Transcript to: Ep 1 - There's something happening in the 7th
Sohan: Hi. Welcome to the Blue Wave Pod. I’m Sohan Manek.
Eric: And I’m Eric Heffinger.
Sohan: And we are coming at you with our first ever interview on the pod. It is with Ken Harbaugh who is the Democratic candidate for the Ohio 7th, and we want to tell you a bit about the OH-7 before we get to the interview with Ken. It is really odd shaped district for a lot of reasons.
Eric: I mean, if you look at this thing on a map, and I know this is a podcast, so I am going to have to draw this image for you - paint this in your mind, if you will.
Sohan: No one does it better than you.
Eric: (Laughter) If you are looking at the state of Ohio, and you know where Cleveland is at - it’s at the tippy-top, by the lake, Lake Erie. This thing starts west of Cleveland and it is a very thin strip up by the lake and it kind of wiggles it way down through a bunch of more rural counties, almost all the way down to Columbus. And then again it snakes back to the east, almost to the edge of Pennsylvania. This is a large swath of land. It covers mostly rural areas, but it sucks up little urban areas along the way, like Canton, which is a very urban area, but it also avoids some big urban areas, like Mansfield. It purposely wraps itself completely around Mansfield just so it doesn’t pick up those urban areas or voters. It has been completely built to elect a Republican.
Sohan: Yeah, as with a lot of areas in the country after the 2010 census, Ohio went through a pretty major restructuring of its congressional districts and this is certainly one of the cases where the Republicans built a seat that they thought would last them a very long time.
Eric: The guy that currently sits in it is name Bob Gibbs, and Bob Gibbs has been elected to congress for quite a few years now. Since they have reconstructed the 7th, he has been the congressman for this new 7th district. In recent elections, in 2014, he ran completely unopposed. In 2016, he won 64% of the vote to the Democrats 29% of the vote.
Sohan: Even though it is hard to forget, 2016 is the year Trump ran, so he did pretty well in this district as well.
Eric: It is a very, very safe Republican seat and early coverage, when we first started to each other about who we cover, what are we going to talk about, how we are going to do this, the OH-7 was on no ones list of a place that can be flipped.
Sohan: There were so many of those websites out there that right after 2016, talked about the districts that Democrats should look to and the OH-7, I think, did not appear on them at all.
Eric: And that has changed because of a candidate named Ken Harbaugh, which we are going to interview hear in a minute. It really goes to show how much a single candidate can do, because now the DCCC is listing this as a flippable district.
Sohan: That has a lot to do with the success that Ken has had in fundraising so far, and the door to door efforts… I mean, it’s kind of crazy, and you will hear this from Ken, about the efforts they have made going door to door already in 2017.
Eric: They were a year and a half out from the election and they were already going door-to-door, knocking on people’s doors and saying “Hey, I’m Ken Harbaugh.” Which is completely unheard of.
Sohan: It is pretty crazy. We want to tell you a bit about Ken before you hear from him. He’s got an incredibly back story. He has been in the Navy. He flew missions for the Navy in the Middle East and in North Korea. Then he went on to Yale Law School and after that, he joined as president of this organization called Team Rubicon, which if you haven’t heard of Team Rubicon, you should, because they do fantastic work. They’re an international disaster relief organization, so anytime there is a major disaster in any areas - hurricanes, earthquakes - Puerto Rico is a great recent example of how they have been involved. Veterans join this organization and they go out there and they provide disaster relief and get into areas that a lot of people can’t and it is pretty incredible work and they are some of the only people that can do it.
Eric: What really makes Ken interesting to us here at Blue Wave Pod is the fact that he has never been politically involved before. He has never run for office before, and yet, he is standing up and saying, after 2016, something needs to change. Because of the effort that he is putting out there, it is changing. People around the country are starting to notice this here.
Sohan: So we really hope you enjoy this interview and thanks for listening.
* Bass guitar playing *
Sohan: We are here today with Ken Harbaugh. Ken, thanks so much for joining us again. We hear so much noise about the things people think voters care about, but you have been on the trail now and when you are out there going door-to-door, what do you hear that matters to people?
Ken: Healthcare, healthcare, healthcare. When I talk to folks around the district, what I talk to my neighbors, when I talk to my family, the thing that keeps people up at night, especially when you dovetail the opioid crisis with it, is healthcare. It is the dominant issue that comes up again and again and again. As the father of a little girl with special needs, a little girl who needed four surgeries before she was four years old, it is deeply personal for me too. We’ve got to win this fundamental argument about access to affordable healthcare.
Sohan: And how do you have that conversation, especially in sort of the environment we find ourselves in now, sort of the national news media environment where... it's so hard… It seems like positions have hardened and people believe things which may not even have a factual basis, and you go out there, do you find that on the trail when you are having that conversation?
Ken: Yeah, I appreciate the question because it gets to one of the most basic things I have learned on the campaign trail. To answer the first part of the question, you have the conversation by telling a story. By sharing your own personal experience, in my case, scheduling Lizzy’s first surgery without any money to pay for it. It was terrifying. As a family, we were looking down the barrel of a gun. We got lucky. I got a job with a great firm in Cleveland and they took great care of us, but you shouldn’t have to roll the dice to take care of your family, especially when it comes to healthcare, and that is a common theme out there on the trail. You’re right. Sometimes folks don’t have all the facts, but Ohioans know in their gut that something is wrong when, as the richest country on Earth, we can’t find a way to fix this. I was out knocking on doors in Mansfield a couple of weekends ago and normally as you might imagine, people are a little wary at first, but its Ohio, so folks warm up rather quickly, and I was having a conversation with a woman. Actually in this case it wasn’t at the doorstep, it was in her driveway. She was unloading groceries and I gave her a hand, but she had been a Marine during the first Gulf War, Desert Storm, so we hit off pretty quickly and she was a corpsman, a medic, in the Marine Corp, their corpsman. Incredibly proud of her time in the service, wearing her country’s uniform. She came back from that and started a home healthcare business from nothing. Went back to school, got her nursing degree, her LPN, and built this home healthcare business from the ground up, and was just as proud of that as she was of her time in uniform. And then we talked about health insurance for her family and for her workers, and she teared up. She said, you know, I am a single mom. I’ve got four kids, I can barely afford to take care of my own family. When I think about my staff, she has twelve nurses working for her, she said, it breaks my heart, because of my twelve, remember these are people who spend every waking moment in others people’s homes, of my twelve, eight of them have no health insurance of their own. They spend every waking moment taking care of other people. They come home, they can’t take care of their own families. People around the district and I think around the country, fell in their gut that something is broken and that, you know, we’ve got to find a way to fix this. We’re the richest country on earth, and the last ones to figure this out, it makes no sense.
Eric: I’m a high school journalism teacher and you just said before you started this story is that one of the ways you connect is through stories.
Eric: And that was a very powerful story you just gave. When I talk to my students, I tell them about the ability of people, they won’t remember statistics but they will remember a moving story. Does that come naturally to you? Are you usually a storyteller, or is this something you had to learn on the campaign trail?
Ken: I think it probably comes naturally to me, at least the way it comes naturally to folks with kids, you know. You communicate with… I tell my kids stories all the time and what I find with them is that the way you win an argument, at least in my family, is you tell the better story. You don’t always win it with facts.
Eric: Yeah, you’ve got to create that emotion.
Ken: Yeah, people respond emotionally and they make their decisions emotionally rather than not, and I think that's one of the things we have to learn in politics is that it is not enough to be right. You have to start by being right, but you’re not going to end by being right because one of the things we have learned the hard way as democrats, is that, you know, the high road can get pretty lonely. We might be right on the merits when it comes to the issues like healthcare, both in terms of the facts, the objective facts, and the moral necessity of doing something about the issues of the day. We can be right on all those points, but unless we tell that side of the story in a way that is emotionally compelling, we’re going to be right and alone. And that high road is going to stay lonely, so, yeah, you’ve got to connect with stories because people are, and I, are an emotional being and that's how we think.
Eric: When you starting getting this idea in your head that you wanted to run… One of the things we wanted to do here is not only tell the story of the seventh, but talk about what it takes to actually get out there and do this. So, when you started getting this idea in your head, how do you start building a campaign, from the idea of you introducing it to your family, like, where does it go from there?
Sohan: And especially for someone with, you know, no political background just jumping in.
Ken: I think that that is the most important message to convey, which is there is no magic wand. This is still a democracy at the end of the day. Votes matter most and what you need most is a passion for it. Anybody can do this. I mean, if you didn’t catch this already, I’m running in Ohio as a Harbaugh. You don’t have to have a certain last name to… and for the record, thats the name of coach of the Michigan football team.
Sohan: No relation, we should say.
Ken: No relation what so ever.
Eric: I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to say ‘the team up north’.
Ken: Yeah. Point being, this is still a democracy. It still belongs to the voter, not the donor, and anybody can do this. It just takes passion and hard work and, you know, I’ve got that in spades. And with a little luck, I guess... I don’t chaulk a lot up to luck... We’ve come a heck of a long way. I think the biggest ingredient of our success has been a passionate volunteer base. People who believe in it as much as we do and are willing to sacrifice for it. We’ve got hundreds of folks out there helping us in the district. We’ve knocked on thousands of doors and we are a year out. That doesn’t happen normally. Something epic is going on in Ohio. We are the front lines of this transformation in our politics nationally. Its inspiring. It's humbling to be a part of.
Sohan: I love that phrase ‘the front lines’, because I think that is so true. I mean, when we talk about what… after Trump and sort of the conversation we need to have in this country in places like this more so than places like, you know, New York City or even in Cleveland, in the middle of the city. But, I guess, the question is, how do you go about having that conversation when you're facing a district that is cut in such a way, and you have an opponent who, you know, isn't even bothering to engage, do you just go out there and go to the voters and make a case or how..?
Ken: Yeah, I mean, in some ways the opponent in a race like this is the least relevant variable. It's about our positive message. I don’t want to dwell to much on Bob Gibbs. You know, you’ve got a guy who has just been keeping the seat warm. He has never held a town hall. I used to say rhetorically that he hasn’t done anything for the folks who sent him to Washington. I had someone on my team look at the actual numbers and it's literally true. He has attached his name to something like fifteen pieces of legislation, 5 have left committee, zero have become law. It’s actually hard to get that little done as a congressman. But our message is about solving problems and getting things done and working across the aisle. Our mantra is country over party, service above self, and opportunity for all and that is striking a chord, especially this country over party idea. Because what we are finding on door after door after door, in conversation after conversation, is that people are sick and tired of party politics. Of politicians answering first to their party and then to their country and constituents. They are tired of it.They are tired of it and they are looking for anyone who can, with some credibility, and I like to think my record in the Navy and as president of Team Rubicon give me that credibility, can show that they have actually lived up to this ideal of country over party, and not just pay it lip service.
Sohan : You mention that energy on the streets that sort of seems unprecedented even in a place like the Ohio seventh, I think we have kind of seen that because when we started going, especially after 2016, to these newly constituted, or newly reconstituted city clubs and saw how many new faces, including me… I just moved back, and you see how many people wanted to get involved, but no one really knew what that meant.
Eric: I went to an event probably about a week after the 2016 election, and it was just at somebody’s house in town, and there was probably like 75 democrats that showed up. I volunteered on the local campaign and stuff, and I didn’t see these people before, and immediately they were showing up.
There were people there saying ‘I’ve got to run. I’ve got to run.” J.R. Russell just ran for judge… He lost just because he had a D next to his name, and that’s what happens in Medina for the most part, but he went out there and he was making his stance and saying ‘We have to compete everywhere, doing everything’ and I think a lot more people stopped and actually talked to him than what people thought in the beginning.He didn’t win in the end, but it's a step in the right direction. I think to get those people on the ballot, and I see that around here. They are running. They are doing something.
Sohan: I guess the question is how do you harness that energy, right? I feel like a lot of people have short term memories these days. Right after Trump got elected is a good example. I remember going out in the Women's March Protest and right after Muslim Ban came in and everyone was in the streets and you don’t really see that much happening anymore. I don’t know how you keep it sustainable, and you hope it is, because 2018 is so important going forward...
Ken: I feel that energy, still. I think it is sustaining. It is also bringing other folks in. I’m being conservative here, a third of the people who show up at our rallies, our events, have never been engaged before. So it is way more than just attracting lifelong democrats out to these events. That's not enough to fix our democracy. It might be enough to revitalize a more abundant party, but we have a higher calling than that and that is to repair our politics, and to do that, we have speak to everyone, or almost everyone. And I see folks coming out who have never been engaged before and, to me, that is the most helpful sign. It is the fact the people all over the 7th, all over Ohio, and I’d like to think all over the country that are realizing that, you know what what, 2016 will keep repeating itself unless we accept some ownership for our own democracy. It is up to us. And that is why I say with total sincerity that I have never been prouder of my country than I am now, because of that, because of what I see out there on that front line, people stepping up, many of them for the first time. I have never been prouder of my country, which is saying a lot as someone who has led some pretty amazing Americans as an aircraft commander and Team Rubicon. But I see the best of America every day out there in the Ohio 7th.
Sohan: I wonder about the messages that you to send to voters because one of the things, I think, that we have seen in the Democratic party is the old guard and the people involved, is this sort of Bernie/Hillary split is kinda still there in terms of people who want the Democrats to have a much more progressive message. We were talking to a voter just last week, who is a liberal in the district, and after Trump got elected feels even more liberal, and kind of wants someone to take the mantle of progressive ideas even further, but when you’re running in a district like this, it is difficult for a lot of reasons, but also because you want your message to be broad, which is what you kind of hinted at with the “country over party” one. What would be your message to both sides of the democratic party to kind of bring it together?
Ken: To be perfectly honest, it's not been a significant challenge for us here in the 7th. I hear a lot more of that talking to folks running in other parts of the country, but I think one of the reasons we have such a coalescing of support from Senator Brown on down. From the grassroots on up, is that in a district like the 7th, unlike in somewhere you still have these real divisions… in a district like the 7th, the stakes are literally life and death. It's not hyperbole. It's literally a life and death election in a place like the 7th where on a weekly basis, people come up to me… It wasn’t long ago, a woman came up to me and said ‘Ken, you have to win, because I just buried my only son. We were on a waiting list for three months for a bed in a heroin treatment facility because we were told the funding just wasn’t available.’ Two weeks away from getting his slot, he overdosed. The stakes are life and death when you look at the gutting of funding for rural clinics, for treatment centers. I’ve had another mom come up to me and say ‘Ken, you’ve got to win this because I’ve got twin boys with orphan illnesses - the kind of illnesses that there aren't great options for and like my own daughter, they are going to be uninsurable until they turn 65 and are eligible for medicare if the other side wins.
It is a life or death election in a district like this and there is really no patients for re-litigating 2016 or for the kind of internessant warfare on our side that in a past cycle that might tear Democrats apart. We’re rallying because the stakes are so high.
Eric: On your website it focuses on values. A typical political website focuses on issues. I think you are hinting to that a lot here, but I am curious on why you feel that that is where you want to go. Not the process, but I guess the issue…. That’s where you want to go. What do you really value as a person and why do you focus on that?
Ken: I mean, its a theory of leadership, I guess. I’m running to earn people’s trust, because I know that decisions will arise in Washington, should be honored enough to be elected, where I am going to have to apply my judgement, my values, to make a kind of decision that I am not going to be able to poll everyone of my constituents on. And they need to make an informed decision on candidates based on those candidate’s values. Based on their fundamental values, what they believe in, what's in there hearts, because the exercise of governing, of legislating, is one that needs to be value driven, or else we would have computers do it.
Sohan: One thing that is sort of near to me, and I think to you as well with your background experience is, and that you may be a part of, hopefully, when you are in congress, is America’s international standing. Do you think that is in danger now, even more than in the past, or do you that is sort of overblown? And how do we maintain that type of leadership that we have always been known for?
Ken: I think that it is in more danger now than in any time since World War II. I think any objective observer of geopolitics would say the same because this administration has intentionally walked away from our commitments, from our allies, has in some cases intentionally undermined our authority on the kinds of issues that directly implicate our standing in the world. I think that is incredibly dangerous in the long term. I think that a great example of that was in the original proposal to gut funding for the state department by 30%. I mean, how unbelievably nearsighted is that? And I say that a military vet who realizes, as should the current leadership of this country, that the state department is there to prevent wars. That military force should be the last resort. In fact, General Mattis put it quite clearly when he said, “ If you are going to cut the State Department by 30%, you better buy my military a lot more bullets,”... because that is what happens when you gut funding for diplomacy, for every tool of foreign policy, it should be applied before the application of military force.
Eric: Out in the field, when you are talking to people, you have a lot of foreign policy experience between the Navy and your work with Team Rubicon. Do you see that being a big thing people want to talk about out there?
Ken: Increasingly, and that is a really hopeful sign in a sense that folks really do appreciate that what happens in the south China sea, that what happens off of North Korea, actually does affect whats happening right here at home. It’s another one of these incredibly reassuring reminded that voters are paying attention… that they really are, and that they are going to hold this congress, this government accountable.
Eric: One last question, it’s a two parter for you. So far, best thing you have experienced on the campaign trail and the worst thing you have experienced on the campaign trail.
Sohan: Please be honest.
Ken: You got it. The best thing I have experienced is absolutely knocking on doors on getting to know people in their own homes. I will confess...
Eric: You’re in my home right now.
Ken: I know (laughter). As far as the team is concerned, I am the worst person on the whole team to knock on doors with, because I will blow my number in the very first conversation. We’re supposed to hit 20 doors in a certain time period, and I will spend 45 minutes talking with a single voter or a single family, but I just love it.I were… I’m trying to remember… We were in Canton not that long ago, and you know, door one, which was supposed to be door one of forty that afternoon, ended up being the only door I knocked on. I mean, it’s Ohio. People are friendly. They want to open up. They want to tell what they are hopeful about, what they are angry about, what they want to see changed, and, you know, I’ll never say no to a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold, weekend afternoon. Those have been by far my favorite moments. The toughest ones have been those moments where I have to make a tough call, and you know it’s harder than it is…. There is a lot of time away from the kids and, you know, I’m a dad and family guy at heart, and thank god I have three kids who get it and who understand the stakes. During parade season, those are pretty good weekends because we’re all out there together and we have a great time, so we make up for it, but there are some lonely moments...
Sohan: Well we can’t tell you how happy we are that you are making this sacrifice. It is obviously really important and we know how much it takes.
Eric: Thanks for coming in again Ken and we really look forward to following your campaign and hearing from you again.
Ken: You got it. You got it. Thanks for having me, guys. It was a real pleasure. Let’s do this again.
* Bass guitar playing *
Eric: Thank you for listening to the first episode of Blue Wave Pod.
Sohan: And for our next two episodes, we hope to bring you two pretty different viewpoints. First, we are going to be talking to a liberal government worker who now lives in the heart of Trump country. And second, we are going to be talking to a member of the Air Force who has pretty strong religious beliefs and really uses them to inform his value system and we dig deep into what drives him to vote the way he does. And, spoiler alert, and I know Eric is thrilled about this, there are llamas involved in both episodes.
Eric: No…. the llamas?... ok…
Eric: And if you are not listening to us, you can always follow us on Twitter at @BlueWavePod or on Facebook at Blue Wave Pod.
Sohan: You love llamas.
Eric: Something like that…
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