Utah’s 2nd Congressional District is the largest in Utah, covering nearly half the state geographically. Over the years, it’s hopped back and forth from red to blue in terms of the House representative.
This year, it’s anybody’s game.
Kael Weston won the Democratic nomination during the party’s state convention April 25, heading straight to the November ballot to face incumbent Chris Stewart.
However, before he threw his hat into the ring to serve in Congress, Weston had already been a familiar face to Westminster College’s campus — spending time as a writer-in-residence and professor for the Honors College.
As a former University of Utah student struggling with loan debt and a professor teaching among college students dealing with similar concerns, Weston said he believes his campaign platform resonates with the everyday Utahns.
“My issues are your issues,” Weston told The Forum. “I know what it means to wake up thinking, ‘How am I going to make this work?’”
Weston also has an extensive background working in government, serving 11 years in the U.S. State Department — with seven of those years as an adviser for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This “serious background,” Weston said, has readied him to represent thousands of people in the 2nd congressional district.
“I don’t think every biography needs to be the same at all,” Weston said. “I think a variety and diversity is incredibly important. And while I’m not in favor of having another middle-aged white guy in Congress — because there’s too many people like me in that category — beyond those adjectives I’ve got some experience and background that I think are pretty serious.”
Weston will face Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) who has held the seat since 2013.
The Forum spoke with Weston in an exclusive interview, discussing what his goals and priorities would be if elected. You can listen to the third episode of the Behind the Ballot here — or on Apple podcasts and SoundCloud.
Below is a written transcript of the full interview with Weston with editor-in-chief Cami Mondeaux. Answers have been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.
CAMI MONDEAUX: I’m here with Kael Weston, the Democratic candidate for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. Weston advanced to the November ballot straight from the Democratic state convention. Most of our listeners actually know Kael personally, because he spent time as a writer-in-residence here at Westminster. So, thank you so much for joining me today, Kael.
KAEL WESTON: Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity. Like you said, Westminster connection to Westminster connection.
CM: So today, we’re actually going to be diving into Kael’s campaign and what his goals and priorities would be if he is elected. Especially the issues college students care the most about. But first, I’m really interested in hearing from you, Kael — you know, the big question of what you decide to run for Congress?
KW: That’s a good one, because you know I think it’s a serious time for our state and for our district, and I think for our country. I didn’t jump up and down right away saying this was something I envisioned myself doing. But I also believe I have some biography and background that lends itself to some of the challenges I think that the district has right now.
I think number one that would probably be a lot of division. My 11 years in the State Department met a lot of bridge-building and I think one of the big points I’d like to emphasize is while we can’t necessarily — shouldn’t agree on every issue, I think there are issues where we can agree on.
I also think that there’s been a real disconnect in this district specifically, where I feel like the incumbent Chris Stewart has treated his role to be more of a drive-by, no-show candidate. I think that in order to earn the title of “representative” you really do need to do exactly that: earn it.
Then there were two themes and two issues that we started off by focusing on. One of the big things, of course, is country over party. I believe that neither party has all the answers and I think now is a time where we need to look at what’s in our nation’s interests, not just what’s in a party’s interest.
I think that’s a big difference between me and him.
I think we need to be better neighbors. I was saying that before COVID and I think COVID has only reinforced it. If our neighbors down the street don’t have health care, that affects all of us. And the two issues, of course, one is health care and then based on my own biography and what I taught students at Westminster about is war and peace.
I don’t ever want young people from Utah or from any part of our country to go to a war that should’ve never started. So those are some of the reasons, and maybe we’ll have the opportunity to talk about my family roots in the district, particularly in my parents growing up in the rural areas in Beaver County and Milford.
And then why CD2, being such a big district — half the state geographically, I think — is an opportunity to do exactly what I said before: To bridgebuild. To show that if a voter in rural Utah is concerned about health care, that’s not different from a voter up north in Salt Lake City which is also in the district concerned about health care.
So I love that it’s a big gerrymandered district, ironically. (laughs)
CM: (laughs) And I know, I mean, correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think you’ve held elected office before but you do have an extensive background working in the government. So why do you think that you’re a better candidate for the 2nd Congressional District?
KW: Sure, and it’s a long list why I believe — I’m obviously prepared to do this. I try not to turn this into a hit-list on Chris Stewart.
KW: Other people can do that. But I do think it’s a clear choice. I haven’t run for office since high school, but I’ve never lost an election in Utah. And I don’t intend to lose now. (laughs) But my background is very serious.
I believe what prepared me to say I can represent a district of about 700,000 close people is — I spent 11 years representing our country overseas and at the United Nations. So, that’s good professional experience that when you know, you have a microphone in front of you and the red light is on and it doesn’t say your name, it says “United States” I think that biography is what we need more and we need people who are diplomatic by nature. Who are looking to find common ground.
I do think that he, unfortunately, treats his job to be Trump’s representative to the district, and not to be the representative of the people of the 2nd Congressional District to Washington. I think he’s been on cruise control.
And I’m not just saying that, I actually have been out on the road for the last couple of months. 4,000 miles in my old 17-year-old truck and what I ask people across my district, “When was the last time that Chris Stewart was in your area?” They usually say, “It’s been at least two years and sometime’s it’s been longer.”
That means he’s not doing what I think a representative needs to do. Even in a district as big as CD2. I think, again, I should let everyone know the map is about half the state geographically. It goes from Antelope Island, Bountiful, all the way down to St. George on the Arizona border. Over to Lake Powell, big water, all the way up through the beautiful national parks — Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Staircase Escalante National Monument — all the way up to basically Manti. And then Salt Lake City.
So, it’s huge. It’s complicated politically but that’s why I love it.
CM: And then you did mention you’re facing Rep. Chris Stewart who is an incumbent, and he has held the seat since 2013. The 2nd Congressional District has always been a mixed bag, jumping back and forth from Republican to Democrat. So, do you have the confidence you can turn it back to blue and why do you think you’d be the best candidate to do so?
Because obviously, Ben McAdams is the only Democrat we have in Congress right now. Do you think you could be another Democrat in Congress in such a traditionally red state?
KW: That’s a good question. I think if you look at the polling, that’s one indicator. The last two big polls from KUTV and Utah Policy put Chris Stewart at 38% and 44%. So that’s not just me spinning.
That’s two big polls that show he’s under 50%, but he’s actually under 45%. That’s not a place any incumbent wants to be. But I think we can win on issues. I think that the issues this year favor Democrats.
Why? People have lost their health care because they have lost their jobs. Millions of Americans have lost their health care because of what’s happening with COVID. I think one of the other issues is that I’ve got a serious background in policy and in governing at the national level and overseas.
I often say that bad governing or dysfunctional government can get you killed. And we saw that with the Iraq war and we’re seeing it with COVID. And I think, and I’ll be honest, I think Chris Stewart is exactly the Republican I want to be running against because he has not provided himself any space.
Mitt Romney has by standing up, I think on principle, when he disagrees with Donald Trump. Some of the other politicians who have R behind their name I think are just more effective at not being viewed as a Trump totem.
I think Stewart’s getting the reputation of putting Donald Trump in front of the interests of the district.
CM: So, we’ll just get into some of the issues now and where you stand. I’ve done some research and talked to different college students that I know to find out what the most important voting issues are for them. So I have about five, and we’ll just go right through them and see how you would address them or prioritize issues within those.
CM: So, the first one is on health care — which you have talked about a little bit. Lot of college students view the health care in this country as too expensive. A lot of college students that I talked to supported Bernie Sanders and his idea for Medicare for All.
I was curious what your thoughts are on the state of health care in the U.S.
KW: Great question, and the state of health care is abysmal. It’s really almost criminal what happens when people go bankrupt over medical costs. Let me give you some personal background.
When I was in the State Department I had the best health care. I had what basically what members of Congress have. I never worried about the bill. It was, you know, cheap and I was fully, fully covered.
When I became a teacher and a writer — in fact, when I transitioned from my State Department career to teach and become a writer, I went on the individual market. So I’ve been on the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, for a decade. Every fall, I get a letter from SelectHealth and I’ve got basically 10 days to decide, “Do I say yes?”
But if I don’t say yes, then what happens?
I think I’m a much more relatable candidate this year because, based on that I’ve lived the unpredictability of our current health care system. So one of the big differences between me and Stewart is that he’s attacked the Affordable Care Act. He’s consistently tried to undercut and he’s even said defund Obamacare.
We just put out, I think a very important message when he said he has worked on this National Suicide Hotline — which is a good thing. But it doesn’t detract from dozens of dozens of votes to basically take away the mental health coverage the Affordable Care Act actually, historically put to the American people.
So he can’t have it both ways. His record speaks for itself.
On the “For All,” I think that a public option is a root that many people support. Mainly because it’s in the frame of not taking away private health insurance from people. But there’s a caveat there.
I think what COVID has shown is we can’t wait. We pledge allegiance to our country and at the very end it’s “for all.” And I think until we get to a situation where health care is truly for all, we’re failing the people.
And I know college students are considered to be young and healthy, and you don’t have to worry about it as much as elderly people. But I disagree. I think that if you’re a member of our society, no one should fear going to a hospital because of cost. It’s a value proposition.
And I’ll end with this: For me, governing and why I’m running is often about what surrounds the right thing to do. I think sometimes we overcomplicate our politics. Usually, you can say, “That’s the right thing to do. It’s the right value we have.” And if we believe in an educated population, I think we need to also be and fight for a healthy population.
RACIAL JUSTICE AND POLICE REFORM
CM: Moving on to the next one: This next one has to do with racial injustice and police reform, which we’ve seen a lot of in the last few weeks with national protests and even protests here in Salt Lake City.
Starting off with what your thoughts are on the current state of policing in this country.
KW: We need to reform the police in a serious way. I’m not for quote “defunding” the police because I think it’s thrown out there as a political headline. The police are doing things that a lot of the police don’t want to be doing right now.
I think it’s about re-prioritizing what law enforcement has been doing that they shouldn’t be doing. Now, also to be blunt: I don’t think we need a militarized police force.
I spent a lot of time in Hum-Vs and around our Marine Corps in war zones and what we don’t need is to have our American city streets look like Falugia or look like Helmut. I’m different that way. I can speak what it’s like to be in a combat zone and we don’t need to have military Hum-Vs driving up and down our cities except for maybe the most extreme, rare situations and I haven’t seen one of those yet.
I think that, on June 19 I was in Escalante, Utah, and I participated in a demonstration there — a walk through town. It was our way I think of even showing that in rural Utah, these issues resonate.
Granted, while we were on the streets marching and holding up signs, there were big trucks with Trump 2020 signs circling around us. So, it shows the split, the divide and I think that’s something that’s unfortunate and very dangerous actually if we don’t find ways to come together.
So, I’m for reforming the police in a serious way. I’ve heard police unions talk about some of the concerns they have, but none of them are really arguing that reforms aren’t necessary.
And then I think it comes to justice. You know, if we’re going to believe in justice as a principle in our country, are we actually going to deliver on that?
My role running for a federal job would be to look at the ways those protections could be nationalized. So while law enforcement is often funded locally and a lot of those issues are left to mayors or governors, I think as a member of Congress there’s a way to say, “Hey, if you’re going to get federal resources there’s going to be some uniformity.”
No chokeholds, for example. Certain tactics that are just not good for anyone and can get people killed. So those would be the places I would start.
CM: And I know, like you said “defunding” the police has been used for some people to say, “Oh you want no police at all.” And other people having definitions.
What would that reform look like to you specifically, do you have any specific ways to reform?
KW: Yeah, I think if you look at mental health issues in any community — I think that some of those resources that maybe go toward equipment or vehicles could actually be redirected in a way that’s more community-oriented.
I think training, I think there’s some legitimate criticisms about, “Is it easier to become a member of the police force than it is to be qualified as an electrician?” I think those are some examples of what is the standardization of qualifications and training that should be assumed before someone wears a badge?
I think the no-knock warrants is another area that I think is problematic. But I think it’s when town or community is trying to find out, “Where do we put our money?” I think that law enforcement is important, I’m never going to advocate that we get rid of any police force.
But I think we need to make sure those standards are high and I think when you look at, probably some of the union protections that make it hard for problematic members of the police to be fired or that they’re easily rehired — those are areas that I think need to be reformed.
But it’s also, again, some issues are tied to health, are tied to resources that a police officer isn’t qualified to give. Families aren’t necessarily qualified to give it. So I think what this issue has highlighted is that — and as COVID — is that our country doesn’t have a social safety net. And we need one.
And I’m running on that, too. That social safety net cannot be two threads thick. It can’t be tied two pieces of string together and think that that’s going to hold. It won’t hold and it hasn’t held, for sure in the last year.
CM: Moving on to the third issue that I have here: immigration and specifically DACA. There have been recent moves from ICE wanting to bar international students from staying in the country if schools are all online. They did recently backtrack a bit on that, but I was curious what your thoughts are and what your goals or priorities would be in regards to international students especially amid student visas being put on hold during the coronavirus.
KW: Oh, I feel very strongly about this. When I was a student at the University of Utah I worked at the international center and every fall I would welcome the international students in. I mean, I’ve lived and studied abroad for me and my career in the State Department.
As a kid, I had maps on my wall. I had national parks and ski maps, but really it was maps of the world on my wall.
So one of the tragedies right now is that it’s like our administration wants to pull the drawbridge up and say, “Stay away. Stay out.”
We’re a strong country because we’ve always been a welcoming country. And I know the administration had to reverse their position about not allowing new international students coming in and I think it’s tragic that we’ve gotten to a point where we’re not viewed as welcoming.
We’re viewed as trying to keep people away.
So those visas, I support. And I’ve lived those issues when I was a student employee at the University of Utah at the international center there.
I think on DACA, I’m for a pathway to citizenship and I’m definitely not in favor of rounding anyone up and saying, “Because you were young when you got here you’re somehow less than anyone else.” So, there’s a DREAMERS Act and I support a pathway to citizenship.
And I think because of public opinion and people standing up and speaking out, and a majority of the people support a reasonable approach to immigration, the administration’s had to pull back.
And that’s one of the messages I would put to all of you listening: Now is not the time to be a bystander or to be quiet. We need to let people know where we stand and whether that’s writing a letter to the editor, whether that’s calling your member of Congress, whether it’s telling your friends, “Hey there’s something going on that we need to speak out about.”
You guys are students at a time that’s incredibly important. I’m reassured when I see some of what my former students are doing and how you’re all being involved. And the fact that you’re asking questions like these and having this interview — it shows you’re engaged and that’s hugely important.
The question I have is, are young people going to vote? (laughs) Because that’s sometimes the gap. If you’re actively involved and don’t vote, that causes its own kind of problem.
CM: And you’re also in a unique position. Being someone who’s taught, you’ve been interacting with international students for a very long time. Do you think that gives you a unique perspective that should be in Congress when these decisions are being made?
KW: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I think it’s being a teacher, a writer and a diplomat. I mean, what do we usually have in Congress? Lawyers. (laughs)
Usually, the tract of politics is — and I love lawyers, I’m not against lawyers. They have an important role in our society and some of my daughters are lawyers, but I think we need variety in Congress. I wouldn’t have been prepared, I think, to say I could talk about war and peace in Congress if I haven’t led 7 years consecutively in war zones, right?
I don’t think every biography needs to be the same at all. I think a variety and diversity is incredibly important and while I’m not in favor of having another middle-aged white guy in Congress because there’s too many people like me in that category, beyond those adjectives I’ve got some experience and background that I think are pretty serious.
In fact, really serious. And it’s a serious year so you know, Cami, when I started running people would say, “Kael you’re so serious.” Well, serious is in right now. Because I think if you don’t have a serious approach to what government does for us when it works or what it could cost us when it doesn’t work, you probably ought to be in some other line of work.
Because governing for me is an incredibly serious business. I saw the Iraq War, the costs that war took for the Iraqi people, for our service members and their families and so I think I bring some scar tissue but some wisdom that comes with that.
To say at this point in my life I’m ready to represent 700,000+ people. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready.
CM: And then moving on to the next issue I have is with climate change. Climate change has been a bigger issue among college students, especially because they consider themselves the generation that’s going to have to deal with the most drastic effects of climate change. So I was curious what would be your specific goals or what you would focus on concerning climate in Congress?
KW: Well, I would say there’s three levels. First, we need to get back into the international discussions. Right now, the Trump Administration has pulled our representation on some of the big international discussions going on. For me, as a former State Department person who’s sat in those rooms trying to negotiate — not on climate but on other issues on behalf of our country.
That’s the first place I would start, making sure we’re leading in an international way. Because of course, we have a huge role when it comes to pollution and carbon and those issues. And if we’re not at the table then we’re not part of the solution.
Second, I think Congress does have a role: pollution doesn’t stay in borders. The inland port’s in the district and I’m following that issue pretty closely. I think I have some views on it, some people say, “Well that’s a local issue.”
Well, pollution isn’t a local issue. Trucking that’s maybe not looked at strategically isn’t just a local issue. And then if you go down to the district level, I’ll give you some specific examples.
If you look at Beaver County, you got a pig farm there and it employs a lot of people. So there’s an economic basis for that. But the pig farm also has smell and pollution issues related to it. And then you look beyond the pig farm in Beaver County, and you’ve got solar and wind. You’ve got solar panels and you’ve got a wind farm.
To me, that’s a great example specifically in CD2 of the transition that we need to move toward because there are jobs in the green areas. I’m not against a tax, I mean I’m not a fearful politician that says, “Oh my gosh, people won’t vote for you if you ever mention we need to pay more to help our environment.”
I know some people think I’m maybe too forward on that, but I think the gas tax is something to look at. I think we’re a time where the overall relationship between us and our government is all in flux right now because of COVID and because of the economic situation. And I think the environment figures into that as well. So we’ve got, and one of the things I’m most proud about, is we’ve got a model of support for our campaign based on how the State Department assigns desk officers to issues.
So, I’ve got a mini squad of people looking at green issues specifically and in fact, we were just in touch with Rocky Mountain Power looking at what they’re doing to help people who maybe can’t pay their utilities because of COVID and some of the economic burdens they have.
But also how Rocky Mountain Power is prioritizing moving away from carbon to green sources of energy. So, again the district is big and complicated but it allows us to get into these issues in a really substantive way.
And I’ll end with one more and we probably don’t have time to get into it but it’s water. How do you look at water in the state of Utah, which is the second driest in the country after Nevada. And how do I have discussions with farmers about what might be a mega-drought that’s beginning.
And that I think enables us to bridge between the environmental community and maybe the agricultural community.
Final part, I don’t ever treat all farmers or ranchers the same. The more you get into the room and listen to each other, the more you see that actually there’s a lot of diversity within groups as well. That’s where you find the bridges.
CM: And then moving onto the fifth and final issue that I have.
KW: Student loans?
CM: That’s exactly what it is, yeah (laughs) On education and student debt. Because this is, unfortunately a reality among me and my friends, you know, and especially going to school today so I was curious what your goals and priorities would be if you were elected in terms of student debt and stuff like that?
KW: Yup. Well, again I’ll speak to my biography. I lived it.
When I graduated from the University of Utah 24 years ago, give or take, 22 years ago or something like that. I had almost $25,000 worth of debt – which in today’s dollars would probably be $40,000 or $45,000. So, it was a significant amount of money.
I don’t regret it, but I needed those loans to pay for my education and actually those loans total some of my graduate studies as well. But anyway, it was about $25,000 when I finally had to start paying the bill.
So, I’m not speaking about this issue theoretically. I actually lived it. It took me until I got to Iraq to pay off those loans and I always say I don’t recommend going to a war zone to pay off your student loans. But that’s basically what it took me.
Total forgiveness, I’m still understanding that. I think in principle it’s the right goal. In pragmatics, I’m not sure right now how quickly we could get there. But I do know this, and my students at Westminster really helped educate me about this:
The student debt burden has, and I’m holding up my hand, has gone up too dramatically. I mean it’s almost like a straight line up. When I was in college two decades ago, it was not as steep. But I think there’s been a real disconnect about the burden that’s been put on students relative to what economically, I think is reasonable.
So one of the models I think that, and I’ll talk concretely here, is I think there’s a way to look at indexing income and student loan forgiveness or payback. I think some forgiveness given the economic situation makes sense. And if I can get smart enough where I can say, “Hey total forgiveness is the way to go,” and I know that’s Bernie’s position and I like Elizabeth Warren a lot as well because she’s very detailed on her policies.
Then I think it gives your generation a chance because you’re also facing an economic challenge and a job situation that I’m sure is very scary. What kind of job can you get to start to pay down that student loan debt.
And I think as a member of Congress, I would be very focused on that because I lived it. And I can tell you I was very happy when I sent in my last payment to Melnat — which was the service provider that covered my student loans, they were based in Iowa. And I remember as a $200 or $300 check I think and it was a great relief when I didn’t have that debt anymore.
I think one thing that the Obama Administration did that I didn’t benefit from but I’m glad is still more or less in place is the direct lending from the government to students. Because when I was taking out loans I had to pay banks $800 or $900 and I thought, “Well what are they doing?” (laughs)
All they were doing was getting money from me and other students which is just moving paper. So I think the goal is to find the reasonable approach and I think that some forgiveness would probably be part of that. I don’t yet have a firm position on total forgiveness because I just haven’t had time to really look at the numbers.
But I think it’s an important issue we address because there needs to be a fairness principle I think in taking out loans and then the repayment. Or forgiveness.
CM: And I feel like you also have a unique position on that as well, because like you said you talked to students about this specific issue and your views are almost completely informed by them. Do you think that’s a voice missing from Congress that you can provide?
KW: Oh I know it is. Because I was teaching when Westminster made the decision about the tuition increase. I’ll tell you about the exact story.
We were at the end of the semester time frame and we were having a farewell, kind of a “good luck” breakfast at Blue Plate. And I did, I said, “Tell me what y’all think.” And one of the students, I remember, she said, “You know what, this is unfortunately doing is it’s creating a divide among those students whose parents have the means to cover the bill and those students who don’t.”
And it’s unfair, right, that you don’t penalize because of that but it becomes a divide. I remember there was a student who I had read an article saying, as I was, if a bill went up $500 or $1,000 that was where I had to decide can I continue to pay that tuition. And I was a working student as well, so I worked my whole way through college.
So yes, what I really benefited is while even in the Westminster tuition situation, I was still on campus when that hit. It was toward the end there. But I remember at that breakfast I went around and said, “Tell me what you guys are thinking.” Because I have my own views, but I was able to hear directly from my Honors students.
And I had a lot of great classes where we were small enough to really go deep on issues.
So I think that the model I experienced is different now. You guys are expected to pay a lot more and I’m not sure that model was ever sustainable. And that our government has a role to come and say an educated population is good for all of us. And we don’t want students to be so overburdened with debt that you can never get out from under that. Try and get a mortgage try and get to the point in your lives where you can save again.
And I think that’s what Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are particularly effective at highlighting is that the deal is no longer a fair deal.
WHY COLLEGE STUDENTS SHOULD VOTE
CM: So then just as a final closing, just get a statement from you on your campaign as a whole, and then also why college students should use this election to vote because as you said earlier, college students are kind of notorious for not voting. (laughs)
But why should they include their voice in this election especially?
KW: Well, I’m going to start with that one first. Because apathy is something that is easy to fall into. And it’s not just young people, it’s everyone. We get busy. We get focused on other things.
COVID has isolated us even more. But I think it’s at times when the stakes are the highest that you’ve got to fight the apathy the most, and I’m more hopeful about this, I do think that young people are going to vote.
I don’t want to presume that for everyone. But if you don’t vote, it’s on you. If you don’t actually take your voices from online and maybe in newspapers or in your groups to actually the ballot box on Nov. 3.
It’s unfortunate, but if you don’t get people in government that actually care about the issues that you’ve cared about or that you fought for, then we’re back to where we were before. So I would say that in 2020, it is, I would argue, one of the most important elections that we’re going to have for a long time, because we kind of know where we are.
It’s a referendum on Trump and the Trump Administration and I think a referendum on people who blindly support him like Chris Stewart.
And it’s taking a stand and saying, “My vote does matter. It does matter even in a gerrymandered district.”
And that’s why I say that if Chris Stewart’s at 44% or 38% every vote is going to matter in Salt Lake City, every vote is going to matter across the district. And I think it’s something about — we have a lot of benefits still in our country. And we shouldn’t take those for granted either.
I’ve lived in conflict zones and war zones where people are struggling to stay alive week to week. We’re not there. And I hope we never get there. The last time we had a civil war was a century and a half ago.
But we need to take very seriously what voting means in terms of that final step, that final expression of what it means to take a hold of your future.
The final campaign pitch, I would say, I kind of like where we are. As a challenger, I think I’m in the 40s and I think he’s in the 40s. I wouldn’t want to be an incumbent who hasn’t pulled above 44%.
But I’ll highlight our team, because no candidate can win on his or her own plan or whatever. It takes a true team. And I’ve been lucky enough, including a lot of Westminster students who are helping me right now.
I feel like where we’ve made a difference is our campaign is reflecting the district. We’ve got people who have different experiences finding the issues that they want to focus on.
So we’ve got, I believe, over 100 volunteers, which is pretty incredible, given we’re in July still. We’ve got within that group about 30, including Paul and Andrew and Nyah, who are Westminster students. And others who are identified-specific policy issues to help us with and there are desk officers.
They are able to use their own backgrounds, their own studies to say, “Hey, I want to speak out on this issue, or that issue” and help me as a candidate get smarter. So the biggest advantage we have is we’ve got a great team and we’re running against the perfect villain. (laughs)
I tell people it’s not myself as a candidate that’s the best thing going. It’s we’re running against someone who’s truly beatable because I think he’s taken for granted what it means to be a true representative.
Again, it’s not a title that is bestowed. And it’s not a title that’s inherited. It’s not a title that you can just take from election to election. It’s the title you need to earn. So I don’t call him Rep. Stewart.
I call him Mr. Stewart, because I think there’s a lot of people who haven’t been represented by him. The flip side for me is I have to tell people, “Hey, I don’t want to be running in only a liberal Democratic district.”
Why? Because then we would be caught in our own echo chamber. We would be caught in everyone nodding their head up and down. So I like being out on the road.
I was just in Cedar City and then Bicknell, Utah. Bicknell is a town of a few hundred and it’s red, and they opened a war memorial and a cultural heritage site which is really powerful.
Then I went to Iron County. And that’s why I love this district, I don’t want to just be running in 84111, or 84102 or 84106, or 84105.
Because our country is so divided right now we need to be listening to each other. And listening takes work.
So I’ll end with a final thing I take from the war zones, which you’ve probably read about. But when I was overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, I used to finally say to the governors and mayors and tribal elders: I always keep the promises I make, which is why I don’t make very many.
So the promises that I make I keep, and there can be very few. I mean, sometimes it’s once a month if you’re lucky. Sometimes it may be once a week, but it’s not very often because I believe broken promises are part of the rap sheet of politicians.
They promised a lot and they never deliver. So what I would promise students is I’ve lived among you, I’ve taught you and I’ve learned a lot from you. I think your issues are my issues. I’ve also been someone who had significant student loan debt.
I know what it means to wake up thinking, “How am I going to make this work?” On that issue, I’ve lived it. I think on the other issues, I’m open, I’m transparent, I’m accessible.
Those are all the things I think that representatives need to be. I respond to emails directly, I write our own messages online. If you believe in what I stand for, I think as someone who will keep those promises.
I probably won’t make a lot. But the ones I do make, I’ll keep and then we can add more to the list as time goes on. And if I don’t do the job, and I get elected, then you should fire me in two years.
It’s as simple as that. I don’t believe in staying in a job, just because. You’ve got to earn it. And if I don’t deliver in two years, I should be fired.
CM: Well, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
KW: Not at all. Let’s keep it up. So when you want to do it again, maybe when we’re closest to election. I’d be happy to do it.
We could do an update on where we are in October, maybe September and keep the conversation going. But I really love when student journalists reach out because writing and recording and podcasts are all part of what makes a democracy work.
If we don’t get the conversations going, then elections come around, and we don’t know why we’re voting or who we’re voting for. So thank you for reaching out.
CM: Absolutely. Best of luck with your campaign. And we’ll be in touch for sure.
KW: Thank you, I tell all my students: Life can be hard, but usually it gets better. You just got to keep at it.
Your generation, I believe is part of the solution. I’m not just saying that. I believe that you guys have figured out some important things. You’re coming into the job market at a tough time, but I think you figured out priorities. And I’ve seen a change in Utah. And I think it’s true in other places as well.
CM: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
KW: All right. Thank you.