This past week, Elections Daily contributor Kraz Greinetz had the opportunity to interview Jesse Jensen, the Republican nominee in Washington’s 8th district. This is currently rated as Likely Democratic by Elections Daily following a mediocre performance in the primary from incumbent Democrat Kim Schrier. You can find the full audio of the interview on our podcast site as well as our YouTube channel.
First and foremost, I just wanted to ask if you would mind telling the readers a little bit about your background, your upbringing, what you do for a living, all that kind of stuff?
Yeah great, so I grew up in rural South Dakota, there was sort of more cows than people in the towns where I grew up. My dad was a pastor, my mom worked for an adoption advocacy organization. I went to public high school, public elementary school, and actually went to the American Legion Boys State Program which was sort of my first foray into state and federal politics.
I got selected to go to the national program, Boys Nation, and there I was privileged to meet President George W. Bush, Senate Majority Leader at the time, Tom Dashcle, and the other home state senator [Tim Johnson]. But the guy that really impressed me the most was a younger guy named Congressman John Thune. And he was sort of the first person outside of my dad that I had seen demonstrate servant leadership. And he was one that really took the time to meet with his constituents, any time there was somebody from the home state in the office, he took time to personally meet with them, he walked us around the capitol.
I was kinda so impressed by him that I ended up going to school in Washington D.C. I attended George Washington University, and worked on his first campaign that he ran against Senator Johnson. He lost by 527 votes. And sort of another, uh, this was a statewide race, you know, with almost a million votes cast. And he didn’t seek a recount, he opted instead to kinda take the high road and instead came back two years later and ran against sitting Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
And you know I worked on that campaign as well and you know kinda got to see you know again take the high road and exhibit an issues, policy focused, constituent focused campaign that was ultimately successful. And I always kinda joke that Thune won that race because I wore a chicken suit at the Meet the Press Tim Reston debate. So it was kinda fun to be early on involved in the political world.
But I ended up working for Senator Thune then, I became his executive assistant over the course of a couple years working full time while still in college. And I drove him to Walter Reed Medical Institute in 2007 where we met a young man who had stepped on an IED in Iraq, had lost both of his legs, was catastrophically burned, on uh, over 40% of his body. And he looked at Senator Thune and I and he said “Sir, the only thing I want is to back to Iraq and be with my guys”.
And that… was it, for me. I had almost enlisted after 9/11, I had almost joined the military service academies. Three months after that interaction I was at Columbia South Carolina. I had enlisted in the Army, and I deployed, or excuse me I went to basic training at the same military installation my grandfather had deployed to World War Two from. I ended up going through a thing called Officer Candidacy School, I went to airborne school, I became an infantry officer. Went to Ranger school, and ultimately became a Lieutenant in the Army. I deployed with the 173rd to Afghanistan.
And I was there winning hearts and minds, was sort of the mission set. And you know I didn’t know it at the time but there was a lot of similarities between what I was doing there and community policing. Right, like the law enforcement officials that are on the streets today are asked to be social workers, they’re asked to be you know, uh, marriage counselors, they’re asked to be so many different things besides their day job, which is you know, enforcing the laws.
Similarly, when I was in Afghanistan that first time I was the Department of State guy, I was the USDA guy, I was the USAID guy, and oh yeah, I was also a Second Lieutenant in charge of platoon of infantrymen in Afghanistan. And there’s one story that always stands out that I like to tell. We engaged with the community. We did again, kinda what I would describe as community policing. We had [inadubile], we sat down with the village elders. We used our funds to help build roads, and create hospitals, and establish that trust. And again, servant leadership right, we listened to the constituents, in Lal Pur, Afghanistan. And it paid off, because one day we were headed to the Afghan Border police where we were doing a joint training mission with them, and we received a phone call saying “Hey, you know that route that you take every single time you go to this Afghan Border Police station? There’s an IED on that road, and it’s gonna go off, and here’s exactly where it is”.
So we were able to call in the DOD, and positively work and engage with the local village leaders and elders in that area. And that’s what I see in our local law enforcement, you know there’s just, so much positivity there’s so much great things that are going on. But you know we do need to you know, kinda take a look at how much stuff are they asked to handle, and how many things are they sort of relegated with.
So I came back from that first combat deployment, and uh, tried out for and was selected to Second Ranger Battalion, which is part of the Joint Special Operations Command. So it’s, Seal Team Six, Delta Force, and the unit that I was in, Second Ranger Batallion, and the Ranger Regiment. And I subsequently deployed on three more combat missions. I did Bin Laden style raids, certainly was not on that mission, that was Seal Team Six. But, we did a lot of other missions of that type. I was on over 75 raids. Night raids where we took bad guys off the target and made you know, American and arguably the region there safer.
And I came before going on my fourth combat deployment met my beautiful wife Mindy, who grew up in the 8th Congressional District. She went to Auburn Riverside here in the 8th Congressional. And we came back. I ended up deciding to kinda, hang up my spurs so to speak, in 2014, after 7 years in the army. Felt that I had done my service, I was proud to have brought everyone under my direct command home, still to date sort of my proudest accomplishment of my professional career. We did unfortunately lose a lot of guys in my sister units, to my left and to my right.
But you know, we got out in 2014, I went to Columbia Business School in New York City I got my MBA there. Um, and sort of a symbol of the tenacity and every time I’m on the campaign trail I talk to constituents about how hard I’m going to work for them. When I was trying out for Second Ranger Battalion, I actually ran on a stress fracture until I literally broke my leg.
So I would always make the joke that I was a strong Ranger not a smart Ranger. And then I you know, sort of barely got into Columbia Business School at the beginning, but worked my way over the course of two years to getting on the Dean’s List when I left, right. So like, just, you know, that watch word for me has always been hard work. And putting the needs of the men and women under my command before my own. It’s you know, what we call servant leadership in the military.
So got out 2014, went to Columbia Business School, came back worked for Microsoft, I was a program manager there for a while. Left after about two years to be a director at a kidney dialysis company called Divida, which is one of the two major private providers of kidney dialysis care in the United States. These are folks that dialysis to stay alive three times a week. And there I got to see both the health side, and the business side of delivering care. And we would lose about $250 on every single Medicare patient that we treated, every treatment. Which is, uh accounted for about 90% of our total patient population.
The other 10% on private insurance subsidized the other 90% and paid for our operating costs and created the profit margin that we could operate then as a for profit business. So that was sort of the first time when I heard, you know, Medicare for All, I started scratching my head and I just didn’t understand how that business model would work. But, uh, ended going from the healthcare industry to work for Amazon where I was a Senior Vendor Manager, had about $100 million profit and loss that I managed. Helped them launch a new grocery store chain.
Uh I think it was around March 2019, when unfortunately a good friend of mine uh, chose to take his own life. And it was sadly not the first time that had happened but he was sort of my mentor on my first combat deployment. And a few days after that, um, a fairly liberal member of Congress made the point that the VA broke, so let’s not fix it. And then preceded to make this case for the need for broader socialized medicine and broader government control of the healthcare industry.
And for me that was sort of a second call to service moment, where I had seen personally, and had gone through, you know the VA system to receive care and found it, uh, occupied with fantastic physicians, and social workers who wanted to help. But who were hindered by red tape and beauracracy. And then I juxtaposed that next to some relatively, in my opinion, out of touch members of Congress, who wanted to force that on the entirety of the United States.
So that’s when I decided to kinda, explore, sort of where I was in the Bonny Lake area, and try and determine whether or not my current representation was really truly representing the district. And I quickly found that Congresswoman Schrier was not. And you know conversations across the ground over the last year, I’ve heard that message consistently and repeatedly. That Congresswoman Schrier is not listening to her constituents, that she’s voting out of touch, that she’s more concerned with pleasing the party leadership than she is with serving the constituents of the 8th Congressional District.
In those conversations I was able to garner the support of some local legends, Congressman Dave Reichart, who is a former King County Sheriff. He’s the guy that caught the Green River Killer, uh, the most prolific serial killer in the country, and former member of Congress. And he represented the 8th Congressional District, so I’m proud to have his endorsement. For Attorney General Rob McKenna, uh, former Senator Slade Gordon, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, a host of local organizations, all the sheriffs in the Eastern side of the district have endorsed me. Proud of that. The Washington State farm bureau. Has endorsed me. And again, just to close out, I think what we have seen on the campaign trail has been 100% echoed in the results of the primary.
And you know this, because you wrote about it, but it’s about a 95% confidence interval predictor in Washington State. The primaries of the general election. We saw the exact same thing in 2018, Dino Rossi got 43% of the vote, the consolidated Republican field was at 47%, the consolidated Democratic field was around 52-53%. $30 million were spent on the race, the results.. didn’t really change. You know, the things consolidated, and that’s what we saw.
So we’re extremely happy to be on the other side of that mathematical equation moving forward into the November election.
That was a lot of great information. That kinda leads into a question I was going to ask already, and you kind of answered it, which is: Was your campaign at all surprised at the results?
We weren’t surprised by the sentiment. As I said, we’ve been hearing time and time again, and talking to folks. Congresswoman Schrier, in one of the debates in 2018 compared our orchardists, so the, you know the people that grow cherries and apples, um, use of H2A visas, she compared that to indentured servitude. So right off the bat, the good doctor did not endear herself to a lot of the folks in Central Washington. Because, that is the lifeblood, uh, if you talk to a lot of the legal immigrant farmworkers, as I have, they will tell you, that there are dentists and doctors that come to Washington state to earn a substantial amount of money that they can take back and support themselves and create a better life for themselves in Mexico. And that this is sort of a net good thing for both sides of the equation.
We weren’t surprised, as we had been saying time and time again, that Congresswoman Schrier was out of touch on a lot of the important issues. She voted against rural broadband access, there was an opportunity to condemn the CHAZ and the CHOP in Seattle, she voted against that resolution. She voted to cut $22 million Byrne Criminal Justice Assistance Grants, police grants, away from local and state law enforcement. So, she’s really kinda been in lock step with the left of her party, and the “defund the police movement”.
She did not condemn the Seattle City Council, she did not speak on Chief Carmen Best’s resignation in Seattle. And people question, “Well, Jesse Seattle is outside of your district”? And that’s fair, but what is absolutely true is the cops, firefighters, and medics who work in Seattle live in my district. They live where I live. They work in that city and this is making demonstrably less safe. So, to finally answer your question, we were not surprised, because we had heard these sentiments time and time again.
We were shocked at how low she was. Our hope was we would have kept her below 50%, 43.31% I think is incredible and should absolutely move this race into the toss-up column. Anyone who says it’s not a tossup is not paying attention or does not understand Washington State politics.
Well it sounds like you were gauging the attitude on the ground even before these results. And that also leads kind of into another question. You mentioned this, but obviously police reform has been a big hot button issue, you know in contemporary political discourse, especially over the last few months. You obviously have a section on it on your campaign website. You’ve mentioned policing multiple times already. But especially given how big of an issue it’s been in Seattle, and in Washington State with CHAZ and CHOP and whatever you wanna call it. How have you seen that issue talked about by voters? How have you tried to talk to voters about that issue? And what kind of impact do you think it’s having on the race if anything?
Look, we know that 84% of the folks in the 8th Congressional District support local law enforcement. We have polling on that, that is supported 100% in conversations that we’re having with folks on the ground. We also know that police and sheriff’s departments need more funding not less to be able to do their job effectively. Police body cameras are not cheap. Training, anti-bias training is not cheap.
The results in Seattle totally demonstrate that cutting the police force is the best way to reduce diversity amongst the ranks. And we saw that in Seattle. With, of the 100 sworn officers that were cut, somewhere in the neighborhood of 90-95% of them were minority hires. So, you know, we’re seeing just time and time again, that the language and the discourse and the political slogans on the left are, uh, unfortunate, and they’re causing real harm.
That said, I have conversations with, uh, Pastor lambert in Auburn, who is the only Black pastor in that city, which is the largest city in the district. I have talked with Mayor Bacchus, who is the Mayor of Auburn. On Friday I am sitting down with the Chief of Police in Auburn. And I am trying to understand and to commend them, because they have been able to effect real actual change, without setting anything on fire. And the reason that they’ve been able to do that is because there has been such a prodigious effort at bridge building.
And that is the, another big watch word of our campaign, is servant leadership. No one asked me in the military if I was a Republican or Democrat, they just wanted us to get the job done. And that’s exactly what the City of Auburn has been able to do. The previous police chief had a complaints section on the website that if you filed a complaint it took you back to the homepage. And that was intentional.
And so, they have completely changed the way that they listen to their local populations, and we need to model that, and emulate that, because in my opinion, some of the best ideas come from those in the trenches. That was my philosophy in the military when I listened to my riflemen, and that will be my philosophy if I’m elected to represent the men and women of the 8th Congressional District, is I’m gonna listen to folks that are on the ground, that are actually doing the job, and are doing the job effectively.
Again that leads into another couple questions I have about the nuts and bolts of your campaign. And mainly one thing I wanted to ask about was the geographic diversity in the 8th District. You’ve mentioned obviously a lot of events you’ve done and you know some conversations you’ve had in and around Auburn, which is the district’s largest city. Your wife grew up there, I think you’ve mentioned. So, obviously, you know, the 8th District though stretches from Auburn which is the Seattle suburbs all the way out to some more rural areas in the middle part of the state. And so, how has your campaign tried to manage that kind of geographic diversity and that kind of size?
Yeah, and give me one second – I’m actually gonna start the car and switch over. Give me one second.
Yeah, so the 8th Congressional District is massive [inaudible] over 7,000 square miles, and as you said it ranges from, uh, from Issaquah, which is sort of a tech heavy high tech center, down through, Bonny Lake into Pierce County which is consistently becoming more and more sort of red. And then it stretches as you say out East through Ellensburg, the home of Central Washington University, one of sort of the biggest areas for farming out there [inaudible]. Goes up through Cashmere, and Wenatchee in Chelan where you have a lot of orchardists.
So, very few congressional districts in the United States cover such a diverse group of constituents. And, the thing that we have tried to do, is to listen to everyone. You know, I am fortunate to have grown up in a ranching and farming background, so that is a subset of the population I absolutely understand. Until I went off to college, and went to Microsoft, I really had no exposure to high tech, but again that is something that I did professionally. There’s a 10% veteran population in the 8th Congressional District, of which I am a member. So, there are so many different touch points that we feel that I am uniquely qualified to speak to. That we have really tried to again, provide everyone ample opportunity to be heard.
And, you know this is certainly something that were gonna continue to do, that we want to really make sure that that is front and center in our campaign. My campaign manager is a woman. We want to make sure that the fact that I’m a White male does not detract from who we are listening to, and who we’re talking to. As I said Pastor Lambert is one of our, sort of closest members of our kitchen cabinet. A Black pastor out of Auburn. And again, we’re trying to make sure that the incredibly diverse and fiercely competitive 8th Congressional District is heard, that those voices are heard in all aspects of our campaign.
I did want to ask, briefly, this race hasn’t been on many people’s radars, so how do you intend to more get on the radar, both nationally and in the state? And if you’d be willing to share any insight into what your campaign thinks the general election against Congresswoman Schrier looks like at this moment?
Sure, sorry, just to recap, your question was how are we gonna gain national attention and what does the election look like in November?
Yeah, or if your campaign insights in terms of numbers into that and if you’d be willing to share them? What your expectations are at this moment and what your numbers might say.
Sure, yeah, and I think it’s, it, you know you’ve written about it a little bit. But the top two sort of, jungle primary is so unqiue in the United States that there’s very little understanding of it outside of Washington State. Essentially what we just did was we conducted a 240,000 person poll with a 0% margin of error. And we know that the consolidated Republican field is winning this race. So, you know, that would hold true if this were held in a vacuum.
Certainly fundraising is going to be important. We have seen, a lot of interest and a lot of money coming in the door, which has been incredible and we’re gonna continue to see that. We absolutely believe we were already the NRCC’s Young Guns list, that is something that we will continue move through the various levels of that sort of designation at the national party level.
And we’ve already been fielding interest from national news organizations and the like. So we’re gonna continue to see the 8th Congressional District be a bellwether. This is very much a Cook Political Index EVEN district. And as I say, this has been represented for over 30 years by Republicans. I’m proud to have Congressman Dave Reichert’s, the previous occupant of this seat’s endorsement. I’m proud to have the son of Jennifer Dunn, Reagan Dunn the King County Council member’s endorsement.
This is something where we have sort of, all aspects of the 8th Congressional District. I’m proud to say that I had James Mitchell, who was one of my conservative Democratic opponents endorse me. I have a call with the independent in the race to sort of secure his endorsement. And, again we’ve just got such a groundswell of folks on the left, folks on the right, and folks in the middle, agree Congresswoman Schrier is. Not right for this district. She hasn’t been paying attention to this district, and the primary results show that.
You mentioned fundraising so I did want to ask you to expand on that a little bit if you can. If you know and if you’d be willing to share, has your camaping brought in significant fundraising since those jungle primary results?
Yeah, again as I say, we’re seeing a lot of folks making sizeable donations, you know we certainly understand there is a lot of interest there. And we will be happy to share it at our next financial disclosure.
One of the reasons this wasn’t on the radar was because it’s a Hillary Clinton won district, and the national polls and generally considered to be not super favorable for Republicans right now. Do you think the national environment and specifically do you think the President is going to have an impact on this race?
I mean Tip O’Neil said it best all politics is local. You know, there’s a lot of things that are going on the 8th Congressional District that the national organizations and the national media have not been paying attention to. And it’s interesting Congresswoman Schrier said recently that she’s been “Happy to vote with her party” because the nation feels very confident in the direction of the Democratic party. And that very well may be true, but its’ not true in the 8th Congressional District. And she has been running sort of a nation first, Nancy Pelosi first, she has a 100% voting record with Nancy Pelosi, and a 95% voting record with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
She also has a credibility problem. She went from saying she was going to be a pediatrician and a mom, a moderate who’s gonna work for everyone in the Congressional District, who may not even vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Fast forward again as I say, and she’s been 100% in lockstep. Certainly President Trump is very popular with certain aspects and certain voters in the 8th Congressional District, and he’s very much not popular with other voters in the 8th Congressional District.
What I will say as a 4 tour U.S. Army Special Operations combat veteran, with 4 tours as I say and two bronze stars, I’m always gonna support the Commander and Chief. That was true of George W. Bush, that was true of Barack Obama when I was a soldier both of those leaders. And it’s gonna be true whoever is the next President of the United States.
I personally am a Republican, I am voting for the Republican nominee for President. But you know, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to agree with him on every issue. I will vociferously defend the fiercely independent 8th Congressional District, and I will do what is right for the voters of the 8th Congressional District always, regardless of who is in the White House.
And I’ll also say, that I’ll be able to work with whoever is in the White House. Congresswoman Schrier was door-knocking in October of 2018, telling voters that she was gonna go to Washington D.C. to impeach the President of the United States. And she did exactly that, and she has accomplished very little outside of that.
Last question, if you’re elected to Congress, what would be your “day one issue” as some people call it? The first thing you’d really push for as an elected representative.
Right, and if you would have asked me that before, uh, you know, call it February I would have given you a completely different answer. But COVID is gonna be very much the day one task, right? I beoiueve that we need to protect, we need livelhoods right? We need to contain the spread of the virus, we need those that have the virus, and we need to protect the vulnerable populations that have it.
Unfortunately those on the left have completely ignored the livelihoods portion of that statement. My opponent said that recently we don’t need to go to restaurants, we don’t need to gather in groups of 5 people or more, and voted for a nationwide $15/Hour minimum wage. That is a perfect recipe to kill small businesses in the 8th Congressional District. So, I will focus incredibly hard on getting us out of this sort of, triple, or dual crises that we see with the economic crisis and the healthcare crisis.
That said, the other, one of the other key issues that I’m gonna work on is transportation issues. There’s an opportunity for us to create a conduit of public-private partnership to get more of the Timothy Hay in Ellensburg out to our ports, and to remove semi-trailers in the process by expanding the height of Stampede Pass. Again, this is super local small ball stuff, but this is what’s important the voters of the 8th Congressional District. Jobs in Central Washington, and reducing traffic in Western Washington, you know what I mean? And I could go on, for another five or siz issues here, but I won’t I’ll stop unless you want me to.
I was gonna say, if there’s anything to say, so if you wanna keep going on about local issues you’re welcome to but you know, if there’s anything you wanna say that you wanna get out there, feel free.
Look, well, yeah I think the one other thing that I would say is you know, the thing that I support is lower taxes, lower regulations, strong nationals defense. And I think that’s absolutely what I’m gonna go to Washington to fight for. I believe that we need to take care of the men women and children here in the 8th Congressional District. We need to focus on constituent services.
I’ve had the honor of speaking with general Mattis, Secretary Mattis, early on in the campaign. And he shared after we had about a 30 minute conversation: “Jesse, we need more young guys like you, guys who are willing to knock down the bad ideas on the right, willing to knock down he bad ideas on the left, and make the middle bigger for everybody”. And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to get stuff done, and accomplish things in D.C. for voters of the 8th Congressional District and not to support one party or another which is exactly what Congresswoman Schrier has done for the last two years.