July 15, 2010 12:00

Democrat Cristina Vazquez focuses on middle class in run for NC House District 74

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Cristina Vazquez, the Democratic candidate vying for the NC House District 74 seat held by Republican incumbent Dale Folwell, has a vision, and it’s an inclusive one. Vazquez, a native of Havana, Cuba, teaches English to Spanish speaking school children. Vazquez believes North Carolinians need to start rethinking the American Dream in a way that empowers them to take control of their lives.

“Everybody’s very concerned about the economy and I want to support the middle class, because the power’s with the middle class — we support the government,” Vazquez said. “I think middle class people have to organize.”

This week, Vazquez will begin the process of organizing her campaign by speaking to groups of Democratic volunteers in Forsyth County. Vazquez will share her campaign platform of protecting green space, a progressive approach to education and providing affordable, environmentally friendly housing to all citizens.

Vazquez said she moved from New England to North Carolina in 2008 due in large part to the affordability of housing and the superior quality of life.

“I’m first a conservationist and I feel North Carolina has very positive things to offer,” she said.

Vazquez said that unchecked development poses a serious threat to the state’s existing green space and, if elected, she would champion environmental causes.

“I believe we have to start to come up with alternatives to deal with all this rapid development,” she said.

As a former English-as- Second-Language teacher in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Vazquez said she’s witnessed a surge in the number of immigrant students in area schools. If elected, Vazquez said she would advocate for a more progressive education system that offers a quality education to all students. Vazquez thinks state leaders should start moving away from an outmoded education system.

“People who are wealthy send their kids to private schools and middle income [children] are becoming more of a minority now,” Vazquez said. “We’re getting more of an immigrant population coming in. Some of these issues have to be addressed at the legislative level.”

Vazquez’s education proposals include an emphasis on critical thinking skills rather than rote learning and test-taking ability, and greater financial security for teachers.

“I would advocate for shorter hours and greater benefits for teachers,” Vazquez said. “This is a right-to-work state, so you have no protection. Even tenured teachers have no protection. If you’re sent to a failing school, in order to show they’re making progress they have to keep changing the staff.”

Vazquez’s economic proposals center on one basic human need: housing.

“Housing is the most basic need every person has,” she said. “If you don’t have decent housing, you can’t function as a human being. Many middle-class people are one step from being poor because if you lose your job, you might have two months worth of saving and that’s it, you lose your home.”

Vazquez outlined an alternative to prospective homeowners — the creation of environmentally friendly housing co-ops.

“I feel a lot of things have to start at the community level and address people’s personal concerns first,” she said. “If we can provide middle-class people with alternative housing that doesn’t use up all their income, that doesn’t threaten them with constant anxiety of being left without a home because of unemployment. If they’re willing to do with less, if they’re willing to change their lifestyle, I think we can accomplish a lot.”

Vazquez’s goal is to organize middle-class citizens who care about the environment for the purposes of creating a community fund and building living communities where residents are free of the burden of debt.

Vazquez’s opponent, Rep. Dale Folwell, is a formidable incumbent. Folwell handily defeated Democratic challenger Wade Boyles in 2008, winning nearly 60 percent of the vote. Folwell represents a heavily Republican district and is currently seeking his fourth term in the NC House.

Win or lose, Vazquez maintains she has a much higher purpose in running for elected office.

“When I entered this race, it was not so much for the hope of winning but the chance to share ideas with people,” she said. “Hopefully, I can meet people who have similar concerns and we can get together and do something… I believe we can start something very important.”

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