A race in one key eastern NC district is shaping up to be a referendum on healthcare and education. (Image via screenshot) Tess Judge
A race in one key eastern NC district is shaping up to be a referendum on healthcare and education. (Image via screenshot)

A mostly rural district in northeast NC, Senate District 1 will key on health care access and education. 

When Tess Judge and her husband Warren moved to Kitty Hawk in 1989, they knew civic service would be part of their new life on the Outer Banks. 

Warren had served as town councilman for a number of years in their previous home in Jamestown. Soon he began a 16-year tenure as a Dare County commissioner. Tess took up positions on the board of the Outer Banks Hospital and the Outer Banks Hospital Development Council while running the family’s hotel business. 

In 2016, Warren passed away while campaigning for State House District 6, and Tess was nominated to serve on her husband’s behalf should he win the race. She lost by a small margin and ran again for the seat in 2018, losing to Republican Bobby Hanig. This year, she’s vying for the State Senate representing District 1, currently held by state Sen. Bob Steinburg.

But Judge says there are too many issues in northeastern NC going unresolved.  

Chief among them is health care, which has become a critical issue with the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in many of the already vulnerable areas in District 1, which includes 11 mostly rural counties on the coast. Judge said expanding Medicaid is a good first step to help marginalized communities.

“We need to expand access to health care,” she said. “We’ve had rural hospitals close throughout the state. COVID has been really hard on all of us, but it really has bubbled things to the top that need to be recognized and resourced and funded. Access to health care in these rural communities is the top of that list.”

Judge said she sees education and the economy intrinsically bound in her district, and COVID has revealed the need for more investment in educational resources.

“We need to continue to work so that our public schools are funded,” she said. “And so that our community colleges and public universities get the proper funding.”

Judge said one essential resource that will benefit both schools and the economy in general is expanded access to broadband internet for rural communities. With virtual learning due to the pandemic, and many working from home, access to reliable internet is more important than ever, she said.

Judge also has a focus on infrastructure and environmental issues, particularly offshore drilling, which she opposes.

“One thing we are still watching closely is offshore drilling off the coast of North Carolina,” she said. “One incident could be devastating with our livelihood depending on fishing, farming and tourism. We need to protect our land and water resources.”

Judge said she’s a moderate, and if elected, she plans to work hard to cross partisan lines and work toward making life better for the people of her district.

“Education should not be a partisan issue,” she said. “Health care should not be a partisan issue, people having wellbeing in their life should not be a partisan issue,” she said. “We see the wrangling and divisiveness, but when a storm hits our area, I see over and over again the humanity of all people who will come running out to help their neighbor. This is who we should be every day.”

Steinburg, a retired businessperson from Edenton, served three terms in the state House before winning election to the state Senate. He campaigns as a “traditional” Christian conservative, focusing on cutting government regulation and the economy.

Steinburg did not respond to interview requests for this story, but the lawmaker has aligned himself with President Trump in a district that surged to the right in 2016. The district of about 187,000 voted for ex-President Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump four years later. 

“Trump is going to get re-elected on the law and order issue,” Steinburg told the Elizabeth City Daily Advance in July. ”And this defunding the police – the Democrats own that lock, stock and barrel. Seventy-five percent of African Americans are concerned about defunding the police as well. They should be because they’ll be among the first people, particularly those folks living in the inner-cities, who are going to feel the effects of violence because by defunding police departments, nobody is going to show up when you call. African-Americans will be some of the first to be victimized.”