Electing Empathy Through Informed Choices: Robin Gilbert reflects on SOKY chapter's Congressional candidate forum

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth has been an important part of my political journey. The most recent opportunity I’ve had through KFTC was to ask a question directly to the congressional candidates for House District 2 at the Southern Kentucky Chapter’s Candidate Forum on April 24. I took the opportunity to address opioid addiction, a topic that touches so many other issues, including health care and mental health, the economy, incarceration, and much more.

I never considered myself a really political person in the past. Growing up in New York City, I was aware of headlines and a general sense of local and world events. One family tradition was reading the New York Times every Sunday. I skimmed the front page and devoured the styles and book review sections. After major events like the beginning of the Iraq war and 9/11, I paid a little closer attention. I always voted.
It was when Donald Trump was the Republican nominee that I began what is now an obsession with politics. I have been a Kentuckian for 6 years. I love Bowling Green for its diversity and the kindness of the people I have met. I have never been on Facebook much, and have a general distrust of social media, but in February 2017 I signed on to Twitter. How much trouble could 140 characters bring?

I’ve been very lucky as it immediately became a source for resistance activities for me. I joined Indivisible, made 5 calls daily on the issues of health care and the Muslim ban, and found links to many very informative articles. My first tweet was about Cambridge Analytica. I began to focus on Kentucky politics, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, and my Congressional House Rep in the 2nd District, Brett Guthrie. I found out how to see how my senator and representative were voting at govtrack.org. I asked Representative Guthrie exactly why he voted yes on allowing the mentally handicapped to have guns. I never received a straight answer. I also do not know anyone, Republican or Democrat, that was happy with health care reform and secretive way it was formulated. Brett Guthrie’s office became familiar with my voice.
Then I called the Bowling Green office of the Democratic Party. After trying to connect via web and email, even the website alerted me of events from 2015. I had to call Washington D.C. to get the name and phone number of my local democratic party chapter. Even when I got in touch, there was no clear path on how to help.

After a while I began to hear about KFTC. The name kept coming up. Finally, the day of the March For Our Lives I met Joyce Adkins, an active KFTC member. She let me know there was a KFTC meeting the following Tuesday. I went, hoping to find like-minded people and specific actions to help counteract the political madness and chaos. I found out I could canvass, phone bank, and help fundraise to take action on the issues I care about.

One of the issues I was passionate about was that there needed to be someone to run against Brett Guthrie. I’d been calling his office on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis as part of the Indivisible movement. He’s voted 98% with Trump’s agenda and was proud of the health care bill. I never got more than two stock emails back. He does not represent me.

When KFTC had the Congressional Candidate Forum to meet and question the three (!!!) candidates who would run as the democratic contender, I was thrilled. Guthrie has run unopposed for two terms. Just the night before, I had seen Hank Linderman, Rane Sessions and Brian Pedigo on KET and was able to get a sense of them. Seeing and hearing them in person was wonderful. They each talked about their point of view and qualifications. All had multiple experiences to bring to the table.

Hank had a long, successful career in the music business that relies heavily on communication skills and negotiation with many different people. Rane brought a tremendous amount of knowledge, with an Army background as well as serving as an assistant to a politician. She has lived in Kentucky all her life and has deep roots in the farming community. Brian Pedigo brought a very rare talent of being able to help people from all sides of a spectrum come together and find the solution. He is a hard worker and knows Kentucky politics like the back of his hand.

All were asked questions from the audience. I asked about possible solutions to the opioid crisis that has killed more Americans than all the wars since WWII. Nearly 1,400 Kentuckians die each year from opioid addiction, and similar numbers of people die each year in many states. The disease of addiction is to my mind our most pressing problem in every aspect of life. Economy, health care, mental health, jobs, incarceration, etc are all tied to addiction. All three candidates had excellent solutions focusing on prevention, including stemming the need for drugs, looking at addiction as a medical issue needing care, and using narcan to stop overdoses. Some suggested suboxone to treat addiction once detoxed, and providing more treatment centers and supportive living conditions (sober housing) as solutions. Treating addicts as criminals and failing them is not working!!

I was struck by the specific answers to each question the audience asked. None of the mumbo jumbo circular non-answers that many politicians give. I was so impressed at their clear value of people over politics. I encourage everyone to read more about the candidates at kentuckyelection.org I learned a new phrase this week at the Poor People’s Campaign in Frankfort that speaks to our choice this election season. It came from a young man in high school: Elect Empathy!