Utah’s 3rd congressional district seat has been held by a Republican since 1997. This year, however, Democratic candidate Devin Thorpe says it’s a “fair fight.”
Thorpe advanced straight to the November ballot from the party’s state convention, advancing with a majority of the vote. He will face incumbent Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), who was elected to the seat during a special election in 2017.
Curtis was re-elected in 2018 with 67.5% majority vote.
“I am confident that this is a winnable race for me,” Thorpe said in an exclusive interview with The Forum. “I am not just in this just to hold John Curtis’ feet to the fire. I am not in this just to make a political point, or to raise issues. I want to go to Washington. I want to make a difference in the House of Representatives.”
Thorpe said he’s considered running for office for nearly 30 years — but it wasn’t until the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump that gave him the final nudge to do it. It was during that trial when the country’s democracy was “genuinely threatened,” according to Thorpe.
“Quite frankly, let’s put the blame where I put the blame,” he said. “The blame is on the Republicans in Congress who refused to vote their conscience. And so I’m running against one of those Congressman that refused to vote his conscience on the impeachment.”
The Democratic candidate’s campaign centers around three things: climate change, poverty and global health. These, he said, are the issues that truly resonate with Generation Z.
For years, Thorpe has taken personal responsibility for curbing the effects of climate change — abstaining from driving for years before opting for an electric car three years ago. If elected, the Democrat said he would bring these ideals to Congress.
In return, the country can experience economic growth while embracing economically conscious practices.
“We have got to do it. But the great news is this won’t be painful,” Thorpe said. “We will be experiencing a growing economy as we invest aggressively in building [a] clean-tech economy.”
The Forum spoke with Thorpe in an exclusive interview, discussing what his goals and priorities would be if elected. You can listen to the first episode of the Behind The Ballot podcast series here.
Below is a written transcript of the full interview with Thorpe with editor-in-chief Cami Mondeaux. Answers have been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.
Cami Mondeaux: I’m here with Devin Thorpe, the Democratic candidate for Utah’s Third Congressional District. Thorpe was nominated during the Democratic State Convention on April 25. He advanced with the majority vote. Thank you so much for joining me today, Devin.
Devin Thorpe: It’s an honor, it’s a privilege, Cami. Thanks for having me.
CM: Absolutely. So, today we’re just going to be learning more about your campaign, what your goals are and priorities would be if you were elected — especially pertaining to the issues that college students care the most about.
But first, I’m really interested in hearing what made you want to run for office and what background experience you have that you think makes you qualified?
DT: Well, I’ve been thinking about this for about 30 years. (laughs) I’ve worked on the Senate Banking Committee staff back in 1989 to 91, and in a way — I tell people, “No one’s more surprised than I am that I’m running because I’ve been thinking about it for 30 years and not doing it.”
But I had a 25-year finance career, including those years on the Senate Banking Committee staff, and the time I had working on an MBA, and then I totally shifted gears.
I kind of channeled the idealism of my youth and started writing, speaking, and talking and podcasting about how we would solve the world’s biggest problems focusing on three areas: climate change, poverty, and global health.
And, it was in that context that I invited Bill Gates to be on my podcast a little over a year ago. Great experience, phenomenal guy. When we were all done, I sort of looked around and thought, “Well, the world had not changed.”
I felt like, I guess I got to do something more direct, I’ve got to do something more hands-on to get that real sense that I’m making a difference in the world.
So I began looking for ‘the thing’ to do — and I know you published a story about impeachment last fall, you shared that with me. Brilliant interview you did.
CM: Thank you.
DT: It was during the impeachment trial that finally the lights went on and I said to myself, “Wait a minute. I can run for Congress.”
That would give me an opportunity to not only advance the ball on these issues I care about — climate change, poverty, global health — but also to protect and preserve democracy which I believe was genuinely threatened by quite frankly, let’s put the blame where I put the blame: The blame is on the Republicans in Congress who refused to vote their conscience.
So I’m running against one of those Congressmen that refused to vote his conscience on the impeachment. Now, he may say otherwise. But I think Mitt Romney is a national hero for having stepped up.
Sen. Romney and I don’t agree on a lot of things. But I think he demonstrated unequivocally that if you look at the facts and circumstances surrounding the president’s actions, he was guilty. So that’s why I’m running.
CM: So, what was it that made you want to run for the House of Representatives versus the Senate?
DT: Well that is a perfect question. I am interested in what is going on in the Senate, and the Senate is incredibly important this year because it is the Senate where the impeachment vote really failed.
In the House, it succeeded because there was a majority of Democrats but in the Senate there was not.
The Senate is important this year. The Senate races are very important because of that issue. But you know, of course, there are no Senate races in Utah this year. Sen. Romney will be up for re-election in 2024 and Mike Lee’s seat is up in 2022.
So, if I want to make a difference in Washington — which I do — I must run for a House seat.
CM: I was doing some background research to the 3rd Congressional seat and it looks like there hasn’t been a Democrat that’s held the seat since 1996. And you’re also running against an incumbent so what experience do you have — and what goals and priorities do you have — that you think can help win that seat?
DT: Well, yeah. Great point. I think you’re right, it’s been about 20 years since a Democrat has held the seat. I think in 2000 the Democrat that was there had been defeated in the election.
But, I am confident that this is a winnable race for me. I am not just in this just to hold John Curtis’ feet to the fire. I am not in this just to make a political point, or to raise issues.
I want to go to Washington. I want to make a difference in the House of Representatives. So, I have to figure out how I can do that.
To your point, there are a number of issues that help drive that, but one of the things I think we need to be aware of is the political situation as well. So, let’s take a look at that.
I believe that Congressman Curtis is a moderate to liberal guy. And I believe he genuinely cares about the environment. He talks about it a lot, he acknowledges climate change which I love because I don’t have to worry about whether or not Republicans in the district believe in climate change because John Curtis does.
So, with my primary opponent acknowledging the reality of climate change, we’re not going to get mired in that debate.
Here’s what’s going on: I have called John Curtis a climate delayer. Because he’s not a climate denier, he is just unwilling to actually do anything about climate change, about substance.
He has a rather bad– a poor voting record on the environment. Even though I believe he truly believes climate change is a real thing and it should be addressed. I believe he believes those things.
But his party isn’t going to let him vote the way he should in order to protect and preserve the environment. And we see that in his voting record. The League of Conservation voters, for instance, gives him a 2% grade out of 100 point scale. 2%.
So there are issues that even he agrees are issues where he has not a great voting record.
And here’s the thing: Our polling, our internal polling, suggests that he has only a 34% approval rating. Now, that comes in part because people who are moderate to liberal don’t like the way he votes.
People who are conservative don’t like the way he talks. So, how do I win this race? It would be impossible, frankly, if there were not a third-party candidate in the race who is running to John Curtis’ right.
His name is Daniel Cummings. And Daniel is a medical doctor, he is a strict Constitutionalist — he’s running for the Constitution Party. He and I don’t agree on a lot of things. Guns, especially — that’s an area where he and I will disagree.
But, John Curtis’ moderate views will not satisfy the kind of right-wing people that are looking to preserve and protect gun rights above all else, for instance.
So we think there are in this district, perhaps — our polling suggests, up to 18% of the district could vote for Dr. Cummings. And in a world where 18% of the district votes for Dr. Cummings, this is a fair fight.
All of a sudden, the 82% of the electorate that we’re fighting over are evenly split. And here’s what gives us the final advantage: In Utah, we are seeing a phenomenon I call the “Romney Republicans,” right?
There are a group of people who are Republicans, committed Republicans. But who are absolutely not going to vote for Donald Trump. And many of them will in fact for Joe Biden at the top of the ticket.
Now that does not mean they will vote for me automatically. But if they determine of their own will that in fact Congressman Curtis is aiding and abetting a man they do not respect and will not vote for, I think we can convince them to vote for me.
If we bring over just a few Republicans, along with the few independents and we keep the Democrats in this election, we will win. And the third district will send a Democrat to Congress for the first time in 20 years.
CM: You also just endorsed Joe Biden for president as well, do you think that might help lead those — as you call — “Romney Republicans” toward you?
DT: Well, it’s interesting. My views on Joe Biden will probably bring in a few people, and probably alienate a few. The key thing is, I endorsed Joe Biden not because of the political expediency of doing so, but because I truly and genuinely believe that with the choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump — there is no choice.
The only option for people who love peace and democracy is to vote for Joe Biden.
CM: To get into some specific policy issues, I’ve done some research and I’ve talked to different college students to find out what the biggest priorities are around voting. So there are five main issues that I’ll ask you about, and how you would address those if you were elected.
CM: The first one is on healthcare and how healthcare is a bit expensive in this country and how it concerns a lot of college students. A lot of people at my school at least, at Westminster, voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary — for his MediCare For All.
So, if you were elected, what are your thoughts on the current state of health care in this country and what would you do to address these issues?
DT: There is no question that healthcare is a mess in the United States. The Affordable Care Act that passed during the Obama years was a stop-gap, at best. And it leaves many people poorly insured.
I’m one of them. I have an Affordable Care Act policy. And I have a $12 thousand deductible. Which means the first $12 thousand I spend on healthcare every year comes right out of my pocket.
Now, I am grateful to be in a situation where I actually have $12 thousand. But I recognize many people aren’t.
But even though I have $12 thousand, I will avoid spending that if I can, in any way possible. So I’ll give you a very specific TMI here.
Because I am not college age, I need a colonoscopy this year. But it’s hard to even find out what a colonoscopy would even cost in advance of getting one. Best estimates are it’s probably a four-figure kind of number.
So I’m thinking, I’m not sure I want to get a colonoscopy if I’ve got to pay out-of-pocket that kind of money. So I’m kind of putting it off, dragging my heels. That is no way to run a healthcare plan. People are filing bankruptcy because they can’t afford healthcare.
And don’t get me wrong. Many of the people who are filing bankruptcy because they can’t afford healthcare have insurance. This simply doesn’t happen in other countries, right?
Other industrialized countries people do not file bankruptcy because they can’t afford healthcare. So we have a disastrous system on our hands and yet, as poor as it is Republicans have been — ever since the Affordable Care Act passed, it has been under assault.
Not only by Congress, but by state attorney generals who have been suing to dismantle it piece by piece by piece. And slowly but surely, they’re succeeding. Now I am confident that with Joe Biden as president, with a Democratic Congress and a Democratic Senate we will turn the tide and we will make huge strides forward on fixing the healthcare system.
Now, you’ve probably noticed Bernie Sanders didn’t win the Democratic nomination. It is unlikely that a MediCare For All plan will come forward as the Democratic solution with this president.
But it’s my commitment to work to pull him in that direction, to make sure that whatever healthcare plan we do put forward covers everyone affordably. Period.
CM: So is your goal leaning toward the MediCare For All somewhere in the future, and that’s where you would want to head?
DT: Well, I am a big fan of MediCare For All. Most other industrialized countries have plans like that. That said, Switzerland which has the second highest healthcare costs in the world after the United States has a system that works with private insurance.
Now, [I’m] not a huge fan but that is something they have operated for more than a generation. At this point, I’m not wed to a specific model. The principle of covering everyone affordably I am committed to, absolutely.
CM: Moving on […] Recently, anyone who looks at the news knows there are issues around police reform and racial justice across the country. I have a couple questions on that, especially as we’ve seen it in Utah, we’ve seen it all across the country.
What are your thoughts on the current state of policing in this country?
DT: Great question, and so important. One of the things that inspires me this year is seeing that by-and-large, the people in the third district accept as a simple fact that Black lives matter and with the implication that they understand the reason that hashtag, that movement is so important is because some people act as if they don’t.
It’s not Black lives matter because all lives matter. People are recognizing Black lives matter in spite of the fact that some people behave as if they don’t. So, I think we’re there. We’re at a tipping point in our journey toward social justice. I’m excited about that.
When we talk about police reform, there are a whole range of things that come up. I would say among them are the idea that we simply need to ban chokeholds and we need to hold police officers more accountable when they misbehave.
I think that’s not enough. I want to step back and remind people that in fact police officers wear bullet-proof vests for a reason. We have asked them to step into the breach. We have asked them to show up in situations and in places when bad people with guns are doing bad things. It is a risky job and there are real heroes in and among our police forces.
I don’t blame police officers so much as I blame systems and processes. If you’ll forgive me, I’ll give a little analogy.
There’s an apocryphal story about a young woman around your age who’s learning how to cook a pot roast and she remembers the first step is to cut off a little piece of the end of the pot roast before she puts it in the pot. And her boyfriend says to her, “Why did you cut the end off the pot roast before you put it in the pot?”
She said, “I don’t know, my mom taught me to do it that way.” So they call mom. She goes, “Mom, why do you cut the end off the pot roast before you put it in the pot?”
[Mom goes] “Well, I don’t know mom just taught me to do it. So let’s call grandma.” They call grandma, they say, “Grandma, why do you cut off the end of the pot roast before you put it in the pot?” “Oh, well that’s easy. It doesn’t fit if I don’t cut it off.”
Right? So for generations people had been cutting the end off the meat just because grandma did it even though grandma had a very specific reason that no longer applied to the subsequent generations.
I think we sometimes forget that some of our policing practices and traditions date back to very racist times. Some date back to the era of tracking runaway slaves, some track back to Jim Crow era, some practices were developed before the Civil Rights Movement.
We have got to review and reflect on every single aspect of policing.
In Camden, New Jersey, they did that. What they did was they ultimately decided to just start over. They completely abolished the police force and the police department and they started over.
They got a new police chief, and the police chief hired back police officers one at a time. I’m not sure how they managed the transition but they literally started from scratch. And they built a new police department working with the community.
The Camden police have not been perfect, but it has been radically improved by almost every measure of social justice since they did that about five years ago at the very beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement.
So, there are strategies, there are ways for us to do this. I’m very uncomfortable blaming cops. Of course, there are bad cops but when we focus on bad apples it makes it seem as if the problem is the apple. The problem is the barrel. Right?
We’ve got to fix the barrel because the apples go bad in the barrel because of the way the barrel is structured.
Bad analogy, but I admire and revere our police officers. I respect them and I’m grateful for the sacrifices they make, the risks they take on our behalf. We need to remember that we also need to be looking at substantive material reforms to make our — to eliminate the racial bias in the system.
CM: So as part of that “fixing that barrel,” you say, or the system, there’s also that idea of “defunding” the police. Would you support a variation of that or would you prefer to call it something else? What would your ideas surrounding that be?
DT: Yeah, that phrase is so — oh boy, it’s just so politically explosive. Let’s stay away from that. But, let’s ask ourselves the question: Are there things that we ask police officers to do that we can ask someone else to do instead, or first?
For instance in the case of domestic violence — I know that’s a scary situation — but could a social worker go in first? We had a police officer killed at a domestic violence situation recently.
But I can’t help but think and wonder and ask myself the question, “If a social worker had shown up with a clipboard instead of a police officer with a gun, would that angry brutal mean husband have shot a social worker through the door?”
I don’t think so. The gun the police officer carried invited the violence. So I think we ought to be thinking about, “Where can we send people who are differently equipped and differently trained to check on the status of a homeless person?” Or someone having a psychotic break.
Is it always the best strategy to send someone whose primary training is on how to arrest criminals, investigate crimes and shoot people? The right one to send when someone’s having a psychotic break, when someone is homeless and drugged and in trouble, I think we can rethink and re-evaluate some of these situations.
Of course, we may conclude that in some or most of these cases, yes I think the police is the right thing. But let’s ask the questions, let’s explore that.
CM: Next I have questions on immigration and specifically the DACA reform that has been a debate, especially in the Supreme Court and Trump administration lately. There are several international students on many college campuses, especially mine.
So what are your thoughts surrounding DACA. Do you support it and why? And then also some thoughts on supporting international students that come here.
DT: Well, yeah great questions. DACA absolutely. That needs to be made law of the land quickly in the new Congress, where and when it can pass.
Because right now it is operating only under the authority of the president. President Obama unilaterally created this. And we’ve got to make this law. We also have to create in that law a path to citizenship for our DACA recipients.
We also need to be looking at our international students. If someone comes here and gets educated, they should be on the fast path to citizenship in this country and permanent residency.
Why? The alternative is that people come and get a great education at Westminster or Harvard or Stanford, and then they go back to their country because we won’t let them stay. Wouldn’t it be better to have those brilliant, well-educated people stay in our country and help us build this economy?
It makes no sense to essentially force graduates out of this country. We’ve got to create a path to permanence for international students.
We’ve got to be looking at our vast numbers of undocumented immigrants. We’ve got to find a way, it may not be reasonable, it may not be achievable to give them a path to citizenship, but let’s give them a path to permanence that will allow them to cross the border. Back and forth.
Once they have legal status, and they are documented immigrants, you know what will happen? Many will return home. Periodically, sometimes for long stretches of time. Sometimes they’ll return when they need work or when there’s a specific project that they are good at and want to come back.
So what we will see is not more immigration, but less if we create this path to permanence that will allow people to go back and forth as guest workers, whatever else we want to call it. We need to be working on that. Thoughtful people need to bring their A-game to the immigration system.
CM: So, what would some goals or priorities be for you if you were elected, especially amid the coronavirus and increasing feelings of xenophobia and not wanting “outsiders” — if you can really call them that — coming into the country?
DT: That’s a great question, and there is no question that international travel — and even domestic travel — has a big impact on the spread of the coronavirus. So it’s not crazy to be regulating that carefully and thoughtfully at this time.
But some of what the president has done is not careful or thoughtful. It is arbitrary and capricious and inherently racist or bigoted in some way. Either toward Muslims or Brown people and that kind of behavior has got to stop.
We have got to work out our issues so that we keep Americans safe without this sort of bigoted response we see from the president of the United States.
CM: Moving on to our fourth issue, and you mentioned this earlier so I’m excited to see what you think about it, but another big issue that addresses college students is climate change — especially as they believe they are kind of like the generation that are going to have to deal with the most drastic effects of it.
I was curious what specific plans or policies you would want to work on in Congress?
DT: Well you make such a powerful point, let me just echo the point or punctuate this observation. Many of your classmates — you and many of your classmates will be alive in 2100.
So, when people talk about, “What is the status of the climate of the planet in 2100?” For the rest of us it’s academic. For you, it’s reality. And, absolutely that is one reason why your generation should be taking this seriously.
Of course, there is no good excuse for any of us in the past to not have taken this seriously and I want you to understand, as I talk about climate change I have taken this seriously for a long time in my personal lifestyle.
For years, I didn’t drive a car. Then I bought an electric one. And now, for nearly three years now, I’ve been driving electric cars. You know, people are quick to point out that some of the electricity comes from burning coal.
Yes, but let me tell you the primary response I would make to that is: It is much easier to clean the emissions of a coal-powered power plant than it is to clean the emissions of every single car and electric motors are so much more efficient than internal combustion engines.
My car is four times less energy than a comparable combustion engine car. So, I take personal responsibility for ending climate change.
I am passionate about policies that will get us there. And it’s clear that the Paris Accord was too little, too late and yet the president of the United States pulled us out.
I’ve been inspired by states and municipalities around the country, including in Utah, that have agreed to adopt the standards of the Paris Climate Accord anyway — including in my district, Moab. Proud of their efforts to decarbonize their communities, their operations and their cities.
We have got to do it. But the great news is this won’t be painful. This will be the opposite of painful, right? We will be driving better cars, right? We will be living with cleaner air. We will be experiencing a growing economy as we invest aggressively in building clean-tech economy.
This is exciting, this is to be embraced. This is to be — we should all be excited about this. This is the best news ever. The new economy we are building, it is amazing. And I can’t wait to accelerate that in Washington.
That’s what I’m all about and I know President Biden’s plan isn’t as aggressive as Bernie Sanders’ plan, but let me tell you: it is a great plan and I have all kinds of ideas to accelerate it further. Because here’s the great thing about climate change, it’s so different than so many other things.
All of the investments we make in fighting climate change, or most of them, have positive financial benefits. So whether the government makes the investment, or private industries make the investment, there is a financial return that will come back to taxpayers and/or to investors or employees.
This is amazing. Get ready to ride, this is going to be great.
CM: So, how do you plan to prioritize all that, because it seems like when the Obama administration shifted into the Trump administration it was kind of like a stark change from like, wanting to move from clean energy to fossil fuel energy because it seemed to boost businesses more.
So, is that something you’ll prioritize? Like, “No, that’s not a real fight that we have to choose between.”
DT: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting question, an interesting question. Because the reality is — the polling I’ve done suggests there are very few people who don’t believe in climate change anymore.
There are always going to be crackpots, right? I wrote an op-ed years ago about the fact that there are about 6% of people polled, adults, said they believed chocolate milk comes from brown cows.
Now, of course that’s absurd. Chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows, but the point I made in this op-ed is that believing climate change isn’t real is about as real as believing that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.
And we need to call people out on it.
And even in the two-and-a-half years, or three years, since I wrote that op-ed, what we’ve seen is in fact that has happened. That people of all political persuasions have stood up and acknowledged climate change is real.
We can see the melting glaciers, we can see the rising sea level, we can see the polarized caps melting. It’s happening. Everything they said would happen is happening. So, what do we do? It’s all hands on deck.
We’re going to incentivize industry to make the switch to clean energy. We’re going to invest directly in clean energy as a federal government. We’re going to do it all and bring this about quickly. The key thing that was not true even five years ago, or ten years ago, is the economics have changed dramatically.
The cheapest source of electricity on the planet today is wind. And the next cheapest is solar. Now, let’s go back five years. Was that the case five years ago? No. That was not the case five years ago.
The economics, the reality of the situation has changed. These are great days to be human beings. You know, we’ve been saying it for a decade or a generation. All we need is the political will to acknowledge it.
Now, we not only have the technology, but the economics on our side. This will happen if we elect Democrats who will simply allow it to happen instead of Republicans who are persisting in the absurd belief that somehow they can resurrect coal which makes no economic sense. At all.
CM: The last issue that I have here is the cost of education, either K-12 or even college education and also student debt. I was curious what your thoughts on that are [and] what your specific goals or priorities would be?
DT: Yeah, so my K-12 priority is actually not K-12 at all. Though it directly relates. It’s the pre-K,.
We’ve got to get universal pre-K and there’s a reason. There’s extraordinarily good data — and I think your training and background, if I recall, you’re in psychology, right?
CM: Sociology, yes.
DT: Sociology. So you’ve looked at this, you’ve looked at ACES, you’ve looked at the data about third-graders. And it’s remarkable.
A third-grader who is on-path, who is a grade level — reading and doing math at grade level will succeed in life. Almost certainly. One who is not is terribly jeopardized.
Well, we can’t focus on third-grade. What do we focus on? We focus on making sure that kids arrive to the first day of kindergarten with an adequate vocabulary and understanding of the ABCs and they can count to 10, right?
If every kindergartener walked in on the first day with the alphabet, with vocabulary of 2,000 words instead of 500 words because someone’s read to them, they’ve heard the stories, their mind has been expanded — they are ready to go.
They will be on path, they will on grade level in third grade because they were ready on the first day of kindergarten. And they will graduate high school and will be able to go on to college or a skilled trade and they will contribute successfully to society.
Universal pre-k for me is the top priority in K-12 education.
Next, what about college education? I’m not going to argue that Westminster needs to make its tuition free — and I don’t think anyone is or has argued that Westminster or other private universities can’t charge what they want.
But there is a lot of discussion around how affordable should public college education be. And I love the role models in the 3rd district.
There are three universities or colleges in third district: BYU, Utah State University, and USU-Eastern. They are the three most affordable colleges in Utah. Three of the most affordable colleges in the country. Three of the best quality educational opportunities per dollar in the country.
In the third district, we have the solution, we have the role models, we have the templates, for rolling out affordable education in this country. And I’m excited to champion the great work that those universities are doing.
So now let’s talk about student loans. Because if you have to go, even to UVU, for four years on student loans — that’s how you pay for it. It could wreck your life on the current model of student loans.
Here’s what we’re doing: We’re borrowing money from rich people, institutions and other countries to lend it to students — now over a trillion dollars, that we borrow — the federal government borrows 2% and then lends at 6 or 7%.
In other words, the federal government is profiteering off of students. It is absolutely absurd. So, one of the things that I am most eager to do is to reduce the cost of the interest on student loans to the rate we’re paying to borrow that money.
So that at a minimum — a minimum — the United States federal government is not profiteering off the students it is trying to support. It should be the opposite, it should be genuine support — a pass through at worst.
We also need to expand Pell Grants, we’ve got to make sure that those who can’t afford college education, especially, aren’t mired in student loans when they graduate. Those who are more affluent families will have a path, especially making student loans more structured, much more affordable so that people aren’t burdened.
It won’t take necessarily the radical kinds of things some have talked about that would be difficult to budget for. We can make a huge difference in college affordability and one of the specific things I want to do, already almost all universities and colleges receive some federal assistance.
So what I want to do is work toward, develop a path and a plan toward incentivizing affordability at all universities — including the private ones. To require them to have — make disclosures about college affordability so that people understand what the average student at a university is paying.
There are some universities in the country where the ostensible price tag, no one pays. And so, it’s this very murky world where no one knows what the real cost of education is. We should make it more transparent and I think we can do that with the existing funding and simply require schools that accept federal funding to be more transparent about their pricing.
Then we can work from there. So what are the levers, and how can we have better data? What are the levers universities use to incentivize that better college affordability for more people.
CM: Do you have any goals and priorities surrounding like, helping get out of student debt — because I know that’s a big issue with a lot of my friends or even me. We’re all in debt.
College is expensive and I know that when [someone] brings it up on a national level, it’s either gotten support for, “Let them pay it off themselves.” If you mention helping them, people’s minds immediately go to free college and that kind of scares people.
So what would your goals or priorities surrounding that be?
DT: There are a number of issues, this is so complicated. But we’ve made it easy to get student loans by making student loans absolutely and universally unforgivable. Right?
No matter what happens to you, expect maybe death, I think some student loans are extinguished by your death, but nothing else gets rid of that student loan except paying it back with interest.
We’ve got to review and reflect on that. But it’s complicated, because if you make it forgivable in bankruptcy, of course, on graduation you would be greeted by a bankruptcy attorney who would say, “Now that you’re obviously bankrupt because you owe $100,000 and you don’t have a job and you don’t have any assets, we will help you file for bankruptcy.”
So this — it’s complicated. But clearly we need to work on this, and so that’s why my first issue is reducing that interest rate because student loans are like mortgages. Most of what you pay every month is not principled. It’s interest.
And if we cut that interest by two-thirds, or 62%, your payment will drop radically. Your ability to repay the principle will go up dramatically. And so your student loan, instead of being a 30-year mortgage hanging over you for basically your entire career, maybe it’s a 10-year loan that you extinguish and then you say, “Yippee now I get to buy my fancy car.”
We’ll have to address this.
It’s not easy, I’m certainly sympathetic to those who suggest we should just forgive it, but I think obviously that’s a trillion dollar line item. It’s unlikely to pass Congress. But reducing that interest rate is something we can do that will not have nearly the implication of forgiving that student debt.
Voting in the “most important election in generations”
CM: All right, thank you. So now, if you could just give a final statement on your campaign as a whole and why college students should be using their voice to vote.
Also, you could also give a final argument as to why that vote should go toward you.
DT: Yeah. I really appreciate, Cami, the opportunity to visit with you today. You’re a great host, I appreciate your patience with me and inviting me to be here. I commend you for doing a great job in conducting this interview, so thank you.
CM: Thank you.
DT: Here’s the thing: This is the election of my lifetime, people much older than I am are saying the same thing.
This is the most important election in generations. And the important thing isn’t whether or not people vote for me. The important thing is whether students vote.
College students have not a great record of actually turning out to vote, so that point I would want to make today in closing is not so much to vote for me.
I hope you will, I hope my arguments resonate with you on climate change, on healthcare, on college tuition, I hope those messages are hopeful. I hope you appreciate on some level that my issues are the issues of Generation Z.
That said, the most important thing, the message you take away from this is to just vote. In your lifetime, there may never be an election that will have a bigger impact on this country.
But if we don’t exercise our right to vote in this election, if we don’t elect Joe Biden as president of this country, I fear for your very lives.
CM: Well, thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate you taking the time out to talk to me and do all this.
DT: Cami you’re great, thank you.