Over the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Kelly Westlund, the Ashland City Council member who’s announced her campaign to unseat 7th Congressional District GOP representative and Tea Party media darling Sean Duffy. In the interests of full disclosure, I helped organize a couple of events for Kelly’s “Progress for the People” campaign launch tour as she met with folks around the district in Wausau, Superior, Hudson and Rhinelander throughout the middle of December. Though we spoke briefly between events during her tour I didn’t have a chance to talk with Kelly at length until New Year’s Day, when she gave me an hour or so over the telephone. So far I’ve found her to be a refreshingly open, authentic, smart, realistic, hard-nosed, no-nonsense, good hearted, wise beyond her years, visionary, reasonable, curious, unafraid and tough minded progressive democrat. Did I leave anything out?
When I asked Kelly why she decided to run for Congress she said she was tired of Duffy saying one thing to his constituents and then voting against them in DC. When asked for an example of his hypocrisy she noted that while Duffy recently hosted a hunger and homelessness summit in Wausau, he’s repeatedly voted in DC to cut or discontinue programs designed to supplement the incomes of the poor and working poor. Said Westlund: “Sean Duffy tells people in Wausau that he cares about hunger and homelessness, but while millions of Americans struggle with joblessness and low wages he’s voted to cut heating assistance and food stamps, failed to act on continuing unemployment benefits for over 1 million people, he’s voted against affordable health insurance dozens of times, and he refuses to back legislation in Congress that would raise the federal minimum wage. What does that tell you? “
She’s got a good point there, Mr. Duffy.
It’s notable that Westlund’s candidacy received the immediate endorsement of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and during her launch tour Kelly made a number of comments on a wide variety of issues which demonstrate her progressive credentials, most notably support for a meaningful raise in the federal minimum wage, opposition to the open pit iron mine in the Penokee Hills, and an expansion of the Affordable Care Act to include a public option and prescription drug bargaining.
On the minimum wage Kelly said: “There’s a bill in Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. I think that’s a good starting point, but we should aim for a staggered increase that comes closer to $15.00 over the next few years. That’s a more realistic wage when it comes to the cost of living and raising a family.”
When I noted to her that while democrats statewide had voted against the new ferrous mining law, she had distinguished herself by publicly stating opposition to the proposed Penokee Hills iron mine itself. Kelly replied that there are many reasons to oppose this particular mining project. For example, the 7th congressional district includes multiple Native American tribes, all of which are opposed to open pit iron mining in the Penokee Hills. Said Westlund further: “and so are the majority of people in Ashland and Iron counties, where the mine would be located. The tribes are sovereign nations with treaty rights who were excluded from the legislative process, which was a foolish and disrespectful thing for Governor Walker and the republican controlled legislature to do. The fact is, a majority of us who have to live with the aftermath of an open pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin are opposed to it. Sean Duffy is on record supporting further deregulation of mining. I’m on record supporting the views of a majority of the people who live here. “
Westlund went on to say that jobs are needed in northern Wisconsin but not at the expense of the current economy which depends heavily on tourism, agriculture, and outdoor recreation, all of which could be adversely affected by the sheer size of the mine. She noted that a sustainable economic future for the area should include a focus on enhancing tourism and recreational capabilities as well as expanding agriculture, including the capacity and market for locally grown food and renewable energy. “We don’t have any oil or coal in northern Wisconsin, but we do have plenty of sun and wind.“ she said.
Of the issue statements Kelly has made publicly I’ve personally been most impressed with her views on the Affordable Care Act. While the vast majority of democrats have focused their remarks on the benefits contained within the bill as it is, Kelly has gone farther and said that people should have the option to buy into a public health insurance plan such as Medicare, and that we should be able to bargain for group prices of prescription drugs as both the Veterans Administration and Medicaid currently do. When I told her that her remarks reminded me of Montana’s Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer, who has called for a similar expansion of the ACA, she said she was very flattered. “I heard him (Schweitzer) speak at the Democratic National Convention last year and he’s great,“ she said. “Expanding public health insurance and getting a fair price on prescription drugs is just common sense and it brings costs down for everyone. But instead, we get Sean Duffy voting over 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act without offering a meaningful alternative, which is the exact opposite of what he promised he’d do. Then he fought for a government shutdown when he didn’t get his way. We all deserve a lot better than that kind of conduct from an elected official. “
That’s another good point, Sean.
As a wrap up I noted to Kelly that she’s got an uphill battle to defeat Duffy in 2014, pointing out that she’s likely to have a huge money disadvantage and that some may consider the leap from Ashland City Council member to Congresswoman to be too great a leap for someone her age (30). She replied that while she’d certainly do the work to raise money, her campaign would be built more on grassroots support. She also said that Sean Duffy had never served in a legislative capacity (or even run for office with opposition) before he announced his run for Congress. Concerning her age she said, “Well, I’m the same age that Dave Obey was when he won his first congressional race.”
There you have it!
On a final note let me say that I find Kelly’s grit, determination and unabashed progressivism to be more than a little refreshing. Consider this post less an interview and more of a full blown endorsement. We need more people like Kelly running for public office and we need more democrats with her political courage. My wife Shelly and I gave her campaign $100.00, and we’ll give her our time too, and if you’re interested in doing the same you can learn more about her at the links below.