Helen is running to flip Senate District 25, representing Anson, Moore, Richmond, and Scotland Counties. Helen’s top priorities when elected would be to invest in quality public education for all students, increase quality jobs with living wages throughout the state, expand Medicaid, and reform the tax code so it is applied more fairly.
Our Executive Director, Sarah Preston, caught up with Helen last week and they talked about her campaign, as well as the special strain social distancing creates in rural parts of the state. As a Community College Trustee for Sandhills Community College, Helen is very familiar with the educational demands of going remote, including access to broadband, which many take for granted. Helen and her sister have coordinated purchasing a wifi hotspot for their other sister who is a NC public school teacher who lives in a rural area. As Helen put it, “broadband should be treated as a utility,” and in place for everyone across the state. Sarah and Helen talked about Helen’s campaign plans and how she would raise her community up in the wake of the current pandemic.
SP: Why did you decide to run for office in 2018 and why again in 2020?
Helen: I decided to run in 2018 because I really didn’t think that our current elected officials were meeting the needs of our communities. As someone who has gone through severe medical issues, it is obvious to me that we need to expand Medicaid. In addition, public education is the foundation of our society and is consistently underfunded. I’m at a loss for why Republicans think we should not expand Medicaid nor invest in our children, so I decided to run to address these issues.
On election night in 2018, I said our community’s issues were not resolved by the election results. I needed to run again because it is not about me, it is about all of the people who supported me and everyone in the district who desperately need a Senator who will make decisions that will be impactful for their lives. We laid the foundation in 2018 and now we are building the rest of the house in 2020.
SP: What do you think is the most important thing that the government can do to help people now and into the future?
Helen: The most important thing right now, immediately, is to change our unemployment system. That may not have been my answer in January, but it is of paramount importance now. We are last in the nation. We need to at least get to the national average in terms of the amount of benefit and the number of weeks of coverage. We need to get money in people’s pockets. People are hungry and they have bills to pay. We can and should be doing more.
Then we need to expand access to health care by expanding Medicaid. Medicaid would cover 12,000 additional people in my district – that is a huge number of people who could access health care if we took advantage of dollars North Carolina is putting into the system and then leaving on the table.
Beyond that, it is no surprise to people working in health care that Covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on people of color. That is because of systemic racism in our healthcare system. The disparities have always been there, but what the pandemic has made glaringly evident is just astounding and we need to start addressing that.
SP: What do you hope to accomplish for women and families in North Carolina when elected?
Helen: I would hope to ensure that all women and families have access to health care. We must fully fund maternal health and eliminate racial and economic disparities in terms of birth rate and healthy births. We need to invest in early childhood development and education. Shockingly, for-profit prisons use 3rd grade reading levels to determine where to build prisons as a lack of literacy at that age has been shown to be indicative of issues later in life. An investment in the success of a child early on dictates their success over their lifetime and it reduces the resources we, as a society, must invest down the road. We need to invest in children at a young age to ensure our children are successful.
SP: What are the benefits of being a woman while campaigning?
Helen: Compassion. Women have intuitively a greater sense of empathy and compassion. They have the ability to look at someone’s situation and see it fully for what it is and what the needs are and we can then be responsive. We place a value on building cooperative, finding collaborative solutions. Women have a better sense of working in a collective manner. I also think voters are more open with women. They see me as a human being and I am open and transparent with them. I am not the leader of the pack, I am working with the pack to get things done!
SP: Why are you a champion of reproductive freedom and gender equity?
Helen: I mean how is this even still a question!? We should all be champions for reproductive freedom and gender equity! We should have solved this by now and I am flabbergasted that we are still fighting over this.
I am a champion because I was raised by a strong single mother and I have three daughters. I have seen gender inequity and I want my daughters to have every opportunity out there. I have to be a champion because the compassion and dedication of women has been exploited. We just expect women to do their job, for less pay, regardless of conditions. That’s why professions where women are the majority are underpaid like teachers and child care workers. We are just taking advantage of the nature of women to care and keep doing the work. Women must be paid equally and, when we talk about pay equity, we have to acknowledge the disparity between white women and women of color. Women of color make even less and that creates a permanent underclass that could be addressed by paying people what they are worth.
SP: What would you recommend people listen to, read, watch, or do to bring them some joy while social distancing?
Helen: I think it is important to remain connected. We only need to physically distance, not social distance. You can reach out to people from different parts of your life and all over the country. We need to continue to engage because it is so hard emotionally to be isolated.
We are really enjoying time with family. We play games and do puzzles. We are starting to do puzzle or game swaps with friends through the mail too. We were supposed to have a family reunion this summer, but instead, we have spent time online together building out the information we had about the life of our Great-Uncle who was lost in the Spanish flu pandemic back in 1918. He died in France of the flu after the fighting in WWI had ended. That focus on a man many of us never knew would have never happened if we had gotten together in person, but now we have a fuller picture of him based on information some family members knew and also on what the family collected online. It’s wonderful because we feel like we have gotten to know him now.