Well-known N.C. Democrats, including Sen. Kay Hagan, state Attorney General Roy Cooper and U.S. Congress hopeful Clay Aiken, spoke about college affordability, voting rights, tax policies and other issues at the event in Greenville.
Hagan opened the event, saying she was focused on “common sense issues” like college affordability.
“As a mom of three young adults, I know how important and how expensive a good education can be,” she said in the speech. “I am committed to keeping the dream of attending college within reach for every North Carolina student that wants to pursue it.”
Hagan said last year, college loan interest rates were supposed to increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, but she supported a bill against the increase.
Hagan said she would also fight to support the voting rights of North Carolinians. She criticized state House Speaker Thom Tillis, widely considered the lead Republican challenger for her seat in November, for helping pass the voter identification bill last session, which cut back early voting.
State Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said the law was a way for the Republicans to take away the rights of Democratic voters.
“If you don’t think like them, they are determined to keep as many of you from voting as they can,” he said. “That’s why they’re moving early voting sites away from campus. They don’t want students to vote.”
Attorney General Roy Cooper said that during the last 15 months, “extremist Republicans” have deliberately turned back 50 years of progress, including forcing 80 percent of residents to pay more in taxes to give a tax break to the wealthiest 1 percent.
But he said instead of waiting until November to make change, public outcry has already made the Republican majority reconsider issues such as teacher pay.
“It is not nearly enough, but we’ve pushed them into talking about it,” he said.
Some Democrats from North Carolina have already emerged to challenge Republican legislators.
Clay Aiken, a former American Idol runner-up aiming to become a U.S. Congress candidate, said he decided to run for Congress when he realized he had been redistricted after looking at his ballot in 2012.
“It upset me and frustrated me, and I realized maybe I should start using this microphone in a different way,” he said. “People won’t step up and use their voice to hold people accountable for what they’ve done, and that’s how I found my voice.”
Uriah Ward, an East Carolina University senior and the president of the Young Democrats of Pitt County, is trying to make a difference by running for the state House seat for his district.
“This is a community that is centered around education, and we have a representative that has completely ignored these needs,” he said.
Cooper said young people should continue to apply pressure to the current legislature for changes and work to register more voters.
“Then we aim for 2016. That’s when we take our state back. That’s when we are going to elect a new majority in the legislature, and if I might say, a new governor.”