Author Archives: everysecondyear

THE GENERIC BALLOT: SEAT ALLOCATION VS THE POPULAR VOTE (PART 2)

The 2020 elections are still 16 months away and yet pollsters are out in force, giving us just enough information to break out our crystal balls and make wildly irresponsible predictions. This is the last post in a four-part series looking at the Generic Ballot and its utility as an election predictor. You can read the first post in the series here

The Republican Party’s structural electoral advantage in federal elections is well documented in liberal circles. Republicans won two of the last five presidential elections while losing the popular vote. The Senate — where states get equal representation — gives rural, Republican-leaning states undue voting power relative to their populations. Republicans have so heavily gerrymandered the House that Democrats are consistently underrepresented relative to their portion of the popular vote.

Our focus here at ESY is the House — questions about the presidency and Senate will have to wait. We’ll concentrate on the last claim: Do Democrats face a structural disadvantage in House elections?  To start, it’s important to understand two measures of bias in the House. We’ll then look at how these biases have come into play historically and, finally, how that relates to the generic ballot.

The Median House District
One way to measure bias in the House of Representatives is to compare the median House district’s electoral margin to the national popular vote. If you were to line up all the House districts from most Democratic to most Republican, the median House district would be the one directly in the middle. Number 218 out of 435. The district that would tip control of the House from one party to the other. The distance between this district’s margin and the national popular vote is one way to measure the House’s bias.

In 2018, Democrats led the House Popular Vote by 8.6%. In the median House district, California’s 10th, Democrat David Harder won by 4.5%.  If the whole nation voted 4.5% more Republican, Democrats would still have carried the popular vote by 4.1%, but lost CA-10 and, with it, control of the House. In this way, Republicans had a 4.1% structural advantage in the House in 2018.

David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report uses this measure to argue that Democrats have faced a disadvantage in the House since the 1960s.

The Seat Bonus
The other way to measure bias in the House bias is to measure each party’s “seat bonus”. A party’s seat bonus is the gap between their share of seats in the House and their share of the popular vote.

In a perfectly proportional system, a party that wins 53% of the vote would receive exactly 53% of the seats. The House, though, is decided by 435 individual elections rather than proportional allocation, making a perfectly proportional distribution of seats unlikely. In 2018, Democrats won 53% of the popular vote and won 235 of the House’s 435 seats, which translates to 54%. The Democratic seat bonus, therefore, is 1%.

This is perhaps a more intuitive way to measure the House’s bias. It also paints a more complex picture of the parties’ structural advantages and disadvantages in this legislative body. Unlike the “Median House District” measure, the “Seat Bonus”, over the years, has swung back and forth between the parties.

Tracking the “Seat Bonus”
The following graph shows Democratic and Republican overrepresentation in the House, measured by their proportion of seats minus their percentage in the national House popular vote, from 19721The 1972 redistricting was the first to take place under the Supreme Court’s “one person one vote” ruling which mandated districts of roughly equal proportion, making that election a natural starting point. to 2018. It’s a graph of each party’s “seat bonus”.2All data in the graph is rounded to the nearest 1%


Data: Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress

The graph shows three eras in the House. From 1972-1992 Democrats consistently benefited from a seat bonus while Republicans faced a heavy seat penalty. From 1994 – 2008, things were a bit more muddled, with Republicans and Democrats both usually benefitting from a seat bonus, but Republicans typically getting more of a bump. Lastly, from 2012-2016 Republicans got a strong seat bonus while Democrats faced a penalty. The most recent election 2018, seems to break this last era of Republican overrepresentation, but we will have to wait to see where the trendline goes in 2020 and after.   

These three eras line up almost perfectly with which party had control of the House. Democrats had majorities from 1972-1992, from 2006-2008, and again in 2018 while Republicans did from 1994-2004 and from 2010-2016. The party that won a majority in the House almost always received a bigger seat bonus. Out of 24 elections, only 1994 breaks the trend. And over these 24 elections, the party that won the House majority received an average 6% seat bonus. This bonus, however, has decreased from an average of 8% between 1972-1982 to 4% from 2008-2018.

The reason for the seat bonus deserves its own blog post and will be the focus next week. Some preliminary explanations:

1) Swingy seats are (proportionally) overrepresented. In 2018, there were 91 seats that fell in the range of +10 Republican to +10 Democratic. Since seats can range from +100R to +100D — a total range of 200 points — the 20-point range of +10R to +10D represents 10% of the total possible range. One might expect 10% of House seats to fall within this range. Instead, 91 seats (21% of all House districts) fell in this range. Because these close seats are overrepresented, a party will be disproportionately rewarded for marginal gains around 50% of the two-party vote.

2) Seats have different levels of elasticity — meaning they respond differently to changes in the national environment. According to FiveThirtyEight, for every change in 1% of the national popular vote, Michigan’s 5th District — the most elastic district in the nation — will move 1.24%. On the other side is Pennsylvania’s 3rd, which will only change .72%. Perhaps the swingy seats are also the most elastic, meaning that a party will be disproportionately rewarded for marginal gains around 50% of the two-party vote.

Again, these are just ideas. Next week we’ll dig into the data.

Below is chart similar to the one above, but this one uses the two-party popular vote, which excludes any votes for third parties.


Data: Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress

It looks almost identical to the first graph, with one big exception. In this graph, both party’s trendlines are consistently a few percentages lower.  When third party votes are included in the popular vote total, both Democrats and Republicans over-perform in House to a greater extent than when these votes are excluded. The reason for this is clear: third party votes rarely translate to real representation in the House. Third party votes increase the raw number of votes in the popular vote, meaning that Democrats and Republicans will receive a lower percentage of the total vote percentage. But because third party candidates almost never get elected, Democrats and Republicans do not see their overall representation in the House go down.

Tracking the Median House District
The Median House District measurement has shown a consistent bias in favor of Republicans for decades. Take a look at this graph charting the median seat in the House and Senate relative to the presidential popular vote. Every presidential year from 1968-2016 (excluding 1980), Republicans have had a two to six-point advantage. And that advantage has risen since the turn of the century, reaching about 5.5% in 2016.

This discrepancy comes from how Republican and Democrats are distributed among districts. Democrats are heavily concentrated in cities and urban areas; Republicans tend to be more spread out among rural, exurban and suburban districts. There are more districts with very high portions of Democratic voters than there are districts with very high portions of Republican voters. While party density makes it very easy for the individual seats, it also leads to a lot of wasted votes. Read my last post for more detail, but due to natural sorting and gerrymandering, Democrats waste more votes than Republicans. These wasted votes largely explain why the median House district is more Republican than the national popular vote. In 2018, Democrats won 180 seats by a 15% margin or greater while that number was just 126 for Republicans.

But…the Generic Ballot?
The Generic Ballot estimates the House popular vote which is used to project seat allocation between the parties. To understand the Generic Ballot’s utility at projecting seat allocation, it’s necessary to understand how well it predicts the House popular vote (which we covered in the first two pieces in this series) and how well that popular vote translates to seat allocation (which we covered in the last post and here).

According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregator, Democrats lead the 2020 two-party Generic Ballot 53.7% to 46.3%, a 7.4% margin (as of July 13). This number is bound to change over the next year and a half. As 2020 approaches it will likely mirror the presidential election polls and in the meantime will track President Trump’s approval rating.

A 7.4% lead, though, would probably push Democrat’s past the Republican “Median House District” bias, giving them control of the House. Along with control of the House, Democrats would probably benefit from the “Seat Bonus” bias, giving them a greater than 53.7% (234 seats) share of House seats. Democrats didn’t get that “Seat Bonus” in 2018, winning about 8.6% in both the Popular Vote and seat allocation. However, as we saw from Republicans in 1994 and Democrats in 2006, it is common for a party to not receive a big bonus the first year that they re-take the House but then to see the bonus factor in the next election.

As we learned in the first post of this series, the Generic Ballot is pretty good measure of the national popular vote. It’s a good indicator of the national mood and predicts well how many House seats each party will win. We will end with two caveats to this. One: The Generic Ballot is much less reliable this far out from election day. Two: The House of Representatives is not decided by the national popular vote. It’s decided by 435 individual single-member districts with local factors and unique candidates. In this sense, there’s nothing at all general about House elections.

THE GENERIC BALLOT: SEAT ALLOCATION VS THE POPULAR VOTE (PART 1)

The 2020 elections are still 16 months away and yet pollsters are out in force, giving us just enough information to break out our crystal balls and make wildly irresponsible predictions. This is the third post in a four-part series looking at the Generic Ballot and its utility as an election predictor. You can read the first post in the series here

The Generic Ballot is a poll question that aims to measure the national popular vote for the House of Representatives. Respondents are asked to choose between a nameless Republican and Democrat for Congress. Gallup asks it this way: “If the elections for Congress were being held today, which party’s candidate would you vote for in your congressional district — the Democratic Party’s candidate or the Republican Party’s candidate?”

Each party’s number of seats in the House of Representatives, however, is not determined by the national popular vote. A party that gets 45% of the popular vote will not always (or usually) receive 45% of seats in the House. Instead, we hold 435 individual elections, district by district. There are, therefore, two degrees of separation between the Generic Ballot and House seat allocation. The Generic Ballot predicts the national House popular vote which then can be used to estimate each party’s seat allocation.

How U.S. House Elections Work
The current conception of U.S. House elections — 435 individual districts with one representative each — is not mandated by the Constitution. Regarding seat apportionment among the states, the Constitution stipulates that states have House representation proportional to their population and that each state has at least one representative. As for elections, the Constitution says that only these representatives should be “chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.”

Instead, the Uniform Congressional District Act, a federal law passed in 1967, mandates the use of single member districts in all states with more than one representative except Hawaii and New Mexico.3These two states were given exceptions, allowing them to continue electing representatives at-large. Both states have since done away with this practice. Without this statute, a state could theoretically establish multi-winner elections, where all of a state’s voters choose from the same slate of candidates and the candidates with the most votes fill the number of open seats in order of votes received. If, for example, there were eight candidates running for three open statewide seats, the top three vote getters in the statewide election would fill those three seats. As of now, though, this is against federal law.

Maine did run ranked choice elections in 2018 for House and Senate, rather than traditional plurality elections. But even in this system, the state is split up into proportional districts according to population and each district gets one representative. With this caveat, the this single-member district, first past the post system of choosing representative dominates U.S. House elections. So that’s what we will focus on here.

Why Party Seat Allocation Differs From The Popular Vote
Single member districts mean that some votes will not be represented. The votes of Republicans in a heavily Democratic districts, Democrats in heavily Republican districts and third-party voters are essentially useless. And in close elections — say a candidate wins 51% to 49% — nearly half of the electorate’s votes go without representation. Unsurprisingly, on a national scale, this means party representation does not match the national popular vote.

A key concept is the ‘wasted vote’. There are two kinds of wasted votes. Type One is a vote that does not go the winner. So, in a 60-40 election, the 40% of votes that did not go to the winning candidates are Type One wasted votes. A Type Two wasted vote is any vote for the winning candidate over the threshold to win the election. It is essentially an additional vote that the candidate would have won without. In an election with a 50% winning threshold, any vote over that 50% mark is a Type Two wasted vote. One might think that, on a national level, the number of Republican and Democratic votes would balance out. There are two big reasons that this does not happen.

1) Natural Sorting
Democratic and Republican voters are not spread evenly across the country or within states. Democrats are concentrated in urban areas while Republicans are spread out over larger, more rural areas. When congressional districts are drawn, Democrats are often naturally placed into districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic due to their heavy concentration in cities and urban areas. This creates a lot of Type Two wasted votes. If an urban district is 85% Democratic, that 35% over the 50% mark are unnecessary for Democratic representation and wasted votes. On the other hand, Republicans tend to live in suburban, exurban and rural areas. They are more evenly dispersed around the country, making it rarer for a district to be overwhelmingly Republican. This distribution is more efficient for Republican voters, because if they live in more 60-40 districts than 85-15 districts, they have cast many fewer wasted votes.

2) Gerrymandering
Gerrymandering is the drawing of congressional districts to favor one party over another. Because state legislatures are responsible for drawing congressional districts, they often try to maximize their party’s federal representation.

The two methods used in gerrymandering are ‘packing’ and ‘cracking’. Both involve maximizing the opposite party’s number of wasted votes. Packing is drawing a small number of congressional districts that heavily overrepresent the opposition party’s voters, creating a lot of the Type Two wasted vote. Cracking is the opposite of packing — diffusing the opposition’s voters into districts so as to create Type I wasted votes.

Most gerrymanders are a combination of Packing and Cracking. Imagine a state that has 100 voters: 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats and five congressional seats of 20 people each. A Democratic legislature could draw the districts to look like this:

1) 20 Republicans
2) 7 Republicans + 12 Democrats
3) 7 Republicans + 12 Democrats
4) 8 Republicans + 13 Democrats
5) 8 Republicans + 13 Democrats

The Republican Packing in District 1 along with the Republican Cracking in Districts 2 – 5 allowed Democrats to win four out of five seats in a state that his half Republican.

Natural Sorting and Gerrymandering are the two biggest reasons that the national popular vote and seat allocation among the parties do not match. There are, of course, other reasons: third party votes, unequal district sizes, differing voter turnout in districts, etc. But these two are the biggest structural and geographic factors of our system that ‘distort’ House representation away from the popular vote. Now that we know what causes the gap between popular vote and House representation, we can look at how significant this gap has been in the past, how much it matters today, and which party tends to benefit from it. Next week: SEAT ALLOCATION VS THE POPULAR VOTE (PART 2)

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: BRENDA LOPEZ ROMERO

Brenda Lopez Romero is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Seventh District. The district featured the closest election in the entire nation in the 2018 midterms. In that election, Republican Rob Woodall beat Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux by less than 500 votes. Earlier this year, however, Rob Woodall announced that he would not be running for re-election, spurring candidate announcements among both Republicans and Democrats. Romero is currently a Georgia State Representative and part of her district overlaps with the Seventh. She is hoping that her experience and relationship with constituents can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general.  Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post on GA-07 that digs deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on June 11, 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?
Lopez-Romero: We’re obviously very excited. We’ve been building the infrastructure of the campaign and getting logistics out of the way. And doing that engagement to the community and grassroots organizations and the people.

Seth: What are  your policy priorities on the campaign trail and if you were elected?
Lopez-Romero:  There are five platform areas that I have for this campaign. I have no interest in bringing D.C. talking points to Georgia. My interest is making sure that the interests and concerns that affect the constituents are brought to D.C. I’m bring Georgia’s voice to D.C. It’s very common  to hear some of the same things being repeated [by Democratic candidates], but for me they’re not just clichés, they’re not just talking points. They’re lived experiences.

One issue that I’m focused on is supporting education access and supporting public schools. I grew up in Dekalb County, right around the Seventh. And went to public schools there were both overcrowded and underfunded. So, I know how vital and pivotal it is to improve our schools and what it means when they’re not.

Likewise, one of my interests has always been that pathway into higher education. If it weren’t for someone helping me along the way, I wouldn’t’ have probably where I am today. In high school in fact, I had a high school counselor tell me that because I was bilingual that I would be a good secretary or receptionist. I also had a pretty good French teacher that was the one that helped me fill out my college applications. He was the one that told me what FAFSA was because I didn’t know what it was. And so, it’s always important for me that we continue to provide the resources and information so that our students are able to go into higher education and technical education.  We can look at a lot of other issues but if we’re not improving the educational opportunities for people, then we’re not improving their lives generally and generationally.

Seth: Which specific policies would you be focusing on? And so how do you see your fight for better education changing from working on the state level to federal level?
Lopez-Romero: I see the importance of not necessarily dictating way about how education processes should run. I know the negative impacts of things like No Child Left Behind where there was a lot of proscribed metrics.  At the Federal level we can be most useful by focusing on providing funding and resources, especially for schools with greater need — whether that would be schools with Title 1 or schools that have high need students, whether those are special education or students with disabilities.

One of the other key components at the Federal level is to ensure and protect the civil rights of students in school systems. That cuts across the issues of making sure that we have compliance for special education for students with disabilities, for students with limited English proficiency.

I would also focus on providing funding for revitalizing the infrastructure of public schools. In the state as a whole, is the fact that our rural schools sometimes are in major need of infrastructure funding. I want to work with these school systems to ensure that when we need capital investment infrastructure improvement in our schools, that we can collaborate with the state and local government.

Seth: Do you support public funding for charter schools and voucher programs?
Lopez-Romero:  In the State of Georgia, there are different varieties. We have public charter schools that are a part of the local system. I think that is a state and local issue. They still have to comply with many of the state regulations and accountability measures. But there are also private charter schools and that is where I have my greatest concern — when we’re using vouchers to fund private charter schools that no longer have the same level of requirements to meet the state or local government regulations or accountability measures. And so vouchers or anything that takes away money from the public-school system into other entities, is something that I have opposed in the legislature. That’s something that has come forth numerous times and it’s something that I consistently stood and voted against.

Seth: Do you support free public college for all Americans. Or is that something that is not feasible or too expensive?
Lopez-Romero: I would be supportive of making sure that our technical education aspect of college is free. In fact, in Georgia, we have 12 industries that are considered high need industries and require technical school that actually are tuition free. And so, we’ve already recognized how valuable and important it is that we have industry-based needs that need to be covered and something that we have incentivized by making those tuition free.

The issue is never for me about feasibility. That’s something that you definitely have to take a look at and being in the legislature I see how important that is. For me you never start with that question. You start with about “what is a good program? What is a good idea? How is it workable and if it is, how does the cost come in or where does the funding or money go?” So generally, I support the general idea of tuition-free education — definitely technical education and some college education.

Seth: What are your other priorities?
Lopez-Romero: Good, strong economic growth that leads to good jobs with livable wages and good benefits.

One of the most important things a congressional person can do has less to do with the legislation aspect and more about being present in your district and providing information and resources and helping bring funding and grants to the different needs that we might have in the district. I will be engaged with the local and state government to ensure sure that were collaborating on economic growth in the seventh.

One of the other things that I want to ensure with economic growth is to ensure that women and minority owned business continue obtaining contracts for a lot of the economic growth that we see here in the Seventh. We also need to ensure that economic growth does not displace residents or small businesses. That implicates issues of affordable housing.

Seth: Why do you want to move from state to federal politics when it sounds like you are dedicated to your community and the local area?
Lopez-Romero: It took a lot of thought to decide to make that final decision to run for Congress. It wasn’t official until the beginning of April and that is why I didn’t announce until about a month ago. I had to wait until after session to make that final decision. On the personal side, my background, especially academically, is in federal issues and international issues. The policy areas that really get me excited focus on national policy, particularly as it relates to international affairs or foreign policy.

I need to backtrack: I was actually born in Mexico but I moved here to reunite with my father when I was five years old here to the State of Georgia. I didn’t speak English. At about seven years old I learned enough English and so I became what I call a sort of de-facto interpreter. With teachers, parents, neighbors, students, I was kind of pulled along to make sure that I could interpret for them. That grew a sense of duty to help people with something as basic as language access.

I’ve been heavily involved in community advocacy work since I was young. So, despite the fact that my policy interests are at the federal international level, I do understand the daily lives and the daily needs of people. That  implies the best combination of a congressional person that you can have: someone that understand the big pictures and big issues that affect our country but that understands how those big picture issues affect day to day lives for the person that is just getting by.

And on the practical side, I did a review of what happened in 2018. Quite frankly, one of the reasons that I decided to run is because I think that this primary is about one thing only. This primary is about flipping the Seventh. And I don’t think the other candidates that we have are actually going to be able to flip the Seventh in 2020 if we weren’t able to flip it in 2018.

Seth: The district almost flipped in 2018, but not quite. What was the problem for the Democrat?
Lopez-Romero: In 2018, we had what I call the Abrams4Stacey Abrams was the 2018 Democratic Gubernatorial nominee in Georgia effect. We saw historic turnout because of her infrastructure and bringing out voters for the first time.  Here in the Seventh we had five House seat districts flip, one Senate district flip, the Solicitors office in Gwinnett flip, a school board seat flip, a Commission seat flip. All of Gwinnett County went blue.

Quite frankly, you said ‘almost’. There’s no almost. In elections you either win or you lose. Considering the fact that we had such great turnout. The fact that we had so many seats flip in the Seventh. The fact that even the Sixth Congressional District was actually considered slightly more Republican than the Seventh says that the problems have nothing to do with our voter base here in the Seventh.  That fact that the prior nominee wasn’t able to reach out to the voters the way that she needed to. She could not bring any more votes on her own than the votes that already came out for the other candidates, whether it was a statewide ticket or a local candidate. 2020 will be that much harder to win and I say that because for starters, we won’t necessarily have Abrams as the top ticket. It will be a presidential year; therefore, turnout is going to be higher. We are going to have Trump on the ballot or a Republican nominee that will continue to increase that extreme conservative turnout.

In terms of how I see what our campaign can do differently, I see it twofold. One is the fact that I have been doing a lot of the community, grassroots outreach. There is already a trust factor that is built in with a lot of voters within the district. I mean that even before I was elected. I have built these relationships over the last five to ten years. And the other is I have always been able to connect well with people. I haven’t had to come in and ask people to vote for me, some random person who woke up one day and said, “Hey I’m going to run for office”.

When I first ran, we ran by reaching out to first time voters. We ran by reaching out to all voters. That is one of the things that we haven’t learned particularly here in the Seventh. It’s a very diverse district. It’s one of the most diverse districts in the Southeast excluding Florida. We intend on reaching that diverse set of voters. All of them. And giving them reasons and incentives to actually come out and vote. And I think you do that by having that personal connection and building that trust with voters.

We are a part of that suburban arch of City of Atlanta proper and some of the issues that we see here in Georgia as it relates to health care and the abortion ban the right to privacy and the right to physical autonomy, I think that resonates a lot with suburban women. That is a demographic that we should all focus on. When I say all voters, I truly mean all voters.

Seth: The candidate last cycle, Carolyn Bourdeaux, might say, “The district in 2016 went 20 points for the Republican and then last cycle it was almost even. The trajectory of the district is getting more diverse  younger. With those trends, I’ll be able to flip it.” Why do you think that is wrong?
Lopez-Romero: It’s not that the district is turning blue. The district turned to blue already and it turned blue before 2018. You weren’t able to flip it in 2018. In 2020, the general election is going to be that much harder. The issue here is about the candidate. Which candidate is going to have the turnout necessary and to engage and reach and connect to the young voters, to the new American voters, to those first-time voters that no one has really come to them about what their daily life concerns are? That is what I bring to the table as a candidate.

In 2018 we had Woodall, who made zero attempt at fighting for his seat. He actually told the media he had no reason to campaign. In 2020 we are going to have a Republican nominee that is actually going to want to fight to keep their seat. So, you add all of these things and the real issue here is, who is the candidate that’s going to connect and reach all of the demographic points that we mentioned and motivate them to actually come out and vote?

Seth: Some voters will want to hear your position of the big issues of the day. Let’s start with your position on Medicare for All as it has been proposed by Senator Sanders.
Lopez-Romero: I’ve been at the legislature fighting for full Medicaid expansion under the ACA and so I will continue to do that work here in our State.

Part of what we can practically begin in Congress is ensuring that we continue to protect the ACA. Protect it and improve it.  The ACA, during its negotiations, at some point we had a public option. And I think that could work. Because the issue here in the question about Medicare For All isn’t the title Medicare For All. That’s just the messaging talking point. The issue behind that is how do we get affordable and quality health care to those that are either uninsured or underinsured.

I would be willing to look at all policy proposals that provide for affordable and quality health insurance whether it’s improving the ACA, whether it’s revamping the health care system all together.

Seth: There are progressives who say, “Medicare For All is the message that the Democratic party needs to be putting forward. We should not have private insurance and we should have a single payer government system.” But it sounds like you’re open to more options than that. Is that correct?
Lopez-Romero: If we can cover more people and provide it… because one of the other things that’s important to the healthcare discussion that is vital is how do we reign in prescription cost and the billing and cost of medical procedures. Sometime you will see some hospital facilities have prices for Medicare and Medicaid that are overinflated from what they would charge a privately insured or uninsured person that would be able to pay out of pocket.

When we talk about health care, you’re correct, I’m very open to options that actually provide universal healthcare that we need — that’s quality universal healthcare. The fact that other similarly economic developed countries have prescription costs that are sometimes twice or ten times or a hundred times cheaper than we have them here in the United States is a big problem. So yes, I’m not willing to exclude any policy idea so long as we’re getting to our goal.

Seth: Gwinnett County recently extended the Immigration and Nationalities Act section 287(g) that allows local law enforcement to hold people for federal immigration enforcement. What’s your position on that provision and also immigration overall?
Lopez-Romero: Fighting against 287(g) programs in Gwinnett County and the other three counties — Hall County, Whitfield and Cobb County — that also have 287(g) is something that I’ve done since 2009. I understand it both from its legal implications and how that has affected our locality.

Particularly here in Gwinnett since 2009 to 2011 there was a huge enforcement in 287(g) when it was first introduced. And I lived through that and it was devastating to the economy of this county. We had several businesses basically close because of the impact. That’s on the economic side for the county. On the people side of 287(g) we saw so many issues of egregious racial profiling. We would see “check points” being put out around people’s places of worship, around shopping centers that were primarily consumers from immigrant backgrounds. We have a very high both Latino and Asian population particularly here in Gwinnett County. It was very difficult.

The Stewart Detention Center which is the largest detention center in the southeast, close to 60% of people that are detained in Stewart actually come from Gwinnett County. The disproportionate number shows you how much of this is really implies the racial profiling issue.

I’ve been working on advocating for comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act or some variation of both probably since 2004. I think it’s vital that I bring both those personal stories and experience of being and immigrant here in Georgia but also the legal knowledge of immigration law.

I want to push the conversation back to where we were it was in 2012, when this had bipartisan support. We do have bipartisan support; we just need someone that’s able to talk about it both from a personal story context and from the practical legal obstacle side of it. We had in 2012 and 2013 legislation that basically had comprehensive immigration reform and Dream Act kind of all in one. That included border security funding. It was comprehensive immigration reform as we should have it. I will want to continue to push the dialogue to make sure that we’re actually proposing something very similar that was voted on in 2012.

Seth: Georgia recently passed a bill that would restrict abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected in many cases. And I know that you’ve spoken out against that. Can you elaborate your position around abortion?.
Lopez-Romero: My position is valuing two things: the right to privacy and the right to body autonomy. When and if a pregnancy can be carried to full term is a decision of the woman in consultation with medical needs. It’s important to highlight, that particularly if we’re talking about pregnancy terminations that are not early on, most often that has to do with medical situations and medical treatment. I think that we do a huge disrespect to women that have to make some of these decisions because they’re experiencing very difficult times in their lives.

I will continue to support Federal statue to safeguard against potential future Supreme Court decisions the right that was enshrined in Roe and Supreme Court decisions since.

In Georgia specifically, we do have that bill. The Supreme Court, assuming it would hold its precedent, will and should rule the abortion ban itself unconstitutional. One of the things that I’m more concerned about  is the fact that our legislature was one of the few that also included issues of personhood. That detail gets lost as we’re only talking about the abortion ban itself. One of my concerns is whether the Supreme Court will allow States to have restrictions based on personhood issues.

At the Federal level, we have to communicate with voters why all elections matter. Why our U.S. Senate elections matter. Not just at the Supreme Court level, but any Federal level, we have had our judiciary with federal lifetime appointments being appointed under this current administration by individuals that may not necessarily value that right to privacy and that fundamental right to physical autonomy. It’s important that we highlight that to the voters.

Seth: Do you support: 1) impeaching the president and 2) beginning impeachment proceedings in the House.
Lopez-Romero: Have we seen a large disregard for even the ethical processes of what we would consider our president and presidential candidates to abide by? Of course. Would we have allowed any other presidential candidate in the past to have done this without any repercussions? I don’t think so. We’re in an unprecedented situation. And so, I say this: I would be supportive of what you mentioned.

For me it’s very important to explain to voters what the process is. I would be supportive of starting impeachment inquires and the impeachment process. On the House side it is very likely that we would be able to impeach on the House side. But that is unlikely to be the case on the Senate side. I find it very important to clarify to voters that when we say we could start the impeachment in the process the House, that that would not necessarily imply an approval of the impeachment on the Senate side.

We also need to be very aware that there will be a backlash if that is done. We have to be willing to put in a lot of work to ensure that our voter base comes out to vote to try and negate that backlash from the extreme right.

Seth: To clarify, are you at the point where you support an impeachment inquiry or do you feel like you still need to speak to more constituents to find out where they are?
Lopez-Romero: I think right now I still need to continue to have that conversation. I want to continue talking to people throughout the Seventh and having conversations and that understanding to make a final decision.

Seth: Well, thank you so much for speaking with me. I know that you’re probably very busy so I don’t want to take up more than an hour of your time.
Lopez-Romero: Thank you for reaching out. If you have any questions down the line, give me a call or send me a text message and let me know if you have any future questions.
Seth: Thank you very much.

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: BRENDA LOPEZ ROMERO (EXTENDED)

Brenda Lopez Romero is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Seventh District. The district featured the closest election in the entire nation in the 2018 midterms. In that election, Republican Rob Woodall beat Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux by less than 500 votes. Earlier this year, however, Rob Woodall announced that he would not be running for re-election, spurring candidate announcements among both Republicans and Democrats. Romero is currently a Georgia State Representative and part of her district overlaps with the Seventh. She is hoping that her experience and relationship with constituents can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general.  Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post on GA-07 that digs deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on June 11, 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. 

Lopez-Romero: Brenda speaking.
Seth: Hi this is Seth calling from Every Second Year. How are you, Ms. Romero?
Lopez-Romero: Hey I’m doing well.
Seth: Good! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.
Lopez-Romero: Well I’m happy to.

Seth: Good. So, I guess we can jump right in. I’m curious if you can just tell me a little bit about how the campaign is going. You’ve been in it for a little while now and I’m curious how this round of campaigning is going for you for a new seat that you’ve never held before.
Lopez-Romero: Well I mean we’re obviously very excited. We’ve been basically building the infrastructure of the campaign and getting all those logistics out of the way. And quite frankly doing that engagement to the community and grassroots organizations and the people. And that’s been a big focus of what I’ve been doing this last month since I’ve announced.

Seth: Okay great. I’m sure there’s a lot of fundraising going on too because I know the next deadline, it seems like it’s always approaching. But I’m curious if you can tell me about your policy priorities on the campaign trail and if you were to be elected to the House. And also, your general pitch to voters when they see you for the first time.
Lopez-Romero: Yes, of course. Well there is five platform areas that I have for this campaign. But really to begin with, one of the things that I always talk to voters with. I have no interest in bringing D.C. talking points to Georgia. My interest is making sure that the interests and concerns that affect the constituents are brought to D.C. So, I’m bring Georgia’s voice to D.C. And I say that because, what I talk about, whether it’s in forums or directly to voters is about the issues that affect their day to day and issues that affect primarily their pocketbooks. And that’s a conversation that I’m always, even as a State Representative, have seen actually engage voters and can motivate voters to actually come out and vote. That being said, even the top issue areas that I’m covering, part of my platform, quite frankly for me, it’s very common sometimes to hear some of the same things being repeated in terms of what interest areas we have, but for me they’re not just clichés, they’re not just talking points. They’re lived experiences. They’re issues that are important to me because they have been part of my life. They have affected me directly and so I understand what that means in terms of a lived experience. That’s why one of the number one issues that I’m focused on and have focused on since I was an undergraduate myself has been supporting education access and supporting public schools. As I had mentioned, I grew up in Dekalb County, right around the Seventh. It’s adjacent to the Seventh. And went to public schools there were both overcrowded and underfunded. So, I know exactly how vital and pivotal it is to improve our schools and what it means when they’re not. Likewise, under the aspect of education, one of my interests has always been that pathway into higher education. I’ve done plenty of, basically conferences with deans of Pathways to College. They’re teaching basic things like how do you fill out a college application. What is FAFSA? Again, if it weren’t for someone helping me along the way and teaching myself, I wouldn’t’ have probably where I am today. In high school in fact, I had a high school counselor tell me that because I was bilingual that I would be a good secretary or receptionist. So fortunately, I also had a pretty good French teacher that was the one that helped me fill out my college applications. He was the one that told me what FAFSA was because I didn’t know what it was. And so, it’s always important for me, in terms of education, especially in the K through 12 side, that we continue to provide the resources and information so that our students are able to go into higher education and technical education as well that definitely something that important and necessary to take into consideration.

Seth: Democrats do talk a lot about the importance of education but I think it is rare sometimes that it is the first issue that a candidate lists on their platform or priorities. So, I just wanted to comment that it is a bit unique and that a lot of other candidates might rattle off healthcare or other things first, so you do stand out a little bit when that’s the first thing you bring up in your platform.
Lopez-Romero: Absolutely. Like I said, for me, and that has always been key because both my parents are working class individuals. They had less than an elementary school education and my father didn’t learn to read and write in Spanish until he was an adult person. And so, for me, the difference in my life, the difference that I’ve seen personally and also around my peers, the difference in being able to have social mobility is education. And there’s a lot of issues and a lot of concerns that are very important, but particularly for young folks, if we’re not supporting their education process, then to a certain extent I call it being a gerbil on a wheel. We can look at a lot of other issues but if we’re not improving the educational opportunities for people, then we’re not improving their lives generally and generationally, most importantly. That has been very key in my life. I was going to follow up with the fact that even for higher education purposes, these are lived experiences. I have student debt primarily from law school. Because that’s the only way could quote, unquote, pay for law school. So, I understand the necessity that there is to ensure that higher education stops being so unaffordable and that we get hampered with student loans that really undermine the economic gratification of higher education. And so, all of these things are interconnected because if we don’t go through the steps of going from K through 12 into higher education — and higher education that is affordable — then our prospects for the future really get hampered down. I’m education committee as well for K through 12 and so continuously had a lot of work and have a lot of work and have a lot conversation and good relationships with teachers and schools. And not just in my district but in surrounding districts, particularly on the Gwinnett County side.

Seth: And so how do you see your fight for better education changing if you were to win this election, moving from being a state representative to being a federal representative. How does the job change and which specific policies would you be focusing on if you were to win the election? And how does it change from working on the state level?
Lopez-Romero: So, the change at the Federal Government level…I can see the importance to have not necessarily a dictating way about how education processes should run. I know what the negative impacts that we had with things like No Child Left Behind where there was a lot of proscribed metrics. Now at the Federal level where we can be most useful in terms of securing good public schools is still continuing to focus on providing funding and resources, especially for schools with greater need. Whether that would be schools with Title 1 or schools that have high need students, whether those are special education, whether that is students with disabilities. That is a huge focus area where I think, from Congress, that is the kind of work that we need to do. One of the other key components that we can do at the Federal level is to ensure and protect the civil rights of students in school systems. I think that that is one of the key elements of ensuring having someone elected that is very connected to the school system. There should be no reason why we have different discrepancies on issues that relate to the civil rights and civil protections of students. And again, that cuts across the issues of making sure that we have compliance for special education for students with disabilities, for students with limited English proficiency. Usually these categories of students that I think definitely within the purview of the Federal Government to ensure that those civil rights are being focused on. The other part in terms of being elected that I would focus on is providing funding for revitalizing the infrastructure of public schools. Particular here as it relates not only just to the Seventh Congressional District but also toward the state as a whole, is the fact that, for example, our rural schools sometimes are in major need of infrastructure funding and a lot of the property taxes that are collected for these school systems go through basically the Maintenance and Operations processes and not necessarily capital investment. And I think that is something that at the Federal level I want to work with these school systems to ensure that when we need capital investment infrastructure improvement in our schools, that we can collaborate with the state and local government to ensure that we can provide partnerships in that sense with schools.

Seth: Do you support or oppose public funding for charter schools and voucher programs for Kindergarten through high school?
Lopez-Romero: Well, in the State of Georgia, there are different varieties. We have public charter schools that are a part of the local system. And those again, I think that is a state and local issue that they still have to maintain what sort of funding and money goes into those schools. They still have to comply with many of the state regulations and accountability measures. But there are also private charter schools and that is where I have my greatest concern in terms of vouchers are when we’re using vouchers to fund private charter schools that no longer have the same level of requirements to meet the state or local government regulations or accountability measures, which for me is quite frankly one of my biggest concerns with private charter schools. And so just generally, vouchers or anything that takes away money from the public-school system into other entities, definitely is something that I have opposed in the legislature. That’s something that has come forth numerous times and it’s something that I consistently stood and voted against.

Seth: That’s an especially interesting question to speak with Democrats about because it is something that some Democrats earlier in the decade have supported and it’s been something that the party has been figuring out. My last question about education is the big picture one that a lot of presidential candidates have talked about is free public college for all Americans. Is that something that you support and believe in? Or something that you might not support because it’s not feasible or too expensive? Can you explain your position on that?
Lopez-Romero: Generally, I would be supportive of making sure that we have, most definitely our technical education aspect of college being free. In fact, in Georgia, we have 12 industries that are considered high need industries and require technical school that actually are tuition free. And so, we’ve already recognized how valuable and important it is that we have industry-based needs that need to be covered and something that we have incentivized by making those tuition free. So, the issue is never for me about feasibility. That’s something that you definitely have to take a look at and, again, being in the legislature I see how important that is. For me you never start with that question. You start with about “what is a good program? What is a good idea? How is it workable and if it is, how does the cost come in or where does the funding or money go?” I think that is how you prioritize the order of how policy should or should not be implemented. So generally, absolutely, I can definitely support and I’ve seen different ideas and proposals, but the general idea of supporting tuition-free, definitely technical education and some college education, is something that I could support.

Seth: We spoke a lot about education. Can you tell me a little bit about your other policy priorities and areas of focus on your campaign?
Lopez-Romero: The other area of focus that I want here for the Georgia Seventh is that I combine both good, strong economic growth that leads to good jobs with livable wages and good benefits. And I think that in terms of once elected how I can help in that aspect is one of the things that I think a lot of people forget in terms of your congressional person. One of the most important things a congressional person can do I think has less to do with the legislation aspect and more about being present in your district and providing information and resources and helping bring funding, grants, things along the lines to the different needs that we might have in the district. So, I as an elected congressional person will do basically what I’ve done now as a state representative is be engaged with the local and state government to ensure sure that were collaborating on economic growth in the seventh. We’re a very middle-class district with different technology centers, manufacturing centers, warehouse centers, but I would want to continue working with the state and local government including the chambers in Gwinnett and Forsyth. Including the CID, the Community Improvement Districts, to ensure that we’re all collaborating to ensure that whatever economic growth we need in terms of business is being supported, and that the proper information is being provided by people in the Federal government. We do have the Federal Opportunity Zone within the seventh and I want to make sure that we safeguard some of those Opportunity Zones or we expand them because I’ve talked to some of the CIDs and discussed how it would be great to expand some of those federal opportunity zones in addition to the fact that we have Georgia Opportunity Zones as well. So definitely continuing to have that direct communication with all the applicable stakeholders. But of course, one of the other things that I want to ensure with economic growth is to ensure that women and minority owned business continue to be in the process of obtaining the contracts for a lot of the economic growth that we see here in the Seventh. And again, that’s really the concern about continuing to work with the County government both with Forsyth and Gwinnett to ensure that there is good compliance that there are good agreements — MOUs or FRPs — when we’re doing requests for contractors or vendors. To ensure that is a key component of the decision making that they have over selective women and minority owned businesses in addition to making sure that those businesses are also locally based in the Seventh or at the very minimum, in the state of Georgia. And so that is one of the key aspects in how I see it is imperative that we have a congressional person that has those relationships and understanding how important economic growth and development. In a way, also, again for me, I’ve worked so closely with local issues that one issue for me doesn’t work by itself. Because one of the things that we have to keep in mind and something that I always talk to about with our County government is to ensure that development includes making sure any economic growth does not displace residents or small businesses that have been working in the area. And also, where we do have to be more mindful of our growth in how that implicates issues of affordable housing. One of the reasons that many people who have moved to the Seventh both on the Gwinnett and Forsyth side is that we have great school systems and we still have what is, comparatively to other areas, affordable housing and the ability to have home ownership because of that affordability. So, I see the context of economic growth interrelated with all of these issues together and something that can only happen if we have someone who understands the different impacts and has those connections with the key holders.

Seth: It’s easy to tell that you’ve been involved in the nitty gritty of policy and politics before because talking to you, you talk about the specific impacts of legislation and what’s going to happen versus other candidates who are more focused on these big, grand policy ideas but don’t really dig in as deep. So, I’m curious why you’re passionate about moving from the state to federal politics when it sounds like you are dedicated to your community and the local area. What that switch will do and why it’s a move that you want to make.
Lopez-Romero: It took a lot of thought to decide to make that final decision for me personally to run for Congress. In fact, it wasn’t official until the beginning of April and that is why I didn’t announce until about a month ago because first of all I had to focus on session, there was not time to really focus on anything else. So, I had to wait until after session to sit down and take a look at different things in order to make that final decision. And it took a couple of what I call personal reasons and practical reasons on why I ultimately decided that I should run for Congress. One on the personal side is that, quite frankly, my background, especially academically is in federal issues and international issues. My policy areas that really get me excited really do focus on that national policy issues particularly as it relates to international affairs or in foreign policy. Even as an undergraduate, despite thinking that I was going to go to law school, I did a concentration in international affairs and I did the whole Arab League, Model United Nations. In law school I ended up doing a certificate in National Security and Counterterrorism because again these are all policy areas that are of high interest to me. And so, in that sense, I think that being in Congress is actually a good fit for my policy background. But on the same token, because I have grown up since I was about seven years old and was able to learn some amount of English.

I need to backtrack: I was actually born in Mexico but I moved here to reunite with my father when I was five years old here to the State of Georgia. I’ve basically been raised in Georgia since I was five years old. But I came, didn’t speak English. About the time I was seven years old I learned enough English that since I had been of those first wave of immigrants coming to the State of Georgia there wasn’t much bilingual staff and so I became what I call a sort of de-facto interpreter where teachers, parents, neighbors, students, I was kind of pulled along to make sure that I could interpret for them. And I say that that’s important because that sort of grew a sense of duty or that I had to be able to help people with something as basic as language access. Even as a young child, having had the opportunity to be able to ask questions and learn about processes and policies and how things work, particularly as it relates to government entities. And so, I basically grew up that way with that sense of duty. I’ve been heavily involved in community advocacy work since I was young. Definitely through high school and even more in college and later afterwards. So, for me, despite the fact that my policy interests are quite frankly at the federal international level, I do understand the daily lives and the daily needs of people and so that for me implies the best combination of a congressional person that you can have. Like I mentioned, someone that understand the big pictures and big issues that affect our country and that affect our country in the international word but that understands how those big picture issues affect day to day lives for the person that is just getting by or is just trying to support themselves and their family. And so, I think it’s highly important that we have someone that understands everything across the board.

As an attorney, I remember even as a law student actually, that I took a variety of different classes and did different service agencies. Whether the bankruptcy clinic, the divorce clinic, the income or taxation clinics. And I remember once talking to someone and they were like, you’re not specializing. And my answer was really basic in the sense that that is exactly my understanding in living life. In that I’ve never met a client that has only one problem in their lives. When a client comes in, usually they’re going to have different concerns throughout their lives. And so, for me it’s really important to have a wholistic view and a wholistic understanding of all concerns and all issues and how do you address the different aspects of people’s lives to try to make them as whole as possible.

So again, that is another personal reason why I know that I would make a good congressional person far beyond the legislative aspect but actually understanding how legislation and policy affects people day to day and the people that I’d be privileged enough to earn their vote from. So those are some on the personal side. It really is a policy fit for me. I think it is important to have someone who understands how policy affects the voters that is just living their lives supporting themselves and their family. And in the practical side, one of the things that I did was a review of what happened in 2018 in the election cycle and quite frankly, one of the reasons that I decided to run is because I think that this primary is about one thing only. This primary is about flipping the Seventh. And I don’t think the other candidates that we have are actually going to be able to flip the Seventh in 2020 if we weren’t able to flip it in 2018.

Seth: What do you think the problem was in 2018, where it got very close, it was one of the closest if not the closest election in the country. What do you think the problem was that made it so it wasn’t quite flipped to the Democrat? And what do you think your candidacy has that could change that?
Lopez-Romero: I did what I believe is an objective review of what happened in 2018. In 2018, in the seventh, we had for starters, throughout the state we had what I call the Abrams effect where we saw the historic turnout because of her infrastructure and her bringing out voters for the first time. So, we started off with that and I call it the perfect storm. We had the Abrams effect. Here, specifically in the 7th, because of that, we had five House seat districts flip, one Senate district flip that includes some portion of it in the seventh. We had the Solicitors office in Gwinnett. We had a school board seat flip. We had a Commission seat flip. All of Gwinnett County went blue.

Quite frankly, you said ‘almost’. And I heard this word too many times. There’s no almost. In elections you either win or you lose. These are the only two options. Almost is not an option. And I say that because, considering the fact that we had such great turnout. The fact that we had so many seats flip in the Seventh. The fact that even the Sixth Congressional District was actually considered slightly more Republican than the Seventh says that the problems boil down to other things that have nothing to do with our voter base here in the Seventh. And quite frankly, for me, that fact that the prior nominee wasn’t able to reach out to the voters the way that she needed to to get them motivated to come out and vote. So basically, she could not bring any more votes on her own than the votes that already came out for the other candidates whether it was a statewide ticket or a local candidate. I want to add that the fact is that in 2020 it will be that much harder to win and I say that because for starters, we won’t necessarily have Abrams as the top ticket. It will be a presidential year; therefore, turnout is going to be higher. We are going to have Trump on the ballot or a Republican nominee that will continue to increase that extreme conservative turnout.

And so, in terms of how I see what our campaign can do differently. I see it twofold. One is the fact that I have been working within the district and throughout Georgia on what we’ve already discussed. A lot of the community, grassroots outreach. I do a lot of work talking to different high school and college students and so there is already a trust factor that is built in with a lot of voters within the district and I don’t mean that as an elected official, I mean that even before I was elected, I have built these relationships over the last five to ten years. And so, I actually mean that from my community advocacy work in addition to as an elected official I come in with greater name recognition and so that is one side. And the other is I have always been able to connect well with people because I connect with people based on what work we can do together and so I haven’t had to come in and ask people to vote for me some random person who woke up one day and said, “Hey I’m going to run for office”, but rather to vote for someone who has worked beside them for many years and that they know personally and that they know the type of very localized and personal relationships that I have built. That is on the personal quality side.

On the campaign strategy side, when I first ran, we ran by reaching out to first time voters. We ran by reaching out to all voters and I think that that is one of the things that we haven’t learned yet generally in terms of the playbook of campaigns. We haven’t learned how to reach all voters, particularly here in the Seventh Congressional District, it’s a very diverse district. It’s one of the most diverse districts in the Southeast excluding Florida. And again, on the personal side and as a campaign strategy, we intend on reaching that diverse set of voters. All of them. And giving them reasons and incentives to actually come out and vote. And I think you do that by having that personal connection and building that trust with voters. And I think we can do both things and have a strong strategy of reaching every voter we can with no exceptions and also bringing a conversation to them that’s going to make it relevant to their lives so they come out and vote.

Seth: When you say reaching out to all voters, does that entail more of voters who have not turned out in the past for any given reason or is it more reaching out to moderate conservatives who you think that you could flip to Democrat with the right argument? Which of those two, or what combination of those two, do you think would lead to success for the Democrat in the general election?
Lopez-Romero: Here in the Seventh it’s both. I definitely, from a campaign strategy, reach out to voters who have not voted before or as you mentioned may not have voted frequently. Having them vote again for the first time or since they last voted. You also reach out to all the diverse voters that we have. And we also are part of that suburban arch of City of Atlanta proper and that particularly some of the issues that we see here in Georgia as it relates to health care and the abortion ban that we have, the right of folks to privacy and the right to physical autonomy. I think that resonates a lot with particularly suburban women. And that is an area or demographic within our district that is a demographic that we should all focus on. And so, when I say all voters, I truly mean all voters.

Seth: You said a big part of the Democratic primary will be who can win the general election, who can flip the district. And I think the candidate last cycle, Carolyn Bourdeaux, might say, “Listen the district in 2016 went 20 points for the Republican and then last cycle it was almost even. The trajectory of the district is getting more diverse and there are young people. With those trends, I’ll be able to flip it.” Why do you think that argument is not necessarily correct? Because the district does look like it’s trending blue. Why do you think that argument of, “We were almost there last cycle, just a little bit more time and we’ll be there?” Why do you think that is wrong?
Lopez-Romero: It’s not that the district is turning blue. The district turned to blue already and it turned blue before 2018. So, the fact that we’re talking that specifically as a nominee you weren’t able to flip it in 2018. And the fact that in 2020, the general election is going to be that much harder, there’s a disconnect in that. And everything you said in terms of the district and reaching out to young folks as well, when we discussed reaching out to all voters, and so again, my question is about the candidate. The issue here is about the candidate. Which candidate is going to have the turnout necessary and to engage and reach and connect to the young voters, to the new American voters, to those first-time voters that no one has really come to them about what their daily life concerns are? And again, for me, that is what I bring to the table as a candidate. I bring to the table being able to have that connection and that trust with voters across all of those demographics that need to come out and vote. That’s the kind of candidate we need to make sure that we flip the Seventh now in 2020, despite the fact the 2020 general election cycle is going to be that much harder.

One of the key other things that I forgot to mention in my analysis of what happened in 2018. In 2018 we had Woodall who did zero attempt at fighting for his seat. He actually told the media he had no reason to campaign. In 2020 we are going to have a Republican nominee that is actually going to want to fight to keep their seat. So, you add all of these things and the real issue here is, who is the candidate that’s going to connect and reach all of the demographic points that we mentioned and more and motivate them to actually come out and vote. And I think I’ve made that relationship with those voters already.

Seth: I think you’re right that a lot of voters do focus on the issues that we spoke about and you’re passionate about. Maybe a bit more esoteric and specific to your district. But I think there are also some voters who are going to want to hear your position of the big issues of the day that are being discussed in the primary and presidential elections. I’m hoping that we can go through some of those bigger policies that are dominating the national news cycle these days. Specifically, we can start with your position on Medicare for All as it has been proposed by Senator Sanders and been signed onto by several other contenders in the presidential primary.
Lopez-Romero: Sure, I’d love to talk about that. For me, I can only pull back to what’s really affecting our people every day. Again, I’ve been at the legislature, fighting for full Medicaid expansion under the ACA and so I will continue to do that work here in our State. Using the platform of Congress to continue to work with our state government to ensure and see where we go, because under our current governor, who’s probably going to go into Medicaid expansion with wavers and we want to see how that works out.

So again, I will never disconnect myself from the issues that are affecting us locally whether it’s at our state or local government level. Because that makes for a bad congressional person. I’m going to continue on where that is. In addition to that I bring up the ACA. Part of what we can practically begin with being in Congress and being elected is ensuring that we continue to protect the ACA as it stands because that is what we have right now. And protect it and also improve it. One of the things that I think we definitely need to work on is generally the aspect of how do you do universal health care. And one of the things that I would consider is with the ACA, during its negotiation, at some point we had a public option. And I think that also could be something that could work. Because the issue here in the question about Medicare For All isn’t the title Medicare For All. That’s just the messaging talking point. The issue behind that is how do we get affordable and quality health care to those that are either uninsured or underinsured.

I would be willing to look at all policy proposals that provide for affordable and quality health insurance whether it’s improving the ACA, whether it’s revamping the health care system all together. I am more than willing to take a look at all of those policy issues and analyze them. My hierarchy of how you do things. You get a good idea then you analyze it then you make it workable then you look at feasibility. And so, I would do that in any context of any policy decision that seeks to provide the quality affordable healthcare that we need for people that are underinsured or uninsured.

Seth: It sounds like you’re open to more options than just a single payer government funded healthcare system. Because there are progressives who say, “This is the message that the Democratic party needs to be putting forward. We should not have private insurance and we should have a single payer government system.” But it sounds like you’re open to more options than that ideological one if it can get more people healthcare. Is that correct?
Lopez-Romero: If we can cover more people and provide it… Because one of the other things that’s important to the healthcare discussion that is vital is how do we reign in prescription cost and the billing and cost of medical procedures. Where sometimes what we have seen is an increase when we’ve had things like Medicaid and Medicare as we’ve had them. Sometime you will see some hospital facilities have pricings that are overinflated from what they would charge a privately insured or uninsured person that would be able to pay out of pocket.

When we talk about health care, you’re correct, I’m very open to options that actually provide universal healthcare that we need that’s quality universal healthcare. That, again, focuses on the issue of cost. We do have to take a look at cost especially prescription costs. The fact that other similarly economic developed countries have prescription costs that are sometimes twice or ten times or a hundred times cheaper than we have them here in the United States is a big problem. So yes, when I look at how we are going to improve health care and healthcare access I look at it holistically and I’m not willing to exclude any policy idea so long as we’re getting to our goal.

Seth: Moving onto another policy area that is both national and important locally is immigration. I know that Gwinnett County recently extended the Immigration and Nationalities Act section 287(g) that allows local law enforcement to hold people for federal immigration enforcement. I’m curious if you can talk about that and what your position is specifically on 287(g) and then your larger vision for immigration in the United States.
Lopez-Romero: I can talk about that for a long time since that is my background in terms of the legal work that I do. Fighting against 287(g) programs in Gwinnett County and the other three counties, Hall County, Whitfield and Cobb County, that also have 287(g) is something that I’ve fought against since 2009 when we got the first wave of 287(g). I understand it both from its legal implications and how that has affected our locality. Yes, right now the sheriff in Gwinnett county decided to continue the 287(g) program which, however he’s going to rework his budget, is how he’s going to do it. I’m still waiting to confirm, because June 30 is when the MOU for 287(g) actually expires with the board of Commissioners and the expectation so far is that the Board of Commissioners will not renew it, which is important because 287(g) programs in Gwinnett County if it’s going to be promoted by the sheriff, that’s one thing. He’s an elected official and something we can work on via the election side. But from our county commission side, it’s important that they do not renew it and basically give it an approval of the county commission. So, although the expectation is that they will not renew it and officially it does not end until June 30th, I will wait to confirm whether our county commission did or did not renew the program. That has had such a negative effect. Particularly here in Gwinnett since 2009 to 2011 there was a huge enforcement in 287(g) when it was first introduced. And I lived through that and it was devastating to the economy of this county. We had several businesses basically close and just had a reduction in amenities from a lot of small businesses that ended up closing because of the impact. That’s on the economic side for the county. On the people side of 287(g) we saw so many issues of egregious racial profiling. We would see sometimes “check points” being put out on Fridays around people’s places of worship, around shopping centers that were primarily consumers from immigrant backgrounds. And so, we have a very high both Latino and Asian population particularly here in Gwinnett County. And so, it was very difficult.

On the legal side I wasn’t an attorney yet, but was working with attorneys and it was so blatant, the racial profiling, that we would have clients come in with tickets for driving without a driver’s license. It was only so interesting to try to rationalize how they saw somebody driving and knew they were driving without a driver’s license. Eventually they got more sophisticated and giving contextual reasons for pulling someone over which included a broken taillight or more improper lane shift. Some of these contextual reasons that we constantly see when we have issues of racial profiling. This is something that I’ve been with community members fighting for the last, it has been now 10 years, but slowly I think that as the Seventh is changing, not just Gwinnett County, but the Seventh as a whole, I think little by little you will see that the Commission is not likely to renew the MOU are good indicators of where we are. The police department for Gwinnett County which is separate from the sheriff’s department has tried the best that it can, and it’s a very slow process, to rebuild that trust in the immigrant communities in Gwinnett County. But unfortunately, as I’ve talked to the police chief many times, this fight, whatever relationships they want to have, if a person is arrested, even for minor things like traffic citations, they end the process in our county jails which are ran by the sheriff can nonetheless end up with the process where people have been detained. The Stewart Detention Center which is the largest detention center in the southeast and I think probably nationwide, 60% of those detained in Stewart actually at some point, it varies the percentage, but close to 60% of people that are detained in Stewart actually come from Gwinnett County and so the disproportionate number shows you how much of this is really implies the racial profiling issue.

So constantly working on that at the local level. In terms of at the federal level that you mentioned, I’ve been working on advocating for comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act or some variation of both probably since 2004. Both going to Congress and advocating there and also here as well on the ground particularly with the youth. A lot of that push for comprehensive immigration reform and for the Dream Act has really been by the immigrant youth that is both personally affected in terms of they themselves are undocumented or have close family members or neighbors who are affected. So, we’ve been working probably way over a decade on pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. And so, I think it’s vital that I bring both those personal stories and experience of being and immigrant here in Georgia but also the legal knowledge of immigration law.

And that being said, what I want to push at the federal level once in Congress is that I want to have the conversation back to where we were in 2012 when this had bipartisan support. And we do have bipartisan support, we just need someone that’s able to talk about it both from a personal story context and from the practical legal obstacle side of it. I’ve had the fortune of being invited to go throughout our state, not just in the Seventh, but throughout Georgia, and I will tell you major industries: agriculture, textiles, warehousing, as long as these industries are supportive of comprehensive immigration reform and I have those relationships and connections that I want to make sure that their voices become louder and we get away from the divisive rhetoric that we’ve experience these last three years and go back to when this was a bipartisan issue. We had in 2012 and 2013 legislation that basically had comprehensive immigration reform and Dream Act kind of all in one. That included border security funding. It was comprehensive immigration reform as we should have it. And I think that I will want to continue to push the dialogue to make sure that we’re actually proposing something very similar that was voted on in 2012.

Seth: Okay great, thanks for going in so much detail. The last real policy area that I want to dig in is similar in that it’s something that’s been focused on locally and nationally is abortion. I know that Georgia recently passed and the Governor signed a bill that would restrict abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected in many cases. And I know that you’ve spoken out against that. But I’m curious if you can elaborate on your position around abortion, specifically if you think that there should be any restrictions on abortion in any point in a pregnancy or if it should be completely a decision between a woman and her doctor.
Lopez-Romero: My position is most definitely valuing two things. The right to privacy and the right to body autonomy. And I think that those decisions in terms of pregnancy and when and if a pregnancy can be carried to full term is a decision of the woman and most definitely in consultation with medical needs. It’s important to highlight, that particularly if we’re talking about pregnancy terminations that are not early on, most often that has to do with medical situations and medical treatment and I think that we do a huge disrespect to women that have to make some of these decisions because they’re experiencing very difficult times in their lives. So absolutely I will continue to support whether be it via Federal statue to safeguard against potential future Supreme Court decisions the right that was enshrined not only in Roe, because we talk about this being an issue of Roe. It’s not. We’ve had Supreme Court decisions since and so as an attorney, I take a look at where our constitutional rights lie in terms of the Supreme Court interpretation. And we’ve been up to the case of Casey and quite frankly, I’m willing to support and put into statute that the places where we are with our Supreme Court decisions to make sure that we continue to have this right to privacy and the right of women to make their own medical decisions of what’s best for their bodies. To enshrine that in statutory law and so that is one of the most important at a federal level as a congressional person we can continue to support some of these issues that are happening on the State level.

Now in Georgia specifically, we do have that bill. The reality is that even the ban as it stands, with the Supreme Court, assuming it would hold its precedent, will and should rule the abortion ban itself unconstitutional. Both as an attorney and as a legislator, one of the things that I’m more concerned about that can happen at the Supreme Court level is the fact that our legislature was one of the few that also included issues of personhood. And I think that unfortunately, that detail gets lost as we’re only talking about the abortion ban itself. And that is one of my concerns about not just our case but any of the cases where we have concerns of personhood whether the Supreme Court, with its current makeup, will allow States to have restrictions based on personhood issues. And so, with that at the Federal level, one of the things that we have to communicate with voters is the importance about why all elections matter.

Why our U.S. Senate elections matter as well and making sure that we retake the U.S. Senate if not this election cycle, next election cycle because not just at the Supreme Court level, but even any Federal level, we have had our judiciary with federal lifetime appointments, being appointed under this current administration by individuals that may not necessarily value that right to privacy and that fundamental right to physical autonomy as we wish. And I really think that is important that we highlight that as being crucial to what we need to be concerned about to the voters.

Seth: The one question that I have that is very important right now is regarding the president and impeachment. I know that at least one of your competitors has specifically called for the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings and I’m curious if that’s something that you support: 1) impeaching the president and 2) beginning impeachment proceedings in the House.
Lopez-Romero: The way you separated it is something to consider. For me, it’s what is the conversation with voters?  Have we seen a large disregard for even the ethical processes of what we would consider our president and presidential candidates to abide by? Of course. We have seen the fact that even within the administration’s campaign aids or campaign individuals that supported them and all the indictments that we have seen through Muller’s investigation. Would we have allowed any other presidential candidate in the past to have done this without any repercussions? I don’t think so. We’re in an unprecedented situation. And so, I say this: I would be supportive of what you mentioned. And we have to clarify that to voters and I think that’s important.

For me it’s very important to explain to voters what the process is like. There’s one thing that I would be supportive of starting impeachment inquires and the impeachment process. On the House side it is very likely that we would be able to impeach on the House side. The reality is that most impeachment process that we have had come down to partisan votes. And therefore, in the House, we may have that ability. But the reality is that that is unlikely to be the case on the Senate side. And so, I find it very important to clarify to voters that when we say we could start the impeachment in the process the House, that that would not necessarily imply an approval of the impeachment on the Senate side.

The other thing that we also need to be very aware of is that we have to be willing to understand, which means we have to put in that much more work, is that there will be a backlash if that is done. And I say backlash in the sense of the more extreme voting base than the current president has. And so, we have to be willing to put in a lot of work to ensure that our voters come out and vote to negate, at a minimum, or if not, ensure that our voter base comes out to vote to try and negate that sort of backlash that might come from the extreme right. So, I think that is the conversation that we need to have with our voters, that I am having with constituents of the Seventh and as always, we have to see if that is where sentiment is and we understand the situation that that implies, then I think that should be our course of action.

Seth: To clarify, are you at the point where you support an impeachment inquiry or do you feel like you still need to speak to more constituents to find out where they are?
Lopez-Romero: I think right now I still need to continue to have that conversation. Obviously, unlike the other issues that we discussed, this is not something that has been readily in the conversation. So just as I have done with the other ones, I want to continue talking to people throughout the Seventh and having conversations and that understanding to make a final decision.

Seth: Well, thank you so much for speaking with me. I know that you’re probably very busy so I don’t want to take up more than an hour of your time. I’m happy to send the transcript of our interview over to you or your assistant before I post it.
Lopez-Romero: Thank you for reaching out, and yes, if you could email the transcript or recording, I would really appreciate that. And if you have any questions down the line, give me a call or send me a text message and let me know if you have any future questions.

Seth: Thank you very much. If things go your way in the primary, I would love to speak with you a little later in the election cycle.
Lopez-Romero: Sounds great.

2020 BATTLEGROUNDS: GEORGIA 7TH

This is the fourth “2020 Battlegrounds” post, where I take a deep look at one closely contested 2020 House district. Each post will: 1) Give an overview of the State and District 2) Analyze recent electoral history 3) Give an update on the district’s 2020 race and 4) See what insight the district can give into larger 2020 House race. 

District: Georgia 7th
Current Representative: Rob Woodall (Not running for reelection)
Cook 2020 Projection:  Toss Up
Sabato 2020 Projection: Toss Up

OVERVIEW OF STATE & DISTRICT
In 2018, Georgia’s 7th congressional district was the closest House election in the entire nation5Excluding NC-09, which, due to election fraud, did not have a winner in 2018. Republican Rob Woodall snuck past Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 419 votes out of over 280,000. The closest 2018 district is, unsurprisingly, setting up to be a battleground in 2020. The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball both rate the district a “Toss Up”, Democrats and Republican candidates are piling into their primaries and the DCCC and RNCC are both poised to shovel money towards their eventual candidate.

In recent presidential elections, Georgia has been solidly Republican. It voted by 5% for McCain in 2008, 8% for Romney in 2012 and 5% for Trump in 2016. It has, however, trended Democratic, relative to the nation, in recent elections. It voted about 7% more Republican than the nation (in the two-party vote) in 2000, but only about 4% more Republican in 2016. Also bolstering Democratic hopes in Georgia are its relatively recent history of voting for Democratic presidential candidates. The state gave its electoral votes to Bill Clinton in 1992. It also voted Democratic to elect Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976 and stuck with him in his brutal 1980 defeat in which he only carried only six states.

This Democratic streak lasted even longer in State election. As recently as 2002, Democrats had a state government trifecta, meaning they held the State House, State Senate and Governorship. By 2005, though, all three had flipped to Republican control and have been red since. Georgia has a Democratic governor from 1872 until 2003. But the state’s conservative character solidified around the turn of the century — the last Democrat elected Governor was Roy Barnes in 1998 and the last Democrat elected to the Senate was Zell Miller in 2000. No Democrat has been elected for statewide office since 2006.

Georgia is a part of the “Sunbelt” — the southern portion of the U.S. stretching from North Carolina to Southern California. Like most sunbelt states, Georgia has seen a boom in population since the 1950s and 60s, largely concentrated around Atlanta, the state’s urban center. Thirty one percent of the state is black, and as the state continues to diversify and grow Democrats think they can flip take back the historically blue state. Their challenge for Democrats will be the overwhelmingly Republican rural parts of the state. Atlanta and Savannah (and a few other liberal pockets) are deep blue, but the majority of the state’s territory is rural, conservative and heavily Republican.

The 2018 Gubernatorial race pitting Democrat Stacey Abrams against Republican Brian Kemp was one of the most closely watched elections in 2018. Abrams lost by about 1.5%, boosting Democratic claims that Georgia is within reach.  

Zooming in on GA-07, we see a classic 2018 battleground: a suburban, diverse district with lots of college educated whites that is anchored by a nearby metropolitan center. The district comprises two counties — Gwinnett and Forsyth — in the outer northeast of Atlanta. Gwinnett is the more Democratic of the two counties and makes up about ¾ of the district’s votes. Forsyth, though, with its whiter and wealthier constituency, tilts heavily Republican, helping tug the district rightward into battleground status. Since the 1994 Republican wave election, GA-07 has been in Republicans hands. It was retooled”, according to the Wall Street Journal, after the 2010 Census. Others consider this “retooling”, which changed the composition of the district to include more of the conservative Forsyth County, a nefarious gerrymander to keep the district red.

Demographics 
Data: Daily Kos

The district is more diverse, educated and wealthy than the nation as a whole. The core Republican demographic — non-college whites — make up only 31% of the district relative to 45% of the nation. The district is also heavily Black (21%) and Asian (11%) relative to the nation, which is 12% black and 4% Asian. The district is slightly under representative of Latinos, however, which make up 9% of the district compared to 11% of the country.

Again, the district is well educated and affluent, with 40% of the population over 25 holding a bachelor’s degree and the median household bringing in $70,000 per year. Gwinnett County accounts for most of this diversity. According to the 2010 Census, Forsyth is about 81% white, while Gwinnett is 55% white. Keep in mind that Gwinnett County makes up 82% of the district’s population while Forsyth only accounts for 18%.

RECENT ELECTORAL HISTORY

Presidency

Data: Daily Kos

The District has been reliably Republican in recent presidential elections, voting for McCain, Romney and Trump. However, the 21% margin of 2008 and 22% margin of 2012 fell to 6% in 2016: a 15% swing from 2008 to 2016. This shift is even more clear if you look at the Republican margin relative to the national popular vote. The national popular vote was led by the Democrat in all three years. Relative to the national popular vote, the Republican presidential candidate in GA-07 led by 28% in 2008, 26% in 2012 and 8% in 2018. This is a 20-point shift — only 2% of which occurred between 2008 and 2012. The other 18% happened between 2012 and 2016, indicating heavy shift away from Trump and the modern republican party.  

House
Data: Daily Kos

The district’s House elections shifted similarly leftward in recent years. One important difference, though, is that the district largely continued to support their 2016 Republican House candidate even while they jumped ship in the presidential election. Then, in 2018, the Democratic shift caught up in the House, and the district became much more competitive.

Looking at the GA-07 vs. Nat’l House Popular Vote column, we see that the district was 26% more Republican than the nation in 2012, 25% in 2014, 20% in 2016, and 9% in 2018. The big shift here happened between 2016 and 2018. Contrast this to the presidential election where the shift occurred between 2012 and 2016. This means that in 2016, a number of voters switched R to D in the presidential election but remained loyal to their R House candidate. Then, in 2018, this lingering loyalty collapsed and the Rob Woodall, the Republican House candidate, barely edged out a win. One likely explanation is that voters distinguished their local representative, Rob Woodall, from Trump and the national party in 2016, but by the 2018 this distinction largely disappeared and voters tied Woodall to the more unpopular Trump, dragging his numbers down.  

What Happened in 2018
Republican Incumbent Rob Woodall, who was first elected in 2010 faced little competition in his primary. He did have a token challenger in Tea Party Republican and conservative podcaster, Shane Hazel, but he never caught on. Woodall won the primary with 72%.

The Democrats, however, faced a packed 6-way race that culminated in dramatic personal attacks. The three biggest fundraisers were 1) Carolyn Bourdeaux, a Georgia State professor and previous director of the Georgia State Senate and Budget Evaluation Office 2) Ethan Pham, an attorney and Vietnamese immigrant and 3) David Kim, who founded a tutoring company, C2 Education.

These three were relatively moderate candidates. None ran on the new-left platform of Medicare for All, $15 Minimum Wage and Free Public College. And on primary day, no candidate reached the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff.  Bourdeaux and Kim, who received 27% and 26% of the vote respectively, proceeded to the runoff. Pham came in third with 18%, and the self-named “MOST Progressive Democrat in the Race!”, Kathleen Allen, came in 5th with 11%.  The runoff, though, is when the real drama started.

Kim and Bourdeaux’s policy platforms were near identical: strengthen the ACA, expand Medicaid, pass some form of gun control, pro-choice, etc. etc. etc. They did differ on policy emphasis — Bourdeaux ran on health care, equal pay for men and women, abortion rights and paid family leave while Kim put immigration out front. Neither candidate was vocally supportive of electing Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House — Kim opposed her and Bourdeaux was unsure.

So, while they largely agreed on policy, they attacked each other in more personal ways. Bourdeaux took a swing at Kim for not voting in the 2016 presidential election: “It is a big jump to go from never having voted to running for the U.S. Congress.” Kim responded by saying this attack was anti-immigrant,  “When Carolyn Bourdeaux attacks me, she is attacking millions of first-generation immigrants and minorities who have not felt welcome in the process.” For his part, Kim called out Bourdeaux for helping Georgia Republicans cut funding for education and health care during her time in the Georgia Senate’s budget office.

The antipathy culminated during early voting with Kim accusing Bourdeaux and her campaign in voter suppression in a Twitter video: “The vile philosophy of voter suppression reared its ugly head when one of my opponents [Bourdeaux’s] operatives falsely accused Korean translators of illegally campaigning at a polling site.” He said that the translators were there just to help non-English speaking voters and that Democrats should not be “perpetuating the tactics out of the Old South’s Jim Crow playbook.”

Bourdeaux responded, “The Jim Crow era was marked by extreme violence and systemic racism in the form of poll taxes and literacy tests. To compare these tactics to Kim’s volunteers being asked by election officials to move a few feet is disturbing & offensive.” She then went on offense, saying Kim’s video “reflects a complete lack of understanding of the history of Jim Crow, a disrespect for the men & women who gave their lives for expanded voting rights and an ignorance of real modern voter suppression in the form of voter ID laws & challenges to the Voting Rights Act.”

And the inter-Democratic squabbling continued! Kathleen Allen, the “MOST Progressive Democrat in the Race” makes another appearance. In a since deleted Facebook post, Allen criticized both candidates for not being progressive enough.

Here’s a bit of the post that focuses on Kim: 

The big takeaway is that Allen refuses to endorse Bordeaux or Kim. She will, however, be voting for Bordeaux because Kim is “simply an oligarch.”

The Democratic brawl ended on election day, July 24. Bourdeaux bested Kim by 4%, exactly 600 votes. Kim carried the more diverse Gwinnett county 6,598 to 6,556 (a 0.4% margin), but Bourdeaux won Forsyth 1,392 to 750 (a 30% margin). The night of his loss, Kim quickly congratulated and pledged to support Bourdeaux in the coming general election.

The catfight, though, left Bourdeaux bruised. Intra-party resentment surely lingered after the contentious primary and as of July 4, Bourdeaux had spent $750,000 — leaving just $98,000 in the bank.

Republican nominee Rob Woodall ended the second quarter with $529,000. According to the left-leaning elections website The Daily Kos, “Republicans have privately fretted that Rep. Rob Woodall hasn’t taken his race against Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux seriously.” He seemed to think that the district was locked in for the Republican. Take a look at the lede to an Atlanta Journal Constitution article from October 20:

Until the final weeks of the campaign, the only polling had been conducted in early August and had shown Bordeaux with a 46-44 lead over Woodall. This did not seem to shake Woodall, as he didn’t run any television advertisements through September or almost all of October. Woodall’s complacency came from primary vote totals and an internal poll showing him with a 27 point lead over Bordeaux. The pollster, though, has a history of bias in favor of Republicans and in their pollster ratings, elections website FiveThirtyEight gives them a C-. In fact another survey conducted at the same time gave Woodall a much weaker six point lead. It wasn’t until  Democratic Super Pac Independence USA, dropped over a million dollars to run an ad in the last week of the campaign that Woodall seemed to lose some of his unwarranted confidence.

He finally put up his first tv spot four days before the election. And this last-minute scramble was enough to keep Woodall in his seat. The final tally had Woodall leading Bourdeaux by just 419 votes. Initially, Bourdeaux refused to concede and requested a recount. In the end, though, the recount added 14 votes to Woodall’s totals, ending the race and pushing Bourdeaux to concede.   

2018 Data

Data: NYTimes
 

Democrats did about 20 points better in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties in 2018 than in 2016. They managed to flip more diverse Gwinnett from 9% Republican to 11% Democratic. In Forsyth, they shrunk the massive 57% Republican gap to 36%.

Perhaps most astounding is that there was only a 3% drop in turnout from the 2016 presidential year. Out of the 290,000 voters in 2016, a net of only about 8,000 stayed home in 2018. This unusually engaged midterm electorate was due to 1) The same political fervor that was present nationwide and 2) A particularly high-profile gubernatorial election at the top of the ticket.

The race for governor between Democrat Stacy Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp was one of the most watched election in 2018. Abrams is one of three 2018 Democratic nominees — along with Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Andrew Gillum in Florida — who became national political celebrities despite their eventual loss.

This popularity brought Abrams with __ points of winning the governorship. She, in fact, won more votes in the Seventh District than her Republican counterpart Brian Kemp. She carried the district by about 1.5%. And the district’s turnout in Abrams’ election was almost identical to the turnout in the House race, meaning that a net of about 2,000 more voters split their ticket Abrams and Woodall than for Kemp and Bourdeaux. This extra 2,000 vote cost Bourdeaux the election and pushed Woodall over the top.

According to data analytics firm, Catalyst, which did an extensive dive into the gubernatorial election, three things in particular helped Abrams get so close to victory. But while each of these factors helped Bourdeaux downticket, it was not enough to win.

  1. The high turnout election — with more young voters and people of color — made the electorate look more like a presidential year which helps Democrats.
  2. 2016’s third party voters swung to Abrams.
  3. Modeled “middle-voters”, who are more likely to swing between parties went to Trump by 12% and Abrams by 1% in 2018.

Below is a map that shows how divided the district is between Republican Forsyth and Democratic Gwinnett county.



2020 UPDATE
Rob Woodall announced early this year that he was not running for re-election in 2020. This decision — probably due to his distaste for campaigning and fundraising, worry about losing in 2020 and nudging from the party who believed he was a liability — put the Republican nomination up for grabs. Renee Unterman, the Georgia State Senator who introduced Georgia’s (in)famous anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” in the State Senate, is running. Home Depot executive, Lynn Homrich, who began her campaign with an add attacking national Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar, is running.

On the Democratic side, Carolyn Bourdeaux is taking another crack at the seat. Her Q1 fundraising haul of $350,000  make her a favorite for the party nomination. However, first time candidate, Nabilah Islam, raised over $100,000, an impressive number for a political neophyte. She is a child of refugees and a woman of color running on a Bernie-esque platform of Medicare for All, Free Public College, etc. etc. etc. (Read my interview with her here!). Also, State Representative Brenda Lopez Romero, who represents a portion of Gwinnett county, is also running.

The animosity that we saw in 2018 between Kim and Bourdeaux has not yet flared between any Democratic candidates. But it is still very early. With such high stakes and such different candidates, fiery rhetoric would be unsurprising.

On the Republican side, things have already gotten heated. Unterman wasted no time in attacking Homrich for recently moving to the district from a rich Atlanta suburb.



The 2020 election will be high-stakes, expensive and exciting. 419 votes out of 280,000 is a small enough margin that almost anything, even some bad weather, could have tipped the district. The national mood, Donald Trump’s popularity, and the presidential election will hang over the race, so it’s impossible to know which party has the advantage this far out. There is still nine months to go and a lot of news cycles until the presumed primary date of March 3, so anything could happen.

LESSON FOR THE 2020 HOUSE

  • Contentious primaries can damage candidates to the point of costing them an election. The primary cost Carolyn Bourdeaux over $600,000 and almost certainly left bad blood among Democrats. This drained bank account and dampened enthusiasm could have cost her 419 votes. It’s likely that Bourdeaux would have won the election absent such a bruising primary.

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: NABILAH ISLAM

Nabilah Islam is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Seventh District. The district featured the closest election in the entire nation in the 2018 midterms. In that election, Republican Rob Woodall beat Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux by less than 500 votes. Earlier this year, however, Rob Woodall announced that he would not be running for re-election, spurring candidate announcements among both Republicans and Democrats. Nabilah is a first time candidate and hopes that her “unabashed progressive” campaign can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general.  A “2020 Battlegrounds” post coming next week will dig deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on May 25, 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.


Islam: Hey Seth, how are you? 
Seth: HI! I’m good, how are you? I’m so happy to talk with you. Thanks for taking the time. How is everything with the campaign going? 
Islam: I think everything is going really well. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm around my candidacy, I’m running a very unapologetic campaign and being my authentic self. And it’s really exciting, especially when candidates in Georgia have felt the need to run Republican-light campaigns. But I think what people are hungry for is authenticity and to speak truth to power.

Seth: You’ve been involved in other campaigns before, specifically with fundraising. But can you tell me about being a first-time candidate?
Islam: Being on the other side is a lot different. I am constantly making sure that I’m in the community listening to voters and understanding where they feel like the problems are in the community and also trying to stay competitive in this primary race and raise the money I need to. I would say it will be the hardest thing I ever do in my life. I enjoy meeting people where they are and putting this campaign together because I feel like it’s so overdue and I really feel like the message we’re putting out there is what people have been hungry for, for such a long time. 

Seth: I know your parents were refugees from Bangladesh. Can you tell me your personal history and how that has affected you as a person and you as a candidate? 
Islam: Sure. My parents immigrated to the country roughly four decades ago. And they were survivors of political genocide that happened in Bangladesh in 1971. They actually didn’t come to America as refugees though, my uncle filed for my dad to come to this country but overall my mother’s upbringing in Bangladesh really influenced me as I grew up. My mother grew up really poor. She grew up in a tin hut and mud floor home in a village. And my little brother and I grew up working class. It was not until I was seven, when my mom took me to Bangladesh with her, that I understood what poor really meant. My mom grew up with no electricity, no running water. There was one outhouse in the entire village. No doctors or hospitals. I had cousin who were malnutritious, had holes in their clothes, and for me after seeing so much suffering in this young country, it gave me such a deep self-awareness at a young age. I told myself at seven that I was going to make a difference and help others after seeing how my own mother had grew up and survived. 

Seth: How does that factor into your political ideology?
Islam: When my parents moved to Georgia, they lived in Section 8 housing in Atlanta until they could get enough money to get an apartment off of Buford Highway. They came to this country with nothing. My dad was a file clerk, my mother flipped burgers at Hardees for much of my childhood and then she worked at a warehouse as and order puller. My mother didn’t have a high school education and because her wages were so low, she worked longer hours. She packed up boxes, she put them on trucks and she literally worked herself to the bone and worked incredibly hard being an immigrant here. She eventually hurt herself on the job. She suffered from two herniated disks and because that happened, she was unable to continue her job. My mother’s story has primed me to be a fighter. Her workers compensation initially covered her injury, but when she lost her job, we ended up going through her unemployment insurance. And they decided post her second procedure of her back surgery that they were not going to cover the cost. She was forced to pay out of pocket. Now were tens of thousands of dollars in debt and left with no option at the time but to sue her unemployment insurance company. My mom didn’t know how to navigate the system, so I helped my mom find an attorney. I was on every call, I went to every meeting. And we sued the unemployment insurance company and won. But the point is, families that struggle should not have to go through something like that. The stress of facing the unknown of what could be the next day. And that’s why I continue to fight. My mother’s been a fighter all her life and I’m fighting as well. These experiences have played a significant role in my political ideology and it’s a working-class background, the immigrant story and how I was brought up. My mother’s immigrant story and those continue to influence my policy priorities. 

Seth: What is your general pitch to voters and what are your policy priorities? 
Islam: My general pitch is, if you’re working hard, you should have the opportunity to get ahead. There’re three key platform issues that I’m focusing on. The first one is health care. There’re 135,000 people in my district that don’t have health care. I’m a person and candidate who believes that health care is a human right and that’s why I’m advocating for Medicare for All.

And the second one would be creating an economy for everyone. I believe that for too long, our government has favored large corporate interests. Small businesses and our working class are the backbone of this country and this district and I think it’s time we end the massive corporate welfare that we’re seeing. And stop giving tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy. And that starts with first raising our minimum wage to a livable wage beginning at 15 dollars. It’s the fastest ways to end wealth inequality for women, especially women of color and minorities in general. And second, making sure that our small businesses have access to capital. The subsidies that these large corporations are receiving right now should go to our small businesses so they can afford to pay their employees a competitive wage. It also means investing in infrastructure as well and transportation so we can bring good jobs to our district and reduce the crushing traffic that people are experiencing.

The third one, is immigration reform. This is a very diverse county. Twenty five percent of my district is foreign born. Gwinnett County has the highest number of deportations in the state. Last year I went down to the border to the migrant caravan and I saw there were hundreds of people living in tents, sleeping on the ground, waiting for their number to be called. Seeking asylum is a human right. Our current administration has decided to vilify people during their time of need so my immigration platform, which I just released is set on four simple promises that will guide our fight to form a fair immigration on system. And those four premises are, that I’m going to fight to ensure a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in our country. Fight to reinstate and strengthen DACA, DAPA, TPS orders, and fight to stop the deporting of immigrants who have been in our country for decades. And lastly, fight to block ICE’s ability to hijack local taxpayer money, which forces local law enforcement to do its bidding.

Seth: What do you mean by “Medicare for All”? There’s a lot of different iterations out there?
Islam: I truly believe that we can reach universal health care. America currently has the most expensive health care in the world. About 38 out of 39 industrialized countries that have some form of basic health care. There’s no reason that America can’t achieve that goal either. And the way that I believe that we can achieve this is by reducing the price tag on health care in the first place. Because we currently operate through a patchwork of health insurance networks, we are paying about 4 hundred billion dollars a year, over 30% of healthcare costs go towards overhead. But once we move to a centralized system, we can use our collective bargaining to leverage our purchasing power on pharmaceutical companies to reduce drug costs. The easiest way to pay for it is an incremental tax increase. About 95% of Americans would actually end up spending less on health care.

Seth: Are you thinking of a single payer system with the government being the only insurer?
Islam: Yes. Everyone would pay out of their taxes to make sure that everyone in this country will be covered. But that being said, you would have the option to get supplemental private insurance if you so choose.

Seth: Medicare For All is projected to cost somewhere around 32 trillion dollars. Have you thought out the specific taxes or pay-fors this would require?
Islam: I would say about 5-7%, income tax depending on the individual. Depending on where you are and how much income you make per year. 

Seth: Would there be any cost sharing for patients?
Islam: I don’t want to prevent folks from taking health care. I am looking at the possibility of small co-pays to stop over-utilization of the health care system.

Seth: What benefits would be covered?
Islam: Full comprehensive coverage. I think we have the ability to pay for it. 

Seth: Why do you support the hard 15-dollar minimum wage versus something that’s scalable depending on cost of living?
Islam: Right now, the federal minimum wage is 7.25 and by not increasing it, we’re mandating poverty. If we to were actually minimum wage for inflation, it would be around 28 dollars or something like that. I don’t think we’d ever be able to pass a bill at that wage. I would be increasing it to 15 dollars and we can increase it from there. 

Seth: Do you think that Democrats abolish ICE? And should the government be able to detain or deport illegal immigrants who have not committed a crime other than crossing the border. 
Islam: As far as abolishing, I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t feel like we need to be wasting taxpayer dollars at the local level to do the bidding of ICE. And then, to your second point, crossing the border is not an offense where I feel like you should be criminalized, that you should go to jail for, necessarily. People who come to our border seeking asylum should go through processing, but they shouldn’t be deported. Crossing the border is a civil infraction, so I think we should not deport them. 

Seth: I’m hoping you could talk about your views on money in politics, given that inside view that you’ve had as a fundraiser.  
Islam: The reason I chose to learn fundraising is because I saw that this is an area where Democrat’s in my state weren’t competitive in and our voices kept on being drowned out. There’s not a lot of women that were in the state or women in the state in the field as well.

Our current political system allows for corporations to be considered as individuals. My campaign is not taking any corporate PAC money. We’re not beholden to any corporate interest like a lot of elected officials and candidates are right now. And I do believe that we need to get big money out of politics and overturn Citizens United.

Seth: Should we get rid of the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote?
Islam: I think there are benefits to the Electoral College and the popular vote. If we moved away from the Electoral College right now, presidential candidates would only campaign in states where we had the highest populations and leave out less populated states. They wouldn’t have an opinion in the process. But I also think there’s something to be said for the popular vote. There isn’t an electoral process in any other election in the country. All statewide, all local elections, for the most part operate on the popular vote. In the House and Senate, many bills need a simple majority to pass. And I think it’s something worth looking at in more detail. 

Seth: How about abolishing the Filibuster?
Islam: When you think about the concept alone, it’s quite ridiculous. Basically, it’s a member of Congress before you, throwing a temper tantrum until they get what they want. I think there has to be a more mature and compromising way to get legislation heard and passed. That’s where I stand right now on the Filibuster.
Seth: It sounds like you haven’t fully come to a decision. 
Islam: Yes. 

Seth: How do you feel about Democrats adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Islam: The Supreme Court is supposed to be an unbiased body that upholds the Constitution and the law of the land. I think packing it with bias does not do any good for anyone.

Seth: Do you think the House of Representatives should impeach the president?
Islam: I’m open to the idea of impeaching Donald Trump. I would love to see an unredacted version of the Mueller Report. I think Donald Trump is clearly scared or else he wouldn’t be putting out videos of Nancy Pelosi and throwing temper tantrums refusing to move legislation forward without the investigation ending. 

Seth: Do you think that he has committed impeachable offenses?
Islam: Yeah, I think so. I think he has.

Seth: Georgia passed an abortion bill banning abortion after six weeks. What are your positions on abortion?
Islam: I am pro-choice first and foremost. I think the abortion bill that passed was horrific. Georgia just criminalized after 6 weeks when many women don’t know that they’re pregnant. And now they have to worry about their freedom should they have a miscarriage. This is a direct attack on women’s reproductive rights and I believe that a woman’s health decision should be left between her and her doctor. 

Seth: Do you think that there should be any restrictions whatsoever on abortion at any time in a pregnancy? 
Islam: I think that conversation should be left between a woman and her doctors to make sure they’re making the best decision for themselves. 

Seth: The Green New Deal is the idea of tying stopping climate change to the economy and all the other progressive and Democratic policy goals.  Do you support that?
Islam: I believe that it’s no longer climate change. It’s a climate crisis and we need bold ideas to combat it. The Green New Deal has a lot of great principles in it and I’m for the principles of creating economic equity and jobs. The state of Georgia has the capacity to be a leader in harnessing natural energy. We’re the top state in the entire country in receiving sunshine. So, I would be on board with a plan that could potentially make the State of Georgia a leading force in the new clean energy economy. 

Seth: Do you support a federal jobs guarantee, one part of the Green New Deal?
Islam: I have to look at that more. I don’t have a position on that yet. 

Seth: In the initial Atlanta Journal Constitution article announcing your candidacy, you said you were inspired by women and candidates like Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Can you talk a little bit about how those progressive figures in contemporary politics have inspired you and if that’s the part of the party that you identify with?
Islam: I definitely identify with being a progressive. I was incredibly inspired by the elections of the last congressional delegation. It was the most diverse, with some of the youngest people. The most women ever elected. For so long, especially in the South, in particular Georgia, there is a norm of what is electable and the perceived notion of what kind of candidate is winnable. And the last impressive delegation broke all those stereotypes. And it was so inspiring because, and to be quite frank, I’ve bet against myself for many years. I didn’t think I was the candidate that America would respond to. What I’ve realized is that what people want today is authenticity. What people want today is someone that has a shared lived experience to them. What people want today is someone that’s going to speak truth to power. I think they’re getting tired of the same stale talking points. They want leaders who aren’t afraid to speak up and I’d say that that’s the kind of candidate I’m going to be.

Seth: Your primary competitor Carolyn Bordeaux, the 2018 Democratic nominee, has very high name recognition and she raised a lot of money. How do you plan to overcome that in the primary? 
Islam: Stacy Abrams, who ran as a progressive gubernatorial candidate flipped this district. And the downballot candidates, state house, state senate. We flipped the Gwinnett County delegation. And the fact that Carolyn Bordeaux didn’t cross the finish line, I believe is indicative of her candidacy. That folks were not inspired by it. There was about 8% Asian turnout in the primary. And in the general, it went roughly down to 6%. We need a candidate that’s going to expand the electorate. That’s going to bring voters out in the general election to flip the district. This is a district that should have flipped last year and will definitely flip this year with the right message, with the right candidate. And the Republicans are going to play hardball. We’re facing some scary candidates on the Republican candidates on the Republican side including Renee Unterman who introduced the Georgia heartbeat bill on the Senate side and she’s going to make that a center of her platform. But they’re going to fundraise. And they’re going to make sure that message is also being heard. And so, we need a candidate that is going to cut through all that noise, that’s going to be inspiring, that people are going to want to knock on doors for and really feel like they are representing their best interests. I’m the only candidate on both sides — on the Republican and Democratic sides — that grew up in this district. And so, I have a shared lived experience to the folks in this community. I’m a product of the Gwinnett County public education system. I’ve worked low wage jobs here. So have my parents. I grew up in Norcross and Lawrenceville. This district is me. My story is this district. And so I’m going to make sure that I communicate that effectively and people will know where I’ve been. 

Seth: Running as a woman of color, have you felt any unfair attacks or any discrimination?
Islam: Oh my gosh. Yeah. I think the candidate that’s going to get picked on most is probably going to be me. The Forsyth County Tea Party is already sending out fear mongering messages saying that Georgia should be careful, they don’t want the next Ilhan Omar getting elected. The Republican opponent, Lynn Homrich, she just put out a video ad denigrating and infantilizing women of color: AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, saying that they should be grounded. I think they’re threatened by it. They’re threatened by strong women of color and the best way that they’re responding to it is bullying me. It’s not going to affect me, it just shows how weak they are.  

Seth: Last cycle, the Democratic Primary got a little bit ugly. Have you noticed any of that or has it been more policy focused and cordial? 
Islam: It’s been cordial. I feel like the campaign cycle is still pretty young. I’m running a positive campaign on my values and I know that that did happen last cycle but I haven’t seen that happen as of yet. And hopefully we can all run a positive campaign. 

Seth: Is there any part of the Democratic platform that you disagree with?
Islam: The fact that our Democratic Party is telling people that, whoever works for a candidate primarying Democratic incumbents will be blacklisted. I think that’s really unfortunate. I think, as a representative, you earn your seat every two years. And if you aren’t representing your district, you should get primaried. We need to empower candidates to run, not disenfranchise them.

Seth: Do you believe that there should be room in the Democratic Party for pro-life voters or candidates?
Islam: I prefer pro-choice candidates. I believe that we should advocate for women’s reproductive rights. That being said, I’m going to leave that for a primary and let the voters decide what kind of candidate that they want. But I feel like we’re moving in the direction that you probably need to be a pro-choice Democrat in order to garner support. 

Seth: Thank you so much for talking with me and going into the details on your policies. 
Islam: Thank you too for taking the time. 


CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: NABILAH ISLAM (EXTENDED)

Nabilah Islam is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Seventh District. The district featured the closest election in the entire nation in the 2018 midterms. In that election, Republican Rob Woodall beat Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux by less than 500 votes. Earlier this year, however, Rob Woodall announced that he would not be running for re-election, spurring candidate announcements among both Republicans and Democrats. Nabilah is a first time candidate and hopes that her “unabashed progressive” campaign can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general.  A “2020 Battlegrounds” post coming next week will dig deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on May 25, 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. 


Islam: Hey Seth, how are you?
Seth: HI! I’m good, how are you? I’m so happy to talk with you. Thanks for taking the time.
Islam: Thanks for working with your schedule. I didn’t realize you were in Rwanda. How long have you been out there?
Seth: I’ve been here since the end of December, I’m here for a yearlong fellowship so I’m here from December to December. It’s a pretty amazing place, so if you’re ever traveling around East Africa, people usually kind of skip it because they go to Tanzania or Kenya, but Rwanda’s worth a stop.
Islam: The movie probably doesn’t do it justice, but Hotel Rwanda, it was a very moving to watch that. I intend to go one day.

Seth: Good well it is a fascinating and tragic history but the country has moved forward so it’s an inspiring place to be. But I’m excited to talk to you. How is everything with the campaign going?
Islam: I think everything is going really well. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm around my candidacy, I’m running a very unapologetic campaign and being my authentic self. And it’s really exciting, especially when candidates in, say Georgia, from what I have seen, have felt the need to run Republican-light campaigns. But I think what people are hungry for is authenticity and to speak truth to power. And so, I’ve been doing that a lot and my message has been really resonating. And recently I just got some really strong endorsements. Jason Carter, Jimmy Carter’s grandson and former gubernatorial nominee, just endorsed me as did at-large Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens and the only county-wide elected Democrat in the entire district Gwinnett County Solicitor General, Brian Whiteside, just endorsed me as well. I think my message and inclusivity and fighting for better opportunities for the working class has really resonated.

Seth: It seems like you’ve gotten a lot of attention. When the fundraising numbers came out, obviously Carolyn Bordeaux was going to have big numbers, but I was surprised, and I think a lot of people were surprised at your large fundraising haul. So, I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about what it’s been like being a first-time candidate. I know you’ve been involved in other campaigns before, specifically with fundraising. But I’m curious about how it feels to be on the other side of that divide.
Islam: Being on the other side is a lot different. I am constantly making sure that I’m in the community listening to voters and understanding where they feel like the problems are in the community and also trying to stay competitive in this primary race and raise the money I need to, myself, to stay competitive in terms of messaging. It’s been quite the experience. I would say it will be the hardest thing I ever do in my life. But it’s definitely exciting and I enjoy it. I enjoy meeting people where they are and putting this campaign together because I feel like it’s so overdue and I really feel like the message we’re putting out there is what people have been hungry for for such a long time.

Seth: I think it’s probably important to be enjoying it because if you were not enjoying it at all, it’s a long road until next November. I know that the phone time, calling for fundraising can be draining. But it’s good that you’re enjoying it. I have a question, when you’re out in the community are people more interested in hearing about local issues like Marta expansion or like 287(g) or are people more interested in Federal big picture issues like the Green New Deal or Medicare for all. Which of those two are they more interested in hearing from you?
Islam: Local things are happening in front of their eyes. 287(g) has been a hot button issue. It was just extended by our local sheriff and it’s been a policy, a program that has wreaked havoc on our community. We have the largest number of deportations in the entire state of Georgia. Double the number of deportations in the next county over. And as far as Marta, that was a very disappointing referendum we had earlier this year. As you know, my district is in the Metro Atlanta area, we have some of the worst traffic in the entire country and our district has been largely disconnected from the city. The interesting part is, about 50% of the folks that live in my district commute to the city to go to work. Sometimes traffic will take two hours, gas prices hit the pocketbook. Also, mental health, being in your car four hours a day just to get to work. But that being said, these are just two local issues that I’ve heard a lot on the ground, but I will say that health care is pretty huge. There’s 135 thousand people in my district who wake up without health care every morning. And that’s just really disturbing. People shouldn’t be prevented from taking health care because they’re too poor to access health care. And so those are some big issues that I’ve been hearing. As well as, there’s a lot of folks in my community who work a minimum wage job and it’s hard to get by on making $7.25 and that’s something that I’ve heard over and over again. That they are looking for that change and as were seeing that actually change in different cities around the country, raising that to a livable wage at 15 dollars an hour.

Seth: It’s interesting hearing you talk about what the voters are interested in because it is a pretty big disconnect from what’s happening on the front page of the New York Times or what’s happening in D.C., so it is just interesting to hear you talk about the local issues and what voters are bringing up to you. And before I was here in Rwanda, I was working for the City Council in Atlanta and I lived by Cheshire Bridge and that traffic does really lower your quality of life. But I want to rewind a little bit and hear about, what is your general pitch to voters and your policy priorities that you’re planning on talking about as a candidate?
Islam: My general pitch is, if you’re working hard, you should have the opportunity to get ahead. And my policy platform, there’s three key platform issues that I’m focusing on. The first one is what we just kind of touched on, health care. As I mentioned, there’s a 135,000 people in my district that don’t have health care. That’s nearly a quarter who wake up in the morning without health care. I’m a person and candidate who believes that health care is a human right and that’s why I’m advocating for Medicare for All.

And the second one would be creating an economy for everyone. I believe that for too long, our government has favored large corporate interests. Small businesses and our working class are the backbone of this country and this district and I think it’s time we end the massive corporate welfare that we’re seeing. And stop giving tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy. And that starts with first raising our minimum wage to a livable wage beginning at 15 dollars. It’s the fastest way to end wealth inequality for women, especially women of color and minorities in general. And second, making sure that our small businesses have access to capital. And so, the subsidies that these large corporations are receiving right now should go to our small businesses so they can afford to pay their employees a competitive wage. So, it’s a comprehensive package and it also means investing in infrastructure as well and transportation so we can bring good jobs to our district and reduce the crushing traffic that people are experiencing. It’s a real nightmare and strain on our residents and the environment.

And then, the third one, is immigration reform. This is a very diverse county. Twenty five percent of my district is foreign born and as I mentioned, our sheriff just extended the 287(g), which can actually be ended at the federal level as well. Gwinnett County has the highest number of deportations in the state. The other reason immigration reform, that I’m really passionate about it, is last year I went down to the border to the migrant caravan and I saw there were hundreds of people living in tents, sleeping on the ground, waiting for their number to be called. And I was fortunate enough to help three families and put them up in a motel. Bought them food, medicine. And I traveled down there with two friends of mine and they sponsored the families in America. But seeking asylum is a human right. These families are running from terror and they’re showing compassion. Our current administration has decided to vilify people during their time of need so my immigration platform, which I just released is set on four simple promises that will guide our fight to form a fair immigration on system. And those four premises are, that I’m going to fight to ensure a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in our country. Fight to reinstate and strengthen DACA, DAPA, TPS orders, and fight to stop the deporting of immigrants who have been in our country for decades, especially in our district without incident and focus on resettlement programs that have been proven to make communities flourish economically and culturally. And lastly, fight to block ICE’s ability to hijack local taxpayer money, which forces local law enforcement to do its bidding. We’ve already spent 10 million dollars on 287(g) when that money could have been rerouted to expanding Marta. So those are three issues that I’m going to be driving through the campaign

Seth: It sounds like, like you were talking about before, is the issues that voters care about are the ones that are going to be directly impacting them. So, it seems like those all kind of apply. I’m hoping we can maybe go one by one or hit on a few of those and just dig a little bit deeper. I’m hoping you can tell me what do you mean by “Medicare for All” because there’s a lot of different iterations of that phrase and what that means out there. So, can you just tell me what you’re Medicare For All vision is?
Islam: Yes. My flavor of Medicare For All. I truly believe that we can reach universal health care. And often people will say, “well how are you going to pay for it?” To break this down, America currently has the most expensive health care in the world. About 38 out of 39 industrialized countries that have some form of basic health care. There’s no reason that America can’t achieve that goal either. And the way that I believe that we can achieve this is by reducing the price tag on health care in the first place. Because we currently operate through a patchwork of health insurance networks, we are paying about 4 hundred billion dollars a year, over 30% of healthcare costs go towards overhead. And that’s the paperwork, the billing, paying the salaries of healthcare executives and CEOs. But once we move to a centralized system, we can use our collective bargaining to leverage our purchasing power on pharmaceutical companies to reduce drug costs. And as we are all seeing, drug costs are increasing and they are really hurting the American people. So, I think overall, moving to a centralized healthcare system would significantly reduce the cost and the easiest way to pay for it is an incremental tax increase to cover the rest of the costs and about 95% of Americans would actually end up spending less on health care a year and putting more money back in the wallets in achieving coverage for all. It’s a plan that is definitely achievable and I think that there’s growing consensus for Medicare For All in this country between Democrats and Republicans.

Seth: Are you thinking of a single payer system with the government being the only insurer? Because universal healthcare can mean, like you said, many things. And some other countries have had, like the Netherlands has created universal healthcare with private insurance companies. So, is your vision of a single payer system with the government being your insurer?
Islam: Yes, having universal healthcare, everyone would pay out of their taxes to make sure that everyone in this country will be covered. But that being said, you would have the option to get supplemental private insurance if you so choose. And so that’s the model that I’m thinking would be a strong model for America.

Seth: I think the bill that’s in the House, the Pramila Jayapal bill from Washington, it was more comprehensive and didn’t leave room for private insurers. So, I think it’s interesting that your vision would leave some room for that. People in America are projected to spend something like 32 trillion dollars on health care over the next decade and the projections are that the government would possible bargain that down so that the price tag would be a little bit lower, but the government would still have to collect that huge sum of money. I’m wondering if you’ve thought out any specific taxes or pay-fors that would be able to cover that huge amount.
Islam: I would say about 5-7%, depending on the individual. Depending on where you are and how much income you make per year.
Seth: So, a basic income tax?
Islam: Yeah, a basic income tax.

Seth: Is the vision of your single payer plan, do you imagine that there would be any cost sharing for patients? So, when they show up to the doctor’s office do you think there should be deductibles or copays or coinsurance, or is that something that the government should completely cover so that when anybody shows up to the doctor, it is completely free at point of service.
Islam: That’s a good question. I don’t want to prevent folks from taking health care. I am looking at the possibility of small co-pays to stop over-utilization of the health care system. So, you should think twice about going to the doctor. But that’s something I’m looking at right now.

Seth: I think that would significantly lower the cost, so even though some people, in their ideal world, everything at the doctor should be free and nobody should worry about that, some more practical lawmakers think that would …
Islam: The ideal world…

Seth: Another similar question is, in the system that you’d push for, what kind of benefits would be covered? Are you imagining something more like Canada where prescription drugs and dental and vision are not covered and that’s what people take additional insurance out for, or are you imagining a system where everything is covered whether it’s vision, dental, long-term care, prescription drugs?
Islam: Full comprehensive coverage. I think we have the ability to pay for it.

Seth: It’s nice to hear that you have some definitive answers because some other candidates I’ve spoken with are in-between on everything. But it’s interesting and nice to hear: yes, maybe cost sharing. But everything should be covered. And here is specifically how we are going to pay for it. I think voters sometimes get frustrated when candidates are a little mushy on those.
Islam: It’s a complex topic.

Seth: Yeah it is. Well I appreciate you going into the details on healthcare. Another question I have on one of your other priorities. I’m curious why you support the hard 15-dollar minimum wage versus something that’s more scalable or slide-able depending on cost of living? What’s your reason for saying the federal government should create a hard 15-dollar minimum wage like that?
Islam: Right now, the federal minimum wage is 7.25 and by not increasing it, I feel like we’re mandating poverty. If we to were actually minimum wage for inflation, it would be around 28 dollars or something like that. I don’t think we’d ever be able to pass a bill at that wage. I feel, though, 15 dollars is a wage that has built consensus in the House especially. We failed to pass that bill but it got about 200 votes on it and I feel like this is something that, all over the country, people have been activated by the idea that 15 dollars is acceptable and that’s a start. Right? I would be increasing it to 15 dollars and we can increase it from there.

Seth: I’m going to move on to one of your other priorities. You spoke about immigration, and specifically 287(g). You explained how you felt about it, but I’m hoping you can do that again and go a little bit deeper. Do you think that Democrats should pursue abolishing ICE, which has fallen out of the news cycle a little bit. I’m also curious if you think the federal government should have the ability to detain or deport illegal immigrants who have not committed a crime other than crossing the border.
Islam: 287(g) is in about 80 counties right now, all over the country. And as I mentioned before, we are number 1 in deporting people in our state. That’s a ranking thing that I’m more than happy to forfeit. And so, I’m passionate about making sure that we’re not wasting local taxpayer money to do the bidding of ICE. ICE already has one of the largest budgets right now and as far as abolishing, I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t feel like we need to be wasting taxpayer dollars at the local level to do the bidding of ICE. And then, to your second point, crossing the border is not an offense where I feel like you should be criminalized, that you should go to jail for, necessarily. People who come to our border seeking asylum should go through processing, but they shouldn’t be deported. Crossing the border is a civil infraction, so I think we should not deport them.

Seth: Here’s another question. So, you’ve been a fundraiser before on political campaigns. I believe, if I’m correct, on Jason Carter’s 2014 Gubernatorial race and also on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. And obviously, you’re pretty proficient at it, given your numbers for quarter one. I’m hoping you could talk about your views on money in politics, given that inside view that you’ve had as a fundraiser.
Islam: I’ve been working for Democrats for about a decade now. I’ve worn many hats: campaign manager, organizer, and yes, being a fundraiser. And the reason I chose to learn fundraising is because I saw that this is an area where Democrat’s in my state weren’t competitive in and our voices kept on being drowned out. There’s not a lot of women that were in the state or women in the state in the field as well. For me, it was important that we engage different coalitions and different groups of people to bring more voices to the table when electing people to office. Right now, our current political system allows for corporations to be considered as individuals. My campaign is not taking any corporate PAC money. We’re not beholden to any corporate interest like a lot of elected officials and candidates are right now. And I do believe that we need to get big money out of politics and overturn Citizens United. What I’m really hopeful for and what I’ve been seeing is, we’re watching the powers of small donors rise against people who can write a big check in one fell swoop. Which is incredibly positive. And that’s something that we’re not seeing on the Republican side. For my first quarter, I did raise 102 thousand dollars. 30% of the money I raised was less than $200, small dollar donations. I would love to move towards a system where we empower small dollar donors.

Seth: You talked about overturning Citizens United. Do you think the best route for Democrats to go about that is through the Supreme Court or through a constitutional amendment? How do you imagine Democrats being able to do that?
Islam: That’s a good question. I have to think about that. Whichever way would be the easiest and most achievable way to do it. I think that there’s a way to go about doing that. I have to think about that.

Seth: Here’s a related question. Because a constitutional amendment or an addition to the Supreme Court would require consent or passage from the Senate. So, I’m hoping that we can talk about the bigger structural changes that some Democrats have been advocating for such as getting rid of the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote, eliminating the Filibuster in the Senate, adding seats to the Supreme Court. And I’m hoping that we can go one by one and I can hear how you feel about each of those.
Islam: Sure.

Seth: So, the first one is the Electoral College — changing it to just a standard popular vote.
Islam: I think there are benefits to the Electoral College and the popular vote. If we moved away from the Electoral College right now, presidential candidates would only campaign in states where we had the highest populations and leave out less populated states. They wouldn’t have an opinion in the process. But I also think there’s something to be said for the popular vote. There isn’t an electoral process in any other election in the country. All statewide, all local elections, for the most part operate on the popular vote. In the House and Senate, many bills need a simple majority to pass. And I think it’s something worth looking at in more detail.

Seth: I was speaking with two candidates from Nebraska, and Nebraska is one of those states that would get overlooked — well it already gets overlooked a little bit — but would lose some of their voice. And one of the candidates was in favor of abolishing it and the other was in favor of keeping it. So, it is interesting to hear the different positions on that based on where people are in the country and how much their state’s voice is heard. The next question is not directly related to the House of Representatives, but is important for Democrats in general. Abolishing the Filibuster completely in the Senate. How do you feel about that?
Islam: The Filibuster. Yes. I think when you think about the concept alone, it’s quite ridiculous. Basically, it’s a member of Congress before you, throwing a temper tantrum until they get what they want. I think there has to be a more mature and compromising way to get legislation heard and passed. That’s where I stand right now on the Filibuster.
Seth: It sounds like you haven’t fully come down on either side of that or fully made a decision.
Islam: Yes.

Seth: I think one concern that a lot of progressives have is that if you’re pushing for Medicare For All, the likelihood of getting 50 votes is a stretch, but 60 is almost impossible. So, I think a lot of progressives are advocating for that. The next question I have is how you feel about either adding seats to the Supreme Court or changing the makeup of the Supreme Court in any way. How do you feel about that?
Islam: The Supreme Court is supposed to be an unbiased body that upholds the Constitution and the law of the land. I think packing it with bias does not do any good for anyone. But the current situation of the Supreme Court, with the last Supreme Court nominee being Brett Kavanaugh is very dismaying. But I think packing or bias doesn’t do any good for anyone.

Seth: This isn’t really a structural issue, but it is the topic of the day recently, is impeaching the president based off of the results of the Mueller Report. I’m curious what your feelings are on that, given that it’s something that’s happening in the House of Representatives. That’s where the conversation is happening and it’s not a vote that you’d have to take if you get elected because we’ll see what happens in the presidential election, but how do you feel about the House of Representatives impeaching the president.
Islam: I’m open to the idea of impeaching Donald Trump. I would love to see an unredacted version of the Mueller Report. And I know that’s going to be hard to get. I think Donald Trump is clearly scared or else he wouldn’t be putting out videos of Nancy Pelosi and throwing temper tantrums refusing to move legislation forward without the investigation ending.

Seth: Do you think that he has committed impeachable offenses?
Islam: Yeah, I think so. I think he has. I think he has and I want the American people to have the ability to have the full version of the Mueller Report before we take the plunge and actually go through the impeachment process.

Seth: Okay. I have two more policy related questions and then maybe move onto more about the election. But I want to zoom into Georgia, recently the state legislature and the governor passed an abortion bill banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. I’m interested to hear you talk about that and what your positions are on abortion and pro-choice, pro-life issues.
Islam: I am pro-choice first and foremost. I think the abortion bill that passed was horrific. Georgia just criminalized after 6 weeks when many women don’t know that they’re pregnant. And now they have to worry about their freedom should they have a miscarriage. This is a direct attack on women’s reproductive rights and I believe that a woman’s health decision should be left between her and her doctor.

Seth: Do you think that there should be any restrictions whatsoever on abortion at any time in a pregnancy?
Islam: I think that conversation should be left between a woman and her doctors to make sure they’re making the best decision for themselves.

Seth: The last question that I have is, I know your parents were refugees from Bangladesh, and I want to get out of the policy quickly and hear their personal history and your personal history and how that has affected you as a person and you as a candidate.
Islam: Sure. My parents immigrated to the country roughly four decades ago. And they were survivors of political genocide that happened in Bangladesh in 1971. They actually didn’t come to America as refugees though, my uncle filed for my dad to come to this country but overall my mother’s upbringing in Bangladesh really influenced me as I grew up. My mother grew up really poor. She grew up in a tin hut and mud floor home in a village. And my little brother and I grew up working class. It was not until I was seven, when my mom took me to Bangladesh with her, that I understood what poor really meant. My mom grew up with no electricity, no running water. There was one outhouse in the entire village. No doctors or hospitals. I had cousin who were malnutricious, had holes in their clothes, and for me after seeing so much suffering in this young country, it gave me such a deep self awareness at a young age. I told myself at seven that I was going to make a difference and help others after seeing how my own mother had grew up and survived.

Seth: That’s a pretty tragic and amazing personal history. Can you talk about how that factors into your political ideology at all and what kind of things you take from that and how they translate into politics and policy?
Islam: When my parents moved to Georgia, they lived in Section 8 housing in Atlanta until they could get enough money to get an apartment off of Buford Highway. They came to this country with nothing. And they moved to the district when I was and infant and I celebrated my first birthday in Gwinnett County. And to give you more background on how I grew up, my dad was a file clerk, my mother flipped burgers at Hardees for much of my childhood and then she worked at a warehouse as and order puller. My mother didn’t have a high school education and because her wages were so low, she worked longer hours. She packed up boxes, she put them on trucks and she literally worked herself to the bone and worked incredibly hard being an immigrant here. I’ve watched my mother work this job for over a decade and she eventually hurt herself on the job. She suffered from two herniated disks and because that happened, she was unable to continue her job. My mother’s story has primed me to be a fighter. Her work comp. initially covered her injury, but when she lost her job, we ended up going through her unemployment insurance. And they decided post her second procedure of her back surgery that they were not going to cover the cost. They stopped paying her benefits and she was forced to pay out of pocket. What would any human pay for their health? The answer is anything and anything. Now were tens of thousands of dollars in debt and left with no option at the time but to sue her unemployment insurance company. My mom didn’t know how to navigate the system, so I helped my mom find an attorney. I was on every call, I went to every meeting. And we sued the unemployment insurance company and won. But the point is, families that struggle should not have to go through something like that. The stress of facing the unknown of what could be the next day. And that’s why I continue to fight. My mother’s been a fighter all her life and I’m fighting as well. And I’d say that these experiences growing up here have played a significant role in my political ideology and it’s a working-class background, the immigrant story and how I was brought up. My mother’s immigrant story and those continue to influence my policy priorities.

Seth: I hope she’s healed and recovered. I don’t know how long ago that was but I hope she’s feeling better. But I’m sure helping her with that and navigating the healthcare system probably gave some insight that those of us who haven’t had that kind of direct interaction with it have had, so I’m sure you have some additional insight there into what the whole system is like. One question I’ve been thinking about that’s uniquely related to your parents’ personal history and where I am in Rwanda. I’m curious what you think the U.S. government’s responsibility should be in stopping war crimes or genocide around the world when it’s clear that it’s happening. Because, like you said, your parents left Bangladesh because the genocide that was occurring there and in Rwanda in 1994 there was a genocide and the United Stated didn’t do anything to stop it. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on when and if the United States should intervene in a situation that is clearly genocide like that.
Islam: The United States is the most powerful country in the world and we’re looked at as leaders. And when travesty such a genocide occurs, I’m believe the onus is to have a response whether that’s humanitarian aid or having a seat at the negotiating table trying to find a solution in order to stop it. I believe it is our moral obligation in being a leader in the world to do something. We need to have a response.

Seth: One last policy thing. Another big issue in progressive politics and Democratic politics is the Green New Deal and I’m hoping you can talk a little bit about your feelings on that. It’s obviously not a specific prescription for every single kind of policy but it is the general idea of tying stopping climate change to the economy and all the other progressive and Democratic policy goals. And I’m curious how you feel about 1) The Green New Deal and 2) that strategy of tying climate change to everything else.
Islam: I believe that it’s no longer climate change it’s a climate crisis and we need bold ideas to combat it. The Green New Deal has a lot of great principles in it and I’m for the principles of creating economic equity and jobs. The state of Georgia has the capacity to be a leader in harnessing natural energy and, from your time in Georgia you might remember how hot it is here. We’re the top state in the entire country in receiving sunshine. So, I would be on board with a plan that could potentially make the State of Georgia a leading force in the new clean energy economy.

Seth: One specific thing in the Green New Deal that turned a lot of heads was that they support a federal jobs guarantee in he Green New Deal and I’m curious if that’s something you support.
Islam: I have to look at that more. I don’t have a position on that yet.

Seth: To be honest, I always appreciate it when politicians or candidates can say “To be honest, I need to research that but I’ll get back to you.” You can’t know everything so I think it’s an okay thing for candidates to say. In the initial AJC article about you it said you were inspired by women and candidates like Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Can you talk a little bit about how those figures in contemporary politics have inspired you and if that’s the part of the party that you identify with more than some more moderate candidates like Abigail Spanberger in Virginia or Ben McAdams in Utah. Which portion of the party do you feel like you identify with and how have those women that you spoke about have influenced you in running for election?
Islam: I definitely identify with being a progressive. I was incredibly inspired by the elections of the last congressional delegation. It was the most diverse, some of the youngest people. And women, the most women ever elected. And it showed me that we’re having a big conversation of what’s electable. And I think for so long, especially in the South, in particular Georgia, there is a norm of what is electable and the perceived notion of what kind of candidate is winnable. And the last impressive delegation showed that they broke all those stereotypes. And it was so inspiring because, and to be quite frank, I’ve bet against myself for many years. I didn’t think I was the candidate that America would respond to. What I’ve realized is that what people want today is authenticity. What people want today is someone that has a shared lived experience to them. What people want today is someone that’s going to speak truth to power. I think they’re getting tired of the same stale talking points. They want leaders who aren’t afraid to speak up and I’d say that that’s the kind of candidate I’m going to be. And I’m really glad that we broke barriers last cycle.

Seth: If you’re running as a progressive candidate and a lot of people are looking at your district and saying “a lot of the people living here might be more moderate or more conservative”. So, I’m curious how you feel about the job of a representative. Is it more something that, if you are progressive, you should vote your conscious and vote for those progressive ideals even if some of your constituents might disagree with you? Or is the job of a representative to truly be a representative and vote how the majority or plurality in your district wants you to.
Islam: I don’t think we’ve ever really had a candidate with a progressive message like mine before. I put together a professional campaign where I’m really making sure that folks understand that there’s another option. I feel like, for so long, we’ve been running on Republican light and watering down who we are in order to conform to this notion that we have to be a moderate-like candidate. I feel like, what I mentioned, people are hungry for authenticity. This district in particular would be very encouraged, and what I’ve seen from my events, folks tell me that they find it to be inspiring. They find it to be refreshing. And it’s something that people are on board with. And as far as being a representative, I am running for office so I can represent my district and be a voice for them. And I’m definitely someone that’s going to meet my constituents where they are and listen to them and make sure that I’m voting the way that they feel like is in their best interest.

Seth: And so, I think if you’re going to divide the candidates in an unfair but binary way, people would look at you and say “she’s the progressive candidate and Carolyn Bordeaux is maybe the more moderate candidate” so can you talk a little bit about how you’re planning to differentiate yourself in the Democratic primary, given that she has high name recognition because of last cycle and she raised a lot of money. How do you plan to overcome that in the primary and be the Democratic nominee?
Islam: The results of this district were, you know, Stacy Abrams, who ran as a progressive gubernatorial candidate flipped the district. And the downballot candidates, state house, state senate. We flipped the Gwinnett County delegation. And the fact that Carolyn Bordeaux didn’t cross the finish line, I believe is indicative of her candidacy. That folks were not inspired by it. And like I mentioned, this is a majority-minority district and people are so ready to have reflective representation. If we look at a breakdown of the primary and general numbers, there was about 8% of Asian turnout in the primary. And in the general, it went roughly down to 6%. We need a candidate that’s going to expand the electorate. That’s going to bring voters out in the general election to flip the district. This is a district that should have flipped last year and will definitely flip this year with the right message, with the right candidate. And the Republicans are going to play hardball. Rob Woodall is retiring and he didn’t really put up a campaign last time. And I feel as though we’re facing some scary candidates on the Republican candidates on the Republican side including Renee Unterman who introduced the heartbeat bill on the Senate side and she’s going to make that a center of her platform. But they’re going to fundraise. And they’re going to make sure that message is also being heard. And so, we need a candidate that is going to cut through all that noise, that’s going to be inspiring, that people are going to want to knock on doors for and really feel like they are representing their best interests. And I already feel like the campaign message that I have put together is something that’s resonating and I think it’s a simple concept that, I’m actually the only candidate on both sides — on the Republican and Democratic sides — that grew up in this district. And so, I have a shared lived experience to the folks in this community and I think it’s so important that, if you run for office, that the people that you represent, that you have history with them. I’m a product of the Gwinnett County public education system. I’ve worked low wage jobs here. So have my parents. I grew up in Norcross and Lawrenceville. This district is me. My story is this district. And so I’m going to make sure that I communicate that effectively and people will know where I’ve been.

Seth: Running as a woman and a woman of color, have you felt any unfair attacks or any discrimination in your candidacy whether from voters or from the Republican candidates. Have you felt like that’s been present so far in your race?
Islam: Oh my gosh. Yeah. I think the candidate that’s going to get mostly picked on is probably going to be me. The Forsyth County Tea Party is already sending out fear mongering messages saying that Georgia should be careful, they don’t want the next Ilhan Omar getting elected. The Republican opponent, Lynn Homrich, she just put out a video ad denigrating and infantilizing women of color: AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, saying that they should be grounded. I think they’re threatened by it. They’re threatened by strong women of color and the best way that they’re responding to it is bullying me. It’s not going to affect me, it just shows how weak they are.

Seth: I would hope that, for you and in general, voters are not persuaded by those kinds of identity and gross attacks. And sorry you have had to deal with that. Last cycle, the Democratic Primary didn’t have that kind of attacking going on, but it did have some intense allegations between Bordeaux and Kim. It got a little bit ugly. Have you noticed any of that happening in the Democratic Primary or has it been more policy focused and cordial?
Islam: It’s been cordial. I feel like the campaign cycle is still pretty young. I’m running a positive campaign on my values and I know that that did happen last cycle but I haven’t seen that happen as of yet. And hopefully we can all run a positive campaign.

Seth: I think in general, on campaigns people support that but sometimes when candidates get desperate towards the end, the negative ads come out. So, it will be interesting to follow. And I know that you’re probably busy so I just have two wrap up questions. The first is, is there any part of the Democratic platform that you disagree with or you feel does not represent you?
Islam: That’s a good question. You know what I can speak to, it’s more on the political side. The fact that our Democratic Party is telling people that primary-ing other Democratic incumbents in the field, that whoever works with them will be blacklisted. I think that’s really unfortunate that we would even put out a message like that. I think, as a representative, you earn your seat every two years. And if you aren’t representing your district, you should get primaried. And I feel like the fact that we’re discouraging that is problematic. We need to empower candidates to run, not disenfranchise them. So that would be one area that I hope we can get stronger in, not continuing that message that we shouldn’t have competition.

Seth: I think a lot of progressives feel the same way. That the Democratic Party should be encouraging competition to pick the best candidates rather than discouraging it. One related question, I’m adding an additional question in because you reminded me of it. There’s a representative named Dan Lipinski who is pro-life in Illinois and the Democratic Party was going to fundraise with him but decided not to. But Cheri Bustos, the head of the DCCC is supporting him and his candidacy. Do you believe that there should be room in the Democratic Party for pro-life voters or candidates? Or do you think that’s a line the party should draw?
Islam: I prefer pro-choice candidates. I believe that we should advocate for women’s reproductive rights. That being said, I’m going to leave that for a primary and let the voters decide what kind of candidates that they want. But I feel like we’re moving in the direction that you probably need to be a pro-choice Democrat in order to garner support.

Seth: So that was the last substantial question I had. The real last question I have is if you have any requests of me before we hang up? I can send the transcript the day before I post it.
Islam: Yeah, if you could send it to me before you post it, that would be great.

Seth: Okay I can do that. Thank you so much for talking with me and going into the details on your policies.
Islam: Thank you too for taking the time.

THE GENERIC BALLOT: 18 MONTHS OUT

The 2020 elections are still 18 months away and yet pollsters are out in force, giving us just enough information to break out our crystal balls and make wildly irresponsible predictions. This is the second post in a four-part series looking at the Generic Ballot and its utility as an election predictor. You can read the first post in the series here


Last post I argued that the Generic Ballot — the polling question that asks respondents if they plan to vote for a Republican or Democrat for Congress — is fairly predictive of election results when the poll is taken right before or on election day. But what about a year and a half out, as we are now from the 2020 election?

Early Generic Ballot polling is tough to track down, but Real Clear Politics has aggregated such polls since the 2004 Bush v. Kerry presidential race. The sample here is very small, only four presidential election cycles, so adjust skepticism accordingly.

In the chart below, I have averaged the results of the first five Generic Ballot polls taken in an election cycle, starting 19 months out from the election6Notice that not every cycle has polling data going back 19 months before the election. 2004 in particular, lacks very early polling data..


Data: RealClearPolitics

In 2008, 2012, and 2016, the early polling was surprisingly accurate, missing real election results by a net average of only 1.7%. The 2004 election polling, though, breaks this trend. The earliest polling projected a Democratic win of 10%, but Republicans won the House Popular Vote by 2.6%, leading to a 12.6% polling miss.

Lacking more historical data, it’s hard to determine if the error in 2004 is an outlier or not. If it is, and early Generic Ballot polling is generally within 1 to 3% of real election results, we could say that the numbers we see now are predictive of what’s to come in 2020. And while control of the House could hinge on this 1-3% polling error, the Generic Ballot polls would still be able to show the world of possible outcomes and which is most likely.

If 2004 is not an outlier, though, and Generic Ballot polling really will miss the mark by double digits about a quarter (or more) of the time, the Generic Ballot this far out cannot show us the world of possible outcomes, or the likelihood of these outcomes. Predicting that the House Popular Vote could be anywhere between a net +6 for Democrats and a net +6 for Republicans does not narrow election outcomes in any helpful way.  Because we can’t determine how likely a polling error like 2004 is the Generic Ballot this far out it should not be treated as predictive.

With that caveat, here are all the Generic Ballot polls taken within the past two months from pollsters receiving at least a B- pollster rating by FiveThirtyEight. Note that Morning Consult and Politico have conducted all but one of these polls, which raises the probability that there is a consistent statistical bias in their results, meaning that the data should be treated with even more skepticism.


Data: FiveThirtyEight

Clearly, Democrats currently have a consistent advantage in the Generic Ballot, averaging out to 7%. And while, again, this is not predictive 18 months out from election day, it does expose three important things about the current political environment.

1) The wave that swept Democrat’s into power in the House in 2018 has not dissipated. In that election, Democrats carried the House Popular Vote by 8.6%. So, Republicans may have closed this gap by a point or two, but the pro-Democratic sentiment largely remains.

2) Most voters’ Generic Ballot responses are determined by their feelings about Donald Trump. His net approval rating during this two-month period has ranged from about -9% to -13%. Not exactly the same as Generic Ballot polling, but close enough to give the impression that Trump’s approval is a big factor in down ballot decision making (at least in polls).

3) The small gap between Trump approval and the Generic Ballot average is important, though. While most voters who approve of Trump will vote a Republican Representative, and voters who disapprove of Trump will vote Democratic Representative, there is a small number of voters who distinguish between the top of the ticket and down-ballot races, And while this population is small and shrinking, it still exists. When control of the House can hinge on just one seat, any swing can be determinative.

The big question is if Trump will be able to turn his poor approval rating around. He has been stuck around -9 to -13 for most of the last year. If he can pull it closer to even, Republicans have a good chance to win the Generic Ballot and to take the House. If he continues to slum it down near negative double digits, 2020 will almost certainly see continued Democratic control of the House, likely control of the Presidency and possible control of the Senate. That’s the order Democrats are likely to hold or take power: House -> Presidency -> Senate. It’s hard to imagine a world where Democrats win the Presidency and lose the House or where they win the Senate and lose the Presidency and/or House.

Control of the House, though, is not determine by the Generic Ballot or the House Popular Vote. It is decided district by district. Whichever party wins in a majority (or plurality if there are 3rd party winners) of the 435 House seats will hold the House. In the next post we’ll look at how closely the House Popular Vote correlates to seat allocation between the parties and what this means for the 2020 election. The big question we’ll aim to answer: how much do Democrats or Republicans need to win the House Popular Vote to take control of the House?

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: KARA EASTMAN

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.

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: KARA EASTMAN (EXTENDED)

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. 


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?
Eastman: Yes.
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.