Two Democratic candidates, Allen Buansi and Jonah Garson, are running in the May 17 primary election to represent the 56th District in the N.C. House of Representatives.
The district contains the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area. This election marks the first time the seat has been open in 26 years, as Rep. Verla Insko is set to retire after 13 terms. She originally planned to retire on March 31, but pushed her retirement back to May 31 after the primary was delayed due to issues surrounding congressional maps.
Because no Republican candidate has filed, the outcome of the primary will determine the district's next representative. Insko said the next person to take her seat should be able to work across the aisle to make progress.
“We always have to renew our commitment to democracy,” she said.
Buansi, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, currently serves as assistant city attorney for the City of Greensboro.
He served on the Town Council from 2017 to 2021. He also practiced law at and worked as the deputy director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights.
Buansi said his experiences working with civil rights litigation and being involved with local government have equipped him to fill this House seat.
“Having seen up close and personal how state law limits and constrains, I want to go about the work of empowering our local governments to do more and to do better for the residents,” he said.
Buansi said he offers a unique perspective being a parent of three young children, and said he believes working parents are underrepresented in the legislature.
“I would be very proud to bring that perspective to the General Assembly,” he said. "I would be an ardent advocate for working parents and working families across the state."
One of Buansi's main priorities is public education. He hopes to increase teacher pay and support the UNC System by passing measures to remove partisanship from the Board of Governors.
Additionally, he said he plans to work for climate justice and make renewable energy more accessible to residents. He also plans to work for affordable health care access.
Buansi said he feels that one of his greatest strengths is his experience working with people of all political beliefs, mentioning his work with Republicans on the Local Government Retirement System Board of Trustees.
“I think all those experiences that I’ve had, all of those kinds of skills that it takes up, will lend itself well to being a productive member of the state House,” he said.
Jonah Garson stepped aside from his role as chairperson of the Orange County Democratic Party to pursue the District 56 seat.
He is a grassroots organizer, attorney at Parry Law, PLLC and former voter protection director for North Carolina’s 2019 special congressional elections.
Garson said he has been active in advocacy and state legislative policy since he was an undergraduate student at UNC.
As part of his platform, he plans to prioritize public education and health care. He said the latter should encompass both reproductive and behavioral health.
Additionally, he said he hopes to work on climate action plans, including policy on transportation and affordable housing to make these areas more sustainable.
He also said he believes democracy reform begins with redistricting reform against gerrymandering.
“I believe that we need legislators who are also organizers at a time when it’s not at all hyperbole to say there is a war on democracy," he said.
In addition, Garson said he wants to give members of the UNC community more of a platform for bringing their perspectives to their representatives and eliminating partisanship from UNC-System decisions, and said student leaders are essential throughout the decision-making process.
He added that Orange County needs a legislator who is devoted to advocacy in the state legislature — something he said he has been for the past 14 years.
“This district needs someone with the experience and community roots who's willing to do the work and has done the work to build them,” he said.
For more information on the primary election, here is a guide to voting and registration.
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