Sixth Congressional District Primary Interviews: Chris Preece, Part 2
"I see job growth as more of a guiding hand...like I try to foster the learning and critical thinking that my students need to do."
Happy Kentucky Derby Day (!) to all who celebrate, and welcome back to part two of our four-piece series getting to know the Democratic candidates hoping to unseat Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District. If you missed the first part of our interview with Chris Preece yesterday, start there, then gallop back over to find out his thoughts on healthcare reform, rank choice voting and how he’d use his experience as an educator to help foster local, ground-up job creation.
And don’t forget: May 17 is primary election day! Tell your book club! Remind your mamaw!
(Photo via Facebook, Chris Preece for US Congress KY-06)
Sarah Baird: In terms of all the barriers to entry you described as a new candidate, do you think that’s why there aren’t more “fresh faces” in Kentucky running for office?
Chris Preece: Absolutely, but there’s also the education piece on how this whole process works. I had to go educate myself—it certainly wasn't taught to me. There weren’t very many people who came and said, “Oh, you want to run? Here, let me take you under my wing and show you how all this works.” There’s not this grand structure that you can tap into, at least from my experience, and I feel like a lot of people really feel disenfranchised to the point that they're checking out instead of buckling down.
That’s also a part of this [that] makes me afraid of what could happen in the future. I mean, 42 percent of our population who were eligible to vote in the last presidential election…didn't. That's a huge number of people who could have voted. It just shows how disheartened so many people are and how much our system is really causing people to check out. For some, I think that's what they want. But I will do my damnedest to engage as many people as I possibly can, to register them to vote, to get them to vote and try to get people engaged in the system.
From what you see on social media or TV, it seems like the two sides are completely at odds with one another and they're just shooting fire all the time, but it doesn't have to be that way. We can fight for it to not be that way. There’s things that we can do. We can implement term limits. We can fight for open primaries to stop some of these huge far right and far left people battling it out when we have closed primaries. Because the most engaged people are typically the most irritated people, so they’ll go to the polls during those primaries. Open up the primaries. Let's try to prevent some of this divisiveness from the beginning.
And then something else that I would love to see that I actually don’t have as a platform piece at the moment is rank choice voting. I think it would be magnificent in helping restore some of the sanity within our politics. There are some states that have put a good foot forward in using it more, like New York and Maine. So, I think there will be a slow spread of rank choice voting, and I hope that the spread starts moving faster.
SB: What do you think has been learned from a candidate like Amy McGrath, who ran against Barr [in 2018] and dumped millions of dollars into a campaign that wasn’t successful?
CP: There's a lot to learn from other races. Josh Hicks, I think, ran a good campaign [in 2020] but he was met with some very unfortunate things during his campaign. You want to get the voter turnout cranked up as high as possible. During the pandemic, especially early on, it was impossible to go door-to-door and really get people to turn out.
Amy McGrath and her campaign…they had a lot of money. Oh my God. I mean, the amount of money that she raised is astounding. I commend her for that. That was wild. In terms of things to learn from her race is, one, I don't think trying to outraise Barr is the strategy that this campaign needs to take because he's going to have whatever money he needs. We've got to win over the hearts and minds of people. That's not going to be done through a bunch of campaign ads that people get really tired of listening to on the TV and spending millions of dollars doing that. It's going to be going out, meeting people face-to-face, having tough conversations, and letting them know that my heart is in the right place. I want to be there, fighting for them.
SB: Talk to me a little bit about your vision for a stronger healthcare system across the 6th District.
CP: I know so many people who are just being priced out of healthcare, whether it’s from prescription drug prices being too high or needing a medical procedure that costs so much money, that then if they can't pay, it goes into collections. It hurts their credit. There’s so much of that that’s scaring them from going to the doctor to begin with. We have got to have a healthcare system that has prices we can pay and that’s able to take care of everybody, regardless of income or whatever their circumstances may be.
We're nowhere near where we should be. We are paying way too much. Every other industrialized country in the world has a healthcare system that is providing better services to their general populace than we are right now. That is just a crying shame.
SB: Would you support something that looks like Medicare for All?
CP: It can look a lot of different ways. I mean, there’s Medicare for All, or it could look something more like the German or French systems, that still have private companies handling insurance but they’re heavily regulated. Because, actually, they end up having really good—actually better—healthcare outcomes than some of the countries where it’s completely socialized. I mean, it can look whatever number of ways that we can finagle it to be, as long as we are getting the outcomes that we deserve.
SB: There's always so much talk during election cycles about job creation, but I feel like, particularly for small towns across Kentucky, a lot of it never really comes to pass. Particularly in Appalachian Kentucky, there’s a long history of not only an extraction economy, but a grifter economy. How would you help to build lasting, local, long-term jobs?
CP: We need to be investing in small businesses and providing resources for folks to build from the ground up. I know so many bright people from Martin County who have left Martin County and not gone back because there aren’t opportunities there. And I know that's happening in a lot of small towns. That some of our best and brightest are leaving for different places, whether it be going to Lexington or Louisville or completely out of the state. We need to find ways to one, keep those hard working and bright folks here, and two, provide jobs for places that are having a heck of a tough time.
I mean, especially when you look at a place like Martin County, the coal industry's gone. There are a few coal jobs that are scattered about, but they’re not much. We’ve got to be able to grow jobs in a more sustainable way. I think the way you do that is through small businesses and providing all the resources that someone might need.
For example, a person has an idea. They can come in and see what kind of options there are or what kind of obstacles there might be to hurdle over to make their business a reality. Maybe give them a little bit of startup capital. Invest in them in that way and provide sustained connections and resources to them for a few years until they get up on their feet. If we're able to do that and start that kind of movement in these small towns or counties, that’s going to provide more jobs. It's going to provide more stability for the county and more income in different ways. I really just think it will be better overall.
I'm not saying that we need to dictate what businesses people are trying to start up, either. I mean, a county and the people there could try to cultivate a really unique sense of themselves through some of the businesses that they create.
I kind of relate it back to something I do in my classroom. I have STEM projects for my students that they work on throughout the year. I tell them that they need to figure out something they want to research, and then they have full control, basically, of whatever it is that they want to research as long as they have the materials to do it. And then I help them in whatever ways that they need. If it’s borrowing a piece of my equipment to determine light intensity or detect a certain chemical in a substance, if we have it at the school, then they have access to it. They get to control what the research is over, and I'm just there trying to guide them through it and understanding what's happening.
I really see job growth as more of a guiding hand…like I try to foster the learning and critical thinking that my students need to do.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
We’ll be back tomorrow with the first part of our interview with Preece’s primary opponent and familiar face on the ballot, Geoff Young.
Meanwhile, might I suggest purchasing Emily Bingham’s new book that chronicles the troubling, deeply racist history of “My Old Kentucky Home”—My Old Kentucky Home: The Astonishing Life and Reckoning of an Iconic American Song—on this day when Kentuckians seem to love to belt it out? Let’s know more, do better and stop singing this song, y’all.