Durham County

Durham legislators on Amazon, light-rail, guns and why so few came to their town hall

N.C. Rep. Mickey Michaux and N.C. Rep. Marcia Morey, both Democrats, talk about the legislative session at a town hall at Holton Career and Resource Center in Durham on Thursday, March 1, 2018.
N.C. Rep. Mickey Michaux and N.C. Rep. Marcia Morey, both Democrats, talk about the legislative session at a town hall at Holton Career and Resource Center in Durham on Thursday, March 1, 2018. dvaughan@heraldsun.com

The Durham delegation of the North Carolina General Assembly held a town hall meeting Thursday night, but only drew about a dozen people. It was held on a rainy night in East Durham with about a week’s notice.

N.C. Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. (D-District 20) wasn’t happy about it. He arrived at the Holton Career and Resource Center as the town hall was ending, and after N.C. Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-District 31) had to leave early.

McKissick said he objected to the date, time and location. The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People had its regular meeting at the same time, McKissick said. And McKissick was teaching his Thursday evening class at Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy. Not to mention nearby N.C. Central University was hosting a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader against arch-rival N.C. A&T State University that same night.

N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard (D-District 22), who sent out the town hall announcement, said that the delegation talked among themselves to choose a date, and that he has missed town halls before. They’ll have another one this summer after the next legislative session.

Even with the low turnout, Woodard, N.C. Rep. Marcia Morey (D-District 30), N.C. Rep. MaryAnn Black (D-District 29), Michaux and N.C. Rep. Robert Reives II (D-District 54) spent an hour and a half talking about the recent General Assembly session and what they plan to do in the short session that starts in May. Lisa Sorg of NC Policy Watch moderated the discussion.

Durham’s state legislators are all Democrats. While each talked about what they want in the next session, they said a lot of it would be playing defense against the Republican legislators.

Black wants to focus on health care. Woodard wants to keep up the automatic voter registration bill he introduced. Morey and Michaux both want to make sure judicial districts aren’t redrawn unfairly, and would like sensible gun control legislation.

“You got a lot of folks over there bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association,” Michaux said.

Black talked about gun violence locally, not just the national school shootings.

“You have too many young men ... being taken away from us too soon,” she said. Black also said it’s a disservice to people with mental illness to say that people “doing the killings are mentally ill.”

Woodard, McKissick and Reives are seeking re-election. Morey and Black are incumbents who were appointed, so they are running for election for the first time. Michaux is retiring. He has already endorsed candidate Zack Hawkins, who also attended the town hall, in the audience. Libertarian Erik Raudsep and Republican Torian Webson are also seeking Michaux’s House seat.

Reives’ House District 54’s new map extendes his district in the upcoming election from Chatham County to include southern Durham. He is being challenged by Republican Jay Stobbs.

Reives said that in Durham County and Chatham County, there is a need for rural broadband internet.

Fielding an audience question about light rail funding, Michaux said the funding portion from the federal government “looks real paltry.” Both he and Woodard said there would need to be public/private partnership funds as part of light rail in Durham.

Getting light rail in Durham would be needed if Amazon brings its second headquarters to the Triangle, Morey said. The Raleigh and Durham area is on Amazon’s short list of potential sites. Reives said that Amazon’s headquarters wouldn’t be something the state legislature would be involved in unless it involved a budget modification. As far as Amazon coming here, he said that sometimes companies are involved in solving the problems they cause.

“I’d love to have the problem, hey we’ve gotta add a whole bunch of stuff,” Reives said.

Woodard’s opponents are Republican Rickey Padgett and Libertarian Ray Ubinger.

Woodard said that the General Assembly’s work in the short session would “almost guarantee you’ll get a teacher pay raise. You know why? Because it’s an election year.”

Morey’s opponents are Republican B. Angelo Burch Sr. and Libertarian Matthew Wagoner. Black’s opponent is Republican Charles Becker.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan

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