Dozens of people who have little-to-no experience in politics decide to take on members of their own parties to win legislative seats.
Most of those candidates lose. Raleigh Democrat Allison Dahle said after primary-election results came in showing her runaway victory over incumbent Duane Hall that even she didn’t expect to win.
Dahle was sworn in Wednesday as a member of the state House with 115 of her 119 colleagues. Dahle’s wife, Lou Pounder, held the Bible during the ceremony.
She is one of 25 House members, 16 Democrats and nine Republicans, starting their first term. (A 26th addition, Rep. Joe Sam Queen, is returning to the House.) They’ll begin to navigate arcane legislative rules and political cross tides, and figure out how to advance ideas they campaigned on.
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Serving in the legislature is nearly a full-time job with an unpredictable schedule. Many new legislators are retired, work for family businesses, or are self-employed. Dahle said she will keep her part-time job as a bookkeeper at a law firm.
Most lawmakers earn a $13,951 annual salary, a $104-per-day stipend for meals and lodging each day the legislature is in session, and mileage reimbursements for travel to and from Raleigh.
Dahle filed to run for a seat as news surfaced of sexual harassment allegations against Hall, which he denied.
Though she was outspent in the primary, Dahle had help from organizations that support Democratic women candidates. She cruised to victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.
We asked Dahle a few questions before the swearing-in ceremony about what’s happened since her victory, how she prepared for her new job, and her goals for the session.
Q: What’s happened since the election?
A: “It’s been a whirlwind. Just last night, I went to an N.C. State-UNC game as a guest of the chancellor. What’s interesting is, on the invitation it says ‘please be our guest, but know you still have to pay for your ticket.’ Which is fine.
“So I was able to take an N.C. State student who is also a constituent, and we went and met the chancellor, and she got to meet the governor for the first time. And I forget about the awe of the first time I met the governor and watching it through a 21-year-old’s eyes — it was a pleasure. And I also think she’s an N.C. State student in engineering, and what an exciting time this is for her to see another woman in office, and maybe later on, she will take on office and give her opinions.
“It’s been a lot of training, I told somebody the other day, I wish I could unlock my brain and dump all the information in — kind of like downloading. It’s trying to take a sip of water through a fire hose. There’s a lot of stuff to learn..”
Q: What are your top priorities? What are the first bills you’ll file?
A: Dahle said she hopes to file a bill on reporting sexual harassment in the legislature, similar to bills filed last session.
“It’s not just a women’s issue. I think there is harassment and all sorts of things that happen every day to all sorts of people. So I’d like for there to be a clear path to report.”
Medicaid expansion is also a top priority, Dahle said.
“That is huge. How am I going to accomplish that? We’re going to accomplish that as a caucus, together. I’m sure there are a lot of people in this building who want to see health care more affordable and have people covered.”
Q: What’s she thinking about as she prepares to be sworn in?
A: “I had a little swearing-in for my mother. My mother is in a senior community. She’s fully healthy but we decided because there’s so many people around it would be easier to have a little swearing-in ceremony. I was awestruck. My mother was holding the Bible. We had a friend of the family who’s a judge swear us in.
“And then today for my wife, who is an immigrant from England who went through the immigration process to be holding the family Bible to swear me in is just overwhelming.”