Progress Dems endorse Jeff Starkweather

News Release/Progressive Democrats of NC endorse Jeff Starkweather for NC House District 54:

The Progressive Democrats of North Carolina (PDNC) are pleased to announce the endorsement of Jeff Starkweather for NC House District 54. Jeff Starkweather’s platform is solidly progressive, and his long history in Chatham County politics and community organizing supports his claim to be THE progressive candidate in this primary. His passionate commitment to sustainable growth policies that are solidly rooted in the community, his tireless efforts for clean renewable energy and green building practices, his forceful and informed voice against the dangerous practice of fracking, his unwavering support for public education and strong schools for all, and his decades-long record on human and civil rights make Jeff Starkweather a candidate the Progressive Democrats of North Carolina can whole-heartedly support.

The Progressive Democrats of North Carolina are committed to the development and implementation of progressive ideals based on human and civil rights, peace, justice and environmental sustainability in North Carolina, the nation, and the world.


Jeff Starkweather endorsed by The Indy, Sierra Club, State Employees and AFL-CIO

News release/ April 23, 2012

Jeff Starkweather’s record of fighting for good jobs, strong schools, a clean environment and civil rights won him the endorsements of four major organizations comparing candidates for election to NC House District 54, representing all of Chatham County and a portion of Sanford.  The endorsements, based on questionnaires, interviews and candidate records, are from: The Independent Weekly, the State Employees Association, the Sierra Club, and the AFL CIO.

“I’m overwhelmed and honored by these endorsements and others I have received during the campaign from current and former elected officials, community leaders and supporters all over the district,” Starkweather said.

The Independent called Starkweather “a longtime champion of the environment, social justice and sound growth policies.” The newspaper said that the retirement of Rep. Joe Hackney, “leaves a need for a candidate who has a deep familiarity with the issues facing this district. We think Starkweather’s views on energy and growth could continue Hackney’s work; his willingness to defend public education and to stand up to social conservatives is also impressive.”

“[Starkweather] has the kind of fire Democrats need in the Legislature,” The Independent concluded.

The NC Sierra Club said it endorsed Starkweather because of his lengthy track record promoting environmental protection and renewable energy and sustainability, and his opposition to fracking.

Jeff Starkweather is a strong environmental advocate who has a long history of working for environmental causes in Chatham County and North Carolina as a whole,” the Sierra Club said. “His key environmental positions include promoting alternative energy and its use in North Carolina, strengthening North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Standards, opposing changes in laws to allow fracking for natural gas until its economic benefits are proven to outweigh its environmental costs, and searching for ways to collaborate with citizens and environmental experts to make North Carolina a model of sustainability.”

The NC AFL-CIO and Triangle Labor Council based their endorsement on Starkweather’s answers to a questionnaire and interview on employment and economic development issues. The State Employees Association of North Carolina’s EMPAC endorsement was based on a questionnaire and interview about issues facing NC public employees. They endorsed Starkweather and other selected General Assembly candidates “because we feel they understand the importance of the valuable services our members provide,” the SEANC stated in its news release.

Starkweather has lived and worked in Chatham County for 40 years. He is the former editor and publisher of The Chatham County Herald and a retired attorney who specialized in civil rights and employment law. In 2009, the Western Chatham NAACP named him a Humanitarian of the Year and in 2006 he was a News and Observer Tar Heel of the Week.

He currently serves on the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation Board and the Triangle South Workforce Development Board. In those economic policy leadership positions he was instrumental in the development of the county’s economic development strategy and industrial incentives policy and in bringing a job link center back to Chatham. He has also served on Chatham’s Sustainable Energy and Green Building Advisory Board and he chaired the Affordable Housing Advisory Board.

State fracking study does not support its conclusion

There’s a significant disconnect between state officials who claim fracking can be conducted safely in North Carolina and the evidence, or lack thereof, contained in their own recently released 350-page study of the issue.

I have just read the “N.C. Oil and Gas Study” conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Commerce.  Regarding their findings, I can only say, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, “There’s no there there.”

In fact, the page dedicated to answering the troubling question of how to protect the rights of rural landowners is actually blank, except for one sentence. It states: “This section has not yet been provided by the Department of Justice.”

Never mind that the industry has already leased a significant amount of land in Lee county without any regulatory protections in place.   The blank page in the report says it all: It’s as if someone expects answers to fall out of the sky at some convenient point in the future, apparently after the state legislature decides to make fracking legal in North Carolina.

What’s more, on the environmental safety questions, the report shows that DENR, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, does not have sufficient information at this stage about the use of this new technology to make any claims about its safety.

Yet, despite these inconvenient information gaps, the report concludes: “DENR believes hydraulic fracturing can be done safely as long as the right protections are in place.”

The problem is,  DENR did not provide the scientific evidence required to support this belief. As this report acknowledged, “[T]his analysis is constrained by the limited information available at this time.”

I thought DENR was a fact-based, not a “belief-based,” organization. EPA, with considerably more scientific resources at its disposal, will not even complete its study of just one issue regarding fracking – water quality – until 2014. Yet with $100,000 spent over a few months of internet “research,” DENR is willing to express its “belief” about areas the EPA has yet to address.

I recall House Speaker Thom Tillis responding to my question about fracking at a forum in Pittsboro, saying that he was open to hearing “the business case” for or against fracking.  Yet, the Department of Commerce, in its section of the state report, was not able to make a case one way or the other.

The report’s economics review section reads:  This analysis is not intended to indicate a position by the North Carolina Department of Commerce (Commerce) for or against…”

Maybe I’m missing something, but I thought the whole point of this study was to determine whether it was prudent for the state to authorize hydraulic fracturing, based on conclusions about likely economic, environmental and health impacts.

The problem, of course, as Commerce concluded, is: “Until the industry is more developed, and economic and multiplier relationships are better represented in the data, model outputs will not be robust.”  In other words, they do not have enough information to predict economic impacts.

At best, Commerce projected that fracking might result in an additional 858 jobs statewide after six years. That’s not much of an economic benefit considering the unknown potential economic costs. In addition to the concerns about groundwater pollution, the other unknowns not taken up in the study include impacts on competing industries (such as local farms, wineries and other tourist attractions) and state and local costs for impacts to other infrastructure (especially roads) and services (law enforcement, schools, etc.).

I appreciate the hard work DENR and Commerce employees put into this rushed and underfinanced study. But it’s an affront to all North Carolinians that the objective contents of the study were ignored or distorted to reach an unsupported conclusion.

The only real conclusion one can draw from this study is that we still don’t know enough about the true economic, environmental and health costs to authorize hydraulic fracturing for gas anywhere in North Carolina.

–Jeff Starkweather, prepared for DENR Public Hearing on Fracking Study, March 20, 2012 in Sanford.

Pittsboro urges legislature to say ‘no’ to fracking

Thumbs up to the Pittsboro Town Board for passing a resolution tonight that urges the North Carolina General Assembly to  maintain current laws saying no to fracking anywhere in our state. The Board voted 5-0 after hearing from more than half a dozen local residents, including me, who expressed concerns about the negative impacts fracking could have on Pittsboro’s environment, groundwater, public health, economic development, sustainable agriculture and unique quality of life.

Citizens testifying about the dangers of fracking included Gary Simpson from Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities, Haw Riverkeeper Elaine Chiosso,  Colleen Kendrick of the Deep River Clean Water Society, John Wegner, Barb Tessa and others.

Here’s the resolution:

“Whereas hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ is a method of extracting natural gas that involves injecting at an extremely high pressure, an undisclosed mixture of water, sand, and toxic chemicals to break up shale or other rock formations otherwise impermeable to the flow of gas;

“Whereas, North Carolina does not currently allow either horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing, and the current North Carolina study of in-state shale gas resources and of the potential impacts of reversing this ban and allowing drilling and fracking to extract these resources is being undertaken without adequate funding and without adequate time;

“Now Therefore Be It Resolved that we, the members of the Town of Pittsboro Board of Commissioners urge the North Carolina General Assembly to maintain current laws in North Carolina that prevent hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the State and to take no action that would weaken these laws before it is fully demonstrated that North Carolina public health, waters, land, air, economy and qualify of life can be fully protected from impacts of allowing shale gas development in the state.”


Restoring the dream for all

We had an amazing turnout out at our Campaign Blast-Off Party on Sunday with old friends and new ones. Everyone was enthusiastic and generous, for which I am most grateful. Here’s a copy of my statement.

Before I begin, I’d like us to take a moment of silence to remember three amazing women who inspired many of us, who mentored me in many ways: Margie Ellison, Loyse Hurley, and Margaret Pollard. Their legacy is all around us and their energy still influences us. ..

First, I want you to know how humbling it is for me to have this opportunity to seek this State House seat, held by former Speaker of the House Joe Hackney for 32 years.

I am so appreciative of Democratic Party Chair Randy Voller and other party and political leaders in our county who lobbied me to run for this office.

It will be an incredible honor and responsibility to represent you and all the residents of this House district.

I am overwhelmed by the support I’ve received already from across a broad political and geographic spectrum. And I am grateful to every one of you.

I’d also like to recognize my family: my wife Dee, my daughter Emily and her husband Scott, and our granddaughters Ryan and Emery. My son Sam, the poet, lives in New York and isn’t able to be here today. It’s amazing to me that we now have three generations of our family living right here in Chatham.

This campaign is not about me, it’s about you, about all of us. We’re facing hard times and difficult choices about what to do to strengthen our community and our state.

I want to use my four decades of local advocacy to keep fighting for all of us — in Raleigh — for the things we all cherish, the things we know we need to make our wonderful communities be more sustainable economically, educationally and environmentally, so that we all may prosper.

What do we need to do?

First and foremost, we need to support our public schools, from pre-K through community college and universities.

We should be investing in our public schools– not starving them.

Thanks to the Tea Party, the leadership in the General Assembly is doing the opposite of what is most needed at this time.They are slashing support for public schools– the very foundation of our economic and democratic prosperity.

The current legislative majority should be ashamed of our per-pupil expenditures, where we seem to be racing to the bottom of all 50 states — instead of to the top. Some of them want to privatize education, which means if you can’t afford to go to school, well “You’re on your own.”

That seems to be their platform in N.C. and in Washington.  That’s not what my campaign is about.

Second, we must support local businesses and work strategically to attract good jobs for all North Carolinians.The right-wing leadership in Raleigh thinks the government’s role is to do nothing and somehow hope the jobs will materialize. Except of course when it comes to public jobs, then they want to cut them. So instead of creating jobs, they’ve actually been eliminating them.

I guess Sarah Palin might say, “How is that job-cutty thing working out for you here in North Carolina?” We know the answer to that one.

I believe in strategic economic development, that emphasizes our local strengths and our premium location. I’ve been working hard on that here through the Chatham Economic Development Corporation, and I will continue to do that in Raleigh for both Chatham and Lee.

Third, we must protect our clean air and water, our parks and natural beauty, because this is what makes this a stellar place to live and locate a business. This is why we need to stop the fracking frenzy.

Good businesses don’t want to locate in a place with polluted drinking water and smog.

We don’t have enough information about underground hydraulic fracturing in NC. So, let’s do our homework first, and don’t rush into something that could destroy what makes us strong.

Making us strong– that’s what my campaign is about: Strong schools, good jobs, clean air and water.

These are the keys to restoring the dream of upward mobility for all.

The American Dream is not just for the privileged few, it’s for the rest of us, too –all of us

It’s also time for us to pull together. The right-wing conservatives, Tea Party sippers, seem committed to a social agenda designed to divide us. They’ve launched a war against women, minorities and gays.

They want to take us back to the 1950s when people didn’t think women should have access to contraceptives.

Like you, I was appalled that Rush Limbaugh could stoop so low to have made that indecent attack on a law student who had the courage to challenge the attempt to deny contraceptive insurance coverage to college women attending religious affiliated schools.I promise you today that nobody in the General Assembly will fight any harder than I will against these attempts to turn-back the clock on women’s reproductive rights.

Instead of talking about jobs, these reactionary forces have been hyperventilating about social issues designed to keep us divided and distracted. That’s wrong. It’s got to stop. We deserve better.

I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a place and during a time when job opportunity, security and wages rose along with our increased productivity.

Democrats, Republican and independents came together and supported government investment in the G.I. Bill, education, highways, other infrastructure, and parks – what we call the commons. That was indispensible for making the American Dream possible for the average working person, like my father, a plant foreman and late maintenance director.

Granted, it was not as good for minorities and women back then –but the principle of public investment for a growing economy is valid today.

My view is that now it’s time to work together again and to include everyone in the American Dream.

If we work with each other not against each other, and if we work hard and we remember to give back to our communities for the common good, we will all prosper together and our communities will remain vibrant places to live, play and work.

That’s what my working-class Baptist parents taught me to believe. And that’s why I’m stunned to see people who describe themselves as conservatives working against that most fundamental notion of the golden rule.

Finally, politics is also personal for me, as I bet it is for you, too.

I’ve got two grandchildren whose hopeful faces remind me every day that we must work together for the future, for the long-term, for an economy built to last.

That’s my vision. That’s why I’m running.

That’s why I want to work for you in Raleigh.


Candidate kicks off campaign March 4

From the Chatham News Record, March 1, 2012:

Jeff Starkweather is officially launching his campaign for the open seat in NC House District 54 with a free, public kick-off party on Sunday March 4, from 4 to 7 pm in Pittsboro. The festivities are free and open to the public and will feature live music, light refreshments and a chance to exchange ideas with the candidate. The location is 697 Hillsboro Street, the former Pittsboro Chevrolet showroom just north of Chatham Mills.

Starkweather, a long-time community advocate and retired newspaper publisher and attorney in Pittsboro is running in the May 8 Democratic primary. The new district covers all of Chatham County and a portion of the Sanford area in Lee County.

“We’ve been so fortunate to have Joe Hackney and Bob Atwater fighting for our vital needs over the years,” Starkweather said. “It will take many strong advocates working together to fill their big shoes when they step down from their legislative posts at the end of the year. But I am eager and ready to do my part, and I will work tirelessly for our district and our state.

“I spent my entire career fighting for fair treatment for all people and communities,” he said.  “Now I want to bring fairness and civic responsibility back into the public debate.

“We need to strengthen our public schools from pre-K through community college and university levels  — not starve them,” he said.

“We need to work strategically to support local businesses and attract clean industries — not simply wait for the jobs to show up. And we need to protect the natural environment that makes our state a stellar place to live and work, considered one of the best locations in the nation,” he said.

“Above all, we need to restore the promise of upward mobility for all,” he said. “The American Dream is not just for the privileged few.”

“If we do these things by working with each other– not against each other– our economy and our democracy will thrive again now and for future generations.”

My Open Letter to Chatham Democratic Women

Reprinted with permission from the Chatham County Democratic Women Newsletter, January 2012.

As a proud long-time member of the Chatham County Democratic Women, I am especially grateful to have this opportunity to tell you why I am running for the new open seat in State House District 54.

As you know, Tea Party Republicans in the N. C. Legislature have been waging a war on women, most notably with legislation to eviscerate women’s right to reproductive choice and freedom. In my view, such attacks on women hurt women, men, children, families and communities — in other words all of us.

Not surprisingly, the  Tea Party is also leading a crusade against the environment: They don‘t believe in climate change, they want to fast-track fracking before we have enough information about its long-term consequences, and they want to loosen environmental regulations on industries that pollute our air, soil and water.

Tea Party legislators have also been working against public education, which is essential for all citizens to have a fair chance to succeed in life. These politicians would rather balance the state budget on the backs of teachers and school children than invest in quality public education from pre-school through community colleges and universities.

In fact, the Tea Party crowd  in Raleigh seems to have forgotten that many North Carolinians are still out of work.  Instead of focusing on strengthening our schools, environment and infrastructure to attract good jobs, they’ve been hyperventilating about social issues designed to divide and distract us, rather than unite us.

You deserve to have someone in Raleigh from our district who is not afraid to speak out on these and other vital issues.  As a long-time community advocate, I have been speaking truth to power on the local level for years. As a “tell it like it is” newspaper editor and publisher, I promoted more open government and worked hard to give voice to all people, not just the chosen few. As a civil rights attorney, I represented the rights of workers, women, minorities and those with disabilities.

Most recently I have been working to support local businesses and attract good jobs and affordable housing as a board member for the Chatham Economic Development Corporation and Triangle South Workforce Development and a former chair for the Chatham Affordable Housing Advisory Board.

I believe that is why local Democratic leaders drafted me for this race. And that is why I would be honored to earn your support and your vote, so that we can work together on these issues in Raleigh and here at home.

Finally, I have to confess that I have a very personal reason to take the long view in running for legislative office. I want to make a difference on the issues that will affect the next generation, including my granddaughters right here in Chatham.

Thanks for all that you do for our community. Let’s keep on.

–Jeff Starkweather

Buttoning up brings big bucks to schools

We buttoned the top button of every shirt and jacket, and made sure they were hung in the same direction with each hanger facing inward. Then we straightened the books and vacuumed the rugs.  I  spent two hours on Monday Jan. 2 helping a small crew of volunteers with these clean-up chores at the PTA Thrift Shop at Cole Park in Northern Chatham. The same kind of chores my wife wishes I paid more attention to at home.

Dee and I were volunteering at the behest of my daughter, Emily Tinervin, the North Chatham Elementary PTA Thrift Shop Representative.  It’s her job to recruit volunteers. What I did not know was that the profits earned at the  Chatham PTA Thrift Shops in Pittsboro, Siler City and Cole Park are divided among the county’s public school classes using a formula where 60% of the funds are allocated based on volunteer hours (the remainder is divided equally among the schools).  So, there is a strong incentive to  recruit volunteers from one’s school.

Our crew also included Emily, North Chatham Kindergarten teacher Stephanie Orchard-Hays, and parents Tabatha Turner and Karen Howard.  Tabatha’s son, Morgan, and our granddaughter, Ryan, are both in Ms. Orchard-Hays’ class. So her class got a total of 10 hours of credit from 5 volunteers. Ms. Howard, a candidate for the school board from District One and Vice-President of the Margaret Pollard Middle School PTA, was volunteering for her son’s third grade class at North Chatham, taught by Ms. Vicki Johnston.  Karen, who volunteers on a regular basis, has divided her hours among North Chatham, Pollard and Northwood, where her four boys attend school. She told me she will be volunteering her next set of hours for the Exceptional Children’s programs.

Clearly these incentives work. My two volunteer hours are a tiny drop in the bucket of the nearly 52,000 hours contributed by volunteers last year, as of October 2011. In addition to  the kinds of chores we did,  volunteers may also pick up donations, deliver large items to customers,  empty drop  boxes, wash laundry, organize fashion shows and parade floats. Some volunteers contribute specialized services such as electrical, plumbing, welding, heating and air conditioning.   Clearly, the 30 paid employees of the non-profit Chatham PTA Shops could not provide our county schools with significant extra funding without the help of so many volunteers.

This sustainable business also provides a valuable and inexpensive service for Chatham residents of all income levels.  At the end of my volunteer duty, I purchased three quality sports coats for less than ten dollars combined.

The bottom line for our public schools is even more remarkable. Last year the PTA Thrift Shops provided about $462,000 to our schools, as of October. Since it was founded in 1983, it has provided more than $6 million to public education in Chatham.

If you would like to volunteer, you check with your local PTA . And if you’d like to volunteer for North Chatham Elementary, you may contact Emily at  For more information: PTA Thrift Shop.

–Jeff Starkweather

An inspiring New Year Jubilee

I started the New Year off right on Sunday by participating in the annual Jubilee Day Celebration sponsored by the Eastern Chatham Branch of the NAACP at Mount Sinai AME Church in Pittsboro. This unique service combines celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 and the Biblical concept of Jubilee — a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon as spelled out in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.

I had the privilege of being able to sing and swing along with the mass male chorus, while learning about the history of Jubilee that was not covered in my Baptist upbringing. During Rev. Cecil Wilson’s stirring sermon, I learned that the Jubilee year, during which slaves and prisoners were freed and debts forgiven, occurred every 50 years.

I was delighted to meet Rev. Anthony Davis, a new minister of Mitchell’s Chapel AME Zion Church near Pittsboro.  He urged parishioners to join the NAACP and commit to removing the barriers to economic and racial equality.  Rev. Davis said he was proud to have been an active participant in the grassroots protest last year against the attempt of the Tea Party-led Wake County School Board to re-segregate local schools. Rev. Davis even got arrested along with NC NAACP President William Barber.

NAACP Eastern Chatham Branch President Mary Nettles, who presided Sunday, encouraged attendees to participate in the Annual HK on J People’s Assembly on Saturday Feb.11 in Raleigh, to lobby on behalf of the state NAACP’s 14- point social justice agenda. I have attended past marches along with other local leaders, such as former Commissioner Tom Vanderbeck and Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller, and have been inspired to see so many others working together for positive changes.

I appreciated the opportunity to speak to the congregation Sunday about my candidacy for the state house.  I said that we needed not just a day of Jubilee, but a whole year, all of 2012. The economic game is rigged against working people and minorities, I said.  We have seen in the last two decades the elimination of several rungs of the ladder of upward mobility, making it harder than ever to reach the American Dream of health and prosperity.  The Great Recession has further widened the income and wealth gap between whites and persons of color. That’s why I want to go to Raleigh to fight for a “fair deal” for all, including an equal opportunity for achieving the American Dream.

–Jeff Starkweather

Jeff Starkweather in the News

We’re grateful for all the great press this week in the News & Observer, Chatham News/Record, Sanford Herald, Burlington Times-News and McClatchy News Service:

Starkweather enters N.C. House race (McClatchy News/Sanford Herald/Burlington Times-News 12-23-11)

Jeff Starkweather has held a host of titles in his 40-plus years of living and working in Chatham County — chair of the Chatham County Affordable Housing Advisory Board, publisher of the Chatham County Herald and attorney specializing in civil rights to name a few.

In 2012, he will seek to add state-level representative to his community service resume. During a meeting of the Chatham County Democratic Party Executive Committee this week, Starkweather announced his candidacy for the North Carolina House District 54 seat — representing Chatham and parts of Lee County.

“I think I have a history of speaking out on a variety of issues,” Starkweather said, citing his experience in advocacy and public policy. “People know where I stand.”

Regarding the environment, the candidate said he is adamant about protecting the area’s natural resources.

“Probably the most pressing issue is the whole issue of fracking,” he said, referring to the much-debated method of natural gas extraction. “I have great reservations about the state moving into this area without more study and research.”

When it comes to education, which the candidate named as another of his primary issues, Starkweather said, “We are not where we need to be.”

“The most important asset any community has is the quality of its education,” he said, adding, “we need better educational equality in this state.”

Equality is a refrain that runs throughout Starkweather’s campaign, which he describes as “a chance to work on behalf of a ‘fair deal’ for all citizens, so that we may prosper together despite the global recession.”If elected,” he said in a prepared statement, “I look forward to the opportunity to seek innovative ways to engage the public and private sectors to enhance our economy, our environment and our public education system from pre-school all the way through community colleges and universities.”

“If we do that,” he continued, “we can create a fair and democratic society in which people who put their best foot forward can succeed.”

Newly drawn District 54 draws hopefuls (N & O/ Triangle Politics 12-24-11)

Candidates are lining up for the newly drawn House District seat covering Chatham and part of Lee counties. Democrats Jeffrey Starkweather, a retired attorney and newsman, Deb Mcmanus, a current Chatham County school board member, and Republican Cathy Wright…recently announced their plans to run….

Starkweather serves on the Chatham County Economic Development Corp. board and the Triangle South Workforce Board….[He] co-led a grass-roots political action committee that helped oust the pro-development Chatham County Board of Commissioners chaired by Bunkey Morgan in 2006.

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Starkweather promotes  ‘fair deal’ for all (Chatham Record/News page 1,12-22-11)

After being recruited by local Democratic leaders, elected officials and community advocates, Jeff Starkweather of Pittsboro has decided to seek election to the new open State House seat representing Chatham County and the Sanford area…

Starkweather has lived and worked in Chatham County for 40 years. He is a well known community advocate and retired civil rights attorney and former newspaper publisher. …

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