CLINTON — When Kimberly Graham decided to run for the U.S. Senate, she asked staffers to find all the good things that incumbent Joni Ernst has done for the state.
“The only thing we could find was telemedicine,” Graham said Wednesday. “I believe she co-sponsored a bill to increase the use of telemedicine in rural areas, which is great.”
In everything else, Ernst lines up with President Donald Trump, creating policy that is harmful to Iowa, from trade wars to ethanol restrictions, Graham said.
Rural communities “get slammed by this administration’s current policies.”
“I, quite honestly, want to give people the benefit of the doubt,” Graham said, “but I don’t see how she’s been a good choice.”
Ernst, like Trump, campaigned on the promise to get rid of corruption in Washington, Graham said, Ernst with the slogan “Make ‘Em Squeal” and Trump with “Drain the Swamp.”
“That’s what they sold to the people. People bought it because people are hurting.”
But they’ve produced the opposite of what they promised, Graham said. The top 10% are continuing to accumulate wealth at the expense of the other 90%.
Ernst voted seven times to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no plan to replace it, Graham said. The Senate has made no forward progress on prescription drug costs, and diabetics are dying because they can’t afford insulin.
“The only people who are squealing are people in Iowa.”
The solution is in voters’ hands. “Voters have more power than they think,” Graham said. “We have to stop electing people that are bankrolling corporations who make money off of the backs of working people.”
Graham is one of five Democrats seeking the nomination for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat in the June 2 Iowa primary.
“I’m a mom,” Graham said, “and for the past 20 years, I’ve been an attorney for abused kids and parents in Iowa juvenile court.”
Graham’s mother was a teenage mom who dropped out of high school and became a clerk. Her father was a construction worker. Her grandparents were famers in Iowa and Minnesota.
Graham was born at Camp Pendleton Marine Corp Base in Oceanside, California where her dad was living with an older sibling, she said. She’s a graduate of Drake University Law School in Des Moines and raised her son, Max, in nearby Indianola.
“None of us who are running for the U.S. Senate seat have held office before,” Graham said. “I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I think that’s a very good thing.”
Voters are ready for regular people to represent them, Graham said. “Regular people should represent regular people.”
Like other regular people, Graham struggles with student loan debt. She left college with $80,000 in student loan debt, she said, and after 20 years of paying regularly, she now owes $200,000.
“I was working part time,” Graham said. She was a parent. Her husband was an electrician who was often laid off. “We were not in a good place financially, so I was never able to make that $1,000-a-month payment.”
So Graham entered into income-based repayment. But the $200-$450 a month payments didn’t cover interest — even at 7.625% — and the principal increased over 20 years.
“Most people are understandably very shocked to hear this,” Graham said. People don’t talk about it because they are embarrassed. They are told it is their fault, that they have been stupid with their money or haven’t worked hard.
In reality, the problem is the system at large, Graham said. “So several years ago I started talking about it.
“It’s funny how many people will say they are in the same boat,” said Graham. “This is a very very common issue, and it’s been allowed to go on, and a lot of the reason is because it’s in the dark. People don’t want to talk about it.”
Higher on Graham’s priority list are health care, the climate crisis (“We should have gotten to it long ago”) and child issues.
The United States commits only 0.6% of its gross domestic product to child issues, Graham said. Other countries spend triple that amount.
The U.S. needs universal pre-kindergarten education and better day care, Graham said.
“I have so many single moms that I represent that make $10-$11 per hour.” If they get a raise, they lose childcare subsidies. Graham calls it the child care cliff.
“I’ve had mothers quit, go back on government assistance. They don’t want to but they can’t financially make it,” Graham said.
Child care providers aren’t making enough either, Graham said. That shows that the U.S. doesn’t value children, she said. “If you want to know what someone values, let me see their checkbook.”
Voters should elect regular working people who know what it’s like to decide between paying the mortgage and paying for prescriptions. “I understand what it’s like to struggle financially in 2020.” Not 10 years ago. Not 20 years ago.
“I’m the only non-millionaire running for this seat.”
A candidate who deeply understands the struggle of paying for childcare, medical expenses, student loans and saving for retirement has “a little more authentic motivation,” Graham said.
“And I’m feeling it today,” said Graham. Hers is not the story of a hardscrabble life years ago.
The top 10% of wage earners used to have about 1/3 of the wealth, Graham said. Today they have 75% of the wealth. “That is the problem we face ultimately.
“We have plenty of money in this country. This country could be a beacon of health and decency.” But that’s not the priority for this government, Graham said.
Some people in Washington are good people, Graham said, but “not enough of us are there yet.”
“I just think it’s really important that we continue to educate voters.” She suggested the voters visit opensecrets.org to see who is financing political campaigns. “Look at where our money comes from,” Graham said, “because the people who are funding your campaign, they have your ear.”