Kelli Ward, Trinity ’91, is an osteopathic physician and a former state senator running for the U.S. Congress. After challenging Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, in 2016, she is seeking the open seat vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake in a toss-up race.
Called “Arizona’s Lady Trump” by Salon, Ward has adopted President Trump’s anti-establishment and often controversial platform—opposing the Affordable Care Act, supporting increased border security and calling for a fight against “fake conservatives.”
The Chronicle spoke with Ward recently about her second congressional campaign, immigration and her time at Duke. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Chronicle: Tell us about your time at Duke.
Kelli Ward: I was there from ’87 to ’91—just a glorious time in the basketball realm. We went to the Final Four every year that I was there, culminating in the first national championship in ’91.
My friends and I were definitely Cameron Crazies, and we’d go to as many games as we possibly could, at home and even away at times. It was awesome. And obviously the academics were stellar as well.
TC: You were a physician before your political career. Why did you decide to go into politics?
KW: I never thought I’d run for public office, but I’ve always been a person who believes in trying to get good things done, rather than waiting around for something to happen and then complaining if I didn’t like the outcome...We were facing some of the endeavors to push Obamacare and Medicaid expansion into Arizona, and I thought that somebody with the health care experience and health policy experience that I had should be at the table.
TC: What would you say is the main difference between your first campaign and your second?
KW: I think it was more of a lack of experience at funding a statewide race and not having as much exposure and financing. This time we’re very well-known not just in Arizona but across the country and across the world.
My daughter was an exchange student in Chile, and she was talking with one of the [people] that she was in Chile with for that year. She goes to Stanford and is over in Vietnam, and she’s said that she has run into three people in Vietnam who either know who I am or say they lived in Arizona and are voting for me. It’s unbelievable.
TC: Your campaign website calls for a fight against “fake conservatives.” What do you mean by that?
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KW: In Arizona, unfortunately, we’ve had a brand of Republicans that many people are disappointed in. Sen. John McCain has had a vigorous campaign to fully repeal Obamacare, and when he got to the Senate, he did exactly the opposite... And people see through that.
They’re tired of the campaign conservatism—on our side, the Republican side. I think that many Democrats are [also] tired of the messages that they did on the campaign trail and then the results that they get at Washington.
KW: With all of these children arriving at the border, we have to be certain that we know they are truly family units—if they are truly asylum seekers that meet the criteria or if people are utilizing those children for horrific purposes. And so we have to be very careful.
I don’t want to see children separated from their parents. But I also don’t want to see our laws broken, and I don’t want to see people who are exploiting those very children or even those very women to get away with it because of our lax immigration laws or our open borders.
TC: The White House recently announced a sweeping reorganization plan, including a proposal to merge the Education and Labor Departments. As a state senator, you served as chair of the education committee. What’s your opinion on this plan?
KW: I think that trying to shrink the size of government is always a good idea, and consolidation of departments that are doing similar tasks is also a good idea.
It is a way to decrease some of the number of people that have to be employed and the cost of employing them, in order to get just as much work done in a smaller department. I think it’s something we should be looking at across the board.
KW: It’s hard to say... You can’t really help who comes out to support you—they all bring pros, and they all bring cons. But I can tell you that the most important endorsement that I’m working on getting is the voters of Arizona, and it’s clear on the ground that I have that.