Democrat Tim Longest was elected to represent West Raleigh in the state House in November. During our interview, Longest spoke about how being the son of a doctor and a public school teacher informs his positions on Medicaid expansion, improving workers’ rights, and strengthening gun safety laws.
We’re nearly two months into the 2023 North Carolina General Assembly session and Cardinal & Pine is wrapping up our interviews with 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 Tim Longest was elected to North Carolina’s 34th state House district (located in Wake County) in November. During our interview, Longest spoke about how being the son of a doctor and a public school teacher informs his positions. Longest said that’s part of the reason he supports Medicaid expansion, improving workers’ rights, and strengthening gun safety laws.
This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.
Cardinal & Pine What do you love about North Carolina?
Tim Longest: There’s a lot to love about North Carolina. I’m a native North Carolinian. The main thing that I would have to say, though, is its people. I’ve always found North Carolinians to be humble, hardworking, and welcoming. I think those are some of the values that we can take pride in as a state and some of what has contributed to our becoming a destination for others to come to and also contributed to the tremendous growth we’ve had in our economy.
What’s your favorite place to go or thing to do in your community?
My district is in West Raleigh, west of downtown. It includes Village District, Five Points and North Hills and up north toward 540. It’s a great mix of old Raleigh and new Raleigh and it’s a tremendously dynamic area and there are many things that I enjoy doing with my wife when we’ve got the time. I like going out to Umstead Park and taking a hike or visiting the many other parks around Raleigh.
I’ll occasionally do a 5K like the Friends of Oberlin Village 5K that took place at Dorothea Dix Park. There are plenty of restaurants. We have a really great restaurant scene in Raleigh. I like Big Ed’s for breakfast, but I enjoy trying out new spots too, including those in North Hills in Raleigh. Coquette Brasserie has been there awhile. It’s one of my favorites and I’m excited to try the BBQ Lab that just opened there.
You mentioned you love the people of North Carolina and you’re a native North Carolinian. How did that love for your state and the people translate into running for office?
I grew up in Eastern North Carolina. I was born in Greenville and raised in Elizabeth City and then moved back to Greenville. My parents were both state employees. My dad was a public school teacher and my mom had me pretty young. My dad got his job as a teacher in order to support our young family of four and for too many folks in North Carolina, you can’t do that anymore in too many places. My family was able to take advantage of the ladders of opportunity that farsighted North Carolinians of the past had built; our tremendous public school system, one of the finest and first true public university systems in the country.
I ran for office because I was disappointed to see those systems being dismantled. I would like to build the ladders of opportunity through education, through investing in our transportation system and building a stronger infrastructure, both the built infrastructure in terms of transportation, but also the human infrastructure, the schools and the healthcare access and the quality environment that will let our people thrive for the next century and beyond.
You mentioned your parents. Your father was a schoolteacher, I believe I read your mother was a physician who’s dealt with the opioid epidemic. How did their experiences and backgrounds influence your path and kind of what you plan to prioritize as a lawmaker?
As the son of a public school teacher, I know very well the challenges that public school teachers across North Carolina face. I know that they are underpaid and many of them feel undervalued because of the incredible pressures that are on them, and sometimes, the lack of support that they feel in the classroom. I hope that in the General Assembly we can pass laws that will raise teacher pay [to address] the teacher shortage that we’ve been facing, to make teachers feel supported, give them the tools that they need to succeed in the classroom, including reinstating master pay to incentivize teachers to pursue higher education and to provide better pipelines for teachers, including expanding the Teaching Fellows program.
Those are things that were very successful and it’s been disappointing to see our General Assembly move away from them in the past decade, but I’m hoping that we can move back in that direction.
As far as the opioid crisis goes, I know that it’s one of the great challenges that we face in our state. Not too long ago, there was a profile in the Washington Post of some kids from Greenville that I grew up with who died early because of dealing with drug addiction. I would like to do more to address the opioid crisis in the legislature. One way we can do that is by expanding Medicaid. I think that it is a win, both economically and morally for North Carolina.
[Editor’s note: House and Senate leaders in the NC General Assembly have announced an agreement to expand Medicaid since this interview took place.]
You’re also a lawyer. What are you most proud of in your legal work?
I’m a lawyer who advocates for consumers and ordinary people against big corporations. I’m proud to stand up for folks who have suffered harm because of exposure to products or for those who have experienced challenges in consumer lending cases, in class actions. My proudest work as a lawyer has been actually my work as a law clerk on our state appellate courts. I clerked at the State Court of Appeals for Chief Judge Linda McGee, one of our longest serving female judges, and then at the North Carolina Supreme Court for Senior Associate Justice Robin Hudson. I’m proud of my public service on the courts and to have contributed to delivering justice to North Carolinians.
What are your top priorities this year in the General Assembly?
Certainly one of my top priorities is expanding Medicaid. Like I said, it’s an obvious solution to the challenges that we’re facing in healthcare access. Over half a million North Carolinians could be covered by the program and it’s past time for us to do right by them and expand Medicaid. I was appointed to fill the seat of Rep. (Grier) Martin after the Dobbs decision came down, so I know that the question of whether we are going to expand or infringe upon women’s reproductive freedom is in the hands of state legislatures now.
It’s my position that we should do all we can to protect reproductive freedom, and so one of the first bills introduced this session was the act to codify Roe v. Wade into state law to emphasize that women’s rights depend on protecting reproductive freedom. I’ll do all I can to stand against any attacks on abortion rights. Then finally, I hope that we can increase teacher pay to confront the teacher shortage that we’re facing. I also hope to do some work on promoting early childhood education, and so I’ve been happy to join the early childhood caucus devoted to that.
Something we’ve seen in North Carolina and nationwide is there have been more than 300 bills introduced this year in legislatures that in some way, shape or form target or address the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ people. We’ve seen the Parents’ Bill of Rights in North Carolina and the proposed ban on gender-affirming care. Where do you stand on those individual pieces of legislation or the broader barrage of bills that are targeting this population?
I oppose those bills and similar bills because I don’t believe that we should infringe on the dignity of LGBTQ North Carolinians and I believe they’re a distraction from the work that we should be doing here, particularly in the classroom, which is supporting our teachers. I don’t think that this legislation does that and so I oppose any efforts to write discrimination into state law.
You mentioned Medicaid expansion being a moral win. Can you expand on that?
I’ll first say that it’s obvious economically that it makes sense for North Carolina because we’re leaving money on the table in comparison to our sister states if we don’t expand Medicaid. Morally, it’s the right thing to do because it will provide healthcare to many North Carolinians, particularly low-income North Carolinians who cannot currently afford it. It will save many of our rural hospitals, which are under threat because they’re not able to fully fund the services that they would like to provide. For those that would like to tackle the opioid crisis and the crisis in behavioral health, I think that Medicaid expansion will also help on those fronts.
Switching gears a little bit, North Carolina has the second-lowest rate of unionized workers in the country and a $7.25 minimum wage still. Obviously, Republicans control the legislature, but how do you plan to try to address the rights of workers in the state?
Workers’ rights are very important to me. I think that we’ve had a lot of success in attracting companies to North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean much if we don’t have the workforce to support it and we don’t have the folks who are well enough off to buy their products. Besides that, it’s just the right thing to do to support workers’ rights. I’m a strong proponent of collective bargaining, public sector collective bargaining. I support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour tied to inflation so that workers can afford to live where they work and can afford the basic goods and services they need to survive. I think that part of supporting workers is supporting families, and I see those as tied together.
One way that I hope to do that is by seeking to reintroduce an earned income tax credit in North Carolina. That’s a proven policy that encourages folks to get to work while ensuring that they have the money they need to survive. I’m hopeful that I can find some bipartisan support for that proposal. Additionally, I support changes to our unemployment insurance system, to ensure that those who are seeking part-time work are not disincentivized from doing that, and in the event of a recession, that workers have the resources they need to get by, while looking for another job.
We’ve seen gun safety laws be blocked by the legislature in recent years, and there are bills this year to repeal the pistol purchase permit and allow folks with concealed carry permits to carry on school property after hours, if the building is being used for a religious service. What do you want to see done on the issue of gun violence?
Gun safety is one of my top priorities. Particularly as a legislator from Raleigh, it’s something that’s on the top of my mind. Having experienced a mass shooting in the Hedingham community in our city recently, I am hopeful that the legislature will take the opportunity to consider legislation that will better protect our citizens by passing common sense gun reform that includes extreme risk protection orders and expansion of background checks and sensible restrictions against leaving guns in unlocked cars.
I’m a primary sponsor of House Bill 53 that would prohibit the leaving of guns in unlocked cars. I think that’s a commonsense solution to ensure that we preserve the safety of all North Carolinians and while it recognizes the rights of gun owners, it ensures that they use guns responsibly. I oppose the repeal of the pistol purchase permits. That’s a system that’s been in North Carolina for over a hundred years that protects our citizens. It’s an additional layer of protection ensuring nobody slips through the cracks who does not need to have a gun. I oppose bills that would allow folks to carry guns onto school grounds because I think that endangers children especially.:
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
One piece of advice that I take seriously is to listen to those most directly affected by a policy, because they’re the ones who are most likely to understand its implications. So I try to listen and to learn as a legislator before I make a decision about whether to support a bill or not. I take constituents’ concerns seriously, and I research each vote I’m going to take before I take it to make sure that I’m making the best decision for my constituents.
Is there anything else you want to share or you want people to know about you?
I’m one of the youngest members of the General Assembly now at 31. I think that brings a different perspective that is informed by problems that we will be facing down the road and not just those immediately before us. For example, I’m very concerned about climate change and I know that the climate crisis is not just coming, it’s here. I hope that we can take steps to build the transit and energy infrastructure we need to meet that crisis when it comes.