Candidate Profile: Ernie Ward (D), NC Senate District 8
Democrat Ernie Ward is challenging Senator Bill Rabon for North Carolina Senate District 8, which encompasses Brunswick, Pender, and Bladen County, along with a small portion of western New Hanover County. Ward, who is a veterinarian and author, moved to North Carolina in 1992. At that time, he says education, job creation, and the environment were prioritized by the legislature, but that’s declined in recent years. He aims to change that by focusing on education, infrastructure, and research.
WHQR’s Isabelle Shepherd: If elected to the North Carolina Senate, where will your focus lie?
Ernie Ward: I think we have three big issues facing southeastern North Carolina. The first is our educational system. The cuts that the legislature has made have really left us reeling. Our students now are at a tremendous disadvantage from the rest of the country. Number two, we’ve got to continue to invest in infrastructure. Those are the highways, the communications, the bridges, the training, all those programs that help keep our economy and jobs going. And the third thing that we don’t talk a lot about on the campaign trail, but it’s worth repeating here, is research.
IS: There have been critiques waged against the recent redistricting in North Carolina. What’s your take? Are the districts working or do they need an overhaul?
EW: You know, what I don’t like about politics right now is it’s who’s in power during the census years that draws the lines. Both sides—Democrats and Republicans—have been foul of running the districts in their favor. We need bipartisan committees that are separate from politics to actually draw these districts so that they can be competitive. Because the people of North Carolina deserve that. They deserve to have two parties that have equal opportunity to get ahead.
IS: How would you reform taxes?
EW: We just had across-the-board tax cuts, and those cuts are always going to favor the wealthiest among us. Let’s talk about two people. One makes five million dollars a year and one makes fifty thousand dollars a year. You cut each of their taxes by 1%. Well, wow, so the fifty thousand dollar guy really got a very small amount of tax cut. But here’s the problem. People say, “Oh, wait a second, that guy who makes five million dollars a year, he spends a lot more money.” They don’t. That is the myth. They save their money. They put their money outside of our local economies. And so, you know, this is why we have to get back to saying, “Who’s really paying the taxes and how is that affecting their day-to-day lives?” Because if you’re like me, middle class North Carolina, we are bearing the burden, and it hurts.
IS: During the last short session, teacher pay was increased. Do you think it’s enough?
EW: The thing about this teacher pay raise is it’s all over the board. And, what I don’t like about averages—they tout the average of 7%—well, if you put me and Shaquille O’Neal side-by-side, our average height is 6’6”, but I’m not going to make it in the NBA at 5’8”. So the reality is, we have to say, how did those pay raises actually roll out? Well, they benefitted newer teachers, and if you had been teaching for twenty or more years, you got less than one percent. And this is really dangerous because it can create division within schools. Because now, you’ve been working as a great, dedicated, committed teacher for twenty-five years, and you’re looking at your paycheck going, “I didn’t get a raise.” One of the things I don’t like about this conversation from politicians is this: We’re saying, “Hey, let’s just try to raise it up to 32nd in the nation. By golly, we got it to 30.” Why aren’t we saying, “Why don’t we have the best teacher pay scale in the nation?” Why are we suddenly happy with being average? North Carolina is not average. Our people are not average. Teacher pay scale should be above average. We have to invest in our future.
IS: So what are your thoughts on offshore seismic testing to look for oil and natural gas deposits?
EW: I love our coastlines. And so anything that even could potentially harm that beautiful resource, I’m going to take a very close look at. So, currently, I do not approve of this. I mean, we drilled wells all up and down the North Carolina coast about twenty-five to thirty years ago looking for oil. They didn’t find any. So suddenly now, we’re coming back and saying, “Wait a second, let’s do it all over again.” Potentially harming mammals? As a veterinarian, I have real concerns. I’m not satisfied with the current science. I do not believe we have evidence that it is safe. So I want to say, let’s take a cautious approach moving forward.
IS: Dr. Ward, thank you for joining us today.
EW: Oh, thanks for having me.
Ward’s opponent, Senator Bill Rabon, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. A candidate profile produced earlier this year can be found on our website.
Early voting begins on October 23rd and ends on November 1st. Election Day is November 4th.