Leslie Cockburn

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Why are you running to represent Virginia’s Fifth District?

I would never have jumped over the wall into politics were it not for our current President. As a woman, mother, grandmother and journalist, I could not stand on the sidelines as our Democracy as we know it is being dismantled. We have people in charge in Washington DC who do not respect the rule of law, who think that an FBI investigation should be over in five days, who believe that it is right to eviscerate the environmental protection agency, to have an empty desk in the Department of Education, to privatize the Veterans Administration, and to have tumbleweeds in the State Department. So I threw my hat in the ring, and put 75,000 miles on my car learning, listening  and falling in love with the constituents of the Fifth District.

What would be your one top policy priority if elected?

If elected, reforming our healthcare system and providing affordable high quality care for every American is my top priority. We must protect and support the Affordable Care Act and do away with the Trump Administration’s damaging policies. Through this we will stabilize insurance markets, and ensure pre-existing conditions are still covered under law. We cannot live in a nation where a cancer diagnosis results in bankruptcy.

The country has been divided over the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. What are your thoughts on his confirmation? What changes are needed in the way sexual assault allegations are handled?

Because of events in the past week, we now have a Supreme Court who would probably like to overturn Roe V. Wade. This would be a disaster and it’s important to remember that Roe V. Wade protects a woman's right to privacy. It's a constitutional issue. I think that we have a lot of women's issues that we have to look at on the Hill. We have domestic violence issues. We have sexual violence in the military. There are all kinds of bills on the table where we need more women to come into Congress to address these issues. I think that we're not helped by the Freedom Caucus and other radical conservatives who do not care about women's reproductive health.

As for how sexual allegations are handled, I would start with something I've been interested in for a very long time, which is the incident [sic] of rape and sexual assault in the military, a rate of 1:3 for women.  I would strongly support the bill that is in the house now that asks that those women and men who are assaulted be judged outside of their chain of command, so that they don't have to face someone above them in the chain of command who may be involved in that incident. It would make a huge difference. In general, we have a lot of organizations dealing with sexual assault that need better funding and we have to make sure that rape kits don't sit on the shelf for months at a time, indeed years at a time, which is an issue that Attorney General Mark Herring has focused on at the state level.

Do you think the Trump tax cuts have been successful? Why or why not?

We have an administration who just added $1.9 trillion to the deficit. That is a lot of money. It's been given away to corporations and to the wealthy, who do not need that money. It’s wrong to leave this bill to our grandchildren. If I wanted to have a giveaway like that, I think I could find something else to give it away to. For example, how about to all those people with student loan debt? That's $1.5 trillion. Money given to corporations is money wasted. The Republican party  loves to spend money. And they are spending it to benefit corporations and not to benefit the average voter.

There are a great number of people who are not benefiting from that tax bill. Their taxes will go up. And also those people who are not major corporations, and who are not the wealthy, who are receiving some small benefit, that will sunset. It is temporary and if it is not temporary, then a lot more will go onto the deficit. They are borrowing money to pay for this corporate giveaway. Now, the so called fiscal hawks are talking about taking money away from Medicare, they want to take it from Medicaid, and they want to take it from Social Security, to the tune of $500 billion from Medicare, $1.5 trillion from Medicaid, and $4 trillion from Social Security. No. They must not be allowed to do this. I have been endorsed by the Committee to protect Social Security and Medicare, and I intend to protect Social Security and Medicare.

The Atlantic finds that Charlottesville has the highest health insurance premiums of any American city. What can Congress do to lower premiums?

When Trump pulled the subsidies out from under insurance companies, Charlottesville ended up with a monopoly. Suddenly, insurance for a family of four on the individual market cost $36,000.00 a year with a $12,000.00 deductible. Which is 23% higher than anywhere else in the country including the Aleutian islands. What to do about that? First of all, we need to restore the Affordable Care Act, we need to restore the subsidies, we need to restore the individual mandate. Without the individual mandate, 13 million people will not be covered over the course of ten years. If you don't have a healthy pool of people buying health insurance then you can't sustain it. It's going to become very, very expensive but also if you put back the Affordable Care Act you can then go one step further. The first step is to put Medicare on the exchange so that everyone can choose Medicare because the overhead is so much less than for individual insurance companies. It's 2 to 3% versus 19 to 25% overhead. Give people the choice of Medicare.

The Town Hall Project found that 48% of members of Congress held zero town halls in 2017. If elected to Congress, how would you maintain a continuous working relationship with your constituents? Can you commit to holding a certain number of town halls per year?

If I am elected to congress, the first thing we will do is rent buses to bring constituents to Washington and we will take the door to the office off the hinges. I have already asked permission to do this. We may have to put the door back on but at least constituents will know that all are welcome. I have also committed to holding at least 6 Town Halls every year.

This September, President Trump introduced a set of tariffs valued at $200 billion. What are your thoughts on these tariffs? In formulating America’s trade policy, what are the most important factors to consider?

I think we need to reverse the tariffs. The tariffs are really hurting people in the 5th. They are hurting dairy farmers. They are hurting anyone who's in the soybean business. They are potentially hurting exporters, timber exporters to China for example. Businesses who buy aluminum cans such as the many breweries that do business in the Fifth District will be hurt. We need to stop these tariffs.

When formulating a proper US trade policy, it is imperative that we support, attract and protect American jobs. With better trade policies we can ensure that American manufacturers as well as American farmers and small businesses are supported.

The Washington Post finds that black families, on average, have one-tenth the wealth of white families. How should Congress address this disparity?

This is a multifaceted problem that must be addressed by leveling the playing field through programs like:

  • Early childhood education, SNAP

  • Halting the School to prison pipeline             

  • Free Community College

  • Free/Subsidized Trade school

  • College loan support and forgiveness

  • Raising the minimum wage

  • Affordable housing

  • Public Transportation

One of the most effective ways to tackle this issue is pre-K. We need universal pre-K because so many of the differences of Black and White, rich and poor in the 5th can be solved in pre-K. That is where kids really get prepared, so that they don't jump into Kindergarten and are suddenly a month or six months behind. If you’re behind in Kindergarten it’s already too late to catch up.

Our public schools are starved for funds, we don’t have enough funding for counselors or for special education. To tackle systemic inequality we need to ensure our students are getting the best public education possible and that they have access to the best resources in the country.

Beyond that, I believe in two years of free community college. This is what community college was meant for to begin with, to give an opportunity to those kids who haven't quite found their path in high school. In community college students have choices, and can learn how to become an entrepreneur or start a business. Learning  how to start a business is essential to so many communities, not to mention access to trade and vocational programs.

70% of college students graduate with a significant amount of student loan debt, which can pose a lasting financial burden on recent graduates. What policies should Congress consider to remedy this issue?

I think this is one of the biggest issues we face. Right now there is legislation that I would support and that is that interest rates can change. Any student should be able to change their interest rate and get the lowest comparable student loan rate. This affects a lot of students. In Virginia the average student debt is, roughly $30,000. We need to make sure that for graduates who are entering the workforce, loan debt is tax deductible or not taxed at all to enable loan repayment. For professionals likes teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, etc who are willing to work in counties that are underserved for a minimum of five years, student loans should be forgiven.

We need to make sure that we take care of fraud in these educational institutions and make sure that borrowers are fully informed on loan payments and interest rates. Right now, there's a bill in the House of Representatives that would make sure that students who have high interest rates for their loans could reduce those interest rates to match the lowest rate of any student getting a loan. You also must be able to discharge student loans through bankruptcy which is not currently available.

Free community college and vocational school, as I discussed in a previous answer, will also help to reduce the burden of student debt and ensure students have more paths available for higher education.

Which policy areas do you see as having the best potential for bipartisan support?

Infrastructure development and rural broadband all both issue areas that have broad support on both sides of the aisle.

For starters, I would support HR800 which addresses rural broadband. It would create an important office in the Department of Agriculture with an undersecretary, which gives it some power and will treat rural broadband like rural electrification that was so successful and integral to the health of our rural communities.