Kara Eastman is a Democratic candidate for Nebraska’s 2nd District. Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. In 2014, Democrat Brad Ashford won the district by 3.3% but lost in 2016 to the current Republican representative, Don Bacon, by 1.2%. In 2018, Kara Eastman, a strident progressive, defeated establishment-backed candidate Brad Ashford in the primary. Eastman went on to lose the election to Bacon by 2%. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post to get an overview of the district, the 2018 election and the upcoming 2020 race. This interview was conducted on Thursday, May 9, 2019.
The following interview has been very lightly edited. No substantial content was removed or added. The only edits were taking out unnecessary words or phrases like “I mean”, “Well”, “So” and “Um” for clarity. If you want a condensed version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews -> Condensed within one day of this extended interview being posted.
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Eastman: Hello, this is Kara.
Seth: Hi Kara, this is Seth calling from Every Second Year.
Eastman: How are you?
Seth: I’m good how are you doing?
Eastman: Good. Are you in Rwanda?
Seth: I am in Rwanda. I’m in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. Are you in Nebraska?
Eastman: I am. I’m in the Eastern Province of Nebraska.
Seth: Well, we have that in common. I’m working at a, it’s called a youth village. It’s called Agahozo Shalom and it’s for vulnerable youth in Rwanda who are around high school age. And it’s a place they can come live and go to school and get medical care and everything.
Eastman: Wow. That sounds great.
Seth: Yeah, so I guess we can just jump right in. I’m curious how the campaign is going. I’d like to hear about what your day to day life is and just what the past few months have been since the campaign started.
Eastman: Sure. It’s actually been going great and I’m encouraged by how much support there is this time. I think even more than last time, which is amazing. Although, and we haven’t really even kicked off our campaign yet so that’s even more encouraging to me. We’ve really just been focused on strategy and gearing up and going out and talking and listening to voters and people in the district. Hear about the things they thought we did right, things that we could have done better. And then, at the same time, the day after the election, I started a consulting business for non-profits and so I’ve also been focused on that.
Seth: And so what kind of things have voters been saying that they thought you did well and things they thought you needed to improve on.
Eastman: Most people thought that we ran a very, very strong campaign, which is evidenced by the fact that we came so close to defeating Don Bacon. I think people want to hear what our strategy is moving forward and how we’re going to win and so I think some people thought we didn’t reach out to Republicans, for example, which we did through mail, through TV, through conversations, through events. But I think that because I was so new, part of what we were trying to do was just get my name out there and now that we’ve done that, now we have an opportunity to really allow people in the district to get to know me.
Seth: And so how do you plan to reach out to more conservative voters or Republican voters. Is it more of just a, let them know your name and let them know your policies or are you planning on emphasizing specific things that might appeal to those voters more than you did last cycle?
Eastman: Well I think the most important thing is just allowing people to get the chance to meet me and to hear from me and for me to be able to answer their questions. I think so many times we have politicians that just talk at constituents instead of actually listening to them. And so, for me, that’s the most important thing. Just to listen to what voters are saying.
Seth: I’m sure you do hear different things coming from Democratic voters that will be voting in the primary and voters that will be voting in the general election. So I’m curious how your strategy and the policies that you’re going to be emphasizing and the message that you’re going to be sending will change or will be tailored for the primary versus if you make it into the general election.
Eastman: Well, I have always run on who I am and what I stand for and the great thing about that is the majority of things that I’ve been talking about are widely supported by a majority of Americans. A majority of people in the district. When we talk about the rising cost of prescription drugs, the vast majority of Americans think that that’s a problem. When we talk about gun safety, so many Americans are looking for action on gun safety because they’re tired of the threat of children being gunned down in school. So, I’m talking about those things that Nebraskans value.
Seth: I’m interested to hear your policy priorities and the kind of pitch that you’re going to be making to voters. You said health care and gun safety, but I’m hoping that you can go into a bit more detail for me here and give me the short pitch that you give to voters about your priorities as a candidate and if you were to be elected to the House.
Eastman: Sure, I’m somebody who has been working in non-profits solving problems for over 20 years. And in Omaha in particular, my work has centered on solving one of our biggest problems which is the connection between health and housing. And doing that by bringing coalitions of people together, by bringing more money into Nebraska, by creating public private partnerships. And so, when we talk about those things, that’s really how these government programs should work. If we look at health care for example, our outcomes on healthcare are so poor and yet we’re spending as a country, as individuals and families and as a government, we’re spending so much more on health care and not getting a great return on our investment. So, we need some fixes. When it comes to housing for example, we need an infrastructure bill that targets housing because we all live in houses, or we all need to live in houses — we don’t all have access to housing. And yet our homes are unsafe, our homes are inefficient in terms of energy, our utility bills continue to rise. These are things that I hear from people in the district from my work and then also from the campaign. Where we need to be addressing the things that actually impact Nebraskans.
Seth: And so when you speak about health care, I know last cycle you ran on a vision of Medicare For All, and I’m expecting you’re probably going to be doing the same thing this cycle and I’m hoping that you can tell me a little bit about what that vision looks like and then maybe once you give a broad overview, we can dive into the specifics because that is one of the defining issues in the Democratic )arty now, so I’m interested to dig into your vision of Medicare For All and what that would mean and the specifics. And I know that you’re interested to talk about that too. So, I’m hoping first you can give me a broad overview of your vision for Medicare for All and then afterwards we can go into a little bit more detail.
Eastman: I believe that health care is a right and that in the United States of America we should be providing health care for everybody. I decided to run for Congress because of my mother’s own outrageous prescription drug costs and my mother who has Medicare has those costs. So, we clearly have a problem within our own Medicare system that needs to be fixed. And at the same time, Medicare is a very very popular health care program. 77% favorability around the country. And so, when we look at some of the programs that people like and in Omaha’s own Gallup survey about government health care, the VA had a 78% favorability. Medicaid has 75%. And the majority of people in the second district in Nebraska passed Medicaid expansion in 2018. So, I think we’re all looking or bold solutions when it comes to health care and systems that actually provide people health care without causing them to have to choose between putting food on the table and paying their bills is really the way that we need to be going because we have to find a solution to this problem. My own daughter had knee surgery during the election and we ended up paying, with private health insurance, over $7,000 out of pocket for therapy and for the surgery. Without any explanation of what was covered, what isn’t, why certain things are. That’s a huge price tag for somebody who already is paying for private insurance. We have to fix the system.
Seth: That’s a lot of money. I’m sorry that she got injured and I hope she’s doing better.
Eastman: Thank you.
Seth: Yeah of course. When you speak about the existing government health care programs like Medicare, they are significantly different than the proposals that have been introduced by Bernie Sanders and in the House of Representatives. For example, they don’t cover prescription benefits, there’s a lot of other benefits like vision and dental that they don’t always cover. And there is significant cost sharing; premiums and copays and deductibles and coinsurance. An I’m curious if your ideal Medicare For All proposal would have that kind of cost sharing or if would be more like the proposals that were introduced by Bernie Sanders and would be more comprehensive.
Eastman: I do believe that we need and deserve comprehensive health care and the fact that the average American family, a family of four, is paying $10,000 a year for those things that you mentioned: copays, deductibles, out of pocket costs. It’s just outrageously expensive and so we need a system that provides comprehensive care. I do think people need a little skin in the game. I think that’s an important piece. That’s how I’ve always run my nonprofits. I don’t believe that everything should just be free. But I do believe that we need a system like Medicare for All which would allow everyone to have access to health care without causing them to have to pay outrageous costs and I think, you brought up the prescription drug thing, that is something we have to address now. The fact that you can go into a pharmacy one day and pay $300 for a prescription and the next month it’s $20 — in that order is great — but without any explanation makes no sense. The fact that my mother was asked to pay $2,500 for a pill when we know that you can go to other countries and get those prescriptions at a much cheaper rate. When we know that we need the collective bargaining power of the Federal government to reduce prices and when we know that basically politicians are bowing down to paramedical companies instead of looking out for their constituents. This is where we have a problem.
Seth: So, when you say people should have some kind of a skin in the game, I think some progressives would argue that people shouldn’t have to pay for any medical care. It’s a right and it should be something that’s completely covered and taken care of by the government. You shouldn’t have to think about that really at all when you’re going to the doctor or the hospital. How would you respond to those arguments and what exactly do you mean by having “skin in the game?”
Eastman: I think there have been a number of ways that a system like Medicare for All has been proposed to be paid. Some of that could come through a payroll tax. Some of that could come through an increase fees for American families. So, there’s always going to be some way that we have to pay for this system. But I absolutely agree that people shouldn’t have to decide whether or not they’re going to seek medical treatment based on their ability to afford it.
Seth: So, when you say skin in the game, you’re thinking more broadly by paying taxes or by contributing in an income tax rather than paying for the service when you show up at the doctor’s office with a copay or with a deductible or with coinsurance. Is that right?
Eastman: Well, there have been a number of different proposals for this along those ways, but I think the most important thing is when you’re looking at, “Okay I need to have cancer treatment,” for example, ‘that’s going to cost me out of pocket 20 or 30 thousand dollars. Well I’m going to defer that cancer treatment because I can’t afford it right now.” That’s a problem. Because that simply delaying absolutely needed treatment for somebody who is in a dire circumstance. When we look at people who decide whether or not to take jobs based on their health insurance. Or decide whether or not to leave a job for a better job because they have health care coverage, this is a problem. And I hear a lot of people say, “Well if you just get a job then you get health insurance.” Well, there are a number of employers who don’t provide health insurance. There are a number of employers that provide it at a very expensive cost. So, I think that’s a very entitled look at health care, which is why we need something where everybody gets covered.
Seth: And what kind of coverage are you thinking? Are you imagining that long term and vision and dental would also be covered in this kind of a scheme or do you think those things would eventually be dropped off at some point in the political process just because it will make the system less expensive. So are you imagining a system that will cover long term care and vision and dental and be really completely comprehensive?
Eastman: Absolutely because in the United States of America we should be providing comprehensive health care to our citizens. I’m somebody who has vision impairment so I’ve spent a lot of my lifetime in an eye doctor’s office debating whether or not to have surgery and having to pay a ton. My mother, when I was little, had to borrow money from her parents to pay for my eye doctors. So, I know how expensive that can be for people.
Seth: One of the arguments in favor of this kind of a system is that it would decrease spending in healthcare in general because the government would have more bargaining power. And some estimates say that the payments could drop by as much as 40%. But on the other hand, that would mean that a lot less money is going into the health care sector. Which could mean doctors could take pay cuts, some services would have to be cut. How do you view that kind of a balance or that kind of a tradeoff, if you believe that there is one?
Eastman: Right now, we’re already seeing that we have a shortage, for example, in the nursing field. We’re seeing hospitals in rural parts of Nebraska shut down. So, there’s already this kind of problem when it comes to health care. And at the same time, we’re paying exorbitant prices and not experiencing the outcomes that we should for how much we’re paying.
Seth: And so, do you see that as a risk, that if we are paying less money to the health care providers, that they will have less money and it could cause problems with doctors not making as much money with hospital not bringing in as much money. Do you see that as being a possible problem with a single payer system?
Eastman: Actually, the physicians that I’ve talked to that favor a system like this feel that they would actually be paid the same but that they would have more control over prescribing medication, treatment, diagnosing their own patients and making sure that they’re getting high quality health care.
Seth: That’s interesting. Do you know why they say that?
Eastman: I think right now they feel like they’re tied to insurance industry who decides what gets covered and what doesn’t. And really, we should be leaving that up to medical professionals.
Seth: Another thing that people are a little bit worried about is that there’s only so much provider capacity, that there could be longer wait times. There’s only so many doctors and hospitals and nurses. There could be longer wait times like in Canada or in the UK. So do you see that being a potential barrier to passing this kind of legislation or a problem with a single payer system. Or do you not see that being an issue?
Eastman: It’s interesting. I think that is a scare tactic that Republicans have put out there to make people afraid of this kind of system. I have a lot of friends and family who lived abroad. I, myself, have lived abroad and have not had those experiences. At the same time, when my mother was sick, she was often having to wait two or three months to get a doctor’s appointment or to start treatment that she needed. So, we already have some wait times for stuff. For me to get an appointment with my dentist takes me three or four months.
Seth: I had surgery a few years ago and it took months, because the doctor was so popular, to get in there just for the initial meeting. But, I guess I’m not going to ask about your mother, but I’m curious if she was on Medicare or Medicaid or if it was a private insurance.
Eastman: My mother had Medicare.
Seth: Okay. So, I really do like digging into specific policies and that sometimes candidates feel like that’s lacking, so I’m hoping that digging into the policies, you enjoy it, and is okay with you. And the last question I have, which is the one that always comes, is how you pay for a system like this. I know that a lot of progressives will argue that there will be the same amount of payment going into the health care sector, or even less payment, because the burden will just be shifted from individuals to the government, but you still will have to collect somewhere in the ballpark of $30 trillion over the next ten years. How do you see the government being able to do that? If you’ve thought through the specific taxes or fees that would allow the government to be able to bring in that much money.
Eastman: What’s interesting, is that number that you quoted is actually significantly less than what the federal government is projected to spend over the next ten years and so we already pay for this. We’re already paying for a health care system that leaves so many people without coverage. That leaves so many people going bankrupt because of their medical bills and just basically leaves people behind. So we have to move towards a system in the United States of America — where we support freedom and we promote dignity in people — we have to be able to provide something that allows people to have the medical care that they need and deserve.
Seth: I don’t want to put you on the spot. but do you see how that answer could be frustrating to some voters who really do want to hear the fully laid out, ‘we’re going to put this kind of an income tax and this kind of a payroll tax.’ To really fill out the details of the play and say ‘this is how we’re going to be financially responsible.’ Because I think that is an issue that a lot of voters do have when they hear this kind of a proposal. They agree with the overall idea of providing everyone with health care, but the feasibility is just hard to grasp when the details aren’t fully laid out for funding.
Eastman: I think that’s interesting because what I hear from voters, when we’re able to have these conversations, which is challenging, right? Because as a candidate you’re often given sound bites or a very short amount of time to explain something especially if you’re doing it in a commercial or on a flyer. But when we look at what people are paying right now, $10,000 dollars a year per health care and where Medicare for All system they might be paying 877 dollars that same year. Most people would take that savings. And if that’s through a small increase in taxes on that family where it amounts to only $800 a year versus $10,000, everybody I talk to says “oh well i would take that trade.” So, I find that those details, the plan that’s out there, the comprehensive plans for Medicare for All that actually do provide coverage and allow people to have the access they deserve. I find that people get pretty excited about it. And like I said, Medicare is a very favorable program. It has 77% favorability among Americans, so, most people I talk to are excited to see that there are candidates out there who are actually proposing bold solution for them because they want the problems to be fixed.
Seth: The favorability numbers are even really high if you explain Medicare for All, but then when you say you maybe lose your current insurance or would require increases in taxes, that support sometimes does plummet. So, what do you think the messaging should be behind the plan to voters that are worried about losing their private insurance and are worried about government having more responsibility in the health care sector and increases in taxes?
Eastman: I think that’s again a part of the Republican strategy to dissuade people from this. If you say to somebody “Would you like this?” that sounds great. Oh, but you’re going to have to give up or lose something else, that’s when people say “Oh that scares me, I don’t like that”, but the reality is when you actually are honest with voters and let them know 1) this is health care coverage for you 2) this is much more affordable than what you’re spending now 3) it’s much more affordable for the federal government than what the government is spending now and we need some fiscal responsibility right now, to be honest. And 4) you’re not losing anything. This is privately operated and delivered but government funded. I think that that’s where voters have been duped by Republicans who are trying to scare them away from this.
Seth: I spoke with your competitor, Ann Ashford, last week and she’s obviously a little bit more of an incrementalist candidate and she said she’d absolutely vote for a public option if it came up to a vote in the House of Representatives and we were curious if that’s something that…would you be willing to vote for the public option if that’s what came up for a vote, simply because Medicare for All couldn’t get through? Is that a vote you’d be willing to take or would you say “No I’m not taking this because I want and I’m going to wait for Medicare for All”.
Eastman: I think the reality is, we’re not going to snap our fingers and have universal health care coverage overnight. So, taking an incremental approach, might be what we have to do in order to get to the system that I’ve been talking about.
Seth: So is that a yes?
Eastman: Well, it’s hard for me to say, what that looks like. So am I voting for a public option, with no potential for Medicare for All? Look the public option is not Medicare for All. So those are different things. And it’s hard for somebody to say whether or not they would vote for something without actually seeing the bill in front of them. And so, I don’t want to be disingenuous and say yes, I would vote for something that I haven’t actually seen.
Seth: Okay I think that’s a good response. But it sounds like you are open to incremental steps as long as they’re in line with your vision for heath care for the county.
Eastman: And that’s not my vision, it’s what Americans deserve.
Seth: Thanks for having that deeper conversation on health care because obviously Democrats ran on it last cycle and they’re going to run on it this cycle. So, it’s an important issue and it’s an important issue for Americans in general. I’m also curious about your feelings on the Green New Deal. I know it’s not necessarily a specific set of policies, but in general it’s the idea of tying the economy and health care to the idea of stopping climate change and environmentalism. And I’m curious about your feelings about that tactic and the Green New Deal.
Eastman: I’ve been working in children’s’ environmental health in Omaha for 13 years and believe that the climate crisis is the number one moral issue facing our kids. We are leaving this for them to deal with and basically, frankly being irresponsible. And so, it’s time for us to take bold action when it comes to the climate crisis and there are so many parts of the idea of tying economic development to climate that make sense for me because that what I’ve been working on in Omaha. So, working on creating energy efficient housing, which creates a workforce, which creates great paying jobs for people, unionized jobs. And also reduces utility bills for people. When especially people living in poverty are paying so much more of a percentage of their income on their utility bills than wealthier people. So, to me, that is a win win. This is where we can actually increase the tax base for communities and create jobs and create this incredible workforce around local stuff. These aren’t things that we can outsource to other countries when we’re talking about fixing housing. And at the same time have a significant impact on the climate crisis, I think that is a winning solution.
Seth: And so, what do you see as the benefit of tackling those together in one bill or one piece of legislation rather than talking about them separately, but doing them at the same time. What do you see as the benefit of really tying all those together?
Eastman: I think the real benefit is that we’re talking about not just a theoretical concept of climate change or a climate crisis. We’re talking about solutions to actually addressing them and ways that we can do it in an efficient way that boosts our economy and to me that makes a lot of sense.
Seth: I know it was released a few weeks ago and it was a few page document, but I’m curious if there is anything in there that you disagreed with or that you didn’t necessarily think should have been in that resolution, or if you broadly agreed with everything that was in it?
Eastman: I’m sorry, you’re talking about specifically, what?
Seth: The Green New Deal Resolution that was introduced into the House of Representatives – Specifically what I’m thinking of is do you believe in a federal job guarantee? I guess that’s one issue that I thought would be interesting to bring up.
Eastman: In reading through the Green New Deal, I would like to see us really hone in on that combination that I talked about. That combination of addressing the climate crisis and tying that to economic development because I think that’s how we best create the action that we need that’s so urgent. And so, I’d like to see use really separate that from some of the other things that were put in the Green New Deal. But as a general solution to addressing things that we have to in order to protect our planet, in order to stop flooding like we’ve seen in Nebraska that’s hurting so many of our farming communities, our rural communities, even our urban communities. We need bold action. We need a clean energy plan. We need a system that addresses the issues when it comes to vehicles and busses and commercial and residential buildings. We need to address electricity and carbon emissions. So, a comprehensive plan that actually creates movement rather than these, kind of, lukewarm policy solutions that aren’t really going to have any major impact on our climate. We need something bold right now.
Seth: And so, you spoke about how fiscal responsibility is something that’s important to you. I’m curious, can you expand on that a little bit and tell me what does fiscal responsibility mean to you and how do you square that with the idea of these programs that are really, really big ideas and will be very expensive and how you square those two ideas. Fiscal responsibility with these big policy proposals.
Eastman: I believe in efficient, effective government programs. And that’s something that I’ve been fighting for in my career in Omaha. Omaha is the largest residential superfund site in the nation because of lead contamination and we the EPA has been here spending money to address the problem. And one of the things that I’ve been doing is pushing back on the EPA about how they were spending money. So, I’m somebody that has actually fought for more efficient, effective programming and knows how we should be spending money and as somebody who has run non-profits, knows how difficult it is to raise money. And so, I’m somebody that believes that we need to be very, very careful with our spending. And right now, the way that the federal government is spending money and the way that the president has increased the deficit is irresponsible. And we’re seeing this over and over again from Republican presidents who continue to raise the deficit and raise our national debt. We can’t afford this. We have to find different solutions.
Seth: When you think of a general tax scheme and a way to raise this money are you imagining something…cause when a lot of progressive talk about raising taxes they talk about what’s happening in Scandinavian countries. But what’s really happening in Scandinavian countries is taxes are raised across the board on everybody rather than just on the super wealthy simply because raising taxes on the top one or two percent isn’t going to fund these programs. So, when you think of a way to fund these programs, are you open to that kind of a tax increase that’s more across the board rather than just focused and pinpointed on just the top one percent.
Eastman: I do not believe that people living in poverty need to have their taxes increased but what we’re deficient in in this country is taxing the very very wealthy and we just saw that in the president’s own tax returns.
Seth: Okay so those are two big policies. I’m curious what are your other priorities? I know last cycle you talked a lot about making college more affordable and free for some people and increasing the minimum wage. I’m curious if those are going to be pillars of your platform and maybe if you can expand on that and talk about the other things that you’re planning on speaking to voters about.
Eastman: I do think that income inequality is a huge issue — that’s definitely one of the biggest issues in our district and something that people talk to me a lot about. In my nonprofit work many of our clients were working two or three jobs in order to feed their families and while unemployment has been down in our district, for people of color it actually hasn’t been as low as it should be and so we need to find ways to make sure that people are earning a livable wage so that they can support their families. So, income inequality is something that I’m very passionate about. I’m also incredibly concerned right now about the corruption that we’re seeing in the United States politics. Clearly right now within the White House we’re seeing so much of it. But even when it comes to people running for office and the way that districts are gerrymandered in order to basically rig the system. Voter suppression. We need to fix this political system because what it has done is make people who are disenfranchised anyway even less interested in this process. It suppressed voting. It basically created apathy and we have to find ways to get people more engaged.
Seth: I have two questions on that. When you speak about a living wage, would you like to make a hard 15 dollar federal minimum wage or are you more interested in something that can slide back and forth depending on cost of living.
Eastman: I do support a 15-dollar minimum wage and I also know that in some cities in the United States, even that’s not going to cut it.
Seth: I don’t live in New York and I never have but I was there for a few days and I don’t know what I could have done on 15 dollars an hour. It would have been an expensive place to live. So, the second thing is, you spoke a little bit about gerrymandering and the structural way that our government works and I’m interested in digging into your views on a lot of these structural changes that some Democrats have been proposing. We can go through them one by one, but what I’m thinking is the Electoral College, D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood, the Senate Filibuster, and adding seats to the Supreme Court. So I’m hoping we can go through those one by one and I can hear what your thoughts on them are. First, what are your feelings on the Electoral College and changing it to a popular vote.
Eastman: I do think we need to abolish the Electoral College.
Seth: That’s interesting because last week when I spoke with Ms. Ashford, she was a little bit more hesitant because of the idea that Nebraska does have a little bit of a louder voice the way that the system is working right now. So, do you have any hesitations based on the fact that Nebraska might have a little bit less influence in that kind of a structure?
Eastman: Nebraska already has less of an influence in the country than we should.
Seth: What do you mean by that?
Eastman: I mean that we’re considered in some ways a flyover state and we need politicians to start amplifying the voice of Nebraskans.
Seth: And so, what about Puerto Rico and D.C. statehood and statehood for other territories that would like it.
Eastman: I am in favor of both of those and the fact that you have taxation without representation is un-American.
Seth: And then, how do you feel about adding seats to the Supreme Court. There’s been several different proposals in the presidential primaries and I’m curious if that’s something that you are open to or if it’s something that you think is not territory that Democrats should wade into.
Eastman: I think that there have been a number of proposals around the Supreme Court that I find incredibly interesting and so, having rotations of federal judges on the Supreme Court, or having term limits. And so, I think we need to explore all of those options because the system we have right now is rigged so heavily in favor of whichever political party is able to appoint a Supreme Court justice And that’s not the way it was supposed to be.
Seth: And so, some further left Democrats have said that if the Democrats can take a majority in the Senate and take the presidency that they should add a few seats to the Supreme Court of liberal justices simply to change the balance right now. Is that something that you’d support or are you more in favor of the other ideas that might be more bipartisan or less grating to independents and conservatives?
Eastman: I like to look at things long term and I’m also interested in sustainability so I would like to see us fix the system rather than putting a band aid on it.
Seth: The last structural change is the Filibuster. And I know, you’re not running for Senate so it’s tangentially related to you a little bit more. But it is related to, if Democrats are to get these big ideas through the Senate, it’s unlikely that they’re going to be able to do it if the Filibuster is still in place. Just because that 60-vote threshold is unlikely for Medicare for All or free public college or things like that. So, are you in general in favor of Democrats eliminating the Filibuster in the Senate?
Eastman: I think that that’s again one of those things where, as a Democrat it’s easy for me to say that whether or not we should get rid of it and so it’s beneficial when you’re in the minority and again this is one of those things where we need to fix our political system because it is part of what has caused people to become so alienated from it and basically disgusted by it because they feel like we can’t actually make progress we can’t actually get bills passed and so we need to find a way for people to come together. And I think one of the things you didn’t mention is money in politics. And to me that is the most egregious example of where we have corruption in our system that our politicians are bought and sold by corporations. By the very wealthy. Races are so expensive. There’s a huge barrier to entry to even getting into the political process. Because you’re judged on how much money you can raise and if you don’t have access to wealth it’s pretty hard to do this. So I just think we need to change the system in so many ways.
Seth: When you talk about getting money out of politics, what kind of things are you thinking?
Eastman: Well I do believe that we should overturn Citizens United. I think that’s a lofty goal right now. But I am in favor of publicly financed elections. We’re seeing those in some states right now and they are having success. But the fact that a race for Congress costs 2, 3 million dollars in Nebraska is outrageous.
Seth: When you say overturn Citizens United I know that’s something that would happen either in the Supreme Court or would be a constitutional amendment. So, are you open to both of those routes or does one of them seem more appealing to you?
Eastman: Well obviously it would be easier to have it done through the Supreme Court but again because we have this right leaning Supreme Court, which again, should not be the way that it is, that’s not going to happen. So, we need to find ways to move that needle because corporations have such a loud voice right now. It’s one of the reasons I don’t take Corporate Pac money. We’re giving more of a voice to corporations than individuals.
Seth: And so, I think some people, when they hear the idea of publicly financed elections and the idea of getting money out of politics, they might not fully understand how those two things can happen simultaneously or what the goal of them happening simultaneously is because one of them is putting money in and one of them is taking money out. So, can you explain the ideas that make those both appealing to you and how they work together.
Eastman: I think when it comes to the public financing you have a cap, right. It makes it more of a level playing field and so it shouldn’t be that one person because they have access to wealth can raise 10 times more than somebody who doesn’t when actually there are great candidates out there. The system is so unfairly balanced right. now towards people who have money themselves or can either self-finance or who have access to extreme wealth and at the same time, why are we spending so much on elections?
Seth: Do you believe that if an individual has a billion dollars, they should be able to spend as much as they would like on independent expenditures or is that something that you would want to curtail as well.
Eastman: I think that’s a great point. I think this whole dark money politics thing has gotten so out of control and so we need an overhaul of the system. We need to make it fair. We need to make it accessible to people. And we need to stop dark money politics where we actually don’t know where money is coming from or where it’s going. There are basically right now these puppet masters who have control over our elections because they’re putting so much money into it.
Seth: What would you say to people who might say, “It’s freedom of speech. People should be able to express their political views and be able to put out ads”. How would you argue against that freedom of speech argument? That it’s an individuals right to be able to put their political and personal ideas out there in the public sphere.
Eastman: I think that we can have more sensible, more affordable elections without limiting free speech. And right now, the system we have gives more freedom of speech to the wealthy.
Seth: You’ve never been a candidate before last cycle…
Eastman: That’s not true. Actually, I ran for the community college board of metropolitan community college in 2014 and I won.
Seth: Okay, well sorry. I missed that. So now, the same question. I’m curious if you can just tell me how you went about cultivating donors and support when it is so much more challenging if you don’t have wealthy friends or the kind of support that sometimes establishment candidates do. How you went about navigating fundraising.
Eastman: We worked very very hard. It was a grassroots effort. We did not take corporate PAC money which is very, very challenging to do. It’s never actually been done in Nebraska for a congressional candidate. And we had over 90,000 donors. I’m really proud of that. Our average contribution was less than 30 dollars. So, we broke all the Nebraska fundraising records without taking a dime from corporate PACs. Raised over 2.65 million and it was through hard work. Through talking to voters about the issues that they care about. and through small dollar donations.
Seth: The NRCC has already come out attacking you and Ann Ashford for your fundraising numbers for the first quarter. I’m curious if you thought that the first quarter, your fundraising was a little bit disappointing or if there’s a reason your numbers were a little bit lower or just if you can talk about what quarter one looked like for fundraising for you.
Eastman: We haven’t officially launched the campaign. And the reality is the NRCC is going to attack us for everything. They were attacking Ann for not being at a parade when her husband was in the hospital. They’re making strategic errors here. So, I am confident that the support will be there for me and I’m hearing from a lot of people that they’re excited that I’m running again.
Seth: I’ve been reading the NRCC’s, their press releases, and they seem a bit troll-ey and they don’t seem like the most effective. So, I’ve been a little surprised at the way they’ve been attacking you and Ms. Ashford. So, last cycle, the DCCC weighted in in favor of your primary opponent. And recently there have been some changes to the DCCC’s vendor policy. I’m sure you’ve heard about it where they told consultants who work with primary challengers to incumbents that they would be blocked from working with the party’s campaign committee. And I’m curious, because you’ve had a similar experience with that, how you feel about that new policy from the DCCC.
Eastman: I think it’s a terrible policy. We have to encourage candidates to run. I was in a different situation. I was not challenging a Democratic incumbent, but I think in some ways it was treated that way. But at the same time, it’s exciting that there’s energy in the Democratic Party and we should be encouraging that instead of discouraging it.
Seth: I kind of see that there are two big broad wings of the Democratic Party. Obviously, there’s a lot of in-between but there’s a more progressive wing with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar and maybe the more moderate, bipartisan, New Democrat coalition with Abigail Spanberger and Ben McAdams and I’m wondering if you see yourself as aligning with each of those wings or not.
Eastman: I basically just see myself as somebody who represents Nebraska and Nebraska’s values. The things that I have been talking about, will continue to talk about — end corruption in politics, campaign finance reform, expanding health care, shared economic opportunity, reducing income inequality, addressing racial and social justice and student debt — those are things that are important to people here and I don’t necessarily see them as aligning with a wing of anything but rather just the values that we all share.
Seth: Ann Ashford said her first goal was to get elected to Congress and then she would join the New Democrat Coalition in the House of Representatives. Is there a coalition that you see yourself joining or at this point, not yet? You haven’t thought about that yet or you haven’t’ decided.
Eastman: Well I’m hoping to just win. But last time I had the support of a lot of members of the different caucuses — the Progressive Caucus, the Medicare for All caucus. I’d be proud to join those.
Seth: I want to transition a little bit from the policy into the actual election and the idea of winning the seat. So, last cycle, I think you got some criticism, like you said, for maybe not reaching out to Republican voters or for running more progressive than the district actually is. And I know you likely dispute that. But I would like to hear from you why you think that you didn’t win last time and what you can do to make up that 2% to take the majority.
Eastman: I think last time we ran a really strong, great campaign that I’m really proud of. It was very positive. Basically, introducing myself to people and the policies that I stand for and things that I stand for which, again are widely supported by the majority of Nebraskans so I think when we look at the numbers at the end, the Republicans spent about 1.2 million dollars attacking me personally, professionally. I mean there were a lot of attack ads. From radio ads to TV ads. Democratic ads spent 37 thousand attacking Don Bacon. So, there was quite a deficiency there. And while I’m not in favor of any personal attack on politicians, I am in favor in pointing out policy and votes and I think now we have an opportunity where Bacon’s voting record has been aligned 97% of the time with his own party and with the president. And for somebody who touts himself as bipartisan, or who touts himself as representing this district which is a purple district. He’s not representing this district. He’s representing his own party. So, we need somebody who’s going to stand up and be an independent voice and I’m that person.
Seth: When you think of the job of a representative do you see it more of you are there to represent all the ideas and vote according to the beliefs in your district or do you see it as, voters send you there to vote as you see fit and along your ideological lines?
Eastman: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that’s why it’s important to be honest with voters and let them know who you are and what you stand for and at the same time be willing to listen and we just don’t see that we certainly don’t see that in Don Bacon.
Seth: Are there any issues you could imagine, if you believe in something, but it’s not supported by your district just because it’s maybe a little bit more conservative, could you imagine voting for a bill or against a bill that based on constituent support rather than it’s something you believe in.
Eastman: I think that it’s important to be willing to be open minded and make compromises but I think compromising on your values is not what we need right now. I don’t thing that that’s what we need. And I also think it’s important for elected officials and for people in Congress who represent districts to be able to go back to the district and explain why they took certain votes and not do it in a way where it’s pandering. I mean, the town halls that Don Bacon has right now, they look like form town halls. They’re questions written on a card. They field the questions before. People have said that they don’t feel like they’re being listened to and while It’s challenging because sometimes these are pretty heated subjects, you have to be able to listen to your constituents. That’s the job.
Seth: Yeah. You’re there as a representative. Going back to the election, when you look at the way that the district swung relative to the national House, it did swing pretty far towards the Republican in 2018. So, for example, in 2014 the district was 9% more Democratic than the national House popular vote. In 2016 it was 0.4% more Republican and in 2018 it was 10.6% more Republican relative to the national House popular vote. And I’d like to hear why you think that is. You spoke a little bit about the Democratic party not investing too much and if that is what you believe is the primary issue was or if there’s other things that you believe caused that relative swing.
Eastman: When you look around the country, the fact is that 84% of incumbent Republican congress-people who ran for reelection in 2018 won. So, that’s pretty significant, right? I came out of nowhere, defeated a former congressperson in the primary and came within 1.9% of winning in a very very tough district. I think we did really well and I think this time we’re going to win.
Seth: There was an 8.6% national House margin in favor of Democrats in terms of the popular vote. Are you worried about, if it’s a little bit closer in 2020 that, the mood of the country might be a little bit different, it will be harder for a Democrat to swing the district?
Eastman: Like I said, I think this is a tough district, but I’m excited we got the majority and I think that people see that the country, at least in the House, is moving forward and so I’m excited to join them. I think it’s exciting that we had so many more women and young people and people of color who got elected and I think that’s showing people that we need diversity in Congress, we need different kinds of voices and so I’m excited that there’s so many great people running for president and I think that’s going to help drive turnout and in the end that we’re going to be successful.
Seth: And I know that you’re busy, so I only have a few more questions. So, don’t worry about taking too much time. Because I’m sure that you’re busy with your new business and with your campaign.
Eastman: Two full time jobs.
Seth: I know, I can’t imagine. It must be very busy and exhausting. I’ve worked on a campaign before and that phone time can be draining I know. So, you spoke about the presidential election. Am I right that in 2016 you supported Hillary Clinton?
Seth: I think that’s probably surprising to some people, given that a lot of your ideas are kind of in line with Bernie Sander’s vision for the country, so I think that’s 1) just an interesting thing, but 2) I’m curious if there’s any specific candidates that have really impressed you or that you would like to align yourself with so far?
Eastman: I’m just excited that we have such a strong slate and there’s so many things that I like about many of the candidates right now. But I think most importantly I’m just excited that we’re having the conversations that we need to have about the things that people in our district care about. The things that I talked about. Health care, income inequality, climate change, gun safety. Those issues are all being brought to the forefront and we’re having really interesting discussions and there are some bold plans being put out there. So I’m just excited to watch what happens and to be a part of it.
Seth: Do you not want to say any specific candidates?
Eastman: Well right now there’s over 20.
Seth: There’s 21 or 22, yeah.
Eastman: Right, I mean there’s a lot of people running and some of them supported me last time and every time there’s a new one that pops in, I like to look through their platform. And like I said, I just think we need to all band together right now and find the person and those policies that are gonna actually move the country forward and also get Donald Trump out of the White House.
Seth: I know that you’re hoping to win the primary, but are you committed to supporting the Democrat, whoever it is, that comes out of the primary in your district?
Eastman: For Congress?
Seth: Yeah for Congress.
Eastman: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Absolutely. I want a Democrat to hold this seat, just like I want a Democrat to be president right now.
Seth: I have two more questions. The one that I forgot to ask a little earlier is how you feel about impeachment of Donald Trump. How you think the House of Representatives should move forward given the results of the Muller Report.
Eastman: That we still don’t know all of. That is one of those questions that I am spending a lot of time thinking about because, I think there are two sides to it. When we look at all of the things that the president has done, which do seem to be impeachable crimes, it seems terrible to let him off the hook and unfair to the American public and at the same time, is impeachment the right strategy or do we wait until the election and hope that the American electorate will vote him out for what he’s done? I think it’s a tricky time right now, but most importantly, what we’re seeing is so unbelievable and the fact that the Republican Party is standing behind this president when he clearly is just aligning himself with criminals and on the verge of, or even having committed crimes himself, alienating our allies around the world. Aligning himself with the Russians without doing something about the fact that our election was hacked into and influenced by the Russians. It’s so unbelievable and I just wonder, what are we teaching our kids. This isn’t the Republican party of Chuck Hagel or Mike Johanns anymore. This is something we’ve never seen before and it’s just so un-American and hard to believe.
Seth: So, it sounds like you’re still figuring out fully your thoughts on if Democrats should impeach or wait for 2020, for Democrats to elect a new president. It sounds like you’re still thinking about that.
Eastman: Well, I’m excited that we got the majority in the House, but because we don’t have a majority in the Senate, I’m not sure how far impeachment proceedings would go anyway. I mean, because the Republican Party is just tying themselves to somebody who does not deserve to be an American president.
Seth: Thank you for talking to me. I have two questions, I’ll ask them both right now. They’re kind of wrap up questions. I’m curious what you see as the best and worst parts of being a political candidate and then two, if you have any requests of me for before I post the transcript of our interview and before we hang up.
Eastman: Well, the best parts are certainly just getting the opportunity to talk to people — what I love to do anyways. And two, to really learn what people think about politicians. What people are looking for in their representatives. So, that to me is the most fun. I would say, like 95% of running for Congress is fun. There’s that 5% where it’s stressful and you have to deal with attacks or deal with my daughter’s emotional response to my being attacked, which is a shame. Last time we had dead animals left on my finance director’s front porch. That’s gross. There are pieces of this that, it’s a shame. And at the same time, I understand it. I understand that people are frustrated. That they don’t feel represented. They don’t feel like their voices are being heard. So, we just have to do better and be better. And as for anything from you, no. I’m excited to have had the opportunity to be interviewed by you, so thank you.
Seth: Well, thank you very much for speaking with me I really appreciate. And I appreciate you willing to go a little more into the details in a longer form interview rather than hearing the topline, brief sentences about your policies. I appreciate you being willing to go a little more in depth.
Eastman: Sure. Alright, well thank you so much.
Seth: Thank you very much and have a good day.
Eastman: You too.