Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Democrat
Place of residence: Asheville
Occupation: Executive director, Campaign for Southern Equality
Political experience: I have been active as an organizer and volunteer on Democratic campaigns and civil rights campaigns since 2004.
Endorsements: Buncombe County Association of Educators; Western North Carolina Central Labor Council; Equality NC; The Sierra Club of Western North Carolina
Amount of money raised: $48,652.42
Top three donors and amount contributed: Jeff Cooper, Judy Meelia and Kevin Jones
Why are you running?
As a working mom and nonprofit leader, I know firsthand what’s at stake for our Buncombe County families. The realities of childhood poverty, underfunded schools, soaring housing costs, and low-wage jobs mean that people are struggling. As a community, we can and we must come together to solve these problems. This is why I’m running.
What is Buncombe County’s best path toward creating more jobs outside of the service and tourist industries? And how do you plan on making it happen?
We are seeing real momentum in our local economy, and we need to make sure that continues, with an emphasis on creating more living wage jobs across sectors. Economic development incentives are one critical tool. Another is creating more educational and pre-professional programs for high school and college students that prepare them for jobs in health, technology and manufacturing sectors. A high quality of life is part of what keeps existing businesses here and attracts new companies. This includes affordable housing, strong schools, protecting the stunning beauty of our natural resources and greenways — yet one more reason why we need to continue strong support in these areas.
Are you in favor of using economic development incentives? If so, what kind? If not, why?
Yes, they are an important and proven tool in growing our local economy and creating more jobs that pay living wages (and more). I’d also support expanding eligibility for incentives to make them accessible to small- and medium-sized businesses, which play such a vital role in our community. Related to this is maintaining our investment in local schools and infrastructure and protecting natural resources. This is critical to recruiting new employers to the area: They are looking for communities that their workers will want to live in, with affordable housing, strong schools, excellent health care, and meaningful investments in recreation and natural resources, like our greenway system.
North Carolina law states footage from the Sheriff’s Department body cameras is not part of the public record. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? Why or why not?
The release of body camera footage is part of a much broader set of questions that we face regarding law enforcement, our criminal justice system and race. We need to work together as community members, law enforcement and elected officials to address policy issues and to build trust and empathy in new ways. I believe that footage should be part of the public record and that there must also be some mechanism in place to ensure that privacy is protected, particularly for those who are vulnerable. For example, if footage shows a minor, there should be mechanisms in place to address privacy issues. Transparency, accountability and due process are critical guideposts in such decision making.
As infrastructure needs grow, would you consider using bonds to fund projects? Why or why not? And, if so, what type of bond would you pursue?
Yes. Bonds are an important tool for funding vital infrastructure projects. And bond decisions are made by the voters, so they are an excellent way for community members and taxpayers to have a voice in the process. Buncombe County currently has the highest possible bond rating of AAA, as assigned by Standard & Poor’s, which allows the county to borrow money at historically low rates.
Does HB2 highlight the state overstepping its bounds in regard to legislating municipalities? Why or why not?
HB2 is a disaster and must be repealed immediately. Its harms include discrimination against LGBT people, the state overstepping its bounds in legislating municipalities and the state doubling down on opposition to raising the minimum wage. The cost of HB2 is tremendous to our people, our economy and our reputation.
As development continues to boom, how can the county help ensure affordable housing for its residents?
Affordable housing is a top concern in our county — for folks who rent and those who are homeowners. I’m now hearing stories about people who accept jobs here and then have to turn down offers because they cannot find housing that will fit their needs and budgets. We need innovative, collaborative strategies to answer the housing crisis. There are many tools at the county’s disposal to promote affordable housing, including workforce housing, public investment in affordable housing projects, partnerships with nonprofits and builders, zoning decisions and working with the city of Asheville to address this issue. Bottom line, we must address this issue now, or it will continue to negatively impact people in our community and suppress economic growth.
Are the current zoning policies adequate to deal with the pressures of increased development in the county?
Zoning is one important tool in addressing the affordable housing crisis and in ensuring the protection of our extraordinary natural resources. This is particularly true as we look at areas of the county that have not historically had a zoning designation. As development expands across the county, we must evolve our zoning policies to respond to current needs, responsibilities and opportunities.
What zoning designation that doesn’t currently exist would you like to see, or what is an existing, but underutilized zoning designation?
This is exactly the kind of conversation we need to be having with all stakeholders present. Two important concepts for me are using zoning to protect our natural resources through more conservation and promoting affordable housing through zoning for higher density in certain areas. I look forward to sitting down with stakeholders to have this conversation when I take office.
What county-run service needs the most improvement, and how would you address it?
Our county has an incredible track record of using innovation, collaboration and best practices to address complex social issues and pressing human needs. We see this with the Family Justice Center and the county’s health and human services. Two areas that urgently need greater attention are the realities that: One in four children in our county live in poverty; and African-American county residents experience significant disparities in areas including infant mortality, unemployment, poverty and education (see “State of Black Asheville”). As an incoming commissioner, I pledge to focus on these issues, joining the many community leaders, county staff and elected officials who are deeply engaged in this work through policy, services and public-private collaborations.
What is the most important issue facing Buncombe County, and how do you plan on addressing it?
One in four children in Buncombe County lives in poverty. That’s a moral crisis, and we need to come together in new ways to ensure that every child in our community has an equal opportunity to thrive. That means the public sector, private sector, nonprofits, providers and the faith community. A few top priorities: expanding pre-K; ensuring robust support for our public schools; recognizing the connections between poverty, living wage jobs, affordable housing and public transportation; and, when possible, addressing those issues holistically.
How do you represent a constituency with varied political ideologies?
I’m committed to the politics of empathy, which starts with being ready to sit down and talk with anyone, treating people with respect and taking their beliefs seriously. I love Buncombe County and look forward to serving the entire county. As a gay Christian minister who works all across the South promoting LGBT rights, I also have lots of experience interacting with people who have different positions on charged topics. My faith teaches me to treat everyone with love, and each day I strive to live into that teaching. We need to embrace the diversity of our county and engage different perspectives to bring new voices to the table so we can work together to find solutions and common ground.
What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
I love our community and am committed to serving. My background as a minister, an organizer and a nonprofit leader have taught me invaluable lessons about how to work with others, including those with differing views, and how to help create real change that helps people. As an LGBT person, I know firsthand how important policy is and how directly it touches people’s lives, either to uplift them or harm them; that’s a personal understanding I’ll bring into serving as county commissioner. I believe in a politics of empathy which starts in our local community, where we know each other and are neighbors.