My name is José Santiago, and I am the Democratic candidate for District 35 of the North Carolina State Senate (Union County).
I am married to Wanda Lorenzo, my high school sweetheart, and together we are the proud parents of two wonderful adult children. I am also a former business executive and management consultant, and a 13 year resident of Union County.
I have 35 years of experience bringing people together to solve complex problems, and will use those skills to address the issues that have been holding back our state.
I am an immigrant, born and raised in Puerto Rico. When I was a child, my father would often tell me stories about living and growing up on a tobacco farm up in the mountains of the island. To help his single mother, he began working picking tobacco leaves even before he graduated from high school. But a few years later, he was presented with an opportunity. There was a huge demand for automobiles in America in the years following World War II, and manufacturers could not find enough workers to meet the needs, so he was offered free travel to work at a steel mill in Michigan. It was backbreaking work, but he was determined to persevere, and he learned that if he did his best, and never gave up, new opportunities would always come up. He worked his way up and eventually went back to Puerto Rico, where he worked for many years as a vice president at a construction supplies firm.
My mother was a teacher. Every weekday afternoon, after getting home from her job and after preparing dinner for our family, she would start working again, writing lesson plans or grading papers and exams. Watching her, I learned how hard educators work to help prepare children for the future.
While growing up in Puerto Rico, much of my free time was spent outdoors, exploring the island’s forests and mountains, and swimming in its rivers and beaches.
That love of nature and the outdoors made Boy Scouts a natural fit, so I joined them as a teenager and a few years later earned my Eagle Scout badge. That effort helped strengthen my understanding of the civic responsibility that we all share to be good citizens, to help others, and to protect the environment.
That sense of duty has always remained with me, and for much of my adult life, I have been active as a leader and Scoutmaster for several troops. During that time, I’ve helped lead dozens of food collection drives, tree planting and road cleanup projects, and taught citizenship, backpacking, and other life and outdoor skills to hundreds of children and teens.
After completing high school, I came to America to attend college, and I brought with me the work ethic and concern for a good education instilled in me by my parents. Not having much money, I worked during the days and attended classes at night. I remember feeling very tired much of the time, especially since I would wake up at 5 AM most mornings to study and do my class work. But the effort paid off, and eventually I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees and earned a Masters in Business Administration.
I met Wanda while we were both in high school. I will never forget her first words to me: “go away!” But I was persistent, and over time we got to learn more about each other, and we discovered that we had much in common. Like me, she was also very involved in Scouting and shared a love of the outdoors. My persistence paid off, and we became good friends, and eventually began dating. After dating for six years, we got married and moved to the United States. We have been spending most of our time together ever since, nearly 35 years!
Wanda is a substitute teacher, and together we are the proud parents of two wonderful adult children. Like me, for much of her adult life, she has been a volunteer and leader in Scout troops and other community service organizations.
Over the past four years, Wanda and I have become very involved in activism to oppose the cruelty and injustice that we have seen coming from some of our leaders in Washington and Raleigh. Both of us have also been very active with Indivisible District 9, Moms Demand Action, and the Union County Democratic Party, where I now serve as its First Vice-chair.
During my years as a business executive and management consultant, I helped hundreds of organizations innovate and improve their service. My training as a change facilitator and management professional provided me with the skills to carefully analyze situations and bring people together to find solutions to complex problems.
I remember some of my business clients believed they could lay off employees and cut back on critical services to increase their short term profits. Invariably, they would soon fall behind, victims of their mediocrity. The lesson is that you can’t shrink your way into greatness. The same can be said of the cuts in education and other programs that have been made by the corrupt leadership of our General Assembly. They have traded short term benefits to their wealthy campaign donors in exchange for underfunding and neglecting the future and well-being of our residents, especially our children.
Why Am I Running?
A few months back, I was at the Board of Elections office, waiting for our new candidate to arrive. But 15 minutes before the deadline, she sent a text telling us that she had decided not to run. So, I found myself with a choice. The incumbent is a strong supporter of the corrupt leadership in Raleigh and Washington. As such, he is enabling the lack of decency and civility that we see today in our politics and government. I could not let him run unopposed. So, I called Wanda, and explained what happened and how I felt about it. She remained silent for a few seconds, but then she told me, “I will support you.” And that is all that I needed to hear. I knew that with her support, I could do this.
To Fight For Education
When my family first moved to North Carolina, more than 13 years ago, this state was making significant progress in education. But things changed a few years later, and for the past decade, we have been falling behind instead of moving forward.
Our state used to rank near the top of the country when it came to education, but the corrupt leadership of the General Assembly has been giving tax breaks to the very wealthy while cutting education funding. They have reduced the funding for new schools, for school supplies, and to hire support personnel. Our average teacher pay stagnated, with the typical teacher earning less now than they did ten years ago, when adjusted for inflation. They also earn $8,000 less per year than the national average. This has resulted in many of our most experienced teachers leaving for other states. The result is that our state now ranks 37th in education, near the bottom of the country.
Over the past few years, the leadership of the General Assembly has started increasing teacher pay again. However, the recent increases have been too small to make up for all the benefits lost and the years with meager raises.
The problems with our public education are so severe that a Superior Court judge recently ruled that lawmakers were violating our state Constitution by not providing adequate funds to provide a sound education to the children of our state.
To Protect Our Environment
Their attack on our environment has been equally devastating. One of the reasons why my family chose North Carolina as its home was because the state provides such excellent opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. However, since taking power ten years ago, the current leadership of the General Assembly has eliminated much of the legislation that once protected our air and water. As a result, corporate polluters have gotten away with dumping poisonous chemicals into our rivers. That, in turn, has led to some of our rivers now ranking among the most endangered in the country.
In 2012 the current leadership of the General Assembly went as far as passing legislation to prevent North Carolina officials from basing policies on climate science. Since then, our state has been hit by multiple hurricanes causing hundred-year floods over a period of just a few years. Despite this, last year they still tried to pass legislation to eliminate energy conservation credits for electric or hybrid vehicles, and to ban wind farms in our state.
Even worse, Trump is now trying to open our coasts to offshore drilling, putting oil rigs in the path traveled by major storms nearly every year. It would take only one accident or natural disaster to spill millions of gallons of oil into our waters and beaches, severely damaging our tourism and fishing industries for decades. Despite this danger, the legislators who are supposed to be protecting us are doing nothing to stop him!
To Make Healthcare Affordable
The cost of healthcare has skyrocketed, but the corrupt leadership of the General Assembly is blocking the most powerful change to reduce our healthcare costs: expanding Medicaid. Most other states, including many led by Republican governors and legislatures, have already expanded Medicaid. They did it because it is a no-brainer: the benefits can be achieved at no additional cost. The Federal government would pay for 90% of the cost while our hospitals would pay for the rest.
Expanding Medicaid would extend healthcare coverage to over 600,000 residents, add over $4 billion to our state economy, and create 40,000 new jobs. Our taxes are paying for Medicaid expansion in other states, instead our own state. But the most compelling reason is that it would save nearly one life every day, more than 350 lives per year. That alone should be reason enough to expand Medicaid.
To Pass Common Sense Gun Laws
For decades, corrupt politicians have stood by and offered nothing but thoughts and prayers as our children have been gunned down at their schools and colleges, or our friends at concerts, malls, bars, and movie theaters. There is simply no place where our residents can escape the gun violence epidemic that is now claiming over 100 lives every day.
Meanwhile, the NRA has bought the loyalty of corrupt politicians, demanding in return that they push for laws such as open carry and to arm teachers. Those laws are designed to help gun companies sell more guns, and to bring even more firearms into our communities. However, they have not been able to answer why our country has 25 times the gun homicide rate of other high-income countries, if more guns are supposed to make us safer.
That is why I am an active supporter of Moms Demand Action. Our state chapters are mobilizing hundreds of volunteers and teaching them how to advocate for sensible gun legislation such as Universal Background Checks and Extreme Risk Protection Orders. We support the rights of responsible gun owners but aim to prevent criminals, terrorists, or those who might be planning to hurt themselves or others from having easy access to firearms.
I am also running to help get out the Democratic vote, to ensure that we stop Trump, and to preserve democracy in our country. I am running because I could not stand by and simply watch as the corrupt leadership of the General Assembly continues to hold back our state.
As we begin a new decade, it is time for North Carolina to move forward once again. I hope you will join us so together we can lead our state in a new direction.