Health care is a human right. The system of private insurers offering inadequate coverage with high premiums, pharmaceutical manufacturers raising the prices of lifesaving drugs simply to turn a profit, and for-profit hospitals extracting high payments from the patients they purport to serve has run its course. I stand with Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare for All Act of 2019, which delivers free, universal health care. And that means universal. A just and equitable health care system means that it must provide abortion and contraception; it must provide transgender people with every service they deem necessary; it must provide seniors and disabled people with long term care in their own home. Universal health care means free dental, vision, reproductive health, and mental health services. It means that it is always available, not just when our employer provides it.
This bill is already the focus of the 2019 legislative session and with every day it is not passed, Coloradans will continue to suffer under the burden of medical debt or forego care entirely due to the cost. This bill is necessary and should be passed immediately, well before the 2020 elections.
But we cannot stop there. Once we have a plan for free, universal healthcare in place, we are far from finished, and I vow to continue that fight in Congress. Coloradans are suffering from existing medical debts and that debt must be abolished. We do not truly have a just medical system until the damage done by the previous one no longer haunts us. The remaining medical debt must disappear, and I will continue the fight to make sure that it does.
Housing & Education
During the 2008 financial crisis, Congress bailed out the banks to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars. Displaced workers struggled to pay their home loans and millions of homes were foreclosed on. Wall-Street-based land speculators bought these cheap homes at auction and turned them into rental housing. As the supply of purchasable homes went down, housing prices skyrocketed. Millions of people who used to own a home but for foreclosure were forced to become renters. The rent is now so high that few of us who rent can ever dream of owning a home. The banks paid us back for the bailout on paper, but they first used that money to force millions to become dependent on rental homes and now profit monthly off that desperation.
The big banks did this with the federal government’s help. Instead of acting in the interest of the people by, say, paying off people’s underwater mortgages, Congress facilitated a huge transfer of property to the wealthy.
Today, half of all housing in Denver is rental property, and the perils of renting are huge. Every month, at least 300 of our neighbors are evicted and thrown out of their homes. They cannot afford a lawyer, and a lawyer is not provided for eviction proceedings. Many of us sign leases that revoke our right to go to court at all, forcing us into “arbitration” with a for-profit company that gets paid by the leasing company.
But the true story of housing in this country is one of surplus and potential. For every homeless person, there are five empty homes ready to be lived-in or renovated. Public housing must be a priority if we are ever to live in a world free from homelessness, generational poverty, and sky-high housing costs. There are a number of steps we have to take.
First, we must repeal the Faircloth Amendment. This law, passed in 1999, prevents the government from building any new affordable housing. The intersecting crisis of rising rent, homelessness, and underemployment can be mitigated as soon as we repeal this awful law and resume building homes. Next, we must tax empty homes and secondary properties. Wealthy individuals and corporations are in the habit of buying homes and then letting them sit empty. They are purchased either as second or third homes, or as “investments” that will be resold once the price of housing is driven up. If someone is taking homes off the market purely for the sake of profit, they should pay a tax. Period. Third, we must ban corporations from owning homes. So many of the homes that were snapped up in the foreclosure crisis were bought by businesses rather than people. Renting homes became their business and people’s survival became their source of profit. Homes are for people, and corporations are not people, no matter what we’re told.
Last, we need to prioritize democratic control of our homes and community ownership of our neighborhoods. Housing should belong to the people who live in it. In Denver, entire city blocks are owned and controlled by out-of-state real estate firms. Our communities cannot flourish while our homes are controlled by profit-minded strangers who will never be accountable to us. If we controlled our neighborhoods, we could make them energy efficient, walkable, fill them with community gardens, and safely remove lead and asbestos, simply because it is what we want. Part of any jobs program, like the one in the Green New Deal, is making funds available to communities across Denver to create jobs repairing homes, building new ones, and designing a neighborhood based on our needs, instead of what is profitable.
The profound changes we must make in how we approach housing policy and land use cannot be underestimated. These policies have been, since before our country was founded, a primary mechanism of racism and oppression. Indigenous people are removed from their land so that colonizers can claim a small parcel as “theirs.” Reparations in the form of land were violently denied to former slaves after the Civil War because of the economic equity it would have provided. Redlining denied home loans to Black people and determined what neighborhoods they were and were not allowed to live in. All these practices are still encoded in the DNA of our housing law, and minor tweaks will not undo the damage. Making homes available to all, and available first to those who need it most is the only moral choice. Community-owned, universal housing is a necessity if we are to ever move forward as a country.
Over time, our higher education system has transitioned from being an optional step in a decent life to being absolutely necessary if we ever hope to make a living wage. Employers know this, and exploit this desperation. The credentials they require have become so demanding as to be nearly impossible. Entry-level work barely exists; we need three to five years of experience before we’re allowed to gain experience! We do unpaid work while paying through the nose to go to school, fighting with our peers for artificially scarce employment.
We have been saddled with student loans that take our entire lives to repay. Universities charge exorbitant prices, which forces them to make a lofty promise: that whatever you pay now will be worth the extra income the degree will provide. This takes the focus of learning away from
exploration, research, and self-direction, instead centering rote learning intended to get you a very specific job. Because you have to get that job, or the money was for nothing. Instead, the right choice is free public education at all levels. I will vote to tax the people who profit most from our education—the wealthiest employers, who currently pay no taxes—and use that money to provide free college to everyone. And to address the damage that’s currently being done, I will vote to cancel all existing student debt.
Further, free college removes the financial pressure to complete college as quickly as possible and allows more people to get an education. Students today are financially penalized for going to school part-time or needing to withdraw for personal reasons. A free education opens the door to students with learning disabilities or mental health conditions, people who experience an unexpected tragedy, or people who have children (free college means free childcare for students). All these people would suddenly be able to attend school at their own pace and complete their degree. This is nothing but a positive outcome for millions across the country.
Last, my vote for any education program will also require that every college and university makes slots available, no strings attached, to students worldwide. Solidarity the world over is the strongest bond we can hope to create, and higher education is a perfect place to strengthen that connection.
Denver is no stranger to climate change. Thanks to warmer winters and an earlier spring, pine and spruce beetles, which used to be unable to survive Colorado winters, have infested and left dead 3.4 million acres of the Rocky Mountains. That’s an ecosystem 34 times the size of Denver that has been lost to rising average temperatures, and the devastation doesn’t stop there. Those trees once collected and processed greenhouse gasses in our air, but with their death, they become easy fuel for wildfires, which pump those very greenhouse gasses right back into the atmosphere. We can see the awful feedback loop this creates, and the danger cannot be underestimated.
We are running out of time, but we are nowhere near out of resources. We have everything we need to take action against climate change today, yet our politicians don’t act with any sense of urgency. It’s no surprise to find out that their campaigns are well-funded by the oil and gas industry. These oil and gas executives have known for a generation that climate change was looming and deliberately hid it, buying off anyone with the power to stop it. We must outright reject politicians who accept their money.
To begin tackling this challenge, I support the Green New Deal. A problem this massive must be addressed through massive government action. My vote for the Green New Deal will include the right to:
We need to tax the heck out of the rich. Every single day, Denverites go to work, give it their best, and go home with barely enough money for rent, food, and to pay the bills, if even. Every single dollar these billionaires have earned came from the hard work of people like us. It is a tragedy that we live in a society designed by and for the extremely wealthy. They and their companies pay nothing in taxes while our city scrambles to fund our most basic services.
A fair share in the wealth we create is a human right. I support Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ plan to substantially increase the tax rate on people making more than ten million dollars a year. The ultra-rich have been taxed as high as 90%, historically, and the fact that most of them no longer pay any taxes at all is unjust.
And then there’s the cycle of debt that we know all too well. We put groceries on a credit card just so we can pay rent. We start a GoFundMe to pay for car repairs. My generation has no savings, and what little other generations have is dwindling every day as politicians gut Social Security. To address this mounting debt, in addition to restoring Social Security payments to a livable amount, I support Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’ plan to cap all lending interest rates at 15%, because no one should be allowed to profit excessively off poverty.
Further, I’m a supporter of public banking. A transparent, democratically controlled bank is exactly what this country needs. A public bank, because it is not run for profit, could provide low-interest or no-interest loans, provide banking services without hidden fees, and would, most importantly, offer all of us a way to keep our money out of the hands of private banks. The last time we all gave our money to private banks, they destroyed the economy of the entire planet. Admittedly, while a public bank does not eliminate poverty tomorrow, it does take away the ability of capitalists to prey on the least of us in our time of need. Why go to a payday lender when you can go to a public bank and get a few bucks at no interest? Why put your money in a private bank that charges a $34 overdraft fee when a public bank would forgive you for going a little over your limit? The psychological strain a public bank can remove from the people of Denver is astounding. We deserve better than the hell the private banks put us through.
Work & Labor
I will vote to increase the minimum wage to $20 per hour. We workers are more productive than we’ve ever been, and the amount of money that trickles upward to the owners is higher than it’s ever been. The bosses will have to forego their six-figure bonuses, but that seems a small price to pay to make sure that every worker in this country has a home, some savings, a family, a hobby, and a social life. You know, the literal basics.
The way we achieve this is by standing together. The strength of labor unions has been under attack for over a generation. I will vote to strengthen and return collective bargaining rights to the people of Denver. This means an end to at-will employment—your employer should have to prove that you aren’t doing your job if they want to fire you. This means giving workers at one company the freedom to strike and bargain with all workers in their industry. This means imposing strict penalties on employers who abuse a worker’s immigration status to quash organizing.
I am also passionate about worker ownership. I support worker cooperatives and democratically controlled workplaces. The best way to ensure that everyone has a voice is to simply give them one. Why should our boss unilaterally decide if we get a raise? Instead, let the workers vote on how to spend the profits. Currently, these decisions are made by a board of shareholders, and they vote only to maximize their own incomes at the expense of the rest of us. Until all work is democratically-controlled, I support Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to require companies to let workers elect 40% of the Board of Directors, and I offer a counterproposal of at least 50% representation. All corporate decisions should require the consent of the workers.
Additionally, everyone should have access to at least one month of paid vacation time every year, as well as plenty of paid medical and paid parental leave. People shouldn’t have to risk losing their jobs because they need medical care or are expecting a child. I will vote to change this.
When I say that every worker in this country deserves fair pay, I mean every worker. As we speak, the for-profit prison system uses incarcerated laborers for hard, sometimes life-threatening work, and only pays them pennies an hour. We’re talking less than a dollar a day to do the same sort of hard work that everyone does. Equal pay for equal work means a fair deal for everyone who labors, and those who are incarcerated deserve a fair shake just like the rest of us.
Incarceration & Immigration
Since I was born, the prison population in Colorado has risen from 7,000 people in 1989 to over 20,000 today. The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice predicts that we will raise this to nearly 28,000 people in the next five years. And that’s just in state prisons. If you include local jails, federal prisons, and people on parole being monitored by surveillance, the numbers shoot up to almost 35,000 Coloradans. Approximately 1/5 of those people haven’t even been convicted of a crime and are needlessly awaiting trial behind bars, thanks to the cruel cash bail system. To show the scale of the problem, 6 in every 1,000 Colorado residents are incarcerated. In Russia, the number is 4 in 1,000. In the United Kingdom, 1 in 1,000. Our state alone outdoes some of the most incarcerated countries on the planet. And to cage all these people, Colorado spends nearly $1 billion every year.
Even worse, all those people are denied the right to vote. It is unjust that being incarcerated takes away one’s fundamental rights. Given that such a sizable population of people are incarcerated for drug-related offenses, and that Black and Brown people are five times as likely to be targeted for imprisonment than white people in Colorado, disproportionately denying them the right to vote is part of a long history of racist disenfranchisement.
This prison boom is the fault of the racist War on Drugs and the terrifying judicial practices that have been codified as a result. This system of mass incarceration, civil forfeiture, and militarization of local police did exactly as it was designed to do—half of all prisoners in the nation are incarcerated for drug crimes. Congress created much of this mess, and Congress has the power to repeal it. As your representative, I will vote to:
The Trump administration has taken to fascist border enforcement by criminalizing immigration. They have effectively made the very act of crossing the border a criminal offense and have begun deporting and caging people in earnest for nothing more than joining a community without the right paperwork.
Denver keeps immigrants interned in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison in Aurora, just off I-70 and Peoria. This for-profit detention center is owned by GEO Group, who gave generously to the Trump campaign, and was the center of a lawsuit that alleged tens of thousands of immigrants were forced to labor for little or no pay in violation of the anti-slavery clause of the Constitution. We must stop the inhumane treatment of immigrant people. Ending mass incarceration requires a just immigration system, and a just immigration system requires ending mass incarceration.
I will vote for a simple and streamlined immigration process that includes two key ideas. One, amnesty for all undocumented people—because there are millions of people living and working in fear every day and “immigrants are welcome here” needs to be backed up by law. And two, a system that lets people apply for citizenship after a period of residency—similar to how Colorado lets you apply after living here for 90 days. Addressing the underlying need—a fair and universal immigration policy—is the humane choice and doing so will help end the caging, criminalization, and police harassment that immigrants experience every day.
Democrat and Republican politicians alike enjoy asking, “how are you going to pay for that?” We shout that we want free, universal healthcare, and politicians reply, “where’s the money?” We angrily demand a college education that doesn’t bankrupt us, and our representatives retort that “the numbers just won’t work.”
They hide a terrible truth: that we must accept endless war as inevitable and more important than the needs of our community. Every single day our government spends 700 million dollars to fuel the unconscionable violence that we call the “War on Terror.” Any politician who is hesitant to fund social programs inherently believes in spending over 50% of the federal budget on destruction and violence. We are asked to believe that killing 200,000 Iraqi civilians is a normal and acceptable use of our money. Even worse, the U.S. military is the largest single polluter on Earth. We cannot even heal the planet so long as our military patrols it. War isn’t just a waste of human life; it burns through carbon like nothing else.
Yet, as we speak, warmongers in the Trump administration, against the wishes of Americans everywhere, are trying to find any excuse to go to war. They are threatening Iran, North Korea, Venezuela—desperate for even the flimsiest pretense. Without a Congress willing to stop the President from starting another war, we cannot hope to build a better future. I will fight every single day I am in Congress to stop the war machine from churning through lives and resources. War is never the answer, and I will never vote for it.
We are approaching 20 years of occupation and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. We must not reach that anniversary.
We know that our politicians are bought—they don’t get elected by supporting policies that improve our lives, they get elected because elite consultants schmooze wealthy donors and corporations. And who exactly forms their donor base? It’s oil companies; fracking outfits; private, for-profit prisons; the ultra-rich. It’s the very people who exploit us and harm our community. Is it any surprise they act like they don’t need us? They say they know what’s best for our community, but then they meet with their pharmaceutical company donors and surprise, the cost of insulin triples and people continue dying.
So, what can we do? We’re never going to see true change without a complete overhaul of the campaign finance system. That’s why I’m ready to fight to repeal the terrifying lineage of Supreme Court decisions that have allowed unlimited money to flow into our elections. The Court decided in 1976 that spending money is equivalent to free speech, and since then the working people of this country have had their rights chipped away, case by case, giving the rich increasing power to buy politicians and make that money as invisible as possible. To end this, it will take a Constitutional amendment that explicitly states that spending money is not speech. That’s no small feat, but on the other hand, we’ve done this before as a country twenty-seven times, and we can do it again. That is why I’m ensuring my campaign is funded by working people, and not big-business DC donation bundlers. Until money is no longer speech, where we get our money matters.
In addition to getting dark money out of politics, I will fight for publicly financed campaigns—fixed amounts of money available to every candidate, provided by the communities they serve, that anyone can use to run for office. No more fundraising emails, no more two-year election cycles! (For real, I’m starting a year-and-a-half before election day and that’s too early!) Politics would finally be about making a real difference in people’s lives.