On May 2nd, 2018, I visited Longmont, Colorado and spoke with Karen McCormick, who is running for Congress in Colorado's 4th district. A transcript of our conversation is below.
If after reading this interview you agree with me that Karen is the right candidate for Colorado, please join me in donating generously to her campaign as part of our Great Slate of ten progressive candidates!
An Interview With Karen McCormick, Candidate For Congress in CO-4
For people who have never been to Colorado, can you describe your district for us?
My district encompasses about a third of the state—the eastern third. From border to border to border, it's 22 counties. It's an incredibly large district, a huge agricultural district, with wheat and beef, corn, and swine, and egg-laying hens and more. There's a lot of agriculture in our district, and it's one of the biggest exports for the state of Colorado.
The population is centered in some smaller cities and towns, and most of those 22 counties are very, very rural. There's a lot of driving through this district where you see miles and miles of open land. We are the eastern plains of Colorado.
The most populated areas where people live are: my town right here in Longmont, which is the westernmost part of the district and Greeley to the north of us. Then you go all the way around Denver and scoop up an area called Castle Rock and Parker, and then all the way down in Trinidad.
There's very much a rural urban divide here, not only physically but also mentally. People in the rural parts of the district think that the Front Range doesn't understand their lifestyle and needs, and it's almost like we live in two different states. But I don't see it that way. I see us all as Coloradans, and we're all in this together.
About 20-21 percent of our district is Latino. The voter registration breakdown is about 40% Republican, 30 percent unaffiliated voters, and 30 percent Democratic voters. There may even be more unaffiliated voters now because many people, especially in the West, have this mentality of "don't stick a label on me," which I get. I understand that.
Those voters are very interesting because they want to be messaged to, in a way that speaks to them where they are, and you have to make sure you get out and you learn about the issues — the local issues. Because they're not going to be the same in Longmont as they are in Lamar, or Sterling. So it's important that I travel and listen.
I was going to say you have a lot of driving to do.
A lot of driving. My husband owns an auto repair shop and I just got new tires on my car!
Like most of the candidates we've been supporting, you are not a professional politician. You're a veterinarian, and you had your own practice. At what point did you decide to give all this up and run for Congress?
You know it's interesting, it was not a moment or point in time. It was a process. I kind of morphed into it. It had to have started in my childhood, with my dad serving 30 years in the Navy, where we moved every one or two years. I probably lived sixteen places before I was a senior in high school. Mostly on the coasts.
Growing up with that experience, having my dad be gone half my life, it's not until you're really an adult that you realize how different your upbringing was from everyone else, and that the reason he was gone and what he was doing was representing our country. Not just the image of America, but really out there representing us.
Over the last two and a half years, all the way from the point where there was so many candidates running on both sides, amid all the vitriol and the divisiveness, what was happening started to eat away at me. The night of the election, when Donald Trump was elected, I physically felt that I had slipped into another reality. It was honestly a physical sensation.
Were you watching the election at home?
I was at home. My mom lives here in Longmont; she moved here when my dad died six years ago. I called her on the phone and we both felt that the whole night was so surreal.
I teach English to immigrants. The next morning, Wednesday morning, I had a class with my immigrants. And I could barely make it through the class. I was just absolutely stunned, and I was supposed to put on a good face for these immigrants and to give them hope, and I had to draw really, really deep to get through that class. Luckily the head of the program — it's called Intercambio — came in and gave us all a little cheerleading pep talk, because at that moment I didn't know what to say to these students that had come to America with a sense of hope and opportunity.
From there I got very involved with the Women's March here in Colorado, to get Coloradans to Washington, DC. It was a turning point in me to see hope, and to know that there were people out there who were going to pull together and change things. There was good energy to to tap into and I wanted to part of that momentum.
After that experience, I started looking for what else I could do. I was an activist from that moment forward. Even at that point, it still hadn't occurred to me to run for office. But as I started to look at our representation in Congress, I'd already not been happy with our present representative. More and more, I'd go to bed thinking about running for office, would wake up thinking about it. I started to ask questions of people locally, and doors started opening for me to pursue this goal.
I just thought, I can do this. In fact, I need to do this; it was a passion and a fire in my belly that got a log thrown on it every single day, and continues today with all this chaos that we are witnessing almost daily.
So it wasn't a moment, but a process. I still tell myself that as long as doors keep opening and I keep finding a way to move forward, I'm gonna keep doing it. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever want to run for public office. I'm an introvert!
That speaks so much to me.
I am so far out of my comfort zone, but feel driven to do this. I know that if I didn't try, 10 years from now I would be disappointed in myself, and it's for my kids, too.
You're not running symbolically. You're running to win this race.
There are many people, particularly in Washington, DC, who are looking at spreadsheets and think that a district like this, which I believe is R+13 on the Cook scale, is impossible. What is your plan for squashing your opponent like a bug in this district and winning this race?
I like the visual.
On the windshield!
What's great about this energy of activism and participation that's sweeping our country is that it's also hitting Colorado hard. I think I'm a product of that wave, just like so many other first time candidates. There are people hungry for change, and people hungry for people who are willing to collaborate and have more compassion. So the timing fits. The fact that this particular man who I'm running against is so unpopular in this district, favors a win this year. He's unpopular with members of his own party. He's not representing our district.
Our strategy to win is to build a strong field operation. To message to the voters, especially voters who have not been adequately spoken to. I think we have kind of a mismatch in those voters that really want somebody to pay attention and listen, and our ability to get to them, and so that's why we're opening up a plan to reach those citizens.
Since last summer I've been at this full time, which no candidate has done in many years. For me to be able to show my face and reach these voters by phone banking and door knocking and sending mailings and getting on the radio, so that they know that there's truly a person interested in being their representative.
Our present representative doesn't show up. He doesn't hold town halls. There's such a disconnect. I look at that as an extreme opportunity for us to jump in there and get after these voters. So with a strong get out the vote campaign, there's a lot of that happening as well. We have a tremendous opportunity.
What can tech people far from Colorado do to help you win this district?
It takes a lot of money, and I had no idea. I mean, it's crazy. This is the part that makes me the most uncomfortable, honestly, the fundraising. I love talking to people and meeting people and sharing my passion, and listening, but the money part was a huge surprise to me.
How much time now do you have to spend on phones and fundraising?
I'm spending all the time I can. Yesterday I was on the phone six hours.
Today, today … four hours.
Yeah, and it's so disheartening because in this day and age the majority of people do not answer their phones if they don't recognize the number calling and I too am guilty of this … if I don't recognize the number, I do not answer it either. So it makes it even more difficult to ask for contributions.
It seems like such an old-fashioned way of trying to raise money, and the money is needed to pay for staff. The money goes to pay for mailings. It's gonna go for radio time when we get to that point. We don't have an office right now. We're working out of my basement, which … it's a nice basement. It's finished. It's heated! But soon we will need to have an office to work out of, and that takes more money!
There are hard costs involved in running a successful campaign and they continue to pop up. There seem to be more and more costs every month as you get into the campaign. Helping financially would really help carry us further, it would help us reach more voters, it would help us message more people, and buy gas for my car when I have to drive four to six hours to get to one area or the next.
We're going to try as hard as we can to get those things funded for you. Meanwhile, what will you do on that great first day in office after you're elected? What is the big issue you're excited to arrive in Congress and work on?
We are going to sit down and fix our health care system. This is an issue that — yes, we've gotten somewhere with it — but it is still not working for so many of us, me personally, and I think we need to get away from a health insurance industry model to a health care model.
Do you favor single-payer or Medicare for all?
I do. I do if we can get there. As a scientist and a data person myself, I have to see some logical steps on how we get there. I don't have a magic wand to just get us there. We went down the wrong road 40 years ago when we went with the health insurance pathway.
I think ideas like Senator Bennet and Senator Tim Kaine — they were working on opening up Medicare as a public option buy-in is a really great idea. My husband and I would buy in yesterday. It's a popular system, it's already in place, the administrative costs are so much lower than private health insurance industries, and I would love to buy in now.
So that's one idea, and there are others out there, but my first project is to get to others who are interested in moving on that quickly, and for us to get back to a more functional democracy. It's about building relationships with others who are focused on helping this country move forward, and to do that we have to heal this partisan divide. We can still be parts of different parties, but we need to be working together to help the whole country.
That's a big reason why I'm running, because I'm tired of this dysfunction and lack of collaboration. So many people are. That message resonates with so many people, that yes, we need to work together! Figure things out! Just like you have to do in business.
Thank you so much for talking to me!
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