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Cathy Glasson: Nurse Turned Gubernatorial Candidate

John Pemble
Cathy Glasson

Cathy Glasson has decades of experience working as a nurse in Iowa. She’s also served as president of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union. Now, she’s running for governor of Iowa as a Democratic primary candidate.

Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters spoke with Glasson about why she’s running for office, why she believes in a statewide minimum wage of $15, and her plans for Iowa’s Medicaid and Medicare systems. A transcript of the conversation follows:

So first of all I'm just asking all the candidates that are running for governor why are you running for governor?

Yeah very good question. I'm running for governor because I'm sick and tired of everyday Iowans and working people in our state getting beat up. And a governor, I believe, the number one job of a governor is to improve the standard of living for all Iowans. And we have to face the facts that Governor. Kim Reynolds isn't getting that job done. We have to take a look at what's happened under Terry Branstad and now her administration. We, they lowered the minimum wage in several of Iowa's counties. Then they gutted union rights for 104, 184-thousand public employees but they didn't stop there. They privatized a Medicaid program that ran effectively and efficiently for the patients and the providers, stripped away women's reproductive rights, closed clinics. You know, we need a governor who is going to stand up and improve the lives of Iowans and that's why I'm running for governor because I know our bold, progressive vision will do that.

And is this been something that's been a goal of yours for a long time or what motivated you to want to get into this race? It really started with the attack on union rights and collective bargaining. For me… So that was just last year. So that’s is a relatively new thing. So you heard about what was going on at the statehouse and that was enough to get you motivated?

Well let's be honest. Under the Terry Branstad administration things were going on under his leadership that were very concerning and particularly let's look at the funding for public education under his leadership if you want to call it leadership because I don't. I think if you're going to lead on public education you fund public education. So it's my concern around the direction our state is headed has been going on for a while. But I think the collective bargaining bill and attack on women's reproductive health and health care issues overall the way we're dealing with Medicaid really sealed the deal for me to say we need true leaders that actually understand what Iowans truly deserve. And that's when I made the decision to step up and enter the race.

At some of these multi-candidate events that I've been to, there was a chant that at first I had no idea what people were saying, but they're saying, “Iowa needs a nurse.” What kind of skills do you bring to the table, in your eyes, as a nurse and in your experience because to a lot of people they don't know who you are?

Yeah yeah. Well they know that nurses are there to protect them and we do everything we can as, in the nursing profession to heal. And we're always the most number one trusted profession in the country because people trust us over CEO’s of hospitals for example to give them give them the truth and do the best jobs to care for them. So that, I think, gives credence to the type of person that I am. But you know, as you know I'm not a career politician. I'm not, and I'm proud of that. Actually I think that's a good thing right now. You know, I'm a union leader. I'm an organizer and an intensive care nurse and I've had over 20 years of experience in that realm. And I know that Iowans that I've been talking to and listening to in this campaign are telling me that they want a leader and a governor of our state that isn't going to put party and politics first. They want someone that's not a status quo politician that's like them and understands their challenges that they face. We have to face it. Democrats have lost 11 of the last 14 governor’s races in this state by putting forth the same old losing strategies and formulas. And what are those losing strategies? A centrist, middle of the road Democrats that stay in the middle and don't actually address the concerns and issues that are facing so many Iowans today. So we need true leaders that are bold and progressive. And when I say bold and progressive I mean it. And you know, I'm running on values that are very bold and progressive in this campaign and I'm proud of that. And so you know as a union president I know how to run an organization and I also know how to make sure the voices of everyday people are included in that organization. And I'll bring that same experience to the statehouse.

And can you do that… If there is still a majority in the Republican Senate? Excuse me, can you still do that if there are Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate? I mean as somebody that's running to the far left, not as centrist as you say. Can you do that if there are, if there are Republicans in majorities in the different chambers?

Yes I believe we can and our whole campaign is based on the idea that we need to bring in voters that have been, felt left behind and ignored. And so we're building a base of activists volunteers and voters that we're r-eengaging in the political process so they have a voice in government again. A governor needs to lead and we a governor is going to need people with her every step of the way to make the bold progressive changes that I'm talking about. We talk about candidates and politicians or we hear them saying I'm running for governor because I'm going to fix things for you. You know that's not being honest. It doesn't work that way it takes mass movements of people to create the change that they want to see and it's going to take us together to create those changes. Even with a Republican legislature. We also have candidates saying I took on the Republicans. The truth of the matter is it's not one speech from the floor. It's not one amendment added to a bill. It was the thousands of teachers, firefighters, police officers nurses bus drivers women that were in the Capitol fighting those really terrible legislative bills that were being passed last session and some this session that really stood up to the Republicans and will show the might of people when they come together because change only comes only happens from the bottom up not the top down. And that's how a governor leads and gets these bold visionary ideas passed. It's the people's government. It's their government and their voice in government.

The bills that you were just bringing up had to do with the public sector bargaining rights. The bills from the last legislative session on the topic of Medicaid management privatization, this is something that former Governor Terry Branstad did in 2016. It was something he did not need legislative approval to do. I've covered the legislature in and out over the last five or six years. Medicaid is always something that gets talked about, of the cost rising. This was seen as a way to help control costs. Can you go back to an old model, the fee for service model that was before when there are concerns about the expanding cost of Medicaid?

Yeah well you know as a registered nurse I look at everything through a nurse lens. And you know, I've seen firsthand how a for-profit health insurance industry always, always puts profits over patients and people every single time. Let's look at the Medicaid privatization from that lens. It's been a disaster, not just for the patients that aren’t receiving the care that they deserve and need, but providers aren't being paid for the services that they're providing. It's been a disaster and the for-profit insurance industry makes money a for-profit insurance company including these managed care companies that are supposedly managing care for Iowans. These are the companies that came and took over the management of running the Medicaid system. We always just have to try to throw out some definitions. Yeah. So you know they make money off denying care. And so what's happened is taxpayers have been, and the costs are actually higher than anticipated and what Iowans were told we would see when they actually wanted to go to a privatized system and managed care through private managed care organizations. So it has not saved people money and it hasn't improved health and it's only created havoc. And also with mental health services because a lot of Medicaid services are our mental health services through counseling, drug addiction programs those sorts of things. So it has impacted so many people's lives. And we bailed the companies out because they haven't provided the service at a lower rate and lower cost to Iowa taxpayers. So I believe and I wholeheartedly agree that immediately we should as quickly as possible reverse the privatization of Medicaid and that'd be a priority.

You brought up mental health concerns. There was some legislation that was passed recently a bill signed that had bipartisan support at the legislature. Did you support the legislation that came forward regarding mental health and services this legislative session?

You know the legislation that Governor Reynolds signed is, looks good on paper. And there is no funding behind it, and it's a bit confusing on how that the new regions that she's describing, these mental health regions and services would integrate with the current 14, we already have 14 regions with counties running those programs, how that would actually work together. So I think there's some confusion on it needs to be clarified and then really the root of the problem is it's great on paper but where's the funding? Put your money where your mouth is. We keep hearing this governor talk the talk, but not walk the walk. And we actually need to see some funding behind it. I'd have to wait and see if the money's there. And that's crucial because that's a major problem of where we are now with mental health services. It's not funded

Right now, Republicans in the House and Senate are debating tax cuts right now that will lead to decisions to be made with the state budget. When you hear about what's going on at the statehouse, you hear about the tax legislation. What do you make of it what are the priorities that you wish were going on at the Capitol?

Well they're not the priorities of this legislation and what they're debating on in the statehouse now is not in Iowa’s best interests. These are not going to help Iowans. What's happened so far isn't helping Iowans. It's hurting Iowans. The budget is not, we are not putting a budget together that focuses on what I value and what I believe in this campaign,  talking to so many Iowans, what they value like fully funding public education, investing in clean water and clean climate, investing in solid health care for Iowans and making sure that’s available. So just so many of the services are underfunded in state government right now. Let's look at the DNR, underfunded, the Leopold Center at Iowa State University, not funded, Department of Human Services aren’t funded appropriately so that our kids are safe and being checked on in homes. So you know, we need to put our money where our priorities are, and that is funding education, building a strong economy with good jobs which are union jobs, and then investing in healthcare, clean water and the things that we value and prioritize that budget That’s what we do.

When you say invest in clean water what do you mean by that?

Well I know we passed a clean water legislation was signed into law. And again, here we go again with the same story of, ‘sounds good on paper.’ It's lip service to the issue. It sounds good on its face value, but underneath it all there's absolutely no funding. And there's no mechanism to monitor the results of what that program would do. So again, it's lip service and it doesn't actually attack the problem at its core.

Do you feel like there's a divide between rural and urban Iowans as you've been campaigning?

I don't think there's a divide. I think there may be different concerns. I don't like to say divide because we're all Iowans and we share in, you know, how important a strong economy is for any community. So I would say, you know I went out on a health care tour in rural parts of Iowa, small communities, and there are differences, but the concerns generally focus around core economic, bread and butter issues for folks. That is, number one people are worried about health care, the affordability of healthcare, public schools in rural communities are struggling and then creating good jobs and building an economy in those smaller communities is extremely important to some of the folks that I've talked about. So there are disparities. But at the end of the day there's still economic issues that face every Iowan and those can be addressed by some of the bold, progressive ideas that we've been talking about to folks in this campaign.

You brought up minimum wage. This is something that the last legislative session, in 2017, there was a bill that kind of capped it so that different local municipalities couldn't set their own minimum wage… I guess my question is do you favor local municipalities or counties or cities setting their own minimum wage, or do you think it should just be hiked altogether? And what would that level be?

Well I lived in a county where we actually passed a minimum wage ordinance. Johnson County and other several other counties actually passed it as well. And the pre-emption legislation that was passed to strip that away actually reduced income for folks that actually needed it. It was the wrong thing to do and I support local control on minimum wage ordinances. I support that. I think the state should lead however and it's been a core of this campaign leading on passing a minimum wage of $15. And I've been I came out from the get go of this campaign and I will continue to talk about it. We can't have folks living in our state that are working full time some two and three jobs to try to make ends meet and then live in poverty. It's unacceptable. So I came out bold on a $15 minimum wage and Iowans need our help and they need it fast.

You're also making headlines as a candidate who was saying Medicare for all. This was an early step you took in a platform. How do you afford that? I mean we talked about Medicaid, but Medicare a completely different system here. How do you afford that as a state?

Right. And I did come out bold from the day one of this campaign. I'm the only Democratic candidate that can say that, and I haven't backed off that at all. And I'll continue to fight for that because I believe you know as a registered nurse I believe that is the only way to make sure that every Iowan and American and for that matter has affordable, quality health care. The first thing we need to do is privatize, un-privatize Medicaid. That's the first step in making sure that Iowans get the health care they need when they need it. And then we work to transition to a universal, I prefer Medicare for all on the federal level, let me back up. I fully support Medicare for all on the federal level. But if we can't count on the politicians in Washington D.C. to actually do that and pass a Medicare for all legislation we should. Then, I came out bold saying we in Iowa should lead the way and pass a universal health care plan to cover every Iowan here. And we pay for it by stopping the, reversing the unnecessary tax breaks that we're giving to major corporations in this state that absolutely don't need them. So, take a look at the tax breaks that we're giving and make sure that we fund the things we care about, health care. Then we take the employer and have them pay into the health care pool that I'm talking about. Right now employers will save money if we do that. They won't have to worry about covering their employees. They pay into the pool and it's universal coverage. Then we raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour which raises the floor for wages for other workers in the state and draws down more. It brings in more revenue to the state to fund health care. And then we take the private insurance, health care insurance industry out of the mix because that will dramatically reduce overhead costs. Having insurance companies who only need to make profits for shareholders only increase the cost of our health care. And then doing, funding it through the, draw down every federal dollar as well Medicare, Medicaid dollars into the pot to pay for this. And it's doable. We can lead on universal health care in Iowa and we should be a model for the nation and we’ll vastly reduce the costs for health care of Iowans from what they're paying currently under the private system.

Cathy Glasson thank you.

Yeah. Happy to do it.

Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.