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Senate Candidate Zak Ringelstein On Health Care, Money In Politics

Charles Krupa
Associated Press
Zak Ringelstein, center, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Maine, eats a potluck dinner during a gathering prior to a meeting of the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America at City Hall in Portland, Maine, Monday, July 16, 2018.

Democrat Zak Ringelstein is one of two challengers seeking to unseat incumbent independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine next month.

During an appearance today on Maine Calling, host Jennifer Rooks asked Ringelstein what he believes is the single biggest issue on the minds of Maine people.

This is an excerpt of “Maine Calling” from Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. To listen to Zak Ringelstein’s full appearance, click here.

Ringelstein: We need Medicare For All. I tell this story about my student. I had a student a few years ago, I was a public school teacher and an 11-year-old walked into my room jaundiced. She was a wonderful kid, and her family didn’t have great access to health care and didn’t know how to access the system, and she ended up unfortunately not getting the care she needed, not getting the diagnosis she needed. I sent her to the nurse, a special education teacher, and I tried to get her the right care, and by the time she ended up in the hospital she was diagnosed with leukemia. And then after just three weeks she died. This is the kind of thing that is happening across the board in Maine, where people don’t have access to health care or people are paying a second mortgage. The mortality and morbidity is criminal. We deserve better, and we pay the most per capita of any country in the world on health care — it’s 17 percent of our GDP, and the next after that is 13 percent — and yet we have the worst outcomes of any developed country in the world. And so we literally would be paying less if we were to convert to Medicare For All.

Rooks: What if anything should be done about the partisan divide in our state and nation?

Ringelstein: We need to get money out of politics. It’s money that’s the problem, and it’s the reality that we are seeing the effects of a corporate takeover of our government, where we have literally big corporations that are able to fund our candidates through corporate PACs. And so we can’t get anything done for the people when literally the lobbyists are writing the policies and then funding the campaigns. So they’re holding a carrot over these folks’ heads for their re-election. And unfortunately we’re not going to get anywhere positive for this country until we take money out of politics and start to really trust that we can’t truly get behind folks who are — for example, Angus King takes money from ExxonMobil. He takes money from Navient, a predatory student loan company. And listen, I like Angus, but I think it’s about time we start to realize that as we get farther and farther toward the corporate and toward the far right, and Angus sits right there in the middle, that he’s being taken on a ride toward the corporate and the far right. The middle moves right, and that’s not OK in this time. We need a U.S. Senate that is not influenced, that is not bought by big money in politics.

Rooks: What is the biggest single issue facing the constituents of Maine and how will you address it if elected?

Ringelstein: It’s that our economy is rigged for the ultrawealthy, and this has so many effects on the people of Maine. The wages in the state are not growing. The 2nd Congressional District is in an economic depression that is longer and deeper than the Great Depression, and we could have so much more. We could have Medicare For All, we could raise teacher salaries and make our public schools the best in the entire world. We could invest in infrastructure and we could save our planet through what I call a Green New Deal, like FDR’s New Deal. All my policies, by the way, come after FDR — I’m an FDR Democrat. And the idea behind a Green New Deal is that we convert to a fully renewable energy system by 2035. And at the same time using Maine technologies, literally technologies that are built here in Maine. We would then be able to create high-wage jobs in this economy by pushing toward a new vision of renewable energy.

Rooks: On what committee would you like to serve and why?

Ringelstein: Of course this week everyone wants to be sitting on the Judiciary Committee. And I think that I certainly would like to have a big say in the Supreme Court, and so that is definitely a place where I’d like to sit. I’d also like to remind folks that I was a public school teacher here in Maine just a year and a half ago, and so education is the root of my run for U.S. Senate. I believe that early education policy, if we got it right, along with health care, we would be able to level the playing field for all Americans. And so I would like to see the Betsy DeVoses not being able to control our public schools. And I would like to have some say over how we are able to affect children’s lives, and so education’s really important. And what I’ll say about education is that standardized testing and the privatization movement are bringing down our education system. I’ll actually tell a story about what’s really going on in Washington — so I want to tell you, Jennifer, I was invited to the White House during the Obama administration, and I was really excited to be there and to talk about early education policy. And I got escorted up after meeting President Obama to a room a beautiful room, and I was excited to dig in deep to early education policy. What was stunning was that the conversation was really low level, and I asked myself why, and it occurred to me after about 15 or 20 minutes that not a single other person in that room except for me — including the Secretary of Education himself — had ever worked in a public school. And that is the problem, is that working people are not the table.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Originally published Oct. 9. 2018 at 4:23 p.m. ET.