Democrat Ya Liu was elected to the state House in November, making her one of the first two Asian American women ever elected to the state legislature.
The 2023 North Carolina General Assembly session is now underway, and Cardinal & Pine is conducting interviews with several newly-elected state lawmakers in order to help their constituents get to know them better, ask about their priorities, and serve as a reference point for their time in the General Assembly.
Democrat Ya Liu was elected to North Carolina’s 21st state House district (which includes west Cary and Morrisville) in November. She is a lawyer who advocates for environmental and educational protections, has a doctorate in medical sociology, and is one of the first two Asian American women elected to the state legislature.
Cardinal & Pine: If someone were to visit your district for the first time, what’s a place or activity that you would recommend they try out?
Rep. Liu: We have amazing restaurants. I would ask them to try out all the different kinds of food in my district, and let them know about the restaurants they can explore. Some of my favorites are G.58 and Fusion Nine. I’m a big fan of Chinese food and Indian food.
What do you love about North Carolina?
It’s such a great state where you can visit the mountain in the morning and you can hit the beach in the evening. How amazing is that? My family loves going to the beach in the summertime and going to the mountains in the winter in the springtime.
How does your love of North Carolina translate into running for a public office?
I have three beautiful children and my love for them and my love for my community connects me with everyone. My love of community service, certainly that was what motivated me to run for office. That’s a reason why I get up everyday feeling really excited about going to work and working on the policies and legislation that impact people’s lives positively. I’m just really thrilled to get the opportunity to serve my district and all people in North Carolina. I’m certainly a newbie, [and have] a lot to learn, but I’m just excited to be here, to have the opportunity to provide a voice for my district, my state, and many Chinese Americans, many Asian Americans.
You probably know, Maria [Cervania] and I are the first Asian women to be elected in the General Assembly. In district 21, over 40% of citizens are Asian-Americans, so I’m grateful for their support and the opportunity to serve. We are very proud to be representing that demographic and [hope to] be a good example for so many young girls and women in our state.
Before I ran for public office, I was very active in the community as a volunteer and a community organizer. I got the opportunity to know a lot of people from different backgrounds and a lot of nonprofit organizations. I was organizing events and volunteering many evenings and weekends before I ran for public office. When the opportunity came up, I was like, “It’s an opportunity to make a bigger impact to serve the community.”
I actually have a Ph. D. in sociology from NC State and a J.D. from [North Carolina Central University] Law School. The state has given me so much and I’m so grateful for the opportunities that I had. Now I’m in a position that I would be able to impact decision-making and the policy making process in our state. I just want to make a positive change with the knowledge and the background that I have, and serve our citizens.
What’s an experience that really stuck out to you during your education?
When I was in graduate school, I did my master’s thesis on job satisfaction among staff workers who work in assisted living facilities. I have always had a passion and interest in any issues related to seniors, aging, epidemiology, public health, and caregiving.
While I served on the Cary Town Council, I championed the creation of the senior advisory board. In Cary, the district I represent, a quarter of our citizens are actually seniors, and in Morrisville we also have a growing senior population. I wanted to provide a voice for them and to bring my expertise on aging. I’m really excited about that opportunity. I serve on the health and aging children and families committees, so I’m really looking forward to making an impact in the realm of aging and seniors.
What factors for you are the most important in providing the highest quality of life for North Carolinians?
Good education and access to healthcare—I think these are the basic services. We want to provide the best services and opportunities for our people. It’s really important. Medicaid expansion is certainly a very important issue to me and to my colleagues in the House caucus, so I look forward to working on that issue, and hope that we can pass Medicaid expansion this session.
Our state has been really lucky to attract so many people from other states, and even globally, people are moving here. But the issue and the challenge that come with that will be how we can provide enough support for that population growth, and what kind of services and infrastructure we can provide to make sure our quality of life isn’t compromised. It’s critically important to make necessary investments in our economy, in our infrastructure, and in transportation. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this accomplished.
What issues in education are most important this year?
I really hope in this budget session that we can allocate more funding for our teachers to increase teachers’ pay. That’s one of many solutions that we have to provide to address the teacher shortage in our schools across the state. It’s really hard to hire teachers and to retain the teachers in our schools, and that’s a big issue that affects our kids’ learning abilities and test scores. That’s an issue that we really need to take very seriously this session.
You are a small business owner. Can you tell us a little bit about the background of that business?
I have my own law firm and we provide legal services to the local communities and also we serve other counties across the state. Having the background of a small business owner, I have always been a strong advocate for our business community. I understand the importance of job creation and economic development. Our business community is a backbone of our economy. Big corporations are also important, but our small business community is critical to our infrastructure. I look forward to being a strong advocate for small business owners in my district and across the state.
In what ways are you hoping to help preserve North Carolina’s natural environment?
The environment was probably one of the most important reasons why I ran for a public office. I’m very passionate about it. While I was on the Cary Town Council, I championed the installation of solar panels on our town facilities, and encouraged the private sectors to get involved in installing panels and adding more electric infrastructure to our town. Now, we are in a position that we can do more of that at the state level if we can change the policies and encourage communities and our citizens to go solar, to go electric. That will be super beneficial to our environment.
Roe versus Wade was overturned last summer. How are you fighting for the reproductive freedom of North Carolinians?
As a woman, as a mother of two girls, I want my girls to have the same rights as my boy. I think this is an issue that should be a decision that should be made between a woman, her family, and doctor. It should not be made by politicians. Politicians should stay out of women’s lives and trust women to make their own healthcare decisions.
What issues are you most passionate about bringing to the General Assembly this year?
There are a couple of bills I’m considering filing. One is related to bone marrow donation. I’m hoping to increase the bone marrow donations in our state. There’s a simple way to do it. Right now at the DMV when citizens go to get their licenses, they get asked a very simple question—“are you interested in becoming an organ donor?”
If we can ask people another question—“are you interested in becoming a bone marrow donor?”—that would encourage and increase the number of bone marrow donations. Passing a law related to that would be great.
I’m really also concerned about homeowner association issues. As a lawyer, clients and citizens have told me how they’re affected by the homeowner associations. I’ve heard stories that if you don’t cut your lawn, they will fine you $100 a day. I’m not saying they shouldn’t give warnings to people, but sometimes the fines can be outrageous. They also have a lot of power to foreclose people’s property for not paying a few hundred dollars in HOA dues. I’m concerned about that. Currently there’s no state agencies or commissions that provide that oversight for homeowner associations. I’m hoping to improve our citizens’ lives and to better regulate homeowner associations. I’m interested in studying and exploring this. Hopefully I come up with a law that will be better suited to regulate this industry.
I am very focused on delivering results for our citizens, and [focusing on] issues like raises for state employees and school personnel, more broadband connections, better access to healthcare, and so much more that we can accomplish this session. I’m really excited about that.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice is always believe in yourself. I certainly had challenges in my life that I had to overcome, and everyone will experience that one day. I just want my kids and other young people to always have a positive outlook about life and believe in themself their ability to overcome the difficulties they will encounter. I’m going to give you an example. I applied for Duke and I didn’t get in, but eventually I got the opportunity to teach students at Duke, and for the years when I worked there, many days I was like, ’Can you believe this is a school that I applied for, I didn’t get in, but now I get to teach here?’
Is there anything else you would like people to know about you?
I’m actually an introverted person. In my personal life, I’m not super talkative, certainly not a social butterfly. Being an elected official and a public servant, I have to go out there, express my beliefs and opinions, and it’s not always easy for me. So there you go. You have an introverted elected official and state legislator.
This session, our House caucus is also really, really diverse. We have more women for the first time, I think, both in the House and Senate, so that’s very exciting. Many members like Maria [Cervania] and I, being the first Asian American woman in our house demographic, showcase the diversity the state has to offer. It’s so great to see people from all walks of life just stepping up to run for public office and help make a difference in our state.
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