Campaign video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=larcYOjwXOM
Did you know that there is an active Democratic primary contest in the 1st district of Wisconsin? That’s Speaker Paul Ryan’s district, and to look at the national media, you’d think there was only one candidate―iron worker, Randy Bryce. But he is not the only Democratic candidate in the race. Cathy Myers was part of the NEA union and she is vice president of the Janesville School Board. She’s an organizer and she’s ready to bring people power to bear against big money.
Cathy Myers is a product of her parent’s American Dream and her campaign is about restoring and expanding the Dream for generations to come. I called her up and she was gracious enough to spend an hour telling me her story and talking about the real issues that are affecting Americans across the country and the first congressional district of Wisconsin.
I first asked Cathy to take us back to the beginning with the question, “Could you tell me a little about a truck stop in Iowa, and what brought you to the first district of Wisconsin?”
She laughed and enthusiastically agreed. “The truck stop in Iowa was my family’s business. My parents were small business people. They actually started with a gas station. They sold the gas station and they added a diner to it. And eventually they added a Harley Davidson dealership. They worked really hard. When you have a family business, it’s all encompassing. I spent a lot of time there and I learned a lot about people and about responsibility.”
Helping out at her family’s business from a young age clearly made an impression on her. And in a line that sounds like she’s said it a million times because it’s that effective, she proudly says, “I like to say, I’ve been gainfully employed for 45 years!”
That experience in the workplace, in the union, and in the classroom is one of the reasons I immediately liked this candidate. It’s also a great segue to my next question: “You’ve argued that the Speaker is out of touch with his constituents. Could you share a policy example that illustrates that?”
“The most obvious is the Ryan/Trump Health Care plan. [At the time we spoke, Graham Cassidy hadn’t been floated. Please see below for Myers’ specific response to that bill].”
Response to Graham Cassidy https://twitter.com/CathyMyersWI/status/909902031216836613
With a command of the facts, she explains that, “We’ve got people here in Janesville [Wisconsin] that have been hurt by hard times and they need health care.” The school teacher shows her affinity for numbers. “[Paul Ryan’s] health care plan would kick off around 48,000 people, just in [Wisconsin’s] 1st Congressional District, from their health care and 300,000 people in CD1 might have to go into high risk pools [if they miss a payment or let their policy lapse].” It’s astonishing to think of a congressman endorsing a plan that would purge nearly fifty thousand of his constituents off of the health care roles. But Myers doesn’t sound astonished. She sounds ready for a debate.
“The fact that he calls it a health care plan at all is a problem,” she explains. “It offers tax breaks for the wealthiest people; the millionaire and billionaire class that [Ryan] seems to be so attracted to and interested in representing.” But even if one considers the Ryan/Trump plan they celebrated in the Rose Garden, it’s not just, as Trump called it, “mean.” It’s counterintuitive to Republican branding of being pro-small business.
“I’m the mom of two twenty-somethings,” Myers tells me, as if she’s giving me a word problem to solve. “Let’s say they express a desire to start their own business. The problem with that is the health care obligation is one of the things that inhibits them from doing that. They’re very concerned about not having health insurance. So, for the ‘pro-business’ type party to put up such obstacles for people who might want to start their own business is just absurd to me. If you took away that problem by providing ‘Medicare for All’ (MCA), you would help businesses expand―small businesses especially―and you would encourage entrepreneurship, which to me is at the heart of the middle class. It’s something that’s very important to me because I grew up in a small business family and I enjoyed a wonderful middle class life. I don’t think that exists anymore.”
The Health Care debate looms large, and although I’m interested to hear more about Myers’ thoughts on a MCA program, I’m skeptical. I decide to take a chance and lead on this question in the hopes of getting into the meat of the far reaching policy. “What kind of confidence do you have in Congress to handle all of the issues that are on the peripheral of this? The intended and unintended consequences of this type of overhaul?
More than 2.5 million people who work in the health insurance industry would be out of a job or need to be repurposed somehow into the government program. The result of removing the health care obligation from corporations will be similar to a gargantuan tax cut since 147 million Americans get their insurance from their employer who, in most cases, contributes mightily to the premiums. That would either need to be converted into a tax to help cover the cost of MCA or the businesses would have an opportunity to pay their shareholders’ dividends, automate their businesses, or in the best case, hire new employees. There’s also a question as to how much individuals will need to contribute from any savings in the form of new taxes. Would you speak to some of the scope of this?” I ask, adding, “I’d like to see this come to fruition, but there’s a lot involved and Democrats were not rewarded for their ACA success.”
“Well, obviously, if I make it to Congress I won’t be able to snap my fingers,” she admits. “But I truly believe, ‘if you build it they will come,’” she says, harkening back to her youth in Iowa. “If you don’t expect it and if you don’t push for it, it will never happen. There are definitely some things that can be done to shore up the ACA like negotiating for pharmaceuticals and prices and things like that in the interim. We need a new Congress. I also think we need women in Congress because we need to start working together more and try to solve our problems. And the entrenched good ol’ boys’ club in Congress right now isn’t interested in doing that.”
Because I share this opinion wholeheartedly I refrain from mentioning that even negotiating with Republican women, MCA will be a tremendous hurdle.
Harley Davidson and Politics https://youtu.be/_qjhhCOJNlE
“I think,” she explains, “if we have a Democratic majority of people who really care, and I think there’s a new wave of Democrats who are willing to work, and to push and to not take no for an answer on this, I think it’s possible. I think we have to. The evidence is there that [single payer] is the better way to provide health care for people. It happens in every developed nation except the United States.”
At this point in the conversation Myers pauses and declares, “I think we can thank Bernie Sanders for pushing this idea. I think that people awakened to it. I also think the ACA, even if it was somewhat flawed, did a lot of good things. It brought health care to millions of people who never had it before. And I think that the Republican’s only interest right now is to take things away. I think if they do this [ACA repeal] there will be a severe backlash because the ACA showed a lot of people how important having access to health care is, and I think the movement is in that direction and we need to ride that wave.”
I swing the conversation back to the present. Myers is the only candidate in the Democratic primary in the WI-1 who has won an elected office in Paul Ryan’s district. I asked her how she pulled it off.
“I did that by going out and engaging people and talking with people about the things that concern them. I was also able to convince people that I do my homework, that I research things and that I’m thoughtful. And I care about getting things done. I also care about being accurate on the issues and making wise decisions. You know, when you get to talk to people, I think you find out that no matter what your political background is we all want a lot of the same things. We have to engage people and we have to start talking again.”
It’s really important to remember that while Democrats from across the country can receive support from voters nationwide, the fate of candidates like Cathy Myers is in the hands of the members of their district. Myers says, “One of the reasons why I ran for the School Board is because of Act 10 . Act 10 stripped most collective bargaining rights away from public employees, including teachers. So the Janesville School Board, at the time, took Act 10 and ran with it. They literally stopped talking to the represented groups like teachers and staff members and just started imposing things.”
Myers, as a teacher for 23 years, was on the frontline of this dispute. She describes how the give and take became a meet and confer where the administration would inform instead of confer. Seeing this all play out inspired her to run for the School Board, “Because if they weren’t going to talk with their teachers, they could talk to this teacher.”
The teacher won her race, and became a School Board member herself where she, “…insists on communication whether [they] legally have to or not. It’s simply the way good organizations run. We’re improving our relationships with our represented groups…and we’ve also worked together to solve some of our problems. I’m going to treat the 1st district like it’s my neighborhood and not a flyover. I want to talk to my neighbors whether they’re in Muskego, Elkhorn or Janesville.”
Cathy has a lot of compassion for the folks in Wisconsin she hopes to represent but as the conversation turns to unions, it’s clear she’s determined not to take a backseat to anyone. I asked her about the “right to work” campaign that has cut union membership and lowered wages across the country.
She says, “In right to work states, workers make $1500 a year less [http://www.epi.org/publication/right-to-work-michigan-economy/ ] than non-right to work states.” EPI agrees and you can track with the link. Myers goes on to explain the impact. “It depresses wages and slows down the economic recovery. I bet as I travel around [the district] I’ll hear from people who haven’t had a raise in a long while or small businesses that aren’t getting as much business. You know, this affects all of us. I believe very strongly in people’s ability to make change when they come together for a common cause.”
Myers says she is a member of the NEA, “One of the strongest unions in the country, but it wouldn’t have meant anything for me to be a member if my co-workers weren’t standing by my side. And that is the power of people to come together to work out their problems.”
She tells me, “I was on strike in 2003. In my school―I teach in Illinois―right across the border, we still have strong collective bargaining. And we have the right to strike in Illinois.” The one in ‘03 was about teacher prep time. The strike, she says, lasted 3 weeks. She recalls being in the basement of the Rockton Methodist Church with her fellow strikers. “I sorta took the bull by the horns and started organizing phone banks, [literature] drops, and I helped people who were going to have to go out and speak. [Teaching them] how to talk about the issues. In the middle of the strike, we caught wind that the school was starting to hire a lot of people and fast tracking substitute licenses so that they could break our picket line. And I got on the phone and called every union I could in northern Illinois and talked with every one of them.”
The object was to get as many union members out on the picket line to garner more attention. Myers still delights in the promises she received that other unions would join their ranks. “I never will forget it. It was the end of the three weeks and I was feeling pretty good about Monday. And all of a sudden, this truck comes down the road and it’s the Teamster’s truck. They put up a sign that said ‘Teamsters stand with Hononegah teachers.’ That somehow got into the papers and the strike was over by Monday morning. The reason that the strike ended [in our favor] was because we were going to be collectively facing the school. It’s one of the many stories I share about unions with people. It’s really about working together. It’s what’s at the heart of my work, whether as a teacher, a union president, or on the School Board.”
Strikes are probably the single most denigrated factors of being in a union―other than union dues. I asked Cathy if she’d talk a bit about what it’s like as someone on strike since most of us haven’t been on one.
“Strikes are not easy. It requires you to make your case. You have to educate the public as to what it’s all about. It’s also about knowing who you are as a professional, as a worker. And knowing, as in the case above, what’s in the best interest of your students. I think that’s what kept us going. It’s long, hot, hard hours. You also become aware of the lack of knowledge people have about what it is you do. Why certain things are put in place so that you can do your job better for them. There are so many highs and lows. One of my colleagues was at the corner holding his picket sign by the school, and a woman came to the stop sign and she yelled at him. Something to the effect of him being despicable because he was on strike. He responded by simply telling her “we still love your kids.” She chuckles at the memory. “She went around the block, parked and came back. She was crying and she hugged him. That’s important.”
Hearing Cathy talk about educating the public brought me to my next question about educating her potential constituents on how passing bills work and informing them of the consequences; good, bad, intentional, and unintentional. Like, for example, the ACA―which Trump’s buffoonery and the GOP Congress’ cruelty has made more popular than ever. The Democrat’s failure to sell the public on the ACA has cost them (and us) dearly. “How,” I asked. “Will your teaching career help you to bring your constituents onboard for new and existing programs? How do you get buy in?”
“I think about this on a daily basis,” she responds. “Why are we doing this? How does it benefit us? What are the long range goals? What are the pros and cons? And I am so accustom to having to be accountable to people and to reach out to people and to make sure that they understand the process. I think that the best thing I can be as a congressperson is to be of service. My constituents office will work hard at being up to speed on all of the issues in the community and figuring out how we reach out to people and tell them what’s available to them and also what kinds of things can be done.”
Here, she jumped ahead to my next question before I asked it. “That means, I will be having town halls and meeting with constituents at my office. And making sure they know why I’m making decisions and pulling from their experiences to inform my decisions. This has been my life’s blood.”
I spoke previously with Myers’ primary opponent, Randy Bryce, and he committed to holding a town hall in every county in the district at least once a year. I asked Myers if she would make that same commitment, to which she said, “Absolutely. We need to do a lot of town halls. I’m actually hoping to do a town hall with him.”
So, that was some news. Myers is requesting to schedule a town hall with her primary opponent Randy Bryce.
“One of the things I was raised on was how people often talk about the government like it’s something foreign or ‘other.’ We need to remind people that we are the government. They have a say in it. And we can’t do that if we’re only going to fundraisers with millionaires and billionaires like Paul Ryan.”
Having a Democrat reminding Americans that ‘We the People’ are the government is music to my ears. But all politics is local, so I ask, “Do you have a plan to use your new position in Congress, should you win, to create jobs in your district?”
Myers’ response speaks volumes. “There are actually several things we can do in Congress to grow jobs. I’ll go back for a minute on the ‘Medicare for All’ idea because removing the employer based health care system will definitely free up small businesses to create jobs. One of the big criticisms we hear is that government doesn’t create jobs, businesses create jobs. And there’s some truth to that. When we introduce Medicare for All we remove one of those obstacles [to creating jobs]. We have also, in this country, neglected our infrastructure. There is so much work that needs to be done that the government is responsible. We should be rebuilding our infrastructure and there are probably millions of jobs associated with that. We have done that in our history and we can do it again. And it’s not just about rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure, but also new infrastructure like high speed rail. It’s just common sense to be able to take people off the road and remove some of the clogged roads and reduce our carbon footprint. That sort of system for this country would be very beneficial. And would create good paying jobs.”
“I always want to be looking to the future,” she says. “I love history, and I’m a student of history, and I think there’s a lot to learn from history but I also think we always need to be forward thinking and for me, that means we need to invest in green energy and clean[er] energy and in renewables. There’s a lot of manufacturing and installation and small businesses that could be part of this. It’s one of the fastest growing sectors right now.”
To get there, Myers will need to defeat a Speaker of the House. Doing that won’t change the fact that she’ll be a freshman congresswoman, but it very well could deliver some clout within the party. I asked her, “How comfortable would you be in a national leadership role?”
“I’ve always fallen into leadership positions. I was my union president and vice president. I’m vice president of the Janesville School Board. What I like to do is build teams and not make it just about me. And I think that is a sign of a very strong leader. It’s about caring about other people and getting things done, not about worrying if there are accolades coming your way. I like to get stuff done. Everything I’ve done in my life, I put my eyes on the prize and kept it there. I’ve worked myself silly sometimes in order to achieve those things. In 1976, my dad went to the Democratic convention as a Carter delegate―I think he was actually an alternate delegate―but regardless, he was still at the convention and one day he took me into New York City as a guest and I was just entranced. This was the process at work. This is one of the ways you can make a big difference. I told my dad that night that I was going to do that and in 1980 I called him, he was a federal employee at the time, and I said I’m going to do this. I’m going to run for delegate. So I created a campaign plan, sent out letters, and made speeches, and at 17 years old I won alternate delegate. I will seek out others who share these objectives, map out plans and make them happen.”
In wrapping up the interview, I asked Myers to do a bit of a speed round: How will she work to restore the Voting Rights Act? Will she work with Democrats to be certain there’s a full investigation into the 2016 election? Will she vote for impeachment, assuming Trump isn’t removed before 2019?
“We do need to investigate. If there is any sense of impropriety, it should be looked at it and we always need to get to the facts. The most important thing that can come out of this is to make sure that it never, ever happens again. Since elections are the foundation of our democracy there’s nothing more important to protect. And so, yes, we do need to look into this. As far as impeachment goes, if he’s guilty of high crimes or misdemeanors, as the Constitution states, then he should be impeached. I’m not quite ready to pre-judge him, even Donald Trump, but there has to be a system in place. I have no problem looking at it. To get to the facts. To make sure we get to the truth. Paul Ryan is in control, and I think there’s enough evidence, perhaps, to get the impeachment process started. But that’s on him. He could at least start looking into this.”
“Everything Donald Trump is doing to this country is adding up and he has to be held accountable. I’ve gotta tell you, that when I’m making these phone calls, I’m only hearing anxiety and stress. Not only that a president is playing fast and loose with the facts, but with their lives, and the decisions he’s making. I have no problem asking for the facts and if there is a crime there, we have to take care of it. But we have to wait for the results of the investigations.”
Finally, I wanted to make sure we talk about my most important issue: restoring the Voting Rights Act.
“We have to restore it,” Myers agrees. “I thought of the Rachel Maddow Show―I really wish she would be talking to me! She said, ‘votes are rights.’ Wisconsin is one of the worst gerrymandered states. Any time you prevent someone from voting, it’s the most Un-American thing I’ve ever heard. People who are doing that are just trying to keep their jobs. Not only do we need to restore the VRA, we might need a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing everyone the right to vote.”
Cathy is confident [in her campaign] as the interview wraps. She tells me the way to beat organized money is organized people.
“We’re taking a little bit of a different approach to this. We are going to make it about substance. We’re going to expand and energize the electorate.”
Grateful that Cathy Myers has spent so much time with me, I ask just one last question, “If you come up short, are you prepared to support whoever wins the Democratic primary to take on Paul Ryan?”
There’s not a moment’s hesitation..
“Yes, absolutely,” she says. “The goal here is to beat Paul Ryan. That’s it.” https://youtu.be/_qjhhCOJNlE
And so it is. Paul Ryan and 23 other Republican House members will need to fall to flip the House. Whether it’s Cathy Myers or her primary opponent, Speaker Ryan will be in the political fight of his life. Glove Free Zone #Fightwing
You can visit and donate to Cathy Myers campaign here and follow her on Twitter @CathyMyersWI