Representative Sydney Batch became a household name during the veto override votes for the ridiculous born-alive anti-abortion bill in the summer of 2019. She was a freshman legislator recovering from a breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy and had to attend session at the GA to make sure that Democrats had enough votes to override this anti-abortion bill. It was egregious on the part of the Republicans and nothing short of heroic for Sydney. When not being a heroine, she is a family law attorney and social worker with two small sons and a penchant for quilting.
Sydney represents a solidly purple district in Wake County and is running a competitive re-election campaign. She took time out of her very busy schedule to chat with our Program Manager Devon Roberts.
How have you grown or changed as a leader since you’ve been in office?
As an attorney I do a lot of negotiation when practicing family law. I went into the General Assembly with that as an asset. In family law, I deal with serious and emotionally charged issues, but I didn’t realize that in the GA those voices would be heard and amplified. When I vote against a bill, for a good reason, I’m still in a position where I still have to talk to people who oppose my vote. My constituents will call and I have to be measured and thoughtful about how I respond while putting myself in their position. Recently, there was a bill that would allow certain 16 year olds the ability to get their licenses without a driving test because of COVID. And I get that their families may need it. I voted against it and I heard from their parents. I told these parents that public safety was the most important thing. And because I have a moderate district I have to weigh the pros and cons of everything. I’ve grown in how I respond to people, lobbyists, and other legislators who disagree with me. I try to put myself in their shoes before I respond. It’s growth and having to deal with frustrated people who disagree with me while maintaining my position. I’ve honed my ability to de-escalate.
Say we expand Medicaid, ratify the ERA, and lift the existing abortion restrictions, what’s the next big move to help women and families in North Carolina?
Easy, paid family leave. We had a paid family leave bill which I was happy to be a primary sponsor on last year. It provides job protection and paid leave up to twelve weeks for everyone, not just full time workers. It’s not just parental leave, but for other health reasons, as well. My concern with COVID is that when people return to work many will have to take multiple part-time jobs in an economy and return to jobs that don’t have benefits from their employer. An estimated 12% of North Carolinians have paid leave right now. At my firm we provide our employees with paid leave. Every single person should have this and job protection along with paid leave. The bill sponsored has twelve weeks through an insurance market. It also provides job protection. Through the FMLA you have job protection, but not every workplace qualifies. This bill covers all employees and allows people to take maternity leave and have job protection. What’s the point of paid leave without job protection? That is one of the most important pieces of this legislation. Women are oftentimes in a position where they don’t have paid leave. Many restaurants and childcare facilities don’t provide paid leave. By providing paid leave we would be supporting women, lifting them up, and giving them security to take time off, heal and come back to work ready to work healthily. We know people work when they shouldn’t and we can prevent that.
What was something that surprised you when you first joined the NCGA?
I was surprised at how helpful the lobbyists are. Some have bad reputations, that they deserve, but I think that some people equate lobbyists to ambulance chasing lawyers and not at all trustworthy. But there are so many really good hardworking lobbyists who are experts in their fields. I’ve had great conversations with advocates and lobbyists. I can talk to them and ask about a bill and I also ask what their opponents say about the bill. They’re being paid to promote a certain position, but the good lobbyists will also be open about their opponent’s positions. I never thought that some lobbyists would be some of the people who I would trust the most. I get so much information from them. I ask them for research and talking points and I can make informed decisions after they share their positions.
I always ask them who opposes their position. It’s not realistic for me to become an expert on everything. I know a lot about a little and a little about a lot, so you have to ask actual experts for information. I try and get to know them outside of who they’re lobbying for and then trust develops. They’re some really good people. They’re fascinating and so smart.
What is something that makes you feel hopeful about the future of North Carolina?
I’m excited to see the level of enthusiasm and involvement of people who are running for office. It is so exciting seeing people from different walks of life, POC, LGBTQ, and women running and winning. They bring a different perspective than what has been in the GA for a long time. Our state was very progressive and we did a lot of great things. I see the light at the end of the tunnel where our state can function as it should be. When we take the majority we don’t have to go back to the same way. I hope we work with Republicans. I don’t want to just push our agenda. We’re a purple state and we have to consider the interests of everyone. When we get to promote policies for working families, like paid family leave or a living wage, we’ll see people thrive and prosper and people will be happy with what the government is doing for them and their families. Helping people prosper will make those people more invested in the success of our state. I am hopeful we can take the majority so some of our policies can be heard in committee and passed into law.
I hope we can return to a time where people can disagree without being disagreeable. Legislators shouldn’t walk away without giving and getting something. It’s a negotiation. We need to come to the table and not just push through one agenda or the other. It’s like in family law cases, we need to negotiate with one another more. If we have more even representation with each party more people would be in a position to negotiate.
What are you doing right now to find joy?
Outside of being thankful and appreciative for my two jobs (legislative and as an attorney) in a time when people are furloughed and unemployed, I’m trying to be thankful for what I have. I’m thankful that I have a lot of advantages that other families do not, like healthcare. And I am extremely thankful that I am healthy and so is my family. changed, but my family is well and not at risk. Being extremely thankful and appreciative. I’m not perfect at it but I try to prioritize selfcare. My self-care is usually vacationing. I quilt a lot, but not as much as I’d like to. I try and carve out time to quilt and be in my sewing room. We don’t take nearly enough time for self-care. This pandemic has helped people recognize that we don’t need to work all the time. We’ve had to look at our lives, adjust, and reprioritize. Some of what we did prior to the pandemic was unnecessary and I don’t have to do all of those things. You have to find the peace in doing nothing.