Meet the Victims’ Rights Advocate Running for Congress in District 2

By Kimberly Lawson

February 26, 2020

Monika Johnson-Hostler is a Wake County School Board member and executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault—and she wants your vote.

In a time when politics are more contentious than ever, Monika Johnson-Hostler is an outlier. She’s a unifier.  

“I’m elected to represent all people—and not just those who voted for me,” said Johnson-Hostler, a member of the Wake County School Board in North Carolina. This year, she’s put in her bid to represent the 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

First, however, she has to stand out in the Democratic primary, taking place March 3. The winner in this race is likely to win the general election, thanks to the court-mandated, redrawn 2020 congressional map passed last November. Political experts posit that District 2 is one of two Republican-held U.S. House seats likely to flip to blue. (The 6th is the other.)

School board is a nonpartisan body, and Johnson-Hostler (whose first name is pronounced Monique-uh) sounds refreshingly nonpartisan for a candidate in a partisan race. The 45-year-old is running what she called a “people-powered campaign.” And the people, she said, “want the divisiveness to stop.”

“People have told me they feel traumatized by the constant barrage of imagery and words,” she said. “Everyone’s tired of walking on eggshells.”

U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Republican, chose not to seek re-election after redistricting changed the district’s demographics. The lone GOP candidate for that seat—Alan Swain, a retired Army Colonel—takes traditional conservative stances on abortion (anti-choice) and guns (pro-2nd Amendment). 

Johnson-Hostler has to defeat three Democrats in the primary, which includes former state Rep. Deborah Ross, an accomplished lawyer and former lawmaker with significant name recognition across the state, thanks to her 2016 U.S. Senate bid.

Another hurdle Johnson-Hostler faces is voters who aren’t aware a new district was drawn and are unsure if they’re in it. Many constituents, according to Johnson-Hostler’s campaign manager Benjamin Woods, assume Rep. David Price will still represent them. The beloved former Duke University professor first elected to Congress in 1987 represents the adjacent 4th district, but many of his former constituents are now in the 2nd.

“We just constantly educate the folks that we are in front of about the effects of gerrymandering and really break the news that everything has changed,” Woods said. “One of the things we are doing … is a digital ad series that shows the district lines, and much of the copy is dedicated to saying, ‘If you live here, Monika is your choice now.'” 

Johnson-Hostler, who also serves as the executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, is an empath by nature and by trade. “My day job has helped me in my work with schools,” she said. “I understand that your own personal trauma impacts how you relate to people.” 

And trauma, Johnson-Hostler pointed out, can take many forms. For example, she said, being raised in poverty is traumatic. She understands that children who live in poverty come to school with their own set of challenges, and she works to give them a voice.  

Her six years on the school board have taught her the importance of being accessible (she shares her personal cellphone number with parents with kids in the school system), of listening closely, and of being responsive. “Constituent concerns are my No. 1 priority,” Johnson-Hostler said. “As a member of the school board, I’m responsible for people’s children, and that’s the most important thing to any parent.” 

On the day we spoke, Johnson-Hostler and her 14-year-old daughter had been to the store, and the candidate was wearing one of her campaign stickers. People asked about it, and she took the opportunity to ask them what their concerns were. “A living wage, health insurance and public education are on people’s minds,” she recalled. “And that’s what I heard just in the past hour.” But it’s what she hears time and time again. 

She’s been especially attuned to listening to quieter voices—those of the disenfranchised and marginalized. She’s pro-active in meeting with and addressing the concerns of Black and Brown parents, poor parents, and those for whom English is a second language. “Race relatability matters to me,” she said. “You can have tough conversations and still be in a relationship. If I’m elected, I want to make it OK again to disagree.” 

Politely, that is, and without repercussions.


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