Congressional candidate Kara Eastman’s Q&A with the Gateway

Photo courtesy of Kara Eastman
Will Patterson
Opinion Editor


Q: What inspired you to run for Congress?

Eastman: My mom in 2016 was diagnosed with cancer for the fifth time, and we were having a conversation about her medical bills. And she just said, kind of in passing, “yeah the doctor just prescribed me a pill for $2,500,” and I said “Well, there must be a generic version.” No, this is the pill, this is the only thing that’s going to help. She said, “I’m not going to pay $800 a month for prescription drugs” and I said, “you have Medicare that doesn’t make any sense.” This was at that time when there was talk about repeal and replacing the Affordable Healthcare Act. People like my mom, she’s on disability. She’s an artist. $800 is a significant expense for her—it would be for anybody. We weren’t really talking about people. How these policies impact people. At least that wasn’t what I was hearing.

Now that I’ve been doing this for a year, I’ve met people who say they’re paying $18,000 a month for prescription drugs. They’re being prescribed medicines that are tens of thousands of dollars. That’s crazy. We need to fix this. The issue with my mother’s pill was that she wasn’t able to leave the house because she wasn’t able to take that medicine. When she passed away nine months ago, she wasn’t able to move to Omaha, which is what we wanted her to do so we could take care of her. This has obviously become a lot bigger than my mom, but I do think that our healthcare system needs to be fixed, and the wealthiest country in the world can afford to provide healthcare for people.

Q: How would your policy changes stimulate the economy?

Eastman: It depends on which area you’re talking about, but a lot of them would. Even with healthcare, you would see people actually be able to spend money. They would have more expendable income. They could actually afford to buy a house or take a vacation. Looking at things like raising the minimum wage, we see families that are working two or three jobs because their wages are too low. While unemployment may be down, wages are stagnant. What we’re hearing on the Republican side is “no, they’ve already gotten this “big raise” and that’s not really true. The families we’ve talked to are struggling pretty hard. That takes up time, that takes up energy, and it’s challenging to raise children when you’re working two or three jobs. And it’s challenging to take care of yourself.

I’ve been working in housing for the last 12 years. If we invested in clean, safe and healthy housing, we would see an incredible boom to our economy in terms of Workforce Development job creation increasing the tax base for communities and creating safer, healthier communities and that gets into environmental stuff like climate change. So, if we actually invest in renewables, we would be creating jobs as well on the housing side things like replacing windows– that’s all local work. You can’t outsource that. There are a number of ways that the things that I’m a proponent of would actually be a huge boost to our economy.

Q: What changes would you advocate for in the American healthcare system?

Well, first I think we need to figure out the prescription drug issue. That seems to me to be one of the biggest issues. We must force drug companies to negotiate prices.

We have outside influences from lobbyists, from pharmaceutical companies, from insurance companies—so they’re keeping these prices high. And the reality is that we don’t really know how much things cost. My aunt was telling me the other day she was taking an eye drop that cost $8, and she went back to the pharmacist a month later to get it refilled and it was $200. Where’s the explanation for that? That’s a huge difference, yet, as consumers, we have no idea how much these things are supposed to cost, yet we know that if we go to Canada or Mexico, we could buy these drugs at a fraction of that price. Fixing prescription drugs is definitely my first priority.

Q: President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement. How do you view this decision, and how would you change environmental policy?

Well, I don’t think it was a good idea. I think we have to demonstrate our commitment on a global level to climate change. I believe climate change is the number one moral threat facing our kids. We’re leaving these problems for them to clean up. And the other reality is that it’s only the wealthy that can withstand the effects of global warming. So, by investing in renewables—especially in a place like Nebraska with investing in wind and solar—we can be champions of that.

We need to make sure that our housing is safe and green. I’ve been working in that realm for 12 years, and I see the return investment we get on energy efficient housing. People then have money to pay their lower utility bills. We can significantly impact our utility bills with just a few improvements in the home. This a place where we need to take action. We need to do it immediately. We don’t have time to wait, and this idea that we have policy makers that are still coming around to believing that climate change could be manmade—we don’t have time for that. It’s time to take action.

I had a conversation with the Pope’s climate change scientist who had some great, concrete ideas about ways we could be addressing climate change immediately. One of those is giving farmers filters for their diesel tractors. He said that this would have a significant impact. So, there are these low cost, easy solutions in front of us. There are ways we can use technology to improve what we’re doing, but also significantly impact the environment.

Q: Where do you stand on immigration and DACA as a whole?

Right now, the issue is this incredibly inhumane immigration policy that we have in front of us. My brother actually works as an interpreter for the federal court system, and he’s now doing this daily report on Facebook about kids being separated from their families. He’s been seeing this for a while.

I believe we need to pass a clean Dream Act. We have enough evidence to show Dreamers are productive members of our society. They’ve lived here their whole lives. They are our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends. And we’re kind of holding their lives in limbo right now, and politicians are using them as political playing cards. We need a comprehensive immigration reform.

We absolutely need border security and national security, but the way we’re going about it right now—especially the way the Trump Administration is handling this is so inhumane. It’s hard to believe we’re creating interment camps for kids in the United States right now.

Q: Should women be able to receive an abortion, and should there be any limitations?

On this issue I support freedom, and I support a woman’s right choose. I believe that women are capable of making decisions about their own healthcare, their own bodies without government intervention. If we actually wanted to prevent unwanted pregnancies, we would be investing in education, healthcare and age-appropriate sex education, as well as providing birth control. We must stop stigmatizing a lot of these things.

Q: Do you believe there should be any changes in gun control laws, and if so, what changes would you advocate for?

Universal background checks, mandatory waiting periods, banning the sale of high capacity magazines—those are great steps. In the healthy housing world, I’ve seen cities where they provide gun locks to families to make sure guns are safer, and they’re not getting into the hands of kids. Using technology to make smart triggers where you have to be the person who owns the gun to use the gun. All these things are very common sense, but it’s time that we make some changes because I don’t want my daughter to be afraid to go to school.

Q: Would you support increasing minimum wage?

Yeah, I support minimum wage across the country to at least $15 an hour. In Nebraska, that would definitely be the starting point. I see too many families that are struggling. If you’ve never worked two or three jobs as a parent, I don’t think you really understand how difficult that is. And they’re doing it because they have to, they’re doing it because they’re struggling.

The initial pushback is like “small businesses can’t afford that.” You’re seeing this play out in some cities and some states where they’re trying to get rid of wait staffs being paid under minimum wage and getting rid of tipping. I think there’s a cultural shift in that that’s going take some time. I don’t think we’re really thinking about this from the regular, working people who rely on these wages. It’s very easy for policy makers, most of whom are very wealthy, to say, “We can’t afford it. It would cripple small businesses.” Well, I run a small business. We pay at least $15 an hour to our employees because I want them to be able to live and work. And if I’m able to do that at a small nonprofit, I think that most people could find a way to do that as well.

Q: What changes in American tax policy do you support? And how would these changes impact Nebraskans?

The tax bill the Republicans passed, to me is the opposite of fiscal responsibility. I would like to see that tax bill flipped so that we are taxing the very wealthy and large corporations at a fair rate. Giving them a tax break does not benefit Nebraskans. It actually just benefits the CEOs of those companies and the shareholders. And we’re seeing clearly that cutting taxes for the very wealthy is not the way to boost the economy.

In Nebraska right now, we’re having issues with our budget. And the governor continues to cut funding for things like education. We see these budget cuts that keep happening. You can’t cut taxes for wealthy people and then expect that other areas are going to thrive. You need taxes to make things work. We need to be thinking more about regular people.

I think the way they frame this is like “oh, all these people got bonuses and these tax cuts are working for everybody.” It’s working for the people the tax bill was designed for. It’s working for the very wealthy.

Q: What do you think the United States’ role should be in global politics?

Right now, we need to take a step back and actually look at strategy. I’m worried about our place and standing in the world. I’ve heard people say, “We’re fine. We’re the United States of America; we’ll always be fine,” but that is not true. We are, on some levels, considered to be less than what we used to be.

What’s happening with trade is a little scary. An all-out global trade war is not going to be good for our economy. It’s not good for our farmers or working families. It seems like what’s happening right now is that the administration wants us to be this isolated island and get out of all of our deals with everyone because they’re “bad deals.”

There are some nuances to bad and good and some deals that could be better. But just withdrawing from all this stuff, alienating our allies, and not funding the state department. We have to think about where we want to be in the world. We participate in the global economy. The United States should continue to be stronger, not weaker.

Q: How would your election benefit students in the Nebraska University system?

As somebody who sits on a college board, I’m a huge proponent of public education. I actually am in favor of the College for All act which would make community and four year institutions free for everyone earning under a certain amount. If you’re looking for relief from your student loan debt, I might be the best candidate that you can hire.

I’d also be the first woman to serve the district in Congress, which I think is just an interesting fact. When you look at the lack of women represented in Congress right now, it might be something that is appealing to students. I’m also somebody who has been fighting for racial, social, and environmental justice my whole career. I’m somebody who’s actually going to look for people of color, people who identify as LGBTQIA. This is the kind of work I’ve done as a social worker my whole career, and I believe it translates well into Congress.