Tell me about yourself—why did you decide to run for public office?
I’m not a career politician. I never would have imagined myself doing something like this. I grew up in a rural area from a very working-class family. My father was the first person in his family to get a high school diploma. My grandparents were sharecroppers, they worked in tobacco factories. [When I first graduated high school], I waited tables, worked at a grocery store. Eventually I enrolled in the community college and completed a business degree. I met my husband and got married, but my dream was to go to college.
When I got pregnant with my second daughter, that’s when my husband said, “We’re gonna be on one income … so if you’re gonna go back to school, now’s the time to do it.” I was 30 years old with a four-year-old and a newborn, and off I went to college to get my bachelor’s degree. It was a wonderful experience, a lonely experience, but I learned a ton. I was constantly trying to navigate [childcare and school], but somehow I did it. I graduated with highest honors and I went on to get my master’s and my PhD. I taught at the university for several years. Then I got a job at NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration].
How does your professional experience prepare you for a job in Congress?
[My job at NOAA] was to work with communities in North and South Carolina to help them navigate federal policy and use science to improve decision-making and build resilience for climate change. It was a moment for me to learn about what really matters to communities. I know there were people at that table who didn’t agree with each other. They didn’t vote the same. [But] everybody cares about their community, they have a vested interest that they’re safe and well.
Besides climate change, what issues are important to you?
Voting rights. We have to ensure access to free and fair elections. We have to ensure that districts are drawn in a nonpartisan fashion. We have to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and we have to pass the For the People Act. Gerrymandering is a serious threat to the democratic process. I would love to hear why we don’t have a standalone anti-gerrymandering bill. Third-party [independent] redistricting is what we have to do.
Why should people vote for you?
I would be the first person elected to Congress that has expertise in climate health and resilience. There are a lot of champions for climate change in Congress, but I think there’s a benefit to having someone who’s worked on the ground with communities on this issue. I’m the only candidate in the race who has worked in the federal policy space.
I [also] have a fairly unique background. I hear people say all the time that they are tired of career politicians. People say they want things to be different. What I’m asking is that people, if they really want someone different … to take a leap of faith. I’m asking them to vote differently, for the person who has the practical experience, who does know what it’s like [to live an everyday life].
I have student loans. Our youngest daughter has had health issues, there were years we had an excess of $15,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses. I know what that’s like. I know what it’s like to work multiple jobs. Those are my life experiences.
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