When Alexandra Valladares engaged state Sen. Floyd McKissick following Wednesday night’s Democratic town hall meeting, she barely could contain her enthusiasm.
“This was powerful and inspiring,” Valladares said. “I am here trying to learn how to open doors and figure out the issues we’re fighting for.”
Valladares told McKissick she recently realized how much of her life was intertwined with the decisions made by politicians.
“Politics is in everything,” said Valladares, who earned undergraduate degrees from N.C. Central and works at Duke University. “We are all affected. I want to take what I heard tonight back to my community. A lot of people couldn’t be here tonight. I want them to know what was said.”
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Valladares was one of about 200 people who packed into the community room at the M&F Bank Corporate Center to hear from Durham’s legislative contingent. It was a much larger and more energized crowd compared with the two dozen or so people who attended a town hall meeting in March before the legislative session, McKissick said.
“We had a packed house of interested and enthusiastic people from Durham,” McKissick said.
The seven members representing Durham County, including retiring state Rep. Mickey Michaux, reported on their accomplishments in Raleigh during the recent legislative short session. But it was a relatively short list because Republican-controlled legislature took up few of the bills offered by the Durham Democrats.
State Sen. Mike Woodard said their ideas were discounted.
“Whenever somebody from Durham came up with a creative or innovative idea, they didn’t like it,” Woodard said.
McKissick took the lead in saving the light rail project connecting Durham and Chapel Hill. They were able to secure $6 million to help TROSA expand its services westward into the Triad communities of Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem, he said. But ideas to improve school safety offered by Rep. MaryAnn Black and to increase safeguards for gun ownership by Rep. Marcia Morey were not taken up during the session.
The delegation also explained the six proposed constitutional amendments that will be on the November ballot. They were not in favor of any of them.
McKissick said the proposed amendments are written in a way that disguises their true intent.
“They’re deceptively worded,” McKissick said.
Four of the amendments deal with governance and elections, which McKissick said served no real purpose except to make it harder for minorities and older people to vote. Another one enshrines hunting and fishing as a constitutional right. And the last one creates a process for crime victims to receive information from the state whenever the case is in court.
Michaux, who first was elected to the state House in 1973, received a standing ovation before he reflected on his 40-year career in the legislature.
He warned the state was stepping backward unless Democrats broke the supermajorities enjoyed by Republicans in the next election.
“What I have seen happen in the last eight years breaks my heart,” Michaux said. “Durham is going to do just fine but we’ve got work to do with other parts of the state. We’ve got to get the word out and the people out to vote. This is a crucial time for our state.
“We have to do away with their majority and bring back Democrats — people we know we can trust. I’m not going to sit back and let our gains go down in flames.”
The panel also took questions from the audience.
Brenda Pollard, who is active in the “Women in Blue” movement, asked if the state could pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution. Another woman wanted to know how to get more women involved, especially African American women.
Natalie Murdock told the panel she was concerned that the average voter would not understand the impact of the proposed amendments.
“We’ve got to have better voter education,” she said.