Name as it appears on the ballot: Clay Aiken

Age: 43

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website: 

Occupation & employer:  Musician, disabilities advocate, and chairman of National Inclusion Project

Years lived in North Carolina: 43

1. What are your primary concerns for the State of North Carolina?

For most of my life, North Carolina has been known as a successful and progressive outlier in the South. From our well-funded, consolidated higher education institutions to our well planned infrastructure to the proactive focus we made to educate and recruit a 21st century workforce, North Carolina has always been known for forward-thinking leaders, like Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt; visionaries, like Bill Friday and Floyd McKissick; and trailblazers, like John Hope Franklin and Eva Clayton.

Over the past twelve years, however, our reputation has taken a hit, to say the least. It began with attacks on North Carolinians right to basic healthcare — a policy debate that reasonable people can disagree on, but that has continued to harm thousands of North Carolinians every year. Then it progressed to laws intended to relegate gay and lesbian North Carolinians to second-class citizen status by denying basic protections and freedoms. Our state’s reputation has continued to deteriorate through chronic and unconstitutional underfunding of our schools; nonsensical, transphobic laws intended to codify hatred and aggressive voter suppression and gerrymandering tactics that seek to disenfranchise voters and simultaneously dilute North Carolinians’ faith in democracy. Meanwhile, the most prominent names and faces in NC politics these days are apples fallen so far from the trees of Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, and Roy Cooper that they have left much of America with a rotten impression of who we truly are as North Carolinians.

There are many policy areas where I have deep concerns for the Triangle, for North Carolina, and for our country. I address many of them both in this questionnaire and throughout my campaign. But, as a candidate for federal office and one who has for almost 20 years been a visible and proud son of North Carolina, when I think of a “primary concern for the State of North Carolina,” I think of how tired I am of having NC be represented on a national political stage by xenophobes and homophobes (whose names don’t deserve to be repeated). It’s not who we are. We were the first state in the South to elect a Black woman to Congress, in 1992. We’ll be the first state in the South to elect a Black woman to the Senate this year. And I’m excited to show our Lt. Governor exactly “what purpose” we serve by being the first state in the South to elect an openly LGBT member to Congress this year also. #NCProud

2. What in your background qualifies you to represent the people of this state effectively? What would you cite as your biggest career accomplishments?

After Idol, I realized that the platform I had could be used to bring attention to the needs of those who couldn’t always fight for themselves. Prior to Idol I worked in NC schools as a special educator and worked a second job caring for children with disabilities outside of the classroom setting. I also worked as a supervisor of summer camps and afterschool programs with the YMCA of the Triangle. Most of my students who had developmental disabilities were unable, in those years, to attend programs like Y camps, because of a lack of support for them in those settings. After I finished Idol, I discovered that the platform I had gained from the show gave me the opportunity to bring attention and awareness to issues that weren’t being addressed.

So I used that attention and spotlight to start the National Inclusion Project, an organization that trains and assists youth programs in making their environments and activities accessible for children with disabilities. Over the past 19 years, our work has provided training, resources, curriculum and accreditation to youth recreational programs all across the country. We’ve helped make extracurricular activities inclusive for thousands of children with disabilities in three dozen states. In addition to the success of our inclusive recreation efforts, which I would consider my proudest career accomplishment, I served for a decade as UNICEF’s National Ambassador, working on and helping to build successful education and child protection programs for UNICEF in Indonesia, Uganda, Afghanistan, Kenya, and Somalia.

Congressman Price’s 35 year incumbency has earned him enormous influence, which our area has benefited greatly from. His level of influence is one that almost no first term member could hope to have.

Through my work, I’ve shown proven success in using my national platform to get people to pay attention to important issues. This is the same spotlight that I will bring to the needs of the 4th district. We don’t have time to wait 30-plus years for our next member of Congress to accrue the type of seniority Congressman Price has had. We need it now. Shining a light on the needs of our community — during a period when we are growing faster than any other place in America — is something I’m able to do in a way that no other candidate — no other first term member, in fact — can.

3. If elected, what three policies would you prioritize and how would you work across the aisle to enact those initiatives?

Many issues facing Congress have become so politically charged that attempts to work across the aisle are often in vain. Some are still not. Education and access to equitable, high quality education should be an area where bipartisan agreement can be reached.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides increased funding for schools with greater than 35% of students qualifying as low income — certainly a worthy program. In school districts like Durham Public Schools or Granville County Schools, where the system’s student population is largely high poverty, these funds provide value. However, in other school districts with a lower overall percentage of low-income families, Title I has often incentivized school systems to pack low-income students into one or two high-poverty, underperforming schools in order to access this extra funding. This takes away from the school districts and the students that need this help the most. Reauthorizing Title I and closing this loophole would be a priority for me.

Affordable housing is also an area where bipartisan agreement should be possible, since both Democratic and Republican districts alike are facing dramatically rising housing costs. Federal programs like the Capital Magnet Fund, which provides grants and subsidies to incentivize the development of affordable housing should be targeted to the areas most in need — areas, like ours, where housing prices have risen by the highest percentages year-over-year.

And for those more politically polarized issues, Democrats have often succeeded most at drawing Republican support when we have illustrated to Republicans how the laws they pass or defend can be used against them as well. In the area of voting rights, which is a high priority for me, the GOP defense of gerrymandering remained full-throated until Democrats in states like NY began to gerrymander in favor of Democrats as aggressively as Republicans in states like ours had skewed our maps. Similar emphasis should be placed on how attempts to restrict Democratic voters’ access to voting might be used to make it more difficult for Republicans in other states. If common sense and fairness can’t prevail, more tangibly illustrating the perils of destroying our democracy might.

5. What factors are fueling the country’s growing political polarization and how will you work to mend it?

At this point, it’s difficult to say exactly what is fueling the growing political polarization. Each side has some event in the past they can point to to blame the other for the rising tensions. I think in order to work together moving forward, we have to want to. I know that sounds a bit simplified, but I believe it’s the key, and I don’t believe there’s adequate desire or motivation from our current political leaders to work together. It’s not difficult to get along if we choose to.  We have to want to find areas where we can work together. The people of Durham and the Triangle have known me for twenty years now. I have a track record of not seeking to court controversy or stir division. In fact, I’ve made an effort throughout my time in the public eye to befriend those who I disagree with and show respect to those I challenge. As a member of Congress, I’m eager to turn down the volume, lower the temperature, and most importantly,  work with those who I don’t agree with on everything, put those disagreements aside, and find areas for agreement and for progress for the good of NC.

6. With rent, property taxes, and home sale prices all rising, what, if anything, should the federal government do to address this growing affordability crisis?

We should increase the Capital Magnet Fund to leverage federal money to boost availability of affordable housing, and target it to areas like the Triangle where folks are being priced out of their homes.

The federal funds set aside to assist areas in need, like ours, is limited and is often jockeyed for by 435 members, each with their own district to attend to. The 4th district — Durham, especially — has a unique and urgent need for federal funds that incentivize the development of affordable housing. I have the ability to bring the attention necessary to our district’s needs so that Durham and the 4th district don’t get lost and forgotten amongst the 435.

I believe funding for the rapid development of affordable housing should be targeted to areas where rapid growth is quickly pricing folks out of their homes — areas with median home price or median rent increases that are higher year-over-year, like the Triangle, should be prioritized. While we’re doing that, we should dramatically increase the amount of funding available for the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

7. What specific policies or programs do you endorse or would pursue to combat inflation?

Whipping inflation will take far more than one or two actions by the federal government. The measures often touted as most immediately effective in curbing rising prices — improving supply chains, raising interest rates, releasing strategic oil reserves — have seen action from the current administration. Each has had some, but not enough, effect. Congress must continue to seek ways to cut away at rising prices using economic and trade action. For example, removing the Trump tariffs on raw materials, such as steel, aluminum, and rubber, would allow American manufacturers and builders faster and cheaper access to the supplies they need to build products in the US, further reducing strain on the supply chain. Beyond just simple trade measures, Congress should take a larger, holistic approach to how our economy — and by extension, inflation — is affected by areas of policy outside of traditional commerce. A large driver of rapid inflation as the country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic has been lack of supply due to lack of adequate workforce. As demand outpaces our ability to produce, manufacture, or serve, prices go up. Increasing the number of workers in the job market would result in more productivity, driving inflation down. Democrats should begin to lean on this argument as we push for immigration reform. Increasing the numbers of immigrants admitted into the US would have a marked effect on slowing inflation.

While an increase in the number of immigrants won’t solve inflation alone, the problem is too great to be solved with a magic pill. We must continue to look for innovative ways to rescue the economy that also align with the values we espouse as Americans.

8. 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?

Congress should not be reactionary and wait for this to occur. It should immediately codify the tenets of Planned Parenthood v Casey into law and protect this fundamental constitutional right.

We’ve had 30 years now to codify the tenets of Planned Parenthood v Casey into law — during which time there have been 3 congresses when Democrats have had full control of both the presidency and both chambers. There is little rational explanation for why a woman’s right to have control over her own body needs to be specifically written into law, but it must be. Congress should act now to codify this into law before any decision is handed down this summer. However, if they do not and the Court overturns the precedent, we cannot wait to respond. Current administrative policies within executive branches, like the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, should be changed immediately to allow doctors on military bases and in VA hospital facilities to perform abortions, and the administration should leverage the federal enclave status of every eligible federal property to allow all women access to those services on federal properties around the country where state laws do not apply. All creative and legal options like these must remain on the table and no viable alternative should be dismissed when it comes to maintaining women’s rights to have control over their own bodies. While every legal method must be exploited to protect this basic right, work can not stop at pushing towards legislative guarantees. I will fight in Congress for a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions and have it codified into federal law.   

9. Please state three specific policies you support to address climate change.

The federal government must take an active role in combating the effects of climate change by investing in R&D for carbon neutral technologies, incentives to aid in their adoption, and forming robust climate goals and plans to reach them both domestically and within the international community.

We must speed up research and development of carbon neutral technologies, and provide incentives to aid in their adoption. Through federal infrastructure spending, we can replace inefficient and dirty energy with new technologies to reduce our carbon footprint — and much of that research and development capability is right here in RTP! Further investment in such R&D should be targeted towards areas like ours where the skilled and educated workforce is already trained and eager to help find these solutions. The talented workforce in the Triangle is eager to and capable of helping build more resilient infrastructure that is designed for the climate of the future rather than the climate of the past. Congress should invest in that.

Just as urgently, we’ve got to use the regulatory power that Congress has to crack down on polluters and dirty energy! And we must pass legislation to guide the economy towards clean, renewable energy.

10. 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?

Yes. Without question. I ran as a Democrat in a deeply Republican district in 2014 in large part to bring attention to the destructive effects of gerrymandering — something that has been eroding American democracy for decades. As a party we have long watched Republican efforts to restrict the power of individuals’ votes. And yet our strong legislative push for voting rights laws didn’t begin in earnest until 2021 — eight years after Shelby County v Holder gutted the original Voting Rights Act.

I plan to use my voice most powerfully for a rapid return to the proactive and results driven party that Democrats historically have excelled at being. We must pass national legislation to ensure that districts are drawn by nonpartisan commissions instead of by politicians. We should also expand access to voting by making Election Day a federal holiday, increasing early voting hours and locations, and implementing NC’s long-standing, no excuse absentee mail voting nationwide.

11. Are there any issues this questionnaire has not addressed that you would like to address?

This election is the first time in 50 years that the citizens of Durham have had an opportunity to elect a member of Congress who will put the needs of Durham first. Every Congressional representative who has represented Durham since 1972 has been from Chapel Hill, Raleigh, or Wilson. This year is an incredible opportunity for the fourth largest city in NC — and one of the fastest growing in America — to send someone to Congress who will put the needs of Durham first. I spent my childhood in northern Durham and Bahama. I worked the concession stands at DBAP in high school. I built a house and moved right back to Durham after Idol. My son was born at Durham Regional. Durham is as much a part of me as I am of it.

But unfortunately for Durham and the rest of our district, we’ve recently seen a thirty year old billionaire who has never even been to our city, let alone our state, spending upwards of a million dollars to buy this election. This outside spending is the antithesis of democracy, unfairly tipping the scales, and taking power away from the people of the district to choose their representative. We’re left to wonder, why is a billionaire spending so much money to support one candidate? Why does one person, who’s not even from the district, get to have such an outsized impact on the course of this election? I’m disheartened that this is the case and ask all who are planning to vote in this election to do their own research and choose the candidate that most aligns with their values.