Lillian’s List is thrilled to endorse Jessica Holmes, a labor and employment law attorney, as one of our 2020 candidates in her run for NC Commissioner of Labor. Jessica has an outstanding record of public service and a distinguished record advocating for workers’ rights. Currently, Jessica serves as Chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Our Executive Director, Sarah Preston, spoke with Jessica about her years of public service and her campaign for NC Commissioner of Labor.
SP: Why did you decide to run for office in 2014 and what inspired your run for NC Commissioner of Labor?
Jessica: As a first generation college graduate, I understand very well the importance of education as a means of upward mobility and ending generational poverty. I have spent my professional career advocating for a quality education for all students regardless of zip code as the key to every student’s ability to thrive and also for the success of our workforce and economy.
Serving as an attorney at the NC Association of Educators was a perfect match for my desire to influence policies related to education and to advocate for school employees in personnel matters and at the General Assembly. As with most women, I did not initially see myself as an elected official but had spent most of my career advocating and attempting to influence decision-makers by marching, organizing and speaking up for those without a voice.
No one on the Board of Commissioners looked like me. It took several asks by people who I trust and respect to convince me that my voice needed to be at the table and that I could run and win. With the help of trainings from organizations such as Lillian’s List, in 2014 I become Wake County’s youngest person ever elected to the board of commissioners and, later, the youngest person to ever serve as Chair. I’ve now been unanimously elected Chair twice by my colleagues.
On the Commission, I have focused on funding our public. I led the implementation of the board’s first ever paid parental leave policy and fair chance hiring ordinance, along with many other fair labor policies. Under my leadership, Wake County has received several recognitions for being one of the healthiest workplaces in America. I’m ready to take those practices and all of my experiences to benefit all North Carolina workers with my run for NC Commissioner of Labor.
I was born and raised in eastern North Carolina. In my small rural community there are more criminal convictions than college degrees. I understand the economic needs of rural NC and also the challenges our urban counties face as well. I’m invested in addressing the rural-urban divide and putting all of North Carolina to work. We need opportunities for a hand-up and not a hand out, so everyone has the chance to compete in an ever-changing global society.
SP: What do you think the benefits of being a woman while campaigning and serving are?
Jessica: One benefit of being a woman running for office is that because it sometimes takes women seven or more asks before running for office, by the time we decide to run we have meticulously determined what we have to offer and for me this helped with my confidence. Women are thoughtful, committed and often times more than qualified for the position we are seeking compared to our male counterparts. Another benefit is that women are very intentional about supporting women. I have been blessed with incredible women mentors who work diligently to ensure that I have the tools and resources I need to run a successful campaign. We share a goal of wanting to change the face of politics.
SP: Why do you support reproductive freedom?
Jessica: It makes no sense that someone else should or could have the ability to make decisions about my body or any other woman’s body. I have always been pro-choice as a human being notwithstanding politics. Some decisions are personal and should not involve government interference. I’m committed to ensuring reproductive freedom for all people.
SP: What do you hope to accomplish for women while in office?
Jessica: My very first initiative will be to adopt paid parental leave for the NC Department of Labor. The current Commissioner declined to adopt this policy for her Department when it was extended to state employees by Governor Cooper in a recent Executive Order. I also want to address pay equity for women by working with business across our state. Women receive about $0.80 for every dollar a man gets and that number is lower when you consider pay gaps for black and brown women. I am committed to livable wages for all employees and safe workplaces.
I also want to review how the State provides retraining for workers who have been out of the workforce and need to refresh their skills or learn new ones. I am very interested in expanding opportunities for women who have been out of the workforce to care for children or other family members, securing a place for our veterans, and giving second chances to those who want to make an honest living.
SP: Who is your inspiration in politics?
Jessica: Michelle Obama is my inspiration. She is very gracious and graceful under pressure. Politics can be unnecessarily ugly, I try to always remember her words: “when they go low, we go high.” Also, when it’s time for me to bring my A game to the table, I am inspired by the words of Representative Deborah Butler, “we will not yield.”