5 Ways We Can Improve America’s Environment

As someone who is honored to live in the great state of North Carolina, I have experienced her serene beaches, picturesque mountain ranges, and variety of parks and natural beauty.  I believe that it is my duty to fight against dangerous practices that are irresponsibly harming our great state and nation. In doing so we can preserve this state for our children and can achieve more economic progress through implementing progressive, forward-thinking policies and projects that will help both the environment and North Carolina’s economy.NC Environment

These are 5 keys to bettering the environment of North Carolina and the U.S.:

  • No more fracking: It is pumping toxic chemicals into the water table and creating instability leading to seismic activity.
  • No offshore drilling: This is an environmentally dangerous and unnecessary effort to undertake.  Right now there is over-saturation in the oil market, and there is no need to drive more into the supply pipeline.
  • Create increased federal usage of renewable energy: Mandate 50% of all power usage from all new federal buildings be from renewable and non-fossil fuel sources. This could be started by placing solar panels on the roofs of all new federal buildings.
  • Reduce our carbon emissions: Done through legislative action that encourages the reduction in the use of coal, and the placement of solar manufacturing in former coal producing areas to provide for continued well paid employment for the former coal industry workers.
  • Invest in the research and design of energy storage platforms: This would allow for continuous power provision even when renewable energies are not available, such as solar power at night and wind power on calm days.

There are a number of other ways to move forward on this program, and the US must be the world leader in this effort.  It is also important for us to lead the energy development efforts in under-developed countries so that they do not have to use fossil fuels to power their growth the way we did in the industrial revolution.

 

What Are the Impacts of the Trans Pacific Partnership?

There are quite a few issues that many US citizens are passionate about occurring in Pacific countries such as human trafficking, child laborers, extreme low cost of production, and dangerous work environments. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an organization of country leaders that are working to increase labor, environmental, and economic regulations in Pacific countries to help correct these social issues.

These are great goals for all Pacific countries, but what is the cost of implementing the TPP bill? The TPP bill will manipulate the global economy in order to implement their goals. Therefore, if a country is not complying with new workplace or environmental standards, the countries in the organization will not do trade with the specific Pacific country.

Improving labor in the Pacific countries is a great goal, but there are few key problems with implementing a Trans Pacific Partnership bill which includes:

  1. Competition in the US Marketplace. If the United States is not heavily involved in the agreements and organization of global trade, the odds can easily become stacked against our country’s economy. A lot of the goods we buy are based on the prices of suppliers from Pacific Rim countries. This causes a potentially severe problem if a trading partner has violations under the TPP. Because we would be required to cease trade with that country, our economy would face potentially severe product shortages and price increases.
  2. Potential Degradation of Industries. I grew up as NAFTA was being implemented, and I watched as North Carolina’s textile and furniture industries were decimated by the wave of low cost competitors across the border. I believe that offering incentives to Pacific Rim countries according to the TPP guidelines will once again allow unfair competition and will degrade other NC industries at a time where we need to be focusing on creating employment growth in our own country.
  3. Manipulations in the Value of a Country’s Currency. The opportunity for a country to artificially manipulate its currency to slant the playing field is too great under the TPP. This practice can easily lead to the destabilization of industries and economies, and the TPP does not contain adequate protections against this potentially devastating practice.

I believe we must continually act to strengthen the free and open marketplace in the world, and the TPP was originally intended to move us all in that direction. Unfortunately, I believe that because the structure of the agreement is flawed, the TPP fails to reach its goal.  I am AGAINST the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) due to the issues and potential for abuse.

Healthcare Makes Sense, Now We Need to Make it Work

I believe that the United States is the best nation in the world to live. But in order to continually improve, we must be progressing in all aspects of our policies and programs. One of the most important areas that we as a country need to expand and grow in is affordable and universal healthcare for the citizens of this great nation. Improving US Healthcare

But many people do not want Medicaid expanded, because they see economic freedom and universal healthcare as mutually exclusive. To put it bluntly, that is not true. The United States is currently 12th on the list of countries with the most economic freedom, of the 11 countries ahead of us, 10 have achieved universal healthcare. Instead of being mutually exclusive, economic freedom and universal healthcare go hand-and-hand.

In order to make universal healthcare succeed in North Carolina and the U.S., several things need to start happening:

  • An understanding that the ‘free market’ healthcare system hasn’t been beneficial for the U.S. The thought that a ‘free market’ healthcare system will help the consumer and reduces government spending is blatantly incorrect. Under the ‘free-market’ system the U.S. government spends more per-capita on healthcare services than any other country except for Norway and the Netherlands.
  • The expansion of the Medicaid system in all states. We have to cover those people who earn too much to be covered by Medicaid, and not enough to receive the subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act. We need to make sure that EVERYONE has access to affordable healthcare.
  • An adjustment for cost of living with the Social Security and Medicare programs that is based on the expenses actually incurred by seniors. Right now, the cost adjustments are based on the whole of society, which doesn’t adequately account for the differing costs of seniors. Making this change would provide better coverage for senior citizens and better utilize Social Security and Medicare funds.
  • Help the retirees on fixed incomes who are faced with extremely high health premiums. I am currently seeking to make it possible for people under 65, who have retired early, or who are on a fixed income, to utilize some of their social security funds to offset health insurance premiums without penalty, until they are eligible to enroll in Medicare. This plan would prevent people having to deal with potential catastrophic financial problems as a result of uncovered medical expenses. The plan would also provide each person continued access to preventive medical care to maintain the highest standard of healthy living.

These steps are just a beginning, but they are the right thing to do, both financially and socially.

How Do We Make Immigration Reform Fair and Firm?

Perhaps the most hotly contested issue between Democrats and Republicans currently is immigration reform. This is a deeply personal issue to many North Carolina residents because around 8% of our population was born outside of the United States. I believe that all people deserve a voice and to be treated equally; those who immigrate to this great nation are no different.Immigration Policies

All people are created equal,’ it is in our Declaration of Independence and still rings true today, we must treat all people equally.  We are defined both by how we treat those in need and the fairness and equality with which we acted. Let me be clear, I believe in allowing the immigrants who are already here to stay.  But I believe in fairness as well, so they must contribute and become a functioning part of our economy and government.

This immigration reform and acceptance should be a layered process, and would benefit both the immigrants and the United States as whole:

  • All immigrants must be in the system for the reason they are here. Whether they are here as students, tourists, refugees, asylum seekers or guest workers, the vetting process must be thorough and consistent.
  • All currently present undocumented immigrants must register for work. This will allow for them to become legally employed as a guest worker, which in turn brings them into the tax system. This creates additional inflows supporting social security and the health care system. As long as there are no employment gaps longer than 6 months they and their immediate family can stay in place.
  • While participating in this system, immigrants can become eligible for social benefits. Benefits such as education, health, and safety are reasonable expectations for anyone participating in our society. They will also be allowed to apply for citizenship through regular channels, but there should be no preferential treatment based on already being resident in the United States.
  • Deportation must be streamlined and humane. Examples of situations where deportation would happen include criminal infractions and non-employment for more than 6 months. In the case of the non-employment they would be allowed to voluntarily leave and then reapply for an approved status without penalty.

The goal of my immigration program is to treat all that are involved with both consistency and fairness. To view each person as a fellow human that is pursuing what is best for them and their family. America was built on the hard-working backs of immigrants, I see no reason why allowing them to bring their ingenuity and diligence will not continue to benefit North Carolina and the United States.

 

We Need to Save Small Rural Hospitals Now

One of the reasons that I am hosting these conversations is to give a voice to the voiceless. Whether it be veterans, minority groups, elderly, or the LGBTQ community there are so many people in North Carolina that are not represented well by the current politicians. This needs to end.

A big area where the government could do a lot of good is in rural communities, and particularly the small hospitals that operate in these communities, serving many elderly and low-income patients. The sad reality is that currently many of these hospitals are closing due to the high overhead, and low amount of patients that can afford the services they desperately need and deserve.Save Rural Hospitals

We should help support the rural community in the following way:

  • Allow the VA to offer services to patients at these hospitals. Around 40% of veterans who are enrolled in VA health care live in rural areas. That is over 3 million veterans who need to have convenient and comprehensive coverage. Imbedding VA operations in existing rural facilities allows for a rapid expansion of services for our veterans.VA
  • Increase patient flow rural hospitals. These patients are needed in order to keep the vital health and safety services provided by the rural hospitals. Without such hospitals, rural communities and veterans would face increased hardship and difficulty receiving medical attention.
  • Bolster the economics of rural communities. If what I propose is implemented, there will be significant benefits to the community through job creation, an influx of money to the hospital, and improved health and medical services at the hospitals.

Veterans form the foundation upon which this great nation was built, and they deserve our attention, care, and respect. Allowing the VA to offer service in rural hospitals would be the right step in creating a more comprehensive system in which to fully care for the men and women who have sacrificed themselves for our freedom.

Reaching Equality, Finishing the Fight for Gay Rights

Something that has been lost in the midst of all the different issues in this election year is finally achieving true equality for the LGBTQ population. The rights of LGBTQ individuals have always been near and dear to me. My brother, Shannon, is gay, and I have seen in him, the hardships and discrimination that still face the LGBTQ community today.

Our representatives will have a significant impact on what the next few years look like for the LGBTQ community living in North Carolina, and the Nation. While I applaud the recent court decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court to validate Same-Sex Marriage, we cannot simply stop there and feel as though we have reached equality.

There are large problems that are still forcing members of the LGBTQ to live as though they are not full citizens.

  • A lack of non-discrimination protections in all areas. No matter what race, sexual orientation, or gender, everyone should have equal opportunities for employment, housing, credit, and service.
  • Inadequate Legal Rights. This includes the ability to adopt a child from the United States; currently, there are very few options for parents who are of the LGBTQ community to expand their family. For same-sex adoptive parents, often the state only recognizes one parent as the legal guardian of a child, in spite of both parents raising and caring for the child. Additionally, we need to allow partners the ability to right of survivorship. Excluding these laws is unacceptable and hurtful to all parties involved.
  • Lack of Support within the LGBTQ community by North Carolina Politicians. While there are many notable exceptions, the majority of politicians either oppose advancing or do not appear to consider LGBTQ to be a priority.

These steps must be taken in order to reach true equality for all. Equality is so important to the foundation of the United States, it is in the Constitution. It is about time we start living up to the ideal that “all men are created equal.”

It should be one of our primary goals to end the discrimination against all people, and to reach the true equality America wants and deserves. 

How to Make a College Education Affordable

Access to quality post-secondary education is a key to the continued development of the workforce and the nation’s economy! As a nation, we need to continue to provide access to higher education for all people.  I believe it is unconscionable for the US Government to be making money off of the loans it provides to our students.Improving Student Loans | Kevin Griffin

I think we should continue the expansion of the Pell Grant program, along with increasing the maximum reward levels to proportionally keep pace with the rising cost of higher education is a good start.

Improvements to Student Loan Program

College education should not be free; it is something to strive for and a proud accomplishment for a student. My House plans to improve the Student Loan Program that will in turn provide incentives for students to graduate:

  1. Lock college loans at the current federal funds rate at date of issue.
  2. College loans will remain at that market rate until the student has graduated.
  3. Upon graduation, the interest rate for the loan will drop to 0.0%, provided the individual enrolls in, and stays current with, an automatic payment program for the loan repayment.

This approach makes education affordable, while encouraging diligent effort and program completion.

Benefits to increasing the National Minimum Wage

When asked: ‘Should we raise the minimum wage?’ My answer is the minimum wage should be higher to reflect more of a livable wage. A livable wage reflects the minimum income needed for a worker to meet their basic needs in their community without public assistance and is integral to the survival of individual families. Also, the economic activity that derives from employees earning a livable wage is a primary generator of the overall economic growth of the nation.

National Minimum Wage Increases | Kevin Griffin for Senate

Minimum Wage vs. Livable Wage

The current minimum wage across my State of North Carolina is $7.25 per hour. Using a livable wage calculator, it is easy to see how difficult it is to live on minimum wage across the United States.  The livable wage of Durham County, where I proudly live and work, is:

  • 1 Adult livable wage = $10.68 per hour
  • 1 Adult with 1 child livable wage = $22.31 per hour
  • 2 Adults 1 Working with 1 child livable wage = $21.14

It is my strong belief in the livable wage concept that led me to join the Durham Living Wage Project, not only as a founding company member, but also in service as a steering committee member for the organization. Through my work with the Durham Living Wage Project, I have seen the following benefits of a living wage:

  • Employers who pay a living wage see lower turnover, a more motivated workforce and increased goodwill of the community
  • Employees who receive a living wage have the chance to now move from poverty towards meeting the basic needs of their family
  • Low-wage earners typically spend their money locally, when they make more they are able to support local business, which creates more jobs and strengthens a community

I believe everyone who works hard deserves to earn a livable wage.

What to do About the Economy?

When talking about the economy it is important to make the distinction between the issues that exists on the macro level and those that exist on a more micro level. Both levels must be targeted if we are going to effectively right the economic flaws and issues that currently exist.

First, let examine the primary issues at the macro level. They range from unpredictability of the government in setting fiscal policy and budgets, to the recent financial meltdown caused by the housing bubble, to the volatility of the Asian markets, strife in Middle East, and financials struggles in the European Union. All of these are highly complex issues that cannot be completely solved through economic actions.  Kevin Griffin for Senate

I believe we need to grow our economy and individuals, both stateside and internationally through:

  • Charting the financial course of this country, by returning to the comprehensive budgeting system.
  • Negotiating favorable trade agreements, without sacrificing the individual worker or American Industry.
  • Leading the effort to promote peace, stability, human rights, and democracy throughout the world.

Looking now at a more micro level in the state of North Carolina, we can easily see the effects of the macro level reflected in the uncertainty of consumer confidence. This has been exacerbated by ever-increasing regulations that stifle small businesses such as, the lack of access to capital for growing businesses, the unemployment rates in the workforce, and the increasing costs of higher education and medical care.

My solutions for North Carolina micro level economic issues include:

  • Broaden access to capital for small businesses through a variety of ways, stimulating growth in the business sector.
  • This will create employment opportunities that will reinvigorate the workforce and economy.
  • Raise the federal minimum wage and index it for growth like is done for social security.
  • Make higher education more affordable and incentivized.
  • Tackle the costs of medical care by strengthening and streamlining ACA programs.

This is all simply a start to solving North Carolina’s economy, our nation’s economy, and creating a better tomorrow.

The citizens have entrusted their country’s economy into the hands of Congress and it is about time their trust is rewarded through decisive, balanced, and intelligent actions.

How Does Running a Sustainable Company Make Me a Stronger Candidate?

To really understand how my background positively impacts my abilities, you need to understand what it means to run a sustainable company. The performance and value of a company has traditionally been measured in a strictly financial sense, through the profit or loss that it generates.  While this gives perspective on the financial health, it does little to take into account the company’s overall impact.  To more fully quantify the overall impact of an organization, the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) method has come to the forefront of discussion.A_BCorp_logo_POS

In the simplest of terms, a TBL is a measurement of the social, environmental and financial health of an organization; its sustainability.  It’s the outward acknowledgment of the fact that, in addition to the profit it generates, an organization affects not only the community and people around it, but also the environment as a whole.

To become a Certified B-Corporation is to achieve the premier certification for all companies that are focused on the Triple Bottom Line.  The certification is administered by the non-profit B-Lab, based in Pennsylvania.  It’s a rigorous process that requires a thorough examination of all business, employment and outreach practices.  The testing is combined with on-site audits, and regular re-certification requirements, to make sure that each organization is meeting the levels of performance to which they have committed. I am proud to say that my company has been certified for 5 years.

But how does owning and running a B-Corp, make me a better candidate? I’m glad you asked:

  • The mission of a benefit corporation is to have a positive impact on the people and the planet. This is exactly what our government SHOULD be doing.  We need leaders who are focused on helping all of the members of our community, not just working to move up the political ladder. This change in approach can’t be accomplished through partisan politics, bickering and ideology. I believe that in the right hands any organization can become a force for good in the world. This has been true with my company, where we positively affect the community and environment through employment, outreach, education and sustainable use of our resources.  We can make it a reality in Washington too, by electing candidates that understand that our government should work for the people.
  • While running a B-Corp, I have gained a wealth and breadth of leadership experience that isn’t readily available to others. As a citizen, I know that what I want from an elected official is for them to have the ability to effectively lead, work cooperatively, and listen to the people to know what they need. These are exactly the skills I have developed by running a B-Corp. Because our mission is to make a positive impact on the people around us, the planet as a whole, and the profit of the company, I have had to learn how to keep those three things in balance. To do that successfully, I must; bring people together to focus on a common goal, to build teams of diverse individuals with sometimes competing interests, and to listen to the people around me.  It’s these skills that, over the last 14 years, have helped me to employ almost 2000 people in North Carolina, to work with area organizations to provide educational and career opportunity to the people of our community, and to minimize our footprint on the planet.
  • It has given me direct knowledge of the struggles of the people of North Carolina. In my company, I’ve had the good fortune to work with people from a variety of backgrounds, skills, educations and cultures. I have learned from each person how they have faced adversity, and what great things they can accomplish when given a helping hand.  These experiences led us to become a founding member of the Durham Living Wage Project, to focus on aiding veterans and their family transition out of the military, and to provide an internship designed to help people successfully return to work. It is also how I know there is more work to be done.

All representatives from North Carolina must always work in the best interest of the state and its people, ever mindful of how each vote effects the State’s triple bottom line. Running a B-Corp has made me a stronger leader, team builder, and listener.  It’s given me the direct knowledge and insight into the challenges and needs of North Carolinians, a perspective that is missing from career politicians.  These are the skills needed to bring change to Washington.  These are the skills that make me the best candidate for North Carolina.

Supporting Veterans

The United States is the greatest nation on the face of the planet because of the brave men and women who have stood up to defend it.  Their actions and dedication are what allows us to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We honor and remember our service members on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, but that is not enough.  We, as a nation, owe so much more; and it’s time we fulfill our promise.  We do that by making sure that our armed services are the best trained, equipped and supported fighting force in history.  But that’s only part of the story. Veteran Work Programs

We have to care for our veterans once their service has come to an end and I think there are three core issues we must address.

  • Establishing outplacement/transition programs. The armed services does a great job of recruiting personnel and creating a pathway for success in the service. I want to see strong effort put into helping our service men and women begin their lives and careers after their service.  I believe that the armed services can develop solid working relationships with area communities and employers to provide a pathway for success for service members nearing their end of term.  I would like to see a program in which individuals are teamed with companies where they can begin working in the private sector, while still functioning in the military world.  In this model, employers would be able to train and develop new employees, without having to carry the salary and benefit costs of the trainee.  If the employer hires the individual after their term of service is complete, and keeps them fully employed for a certain period of time, then we should reward the employer with a tax credit that will offset a portion of the expense.  In this program, our Veterans are able to walk off the base and into a career that they are already comfortable performing, giving them a greater chance to successfully transition to the private sector.
  • Providing excellent health care. In recent years it has come to light that the V.A. Health System has greatly deteriorated to the point that our veterans are no longer able to get quality, timely, comprehensive health care. With the recent leadership turnover in the Veteran’s Administration, we are beginning to see changes that are designed to reduce wait times, and allow for visits to medical professionals that are close by when there is no V.A. within a certain distance.  While this is a good start, I believe we need to do more.  I propose that we expand the capacity of our V.A. facilities so that we can eliminate long waiting periods for healthcare.   We should allow greater freedom for our service members to receive help and treatment from medical facilities in their local community, whether or not they are V.A. facilities.  In addition, we need to work with local providers and facilities to establish visiting professional credentials so that our V.A. doctors and specialists can travel to our people in need of service, making use of the facilities in the local community.  These operational changes, along with a driven focus on the satisfaction of the patients in our facilities, will put us back on the right track.
  • Addressing Mental Health Issues. All too often, the sacrifices we ask our veterans to make in their service become scars that they must bear on the home front. Yet, we know that with proper mental health care and counseling, we can guide our veterans through these difficult issues, helping them return to the life they fought so hard to protect. For that reason, we must make sure that comprehensive mental health services are available to every veteran at all times.  We must also work to eliminate the stigma that can be associated with mental health issues, so that they can be openly discussed and proactively addressed.  Not every veteran has mental health issues, but the ones that do, deserve our support.  I want us to meet that responsibility.

 

Education

I believe the strength of our educational system will determine our future prosperity.  For too long, we have failed to properly support our teachers and our students. I believe much of our community, state and world problems can be addressed by returning the educational system to a place that develops the individual, prepares them for life, and engenders a sense of self-respect and self-esteem in all its students. We need to put more resources, time and effort into our education system. My goal is to provide people with the greatest educational opportunities possible at all instructional levels, for everyone, and in every community.

We should dramatically raise the salaries of all teachers, and provide them with the resources they need.  Teachers should never have to buy basic supplies with money from their own pockets. I believe that a career in teaching should once again be a coveted position, among the most respected and sought after careers in the U.S.  We must do more to make that a reality.

Both of my parents were educators.  I saw first-hand how hard they worked; how much they did for their students and the community.  Through their work in education and our family staffing business, my parents spent a lifetime teaching people how to be successful in the community, their careers and their lives.  In my own company, we have continued the tradition of providing people the tools they need to succeed. Now it’s time to expand the effort to the classroom as we teach and create the next generation of builders, thinkers and creators who will determine our future.

Political Change

I believe we have to continuously turn over our political leadership to allow for new ideas focused on solving the problems of the people.  I believe that, just as we do for the President, we should also have term limits for Congress.  We need representatives to pass legislation that will once again give the people the strongest voice in government, by guaranteeing them new options to choose from in the voting booth, both now and in the future.

Employment

I believe there is no greater effect you can have on a person’s life than to provide them with employment that offers a livable wage and sense of pride and accomplishment. For the last thirteen years, I have done just that through employing almost 2000 North Carolinians. I am proud to say that I have employed people from all walks of life, but I take special pride in the work my company has done to provide targeted employment to our Veterans, military spouses, people reentering the work force and many others.

As President and CEO of AVANT Group, LLC in Durham, NC, a full service staffing solutions company serving the Triangle and Triad, I have seen first-hand how businesses can be a force for good. To show our dedication to that mission, AVANT became a certified Benefit Corporation (B-Corp), identifying it as an organization focused on sustainability and making decisions based on what is good for our community, our environment and the company.

To make a difference in our community, you have to be engaged in the community.  I have brought the tools, experiences and opportunities AVANT provides and paired them with non-profit organizations including the Durham Living Wage Project, Dress for Success, Hiring our Heroes and Step Up Ministries as an intentional effort to provide job skills training and employment opportunities to the community. By collaborating with these great organizations, I am able to not only put people in jobs, but to also educate them on how to be successful in their workplace, and how to have confidence in themselves. By empowering people to determine their own future and providing them with the tools they need to be successful, we will create a dynamic workforce and a stronger community. My goal is to make sure all North Carolinians have access to that brighter future.