By Brandon Martin
The Democratic nominee for Virginia’s 5th U.S. Congressional District can be called many things — doctor, teacher, public policy adviser – but, as he recently said, “Cameron is just fine.”
Dr. Cameron Webb, a Spotsylvania County native, is the son of a public-school speech therapist and a human resources manager with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Since I was five, I’ve always been very passionate about service and taking care of people however I can,” Webb said.
With that in mind, Webb’s life direction has involved checking those boxes in every conceivable way possible.
While pursuing his medical degree, Webb said his eyes were opened to other areas where he thought he could make a difference.
“When in college, I learned just how some rural and urban areas are treated differently,” he said. “The system has considerably failed many people and I knew I wanted to shape policies to create access to opportunities and address inequality.”
So, again choosing to serve, Webb also obtained his law degree while pursuing his medical degree.
From there, he was chosen by former President Barack Obama to be part of the White House Fellowship. He served on the White House Health Care Team and worked on Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, where he gained experience in the arenas of education, workforce development and criminal justice reform.
His time in Washington D.C. wasn’t limited to just the Obama administration, according to Webb, who said that he also worked with President Donald Trump’s administration on public policy.
“There is a broad spectrum of views across the 5th district and I think I can bridge that gap,” Webb said. “I’ve worked in the Obama and Trump administrations. I want to be a voice for the entire political range. I maintain relationships with folks in both administrations because of how I connect with people. I put people over party and the people in our district are open-minded and thoughtful. At the end of the day, they just want someone who will work for their best interest and I think I’m the candidate to do just that.”
Currently, Webb lives in Albemarle County with his wife, Dr. Leigh-Ann Webb and their two children, Avery and Lennox. He treats patients as a general internist while also teaching students in his role as the Director of Health Policy and Equity at UVA’s School of Medicine.
In a time when the country is combating one of the greatest public health crises in history, Webb finds that he again is ready to serve and take care of people.
Webb said that current leadership has failed to adequately address the coronavirus in two key aspects.
First, in failing to “communicate effectively,” he said. “Clear, thoughtful communication is key. They went directly into reassuring people before they knew what they were actually up against.”
The second arena that Webb said needs work is in testing. “The testing piece is the center piece that the federal government should be doing. If we can test it, we can beat it.”
On his campaign website, Webb lays out his strategy for tackling the pandemic and recovery.
He’d like to “enable people to make safe decisions by ensuring that nobody has to choose between going to work sick or paying their bills.”
This involves enacting recurring direct stimulus payments to individuals throughout the COVID-19 crisis; expanding eligibility and offerings in Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while also eliminating all work requirements for these programs, providing access to food; protecting people from eviction and from mortgage or student loan default if they cannot work because of the virus; and mandating at least 12 weeks of paid sick, medical, and family leave for all employees.
Additionally, Webb would like to “make sure our healthcare system is prepared for ongoing infections and the inevitable second wave.”
This will require scaling up testing capacity to the size of the crisis; efficiently tracing contacts to minimize the spread of disease; ensuring an adequate supply of personal protective equipment to protect healthcare and essential workers; adhering to best practices in identifying and disseminating therapies and technologies to improve outcomes — from drugs to ventilators; and providing adequate financial support for hospitals around the country to ensure that the healthcare infrastructure is not decimated by the cost of managing COVID-19.
And the final piece of Webb’s coronavirus response is developing a “plan for maintaining business continuity and employment relationships until it is safe for people to resume normal participation in the economy.”
The plan calls for ensuring robust funding of forgivable, emergency loans to small businesses—including local, minority-owned, and women-owned small businesses. “To support this backbone of our economy.” It also calls for imposing a national moratorium on small business debt collections; closing the loopholes that allow large corporations to avoid taxes and “take advantage of federal dollars they don’t need;” putting in place oversight and accountability mechanisms for corporations who receive bailouts; and preventing Chief Executive Officers, who received government money, from getting a raise this year. “They must be held accountable for protecting jobs,” according to his website.
More broadly in the area of public health, Webb said he wants to “redesign our system so that it prioritizes patients over profits.” To accomplish this, Webb said it’s time to build on the Affordable Care Act.
Among the list of upgrades is the introduction of a public health insurance option “offering comprehensive healthcare benefits” that are “available to anyone who wishes to choose it but allows others to keep private insurance if they want to.”
Webb said there are many ways to achieve this goal, but he prefers an “opt-in” option where residents aren’t automatically enrolled in the public plan. He’d also potentially be in favor of implementing a penalty that is similar to the individual mandate to ensure all Americans are covered.
“Medicaid and Medicare are things people broadly can find appealing,” Webb said. “If it’s robust and affordable, people will want it. Having broad networks is appealing and pretty much every provider takes Medicare. Even my mom can’t wait till she gets to 65 so she can go on it.”
He said that the public option has the potential to compete in the open market, but he also recognizes the role of private insurers as well.
“We’ve seen that the market has the ability to innovate” such as areas like forms of payment, Webb said. “It allows the market to affect the overall cost.”
While healthcare is certainly Webb’s wheelhouse, it would be a mistake to assume that his vision for the country and Commonwealth stops there.
Webb also is driven to address climate change. Even though he said that his views will be driven by science “and making evidence-based decisions,” he implores skeptics to view the transition to clean energy as an infrastructure project as well.
“People are more motivated by jobs,” he said. “We need to lean on science, but clean and renewable energy is overall cheaper that fossil fuels. We should also focus on the economic imperative of transitioning to a clean energy economy as soon as possible.”
According to his campaign website, Webb said “I will work to establish a clean energy standard that urgently requires 100 percent of U.S. electricity from clean and renewable sources. I will invest in programs to eliminate carbon emissions in agriculture and land use through reforming economic support programs for farms to meet climate goals. Finally, I will help make sure that we can keep the jobs created by a 100 percent clean energy future right here in Virginia.”
The climate initiatives are just part of a larger infrastructure overhaul that Webb said is long overdue.
“Among the biggest barriers to the development of thriving local economies in Virginia’s 5th District are deficiencies in the local infrastructure,” his campaign website said. “Just as is the case across the Commonwealth, our district is home to aging highways, roads and bridges, old and crumbling school facilities, and aging drinking water, wastewater, and irrigation systems. Investing in the repair of Virginia’s infrastructure is not only the right thing to do because it is the lifeblood of the district’s businesses and families, but also because this work creates jobs across the district.”
Webb said that overall, residents in Virginia are feeling disconnected from one another so that’s why he is also calling for infrastructure upgrades in broadband.
“The lack of broadband access and resulting digital divide has a significant impact on driving inequities in education, healthcare, job availability and growth potential for local businesses,” he said. “I will support ongoing and coordinated efforts in the Virginia delegation to get the necessary funding for broadband internet access through USDA’s ReConnect program, and fight to make sure we can deliver on this critical infrastructure.”
In a period of increased virtual learning, Webb said this expansion is even more pressing. As the son of a public school teacher, Webb said he quickly learned the value of education.
“Society as a whole benefits from an educated populace,” he said. “We want a better trained and skilled workforce. We are competing globally, and to do so, we need to make sure everyone has access to higher education, vocational and on-the-job training. When you are trying to recruit companies to come to rural counties, you have a better pitch,” with a more educated workforce.
Webb is calling for improvements to the standardized testing system and incorporating plans for educational equity and standardized reporting to close achievement gaps. He is also supportive of efforts to make community colleges and public universities tuition-free for lower-income individuals.
“We should also extend this support to other post-secondary opportunities—like career school, technical education, and apprenticeships—so that we’re truly unlocking the potential for everyone’s future success,” his website said.
Along with education expansion, Webb said he would also like to ensure workers are being adequately compensated. He is calling for a national minimum wage of $15 an hour over the next five years.
He said he understands the concerns of small business owners that fear the increase but “most studies tell us that if you have more consumers in your local economy, it might actually improve outcomes.”
Webb said that the move would have an industry-wide impact as well.
Rather than having rural workers leave for higher wages, “you might be able to retain more employees and not have to train new ones.” He said this incentive will save employers time and money while also enticing residents to reinvest in local businesses.
“The goal here is that if you are working a full-time job, then you shouldn’t have poverty-level wages,” Webb said. “Pay hasn’t kept up with expenses and it’s something that we desperately need to address.”
Webb is facing off against Republican nominee Bob Good in this November’s general election.
For find out more about Webb, please visit www.drcameronwebb.com/.