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Kai Degner talks Sixth District race, issues with Viewpoints on WVPT

Sixth District Democratic Party congressional nominee Kai Degner is an anti-establishment candidate in the year of anti-establishment candidates.

“If you’re voting (Donald) Trump because you’re anti-establishment, voting for (Bob) Goodlatte doesn’t make sense,” said Degner, who is running against Goodlatte, a 24-year incumbent, in the Sixth District, which stretches from Warren County down the spine of the Shenandoah Valley to Roanoke, and juts over the Blue Ridge into the Lynchburg area.

“You’ve got to break a generation’s worth of tradition to be willing to do that, which I understand is a tall order, and I understand there may be some differences with the Democratic platform for many voters in this area. But what I can pledge is that I’ll listen to you, and I’ll incorporate the different perspectives, and I will have a sense of urgency about getting deals done,” Degner said in an interview on this week’s Viewpoints on WVPT.

Goodlatte was also invited to take part in this week’s program, but was unable to attend to do so.

Degner is finishing up his second four-year term on Harrisonburg City Council. The owner of a real-estate business, Degner has based his campaign around the theme “Listening for a Change,” and has held listening sessions across the wide expanse of the Sixth to hear from voters about what their concerns are.

“We’re not just worried that our representatives are not listening to us, we’re worried about who they’re listening to,” said Degner, pointing to recent campaign-finance reports in the Sixth that shows a clear difference in who is funding the two campaigns.

“In his case, only 3 percent of the money in his last campaign finance report comes from small donors, people donating less than $200. Seventy-eight percent of my money in that time came from small donors. What I’m trying to offer here is a candidate that listens to people, not to PACs from out of the district,” Degner said.

Goodlatte’s experience advantage could actually be a disadvantage in the autumn of our national discontent. Degner pointed to a promise regarding self-imposed term limits that Goodlatte made in 1992 and would no doubt like to take back.

“When he ran in 1992, he said that once you’ve been in DC for more than six terms, that’s too long. Once you’ve been there more than 12 years, you’ve been eaten up by DC too much. He’s been there for 24 years, and is asking us to hire him for years 25 and 26. I agree with the 1992 Bob in thinking that’s just too long to be disconnected from the everyday life of small business owners, and just the reality that exists beyond the DC Beltway,” Degner said.

Degner has lived that reality as a small business owner and as a local government representative.

“I’ve been a small business owner for seven years now as a real-estate agent. I came up from the depths of the recession and rose up with the economy as it starts to get on its feet again,” Degner said. “I understand how families have been struggling here with healthcare costs and other things to afford a mortgage. I also know from my time on City Council, I was mayor of Harrisonburg for two years, and I’m finishing off eight years on City Council, and through that I understand that government can get in the way sometimes, but government does have a role to play, and as long as you feel like your government is accountable, you can trust it again. That’s what we’re missing in our huge federal bureaucracy and the current environment.”

The “current environment” on Capitol Hill is about more about “scoring political points and talking points rather than solving real issues that are facing people’s everyday lives and day-to-day budgets, and families, farmers, businesses that live paycheck to paycheck or sale to sale,” Degner said.

“The Founding Fathers designed the Constitution, and particularly designed Congress, and the House of Representatives, to have people represent ideas from different perspectives. And if you can have an open and rigorous debate on the ideas through that, you can get better solutions, you can reach compromises, you can have solutions that are more comprehensive and anticipate problems and concerns from different stakeholder groups. That’s what’s completely being missed. The whole Congress is in gridlock, and Mr. Goodlatte has been part of that problem, with more and more gridlock over the past 20 years.”


Kai Degner: On the issues

kai degner viewpointsAffordable Care Act

“The Affordable Care Act leaves a lot to be desired. There are some things that suggest keeping it in place and fixing it, to me, are the right thing to do. We have fewer uninsured Americans than we have ever had, people’s bills in emergency rooms and that sort of thing are going down. The rates are increasing, and this doesn’t make anybody feel any better, but they are increasing at a lower rate than in a long time. What’s really missing is cost controls, particularly when it comes to pharmaceutical drugs. The government hasn’t set up a system where it has very good negotiating power with the pharmaceutical companies. Medicaid, for example, has gotten a lot better at cost controls because it has more negotiating power. One of the reasons people like Wal-Mart is the prices are low. That’s because Wal-Mart forces anybody who is going to sell anything to their offices in their headquarters and negotiates with them, and they’re doing that on behalf of their customers.”

“When it comes to healthcare, we’ve ceded all kinds of control to pharmaceutical companies in ways that allow prices to go up. There are specific things that can be done, and the Republican approach has been to vote 60 times to just repeal the Affordable Care Act altogether without a credible alternative. That’s a dishonest approach, because it’s not suggesting that you’re really serious about fixing anything. You’re just trying to win these political points by calling it Obamacare, and using that as a rallying cry. If you want to have a real thoughtful conversation about this, let’s keep in place what’s good, and start plugging the holes. To do that, you need to have a Congress that works together and wants to have an honest exchange on an issue-by-issue basis.”



“I’m against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Mr. Goodlatte voted to fast-track that. Despite the president being for it, I am afraid that it is a 30-chapter agreement, six of which have to do with trade. Twenty-four of them have to do with other things, like invest protections, basically. It cedes a lot of the negotiating authority that is constitutionally given to the Congress to the executive branch. Most importantly, it makes American taxpayers subject to an international dispute resolution tribunal. If a multinational company proposes to do something in the United States that it can’t do because of our laws to protect our environment or our communities, that multinational company could then sue American taxpayers in this international arbitration arena that we have no control over, that is completely separate from our own legal system. It’s not only that a threat to those same sorts of things that we’re worried NAFTA was responsible for in terms of pulling jobs from particular areas out, but it also puts taxpayers on the hook to be sued by multinational companies.”


Economic opportunity

“The most things that I’m speaking about that are relevant in my race have to do with the frustration that anybody from a Bernie supporter to a Trump supporter has with a system that they feel isn’t working. They feel like the middle class is being eroded away. People in the working class, if they want to move up, feel like they don’t have those opportunities. They don’t have those job opportunities. They feel like there’s a lot of rigged things that benefit corporations and the wealthy. People are really dissatisfied about that, and they are really angry about it, and they’re expressing it in many different ways.”

“When you don’t feel listened to, you have only a few different options. One, you disengage, and you drop out. And we’re seeing people not participate or want to vote in this election, because they don’t feel like it matters. The other option you have if you don’t feel listened to is to get dramatic, get loud, protest. And we’re seeing that happen on a number of issues. The third option you have is to get violent. The democratic process is supposed to be set up in a way that lets people vent, that lets people get their frustrations out, that lets people have a government that is accountable to them. But there’s a distance between who we are as citizens and who we feel like our elected leaders are listening to. That’s what’s really a common thread between this election and the one at the top of the ticket. It’s the same voters. The same voters are frustrated. This is a district that traditionally votes more Republican, but them voting anti-establishment this year would mean them not voting Republican.”


Criminal justice reform

“I know through the debate that we had here in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County about expanding our jail is that the vast majority of people in jail are nonviolent offenders. Most of them are dealing with addiction issues. We’re not doing a good job of putting people in position to be a contributing part of society. We know that in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham jail, eight out of the 10 people in there have been there in the previous two or three years. It’s not a big secret who’s going to be in jail. They’re there right now. We have unjust sentences for some of these nonviolent and drug-related crimes, and I wish we had more urgency in reforming the sentencing laws, because I feel like we’re imprisoning Americans unjustly, and taking their liberty in a way that isn’t commensurate with the crime that is being committed.”


Interstate 81 traffic congestion

“One of the concerns with I-81 expansion, as it was proposed 10 or so years ago, was how big of an impact it could have environmentally in a geology that is so full of karst, which is basically caves. That’s why we have Grand Caverns and Luray Caverns and those sorts of things, because we have limestone that gets eaten away by water, and you get caves. The concerns environmentally when it comes to expanding the road are the same, or some of them are the same concerns, as the pipeline that’s meant to go through the same area, which can disrupt the groundwater flow, which can impact our wells and that sort of thing. With 81, spot improvements for specific safety issues are something that we need to prioritize. I’ve had my harrowing times on 81 as well. They’ve been doing a good job studying the specific interstate exits. Just here in the Harrisonburg area, serving on an MPO, metropolitan planning organization, we have some different configurations planned for the exits right here. I think spot improvements, rather than some major overhaul, expanding it to 16 lanes, that sort of thing, is in order. The more I hear about driverless cars and technology, it may be the case that we’ll have a different technological solution sooner than we know.”

Story by Chris Graham

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