When the North Carolina General Assembly opened its 2011 legislative session it did so without the years-long presence of openly lesbian state Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover). First elected to the Senate in 2004, Boseman was the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to the state legislature. Though she’s no longer there (she opted not to run for reelection in 2010), the LGBT and other progressive communities will continue to have a voice in the General Assembly.
Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) is the first openly gay man elected to the legislature and the first to hold office in the House. He’s also the first openly gay and African-American candidate ever elected to a state-level office. Despite all these exciting “firsts,” the reality is that Brandon comes into his new job as a freshman in a party that has been relegated to a political minority after experiencing a dynasty-like chain of unbroken political authority for nearly a full century.
“It’s a very difficult situation that we’re working under right now,” Brandon admits to qnotes, “but I’m still very happy to be here.”
Brandon says the Democratic Party’s minority status presents important challenges. For long-serving members of the House or Senate, he says, adjusting to the new climate will take some time.
“The challenge is for everyone to get their grip around the fact that we aren’t in the majority and what that looks like,” Brandon says. “The challenge is to represent our districts, our ideas and our values even with such an extreme minority.”
Figuring out the new lay of the land during such a tight economic and budgeting environment will also present opportunities. “I think there are tremendous opportunities on the things I want to talk about: economic development and sustainability,” Brandon says.
The state faces a significant budget gap as the legislature reconvenes. Legislators have multiple options on the table to bridge that gap, estimated at about $3.7 billion.
The state’s shortfall, Brandon says, means “more people will have to come together and do more.”
North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Cornelius, business-friendly Republican, has spent the last several weeks insisting his caucus’ agenda will be “jobs, jobs, jobs.” On the first day of the new session, Tillis even wore and passed out rubber bracelets that had the words, “Think Jobs,” printed on them.
“I was very optimistic when the majority was going to concentrate on jobs and fixing our economic system,” Brandon says. “There’s been about 20 bills filed and none of those bills did any of that. It’s hard to understand how this is your major focus when you have not dealt with it at all within the first few days.”
Brandon is also frustrated that Republicans have wasted time pushing through legislation designed to counter President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law. He says such a measure is “symbolic.”
“We have people whose premiums are rising, people whose prescription drug costs are out of control and a whole bunch of people who don’t have insurance at all,” Brandon says. “Their vote is just a ‘no’ vote. There’s been no solution from their side and no alternative legislation from their side.”
He adds, “The people elect us to do their business. They don’t send us here to do symbolic votes.” : :
more: Read our past coverage of Brandon’s campaign and learn more about him at goqnotes.com/8753/.