Raleigh, N.C. — Rep. Phillip Lehman, D-Durham, says he wants to push a progressive agenda this legislative session to honor the views of the late Rep. Paul Luebke.
Lehman was selected to fill Luebke’s seat after the longtime lawmaker died of lymphoma less than two weeks before the November election.
Luebke advocated left-leaning causes, such as cutting the sales tax on food to help low-income people, and Lehman said his actions have been and will continue to be based off of who Luebke was.
"He was looked on in Durham as a champion of progressive causes, adequate funding and fair taxation," Lehman said. "I look to him as a model as how to serve in the General Assembly."
He has co-sponsored a bill that would keep hiring managers from asking about or considering previous criminal history for public employment in certain cases. He has also signed on to multiple bills to repeal House Bill 2, the year-old law on LGBT rights and transgender access to public bathrooms.
Like other newly elected Democrats across the Triangle, Lehman said he hopes to see a bipartisan redistricting commission established. Despite almost daily political battles in the General Assembly, he said the partisanship is often superficial.
"I find on a person-to-person level, people have been very helpful and gracious," he said. "So, the partisanship is political, not down to the personal level."
What’s surprised you most since taking office?
The degree of partisanship that seems to affect the day-to-day workings of the General Assembly and the difficulty of getting major bipartisan support on major issues like repealing HB2. To me, the best way to [overcome this] is try to find issues that you can get bipartisan cooperation on. For example, there’s a bill relating to [limits on] craft breweries that I’ve co-sponsored with Republican legislators.
If you were given the choice of one statewide law to get passed this session, what would it be and why?
I would strongly advocate for a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Take this decision out of political hands and make it politically neutral. [That] would reduce some partisanship here.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten for navigating the General Assembly, and who gave it to you?
Early on, in some training, the advice was don’t be afraid to ask questions – and stupid questions. There are a lot of people who can help, including the legislative staff.