A second Brunswick County veterinarian is vying to represent the citizens of North Carolina’s Senate District Eight. In fact, Democratic candidate Dr. Ernie Ward cites -- as a major impetus to run -- a January episode during which his district’s incumbent senator, fellow veterinarian Bill Rabon, rejected legislation to regulate commercial dog breeding. In addition to animal rights, this political newcomer—who is endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Educators and has served on Brunswick County’s Board of Health—champions accessible healthcare and middle-class job creation. Ward recently sat down with WHQR’s Katie O’Reilly to discuss ideas to improve quality of life in District Eight.
WHQR’s Katie O’Reilly: Tell me about your top three priorities in office.
Ernie Ward: Number one, education. It seems our current lawmakers are doing everything in their power to dismantle public schools. We don’t give respect to teachers, they haven’t been given raises. I mean they’re taking away all types of job protection. These are things that threaten one of the institutions of our democracy. Public education is truly the last melting pot that we experience as a people, and I’m gonna fight for that. And I’m gonna fight for the respect of our teachers; we need to focus on how to keep the best teachers. The second thing is job creation. I have watched so many industries leave our area—good-paying jobs! This Caterpillar, you know we lost Continental Tire Plant--all of these down in Brunswick County--simply because we thumbed our noses at how to get these companies here. So they went to South Carolina, where they did receive tax incentives. Anytime I see people threaten film incentives and any other types of job creation initiatives, I’m gonna fight for that. And finally, I’m really concerned about the direction we’re taking with our environment. We seem not to be interested in protecting good clean water, soil, and air. It’s seems like our lawmakers are more interested in protecting big, out-of-state corporations, and their millionaire friends, as opposed to good clean drinking water. So, I think those three issues are really the main core of what I’m trying to fight for here.
KO: Circling back to what you said about education, how do you feel about Governor McCrory’s recent move to raise beginning teachers’ salaries?
EW: You talk about busting morale within a school! I mean, I think this is the wrong approach. I am for raising all teachers’ salaries. We have got to get back to close to the national average. When districts like South Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas pay more for their teachers than North Carolina--this great beacon of hope in the old New South?!--I’m gonna fight for it. So I was shocked when he did that. And now, they’re rescinding. Jerry Tillman, a Republican from Randolph County, recently said “Let’s hope for the best” when it comes to giving these raises, because the money may not be there that they’ve promised. Instead, they’ve given these tax handouts to the wealthiest, and out-of-state corporations.
KO: So, what’s it going to take to spur regional job creation?
EW: We often make these assumptions about the Information Superhighway. Well many counties in my area—Bladen, Pender, parts of Brunswick County—we’re not on the Information Superhighway; we’re on the Information Dirt Road. And until we provide some basic infrastructure, these kids can’t even get ahead. If they want to do some online schooling, they can’t get it. If they want to try to develop a home job or some type of business out of their home, they can’t do it, so we’ve gotta invest in technology infrastructure. When I see cities like Charleston, just to the south of us, producing this wonderful digital corridor, and you say, hey, we’re gonna track this. We’re gonna provide incentives—we’re not talking about cash up front, but just deferred income tax for the first two or three years--they are building high-tech businesses that we should be having in our area. We’ve got the Triangle Area—that is without a doubt one of the leaders in the world in biotech and technology services. Why aren’t we leveraging that for Southeastern North Carolina?
KO: Our state is being sued by a U.S. Attorney General for its new voting laws, which opponents say disproportionately alienate black and rural voters. Do you have any desire to change these laws?
EW: Let’s face it; most people think of voter ID as, "You have to show up with some sort of ID to drive a car or cash a check; shouldn’t you have to have an ID to show up to vote?" Well if that was the simple issue, that would be okay; I get that. But what they don’t understand is, what they included were so many other provisions to it—cutting out early voting, the way you register. In fact, seventy percent, it’s estimated, of the people that are affected by this new voter ID law are women, simply because they changed their name, got divorced. They’re gonna show up at the polls, and they could be disallowed to vote. So forget the picture ID part of the law—let’s look at what else it did: curtailing early voting, changing the way we do absentee balloting; changing the way you even request an absentee ballot. All of these are measures simply to prevent people from voting. Voting is not a privilege; voting is a right.
KO: Dr. Ernie Ward, thank you for joining us today.
EW: Thank you for having me!
Ocean Isle Beach veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward is one of three candidates vying for Bill Rabon’s seat in North Carolina’s Senate District Eight. A political newcomer, Ward, a Democrat, has served on Brunswick County’s Board of Health, and was recently endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Educators. Ward cites Senator Rabon’s disavowal of bills that would regulate commercial dog breeding as a major factor in his decision to run. And, Ward is also passionate about human welfare.
Ward, a certified personal trainer and Ironman triathlete, founded the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention in 2005. An outspoken proponent of the virtues of a healthy lifestyle for all, Ward says that in the wake of recent cuts to Medicaid and Smart Start, the rural communities comprising District Eight could land in a healthcare crisis.
"Obviously I work with animals as a veterinarian, but I’ve also been very active with childhood obesity, because we know that there’s a direct correlation with how healthy you are as a child and the cost of medical care as an adult, so we need to do things that are preventive in nature. We are known as an agricultural hot spot in our state, yet so many of these areas don’t have access to healthy food. So we need to get back to raising awareness—the best insurance for a people, if we want to prevent health problems, is education."
Ward adds that he’s particularly concerned about providing healthy food and other resources to enhance the first 2,000 days, or five years, of constituents’ lives--as this is a determining factor in children’s lifelong health and success.