This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sammy Kayes: Hi Paul, I appreciate you doing this interview with me for Progressive Army. Could you just introduce yourself: who are you, and what are you running for?
Paul Clements: Sure, I am Paul Clements, running for Congress, House of Representatives for Michigan’s sixth district. It is my third time to run. I am running against Fred Upton. Bernie Sanders endorsed me in 2014 and 2016. Fred Upton, well, recently he’s known for being the Republican who got this terrible healthcare bill passed the House of Representatives back in May of this year.
SK: Oh, that’s not good, so he sided with Donald Trump and the Republican Congress.
PC: He didn’t just side with Trump. The bill was going to fail, and he had been against it, and Trump called him into his office and promised 8 billion dollars for pre-existing conditions. Upton flip-flopped, he went for it, and the Upton amendment got a couple of other Republicans and that’s how it got through the House. So he was kind of personally responsible for this healthcare bill passing the House that would have kicked 38,000 people in our district off healthcare.
SK: Wow. In terms of healthcare, are you for single-payer?
PC: Yeah, I certainly am. All the evidence shows that single-payer cuts down on the administration and profits for insurance companies, and overhead, so it uses the resources for actually improving peoples’ health. It’s cheaper, and you get better results.
SK: Okay, and so that’s one plank of your platform, what are a few more? Aside from healthcare, why should I vote for you instead of your opponent?
PC: If you just want to talk about three things that I want the voters in my district to be aware of, one of them is Medicare-for-All (single-payer). The second one is: we can do so much better in vocational education. There are so many young people who don’t even know the vocational options that are out there. Here in Michigan, there are 100,000 jobs that aren’t filled. We’re talking about machinists, welders, carpenters, plumbers, computer programmers, nurses, senior-care people. Some of these are very good-paying jobs, and just because we don’t have the good vocational programs (which by the way, Trump has been trying to cut) we can’t connect the young people with the jobs.
Also some people, in a dynamic economy, are going to lose their jobs. We’re not re-training people when they lose their jobs for the other jobs that are out there. We’ve got to also do much better in education up-and-down the road…
Number three is a living wage: that’s by raising the minimum wage and increasing the earned-income tax credit. But I’ll tell you, they say you want three issues people can remember, but that’s not enough. We have an economy that’s been rigged by money in politics and we’ve gotta get the big money out of politics.
We’ve got to fix our so-called criminal justice system, that has deep structural bias against people of color, and throws so many people―nonviolent offenders―into jail or prison, and basically throws away the key with these “three strikes and you’re out” and mandatory minimums compared to other countries. We have three or four times as many people in prison or jail for our population compared to any other country. It’s bad economically, it’s bad for families, and it’s bad for communities.
We’ve got deep issues, still, with racism in some of our police forces. I’m sad to say, there are so many cases of young African-American men getting shot by police, and this is something that our country has to come to terms with.
So I have my three top issues, but I’m about turning the economy around so that it works for the people. One way I talk about it is that Bernie Sanders launched a revolution, and we’ve gotta keep building on that revolution. He had three key points: economic inequality, money in politics, and climate change. If we don’t deal with each one of these, then our democracy is in deep trouble as we move forward.
SK: Definitely, there’s a lot of stuff… so you have a platform that’s really issue-focused, a progressive platform. Let’s say you’re elected. How will you remain accountable―you have your plan, but how will we know you’re going to do this stuff in office?
PC: Well first let me say that my opponent, Fred Upton, has not had an open town-hall meeting in over a decade. That’s just an abdication of his responsibility―if you’re a Congressman, you’re supposed to represent the people in your district and answer their questions in an open forum. If you don’t do that, you can hardly represent them. So I will certainly have town hall meetings.
More than that, how can you promise anybody for your future; the way you can do that is you can look at my past. For my entire life, in one way or another, I have been working broadly for social justice. When I was in college I had the chance to go to Harvard, I was fortunate to go on scholarship, and I was one of the young people who pushed our divestiture movement. At that time, Harvard had a lot of stock invested in companies that were profiting from Apartheid in South Africa. Eventually, Harvard did divest, and that helped US Congress to divest later on, which is part of how South Africa moved toward democracy.
I was a peace corp volunteer in Gambia; a math teacher. Here in Kalamazoo, I’ve been one of the founding chair people of Michigan United, which is the strongest immigrants-rights organization in Michigan. We’ve worked really hard to raise the minimum wage here. We’ve worked really hard, and effectively, for the rights of prisoners―for returning citizens out of prison. We’ve had a successful movement. For example, the Kalamazoo government no longer requires former prisoners to tick a box which says “I’m a felon,” and then they could not get an interview.
We’ve had a very successful effort, working with many other groups, to get more housing for homeless people. I’ve got a long history of walking the walk, and you know, if you have a life-long commitment to social justice, you’re not going to give that up just because you have a position in Congress.
SK: Last question, maybe a few questions attached together―how are you going to actually beat your opponent? And if I liked what you said so far, how will I be able to help your campaign and potentially find out more about you?
PC: First let me say that Upton always presents himself as bi-partisan, but he has not been bi-partisan―he’s been voting 97% with Trump. When he pushed that healthcare bill through the House, a lot of people saw that, and his popularity fell down to 39% approval for the very first time. That’s by far the lowest of his career. We have a real good chance to turn this district around.
I’ve run twice before, and I’m very well-known by the Democrats. I continue to be a progressive activist between elections, organizing events about social justice, rallies on healthcare―we had a really great Earth Day here in Kalamazoo. Upton has the Koch brothers behind him. He’s really pushed for subsidies for oil and gas, and the Koch brothers have given him big contributions and big support for his campaigns. So we do have to get contributions to go against that. You can contribute at the website ClementsForCongress.com.
But I’m building a strong, grassroots, volunteer-driven movement. If you go on my website, there’s a place where you could indicate volunteering. We’re gonna be using volunteers from throughout the sixth district, but also we could use volunteers from around the country.
My opponent, Upton―not just on healthcare―LA Times called him “Congress’ number one enemy of planet Earth,” because when he got to be chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he morphed into a climate science denier. For years, he put up the strongest opposition in the House of Representatives to President Obama’s climate change initiatives.
May Day, a citizen’s group, calls him one of the most corrupted by big money in Congress. He’s sold out―he’s sold out time and again, so this is one that we need to win. We can win, it’s an important race. If we’re gonna build a Congress and a Democratic Party that will take the rights of working people seriously, we’ve gotta get strong progressives in Congress and I’m one of those progressives.
SK: Great, thank you, Paul, for your time. I enjoyed the interview and I’m looking forward to your campaign.
PC: Thanks, Sammy. I appreciate it, take care.