Harrison Peel: Tillis owes voters real answers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 2, 2020

By Harrison Peel

Sen. Thom Tillis claims he is listening to locals during the coronavirus crisis, but for the sake of young voters across the state, I urge you not to take his recent op-ed published on salisburypost.com (“Town halls provide invaluable feedback”) at face value. Hosting dozens of telephone town halls might look good in a reelection campaign ad, but a closer look exposes a suspicious absence across all of these meetings: any and all criticism of Senator Tillis.

Throughout his term, Tillis has demonstrated a pattern of dodging voters’ concerns at traditional town halls, and this “new” virtual edition of voter outreach is no exception. In 2017, for example, after facing criticism from voters for his lack of open town halls, Tillis said he took issue with “shouting” voters (who were angry and afraid of losing their health care). Now, a socially distant format allows the Senator to pick and choose which questions to take, eliminating anything he doesn’t like — and that means many voters’ questions and concerns are simply going unheard and unanswered.

As the state director of NextGen North Carolina, I’ve spoken to young voters across the state who are bearing the health and economic burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them feel left out of the GOP’s response to the health crisis, and they don’t feel comforted by Tillis’s publicity tour. Of those who have called into these town halls to ask questions, not one has heard the senator respond — let alone recognize their inquiry.

Tillis says it has been “heartbreaking to hear the stories of financial hardship many North Carolinians are facing” — and we agree. But, the fact is, Senator Tillis’s record on health care access and unemployment benefits is far short of admirable. Try as he might to make himself look like a leader who comes to the rescue during an emergency, the policies Tillis supports have set North Carolinians — especially young people and people of color — up for hardship as our communities suffer the impact of the coronavirus on our health and economic wellbeing.

Tillis has opposed raising the federal minimum wage while it languishes at $7.25 an hour here in North Carolina. This has prevented many of us from being able to cover basic expenses, let alone save for emergencies like the one we’re in now. Meanwhile, as North Carolina speaker of the house in 2013, Tillis slashed unemployment insurance — now he’s attempting to defend his abysmal record on these essential social safeguards.

Universal or expanded access to affordable healthcare would have insulated working families from enormous health care costs in the wake of the pandemic and prevented laid off workers from losing employer-linked healthcare — but our senator has voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut the budgets of Medicare and Medicaid and block Medicaid expansion in the states.

Last week, North Carolinians joined NextGen for a day of action called “Senator Tillis, You Make Us Sick,” where they shared their healthcare stories and urged the senator to commit to protecting North Carolinians’ health care. It doesn’t seem like these are the North Carolinians that our senator is listening to.

NextGen North Carolina will register over 30,000 young voters in the lead up to the 2020 elections. Senator Tillis may not listen to us in his telephone town halls, but he will hear the will of young voters in November when we vote him out of office.

Harrison Peel is the State Director of NextGen North Carolina, the state chapter of organization founded by former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer in 2013. Its mission is to get young people to show up and vote.