to State Treasurer Janet Cowell, I helped recover almost $100 million back to the pension and unclaimed property funds.  As Special Counsel to Attorney General Roy Cooper, I helped lead an investigation of all 50 Attorneys General that resulted in a landmark agreement with two social networking sites to better protect children from Internet predators.

In my first session in the State Senate, I have continued to stand up and fight for first responders, teachers, immigrants, and the LGBT community.  That’s why I have earned the endorsements of the AFL-CIO, Raleigh Professional Fire Fighters Association, North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, State Employees Association of North Carolina, North Carolina Association of Educators, Equality North Carolina, National Organization of Women, North Carolina NARAL Pro-Choice, and Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association.

The most contentious issue of this year―and this election―has been HB 2, especially in light of the NCAA’s decision to pull its championships from the Tar Heel state. Do you believe that the law has provided any benefits to North Carolina? Do you believe it should be repealed root and branch? If not, in what ways would you like to alter it?

House Bill 2 has provided the exact:  it has been one of the most damaging pieces of legislation in our State’s recent history.  As stated in Question 1, I believe HB 2 should be fully repealed.  That’s why during my first week in the State Senate the first bill I co-sponsored was to repeal HB 2.  And, that’s why I have called on the Republican leadership and Governor McCrory to hold a special session to vote on this bill to repeal HB 2.

Currently, twenty-nine states have minimum wages above the federal minimum. North Carolina is not among them. Do you believe North Carolina should raise its minimum wageor, alternatively, give municipalities the ability to raise minimum wages within their jurisdictions?

I support raising the minimum wage because a worker earning $7.25 per hour and working full-time can be expected to make $14,500, $4,000 below the federal poverty level for a family of three.  I believe the minimum wage can pull thousands of workers and their families out of poverty.  Furthermore, I believe municipalities should be able to raise the minimum wage, a prohibition now under HB 2.  This is another reason HB2 should be fully repealed.

In a similar vein: beyond the bathroom issue, HB 2 also overrode local antidiscrimination ordinances, which has become something of a pattern in recent years, with the legislature preempting local governments from passing laws it doesn’t like. Do you believe the state too often intrudes into local affairs? Why or why not?

I believe the legislature has repeatedly engaged in overreach of local affairs on matters ranging from discrimination to minimum wage.  As a general rule, I believe local governments are closer to their constituents and are best to make such decisions compared to the General Assembly.

What, in your view, is an ideal salary for a beginning teacher? If it is more than the $35,000 currently being earned by beginning teachers in North Carolina, how would you work with your colleagues to increase teacher pay?

Ideally, I’d like to see a teacher salary start at $50,000, positioning our State as number one on teacher pay.  I believe we can only achieve an increase of teacher pay by continuing to emphasize the importance of teachers.  All parents know that outside of their home, a teacher has the next biggest impact on a child.  In South Korea, they refer to teachers as “nation builders.”  Here in North Carolina, teachers continue to leave the profession or leave to teach in other states.  I believe it is important that all General Assembly members understand the bottom line:  our State will never be serious about growing our economy and strengthening our democracy unless we are bold about treating and paying teachers like professionals.  As former Governor Terry Sanford said, “A second-rate education can only mean a second-rate future for North Carolina.”

A federal appeals court struck down the state law requiring voter ID and containing other voting restrictions. Do you agree or disagree with that decision? Please explain your position. 

I strongly agree with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to strike down the state’s anti-voter law.  The court stated that “because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.” (emphasis added)  The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has referred to these new voting laws as “the most restrictive since the Jim Crow era.”  

I believe we must make voting easier, not harder.  That’s why I believe we should push for automatic voter registration as they do in Oregon.   And, that’s why I believe we should encourage naturalized citizens to register to vote upon the completion of their naturalization ceremony.

In recent months, two public servants in the Department of Health and Human Services have accused administration officials of minimizing the risks that Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds pose to nearby water wells. Do you believe the state has taken the proper safeguards to protect drinking water?

No.  I voted against the adoption of the Drinking Water Protection/Coal Ash Clean up act because this bill would automatically rate seven coal ash pits as low risk (previously rated by the Department of Environmental Quality as intermediate risk).  Furthermore, the bill would eliminate previous classifications that DEQ was required to assess under the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act, including groundwater and surface water contamination, amount and characteristics of coal ash in the pits, and public health concerns.

For my record on the environment, I have earned the endorsements of both the Sierra Club and the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters.

The current administration has been frequently criticized by environmental advocates over things like, for instance, the cleanup of Jordan Lake. Do you believe these criticisms are warranted? In what ways do you believe the state’s current environmental policies have succeeded or failed? What would you like to improve?

Yes, I believe such criticism is warranted.  During my first session in the General Assembly, I gave my first floor speech against the idea of using algae-eating fresh water mussels to cleanup Jordan Lake.  As I said during my floor speech, the story about the failure to cleanup Jordan Lake – a lake that provides drinking water to 300,000 citizens in the area – is dominated by two themes.  First, it is a story about delaying the adoption of rules to protect Jordan Lake.  Second, it is a story about investing in failed emerging technologies, including wasting $1.5 million of taxpayer money on 36 Solar Bee units that would supposedly whirl away the lake’s algae.

The Department of Environmental Quality has stated that no in-lake technology –a strategy to treat the lake once it is polluted (for example, Solar Bees and algae-eating fresh water mussels) – appears to be feasible in restoring large bodies of water like Jordan Lake.  That same report states that in-lake technologies only work by reducing upstream nutrient inputs first.

That’s why I believe we need to adopt the rules to protect Jordan Lake.   After five years of negotiations and dozens of meetings, stakeholders came together to agree upon the Jordan Lake rules.  In the end, the House of Representatives passed these rules 108 to 9.  During the next session, I will push to adopt these rules again.

Democrats have called for an expansion of Medicaid, which would provide health coverage for 244,000 North Carolinians. Would you support such a move? Why or why not?

Yes.  The single best way for our State to help those who lack health insurance benefits is to make sure our Governor and General Assembly accept Medicaid expansion money.  Thirty-one states, including many Republican governors, have done so.  According to the Cone Health Foundation Report, our State would gain more than $21 billion, a significant increase in economic activity, and 43,000 additional jobs.

Similarly, in recent months two large insurers have decided not to issue policies on North Carolina’s Affordable Care Act exchange, which puts those on the individual market in something of a precarious situation. What do you believe the state can or should do to improve its citizens’ health care?

I believe we can provide quality health care while containing costs at the same time.  And, we can achieve such a goal by carrying a number of strategies.  First, I believe we must put our patients first.  Empirical evidence suggests that patient-focused health care gives us the maximum benefits.  A patient-centered system involves practitioners working together as a team as opposed to our fragmented system in which every local provider independently delivers a full range of services.  Second, we must focus on our sickest patients.  Today, the top 5 percent of patients, based on their health care expenses, constitute half of the nation’s health care costs.  The Institute of Medicine President Victor Dzau (also of the Duke University Health System) has described the care of our sickest patients as “fragmented, uncoordinated, and ineffective.”  Third, we must treat the entire and whole person.  Evidence suggests that combining a person’s physical illness with behavioral needs can save money.  Finally, we need to continue to integrate the large amounts of medical data in the health care field so we can truly understand the costs of our health care system.  Today, I serve on the North Carolina Institute of Medicine’s All-Payer Claims Database Task Force which is exploring ways to gather data from medical, pharmacy, and dental claims to establish a comprehensive collection of information of costs and quality of health care.  

Name three things you would change in the current state budget and, if your changes would free up money, what your spending priorities would be.

My top budgetary priority is increasing teacher pay.  As discussed above, I would believe we should adopt a “5 x 5” plan to give teachers a five percent increase every year over the next five years.  As part of my emphasis on education, I would advocate to establish a separate education budget.  A separate education budget makes sure that education gets the top attention it deserves.  And, it avoids making education a “shell” game.

My second priority is reducing income inequality by focusing on three key areas: (1) cutting the personal income tax rate (between a half percent and one percent) for working- and middle-class families; (2) restoring the State’s Earned Income Tax Credit; and (3) restoring child-care subsidies.  I believe the Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the most powerful and proven tools to combat poverty for North Carolina families and children.  And, I believe childcare subsidies are both an investment and economic development strategy.

My third priority is to end tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations.  According to the Budget & Tax Center, these giveaways will reduce our revenue by $841 million over the next two years.  Within four years, they will cost over $1 billion in lost revenue each year.  My top two priorities – increasing teacher pay and reducing income inequality – can be paid with this restored revenue.

Give an example of a time, during your political career, when you have changed your position as a result of a discussion with someone who held an opposing view.

I support the death penalty because I believe there are certain instances such as the murder of a child that warrants such a punishment.  However, based on discussions over the past many years, I do not support restarting executions because I believe our current administration of the death penalty is racially biased.  That is why I support restoring the Racial Justice Act that the General Assembly repealed in 2013.  This law allowed defendants to use statistics to challenge a death sentence if they proved race was a factor in imposing the death penalty.


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