The Daily sat down with Ajwang Rading, a civil rights and public policy lawyer who is running for California’s 16th US Congress seat — the district of Silicon Valley and Stanford University that is currently held by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).
Once a legislative fellow for Sen. Cory Booker BA ’91 MA ’92 (DN.J.) and a leader at the Equal Justice Initiative Community Remembrance project in Montgomery, Ala., Rading said he hopes to bring “a new generation of leadership” and a focus on the climate crisis, health care reform and housing policy to the 16th congressional district.
The non-partisan primary election between Rading, Eshoo, two other Democratic challengers, three Republican challengers and an independent will be held on June 7, after which the top two performers will advance to a general election scheduled for Nov. 8.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Stanford Daily [TSD]: 2022 is expected to be a very difficult year for Democrats, especially those in the House of Representatives. The district you are running for has a Democratic incumbent. Why are you running?
Ajwang Rading [AD]: I am running because I think, first and foremost, we need to have a new generation of leadership in Congress that’s tapping into Silicon Valley’s brilliance.
Silicon Valley is known for bringing so much innovation — the boldest ideas in the world come from these very streets. Yet when you look at our policy making from this congressional seat, it doesn’t match that.
I say this with great respect to Congresswoman Eshoo, but this is the wealthiest congressional district in the country—and I think that’s code for the largest wealth inequality. How is it that a place like Silicon Valley still has people who are unhoused, undereducated and who don’t have access to affordable medicine and health care?
TSD: According to FiveThirtyEight, Congresswoman Eshoo has voted 100% with the Biden agenda. What is your take on the president’s legislative recommendations?
AD: I actually hope to be 100% with the president as well, and any Democratic president. Where I think our community needs to pay attention is committees and subcommittees.
The congresswoman sits on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and yet we’re not introducing any bold ideas on climate change. Scientists and the global community are saying that we have about eight years to make a meaningful impact on climate change action, and yet the Democrats are still talking about carbon taxes like it’s 2001.
TSD: When it comes to climate, is your primary focus on policies mitigating the effects of human caused climate change, or are your policies more focused on investing in the renewable energy sector for jobs purposes?
AD: When we talk about climate action, it’s an all-of-the-above approach. First, you have to talk about financing. It’s one thing for the richest municipalities to talk about installing solar panels, but this needs to take an entire country approach.
The goal is to get carbon neutral, but in addition, tackling methane. Methane has dire effects of trapping heat in the atmosphere — at times more effective than carbon. We need to have a conversation about our agricultural practices and the production of meat in this country as well, because it is fueling huge methane emissions.
Lastly, we need to talk about the United States’s role in the global community. China and other adversaries have been investing in fossil fuels in developing countries because the United States has taken a step back in terms of its leadership on the world stage.
We need to conceptualize how to create effective trade agreements that promote renewable energy and promote US companies to actually expand their markets into developing countries as well.
TSD: You hope the US will adopt 100% renewable-based electricity production by 2035. This is a plan even more advanced than that of Germany, which is rather dependent on fossil-fuel importation. Do you think that the US can be self-sufficient on renewable energy sources?
AD: By 2035, without any doubt. It isn’t as if we’re waiting for some new technology to develop to get there. A majority of the ideas to get to a carbon-neutral future exist right here, throughout the California 16th district.
What I hope to do is create a climate innovation hub that brings together our smartest minds from Stanford and other universities, our greatest activists, small business owners, entrepreneurs and our everyday citizenry to form a committee and create the ideas that we need to do this maybe by 2030.
If we could mass produce hundreds of thousands of ships and planes during World War II, we can do this.
TSD: What do you think will serve as the most powerful tools in addressing the issue of homelessness?
AD: First, let’s tackle private equity firms and forward investors who are buying single family homes and keeping them empty. Housing needs to remain local and human.
But we need a holistic approach of care for marginalized communities: mental health resources, educational resources and vocational training programs.
TSD: On the topic of issues with multiple lanes of approach, do you view education the same way? Would you invest in the public school system, voucher programs, school choice and charter schools or all of the above?
AD: All of the above, but I think my biggest priorities are two-fold in education. One, I think we’re so long overdue for universal preschool. The words that a child hears when they are three, four and five directly dictate whether they’re going to an extraordinary institution like Stanford.
At the same time, we need to rethink the debt that we’re putting on college students and whether we’re really hindering their opportunities to enter into the workforce, get into homeownership and start a family.
TSD: On your campaign website, you mentioned wanting to ensure universal health care coverage. Are you looking for a public option that will compete with private insurers or are you looking for a “Medicare for All” single payer system?
AD: I would love a “Medicare for All” system — however, at the same time, you have to think pragmatically and about where it fits financially.
I don’t see our country having the bandwidth to push that and at the same time climate action over the next few years. I think climate is more of a priority in terms of spending.
But, in the meantime, that doesn’t mean we don’t fight for a public option, free or affordable generic drugs and hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable.
TSD: If you were elected to Congress, there is a chance that you will have to work with a Republican majority. How are you prepared to contend with that?
AD: I would love the opportunity to work with Republicans. I think there is a sense of divisiveness that both parties are participating in, and I think sometimes you just need a new negotiator to come into the room.
With Putin’s war on Ukraine and European dependence on Russia for fossil fuels, there’s a unique moment arising for the next Congress to speak about climate change through a national security lens that I think would get a lot of Republican support.
While I hope to work with Republicans, if there are Republicans still questioning whether a woman has the right to choose to do with her own body, we must fight that ferociously and meet that intensity with a deep commitment to human rights.