By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on October 28, 2020
To a significant degree, the high-profile contest for the District 1 North Carolina Senate seat between incumbent Republican Bob Steinburg and Democratic challenger Tess Judge has played out as a battle of political ads on television screens and mailboxes in the district. In interviews with the Voice, the candidates lay out their different priorities and rationales for their candidacies.
(Editor’s Note: For this story, Steinburg declined to participate in a live interview, stating that he would only respond to written questions submitted to him. Judge, like all the other candidates interviewed by the Voice for our election stories, participated in a phone interview where questions were asked and answered in real time.)
Steinburg, a former North Carolina House member, was elected to the Senate seat vacated by the retiring Bill Cook in 2018, successfully navigating a primary challenge from Clark Twiddy and a general election contest against D. Cole Phelps.
Judge, the wife of longtime Dare County Commissioner Warren Judge, agreed to serve his term in Raleigh after he died days before losing a 2016 NC House race to Beverly Boswell. In 2018, she was defeated in the general election by Bobby Hanig, who had ousted Boswell from the District 6 House seat in a primary earlier that year.
When asked to identify the top issue for the district’s residents, Judge responded: “Health care…There were over five hundred thousand [people] without coverage before with COVID. Now, with COVID, we have more people who have lost their jobs and their employer-paid health plans…Healthcare and education should not be partisan issues…When you talk to people who are trying to make decisions whether they can buy groceries or whether they can go to the doctor or take their child to the doctor, we can do better than that.”
For his part, Steinburg wrote that “Nothing is more important than restoring our economic growth after this historic pandemic. That’s why I’ve worked to fund personal protective equipment and COVID relief for NC-based small businesses who were particularly hit hard. We can reopen with safety precautions in place because the human toll is too much for another prolonged economic shutdown.”
“Thanks to fiscal discipline in Raleigh, we had emergency funds to cover some of our losses, including incremental teacher pay bonuses,” he added.
Judge, who said she’s in this race “for our children — cradle to career,” pointed to education as another major priority.
“Education fuels the economy, the economy fuels education,” she asserted. “We need to make sure all of our children…have the same access to the same quality of education regardless of where they live.” One way of achieving that, Judge added, is by making sure students everywhere have broadband internet access, which she said, “should be a public utility. It should be like electricity, in my opinion.”
Steinburg cites prison reform as an issue close to his heart. Pointing to the murder of corrections officers at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in 2017, he said, “I’ve completed a tour of all 53 state prisons and met with prison leadership as well as rank-and-file officers. In Raleigh, I fought hard to win support of needed changes: increasing pay and death benefits, new management software, and increased penalty for those who assault our officers.”
On another matter, the two candidates express differences over how well the administration of Governor Roy Cooper handled the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
“This has certainly not been easy decisions for anyone,” said Judge. “We still are all learning about COVID…And I think, what Governor Cooper has certainly tried to do is try to make decisions on science and data. It’s a huge responsibility. We all know these decisions have been hard decisions…difficult decisions.”
“Initially, I gave Governor Cooper the benefit of the doubt, because none of us have experienced a health care crisis like this one,” Steinburg stated. “However, as other states responded to the facts of the virus and the medical community’s advancing treatment, Governor Cooper’s insisted on a one-size-fits-all approach…His shifting standards left businesses without direction and families with school-age children in limbo.”
And the two candidates also offer contrasting campaign pitches to the voters that differ in substance and tone.
“I stand strong for this community’s conservative values and work tirelessly for the help we need.’” Steinburg said, citing endorsements from groups such as the NRA, the NC Troopers Association and the NC Right to Life. “My opponent has the support of former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg’s gun control group, radical environmentalists who hate farmers, and extreme liberals from around the country. My support is here in this community.”
“We need to elect leaders to go to Raleigh — leaders and not followers of party line,” Judge stated. “I would tell [voters] the one thing about me that people can count on is that I will show up, I will be there, I will listen…I want to know what you’re talking about at the kitchen table at night…It will be my job to serve the people, to know what their issues are, to be in contact with them and to be their voice.”