Sanford School of Public Policy students will have a new opportunity to learn from a Capitol Hill veteran this fall, with the addition of Asher D. Hildebrand to the faculty. Former Chief of Staff to U.S. Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), Hildebrand joined Sanford as an associate professor of the practice.
Hildebrand will lead a graduate seminar on legislative advocacy, teaching students how to navigate and influence Congress, and also will teach the first-year MPP domestic politics course, “Politics of the Policy Process.” Eventually he will co-teach the MPP policy analysis courses as well.
“[Working in Congress] was a curiosity that turned into a career and eventually a calling. I never expected to stay that long but found it a uniquely interesting and fulfilling place to work, as somebody who is interested in both politics and policy -- that’s where they come together,” said Hildebrand.
He also served as the Director of Policy and Research for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in North Carolina, in addition to serving in volunteer advisory roles on other political campaigns.
Looking back on his time in Congress, Hildebrand said that some of the most fulfilling periods were his policy advising role as Representative Price’s legislative director, particularly in relation to Price’s work of the appropriations committee, and his leadership role as chief of staff.
He also had the opportunity to help lead Congressman Price’s work on the House Democracy Partnership, a bipartisan commission that works to strengthen democratic institutions all around the world. That experience, which involved extensive travel and peer-to-peer support for legislative staff in partner countries, informs his current academic interests: American politics, legislative institutions, civic participation and advocacy, democracy reform, and U.S. foreign policy.
“My background is actually in foreign policy and…in the development of democracy abroad. That is something that is facing a real test right now with authoritarian resilience and democratic back-sliding characterizing not just transitional countries, but also countries that have been considered to be safely in the democratic category,” he said.
His work overseas also gave him a renewed appreciation for the challenges facing democracy closer to home. The shortlist of reforms Hildebrand believes are among the most important includes redistricting reform, campaign finance reform and voting rights.
“Even before the election of Donald Trump, American democracy was facing significant challenges from the decline in public trust in government, the rise of big and unaccountable money in our elections, the fracturing and ideological polarization of the media, the distortive effects of gerrymandering, and disenfranchisement of entire segments of our population.
“Now…we also face a president whose commitment to the norms and institutions of democracy is as weak as any president we’ve had in modern history. Responding to that, reiterating and reaffirming our commitment to democratic norms and institutions, and reengaging citizens in the work of government is a massive task.”
He has been particularly encouraged in the last couple of years by the re-engagement or first engagement in politics by young people, and those from more diverse backgrounds than the narrow slice of America traditionally represented in Congress.
When asked whether he considered lobbying after his career in public service he did not hesitate.
“Advocating for a mission I believe in would be a noble calling,” he said. “But I wanted to move into teaching.”
Hildebrand holds an MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and a BA from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously had appointments as an adjunct faculty member at the Sanford School and in the department of public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill.
He lives with his wife, Blakely, and son, Rowan, in Durham, where he serves on the boards of various local and statewide organizations including the Carolina Theatre of Durham.