This past week I got the opportunity to speak to Kate Bolz, the Democratic nominee in Nebraska’s 1st congressional district. The full transcribed interview with Kate is below and the full audio recording is at the end. You can either listen to it on our YouTube Channel or on our podcast providers. I want to thank Kate for taking the time to speak with me.
What inspired you to run for Congress?
I always tell folks that I made the decision to run for Congress while at home sitting in a church pew. I was at Sunday service back home in Palmyra and I had been thinking about running for Congress for a while. But as I was looking out at my congregation and at all the people I grew up with and loved, how important healthcare access was to them. How much they want good jobs so their kids can stay close to home. And how important it is to them to be able to afford prescription drugs. That the family farms in my area deserve protection.
I realized if someone was going to fight for my community and my values it would have to be me. And I’m very glad we did. We always wanted to talk about the priorities of good healthcare and jobs. Now that we are facing Coronavirus, those two issues are more important than ever.
How has COVID-19 affected the way you campaign?
Coronavirus has changed our tactics, but it hasn’t changed our approach or principles. What I mean by that is we’ve done more phone calls, spent more time on texts and zoom meetings than we expected to. But the principles that have been driving our campaign are that Nebraskan’s deserve someone who represents them, who represents their interests and someone who cares about serving the state. Not serving the partisan politics and the interest groups.
Throughout the pandemic we’ve maintained our commitment to talking to voters, to be present in communities and just keeping the priorities of the people in this district front and center. That has meant more phone calls. That has meant socially distanced tailgates. But it has never wavered from that fundamental principle that we want to represent Nebraskans.
You’re currently a Senator in Nebraska’s legislature, what made you decide to run for that?
I’m a Nebraska farm kid. My background is in social work and I really expected to be spending my career working with kids and families and people with disabilities. Certainly as a legislator I have done that. But I realized about a decade ago, I was working a job where I was answering legal questions on an intake line. And I answered question after question from families struggling with our child welfare system.
I realized that if someone was going to represent the values that I cared about and make the change I was looking for, it would have to be me. So I ran for Nebraska’s 29th district in 2012 and I won. I have made sure since then that I remain committed to my principles of serving families and making sure kids have a voice. Making sure that we make just decisions that keep the interests of the most vulnerable in line.
Nebraska’s legislature is also unique in that it is technically a nonpartisan legislature. Do you think that has helped you get more done during your time as Senator?
I’m so glad you asked that question because I am a strong believer in the Nebraska unicameral. I think the whole country could look to Nebraska as a way forward. Washington D.C is divided and is divisive and is too driven by special interest groups and partisan politics.
Nebraska’s system is not perfect nor is it exempt from partisan politics. But because we run on a non-partisan ticket, people vote for the person, not the party. Because our leadership is decided through a vote of the body, we tend to vote for the person who is best for the job. Because we don’t have caucuses or majority and minority leaders, we are better positioned to work on policy issues. And regardless of geographical or political differences we can come together to effect change in the best interests of our districts.
Certainly through my party registration I have always been a minority member of the body. So, every bill that I have passed has required support across party lines. But we have been better able to find those ways forward because of our commitment to maintaining the nonpartisan Nebraska unicameral.
Do you think your time in Nebraska’s legislature will give you the experience you need to go to Congress and get to work right away?
I absolutely do. Serving on the Nebraska Senate Appropriations Committee for eight years has taught me how to discern between wants and needs. It has taught me how to balance a budget and make tough decisions. And it has taught me how to work across the aisle. So, I’d certainly take that to Washington with me.
I’ve always been a pragmatic legislator. I have always been willing to roll up my sleeves to sit down and find a common ground. It takes practice to maintain your idealism and values while still finding a way forward. So I will certainly take that to Washington D.C.
You mention support for a public option for healthcare in this country. Why do you think that is the way to go and not Medicare for All like so many other Democrats believe is the way to go for healthcare?
I am really committed to a public option because I have spent the last year talking to the people of this district. And I think the public option is the best way forward for Nebraskan’s. We have talked with union leaders for hours who have fought for their particular healthcare benefits as part of their package. I have talked to people who work in the healthcare industry who because of their connections to the industry have put together a healthcare package that their employees really value and believe in. And I’ve talked to those who’ve purchased insurance through the private market and like it.
Certainly I’ve talked to hundreds of people who say it’s not affordable, there’s not enough in these plans, complaints about the price of prescription drugs. But at the end of the day I think a plethora of options is the best fit for Nebraskans. I don’t think anyone should ever go without health insurance. That’s part of our commitment to allow people to pursue life, liberty and happiness. That public option is essential. I just believe that having multiple options on the table help people with their healthcare needs.
You mention getting tough on China, which is a message that most would say they haven’t seen from Democrats in the past. Do you think your party needs to take a tougher stance on China and its government?
I do think that should take a tough stance on China, but I also believe it has to be a balanced and diplomatic approach. I don’t believe in President Trump’s punitive approach to China because it has cost Nebraska farmers and Ag producers over a million dollars in the past year.
To a tough approach, there are parts that are important. We cannot allow human rights violations. We can’t tolerate the stealing of intellectual property. But at the same time China has a huge global market for us and Nebraskan farmers and ranchers have built up those markets over time. There are times when we shoulder tough and times we should be willing to find common ground. At the end of the day, I think a more diplomatic approach is what’s necessary. And we cannot take a tough approach and be blind to the interests of our Ag economy. When we get tough, we can’t leave the farmers behind.
What is your position on the use of tariffs, especially in connection with China?
At the end of the day there are reasons to use tariffs. What my argument is as a representative of Nebraska is if farmers and ranchers have to sacrifice in the name of making a bigger bargain that has not materialized. So, there are multiple paths forward. But that path forward can’t continue to ask farmers and ranchers to sacrifice or believe there will be on going payments that have no guarantee. I know because of my farm background and my commitment to Nebraska agriculture, Nebraska producers want to be able to sell their products and to make a fair deal. They don’t want to rely on a government check. There is a pathway forward, but it will take more diplomacy and less of a punitive approach.
The 1st district is a race not many expect to be competitive come November. Why do you think you as a candidate might be moving the needle on that?
I think that anyone who doesn’t see how Nebraska’s first congressional district could be competitive is simply wrong. We have both rural and urban representation in the district. Nebraskans are independent minded. We are still rooted in those ideals that inspire the Nebraska unicameral. And I think at the end of the day Nebraska voters still want the best person for the job.
One of my critiques of Washington D.C is it’s become so partisan that we’ve taken a step back from representative democracy. I think a candidate like me can be successful because my campaign is rooted in those Nebraska values that serve Nebraskans.
All of that said there are other indicators as well. The population centers have typically gone more Democratic over the past few years. The district voted for Medicaid expansion on the ballot by nine points. I think there is a softening of the electorate and our polling data has shown Biden within two points of Trump in this district. So I think the right candidate, with the right message and the right heart for the district can win. I think I am that candidate.
To continue on this, internal polling has shown this race being close. What do you think is the biggest reason behind these numbers?
I really truly believe in representative democracy and serving the people. And that’s the way I’ve run my campaign. I’ve spent hours and hours knocking on doors and making phone calls in this campaign to talk person to person with voters. The most common theme is a frustration with Washington D.C and how it functions. Nebraskans want common ground, they want common sense and they want a representative who will represent their interests. Whether it’s easy or hard, whether it’s in line with a partisan view or not. And I think that is some of what you’re seeing is people are fed up with politics as usual and they’re looking for people who have integrity and people who want to represent their best interests.
Beyond that I do think that healthcare is the number one issue in this race. It is top of mine because of the healthcare needs in this country and it’s top of mine because of coronavirus. Certainly both myself and Joe Biden are healthcare champions while Congressman Fortenberry has voted against healthcare access at every turn.
Have you been surprised by the amount of support you’ve gotten so far?
I have not been surprised by the amount of support I’ve gotten in this campaign. I have been honored and grateful. Certainly this has been a campaign driven by the people of Nebraska. Over 90% of our donors are from Nebraska and individual donors. I’m honored by that and I think it shows the strength of this campaign and how much Nebraska believes in us and our values.
What is your day-one issue if you get elected to Congress?
My day one issue probably is healthcare. My day one issue more specifically is affordability of prescription drugs. It’s an issue I worked on in the Nebraska unicameral related to the affordability of insulin for individuals with diabetes. Across ages, across geographic areas, across partisan lines, people are clamoring for someone to advocate for their interest to be able to afford life saving medication and I’m eager to get to work on that.