Pillar of NC-11 Democrat Bo Hess’ campaign is safety
Born at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, Democrat Bo Hess is both a product of his upbringing and of the influence of his parents.
“I’m a licensed clinical social worker, addiction specialist and law enforcement trainer. I run a small private practice as well. I grew up in military schools. My dad was in the Air Force, my mom was also a social worker and so service has been a huge piece of my life,” said Hess. “For the 21 years that I’ve made Western North Carolina home, I have been showing up in a lot of ways, whether that’s working with the local sexual assault agency or being on the board of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, or delivering food to elders or showing up like in Cruso.”
Hess, 37, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Western Carolina University, and styles himself a systems thinker, concerned with the effects of decisions down the road.
“If we have hungry people in WNC or if we have an addicted population WNC, that directly affects our national security,” he said. “If we have corporate bailouts so that we can get them to our area, then that has a ripple effect 10 years down the line on the types of people who move here, the congestion, the crime, and all sorts of things that we need to really be thinking about.”
But the biggest concern for Hess is, in a broad sense, public safety. Although most people would associate that term with law enforcement, as a social worker Hess thinks of it as more revolving around healthcare, addiction and mental illness.
“Mental illness is going to be the number one cause of mortality in the next 20 years and we must have a leader who understands systems, understands what the threats are and then knows the solutions and provides the solutions,” he said. “We have a full and robust platform on my website where we have concrete solutions that we are really standing on. We’re not just rehashing or telling the voters what is wrong. We already know what is wrong. We need somebody who is a problem solver and that is what this campaign is about.”
The Smoky Mountain News: I’ve asked all the candidates some pretty similar questions because these sorts of issues have been haunting this district for more than a decade. The first one — is Medicaid expansion the answer for North Carolina, or do you have a different idea of how to address the healthcare gap?
Bo Hess: Medicaid expansion is kind of the next step that we can do. However, we also need to be making sure that we’re building up the infrastructure for health care. The issue is that if we pass Medicaid for all, or even really expanded Medicaid to any certain degree, we would have trouble actually delivering quality care to individuals. We have actually trouble delivering care to people who have insurance right now. And so a big piece of my platform is making sure that we are educating our high schoolers, making sure that our community colleges are on board, making sure that we have nurses, physical therapists, making sure that we have counselors, social workers, doctors in the pipeline, ready to go so that we have an infrastructure in five to 10 years, because that is where we’re headed, especially as we move to elect younger, more forward-thinking candidates.
SMN: Similar question, another of these issues that’s haunted us for far more than a decade is gun violence. What does common sense gun reform mean to you?
BH: It means legislation that doesn’t trample on any rights of any law-abiding citizen to their Second Amendment. That is front and center for me. We must be able to keep and bear arms. We must be able to defend our person, our home, our car, so common sense is not legislating something that is going to be immediately struck down by the Supreme Court. I definitely am not going to be the legislator that gets there and starts writing laws that become struck down and ineffective.
SMN: Other components that people usually mention when they’re talking about common sense gun reform is banning the sale of high-capacity magazines and strengthening red flag laws. Let’s take these one-on-one — magazines first.
BH: I think that the federal courts have pretty much said that we have a right to those.
SMN: The second component is red flag laws.
BH: That must be a time-limited thing, and then there must be consequences for people who cry “wolf” on those. I am one of those people, I’m a mental health clinician who actually does perform IVCs [involuntary commitments]. That is a level that I work with. I work with people who are homicidal, suicidal, who have already tried to commit suicide, or are just severely psychotic and maybe dangerous and in other ways, so absolutely this is an issue, but it must be time limited and there must be consequences for people who cry “wolf.” Again, because that is taking away somebody’s rights, and our rights are guaranteed in the Constitution.
SMN: Your campaign is about safety. You come from a public health background, and you deal with some of the most difficult problems in our society on a daily basis. What can be done in Congress to further address the opioid epidemic?
BH: There are a couple of tiers here. Number one, increasing access. So right here in Western North Carolina, if somebody needed access to a bed for addiction, they would not have that access. If they needed a bed for depression, they would not have that access.
Number two is increasing evidence-based care at these facilities. We have many state-run facilities that are actually wasting taxpayer dollars because they are not actually providing evidence-based care.
Number three, making sure that there’s good retention and follow up for these individuals, making sure there’s good primary care. And we’re looking at all the social determinants of health, which means things like healthy food, sleep schedule, the crime rate, all of these other kinds of peripheral things that the campaign, from a systems perspective, will affect.
In the long-term is building up that infrastructure. I want to reiterate again, mental illness will be the number one cause of mortality in the next 20 years, so we absolutely must get ahead of this curve. We must have leaders that understand this who are willing to step up and give a voice for the voiceless.
SMN: As someone who is largely concerned with public safety, you know that police reform is a local and state issue, but are there avenues in Congress to make some headway on this?
BH: I think there is room for that. I think we need to be building bridges and tearing down fences. We need to be drawing in the independents, the Republicans and fellow Democrats. We need to be bringing everyone to the table and making sure again that number one we’re keeping safety in our community, in our streets, but making sure that our laws in our community are equitable at the same time.
SMN: Rural broadband is another huge quality of life issue that underlies a lot of our other problems, as we learned during the pandemic, and as we saw at the redistricting meeting (see REDISTRICTING, p. 6) even. Where does the federal government come into the picture of, of expanding access to broadband for rural America?
BH: I think one of the issues here in North Carolina is that we have kind of made a deal with the devils as far as broadband in not letting counties provide that as public infrastructure. So really, looking at ways that we can incentivize states and localities to maybe rescind those laws and making a federal law of making it public utility, much like telephones. We’re in the 21st century, we’re in the greatest country in the world. We’re in the wealthiest country in the world and there is no reason why we cannot all live in a connected world.
SMN: Up until about half an hour ago, there were eight Democrats in this race (see SNAFU, p. 7). Now there’s seven, but it’ll probably head back up to eight, nine, 10 Democrats, who knows … what makes you different than everyone else in this Democratic primary?
BH: I’m a problem solver. I’m a trained problem solver. I’ve been showing up for my community from day one. I haven’t posted everything on social media because quite frankly I do what’s right when no one’s looking, so I don’t really need a pat on the back.
I’m not running on being a Black pastor. I’m not running on being a lesbian mom. I am running on the issues that are important to the people of WNC, which are a safety, environment, the dignity of work and a living wage, access to healthcare and mental health care. I am not afraid to take questions without a handler. I don’t need to just tell you that I can only speak on education or healthcare. I am not going to ignore your calls for an interview.
We have to have someone with a little bit of an edge to them who will not let Madison Cawthorn off the hook, who will get out there and speak to the rural voters who have already been showing up for this district in so many ways.
SMN: Madison Cawthorn is going to raise a ton of money. He has unlimited access to national media. He’s been dragged around the country as a speaker. His profile is growing bigger and bigger. He is the literal elephant in the room. If you make it through this Democratic Primary Election, how do you beat Madison Cawthorn with all of those tools that he has at his disposal?
BH: It’s interesting because actually I ran into Madison Cawthorn in person. He wasn’t the elephant in the room. He actually cleared out the room. His face got completely red and he looked like he saw a ghost. I didn’t actually realize he had known who we were, but it was amazing. I actually was acting like the sitting congressman, he kind of scurried off and met the two people that he was meeting and then cleared the room. It was like when you overcook eggs or something, so less the elephant and more like just kind of an overdone omelet.
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Having spoke via email with Bo and having asked him some serious questions about gun violence, jobs in NC, a little about Heathcare and something else I thought was important, crypto currencies and the jobs that they can bring to our areas.
Bo hit me as a problem solver. Someone who wants to get to the root of the problem and understand it before blabbering off with some smooth verbal rub down. Instead, he was honest about his own understanding about the issues and where he stood on them.
This was apparent when it came to crypto currencies. Instead of reassuring me, he genuinely noted his comprehension on the subject and said he would like to do more research into it, but if it did in fact offer betterment to the area as a whole, he would support it.
I think he makes a great point here, which seemingly sums up the character of Bo. "We’re not just rehashing or telling the voters what is wrong. We already know what is wrong. We need somebody who is a problem solver and that is what this campaign is about.”
Who knows, maybe Andrew Yang and Bo 2024 lol
As a North Carolinaian, I want a problem solver, not a Cawthorn in my side. Get'em Bo!!
Cawthorn has his problems, but the party Hess represents is a problem maker, far from solvers. All I see Hess pushing are things that will require more spending, and that is something a bankrupt FedGov is not able to afford.