Incumbent Democrat and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) graduate Cecil Brockman, 34, traveled from his native High Point in 2014 to take up his newly-won post in the North Carolina General Assembly. As a member of the state’s House of Representatives for District 60, he has established a reputation for progressivism, championing social and economic justice initiatives with a particular emphasis on education. Indeed, along with his roles on the Committees on Agriculture, Environment, and Homeland Security, Military, and Veterans’ Affairs, among others, Rep. Brockman sits on the House Select Committee on Redistricting and serves as a member of the Committee on Education Appropriations, and as vice-chairman of the Committee on K-12 Education. During the most recent legislative session Rep. Brockman acted as first primary sponsor of bills to repeal HB2, enact a Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights, expand law enforcement use of body-worn and dashboard cameras, establish a comprehensive healthcare program for all North Carolinians and provide free breakfast and lunch to students from low-income households. Now seeking re-election, Rep. Brockman takes a quick break from the campaign trail to speak with qnotes about his first two terms in office as well as what’s at stake this November.
You advocate raising the minimum wage as a means of eliminating poverty among North Carolinians who work full-time. Given what you know about the cost of living in North Carolina, what do you consider a living wage?
At the very least we need an increase to the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. I was a cosponsor of HB289 that would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022, which I think is a good goal.
You’ve made improving education a focal point of your campaigns and of your personal legislative agenda, in a state whose spending on education, including teacher pay, ranks near the lowest in the nation. What would be the most effective means of increasing student achievement, and where should we get the money to pay teachers fairly?
We absolutely need to increase our teacher pay and per-pupil spending to make our state competitive in the region and the country. However, this is a first step. I believe we need to give every student options so that kids from a certain zip code are not confined to a failing school year after year. I think increased spending and better accountability will lead to better outcomes for students.
Sex education lies at the intersection of multiple areas of debate, among them the position of LGBTQ people in our society. What kind of sex ed curriculum, if any, do you believe would be most beneficial to North Carolina students?
I think we need a comprehensive program that teaches students about safe sex and preventing pregnancy and the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.
What have been your greatest victories since taking office?
After the General Assembly passed the discriminatory SB2, which would allow magistrates to recuse themselves from officiating same-sex marriages, I was gaveled down trying to apologize to the LGBT citizens of North Carolina. This was a time when I knew using my voice to fight was important and I am glad I did so.
Also, getting money in the state budget for a grant program for police body cameras was an important victory for me as I think we need to have more transparency and accountability when it comes to interactions between law enforcement and our communities.
What have you tried to achieve but not yet been able to?
There is a long list of sound progressive legislation that I will always fight for and would like to see happen. Automatic voter registration, a more progressive tax code, expanded free breakfast and lunch in schools and a single payer health system are just a few.
In your experience, to what extent are state legislators from opposing parties willing to cooperate or compromise with one another?
Not every single issue at the state level is deeply partisan. Legislators across the aisle who are from the same area or have similar interests are willing to listen and consider new ideas.
It’s not difficult to identify topics — LGBTQ rights, abortion, etc. — that are infamous for their ability to polarize. Are there any issues you’ve found to have the opposite effect?
I think that every person in the General Assembly would agree that education is one of our highest priorities. While we often disagree on how to deliver quality education to every student, we are usually starting from the same place as far as intention goes and that can be helpful in our work.
On a more personal note, when and why did you make the decision to come out publicly as bisexual? Was it significant that you chose to do so before you were elected, rather than waiting until your position was more certain?
My decision to come out was spurred by an incident of harassment while I was eating dinner with an openly gay couple in 2016. As I watched how they were treated because of their sexuality, I felt it was important that other LGBT people across the state knew they had someone fighting for them.
Do you feel that your sexuality has influenced the way you’ve been treated by fellow legislators, or others with whom you’ve had professional dealings?
As a young, black member of the minority party in the General Assembly, I already knew what it was like to be overlooked and underestimated. My decision to come out may have contributed to that with some people, but overall my relationships with people stayed the same.
Despite having ruled that North Carolina congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republican candidates, federal judges declared on Sept. 4 that there is insufficient time to redraw them before this year’s midterm elections; voting will therefore take place on Nov. 6 using the electoral map as it stands today. What is your opinion of those rulings?
I am glad that the court could see what everybody knew, that these districts are still gerrymandered in a way that hurts North Carolina voters. I wish that these rulings had come earlier to allow for time to redistrict. But it is encouraging that we will eventually see newer, fairer districts.
Many of our readers will have heard about a number of amendments to the North Carolina constitution on the ballot this fall. What should voters know about those proposed changes?
Many of these amendments are a power grab by the Republican majority to degrade the separation of powers and checks and balances in our constitution. Voters should make sure they are familiar with every amendment in addition to all the candidates that will be on their ballot.
Finally, with election day approaching, some potential voters argue that their one vote can’t sway an election. What would you say to these people?
Elections are about more than just winning and losing. They are the foundation of our democracy and allow us to have a chance to participate in representative government. You should vote to express your views and priorities.