Ellis Hankins | Candidate Questionnaires - Statewide | Indy Week

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Ellis Hankins

NCGA Senate 16


Name as it appears on the ballot: Ellis Hankins
Campaign Website: www.hankinsforncsenate.com
(Facebook: Hankins for NC Senate)
Occupation & Employer: Adjunct Professor—NC State, UNC, Duke; Consultant, The Mercer Group, Inc.
Phone number: Campaign 919-916-5247; Cell 919-349-8988
Email: ellis.hankins@gmail.com
Years lived in the district: Senate District 16 for 16 years, Wake County 34 years (born and raised in North Carolina)

1. How would you rate the 2015 session of the General Assembly?

D- to Abysmal. The General Assembly continued the Carolina Setback. I believe the current leadership has our state on the wrong path with the wrong priorities, going backward instead of forward.

It is difficult to keep straight what bad legislation was enacted, or what positive actions legislators failed to take, in which sessions. Here is my list of some of the worst decisions made in the 2015 session, or perhaps other recent sessions:

Continuing to underfund and undermine traditional public schools, especially with no permanent raise for most teachers and only a small bonus not added to salary for veteran teachers and all state employees
Expansion of the voucher program for private schools, which I still believe is unconstitutional
Medicaid eligibility still not expanded, too many people still without affordable health care, available federal funds still exported to other states
Making the state tax structure more regressive and unfair to working families, exacerbating the urban-rural divide without providing meaningful help to struggling rural counties, and further assuring inadequate future revenues for essential needs, starting with public education
Continuing to send a message of intolerance, most notably by the passage of SB 2, which allows magistrates to opt out of performing some lawful marriages
Additional unwise and unwarranted interference with the right of women to make their own informed reproductive health care decisions, with access to affordable health care services
Continuing to send the message that we are not serious about enforcing the environmental laws, most notably by enacting the so-called Regulatory Reform Act which will provide unwarranted immunity for some violations, inadequate response to the coal ash disaster, repealing the solar tax credits, and dismantling and underfunding the former Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Continued disrespect for the opinions of local elected officials and disregard for the will of local voters, by gerrymandering election districts and changing the rules for local elections over local objections

I am running primarily because I am passionate about quality public education, particularly since our children are in public schools and I am an educator myself at the university level. My wife and I would not be nearly as well informed about the challenges facing our teachers and school administrators if we weren’t in our school every day, and actively involved in public education issues generally.

I also am concerned about a long list of other issues, and believe my working knowledge of the General Assembly, my hands on involvement in a broad range of significant public policy issues and the insights gained in teaching at the university level make me best able to serve effectively in this seat. I believe my education, with a law degree and master’s degree in land use planning, matches well with the opportunities and challenges of a rapidly growing urban county. I want an opportunity to follow the good example of our incumbent departing senator, go plant a flag and speak up on issues that matter, and work with other legislators, in both parties where possible, to get positive things done and help stop bad ideas. I know how to do those things.

2. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what issues do you believe failed to get the attention they deserve and should be addressed in the next session?

Not applicable; running for an open seat as the incumbent runs for Attorney General. Probably agree with incumbent Senator Josh Stein on most significant issues.

3. Education spending, if you include the UNC system, accounts for more than half of the state budget. But per-pupil K-12 spending is among the lowest in the country. Does the state need to allocate more money to classrooms? Should teachers be given a raise? If so, how would you propose to pay for it?

The primary reason I am running is to help assure adequate funding for public education, including pre-kindergarten through high school, community colleges and universities, and adequate salaries for teachers and faculty members. Our campaign slogan is “Putting Education First,” and I mean it. The current legislative majority continues to underfund and undermine public education. Jim Goodmon, CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Company, often says that the most effective economic development strategy is to have excellent public schools, and I agree. We need to significantly increase public school per pupil expenditures and increase teacher salaries to the national average or above. Instead, the current majority keeps cutting and shortchanging. Beginning teachers got salary increases that were too little too late, and most veteran teachers got no permanent salary increase at all—only a small bonus not added to salary. We are sending the message that we do not value teaching as a profession, and our teachers and potential future teachers are getting the message. Recent news stories have documented the steep decline in enrollment in teacher training programs in our public universities, and that is a big problem for the future.

I would pay for increased expenditures for public education by readjusting the current priorities and undoing some of the recent tax changes. Those tax changes will guarantee inadequate future revenue for essential needs, starting with public education.

4. The state in recent years has embraced charter schools and vouchers. Proponents argue that these alternatives to traditional public education offer options for parents who would otherwise have to place their child in a subpar school. Opponents argue that these alternatives divert resources from schools that need them the most. Do you believe North Carolina needs more or fewer of these alternative education options?

Fewer. I believe expenditure of public funds for private school vouchers is unconstitutional, despite the recent 4-3 decision of the NC Supreme Court. Diversion of funds from traditional public schools to charter schools, especially for services they don’t provide, and for private school vouchers, undermines the traditional public schools. Last year the General Assembly expanded the voucher program, and I fear that will continue. Charter schools were intended as laboratories for innovation, and we need to get back to that. There are some excellent charter schools, and we need to look for opportunities to transfer best practices to traditional public schools, but maintain adequate regulatory oversight so that subpar charter schools don’t stay that way.

5. The secretive process by which the UNC board hired Margaret Spellings has been roundly criticized in the media. Do you believe the Legislature should be more directly involved with university-system decisions of this nature? Also, do you believe the Board of Governors has become overly politicized in recent years, as some have alleged?

I object to the process by which the Board of Governors pushed out the previous excellent president and appointed his successor, although I hope she and the Board of Governors are successful in maintaining the quality of our world class public university system. I am skeptical of more direct involvement by the General Assembly in University system decision-making. The General Assembly has deliberately politicized the Board of Governors in recent years. I believe we need to go back to the previous time honored and effective process for legislative election of members of the Board of Governors. Before the current Republican majority made drastic changes that has resulted in firm control of the Board of Governors by members of their party, the membership was much better balanced, with the majority party appointing a majority of members, but not an overwhelming majority.

5.1. What are your three biggest budgetary priorities? Please be specific.

Significantly increasing per pupil expenditures, to give teachers and administrators the resources they need to really help each student learn and satisfy our constitutional mandate, including significantly increased salaries for teachers and principals to assure that we remain able to attract and retain dedicated teachers and capable administrators
Provide reasonable salary increases and less erratic salary progression for state employees who provide essential public services, preserve the defined benefit retirement plans for state employees, and fund future retiree health care obligations
Provide affordable health care to more North Carolinians by accepting the available federal funds to expand eligibility for Medicaid, and establishing a state exchange for purchase of health coverage under the Affordable Care Act

6. The Legislature has over the past three years flattened and reduced the state income tax, and critics contend that most of the benefits have accrued to those at the top of the socioeconomic ladder. Do you believe the state’s tax system is equitable and prudent? If not, how would you like to see it changed?

No. Recent changes in the state tax structure have given unneeded tax breaks to higher income individuals and businesses, and have shifted too much of the tax burden to low and moderate income tax payers and working families who can least afford to pay. My first priority would be to reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit to help working poor people. I would work with other legislators to achieve a less regressive tax structure that provides adequate public revenue for essential needs, starting with public education. That will not happen until we have a more progressive General Assembly.

7. North Carolina has not executed anyone in 10 years, but it has 148 people on death row. Would you support restarting executions, or do you believe the death penalty should be abolished?

I have mixed feelings about the death penalty. There are some horrific crimes, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and rape and murder of a child, where I believe consideration of the death penalty is warranted. I am troubled by the finality of the death penalty where there certainly is the possibility of error, and am pleased that the Actual Innocence Commission was established, and that the Innocence Inquiry Commission process is in place. I also know that necessary due process safeguards make the death penalty much more costly than life sentences without possibility of parole. I would have voted for the Racial Justice Act because of my concern that the death penalty historically has been applied disproportionally to minority defendants, and I would vote to reinstate it.

The current NC death penalty statute contains 11 aggravating factors that could result in a death penalty verdict, if the prosecutor seeks the death penalty and proves the existence of one or more aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt, with a unanimous jury verdict. I am an attorney but am not an expert on this area of the criminal law, but I suspect that significant reforms are needed in the substantive statutory provisions and process.

Let me make one point that applies to this question and others. Remember that legislators do not vote on general issues—they vote on specific bills with specific provisions. I am hesitant to promise that I would vote for or against particular issues until I have an opportunity to read specific bills and understand crucial details.

8. Last year, over the governor’s veto, the Legislature passed S.B. 2, which allows magistrates to opt out of performing same-sex-marriage ceremonies? Do you support S.B. 2 or believe it should be repealed? Why or why not?

I believe that act is unconstitutional, unwise and unfair. I would have voted against it and would vote to repeal it. The U.S. Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality are the law of the land, and I believe the majority opinions are correct. Discrimination is wrong. We are sending a message of intolerance on this and other issues. That is grossly unfair to some of our fellow North Carolinians, and it also is harmful to the reputation of our state and bad for business.

9. Also in the last year’s session, the Legislature passed a bill forcing abortion providers to send the Department of Health and Human Services ultrasound images of some aborted fetuses. Do you believe such provisions are necessary, or is this a case of the state inappropriately interfering in women’s health care decisions?

I believe firmly that this is a case of the state inappropriately interfering in women’s health care decisions. I was pleased to attend the Planned Parenthood Champions of Choice breakfast last month and heard an inspiring speech by Senator Floyd McKissick as he accepted an award. I hope to be right there with him helping to defend the right of every woman to make her own reproductive health care decisions, with unfettered access to affordable health care.

10. If elected, what would you do to protect North Carolina’s environment and natural resources? Do you believe state environmental regulatory bodies need more funding or less funding, and why?

We are sending the message that we are not serious about protecting our environment and natural resources, and I want to help change that. I am very concerned that the current majority has dismantled and defunded the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, renaming (misnaming) the remnants as the Department of Environmental Quality. The suspension of the compromise Jordan Lake rules, which my former organization took the lead in negotiating while I was the Executive Director, was a travesty. There is no excuse for stopping those rules, which would have protected and enhanced water quality, and instead sticking untested Solar Bee devices in the lake to stir the water (procured under an indefensible sole source contract). There has been an inadequate response to the serious coal ash problem. I certainly would have voted against the so-called Regulatory Reform Act (HB 765) and the repeal of the solar tax credits. We need to provide adequate funding so we can attract and retain capable employees with the necessary expertise and good judgment to enforce the environmental laws, and help those who are making good faith efforts to comply.

11. In recent years, the Legislature has reconfigured districts for both the Wake County Board of Education and the Wake County Board of Commissioners in a manner that critics allege was done to boost Republican electoral hopes. Do you believe this redistricting was proper? Would you support repealing these bills?

The current legislative majority has shown complete disregard and disrespect for the opinions of local elected officials, and worse, contempt for the will of local voters. I spend a lot of time talking with students about productive working relationships between state legislatures and local governments, based on appropriate intergovernmental respect. Clearly we no longer have such a productive, respectful working relationship. The current majority has not hesitated to use their broad constitutional authority over local governments, without regard to whether the decisions are wise and appropriate for the long term, and whether other provisions of the state and federal constitutions stand in the way.

This General Assembly has not only changed local election rules and unilaterally gerrymandered districts for the Wake County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education, but also did the same for the Greensboro City Council (enjoined by a federal court), and imposed partisan elections for several school boards, all over local objections. Whatever problems there might be, more partisan elections is not the answer. They also passed legislation in previous sessions to transfer ownership of the Charlotte Douglas Airport and the City of Asheville water system, because they didn’t like the decisions of local voters (both cases pending in court). The General Assembly has paid out millions of dollars of public funds defending these and many other unwise and unconstitutional acts.

I would have voted against and spoken out forcefully against all of those bills, and would vote to repeal all. I am very knowledgeable about this subject matter area, and believe that is one reason that I am best able to serve.

12. On reapportionment, both parties have shown that they will abuse the redistricting process when given a chance. Will you support a bill in the next session to turn all future redistricting over to a non-partisan or bi-partisan independent commission?

Yes. This is near the top of my stated reasons for running (see our website, www.hankinsforncsenate.com). I will look to Ohio and other states as good examples. The people would vote overwhelming in favor of a sound constitutional amendment to move to a non-partisan or bi-partisan independent redistricting process. But frankly the General Assembly won’t put an amendment on the ballot unless and until legislators in both parties become convinced that there is a significant risk of losing or not gaining the majority in the 2020 or 2022 legislative election.

13. 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.

As I said above, I will work with other legislators to make adjustments to the state tax structure to assure adequate revenue for essential needs, starting with public education, and to undo the regressive shift of additional tax burden to working families who can least afford to pay. Some higher income and business tax payers might lose some or all of the tax breaks that they should not have received in the first place, and that might not be popular with some voters.
I will introduce or sign on to a bill to prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, as a matter of state law. Probably that would not be popular with some voters.

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