Congressional Candidates Want Medicare For All and to Impeach Trump. Money divides them
www.coloradoan.com | June 13, 2018
The Democratic primary between Joe Neguse and Mark Williams is likely the race that will decide Fort Collins’ next congressman in a deep blue district.
The two men seeking to be the spiritual, and literal, successor to U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in representing Colorado’s Second Congressional District share similar platforms: Both advocate for single-payer health care, such as Medicare for All; both would immediately support articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump; and, while they have their own takes, both would prioritize the environmental protections.
But it’s also a race where Neguse has former Vice President Joe Biden singing his praises in robocalls to voters while Williams characterizes himself as an “independent Democrat” in the vein of Bernie Sanders due to his lack of party support.
That support gap is also apparent in campaign fundraising: Neguse raised more than $600,000 by April, the last filing date. Williams reported less than $55,000.
The district itself leans heavily Democratic, with population centers including Boulder, Fort Collins and Vail. Since it was redrawn after the 2010 census, Polis’ narrowest margin of victory was by more than 13 percentage points.
The winner of this contest will face Republican Peter Yu, Libertarian Roger Barris and independent candidate Nick Thomas in November.
Here’s a look at Neguse and Williams at a glance:
Why they’re running
Both candidates describe a gut-punch element to why they’re seeking the nomination, and each frames their decision to run in terms of “the Republic is at stake.”
Neguse is the son of refugees from Eritrea, a war-torn country in the horn of Africa. His parents were granted asylum in the United States 35 years ago and eventually became naturalized citizens while raising Neguse and his sister here.
Neguse points to issues of immigration and President Donald Trump’s “s—hole countries” description of African countries from which refugees are fleeing as an impetus for his campaign. In June, an Eritrean national, denied asylum in the United States, killed himself during his deportation. He sought asylum due to “fear of returning to his country,” according to the Associated Press.
“How could I not (want to serve in Congress), when I think about my parents who immigrated to this country 35 years ago and how different their lives would be and my life would be if they tried to immigrate today,” Neguse said in an interview. “Just fundamentally, everything is at stake this election.”
After Trump was elected in November 2016, Williams recalls his older daughter calling him from Holland, in tears, and saying how she was “just so embarrassed to be an American.” A month before the election, a 2005 recording of Trump surfaced where he bragged about sexually assaulting women because “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Several women have accused Trump of sexually assaulting them in the manner he described on the tape.
Williams characterized Trump supporters as wanting to give a “middle finger” to “establishment politics.” He said he draws inspiration from people-focused politics, in the vein of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.
Neguse’s quick entrance into the congressional race after Polis declared for governor raised Williams’ suspicions that the party was anointing a successor in Congress. He drew a line between that and the “original sin” of both parties relying on corporate money and decided to jump into the race.
“I have no bone to pick with Joe,” Williams said. “He’s a nice guy. But he’s living in the world of old politics.”
The question of whether Congress should move on articles of impeachment against Trump doesn’t require any contemplation by Neguse or Williams.
Neguse answers “yes” almost reflexively.
“I think there is certainly enough evidence across a wide variety of issues that would warrant beginning those impeachment proceedings,” he said. “Just look at the constitutional provision on impeachment, with respect to high crimes and misdemeanors, and the evidence that is in the public record. I would expect that evidence is even more significant with respect to what’s classified and not available to the public.”
Williams refers to resisting Trump — which includes supporting impeachment — as a baseline for someone seeking to represent the district. He points to evidence of collusion with foreign governments being dug up by a special counsel investigation into Trump’s campaign to begin with.
He also alleges rafts of “low-level corruption” in the administration and names Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke as an example. Zinke faced Senate questions over his travel and office spending in March, though his travel habits were cleared by an inspector general in April. Several other cabinet members have been accused of financial malfeasance, and some have resigned or been fired as a result
Polis voted to start impeachment proceedings against Trump in December. He was one of 58 Democrats to vote for the resolution, with the rest of the House Democrats and all Republicans opposed.
Medicare for all?
Likewise, both candidates support the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, which Polis signed onto in April 2017. But differences lie in how they talk about the issue.
Williams refers to it as a baseline for Democrats and progressives and thinks it would be a relatively easy sell to the business community, particularly tech entrepreneurs. Health care costs can be huge factors in those industries in particular, he said. The Affordable Care Act has shown it doesn’t go far enough to help people without business-sponsored health care, Williams said.
“I got brutalized (by the ACA exchanges),” he said. “That’s my lived experience. It’s not theoretical to me.”
Neguse said Medicare for all should be the goal for a Democratic Congress, but that he would support a government insurance option that people could buy into, commonly known as a public option, as part of general support for “any effort to improve the system that we have.”
“Ultimately, public policy is iterative,” Neguse said. “The Affordable Care Act improved our country a lot. Millions of people have health care that didn’t have it before at all. But there’s some people that it’s not working for.”
What about the environment?
A lot of Williams’ philosophy can probably be summed up in one of his environmental goals: “Good, blue-collar union jobs in renewable (energy).”
He doesn’t want to talk compromise on hydraulic fracturing, either. He supports a proposed 2,500-foot setbacks and ending subsidies for oil and gas companies. But if he had his wish, it would be “ban fracking.” He added for emphasis, “B. A. N. it.” and help transition workers in fossil fuel industries toward renewable energy work.
Neguse calls climate change an “existential issue,” particularly for an expecting father. He supports a fee-and-dividend program to reduce carbon emissions, which boils down to a tax on carbon-based fuels and using the collected money to pay for transition to a green economy.
He likewise supports ending subsidies for oil and gas companies, and a ban on fracking on federal lands.
“At the end of the day, we have to be committed to making progress on these issues,” Neguse said.
But how will they work with Republicans?
For any efforts on Medicare for all or impeachment to gain traction in Congress, Democrats would likely need control of both chambers — no sure thing after the November elections. And even with a so-called blue wave, there would still be Republicans in Congress.
Neguse said affordable housing is an area “we need to make progress on,” and said he believes he could work with Republicans in increasing the nation’s affordable housing trust fund. Addressing the “mental health crisis” is another bipartisan issue. He pointed out the Republican-led National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act as something he’d be involved in.
“I think this is a huge issue that we have to tackle, and we have to work across party lines in order to tackle it,” he said.
Williams noted that there is some divide among Republicans on the Patriot Act over privacy concerns — concerns that he shares and would work with them on.
Moderate Republicans, such as Aurora’s U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, are also working on immigration issues, such as resolving the limbo of undocumented immigrants who had DACA protections, Williams said, another topic he’s eager to resolve.
So what’s the difference?
There’s an argument to be made that it’s a matter of degrees between Neguse and Williams on big-ticket Democratic values. It’s experience — and party backing — that really separates them.
Neguse helped found New Era Colorado, a youth-focused voter registration and mobilization effort. While still in the University of Colorado law school, he was elected to serve on the University of Colorado Board of Regents. And then he was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to run the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies.
“I think it’s important to have folks with a track record they can point to, that have progressive values and results,” Neguse said.
Williams said politics was never on his planned career path. He served in the U.S. Air Force as a fighter pilot during the first Gulf War and later as an intelligence officer as part of the Air Force Reserves. Then he founded Dynamic Human Solutions, which he describes as combining meditation skills and the focus needed for high achievement. He wears the label non-establishment as a badge and already says he’d refuse to “dial for dollars” if sent to Washington, D.C.
“It’s time for citizen candidates to take back our politics and take back our country,” he said.
About the candidates
Lives in: Lafayette
Occupation: Co-founder of New Era Colorado, former University of Colorado regent and head of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.
Lives in: Boulder
Occupation: CEO of Dynamic Human Solutions, former chair of Boulder County Democrats, former U.S. Air Force pilot