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 condensed and edited to remove unnecessary words, phrases and questions for clarity. If you want the full, messy, extended version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews –> Extended Interviews.
Seth: How is the campaign going?
Eastman: It’s 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 we haven’t really even kicked off our campaign yet. We’ve really just been focused on strategy and gearing up and going out and talking and listening to voters. Hear about the things they thought we did right, things that we could have done better. The day after the election, I started a consulting business for non-profits and so I’ve also been focused on that.
Seth: What have voters been saying that you did well and where you need to improve?
Eastman: I think some people thought we didn’t reach out to Republicans, 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: How do you plan to reach out to Republican voters?
Eastman: 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: What’s your argument to voters about why you are the best candidate?
Eastman: 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. 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 so much more on health care and not getting a great return on our investment. So, we need some fixes. 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: Last cycle you ran on Medicare For All. Can tell me what that vision looks like?
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. We clearly have a problem within our own Medicare system that needs to be fixed. At the same time, Medicare is a very popular health care program. 77% favorability around the country. In Omaha’s own Gallup survey about government health care, the VA had a 78% favorability. Medicaid has 75%. 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.
Seth: Existing government health care programs like Medicare have significant cost sharing: premiums and copays and deductibles and coinsurance. Would your ideal Medicare For All proposal have that cost sharing or would it be more comprehensive?
Eastman: 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. The fact that you can go into a pharmacy one day and pay $300 for a prescription and the next month it’s $20 makes no sense. 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. 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.
Seth: 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: When you say “skin in the game”, you’re thinking more broadly by paying taxes 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: I think the most important thing is when you’re looking at, “I’m going to defer that cancer treatment because I can’t afford it right now” — that’s a problem. That’s 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.
Seth: Are you imagining a system that will cover long term care and vision and dental and be 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.
Seth: This system could decrease spending in healthcare because the government would have more bargaining power. Some estimates say as much as 40%. This could mean doctors could take pay cuts or some services would have to be cut. How do you view that tradeoff?
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: There’s only so much provider capacity — there could be longer wait times like in Canada. Do you see that being an issue?
Eastman: I think that is a scare tactic that Republicans have put out there to make people afraid of this kind of system. I 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 me to get an appointment with my dentist takes me three or four months.
Seth: How you pay for a system like this? Progressives will argue that there will be the same amount of payment going into the health care sector and 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 will the government do that?
Eastman: That number that you quoted is actually significantly less than what the Federal Government is projected to spend over the next ten years. 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. We have to be able to provide something that allows people to have the medical care that they need and deserve.
Seth: 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.”
Eastman: When we look at what people are paying right now, $10,000 a year for health care, and where in a Medicare for All system they might be paying $877 that same year, most people would take that savings. So, 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.
Seth: The favorability numbers are 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 plummets.
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, 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: Your competitor, Ann Ashford , said she’d vote for a public option to buy into Medicare. Is that a vote you would 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. 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. Am I voting for a public option, with no potential for Medicare For All? The public option is not Medicare For All. It’s hard for somebody to say whether or not they would vote for something without actually seeing the bill in front of them. I don’t want to be disingenuous and say yes, I would vote for something that I haven’t actually seen.
Seth: What are your feelings on the Green New Deal? I know it’s not a specific set of policies, but the idea of tying the economy and health care to the idea of stopping climate change and environmentalism.
Eastman: The idea of tying economic development to climate that make sense for me because that’s 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.
Seth: Is anything in there that you disagree with? Do you believe in a Federal job guarantee?
Eastman: I would like to see us really hone in that combination of addressing the climate crisis and tying that to economic development. 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. 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: You spoke about fiscal responsibility earlier. Can you expand on that tell me how you square that with these expensive programs?
Eastman: I believe 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 of progressive talk about raising taxes they talk about Scandinavian countries. But in Scandinavian countries, taxes are raised across the board rather than just on the super wealthy because raising taxes on the top one or two percent isn’t going to fund these programs. Are you open to that across the board kind of a tax increase?
Eastman: 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: Do you support a blanket $15-dollar Federal minimum wage or something that can slide back and forth depending on cost of living?
Eastman: I 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: Should we abolish the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote?
Eastman: I do think we need to abolish the Electoral College.
Seth: When I spoke with [your primary competitor] Ms. Ashford, she was hesitant because Nebraska might have less influence in a popular vote system.
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: 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: How do you feel about adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Eastman: 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. 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: Some Democrats have said that if they can take a majority in the Senate and take the presidency that they should add a few seats to the Supreme Court to change the balance right now. Is that something that you’d support?
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: Do you think Democrats should eliminate the Filibuster in the Senate?
Eastman: 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 and basically disgusted by it, because they feel like we can’t actually make progress. One thing 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.
Seth: What are your policy solutions for money in politics?
Eastman: 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 two or three million dollars in Nebraska is outrageous.
Seth: Overturning Citizens United would happen either in the Supreme Court or would be a constitutional amendment. So, are you open to both of those routes?
Eastman: Obviously it would be easier to have it done through the Supreme Court but again, because we have this right leaning Supreme Court, 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: How do publicly financed elections and getting money out of politics happening simultaneously when one of them is putting money in and one of them is taking money out?
Eastman: When it comes to the public financing you have a cap. 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. The system is so unfairly balanced right now towards people who can self-finance or who have access to extreme wealth. At the same time, why are we spending so much on elections? There are basically right now these puppet masters who have control over our elections because they’re putting so much money into it.
Seth: The NRCC has already attacked you and Ann Ashford for your first quarter fundraising. Can you talk about what Q1 fundraising?
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: Recently there have been some changes to the DCCC’s vendor policy. Consultants who work with primary challengers to incumbents would be blocked from working with the party’s campaign committee. How you feel about that new policy?
Eastman: I think it’s a terrible policy. We have to encourage candidates to run. It’s exciting that there’s energy in the Democratic Party and we should be encouraging that instead of discouraging it.
Seth: Is there a coalition in Congress that you see yourself joining or at this point
Eastman: Last time [election], 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: The district swung, relative to the nation [measured by the House popular vote], from 0.4% more Republican in 2016 to 10.6% more Republican in 2018. Why?
Eastman: 84% of incumbent Republican Congresspeople 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 tough district. I think we did really well and I think this time we’re going to win.
Seth: In 2016 you supported Hillary Clinton, I think that’s probably surprising to some people, given that a lot of your ideas are kind of in line with Bernie Sanders’ vision for the country. Are there any presidential candidates that have really impressed you?
Eastman: I’m just excited that we have such a strong slate. I’m 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
Seth: Do you not want to say any specific candidates?
Eastman: 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. 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: How do you feel about impeaching Donald Trump?
Eastman: 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. 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? The Republican Party is standing behind this president when he clearly is 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: What are the best and worst parts of being a candidate?
Eastman: The best parts are certainly just getting the opportunity to talk to people — what I love to do anyways. And to really learn what people think about politicians, what people are looking for in their representatives. I would say 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. 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.
Seth: Well, thank you very much for speaking with me
Eastman: Sure. Thank you so much.