DemCast Exclusive Interview
North Carolina is shifting. Donald Trump won the state’s 15 electoral votes by 3.6 percent during the 2016 Presidential election.
“With a statistical tie, these results indicate what should be no surprise — North Carolina will be a key battleground state in 2020,” said Civitas Institute President Donald Bryson. “There are very few scenarios in which a 2020 presidential candidate does not need North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes to win, and this poll indicates that we are in play.”
Given this, I was ecstatic to interview and learn more about James Dawkins – a Democrat running for North Carolina’s 17th House District. I did my due diligence in researching Dawkins’ background, and shamelessly, I even fired up the old Tor browser and tried to see if I could find any past scandals. As far as James was concerned, I couldn’t even find where he was late to a meeting, so that made me more intrigued to find out about the man running against incumbent Republican Frank Iler, who has held the seat since 2009.
Dawkins – a 34 year old, single, in a relationship, it’s complicated, hilariously funny lifestyler, has lived in Brunswick County for over 20 years. Before setting his roots down in North Carolina, James traveled a lot in his earlier years, due to his father’s demanding profession in the cable TV industry. He lived in TX, MS, AL, GA, and finally, North Carolina – where James lays his head and feels most at home.
No stranger to struggle, James has seen some of the most impoverished and underprivileged communities in the country, one of which – Meridian, MS – he called home for a time.
As James is recanting stories from his childhood, I watch his facial expressions, his arm movements, his body language, and I instantly notice how his mind wanders off, as if he’s picturing every detail. One thing that James learned living in this community was, “We all we got” was not just a saying, it was a way of life. The tightness, the richness, and diversity of the culture, the people, sharply contrasted his details about the pressure and environment in which these diamonds are formed.
“Trump has it all wrong. By calling these impoverished communities that are impoverished because of things systematically put in place, we undermine the talent, the culture, the oppression and utter despair these communities feel. They don’t feel included, they don’t feel safe and they don’t feel like the people in power do enough to do anything to change that. That’s why I want to run for this seat.”
As we continue on in the interview, one story that personally touched me was about an African American boy named Randall Livingston, who would walk to school with James and his brother every day, and show him, as the “new kid on the block”, where to stay away from.
Adversity would find him.
Nothing would change him more than surviving gun-violence. He was Held at gunpoint and kept hostage by one of his mother’s former boyfriends, while most kids his age are worried about acne and who sits at their lunch table. James – along with his brother and mother – took their power back, and set out for a fresh start, trying to heal and not let their circumstances define their existence.
It would be short-lived.
James lost his mother at the tender age of 39, due to a brain aneurysm. He was only 14 years old at the time. James’ remaining family, his father and brother, ultimately drew closer as a unit and relied on each other for support and care during their immense grief. These unfortunate circumstances forced James the boy to become a man, and help take care of his brother and maintain things around the house, while still going to South Brunswick High School. James would proudly graduate early, in 2003.
He didn’t just graduate. He would graduate with the honorable achievement of founding the debate club, and lettering for academics, while maintaining a rigorous schedule for sociology, politics, and political science, preparing him for his time at both BCC and Cape Fear Community College. Unfortunately, life had other plans. James wouldn’t be getting his degree after all. His father took a turn for the worse health-wise and financially, and there was just no money or way that James could continue to be away at school. His family needed him back home.
No pity party here. There is no testimony without a test. There is no leadership without following your dreams. James discovered how to turn his grief and despair into art. James took his drumsticks on the road and played with his band at hundreds of shows and toured the east coast of the United States from 2003-2011. He still stayed in school and worked during this time.
As he recalls the moment that he went from boy band to political life, you can see a cloud come over his brow, a sense of foreboding, as he describes the moment during the 2000 Presidential election results, and the theft of the election subsequently by the Republican party, that changed him.
“It instilled in me a deep-seated disgust of unfairness and injustice and showed me that every single vote counts. Consequently, I’ve never missed an election since I cast my first vote for John Kerry in 2004. I am a progressive and believe that there are a lot of things the government can and should do for our citizens and that we must protect minorities, and guard against injustice, both due to issues of race and because of lower socioeconomic status.
I believe in low taxes for the poor, lower and middle classes, but ample taxes on the wealthy and corporations, as they’ve benefited greatly, every single day, from the labors of every single person in the society, as no one person does anything on their own.”
I’ve interviewed candidates, I’ve watched candidates speak in circles for the past 2 years, and my gaslighting detector is on red alert. Never once did I get that feeling with James Dawkins. He was down to earth, he was concerned about the health and safety of my husband. He even gave ME some advice. It was an amazing time interviewing him, and getting to know what makes him tick. Read more below for the formal interview and please, head on over to Put The People First: Support James Dawkins for NC 17 House, and sign up to volunteer, support, and learn about how you can help turn this important seat Blue in the coming election.
Be sure to check out his AMA on 9/11. (Respect to all victims, survivors and their families on this day). You can check out the AMA by following James on Twitter @dawkins2020 or directly on Reddit.
The Interview: (Conducted by Video)
Q: Why are you running for the state legislature in North Carolina?
A: For too long the NC GOP has been advocating for the interests of corporations and big business at the expense of the poor and working class. I couldn’t stand by and watch it happen any longer. They’ve also been incredibly corrupt, with throwing away votes in NC-09 and gerrymandering at the national and state Congressional levels. Luckily, the State Court recently ordered a redraw of the State Congressional maps on the basis of partisan gerrymandering.
Q: Is there anything about North Carolina that many Americans believe to be true, but is not?
A: Most people think North Carolina is a purple or red state. North Carolina is a blue state and is only getting bluer. Last election the Democrats won 52% statewide, and with more and more young people moving here to take advantage of the tech and engineering opportunities in the state, it will continue to move in the right (left) direction.
Q: Should voters in state and federal elections be required to show ID at the polls?
A: No. Voter ID laws are only implemented to disenfranchise the poor, elderly, and minorities, who are less likely to have an ID. It’s a modern-day poll tax and is undemocratic.
Q: Should we reform the electoral college or keep it as-is?
A: The electoral college is an archaic institution that was implemented at the behest of slave states during the drafting of the Constitution. It creates a situation where a person’s vote in Wyoming is worth more than one in North Carolina. It is no longer needed and needs to be abolished.
Q: How would you address the #MeToo movement as a member of the General Assembly?
A: One way that I’d like to help the movement is by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s past time to recognize that women should be equal to men under the law and in every other way. Also, if anyone on my staff, or anyone else for that matter, come to me with an allegation of improper conduct I will take it seriously and take appropriate action.
Q: What would you do to improve diversity at the General Assembly?
A: We need more representatives from all walks of life. Right now the General Assembly is majority retired, and white. Although I’m not a minority or a woman, I do come from a poor background, and that does give me a different perspective. We still need to recruit representatives from all communities, and not just the affluent and white ones.
Q: On which issue will you work with members of the other party right now?
A: There are some interesting things going on with regard to regulating social media that both parties are ready to get together on. I’m willing to work with the Republicans, but I’m not willing to allow North Carolina to keep moving in the direction towards helping corporations at the expense of average North Carolinians.
Q: Do you think the Second Amendment should be repealed?
If not, do you think there should be any new gun restrictions to deal with what feels like an epidemic of mass shootings?
A: I’m a gun violence survivor, so the Second Amendment
and the issue of guns in America is very important to me. I’ve also been endorsed by Survivors Lead, a national gun violence survivors advocacy group. I’m not sure you need to repeal the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court acknowledges that the right to bear arms doesn’t include your right to bear any arms you want at any time, so there are common-sense regulations that could be put in place. I think the focus on mental illness with regard to these shootings from the GOP is disingenuous, though. What have they ever done for mental illness? I think the focus should be on trying to reduce the amount of hate and inflammatory language, with a particular look at the recent rise of White Nationalism that we’ve been seeing in most of these mass shooters.
Q: Do you believe President Trump needs to seek authorization from Congress the next time he wants to strike Syria? Would you vote to authorize military force against Syria?
A: Trump absolutely needs authorization from Congress for any sort of military action against Syria or anywhere else. The people’s representatives should be involved in any decision that puts our military service members in harm’s way. We have a very high population of military service members in North Carolina, and I’m 100% focused on not risking their lives unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Q: Would you support an Obamacare repeal bill that allows states to opt-out of requiring insurers from providing “Essential Health Benefits?”
A: Absolutely not. We should be focused on improving Obamacare at worst, and moving towards a single-payer or Medicare For All type system at best.
Q: How much, if anything, should Congress be willing to budget for the border wall?
A: An actual wall is a mistake. It’s a borne thought right out of the middle ages. What’s next, a moat? We need to be looking at technology to solve any problems at the border.
Q: Do you want to see Planned Parenthood defunded as part of the continuing resolution due on April 28?
A: Absolutely not. The myths that the right spread with regard to abortion frankly disgusts me. Not one tax dollar has gone towards abortion in over 40 years. No doctors are cutting live babies out of mothers. Yet, in my state, you have to drive hundreds of miles to even find an abortion doctor, if you needed one. They’ve already won the battle, and now they’re trying to destroy women’s ability to get any sort of prenatal health care or advice. It’s a War on Women and I don’t support it.
Q: What’s the best indication of economic health (the stock market, unemployment rate, income, etc.)?
A: Well, as we know that the unemployment numbers are doctored to not include the millions who are underemployed and the millions who stopped trying to look for jobs, I don’t think it’s a good indicator. I’d look towards first time home buyers and car loan statistics, and they show that the people in the lower and middle classes aren’t doing very well, while the rich keep getting richer.
Q: What do you want, or what are you willing to give up, in exchange for protected status or a path to citizenship for “dreamers”?
A: I don’t think we need to give up anything to protect the Dreamers. We simply need to educate the people who are against their citizenship about the benefits of making them citizens. We shouldn’t penalize people who were brought over the border at 2 years old for not explaining to their parents about how citizenship works in the US.
Q: What is your status on the detention centers and immigration?
A: Putting people that are asking for asylum into these camps is one of the worst things the US has done in a long time. Caging children, without medical care, and without legal representation is reprehensible and the camps should be shut down, the children reunited with their families, and released until their asylum hearing.
Q: How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in your town?
A: I plan to be available 24/7 to my constituents through social media and other avenues along with the traditional pipeline of calling my office, and letter writing. I’ll also hold many more events than my opponent has that are town-hall style and would give the constituents the opportunity to voice their concerns to my face.
Q: If elected, what three steps would you take to put your city on a firmer financial footing?
A: Public transportation would put more people in the game, so to speak, by allowing them to access employment even though they don’t own a car. Medicaid Expansion would give medical care to the impoverished and getting them healthy and back in the job market. Supporting small business, and removing some of the hurdles to start would also improve our ability to keep our dollars local, instead of giving them to a national outfit based out of Arkansas or Delaware.
Q: What neighborhood do you live in? Why? Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?
A: I live in a small apartment complex sort of right outside the city. It isn’t connected to any other places in what you would call a neighborhood, so I mainly either hang out here and read or watch TV, or go to the park or Southport Gym and shoot a basketball. I don’t get into the “nightlife” much either, so I don’t have many places like that to mention. I’m tragically boring.
Q: Do you think Colin Kaepernick was blacklisted by the NFL? Should NFL players be banned by the league from kneeling in protest during the National Anthem?
A: Kaepernick was most certainly blacklisted by the NFL. It’s a shame, as at times in his career he was one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Punishing him, or any other player, for exercising their First Amendment rights is a disgrace.
Q: What would Trump have to do that would cause you to support his impeachment?
A: In my opinion, Trump does things every single day that would have caused Republicans to scream for Obama’s impeachment, so I’m already there. He has obstructed justice, forced people to lie, attempted to fire the Special Prosecutor, enriched himself using his office (Emoluments Clause). The list is too long to mention everything he has done that warrants an impeachment inquiry. I would tell people that voting in 2020 is the only surefire way to remove him from office, and I encourage people to focus their efforts on that.
James Dawkins has been endorsed by Survivors Lead, which is a national gun survivor’s group. We stan you James, and we hope that @MomsDemand will back you as well.
James is also working with:
We encourage you to check out which organizations personally affect you and your community, or can help you elicit change, and join them!
Photo Credits: Victoria Loukas
Photos of James Dawkins in a strip mall near his residence, mingling and talking with constituents before an open concert.