Jack Nichols | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Jack Nichols 

Candidate for General Assembly

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Jack Nichols
Party: Democratic
Date of Birth: 9-13-1951
Candidate web site: www.jacknichols.org
Occupation & Employer: Attorney, Allen & Pinnix
Years lived in North Carolina: 46 (since 1963)

1. What do you see as the most important issues facing North Carolina? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?


Health Care & Mental Health Reform.

Managing Growth vs. Environmental Protection.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you’ve identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.

As a Wake County Commissioner, I worked to improve our schools, pushed for improved infrastructure, helped establish public-private partnerships and promoted economic development incentives, and fought to establish standards to protect our watersheds that feed our drinking water.

After leaving State government in 1985, I was a lobbyist for the NC- Civil Liberties Union and lobbied for its agenda; I was also part of the Coaltion for Choice which lobbied a number of Pro-Choice issues, including protection of the State Abortion Fund.

Since I moved to Raleigh, I have been active in a number of civic groups. I was one of the founders of Planned Parenthood of Raleigh, which now operates in most of North Carolina, all of South Carolina, parts of Virginia and West Virginia. I was also one of the founders of Wake County Smart Start. I have served on numerous non-profit Boards: Interact, Wake Education Partnership, Wake County Bar Association, Occoneechee Council BSA Board,

As an attorney, I have provided pro bono representation to a variety of clients, from individuals in race discrimination and other cases to providing pro bono advice to nonprofit boards, currently Kids Vote.

3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am progressive and have proudly said so in my current and past campaigns. I have worked on progressive issues in the Triangle community for 30 years. For my past achievements which demonstrate my work in progressive causes, see my Response to Question # 2.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.

Adequate health care, particularly to mental health patients, is right. As long as our State has 1.5 million non-elderly North Carolinians without health insurance, it is unfair and unjust. As long as sixty percent of the homeless residents are mental health patients, it is unfair and unjust. As long as we have children who do not have coverage through the NC Health Choice (NC’s SCHIP program), it is unfair and just.

5. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

Support of sex education in the schools.

6. If these issues haven’t been addressed above, would you please comment on:

a. Poverty: What steps, if any, do you advocate to lift up the poor in North Carolina?

Much can be done to make life easier for the working poor. If elected, I will explore many avenues to support working families, including:

  • Appropriating more funds for subsidized child care so that working families can afford the high cost of quality day care. At this point, North Carolina has been one of the states greatly concerned about this issue, but waiting lists outpace the money available. We must support this key element of helping those who wish to work, but cannot do so without child care.

  • Continuing to monitor and consider increases in the state’s Earned Income Tax Program (EITC). In 2007, North Carolina added a state EITC to the federal government program. At the federal level, this program returns tax money to low-income workers with children and has brought millions of families out of poverty. North Carolina will now be returning state tax money to the working poor.

  • State efforts to expand health care to the working poor – not just the children but their parents as well – must be expanded, at least until such time as the federal government addresses this crucial issue. Increasingly, businesses are not able to pay the high cost of health insurance for their employees and each year, fewer employers have employer-sponsored health care. Until a more comprehensive reform is in place, North Carolina should avail itself of options to expand Medicaid coverage and SCHIP so that more families receive health care.

  • We must continue to monitor the equation that allows people to go to work while still making sure that their children are safe and that their health needs are met. While minimum wage increases are an important part of this, they are scheduled to rise over the next couple of years, and other issues of work-support must be dealt with in the General Assembly.

b. Transportation needs in the state, including roads and transit in the Triangle?

First of all, we need to re-visit the funding transportion formulas for urban areas. Currently, urban areas are penalized because funding formulas are not established on a per capita basis which results in urban areas receiving less funding than they pay into the Highway Fund. Secondly, we need to stop funding personnel from the Highway Fund; it should only fund capital projects; personnel should be paid from the General Fund; continued funding of personnel by the Highway Fund results in less funding for captial projects. Third, our delegation needs to be prepared to work with local government and civic officials about consensus for funding urban transit needs. The Special Transit Advisory Commission (STAC) recommendations, both current and future, need to be studied and implemented. Mass transit is not only a solution to our clean air problems, but also our growing traffic problems.

c. Overcrowded prisons: Should we be moving toward more alternative-sentencing programs instead of prison time?

Yes. We should also be looking at GED programs for inmates, and transitional programs. It does them little good to be discharged from prison if they can’t get employed.

d. Health care: What should the state do next to address the problem of adults and children without adequate health care or insurance?

In addition to my response to Question # 4, I would propose that the General Assembly consider and enact the 13 recommendations of the NC Institute of Medicine Task Force; five of their recommendations are crucial:

  1. Provide additional State funding to support and expand the healthcare safety net in order to provide healthcare services to the uninsured;

  2. Promote personal responsibility for a healthy lifestyle and include health lifestyle promotion within state policies;

  3. Develop a limited-benefit Medicaid expansion for low-income parents, which would reduce the number of non-elderly families without health insurance;

  4. Create a subsidize health insurance product for employers with 25 or fewer employees, low-income sole proprietors, and low-income individuals not previously offered health insurance; and

  5. Creation of a high-risk pool for individuals with pre-existing health conditions. While the IOM Task Force did not address it, expansion of the N.C. Health Choice (SCHIP) program is another step that should be taken.

e. Foreclosures: What more should the state be doing to help consumers avoid foreclosure and hold onto their homes?

Last year, the General Assembly passed, HB 1817, the North Carolina Home Loan Protection Act, which offers stronger protections against subprime mortgages; it would also allow regulation of questionable business practices on mortgage financing that are presently leading to the massive number of subprime foreclosures. One particuarly important provision in the law would require lenders to verify that their customers have the ability to repay the loans they are offered. Typically, subprime mortgages have adjustable interest rates; this provision would require lenders to consider future rate increases before approving loans.

Unfortunately, this legislation will prevent future abuses, but does not remedy the problem of foreclosures of those persons who previously used subprime mortgages in the last several years.

The General Assembly has convened a study commission that will make an interim report to the 2008 “short” session and the 2009 General Assembly. Those recommendations should be strongly considered.

f. The mental health crisis: Everyone agrees it’s a mess. Now what?

We must recognize that the mental health reform has not succeeded and its principles must be re-visited. Additional funding is essential. Until last year, health insurance plans did not have to provide mental health coverage. However, the NC Mental Health Association lobbied for 15 years and finally obtained enactment of mental health parity by the passage of HB 973.

In modifying the mental health system, the General Assembly should:

  1. Change the Funding Model with LME and levels of Medicaid reimbursement;

  2. Recognize that there is a role for State operated mental health hospitals and not continue the push to close such facilities;

  3. Strengthen community support so that local service delivery can become a reality and not a budget cutting strategy.

  4. Create a true safety net by implementing and funding crisis plans through the LME’s; and

  5. Recognize that the homeless are a significant portion of the mentally ill patients who have been de-institutionalized and provide case management so that they can be integrated into the mental health system.

g. Taxes: Given the needs, are they too high? Too low? Too regressive? What direction should the state be taking on the revenue side?

As North Carolina continues to remain the number one place for business in the nation, State Government reaps the benefits of economic growth. While the present tax structure is projected by the Fiscal Research Division to meet the upcoming needs without a revenue shortfall, the present tax structure was established in the 1930's and based on a different economy in North Carolina. There is too much reliance on sales taxes, which are regressive. The General Assembly needs to conduct a re-examination of its sources of revenue to provide both the funds needed to operate State and local government based on the new economy.

7. What is your position on capital punishment in North Carolina? If in favor, will you support a moratorium on executions while the question of whether the death penalty can be administered fairly is studied by the General Assembly?

Previously, I have supported the death penalty in limited circumstances. The inequities of its application, particularly among African American defendants; the revelations through DNA testing of wrongful convictions and other considerations have led me to change my position to one of opposition. Not only should the State have a moratorium on executions, but it should also provide sufficient funding for DNA testing and other sources of funding to ensure a through review of current capital convictions.

8. What is your position regarding LGBT rights? Please address whether gay marriages or civil unions should be made legal in North Carolina; also, whether sexual orientation and identity should be added as a protected class under state anti-discrimination laws, including state personnel laws.

I have represented gay and lesbian clients and have drafted documents to provide same-sex couples with the legal results that couples would have routinely if they were married. Under our laws and without such documents, same-sex couples cannot hold real or personal property so that they can inherit from each other, obtain routine insurance benefits, serve as a power of attorney or guardian, plus other legal issues.

What the General Assembly can do, and what I would be willing to support, is legislation that allows civil unions, regardless of gender. An increasing number of States have adopted such legislation and these enactments have been upheld by the courts in various states. The State cannot tell a religious institution that it must perform a same-sex marriage, but the State can and should extend the same rights to same-sex couples.

I would also support legislation to make discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity part of the State Personnel Act. Federal legislation, Title VII, establishes anti-discrimination laws, and is not within the authority of the General Assembly. But, North Carolina does have a policy statement against discrimination and I would support adding discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity to that policy statement.

Let me also say that I absolutely oppose a State or Federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. Its proponents are only proposing it to create a wedge issue among voters.

9. Do you support women’s reproductive rights, including the “right to choose” as set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade? Given that North Carolina has the ninth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, do you support medically accurate sex education that includes information about birth control?

I am absolutely Pro-Choice and have been supporting women’s reproductive rights for the past 30 years. In addition to starting Planned Parenthood, I now serve as its legal counsel and deal with this issue regularly on behalf of my client. I was the staff attorney that drafted the regulations creating the State Abortion Fund under the direction of Dr. Sarah Morrow and Governor Jim Hunt; I lobbied for the Fund’s protection from 1983 to 1989. I would support legislation that promotes sex education, including providing local school boards with the authority to conduct such programs.

10. Should public employees have the right to bargain collectively in North Carolina?

Yes. North Carolina is one of two states in the nation that statutorily prohibits collective bargaining by public employees; the other state is Virginia. Eight other states simply do not have public collective bargaining.

G.S. 95-98 was enacted in 1959. It makes illegal contracts between labor organizations and state and local governments. The law was enacted in an era of Jim Crow and Communist scares. At the time, textile companies pushed for its enactment using these arguments.

The State Employees Association and various labor groups have made the repeal of this statute a key part of their legislative program. I support that effort because I believe public employees should have the same rights as private sector employees.

Since 2001, various bills have been introduced to address this issue. The U.S. Congress has three pending bills that address this issue, one of which would allow State and local governments to assume jurisdiction for public safety officers.

Currently, there are four bills dealing with this issue pending in the General Assembly. SB970 was introduced by Sen. Cowell of Wake County and Sen. Berger of Franklin. H1584 is the companion House bill. These bills would meet the requirements of pending federal legislation which would enable North Carolina’s states and localities to retain local jurisdiction over labor unions and collective bargaining rather than falling under the authority of the pending federal statute. I support this legislation.

HB 1583 proposes a wholesale repeal of the statute. It was given a favorable report by the Judiciary Committee and has been re-referred to Appropriations. Fiscal Research indicates that the legislation has no immediate fiscal impact. I support this legislation.

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