DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- For the past decade, Valerie Foushee has represented the state's 23rd District in the North Carolina Senate; in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020, she didn't face a primary challenge. But in the race for the state's 4th Congressional District, Foushee is hoping to fend off seven challengers.
"I'm feeling pretty good. I'm probably as anxious as any other candidate. But I'm happy with where we are right now," said Foushee during a Zoom call Sunday afternoon; ABC11 offered in-person or Zoom opportunities to each of the four candidates in the district it interviewed - fellow candidates Nida Allam, Clay Aiken, and Dr. Ashley Ward all chose to sit-down in-person, Foushee opted for a Zoom with a spokesperson citing her schedule.
Foushee provided a litany of issues she wanted to address should she be elected to Congress.
"For the economy, certainly coming out of the pandemic we'd like to see a minimum wage nationally of $15 an hour. I think we should make the child tax credit permanent. I think that we should move to universal pre-K. I believe that we need to ensure that there are no cuts to social security and Medicare. As it relates to voting rights, with everything we've seen go on. We know that across the country, there have been attacks on our right to vote. People are being denied unfettered access to the ballot box. I think we need to ensure that that right is protected. So passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act would certainly be paramount for me. Then I would say as it relates to healthcare, we move towards passing Medicare for all," Foushee explained.
Prior to serving in the State Senate, Foushee served on the Chapel-Hill Carrboro School Board, and was the first African-American woman to be a member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners from 2004-2010, which included a stint as Chair of the Board from 2008-2010. In 2012, Foushee won the District 50 race for the State's House of Representatives.
Foushee has worked in legislative chambers in which Democrats have yielded little power. She said that experience has highlighted the need for bipartisanship to effectively legislate.
"The biggest lesson that I've learned is collaboration. Those of us who have been entrusted to make policy that we move beyond whatever sticking points are keeping us from providing results to the people whom we serve. And a lot of times, that takes a desire to move from our corners to a place of intersection so that we can deliver. It's not so much that any one of us or any particular sect has all the answers, but it requires that you listen. It requires that you are willing to hear another point-of-view. And then it requires that you remove self, and understand that people want results. And people don't want to continue to hear arguing what can or cannot be done. What they want to know is what you can do for us now? Maybe you can't get it all for us in one fell swoop but certainly we can make steps such that we're successful in delivering to our constituents," said Foushee.
Foushee pointed to Senate Bill 35, passed last year, as a bill she, along with two Republicans, was a primary sponsor of, as an example of legislation that required negotiation to pass. Initially, she pushed for the bill to mandate the minimum age to get married in the state be 18 years old; the final version set the minimum at 16, though anybody under 18 cannot marry somebody more than four years older.
"That was a very important bill, because I think it speaks to human trafficking here in this state," Foushee said.
The district has seen tremendous economic and population growth over the past decade, though growing concerns over the future for underserved communities in an area quickly pricing many people out.
"I would certainly hope that the federal government would move forward to a program of assistance to help particularly people who don't have homes. We know that there is an affordability issue across this district. But it's not just that. There's so much homelessness that it needs to be addressed. And I think that we are at a point now where it is going to take federal assistance so that those incentive programs to help people not only get homes but to stay in their homes. At least until where we can move to what is a real endemic phase of the pandemic such that people are going back to work, people are being able to have jobs that will give them that affordability, and that they can indeed live in those places that they have always lived and ins some cases where they desire to live," said Foushee.
State data shows people have already returned to work. In February, the Department of Commerce reported the unemployment rate was 3.7%, though many counties in the Triangle, including those in Foushee's district, had lower figures; Orange County had an unemployment rate of 2.5%, lowest in the state. This represented a return to pre-pandemic levels, though record-high inflation has outpaced wage gains, creating burdens on families. When pressed further on the role the federal government can play to combat this, Foushee responded:
"I do think first and foremost we're going to have to address supply chain issues. We know that that also drives up the cost of goods and services. We also know that as it relates to gas and groceries, whatever the federal government can do to ease that burden, those efforts that can be put in place to bring down the cost of gas, those efforts that can be put in place to bring down the cost of groceries, to help incentivize our farmers, help them get their products to the consumers and have consumers be in a place to where they can afford (them). It's one thing to have a job. It's another thing to have a job that will allow you to purchase those goods and services. We have a lowered unemployment rate, but everybody is not making a living wage. So first and foremost, we have to ensure everyone is making wages that are going to allow them to purchase what they need," Foushee said.
Recent jobs announcements have contributed to the transformation of the district, which has included out-of-state migration; Foushee is hopeful steps can be taken to better prepare local residents for those positions.
"We need to ensure that there is training, that the process for certification is available. And what I would say in particular in the state of North Carolina is that we empower our community college system to be available to ensure that those programs are available to those who are preparing themselves to the new jobs and those who just want to rise to promotions. We have a great community college system here to be able to provide those programs so that people are ready. Having the support, having the funding so that when those jobs come they're making those collaborations with our community college system. So that (community college offerings) can change, they can prepare, they can pivot. It's not such that they have to stay with the same programs that have been in the works for years, but as we know new companies are coming that that collaboration is done, and that training is being provided for those who are interested. When we went with the solar energy, particularly here in Orange County, for Durham Technical Community College to prepare people to be ready to do solar panel installations. That was something that was new at that time. The same thing will happen with the new tech jobs, the new biopharma jobs, that in those situations where the community college system can provide that training, it will do so. And not to mention our university system. So we're in this area, we're primed and ready to provide whatever assistance is needed for people to move into those new jobs and for those companies to be successful when they come here," Foushee said.
Foushee's four most recent Senate races have mostly been non-competitive, in which there was little emphasis on the need to fundraise aggressively. This time, Foushee's fundraising and donors have drawn considerable attention, with two super PAC's - Protect Our Future, which is largely funded by a cryptocurrency billionaire, and AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, combining to spend millions to support her in the race. In response, she's lost at least two endorsements from the Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party and State Representative Marcia Morey, who switched her endorsement to Nida Allam. In the process, Foushee has also received criticism from fellow candidates in the race.
"I am one of dozens of progressive candidates and elected officials who has received support from AIPAC. I've served my district for more than 25 years. People know my record. People know me. I know this district better than any other candidate in this primary. I believe that should I be elected, I will have been elected based on my service, and my ability to work with anyone who's interested in providing results for the people of this state," said Foushee when asked specifically about the support from AIPAC.
AIPAC labels itself as a bipartisan organization which "advocates for a strong U.S.- Israel relationship". To Foushee's point, the organization has donated to several fellow Democrats seeking statewide office in North Carolina, though nowhere near the amount its poured into the NC-4 race through its super PAC, United Democracy Project, or bundling efforts. Some Democrats have taken particular issue with the group, which has also provided donations to Republicans, including more than 100 of whom voted against certifying the 2020 election.
Despite her acceptance of these funds, Foushee said she would support stricter campaign finance regulations.
"I strongly support campaign finance reform and I believe that you have to be able to make a difference to make those changes come about, And I look forward to that opportunity," said Foushee.