Kimberly Graham never thought she would run for office, but now she finds herself several months into a senatorial campaign, aiming to change the way the country operates.
“For 20 years I’ve been working with what I call ‘the end,’” Graham said. “I work with the end result of the way we do things in this country. Like, the way we do our medical care system in this country … the way that we don’t pay people in our country for work.”
Graham called the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour a “joke”, adding the next lowest minimum wage she could find in the developed world is “$10.30-something an hour for some province in Canada.”
The lowest provincial minimum wage in Canada is $11.06 CAD per hour in Saskatchewan — or a conversion of $8.39 USD at the time of writing.
Graham said she favors a $15 national minimum wage and described the minimum wage in the United States as “shameful” and a result of “greed” from people “buying lawmakers.”
Graham, running against Eddie Mauro and Theresa Greenfield for the Democratic party’s nomination to challenge Sen. Joni Ernst, self-identifies a progressive, but she doesn’t think that will impede her in her race to be the next U.S. senator from Iowa.
Born in Southern California, Graham attended the University of California Irvine where she received a bachelor’s degree, though she added her family’s roots are all in the Midwest.
Her father was one of 11 siblings who grew up in the Des Moines area, and Graham said not only were her parents in trade unions, but also she herself was an Association of Professional Flight Attendants union organizer when she worked as a flight attendant.
“Because I was a California resident, and I went to school 8,000 years ago,” Graham joked. “[College] was affordable enough that I got out of UC Irvine with a fairly low amount of loans … I didn’t have to take out very many loans.”
“[S]tudent loan debt is crippling people financially,” Graham said. “It’s preventing people from saving money for retirement because they’re spending the ‘extra dollars’ they would have had to save for retirement perhaps, if they’re lucky enough to earn enough to have $300 to $400 bucks maybe a month of discretionary income - that three or four hundred dollars is going to their student loan debt.”
Graham said the money going into student loan debt repayments could go into the economy with people able “to pay off consumer debt that they have, or go buy a car … or have enough money to afford a house payment.”
Graham graduated from Drake University Law School with about $80,000 in student loan debt which has since grown to $268,000, she said. Graham said she has been working since she was 14 years old and often had two jobs while she was in law school.
“I’ve been paying income-based repayments for 20 years,” Graham said of her own student loan debt. “What that is, if you can’t afford the over $1,000 a month that would be the regular payments, then they say ‘no problem, let us know what your income is,’ teaser — attorneys for abused and neglected children don’t make a lot of money — especially in Iowa ‘and we’ll tell you what your payments going to be.’”
In addition to favoring writing off student loan debt, Graham said she is in favor of making four-year public colleges and universities tuition-free. She raised doubts when asked whether graduate schools should also be tuition-free.
“I would be pretty happy if we could just get trade schools, and community colleges and four-year public institutions at either no-cost or extremely minimal cost,” Graham said.
Graham said she has had to terminate two pregnancies, both of which were ectopic. Ectopic pregnancies cannot proceed normally, and the growing tissue may cause life-threatening bleeding, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“You know will not find someone who is more devoutly pro-choice than I am,” Graham said.
“I had to go through terminating pregnancies that I planned and wanted and I know how horrific that is, and so for any legislator to try to legislate what a woman can decide or not decide when she’s in that position of having to make some kind of choice about her own bodily sovereignty and an embryo that is growing inside of her body, that is just absolutely a non-starter for me.”
There has been concern about the possibility of the current U.S. Supreme Court Justices overturning Roe v. Wade.
Justice Stephen Breyer said one can only wonder which cases the court will overturn next after the Court overturned precedent regarding sovereign immunity of states in the case of Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt.
Asked what she could do to protect reproductive rights in the U.S. Senate if elected, Graham said it depends on which party is in the majority.
"If there's no votes, then there's not much you can do," Graham said.
Health care and the 2020 elections
Graham expressed support for single-payer health care. She said she believed part of the rationale people had for voting for Trump was desperation to find someone to change the system amid high prescription drug costs.
“Not having affordable medical care” and “prescription costs going up,” Graham said were among the reasons people voted for Trump.
Most people are trying to just live their lives and don’t have time to research all of the president’s claims, Graham said. Reporting by the Washington Post has found Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims during his presidency.
On the 2020 Democratic primary, Graham would not publicly say who she is supporting at this point in the race, though she did say she supports the policies Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders espouse.
In her own race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the campaign arm of the U.S. Senate Democratic conference, and Emily’s List, a group dedicated to electing pro-choice women, endorsed Greenfield, one of her opponents.
“I both called them, and emailed them,” Graham said. “I contacted Emily’s List and the DSCC when I was the only announced candidate.”
Within a week of Greenfield’s announcement, the DSCC had endorsed her, and Emily’s List followed, along with presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
“I believe it’s important in a democracy — if we’re going to try to say we have one — to at least speak to or return the calls of the other candidates that are other Democrats in that primary,” Graham said.
Graham added the Emily’s List endorsement stung her personally because of her personal history of having to choose what to do with her own body with her past abortions.
Whether a progressive can win in Iowa
When asked whether she thought Iowa was a conservative state, given President Donald Trump won the state by more than 9% in 2016, and given both of its U.S. senators are Republicans, Graham disagreed.
“I think Iowa voters are going to vote for the person they actually think is going to help their family, and going to properly represent them,” Graham said. “I think Iowa voters defy labels. I really see Iowa voters generally as pretty fair and willing to listen to whoever is willing to listen to them.”
Iowa has historically been an idiosyncratic state in terms of its electoral politics. While he was losing the 1988 presidential election in a landslide nationally to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, then-Gov. Michael Dukakis, carried Iowa by more than 10%. The statewide result swung more than 15% from Democratic President Barack Obama’s victory in 2012 to Trump’s victory in 2016, while Trump was losing the popular vote by more than 2%.
“If you remember, this state also elected Barack Obama twice and elected [Democratic] Sen. Tom Harkin for a long, long, long time,” Graham said.
Regardless of whether she wins the Democratic primary or not, Graham said she would like to see Ernst ousted from her senate seat.