NEW REPRESENTATION: Deborah Butler takes seat and action in the NC House of Representatives

The first couple of weeks of February were quite busy for Wilmington attorney Deborah Butler. Butler was sworn in to fill NC House Rep. Susi Hamilton’s 18th District seat on Monday, Feb. 6. Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Hamilton to NC secretary of natural and cultural resources. Butler, who unsuccessfully challenged Thom Goolsby for his Senate seat in 2012, was one of 10 people considered to replace Hamilton. She was chosen after a forum and public meeting, as part of the NC Democratic Party Plan of Organization process.

TAKE A SEAT: Deborah Butler fills Susi Hamilton’s 18th District seat in the NC House. Courtesy photo.
TAKE A SEAT: Deborah Butler fills Susi Hamilton’s 18th District seat in the NC House. Courtesy photo.

“I am honored to have been selected,” Rep. Butler tells encore. “There were individuals selected by the New Hanover County Democratic Party and individuals from Brunswick County who were charged with the responsibility of evaluating the interested parties and choosing the appointee based on a laundry list of criteria, such as career, professional experience, community involvement, and other assorted factors.”

Just days after swearing in, Butler stood alongside her new peers in Raleigh on Feb. 9 to announce comprehensive legislation to repeal and replace House Bill 2 with statewide, LGBTQIA-inclusive and non-discrimination protections. Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) held the press conference to praise the actions initiated by Representatives Butler, Pricey Harrison, Kelly Alexander, Susan Fisher, and Senators Terry Van Duyn, Mike Woodard, and Jay Chaudhuri. Butler is one of two gay members now serving in the NC General Assembly.

encore reached out to Butler to learn more about her first couple of weeks in her position, the future of HB2, and how she plans to approach the current tense political climate.

encore (e): What, if any, apprehensions did you have seeking out and obtaining Susi Hamilton’s seat?

Deborah Butler (DB): The only apprehension I had was being away from family when the assembly is in session. Other than that, I was and am incredibly eager to serve the citizens of District 18.

e: How are you feeling about your first week in office? What have been the easiest and most difficult parts of the transition?

DB: There have been no less than 10 people who have asked me if I felt I was drinking from a fire hose this week—the answer is “yes!” When you are surrounded by the professional staff of the assembly and other representatives who sincerely offer their help, it’s made for a smooth transition.

I guess the most difficult thing has been navigating the building itself. It’s [composed] of five quadrangles that all look the same. Another representative told me to simply “walk with purpose,” so that’s what I do when I get lost.

e: What does it mean for you to be an LGTBQIA member and political representative in NC? What’s the significance during this time in our state wherein laws like HB2 are still active?

DB: If anything I do can serve as a role model to others, I am happy to do it. There have been many before me who were more courageous than I, such as our own former senator, Julia Boseman. Truthfully, I think voters want action, integrity and vigorous representation. The issue of sexuality is really a generational thing and something that younger folks aren’t even interested in much anymore. I do, however, think I speak with a passion about this issue because it is so damaging to people, to our economy, and to our national reputation. It really upsets me to think other people in other states think HB2 speaks for all North Carolinians. It most assuredly does not.

e: At the press conference on Feb. 9, it was often said repealing HB2 is just the first step. What do you think should be the next steps?

DB: It takes generations to build a reputation as a state that welcomes all people, that values education, encourages new and innovative industry, builds infrastructure, and protects its natural resources. Those are things that make a state attractive as a place to live, work, build a business, and raise a family. Sadly. It takes very little time to do incredible damage to that which took so long to build. So, we have to get back to putting the emphasis on schools, innovative new industry, infrastructure, stronger community colleges, restoring our film industry, and ensuring our environment is clean and preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.

e: Do you feel the current climate is conducive to compromise on such issues? If not, what needs to happen?

DB: Compromise, give and take, and reaching consensus are all critically important to getting the work of the people done. I understand why the GOP doesn’t seem interested in much of that right now, but it is time to put the partisan stuff away. It is damaging our state. I am looking forward to working with Representatives [Ted] Davis and [Holly] Grange and Senator [Michael] Lee to find common issues that benefit our citizens and our region.

e: Is there concern the GOP super majority will push more laws that target rights of minority citizens—voting rights, power shifts, etc.?

DB: The GOP majority already has limited voter access to the polls, has gerrymandered voting districts, and has passed legislation that boldly discriminates against certain citizens. Thankfully, their efforts in this regressive vein have mostly been found unconstitutional by the courts.

e: Do you think Democrats and Republicans will come together on anti-discrimination policies (whether within the next few weeks as to meet NCAA’s demand or later)?

DB: I wish I could be more optimistic about that, but if the GOP leadership’s past performance is any indicator of their future performance (i.e. promising repeal of HB2 if Charlotte withdrew their municipal protections for LGBT citizens and then failing to honor that promise when Charlotte did as requested), I rather doubt it.

e: You’ve run for office in the past in New Hanover County. Is there anything you’d like to say to voters who may not have voted for you in the past and may not support your appointment now?

DB: Call me—tell me your concerns and let me show you I am listening. I will work tirelessly for you, your job, your family and the place we call home. Our district is unique … it is urban, it is rural, and there are different issues affecting different folks. I am keenly aware that I represent all of you.

e: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your new position or the months to come?

DB: I know this job carries with it an awesome responsibility, and it is one I take very seriously. One of my fellow representatives told me on day one I was one of 170 members of the general assembly who made decisions every day that affect nine million North Carolinians. It’s a message I plan to carry with me every day of my service to this district.

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