Saturday, June 20, 2020

Un-Trumping North Carolina: Democrat Jessica Holmes Running for Commish of Labor

Cherie Berry,
in an elevator
After a baleful two decades of Republican Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry's hollowing out protections for workers in North Carolina, we certainly need an advocate for labor in that department, and Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes fits the bill. Cherie Berry, whose mugshot is in every elevator in the state and who managed to convince too many voters that she's a sweet little dumpling with benign motives (she actually argued that the minimum wage should be abolished), decided not to run again in 2020, which opened the door for a Democrat to take back an agency that has been emasculated. 

Jessica Holmes has shown herself to be a driven achiever. A Carolina Covenant scholarship allowed her to rise from "difficult circumstances" as a high school student in the tiny town of Maple Hill in eastern North Carolina to finish, first, an undergraduate degree in political science at Chapel Hill and then a law degree at the same university. While still an undergraduate, she took a work-study placement at UNC’s Center for Civil Rights where she came under the tutelage of influential lawyers (and warriors for equal rights) including Anita Earls, who just in 2018 won a seat on the state's Supreme Court. Holmes continued to work at the Center for Civil Rights during law school, and after she passed the bar, she joined the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (founded by Earls) as a community organizer.

Jessica Holmes
Photo Chuck Liddy, News and Observer
In 2012, she began practicing law at the N.C. Association of Educators. She served on the board of A Helping Hand, a nonprofit that assists the elderly and disabled, and she was appointed to the board of the N.C. Foundation for Public School Children. In 2014 she was convinced to run for the Wake County Commission, an all-male, white bastion at the time, and at age 29 she became the youngest commissioner ever elected in Wake County. Two years later, commissioners voted her their chair. She was elected to a second term on the commission in 2018 without an opponent. No one dared challenge her.

When she announced her campaign for labor secretary back in February, Holmes said the minimum wage should be higher and businesses should “adopt family-friendly policies such as paid parental leave, sick days and pay equity for women. Too many North Carolinians are working hard and living in poverty,” Holmes said in a news release. “We can and should do better. Employers need to know that North Carolina is open for business, and we welcome great places to work for our citizens. We are ready to rebuild our reputation as a state of inclusion and a place that will not tolerate discrimination in any form.”

Josh Dobson
Who's Jessica Holmes' Republican Opponent?

Josh Dobson has represented NC House District 85 in the General Assembly for four terms. His power base has been McDowell County (Marion), where he also served as a county commissioner. As a House member from a heavily Republican district (McDowell, Mitchell, and Avery), he's never had a serious Democratic challenger. He is a chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and according to the AP has been heavily involved in health-related issues during his time at the General Assembly.

How would he behave as Commissioner of Labor? Two indicators of political philosophy stand out: He has always been a loyal foot soldier for the anti-worker policies of the Berger-Moore big boss structure in the General Assembly. And he launched his campaign for labor secretary by publishing an endorsement from Congressman (now Trump henchman) Mark Meadows. Endorsements don't often mean a lot, but I choose to believe his one does.

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