Since its creation in the 1980's, Nevada's Second Congressional District has sent only four representatives to Congress, all of them Republicans, but demographics in the district are changing and Democrats are becoming a larger percentage of the electorate in Northern Nevada.
One of them is political newcomer Particia Ackerman, a retired high-altitude mountaineer who is challenging five-term incumbent Mark Amodei for the seat. KUNR's Paul Boger caught up with Ackerman at a recent campaign event to talk about the election and the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
BOGER: In your opinion, what are the biggest issues facing Nevada and the country at this point?
ACKERMAN: If we don't do something about climate change now, scientists are already talking that we might be beyond the tipping point, so the goals, the policies that I want to put forward will address that right away. Also, healthcare. Both of these go hand-in-hand because climate change and also healthcare are two issues where we are very broken and two issues where people are dying, so those are the two priorities.
Then to circle around the entire umbrella on top of all that is corruption. That's why our healthcare system has become so broken. That's why climate change has not been addressed because we've got massive corporations and special interests who have a stranglehold on our government. Unless we rally together to fight against that corruption, we will never stop this freight train of destruction and corruption that we see.
BOGER: What policies need to be put in place immediately. You know, if we're talking first term, what do you think needs to happen right away?
ACKERMAN: If I had the ability right off the bat to address climate change, it would be [by] doing what Tom Steyer had stated that he would do as soon as he became president [by making] it a national emergency. By doing that, then we can put forward emergency policies to start infrastructure changes immediately to address climate change via renewable, clean, renewable energy. By doing that, we also then start to bump and bolster up our economic conditions.
BOGER: Congress so far has failed to pass a second CARES Act. What kind of impact is that having on Nevada and what needs to be done?
ACKERMAN: Gosh, unless we get another package going forward, and we get it passed quickly... there are people who are going to be hurt in all sorts of capacities with the rental moratorium getting lifted, with not having unemployment benefits, so there's a myriad of ways that need to be addressed immediately. On top of that is childcare, too. You know, we are not going to have an economic recovery in America unless we also address childcare and federally fund childcare. It's just not going to happen, so those are some of the steps that have to be treated right away.
I mean, we are not out of the woods with COVID-19, clearly. You know, there are states and there's also countries who are having, even now, a recurrence of COVID after they felt like they've brought it under control. To think that we're not going to be in that same boat here is idealistic and it's not practical, so we have to be prepared with a federal package to be able to protect the individuals who are going to be impacted and potentially be on the streets.
BOGER: What do you make of the federal response to COVID at this point?
ACKERMAN: It's a bunch of partisan-whoee! That’s what it is. That's what I'm seeing. I think the ultimate goals of protecting and serving the American people in times of crisis has been pushed aside for partisan idealism.
BOGER: We are living in that hyper-partisan era, though. How would you, as a first-term Congresswoman, work across the aisle?
ACKERMAN: The art, the gift of being able to work across the aisle, if you will, the partisanship, is to see the individual that's standing in front of you as someone with a heart, someone with the same concerns and issues that we all have. We're all part of the same species of humanity, and when we look at each other and listen to each other with that core empathy, then it's easy to do. But I think too often, once an individual gets into the congressional trench, if you will, that gets pushed aside.
My core is I walk and live empathy. That's who I am, and I have never failed that in my life. I think that's what resonates even with the voters here in Northern Nevada, is when they have the opportunity to meet me, they feel that I come from the heart, so I think I'll be very successful.
BOGER: CD2 is one of those mindbogglingly big congressional districts that, you know, does contain a lot of, very rural red in Nevada. You know, how are you reaching out to those voters? How are you making inroads in those communities like Elko and Winnemucca that tend to be so conservative?
ACKERMAN: Obviously, during the pandemic, it's more challenging. My initial goal was to go out and spend massive amounts of time out in the rurals, because that's where my heart is. I'm from the rurals. I was born in the rurals, in rural Pennsylvania. I moved back to the rurals after I retired so I could be in the rurals. That's where my heart is, so I understand the mindset of the people, the rurals, but unfortunately, during COVID-19, I don't have that luxury now.
Setting that aside, our volunteer base, which we would be nowhere without the people who are reaching out, we've got about 245ish volunteers that have signed on to this campaign, and they're making thousands and thousands and thousands of calls all across the rurals. The messaging they're passing on to the people in the rurals is resonating because these are folks who are ranchers, they're farmers, you know, they're miners.
They are very aware of how hard they've been hit because of Trump's trade wars, so we have farmers, we have dairy farmers who have gone bankrupt. We have farmers across the country who are committing suicide in unprecedented numbers because of what's happened with the trade wars, so these farmers and ranchers out in the rurals, they're sitting up, they're taking notice to somebody who's saying, 'Wait a minute.' So, these are people who were paying attention when I say to them, 'I want us to create self-sustainability.' I want to make sure we can pass things like the COOL Act, which is the Country of Origin Labeling Act. Without going into the weeds of it, it helps to bolster the profits of our ranchers when it comes to livestock.
Also, the people in the rurals, they’re more connected to the lands than an average person, especially people who are ranchers and farmers who live off that land, so the health of our environment is very important to them, and they know they see the writing on the wall that our environment has not been protected as best as it can. So, they're paying attention.
We also have people in the rurals who are all supportive of our public lands. Our current congressman has repeatedly tried to sell off hundreds of thousands of acres of our public lands, so those folks in the rurals are very supportive of protecting and preserving our public lands, and our current congressman, clearly, is not based on the votes that he's made and the bills that he's been trying to put forward to sell off the public lands for expanded bombing. You know, people in the rurals, they think that's unconscionable because again, they're connected to their land and they understand the value and the preciousness of making sure that their water supplies are clean and the lands don't go toxic, et cetera. So, they're listening.
BOGER: At the end of the day, you know, what is the one thing that the voters and district two need to know about you?
ACKERMAN: CD2 has not had a representative who will truly listen to all of their constituents. Mark has made that very, very clear. He has been unavailable. He's been M.I.A. The people of CD2 have not had the opportunity to actually call up their representative and ask them a direct question. I said, 'I want them to have that opportunity.' So for the residents of CD2 , we will prevail in making life better. We will disagree, but at the end of the day, you will have someone whose heart you can trust is doing it for the right reasons.
I've never been in politics before. I am here to help make lives better for the average American, and that's what I think is missing.
BOGER: Patricia Ackerman, thank you so much.
ACKERMAN: You're welcome.