The Miami Student’s new podcast “People and Policies” focuses on Oxford’s local election cycle, featuring conversations with candidates about various issues relevant to students, faculty and residents.
On this first episode, Staff Writer Olivia Patel sat down with incumbent Oxford City Council candidate Jason Bracken. The two talked about Bracken’s background in politics and issues of climate change, affordable housing and more.
Editor’s note: This conversation has been edited for concision. Listen to the podcast for the full conversation.
Patel: Tell me a little about yourself. How did you find yourself on city council?
Bracken: So when I first came to Oxford, it was for a master’s degree in environmental science. I thought I’d only be here two years and now I’m going on a decade. I’m politically active … I read all the different stuff and all the different policies at many different levels.
And I was volunteering for several progressive campaigns, and also motions, at the time … and I guess I spoke up enough, just freely, and I volunteered enough that people got to know me and they asked me to run.
One of the council members sat me down and said they thought I’d be really good and really helpful, and they talked me into it.
You said you got a master’s in environmental science. Do you use that a lot when you are thinking about policies on the board?
Yes, absolutely. So one of my biggest priorities is climate change and associated environmental issues. I’m on our environmental commission, I’m on our climate action steering committee.
Depending on your priorities, a progressive or someone who really wanted to make environmental change, could actually go different ways. It’s a really complicated topic. So my background in that is very helpful.
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What would you say is your number one priority when dealing with environmental issues here in Oxford?
Well, it’s climate change. So, reducing our carbon footprint, and likely the best way to address that is to push as much solar as we can, especially large-scale. But we also want it at the individual level. If homes want to have their own solar, which makes them independent and does all sorts of great stuff, we want to support that too.
We have a really progressive council that does really good stuff. And if I wasn’t there, I think most of that stuff would still happen. So what actually makes a difference a lot of times, assuming everyone has similar values, is creativity, ingenuity or being able to speak up.
One of the things I think I made a difference on was, we have a closed landfill here that puts out methane … So I’m like, ‘Why aren’t we burning this off?’ So we now have a solar-powered flare on one of the biggest fences, which immediately reduces the carbon footprint from that landfill — which is actually very significant — by 30-40%.
The only thing I regret is that it should have been done decades ago.
Why did you choose to run again?
I mentioned one good thing I did, there’s a handful of others, and I think I want to keep on that track and pushing my values — which are similar, but priorities sometimes change, or are slightly different between people.
Are there any priorities that have changed since your last time on the board?
There’s definitely new ideas, but my two biggest values remain the same, and that’s climate change and the other one is basic needs security, particularly homelessness.
People don’t know we have a homeless population, and also it’s very hard to define because some people are literally living out in the woods or even worse, and other people are temporarily displaced … so it’s a constant moving number, but there is a group of people who are lacking for basic needs, including housing, and that’s my number one.
At the last Oxford City Council meeting you guys heavily discussed affordable housing … How do you plan on pursuing that initiative?
Sometimes the values of council weren’t fully represented. Sometimes ideas and values were slowwalked or pushed aside. I don’t think that’s the case now. I think there’s a lot of support for council goals.
We constantly get progress reports now on the accomplishments that staff have made or the steps they’ve made toward those goals. So, all we have to do is make sure we’re up on that, and we keep coming up with creative ideas, push it from the budget because everything needs funding, and I think we’ll get there. But a lot of it is, now that we’ve laid out our values and housing is one of our top ones, especially affordable housing, a lot is being done.
Is there a specific part of Oxford you’d like to focus on with this initiative?
I would love if communities weren’t divided by socio-economic classes, that would be fantastic because then everybody gets a similar situation … but the problems are, again, the cost of the property, the access to services and the grant opportunities and whether you’re able to get them in certain parts of town. And the fact that we have a giant student community in the center makes it more complicated.