Q&A With Nina Ahmad, Candidate for PA Auditor General

We are revisiting our Political Q&A series for the upcoming elections of 2020. We’ve reached out to candidates who are pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ, asking them a series of questions about their campaigns. We’ve sent out about a dozen Q&A’s to folks and encourage you to suggest others. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com.

Our next respondent is Dr. Nina Ahmad, progressive candidate for statewide office of Auditor General. Please take note of her experiences with LGBTQ family.

I realize it takes times to complete this Q&A, but it also takes times to create it. And I think the LGBTQ community deserves every moment.

Your Name: Nina Ahmad
Your Pronouns: she/her
The Office You Seek: Pennsylvania Auditor General
How do you describe your identity? Cis/het/brown woman

What are some under-or-unappreciated strengths in Pennsylvania auditing and reporting powers?The major strength in the office of Auditor General is its ability to conduct performance audits on critical concerns that impact our state. These audits go beyond the mandated departmental audits. The current Auditor General has conducted audits and made recommendations on issues including climate change, the Pharmacy Benefits Management system and the family immigrant detention center in Berks County. I will continue and expand upon this model as well as shoring up the departmental audits to collect the necessary data to further identify efficiencies and waste.

One of the major untapped strengths of the office is the use of the treasure trove of data collected with each audit. These valuable insights can help drive growth while enhancing risk management and can be leveraged by both the Executive and Legislative branch for better public policy and help prioritize resources to create strategic value. As the Auditor General, I would institute a DATA office to properly develop analytics that can help the Office act as a strategic advisor while holding the line on cost or even reducing it, and analyze data to produce actionable information. This data will be used to create models to predict cost efficiencies/ cost benefit analyses and also be a resource to legislators to craft data driven and evidence-based legislation.

In my conversations with legislators I have found that they are very interested in collaborations with the Auditor General’s office. As the NOW Board member, I have already collaborated with State Rep Morgan Cephas regarding the issue of disparity of maternal mortality in African American mothers and supported crafting of a bill mitigating this issue. As Auditor General, data from Medicaid reimbursements would be very beneficial to this issue and strengthening that bill.

Tell us what you’ve learned about the LGBTQ+ community in your district and the region since launching your campaign. What I have learned about the LBGTQ+ community has gone well beyond this current campaign. What I know is based on a commitment and track record of fighting for equity and justice for all those who have experienced injustice. Because our state law does not protect discrimination based on sexual orientation, it is critical to use the powers of the Executive Branch (which includes the Auditor General) to assure some fairness in the short run while we work to change that.

But beyond that I can and will use the power of the audit as chief financial watchdog for the state to assure that expenditures are fair for everyone and in particular those from the LGBTQ+ community. Using intersectional equity lens, I would shine a light on the equitable distribution of resources to issues that impact our LGBTQ+ communities such as public health, affordable housing-particularly safe havens for trans youth, seniors and much more.

The tragic death of a close family friend during the early days of the AIDS epidemic drove home the need for research and awareness of this epidemic as a public health crisis. I supported Pennsylvania’s first openly gay state legislator, Brian Sims when he first ran for office, appointed the first gay man to the Board of the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) Philadelphia chapter, and played a key role in creating the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs and hiring the Executive Director Amber Hikes (she has since moved to NY ACLU), just to name a few examples. Being appointed by President Obama to serve on his Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders gave me a unique opportunity to work on protecting civil rights and fighting against bullying, which were pillars of our Commission’s work. I worked closely with actor Maulik Pancholy who also served as one of the Commissioners and spearheaded our anti-bullying work which underscored the extreme vulnerability of LGBTQ+ youth.

Your stories and perspectives will be combined to form a large database of critical information. But I know that each datapoint represents a human being, a family, a lived experience. And it is my lived experience, one that involves fleeing from a war-torn country and making a new life as an immigrant in this great country, that informs my commitment to deep listening.

Based on this, what do you now understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the Auditor General’s office? How will you respond to those priorities?My candidacy represents a chance to make marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ community, a priority in state politics. I have worked with and been an ally to members of the LGBTQ+ community all my life. I was raised with progressive values and respect for all people; many family members both in Bangladesh and India are social justice activists including my jurist uncle, who worked on laws to safeguard the interests and welfare of the transgender community in India. Having close family who are members of the LGBTQ+ community has increased my awareness and appreciation of the continued struggles, the amazing resilience, and courage of this community.

Since August 2018, discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity has been interpreted by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission as being banned under the category of sex of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. However, we need a permanent law and I will advocate that the General Assembly to pass legislation providing discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals. I will use data to show that there is an economic impact when we do not have inclusive public policy. The discriminatory “bathroom bill” in North Carolina hurt them economically and resulted in a repeal of key portions of the bill. Research tell us that LGBT individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. Equitable healthcare access is a fundamental human right and the office will use disaggregated data to assess this issue. I will work for justice and equity for transgender and gender non-conforming people. I will have a specific focus on investigating what measures have been taken in the public safety sectors to address the fatal violence disproportionately affecting Black transgender women. Like Philadelphia, the entire state must make sure that non-profit providers we contract with must not discriminate against adoptions by LGBTQ people. I envision partnering with entities such as Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs to train Department of Human Services and their third party contractors on cultural competency for serving individuals and same sex couples who are LGBTQ+.

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How does intersectionality inform your work? Kimberle Crenshaw who coined the term “intersectionality” reflected on its 20 Anniversary in 2017, “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.” My understanding of intersectionality is also informed by Audre Lorde, who described herself as a “black-lesbian feminist lover mother poet” and said “there is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.” As such, intersectionality is always present in my in my advocacy.

Recently, this manifested in my efforts to oppose endorsements by the Philadelphia AFL-CIO and the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee of known sexual harasser, former Sheriff Jewel Williams. As a key part of this successful campaign, I worked closely with labor leaders as well as the Coalition for Union Women (CLUW) with whom NOW has longstanding solidarity. I also have been engaged efforts to create an equitable work place, being involved in legislation for fair work week scheduling, addressing work place sexual harassment and Domestic workers Bill of Rights. It is critical to note, that I received the recommendation from the Philadelphia AFL-CIO in this race to be endorsed by its partners!!

The impact of progressive candidates, especially women of color, unseating established white Democrats has fundamentally changed the way we do politics in Pennsylvania. On the surface, the reaction of more establishment white Democrats challenging those challengers seems like a backlash or swing towards moderates, but it can also be framed as proof that the old school party is uncomfortable. What are your thoughts about this discomfort?The Democratic Party has been undergoing major changes in this recent period. Marginalized people are demanding a seat at the table. Oftentimes these demands make those who have held onto power for many decades extremely uncomfortable. But the demand for equality is no less right just because it makes some squirm. I have never shied away from fighting for what is right, whether it has been for women, people of color, immigrants or as an ally to the LGBTQA community. I believe that inclusiveness and equity are critical to creating a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and so I continue to persevere regardless of the haters and detractors. It is part of my DNA and embedded into my being and therefore cannot back away from fighting for justice and the hashtag I use #LeaveNoOneBehind reflects that.

How can the Pennsylvania Auditor General lead us through the crisis of coronavirus? As a medical scientist, a mom and a woman of color, I think a lot about our nation’s healthcare system these days. Between the global pandemic and the Trump Administration, we have pushed our health care system to the brink of collapse. We can change this and empower communities, by using the power of the Auditor General’s office to make sure that care and treatment for people struggling right now is financially realistic.

As Auditor General, I will eliminate corporate abuse of the health care system such as price gouging, windfall profiteering and aggressive premium hikes. I will initiate a comprehensive audit of the health care system in order to bridge digital divides and provide decision maker’s with actionable information. My plan calls for support for growing calls for a COVIDCARE FOR ALL plan paid for in part by rooting out windfalls from mega-corporations making excess profits during the crisis.

How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of Pennsylvania?Competitive primaries are a transparent way to delineate the issues and engage the electorate. It pushes candidates to crystallize their positions and platforms and results in more informed voters.

How are you connecting with other female candidates for office? I have publicly endorsed Amanda Cappelletti in one of the most contentious and competitive primaries in PA. This was my statement on social media: I’M ENDORSING Amanda Cappelletti for PA! As the former President of Philly NOW, I was one of the first to call for Daylin Leach (current State Senator of PA 17) to resign. His workplace harassment of women has disqualified him from representing Senate District 17 in Harrisburg.

Fortunately, Amanda is the kind of new leader with whom I’ll be proud to work. As a catalyst for change, Amanda will serve Montgomery and Delaware Counties with dignity, securing results that will make every Pennsylvanian’s life better.

I look forward to working with Amanda to take on the far-right agenda. She has my full support!

Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.I have built a broad base of support including organized labor, political committees, issue-based groups and community activists. The big tent of support is indicative of how I plan to run my office. My hashtag “Leave No One Behind” is more than a good slogan it is a principle by which I live.

I am very thrilled and humbled to receive the endorsement of the District 1199C NUHHCE, AFSCME 47, 33, Laborer’s District Council of Philadelphia and Vicinity, IBEW Local 98, Internation Union of Elevator Constructor, Local #5, received support from the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters and have been recommended for endorsement by the Philadelphia AFLCIO Council. Federal, State and local Legislators have endorsed me including Congressperson Brendan Boyle, State Senators Katie Muth, Art Haywood & Anthony Williams, State Reps Joanna McClinton, Jordan Harris, Steve Kinsey, Jared Solomon, Councilmembers Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker, Isaiah Thomas, Cindy Bass & Kenyatta Johnson, Philadelphia Sheriff, Rochelle Bilal, and first woman Democratic Lackawanna County Commissioner, Debi Domenick Montgomery County Treasurer, Jason Salus.

I am honored to have received the endorsement of One Pennsylvania, PA NOW, the Second Gen Pac, AAPI Victory Fund, AAA Fund, Progressive Women of NEPA, WomanPAC, SheCanWin, University of Pennsylvania Democrats, Gertrude Stein Political Club of Greater Pittsburgh, Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks, Liberty City LGBTQ Democratic Club, 314 Action and Center for Popular Democracy Action. I have also been endorsed by prominent civil rights attorney, Michael Coard and scores of other community leaders.

I won the endorsement of the Delaware County Democratic Committee (Delco Dems) with 66.78% of the vote when I needed 55%. Additionally, PA Dems decided on an open Primary. I have the endorsement of the Philadelphia’s New Alliance of Progressive Ward Leaders (10th,17th, 20th, 29th, 32nd, 33rd, 42nd, 43rd , 44th,47th,50th), Philadelphia 1 st Ward, 9 th Ward and 2nd Ward, critical Northeast Wards (will be publicly announced soon) and support from many Ward leaders across Philadelphia.

Our very successful petition drive collected 9726 signatures and lead all Democratic rivals, surpassing my nearest competitor by over 2,000 signatures for this open seat.

Is there anything you’d like to add? Through my professional work as the Philadelphia Deputy Mayor for Public Engagement, I have a track record of enlisting more than just advice from communities and individuals who are directly impacted, but also working to empower those who have been left out to become actively involved in the political process. When those impacted by public policy help design it, the result is a much more effective and sustainable policy.

Furthermore, I think it is important to know that the word “audit” comes from the Latin meaning “to hear.” Therefore, my methodology as the Auditor General must involve listening:

• Listening to all the facts;

• Listening to the people; and

• Listening to you.

Your stories and perspectives will be combined to form a large database of critical information. But I know that each datapoint represents a human being, a family, a lived experience. And it is my lived experience, one that involves fleeing from a war-torn country and making a new life as an immigrant in this great country, that informs my commitment to deep listening. I understand what it means and feels to be silenced, to be under attack and to be unsafe. I also know what the hope of good education, quality healthcare, affordable housing and economic opportunity can mean to those struggling to make it a better future for themselves and their family.

Where can readers find your campaign on social media?

Website: https://www.ninaforpa.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/NinaforPA/

Twitter: @NinaAhmadPHL

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ninaforpa/

Thank you, Nina.


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