Dan Besse | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Dan Besse

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor


Name as it appears on the ballot:Dan Besse
Party: Democrat
Date of Birth: 12/28/54
Campaign Web Site: www.danbesse2008.org
Occupation & Employer: attorney, self-employed
Years lived in North Carolina: 53

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?

  1. Addressing the challenges of growth. Our state's population is expected to grow by four million people over the first 30 years of this century. We're not ready for that boom. It's coming at a time when our water resources are already running short, we're losing 100,000 acres of forest and farmland a year to urban sprawl, and we're facing multi-billion dollar backlogs in every key sector from transportation to mental health care. We must prepare to adequately serve all 12 million (by 2030) North Carolinians while avoiding environmental collapse and critical system breakdowns. That will demand smarter and more progressive planning in conserving our natural resources (water, air, forests, farmland, fisheries), renewing our infrastructure (transportation, energy, waste management), and meeting human needs (education, economy, justice, health, social services). We must learn to look and plan ahead, beyond the next quarterly report or the next election cycle. The philosophy of "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it" leads to collapsing bridges.
  2. Health care. Over 1.4 million North Carolinians without access to health care is both a moral stain and an economic crippler. Even more of our people are underinsured, and the cost of providing coverage is rising at four times the rate of family income. We must make—and implement—a bedrock commitment to high quality and affordable health care for all. The collapse of our mental health care system has rightly received growing attention this year. While demanding that we meet the needs of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, we cannot lose sight of an equally outrageous breakdown affecting even more of our people. Nearly one in five of our people—closer to one in four of our minority citizens—cannot access even preventive care or timely treatment for the most serious physical illnesses. That must change.
  3. Equity in educational opportunity. It's bad enough that close to one in three of our children don't graduate from high school. It's breathtaking to note that the rate of non-graduation is closer to half of our minority children. We are systematically failing to provide equal educational opportunity to all our children, especially those from poor and disadvantaged communities and households. Closing that most fundamental opportunity gap demands, first, that we recognize and admit the problem; and, second, that we commit to fixing it. That will require targeting additional state resources to disadvantaged systems, giving local governments more revenue flexibility to meet their education needs, and shifting our entire system's resources away from the disastrous obsession with ever-increasing standardized testing. We must educate all of our children.

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.

Throughout my adult lifetime, my twin passions have remained environmental stewardship and equal opportunity for all. Here are some highlights of my record in these areas:

  • A decade of work as a legal aid attorney for poor families in poor, rural counties of eastern North Carolina. My relevant work there includes helping clients require hospitals to meet their obligations to free and reduced-cost care; helping poor neighborhoods obtain relief from severe pollution problems; and helping workers learn and enforce their rights to workplace safety and health.
  • 20+ years of public service as a member of governor-appointed state policy-making boards: Environmental Management Commission (1993-2005); Sedimentation Control Commission (1994-2002); Coastal Resources Commission (1985-93, including five years as chair); and Emergency Response Commission (1987-92). As a leader on these commissions, I have helped write and implement state wetlands protections, air pollution controls, river cleanup plans, coastal fisheries and barrier island protections, and more.
  • Two terms (over six years) of elected service as a city leader in one of our state's largest cities, where I have helped enact and implement stronger land use planning, pedestrian and bicycle plans, parks and green space plans, clean water rules, revitalization efforts for poor neighborhoods, and a nationally-recognized plan to end chronic homelessness.
  • Successful leadership of the Piedmont Triad Early Action Compact, which has just achieved its commitment of meeting national health protection standards through cleaning up our region's urban smog.
  • Nearly 30 years of work as an attorney and advocate for citizen environmental groups.
  • Years of active work for access to health care and reproductive choice through Planned Parenthood in North Carolina.

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 a progressive Democrat. My life's work is built around the principles of justice and opportunity for all, and stewardship of our clean air and water, our green and productive land, and our people's health. I have been elected and re-elected as a progressive Democrat, over partisan Republican opposition, in one of our state's most competitive urban areas. My decades of public service include years of public on-the-record votes and working initiatives which back up my stance as the progressive Democrat with the record to prove it. I've been more than a backroom advisor to other leaders. I've been out front in public work on tough progressive causes from clean energy to workplace safety and health to reproductive choice.

I am proud to have the endorsement of key groups in recognition of this history of service, including the N.C. Sierra Club, Progressive Democrats of N.C., and N.C. Conservation PAC.

I have served as a precinct and county Democratic official, and have been a member of the N.C. Democratic Party State Executive Committee since 1995. I chaired the N.C. Democratic Party Study Commission on the Environment in 2005-2006.

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.

My platform emphasizes access to health care and equity in educational opportunity, both of which are fundamental to economic and social justice statewide.

5. Is there a stand you’ll take on principle if elected, even though it may cost you some popularity points with voters?

I support justice and compassion for immigrants. I will work to cool the national hysteria which threatens to fan anti-Latino prejudice, divide our communities along ethnic grounds, pit one economically disadvantaged community against others, and drive economically desperate families into deeper poverty and alienation.

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?

In addition to my points on health care access and educational equity, we must address jobs and income directly. We must build more effective regional job-training cooperative efforts between our community colleges, public schools, and economic development groups. Our economic development efforts must include a special focus on creating opportunities for those who have lost work or are underemployed. We should continue to press for progress toward a living wage. We must implement community re-entry programs for ex-offenders, breaking the cycle of incarceration and poverty. We can provide both rural and urban jobs by boosting investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy development. And we must provide youth opportunity programs, including a "green jobs" effort, to provide young people from economically disadvantaged circumstances with a meaningful boost into employment.

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

This is one of those "challenges of growth" issues which demand a fundamental policy overhaul. We must move from an exclusive focus on new roads and highway lanes, to the development of a balanced transportation system including public transit (bus and rail), pedestrian and biking measures, and development of walkable communities. This must include assertive support for regional public rail transit systems, including efforts in the Triangle.

I actively work in this issue area, as my city's representative to our urban region transportation planning entity. I also work on this issue area as one of North Carolina's representatives on the National League of Cities' Policy and Advocacy Committee on Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources. I aggressively work for improvements in our urban transit systems, including bus and rail, pedestrian, biking, and greenway planning and projects. I helped found Forsyth Greenways Connection, to advocate for a greatly expanded local and regional greenways system.

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

Yes. We should make strong efforts to direct non-violent offenders into real rehabilitative programs, especially including effective treatment for mental health and substance abuse problems.

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

This concern is at the top of my priority list. We must start with the bedrock commitment to ensure that all North Carolinians have high quality, affordable health care. Immediate steps must include expansion of the Health Choice for Children program to permit coverage of all families with children (including state-paid coverage for the poor and an at-cost buy-in opportunity for those who can afford it); implementation and expansion of the high-risk insurance pool to help those with expensive chronic conditions; and removal of the barriers to joint group coverage plans for multiple small employers. By 2010, I anticipate that a new Democratic president and Congress will be in the process of implementing an overhauled health care system nationwide. If that is not the case, or if that system continues to have coverage gaps, then North Carolina should design and implement a state plan to ensure universal health care coverage for our people here.

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

We must aggressively enforce consumer protection laws against predatory lending and abusive lending rates and processes. Consumer protections must include strong consumer education outreach efforts as well. Finally, we should work with the new national administration to implement programs aimed at helping lower-income homeowners avoid losing their homes, expanding affordable housing, and renovating older housing stock into affordable homes.

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

We must design and re-implement a complete overhaul of our mental health care system in North Carolina. Unregulated privatization of services has proven to be a catastrophe. We must plan and implement a system which assures statewide geographic coverage of needed services, ensures continuity of care and access to all needed services, emphasizes preventive care, promotes high-quality care, and more efficiently invests our tax money. This will include a renewed strong role for state and local agencies in direct provision of care as needed. Private providers can continue to play a key role—but our mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and those struggling with substance abuse must not be left to the haphazard mercies of a system with no realistic back-up plan.

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

Too regressive. Our system continues to over-rely on the most regressive taxes (the general sales and property taxes) while excessively sheltering wealth and new development from paying its fair share. If new revenues are needed at the state level, we should consider progressive adjustments to the structure of our state income tax, and not increases in the general sales tax. At the local level, local governments should have a broader menu of options (including development impact fees) with which to avoid over-reliance on the general property tax.

We must demand efficiency in all government services. At the same time, we must not be afraid to fund our necessary public services at the levels required for long-term responsibility to the needs of our people and investments in our economy and infrastructure. Working "on the cheap" in the short run too often risks major system breakdowns—and even higher costs—over the long haul.

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?

I support a moratorium on executions in North Carolina, and was the first statewide candidate in this election cycle to call for that moratorium. Our review of capital punishment must go beyond surface questions like the methods of execution, and address the fundamental problems: the very real danger of executing the innocent, and the evidence of intolerable racial bias in the application of the death penalty.

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 a long history of actively supporting LGBT rights in North Carolina. That personal history dates back to my days as an elected student leader in the mid-1970's at UNC, when I voted to support the student LGBT organization on campus, and had to face and win a recall election as a result.

As a Winston-Salem City Council Member, I led the successful effort to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in city hiring and other personnel decisions. I will lead a similar effort statewide as Lieutenant Governor.

I am active in my home community today in supporting respect and acceptance of our LGBT people, through my church and my support of PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and Equality NC.

I support working toward recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships. In the meantime, we should move forward on other steps, including non-discrimination in employment, health care, and custody/adoption matters.

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?

Yes. I actively work on behalf of access to reproductive rights and health care, including family planning, comprehensive health education, emergency contraception, and the right to choose. I am a long-time supporter, including professional work experience, of Planned Parenthood in North Carolina.

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

Yes. I support N.C. House Bill 1583 and the right of public employees to enter into collective bargaining. As a Winston-Salem City Council Member, I have been proud to work with the representatives of employee groups like the firefighters association, in support of better compensation and good working conditions.

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