Name as it appears on the ballot: Ashley Ward
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: https://ashleywardforcongress.com/
Occupation & employer: Senior Policy Associate, Duke University Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Years lived in North Carolina: 49
- What are your primary concerns for the State of North Carolina?
- Climate change: Climate change is the greatest threat to our safety and well-being. The National Climate Assessment identified the Southeast as the region that will experience the greatest impacts from climate change, and a follow-up study by Johns Hopkins demonstrated that we are the least prepared to deal with it. More recently, the IPCC has released its report that outlines the dire situation presented by climate change and the need to act decisively and with urgency. North Carolina and its communities are on the frontline, impacted by hurricanes, wildfires, drought, extreme heat, flash flood events, and other extreme events. These increasingly more frequent and severe events impact our lives by threatening economic security, housing, schools and medical facilities, as well as our health and well-being. Boldly confronting climate change is critical.
- Voting rights: There is no greater threat to democracy than current efforts to undermine and limit the right to vote. These restrictions mean legislators are not accountable to those they represent and are unwilling to legislate based on their community’s best interests. The lack of accountability to voters undermines ethical and effective governance.
- Healthcare: I believe access to healthcare is a right and the mission of our healthcare system should be to improve health outcomes and the well-being of our citizens. Therefore, access to healthcare should not be based on employment. We are currently experiencing the impact of the collapse of community health centers that began in the 1980s. COVID has highlighted the need for community health centers, but the impact to communities was evident long before. Lack of access to mental health, maternal health, and addiction counseling continues to place layered burdens on communities. In NC, the failure to expand Medicaid, lack of physicians in rural areas, inadequate access to Internet services (for telehealth), and lack of long-term services and support for the aging and disabled continue to present barriers.
2. What in your background qualifies you to represent the people of this state effectively? What would you cite as your biggest career accomplishments?
I am a climate-health and resilience expert with over a decade of experience in climate change and federal policy. I have the full spectrum of federal policy experience, from development and administration of policy through my job at Duke to implementation in communities through my previous job at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). We need people at the table creating policy who have the experience of seeing what policy looks like on the ground because what often looks good on paper can be difficult to carry out in practice.
There are 435 Representatives in Congress, but not one climate expert. If elected, I would be the first climate expert ever elected to the U.S. Congress. Having champions for climate policy in Congress is a good thing, but we need true leadership that is informed by a depth of professional experience and expertise to lead those champions to the most sustainable and impactful solutions.
While climate change is my professional mission, I’m like so many others in the district. I have a child that has a chronic illness, so my husband and I have carried significant medical debt. As an adult who returned to college, I had to take on college loans for me, then for my two girls. I have student loan debt. My family has run a small business in Durham for 3 decades. The issues of affordable healthcare and education, and the need for support for small businesses, community colleges, and vocational trades are not politics to me, they are personal. I believe my lived experience, combined with my education and professional expertise is unique, and is something we desperately need to meet this particular moment.
Throughout my career, I have worked on the ground to connect science, policy, and communities. I have been a leading voice in advocating for a participatory approach to policy making, particularly in the climate-health and resilience space. When I reflect on my career accomplishments, I think of them in terms of implementation in communities (NOAA) and development and administration of federal policy (Duke). At NOAA, I was part of a core group of practitioners who changed the national approach to working in communities on the issue of climate change and who were instrumental in getting a dedicated chapter to rural communities in the National Climate Assessment. I was also the lead author on the first paper ever published on the impacts of heat on maternal health outcomes in the Southeast, highlighting on a national stage the need to put resources, research, and efforts at mitigating the impact of climate change on this vulnerable population. I was also one of 5 people who represented NOAA and the U.S. government at the first Global Heat Health conference in Hong Kong that gathered the world’s experts in heat exposure where we developed best practices for the WHO (World Health Organization) and WMO (World Meteorological Organization) to combat heat exposure. While at Duke, I’ve worked to improve the ability of state and local governments to better manage water resources through my work with the Internet of Water project. I’ve also written critical policy guidance for water management agencies at the Federal and State level. For example, I’ve worked with the state of California, CA NGOs and CA tribal governments to develop an integrated reporting and monitoring system for Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms (the first of this kind in the nation). I’ve also worked with the state of New Mexico, helping public agencies implement their water data legislation, passed in 2019. In North Carolina, I’ve worked with state agencies and water utilities to develop statewide technology to improve water management and better prepare communities for drought.
3. If elected, what three policies would you prioritize and how would you work across the aisle to enact those initiatives?
There are areas in which bipartisan support exists; therefore, we must begin at those places of collaboration and build outward. There are three areas where I could see potential bipartisan action that would improve the lives of many North Carolinians.
The first is aimed at supporting small businesses through tax reform. The corporate tax reform instituted by the previous administration gave tax breaks to large corporations (C-Corps). Most small businesses are S-Corps or LLCs that now pay a higher tax rate than large corporations. We must roll back the tax breaks that were given to large corporations and extend those tax cuts to small businesses, the true job creators that employ nearly 60% of our nation’s labor force.
The second is addressing affordability in education. Currently, the Federal government holds loans for millions of student and parent borrowers under conditions that resemble predatory lending practices. We must reform the current student loan program to provide the same favorable lending conditions to students and parents that we provide to big banks and corporations. Additionally, we must redesign the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to allow for incremental forgiveness of loans for public servants and lower the barriers for qualifications. At the federal level, we must also address overall affordability of higher education through supporting community colleges and vocational training programs, encouraging more youth to enter vocational training programs, developing a robust apprenticeship program, and providing incentives for governments to fund their state university systems adequately.
Finally, many people are surprised to learn that there is significant bipartisan support for much climate resilience and adaptation legislation. Among these are reforming the Stafford Act and the Federal Flood Insurance Program, investing in adaptive infrastructure, and extending solar tax credits to incentivize rooftop solar installation. We can’t wait for one giant climate package and count on it passing both houses of Congress. We must work to get these important pieces of legislation passed immediately to both alleviate the impact of climate change on communities but to also to build coalitions in Congress that will continue to address climate change. Climate action must be bold and swift, but also strategic. We can’t wait for action.
4. What factors are fueling the country’s growing political polarization and how will you work to mend it?
The political polarization in the U.S. threatens our democracy. One of the drivers of this is the practice of gerrymandering. When officials are elected to districts that are heavily gerrymandered, they have little incentive to collaborate with colleagues of the opposite party. It is a lot harder to say outrageous things in the media about the opposition party if half of your district is made up of those same voters. Therefore, I support a stand-alone anti-gerrymandering bill, which currently has bipartisan support.
I also believe we need Representatives to invest more time and energy into building coalitions within their districts to both bring community members into the policy making process, and to improve the communication and information that constituents receive about both the successes and challenges of legislating. I’ve spent my career doing just this kind of work. While I have expertise in climate change, I haven’t been sitting behind a computer or working in a lab. My job has been on the ground, working hand in hand with community members who often don’t agree with one another to build consensus, prioritize issues, and develop sustainable solutions. I hope to bring this approach to Congressional representation in the district. While this may not address national political polarization, it will alleviate at least in part that which exists in our community.
5. With rent, property taxes, and home sale prices all rising, what, if anything, should the federal government do to address this growing affordability crisis?
While zoning and many housing policies are established at the state and local level, there are some mechanisms through which the federal government can address housing affordability. The first and perhaps most obvious is through universal housing vouchers (known as Section 8). Currently only about 20% of those who qualify for Section 8 are provided vouchers. Fully funding Section 8 to provide vouchers for all who qualify would reduce greatly the number of households that pay disproportionately large amounts of their income to rent.
Incentivizing developers to create affordable housing is also an avenue through which the Federal government can support such initiatives. For example, in Durham, the Historic Tax Credit incentivized developers to revitalize downtown Durham by restoring existing infrastructure. A similar program could be launched that incentivizes the development of affordable housing, offering significant tax credits to developers.
Additionally, there are models elsewhere in the world and in the U.S. of federal, state, and local agencies partnering with nonprofit and for-profit entities to provide social housing. Post WWII, HUD built many homes for poor, working-class, and moderate-income households in suburbs across the U.S. My father grew up in one such development in Durham, provided for the families of WWII veterans. HUD is no longer designed to provide such programs, but it would be transformative should HUD engage again with state and local governments to work with communities to determine which kinds of housing are needed and work together to provide such housing. This program would also make Section 8 more economical as it would drive down the costs of housing (Section 8 vouchers are currently based on market values).
6. What specific policies or programs do you endorse or would pursue to combat inflation?
While some of our inflation is expected and due to market recovery from COVID, it is clear when we see the reports of record profits and stock buybacks from corporations that one aspect of inflation is corporate greed, which disproportionately impacts middle and low-income households, decreasing their spending power and making it harder to save for larger life investments, like buying a home or sending a child to college. To counter this, I support strengthening our antitrust laws and regulations. Additionally, by reforming our immigration system to include a robust worker visa program, we would address labor shortages that have contributed to supply chain and distribution issues. Finally, by becoming energy independent and ending our dependence on fossil fuels, the U.S. could better control energy prices, a significant driver of inflation, and address the corporate greed exhibited by oil companies that prioritize shareholder profits over national economic security.
7. The U.S. Supreme Court may issue a ruling this summer that guts, or even overturns, Roe v. Wade. What must Congress do to protect abortion rights if that happens?
We thought Roe was settled law. It wasn’t. What we have learned is that we can’t substitute Supreme Court decisions for actual legislation. We must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act into law. This piece of legislation is important because it prohibits states from passing laws that impose burdensome requirements for reproductive health services.I also support the reintroduction of the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act, or the Not My Boss’ Business Act, that would repeal the US Supreme Court decision that allows a corporation to use its owner’s religious beliefs to deny health care coverage for contraception. Finally, we must overturn the Hyde Amendment that restricts federal funding for abortion.
8. Please state three specific policies you support to address climate change.
I am a climate expert who has spent my career in resilience and adaptation in the American South. While the Green New Deal is transformative in how we approach climate change, since it is only a resolution, it alone is not enough. We need substantive legislation to put the Green New Deal into practice, and we need to use Congressional oversight and pressure on federal agencies to refine and update current policies to reflect the urgency of climate change. These policies must be more responsive to community needs, must address historic inequities, and must be implementable at the community level with little burden. My professional experience, along with my expertise in the health impacts of climate change, has helped me identify where the gaps are in federal policy and where current policies need revision. I plan to use my position in Congress to address the challenges that I’ve seen first-hand in communities using both the power of new legislation and the power of Congressional oversight to
●Remove barriers to communities for access to clean, renewable energy: Use policy incentives that support community solar, finance solutions for communities, and expand weatherization and energy efficiency programs.
●Allow communities to have control over energy production and distribution: End energy monopolies that concentrate power to the very few large energy corporations and support local control of utility boards (which are federally funded) by requiring fair elections and open meetings.
●Stop investments in and support of extractive practices: Particularly in the American South, communities often experience the mass extraction of natural resources (like for the wood pellet industry) and the export of these resources to foreign markets where the value-add is realized. The communities are left with polluting industries with little benefit to their community and little impact on climate mitigation. These policies would also include ending subsidies for fossil fuels and investing in the development of renewable energy sources.
●Update and redesign the Stafford Act and the Federal Flood Insurance Program: Federal programs designed to address climate resilience were developed many decades ago and are no longer adequate to meet this moment. We must overhaul these programs to better plan, prepare, and respond to climate disasters. Communities must be at the center of such planning and policies so that we can ensure the policies adequately address community needs, capacities, and capabilities.
9. Do you believe Congress should pass the Freedom to Vote Act to guarantee free and fair elections for every American, limit the impact of money on elections, and restrict gerrymandering?
10. Are there any issues this questionnaire has not addressed that you would like to address?
There are two additional issues that immediately come to mind, reforming our tax system and our immigration system.
Our current system of taxation has exacerbated income inequality and crippled communities, so we need to reform our current tax system. Wealthy individuals are able to avoid paying standard tax rates while middle income families end up paying a larger percentage of their incomes. We need to strengthen tax breaks for the middle class (ex: by making child tax credits permanent) and close loopholes that make it possible for the wealthy to avoid their tax responsibilities (ex: taxing excessive wealth, not income).
I believe immigration reform should include ending child separation; increasing the availability of work visas; redesigning the asylum system; reforming immigration courts; holding federal agencies tasked with immigration and border security to ethical, humane practices; and reducing the influence and integration of federal immigration agencies with private industry.