In President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, he called for the country to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” A 7-year-old little girl in Winston-Salem took note and found inspiration in his call to action.
As fate would have it, Elizabeth Redenbaugh not only would live up to Kennedy’s words, she would work throughout multiple community sectors to ensure its power. Such was the case in 2008 when the lawyer served on the New Hanover County Board of Education and fought against their antiquated redistricting plan, which further segregated kids based on socioeconomic and racial status. As the only board member with children in the school system, she wanted to see equal opportunity spread throughout education, to allow future leaders a chance to grow and learn from each other, and have the same opportunities for success post academia. Redenbaugh’s stance led to numerous accolades, including one based on her hero, the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, and locally the YWCA’s Women of Achievement Award in 2012.
Thus it came as no surprise when a few days after current representative Thom Goolsby released he would not seek re-election for his seat in Senate District 9, Redenbaugh threw her name into the hat. She pledges to continue her fight toward NC’s severe need for proper education and teacher’s rights, as well as support causes that can reverse the shaky ground NC’s reputation has stood on nationwide over the last few years.
“I have always felt a call on my life toward public service and fervently believe in the concept of servant leadership,” Redenbaugh tells encore.
The former lawyer—who served in multiple representations from civil litigation to workers’ personal injury to wrongful death, family law to domestic mediation services—says her analytical ability, attention to detail, logical reasoning and persuasiveness all are characteristics gained through her profession which will further her cause toward justice for all NC citizens. Redebaugh talks to encore about women and LGBT rights, her support of film incentives and small business owners, and generating civilized common ground between parties in the Senate to effectively serve NC constituents.
encore (e): Tell us about your decision to run for Senate; what was its impetus?
Elizabeth Redenbaugh (ER): Over the past year Governor McCrory and the Republican legislature have put NC public education not on a race to the top, but rather on a race to the bottom. As a former member of the New Hanover County Board of Education, I felt it was a moral imperative that I join the race as a champion for public education. Our children have the greatest stake in the future of our state and yet they have the least capacity to control it. Our General Assembly has failed to properly fund public education, cutting almost a half billion dollars in the last year alone. Millions of dollars have been siphoned from public education to fund a voucher program that will benefit for-profit, private schools. NC has plummeted to 46th in the nation in teacher pay. The systematic dismantling of public education by our General Assembly has sent teacher morale plummeting to an all-time low. We are now beginning to experience a mass exodus of our best and brightest teachers from our schools.
Who does this hurt? Our children. We must do our best to secure the future for all children. A vibrant public education system, pre-K through the community college and public university system, can set them on a path toward a thriving career, and away from crime and the need to depend upon government assistance. Education has always been the fuel for economic growth in our country. We must never lose sight of that fact.
e: What are the most significant points you feel need to be addressed first and how?
ER: While I feel passionate about myriad issues; I feel compelled to give first priority to education and jobs. As your state Senator, one of my immediate actions will be to stand with former Governor Jim Hunt and work to raise our teacher pay to the national average. I will work tirelessly to gain the bipartisan support needed to make the necessary funding commitments.
I will dedicate my term to developing a successful economy that creates good jobs and improves the quality of life for all North Carolinians. Unfortunately, our assembly has pursued a failed strategy that undermines the investments we need to make in infrastructure, education and innovation—key ingredients to promoting job growth.
Seventy-five percent of the tax cuts initiated by this assembly went to the top 5 percent of taxpayers. Their tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthy will not boost our economy or create more job but will result in middle- and low-income families paying more taxes. A number of credits and deductions have been eliminated.
The dramatic increase in the income gap between the top 1 percent of Americans and the remaining 99 percent over the last 10 years has blown a hole in the trickle-down economics theory. More money in the pockets of middle- and low-income families will increase demand for goods and services. A business that gets a tax cut will not hire if it cannot sell what it makes.
When Governor McCrory took office, he claimed to want to rebrand NC in order to spur economic development. NC has been rebranded, but not in the way Governor McCrory intended. Our state’s national reputation over the last two years has dropped from one of the 10 best in the nation to one of the worst. In order to attract good businesses to NC, I will make better choices such as alleviating the tax burden on middle and lower income North Carolinians, as well as making solid investments in education, research and development, and a modern infrastructure.
e: How do you feel our current Senate seat-holder did in performing for his constituents? What do you plan on doing differently in working for the people?
ER: I feel our current Senator failed to serve half of his constituents. Rather than thoughtfully and respectfully listening to those who disagreed with him, our Senator literally wrote them off as “morons.” I take my duty as a public servant very seriously. I will treat all my constituents with the dignity, value and the respect they deserve regardless of whether they agree with me. If I fail to listen, I might miss an opportunity to find the solution to a pressing problem.
Our current Senator’s track record of making incendiary comments damages the very core of our democracy. I plan to hold open forums throughout my campaign and time in office to hear the needs of the people. [Anyone who would like to schedule a forum at a location can contact Erin Rogers, Redenbaugh’s campaign manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
e: Tell us what you think the driving force is behind socioeconomic and racial segregation in NHC’s school system? What should we be doing to rectify it?
ER: The driving force behind racial and socioeconomic segregation in New Hanover County Public Schools is undoubtedly the board of education’s refusal to engage in data-driven decision-making. Only 1.1 percent of high-poverty schools are consistently high performing. Yet, our board has intentionally drawn attendance zones that have resulted in schools where the number of students receiving free and reduced lunch (a stand-in for poverty level) has far exceeded 95 percent.
Board members have fed the fears of our community, claiming racial and socioeconomic balance can only be achieved by bussing children across town. That is simply not true. During one redistricting forum, I recall an opponent of school diversity advocating for a particular map that actually achieved diversity because he could not tell the difference between the various maps. Although the vast majority of people do not support segregation, it is our direction, not our intention, which determines our destination. The destination we have reached is that of segregated schools. As your representative in Raleigh, I will make certain our school board, as well as those throughout the state, fulfills their duty to provide every student equal access to a quality education and an equal opportunity to succeed in life.
e: Growing up in NC, would you say you had a different or better experience in the public school system than what students get now?
ER: As a child, I attended Winston-Salem, Forsyth County Public Schools. My experience has differed from that of my three children who attend New Hanover County public schools, in that there was far greater diversity in my classes. With diversity in the classroom, children learn how to be productive members of a multicultural society. Real change happens in the context of relationships. When diversity is absent, we cannot build relationships and instead build walls that breed fear of others not like us.
There was also less emphasis on high-stakes testing. Our teachers are too often called to “teach to the test” to the detriment of our students. One thing that has remained the same is the dedication of caring and professional teachers who inspire and change the lives of their students.
e: Per women’s rights and LGBT issues: What’s your first call to action?
ER: Over the last few years, I have become deeply convicted that it is not my place to force my choices on others through the political process. I am particularly mindful of that fact when I stop to consider that I have not walked in the shoes of those, for example, in the LGBT community or women faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
A woman’s unique perspective is desperately needed in the NC General Assembly. Only 20 percent of the current members of the NC Senate are women, while women make up 51 percent of both New Hanover County’s and NC’s population. Until we have more female members of the Senate, we will be unable to ensure that the policies crafted there account for interests specific to women. My first call to action would be to reverse the decision that [states] offering abortion services must meet ambulatory surgical center standards. Our state’s existing regulation standards are effective and the NC Department of Health and Human Services should have the resources they need to inspect those centers more often. Requiring such clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards may force their closure, to the detriment of the women who rely upon them for medical care.
Health care services offered at Planned Parenthood in Wilmington cost roughly half of what it would cost to receive the same services at a private OB/GYN office. While abortion procedures make up approximately 20 percent of the services offered at Planned Parenthood in Wilmington, most of the work in the office is dedicated to women’s health services—breast exams, Pap tests, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, UTI treatment, birth control, pregnancy tests and well check-ups.
The passage of Amendment One [stating marriage is only legal between a man and a woman] in May 2012 went a long way to demean a group of people who could not legally marry in NC. Placing that referendum on the ballot was bad for business. Corporate America respects hard work, talent and creativity and has extended same-sex benefits to their employees. How can we lure the next Google to NC when we are limiting a segment of their workforce? As a member of the Senate, I will work toward achieving equal rights for all.
I would work to prevent job discrimination. While this is an LGBT issue, also it is one that cuts across race, class and region. I would like to reaffirm current anti-bullying legislation, along with advocating for better faculty training on LGBT bullying issues. Cyber-bullying has only increased since the passage of this legislation, leading to an increase in school violence and even suicides. As adults, we must stand firm that bullying of any sort will not be tolerated.
e: Tell us your stance on the NC film incentive; have you felt the effects of it personally? How do you propose we ensure it sticks?
ER: I am 100 percent pro-film incentives. I understand the film industry generates much needed jobs for our area. Our family has quite a few friends who work in various capacities within the film industry. If the film industry pulled out of NC, they would be forced to leave as well. The current film incentive legislation is scheduled to sunset at the end of this calendar year. Steps must be taken now to eliminate the sunset provision and maintain our film incentives as they currently stand.
e: Are you a small business owner? How do you support community-owned businesses, and what do they need to continue to flourish and succeed in our ever-changing economy?
ER: I am an attorney and have, in the past, run my own firm. My husband is currently a small business owner. Small businesses need the governmental agencies they interact with to be run efficiently and not unnecessarily hinder small business owners. Thoughtful stewardship of tax-payer dollars will also keep taxes to a minimum, which benefits everyone, including small business owners. As your Senator, I will also support the use of performance-based financial incentives in order to attract businesses to our area.
e: What do you need most to win this election?
ER: Since I am currently focused on fund-raising, financial support immediately comes to mind. Unfortunately, a candidate’s ability to raise funds translates into their ability to effectively communicate their message to the voters. However, what I need most is for the people who believe in me to speak up, and share with the community examples of my servant leadership and why they feel I should be elected to the NC Senate. Actions speak louder than words. My record of public and volunteer service illustrates my level of commitment and dedication to improving the lives of those who call New Hanover County home.
e: Should you win, how will you bridge the gap between disparate political beliefs and systems; what do you think politicians need to do to more effectively work together and for the people?
ER: I have had conversations with individuals who have represented our area in Raleigh in the past. Their stories have a similar thread: Legislators used to fiercely debate the issues in the General Assembly and then, putting their differences aside, go out for a friendly meal together. I am told this does not happen anymore. Efforts must be made to restore civility to our political process and it starts by building relationships. Just because someone does not agree with you on an issue does not make them evil or your enemy.
My husband and I have been happily married for 20 years and we do not agree on every issue. Disagreement does not have to end in discord. We have lost the ability to compromise, which is one of the most important aspects of our democracy. The lack of civility in Raleigh, or Washington for that matter, adds nothing to the substance of our political discourse and ultimately undermines our system of government.