10 questions for Cori Bush, primary challenger in 1st Congressional District race – and her answers
On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Cori Bush joined host Don Marsh to discuss her campaign for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum also participated in the conversation.
Bush, who lives in Florissant, is challenging incumbent Rep. Lacy Clay (D-University City) in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District. Both Bush and Clay’s names will appear on next week’s Democratic primary ballot.
Bush fielded a wide variety of questions from Marsh, Rosenbaum and listeners during the show. Here are 10 of those exchanges.
Marsh: Clearly you want to replicate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s action in New York of just a couple weeks ago. She calls herself a democratic socialist. Do you?
Bush: I don’t. And the reason why I’m not caught up in labels, this is not about having a title, because sometimes those titles and those labels shut you back and people won’t listen to your message. This is about policy. This is about the people. So you can call me “peanut butter” if you want to – just let me do the work.
Rosenbaum: How would you want to make [a policy aspiration like Medicare for All] into actual policy for the American people?
Bush: It’s already being worked on, so what we would be able to do going in is to help push this. I would say, when people ask about how do you pay for it, Medicare for All is something that would help – as a nurse, I see people that come into the clinic, I see people going into hospitals that don’t have health-care coverage. They go in for a toothache, they need to go to the emergency room, they’re seen in the emergency room, they’re seen there for a sinus infection, whereas preventive care would’ve taken care of that, and we wouldn’t have spent the extra money. So I think if we’re not spending as much money on wars, if we’re not spending as much money – money is there, but how do we allocate it? I think if we can come up with the money to take families and separate them and build these tent camps and put people, put children, all across the country in these foster-care systems, we’re spending millions of dollars a day, if we have the money to do that, then we can come up with the money to make sure that health care’s taken care of. Other countries do it. We know that Denmark has done it. We know France has done it, Switzerland has done it, Sweden has done it, Canada has done it. So why can’t we do it?
Rosenbaum: One of the things I’ve heard from some of the groups that are supporting you over Lacy Clay is they say Lacy Clay has taken money from political action committees, and I don’t believe that you have on any significant level, even if there are some third-party groups that are supporting you. Explain why that matters to the average voter.
Bush: I am one of those everyday people. I felt left out of the conversation for years, just not feeling like our government, like our representatives, represented me. As a single parent, as someone who struggled to make ends meet, definitely sometimes looking for how would we eat next week – so that person, being in that position, not accepting corporate PAC money, to me, says that that person that can only donate $12 to their favorite candidate still has just as much of a voice as a corporation that can donate thousands. I want to make sure that those people know that that representative actually knows them and speaks to their situations, because to me, it’s all about lived experience. I believe lived experience should be seated in Congress. And that lived experience says, “I know what that’s like. I know what it’s like to go take out a payday loan and to struggle to pay it back because the interest is so high.”
Marsh: I know you say that Lacy Clay has been around too long and should be replaced. But isn’t there a value to the kind of experience he has, and the tenure he has? Seniority in Congress is a big deal.
Bush: The way I look at it is this. Experience is great – it’s a good thing, but it’s not the only thing. And if that experience isn’t directly affecting the people on the ground that you’re supposed to represent, do we feel that experience? What I believe is I can go into Congress and I can make friends, I can build relationships with people. Get me in the door. Because one thing that we saw is when we hit the ground in Ferguson, we didn’t know one another – hundreds of us – we didn’t know one another. We built a coalition of groups … I wasn’t as familiar with our Palestinian brothers and sisters, I wasn’t as familiar with our Latinx community and our LGBT community before that thing started. But we were able to come together and build a coalition that has been able to continue on up until today, getting stronger and stronger.
Rosenbaum: What would you want to do on a federal level – what policies would you advocate for that kind of fall within the law-enforcement/criminal-justice accountability realm?
Bush: I know that there’s an effort right now to end the cash bail system, so I’m very aware of that. But that’s definitely something I want to push for. … I believe that police officers, and let me say this first because people try to say that you’re anti-police – I’m not anti-police. I’m anti-police-brutality. I’m all for police being held accountable. I believe that police officers that are … investigated and found to be guilty [of discrimination or racial profiling] should not be able to then go to another department and do the same thing. So putting measures in place, putting a policy in place, that would stop that.
Marsh: Do you have a sense that there’s going to be more participation this time around by young people?
Bush: In our campaign, the swell of volunteers that have joined us over the last few weeks has been basically young people coming out saying, “I’ve never been a part of this before, I don’t really know what to do, but I want to do something, so I want to be a part.” We’re seeing millennials, we’re seeing even people younger than that – and there’s room. So we’ve been inviting them in.
Rosenbaum: There are older residents in the 1st Congressional District who have been loyal to the Clay family for decades. Maybe it’s because they have an affinity for Lacy Clay’s father Bill Clay, maybe they have an affinity for Lacy Clay who’s been in elected office for 30 years. How do you break through that loyalty and how do you convince people that have voted for Clay time after time after time, even against strong opponents, to vote for you this time?
Bush: Some of those same people have said, “Well, we’re just ready for change. We’re not saying that that person was bad or anything – we’re just ready for change.” Some have said, “We would be happy to see the very first congresswoman for this district during our lifetime.” I’ve heard some say, “I want to see the very first black congresswoman from our state.” And the other is just saying that they would love to see the torch being passed. They would love to see a smooth transition to someone else that has some fresh ideas and then someone who is just of the working class –someone who, you know, I’m a nurse. So having the heart of a nurse sitting in Congress, people are inspired by that.
Rosenbaum: Are there any specific congressional committees you would be interested in serving on that affect the St. Louis area?
Bush: I’ve gotten a little pushback because I’m not an attorney, but the House Judiciary Committee … I believe that’s an area that, because of Ferguson and just so many things that have happened here and that are still happening, I think that somebody like me, that that would be a good place for me.
Rosenbaum: What would be kind of your philosophical approach when you’re asked to vote on [going to war], and what are you going to keep in mind before you vote yes or no?
Bush: I support our veterans – I support our troops. I come from a family of veterans, and so I support them. But I also believe that we should not be policing the world. I don’t believe that that’s our job. I think that we have so many things going on in our own country that we need to tend to. We have people living out their own private wars that we need to address. So if something is coming against our country directly that is affecting our country or our allies to where we have to step in, that’s different. But if that’s not the case, then I think we have to not be everybody’s policemen. We have to take care of us.
Rich, a listener: I live in south St. Louis … and Lacy Clay has been my congressman since 2012. I’ve not heard a word from him. Will you hold town-hall meetings and be visible in the community?
Bush: That’s a big part of why I want to go [to Congress], because I feel like that’s what’s been missing. That’s something I would have loved to have seen and been a part of … absolutely, that is part of my plan. But not just town halls. I want to be able to say, “Hey, Jimmy Jam has a coffee shop over on such-and-such street – meet me over there on Saturday at 12 o’clock. Let’s discuss these bills that are coming.” That’s the kind of congressperson that I want to be.
Producer’s note: Rep. Clay was a guest on St. Louis on the Air on Thursday.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.