I recently conducted an email interview with Gary Kroeger, a former Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast member and former game show announcer who is now one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District of Iowa.
The interview was conducted via email, and I emailed Mr. Kroeger a total of 29 questions about his background, his congressional campaign, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Iowa politics. Even though I asked all of the questions at once and asked Mr. Kroeger to reply to the questions in list form, I’m going to list Mr. Kroger’s response to each question below the relevant question, with one exception for when Mr. Kroger responded to two questions with one answer. “AC” stands for Aaron Camp, the author of this blog, and “GK” stands for Gary Kroger, the 1st District of Iowa congressional candidate.
AC: I’ll start with a question about your background…Please tell us a little bit about your life story.
GK: I was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. My career ambition was to be an entertainer and that took me to Northwestern University where I met Julia Louis Dreyfus and her (future) husband Brad Hall. Together with Paul Barrosse we joined Saturday Night Live in the early to mid 80’s. I had a 20 year, journeyman’s career after that where I worked in television, film and producing. I even owned a restaurant for a few years. I gave up show business in 2003 because I had a son that I wanted to raise in a more stable environment than what entertainment can offer. I moved back to Iowa and was hired as a creative director for a growing advertising agency. My interest has always been in politics, but as a columnist and activist. After the unfortunately results of 2014 I decided to throw my hat into the ring.
AC: Who are your immediate relatives?
GK: My two sons, who live with their mother in Cedar Rapids, my mother who is here in Cedar Falls, and I have two brothers. One is in San Diego and the other is in Des Moines.
AC: On to your congressional campaign…Why did you decide to run for Congress in the 2016 elections?
GK: America has been moving, systematically, to the right for over 40 years. There is no moderate Republican anymore. Even Eisenhower would be consider far left by today’s conservative standards. Last year as Iowa took a hard right turn with the election of Rod Blum and Joni Ernst, I (and many others) determined that we must correct this course. This is not a time for tepid, moderate Democratic views that appeal to popular trends, but a time to starkly challenge the new status quo. We need to move left, just to get back to the middle! I knew who was, and was going to get into this race before I declared. I declared because I am the only true Progressive running. By that I mean leading with ideology rather than following the popular pulse of poll driven policies
AC: What are your proposals for reducing income inequality in America?
GK: This is a complicated question and the answer is an article unto itself. First- Create jobs by investing in infrastructure. That includes renewable energy sources. Focus on affordable housing and other grassroots development. We must spend the money to rebuild roads, bridges, schools. The creation of job opportunity is the first step. Secondly, raise the minimum wage and index it to the poverty threshold so that it automatically adjusts in the future. Americans have been taking a pay cut for 40 years as the COL increases and wages have remained flat. Next, improve the tax code so that it works for working and Middle Class Americans. Expand EITC. Also, expand access to child care and paid maternity leave.
AC: Do you believe that the Citizens United v. FEC U.S. Supreme Court decision has led to more influence of big-money interests in the American political system?
GK: And emphatic YES. No need to explain, CU is a pipeline for dark money to flood toward whatever candidate or special interest it chooses. It is a direct affront to a Republic by for and of the People.
AC: If elected to Congress, would you vote for a federal constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn the Citizens United decision?
AC: Do you support a federal constitutional amendment that would abolish the Electoral College and implement a national popular vote system for electing the president and the vice president?
GK: The Electoral College is antiquated and I am open to reform. I don’t think this is a clear issues, however, because change will be exactly that, change. Iowa will lose its status as first in nation as the system no longer requires the electoral votes. From that there are repercussions that I think we need to look at carefully before making a blanket determination.
AC: Do you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health care decisions, including a woman’s right to decide whether or not to have an abortion?
GK: Absolutely. A woman must have dominion over her own body. Anything less is to say that a woman is not equal due to her biology. If being technical is the argument the “pro-lifer’s” need, then I will make myself clear. A fetus is not a life until it has viability. Up to that point it is a potential life. I am willing to discuss where that viability threshold may be, but at this time Roe v Wade is the determination by which we abide.
AC: Do you think that the United States should go further than the international climate change agreement recently negotiated in Paris, France does when it comes to saving the planet from global warming?
GK: Paris is only a start. The work is going to be much harder than making a decision to act. Going further is about demanding that our own country take the lead by aggressively developing clean energy and reducing fossil fuel dependence (ultimately eliminating dirty fuel). A Carbon Fee (and rebates for low income families and energy reduction compliant businesses and households) on the 7 billion tons of inorganic gas being pumped into our skies alone is ESSENTIAL. We can do little to comply, let alone, exceed Paris standards until we put a fee on the most massive contributor to global warming.
AC: What are your ideas for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East?
GK: This, too, is an article unto itself. The Middle East is complex and our involvement in creating a quagmire goes back 100 years. By reducing (to eliminate) our dependence on Middle East oil is the single most effective measure we can take. Our involvement in Middle East affairs, and is the root of imperialist policy is directly linked to oil relationships. Taking that out of the equation gives us leverage that we need in order to make any headway. America has at several junctures in Middle East history, created power vacuums that have been filled by extremists. We can point to the mid 50’s when we organized a coup to topple the Iranian prime minister to replace him with the Shah to the invasion of Iraq in 2002. Our foreign policy has been short sighted without understanding the implications changing the power structures and stability of the region. While Republicans believe that “turning the sand into glass” is actually a viable policy, that will exacerbate tension, create more terrorism and further destabilize the Middle East. Negotiation is necessary (I support the Iran nuclear agreement). While we must be strong militarily in order to have leverage, we must be equally as smart. Historically, we have not been. ISIS will not be defeated by jingoistic policy, or massive military annihilation, it will be defeated when their money is cut off and when better alternatives are available that slow recruiting.
AC: Do you think that the U.S. should accept refugees who are fleeing ISIS and the Bashir al-Assad dictatorship in Syria?
GK: Of course we should accept these refugees. The small threat of a terrorist passing through should not betray the promise of America. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free.” Without our tenets of justice and freedom, we compromise all that we pledge allegiance to.
AC: What are your ideas for reforming America’s immigration system?
GK: Immigration laws must be amended to create better legal access. We can fortify our borders, but unless we create legal pathways to citizenship we do nothing to protect that which makes us the shining city on the hill; freedom and justice. In the meanwhile, I support amnesty to keep families together and compassionate justice with regard to any deportation.
AC: Do you think that there should be more efforts to make health care more affordable in America? If so, what are some proposals that you support?
GK: I would be all in for Single Payer, but there was, and as of now remains, no way to get a true concept of socialized medicine passed in Washington. And so I support ACA. I would like to see state lines disappear so that competitive bidding can reduce costs, and I would like to see the portion of the Middle Class that makes too much to qualify for subsidies, but not enough to afford high family costs, to receive tax breaks.
AC: Do you support or oppose Common Core State Standards?
AC: Do you support or oppose standardized testing in K-12 education?
GK: I am not a fan of standardized testing. I have seen progress from CC and know of teachers and administrators who support it, but, personally, I think that it is symptomatic of a misunderstanding of education. CC, as well as No Child Left Behind, are programs designed to address the RESULT of educational standards that have been dropping and not the CAUSE. The cause, in my view, has been a systematic devaluation of liberal arts education and basic principles of learning. America has replaced education with a value system based in capitalism, and away from critical thinking.
AC: Do you support expanding Social Security? If so, what is your proposal for doing so?
GK: We should raise the cap on Social Security. Not only is that more equitable and fair, but creates the solvency that is needed to perpetuate the program.
AC: Do you support or oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other currently-pending free trade deals between the U.S. and foreign nations?
GK: I have been a vocal opponent of TPP longer than anyone else in my race. I did not wait for polls to tell me that this is bad for the American worker. This is, to quote Robert Reich, “NAFTA on steroids.” It is a race to the bottom as nations compete for the lowest bidder and corporations choose margins over employment.
AC: Would you support efforts to repeal existing free-trade agreements between the U.S. and many foreign countries, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)?
GK: Yes. But, we must be careful to weigh agreements, outcomes and results. I am not against trade agreements, but NAFTA saw American workers becomes marginalized as employment was outsourced. TPP would do the same on an even larger scale. These blanket agreements which have little interest beyond expanding the scope of corporate influence and power have been detrimental to wages and jobs.
AC: What are your ideas for expanding broadband internet access in rural areas, if any?
GK: This is not an area in which I have done much study, but it would certainly appear to me that the expansion of broadband would be in the public interest. What I am interested in, is keeping the internet free and not regulated by corporate interests.
AC: What are some of your ideas and policy positions in regards to agricultural policy?
GK: The family farm has suffered as the American worker has suffered. Farms have become corporatized and the interests of Monsanto and others have cornered agriculture. I support Farm Bill legislation as a means to keep farms operating and our food supply plentiful. A farm is an industry that is subjected to the whims of nature and, therefore, if we are to maintain its solvency must intervene by providing subsidies.
AC: Do you support increased gun safety/control measures? If so, which gun safety/control measures do you support?
GK: I am an advocate of new gun safety measures. More comprehensive backgrounds checks that extend to gun shows and second party sales. Banning armor piercing bullets (except for law enforcement, of course). Re-instating the ban on assault weapons. I would also move to increase funding for “smart gun” technology, as well as expanding safety programs. Ultimately, I would push for mandatory proficiency/safety testing at the purchase of a firearm.
AC: According to the election information website Ballotpedia, two Democrats are listed as running against you in the Democratic primary: Monica Vernon and Pat Murphy. What are your thoughts about your Democratic primary opponents?
GK: I will never throw my primary opponents under the bus. They are both good people and are fighting on the correct issues. However, I entered this race when Vernon was already in a commanding position financially and with endorsements, and I knew that Murphy would get in. Both have the infrastructure and support that make them formidable (they’ve both been running this very race for 3 or more years). I entered because a bold, unapologetic Progressive is what we need in this seat. Not someone who needs to be enlightened to civil rights issues, gun restrictions, environmental protection, workers interests, etc, but who leads by virtue of ideological values that they already possess. This is not a time for a moderate Democrat. We need to move left, just to get back to the middle in America; we have drifted so far to the right.
AC: If you were to win the Democratic nomination, you would, more than likely, be running against incumbent Republican Congressman Rob Blum in a congressional district that is more Democratic than Iowa as a whole is. What are your thoughts about Congressman Blum?
GK: Rob Blum is a Tea Party Republican. He is the Steve King of the 1st District. Blum, King (and Ernst) are motivated by the fringe in America (who are gaining ground) who believe in a theocratic society, and who will pander to wealth in the continuance of America becoming an oligarchy.
AC: Now, about the race for the Democratic presidential nomination…Do you support continuing the Iowa tradition of being the first state in the nation to hold major-party nomination contests for president, or do you support establishing a national presidential primary and caucus day?
GK: This was sort of answered earlier. If we do away with the Electoral College, primaries and caucuses will change and Iowa’s already tenuous hold onto being the first battle ground will become irrelevant. IF our process remains as it is, then YES, I like Iowa’s place as first in nation. We are an active state, conscious, aware, and uniquely qualified with agricultural, urban, industrial, and educational interests. Easy to navigate.
AC: You’ve endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Why did you endorse Bernie, and what are some of Bernie’s ideas that you consider to be your favorite(s)?
GK: I believe that there is no reason for a public person to be different from a private person. In other words, if I endorsed Bernie Sanders privately, why should I, as a political figure, endorse him publicly. I am running AGAINST political expediency and poll-driven positions. This is in alignment with Sanders. We know who he is, what he stands for, and we know that he cannot be bought. That is my premise, as well. In terms of the issues, I align very well with Senator Sanders, particularly in our concern for the oligarchic nation we have become; and our political mission to restore representative democracy.
AC: If he were to win the Democratic presidential nomination, who do you think would be the ideal running-mate for Bernie Sanders?
GK: I have not gotten so far as to even consider who a running mate for Sanders would be. Elizabeth Warren would be ideological Heaven.
AC: Now, a couple of questions about Iowa politics…In 2018, the office of Governor of Iowa will, once again, be up for re-election. Who are some candidates that you’d like to see run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Iowa?
GK: Last year I was hoping that Monica Vernon would run for governor. A moderate Democrat would be ideal to get support across the state.
AC: What are your thoughts about the congressional and state legislative redistricting process that is used in Iowa?
GK: You mean gerrymandering? It is a crime against democracy.
AC: One final question…Other than yourself, who do you consider to be the greatest Iowan of all time?
GK: Fred Maytag. Who has created a more useful invention in history? Iowa has produced so many names that have gone on to entertainment, politics, athletics, and invention. John Wayne was even born here. And I think Johnny Carson before he moved to Nebraska. Harry Reasoner, too. I even like Fred Grandy 🙂
I hope to be able to conduct more interviews with political figures and other interesting people in the future.