We invited all candidates for the Second District Congressional Seat to attend our monthly member meeting. We want to thank Ann Ashford, Gladys Harrison and Kara Eastman for joining us and sharing their vision for transportation and beyond. Read on to see their positions on a few of the questions we posed.
What is your #1 transportation priority for District 2?
Ann Ashford: Accessibility is the top priority. Everything should be accessible. We don’t have easy routes to get to all the Metro campuses. There are issues for people with Mobility Devices. There’s no public transportation for residents of South 24th street to get to the closest hospital – which is in Bellevue. We need walkable, bikeable, safe streets – not crumbling streets. We need an infrastructure bill to address our streets and modes and make transportation accessible for everyone.
Kara Eastman: Anyone who has taken public transit in Omaha knows that we have significant improvements to be made. Priority has to be improving access to transit – but with mitigated harm to the environment. We need to make sure we keep the environmental impact in check every step of the way. We need to address climate chaos and not contribute to further deterioration of planet. We need a green infrastructure plan that is connected to workforce development.
Gladys Harrison: Make it easier. I have many employees who have to catch the bus. It takes two buses to get to UNO. It takes one of my employees an hour to get to the restaurant on the bus. This is true in all parts of the city. It’s hard to get around without a vehicle. We need to have modes of transportation that get to all parts of the city. Need to improve the condition of our streets – today between Benson and 90th there were potholes everywhere. As much as it costs to plate a car our streets should be better.
When Eisenhower devised his idea of the interstate system he was envisioning something that had never been seen before. Currently our planning is bolstering things that we have already done. Example: City and Feds looking at widening 80 in Omaha at a cost of $1billion. This is a plan looking at the past. What is your vision for the future?
Ann: What’s been happening to the health and economy of the nation during this pandemic is horrific. There are a few shining moments. In watching our environment be healed by this temporary pause that we are all taking, it shows us what can be done. How do we make transportation accessible for everyone? Is it a new vehicle? Is it making areas more walkable? There are no sidewalks in my neighborhood. Vision is to understand what is on the next horizon rather than look at history to take our cues.
Kara: My vision has been formed by work in the community, helping create a plan for green, safe, healthy housing. We’ve been held back by the lack of political will on innovations in housing and transportation. We have incredible leadership and community organizations in this town. We need to fully fund the highway trust fund so we can fix streets, bridges, sidewalks – without the funding and political will we are always a step behind. We should be moving forward in more innovation – like solar panels, making cities much more walkable, much more livable, and investing in bike paths. We need new leadership so it doesn’t stall.
Gladys: I do not want to see new interstates and highways that devastate communities. I can remember when North O got separated by 75 North – it cut our community in half. That shouldn’t happen again. I would love to see us have biking and walking trails in all parts of Omaha that connect to other bike and walking paths. Then you could see and get to all parts of the city by these connected paths.
Should the current pandemic influence our future planning with regards to development and transportation?
Ann: Yes, we are going to need some long term plans to get ourselves out of the economic downturn everyone is suffering through. We need a fully funded infrastructure bill that deals with roads, bridges, broadband internet to all communities in the country. This pandemic is telling us we can’t ignore broadband access. We also need a fair wage all the way through.
Kara: Mode Shift has always had a perspective of public transit with a public health lens. We are lucky to have public health experts that can look at this. This is one reason why I advocate for expanding health care. At the federal level, what we can do in congress is put people like Fauci in. You’ve been focused on prevention – you’ve looked at Vision Zero and Road Safety. We need someone who can bring everyone together and who’s done it before.
Gladys: Are we considering people who can’t afford a car but need to get to work in healthcare or food service? We need to make sure that those folks have a means to be able to get to work so we have what we need to get through times like these. Federal dollars should be used to make that happen. I would expect any representative to make sure District 2 gets its fair share.
Ms. Eastman had another commitment and had to leave at this point in the forum.
There is a new book called Politics is For Power – it says the surest way for people to win elections is by meeting people’s practical needs. An example is Carol Blood’s campaign. She is delivering meals to people that need them. Are your campaigns currently meeting real needs and if not would you consider doing that?
Gladys: That is the whole reason why I am running. People’s needs are not being met – in this district we feel like our voices are not heard and we need a seat at the table. My business is founded on good food plus a place where the community can meet and give people second chances. We hire felons, we send felons to culinary school – we buy books, pay tuition and give first and second chances. Being a part of the community is something I have done all my life – it’s what a good community member does.
Ann: Gladys has always been there for the community. That’s what we’ve tried to live by as well in our regular life – we do service all the time. I am on the Board of Inclusive Communities, we give funding toward DACA scholarships at College of Saint Mary. As far as the campaign goes I’ve been having virtual town halls two times a week to answer community questions – we’ve hosted physicians talking about symptoms of Covid and how to reduce the chance of infection. We brought on a psychiatrist that speaks to mental health and stressors we are dealing with today. We’ve also met with small businesses this weekend to help find the resources they need. Tomorrow we are meeting with personal services providers and seeing how to help meet their needs. In NE we didn’t cover independent contractors and gig workers in unemployment funding. We’ve been having these town halls a minimum of 2 times a week and help people find the resources.
Gladys: When I was told the astronomical amount of money to run for office I was disgusted. I plan to use some of the money I raise to support local businesses. I am using a local woman owned business to make my t-shirts and mugs. My printed materials are done by union workers – I am employing people that need work through my campaign.
We’ve heard a lot about the Green New Deal and as we read through the details it seems to be lacking in transportation. How do you feel about the Green New Deal and how could you insert some green initiatives into it?
Gladys: There are parts of the GND that I like and parts I don’t. As a country we need to create win-win situations for the environment and for us. I am not for any plan that would cause people to lose jobs or take a pay cut. Whatever type of transportation that we do have, it should not create any further problems with our environment. How to make that work? It was said earlier that our government can’t just be a bunch of politicians figuring it out – we need to go and get advice from subject matter experts.
Ann: If we don’t clean up our air, water and land we have more healthcare problems than we will ever know what to do with. She agrees with the goals of the GND – we need to clean up and mitigate damage that’s been done and prevent future damage. Look at the Citizens Climate Lobby plan that sets carbon emissions at certain points so we get dividends that go back to each of us. A lot of the changes that need to take place are really expensive. Some of us don’t have the funds to put solar panels on a house. As we move forward we need to provide the funding. We also need to get back in the Paris Climate Agreement.