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Katie Dean promises ‘blue collar’ campaign in NC11

Katie Dean promises ‘blue collar’ campaign in NC11

Born and raised in North Georgia, Katie Dean has taken a different path to the NC11 Democratic primary than most. 

Calling herself “upper-middle-class privileged,” Dean pursued competitive horseback riding throughout her youth, but hit a rough patch during high school and ended up not graduating. She then worked in the equestrian industry, earned her GED, and did stints at Young Harris College and Brevard College while working as a martial arts instructor, raft guide and sanding finisher at a timber frame construction company. 

After becoming engaged to her now-husband Zach, she applied to the University of Georgia and ended up with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering while her husband went to Athens Technical College to become a mechanic. She now runs their auto repair shop in Arden, but first spent several years working at an engineering firm. 

“We did water and wastewater infrastructure design for rural municipalities,” Dean said. “Any sort of subsurface infrastructure, water lines, sewer lines, water plant, wastewater plant work, pump stations, capital improvement, plans, stormwater infrastructure for municipalities, very similar to where we’re sitting right now in Waynesville.”

Dean now finds herself in a crowded field of Democrats (and Republicans, and at least one Libertarian) all looking to unseat freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn. 

“The heart and soul of our campaign is to address a broken and faltering economy that does not work for the working and middle class,” she said. “That goes well beyond just one singular piece of legislation, with comprehensive tax reform, turning some of our upside-down trade policies right-side up so that we can not only survive but thrive and hold corporate CEOs accountable for driving one of the largest income-to-wealth disparity gaps that our country has ever seen.”

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SMN: Medicaid expansion is something we’ve talked about here in North Carolina for years and years. Is Medicaid expansion the answer for North Carolina? 

KD: For the immediate need. Yes, I think that it’s a piece of low-hanging fruit and there’s no justification to withholding that access to care. 

SMN: It’s a state decision, but it’s funded by the feds at 90% of the expansion population. The boogeyman is that, oh, the feds might take that funding away and then we’re going to be on the hook for it. How do you plan to go Congress and advocate that this 90% funding level remains the same? 

KD: Uh, you know this is where it gets difficult in terms of framing your argument, because we right now live in a time where data and facts no longer convince people. So it’s a matter of understanding those data, facts and figures, as well as being able to have some sort of human component that brings people to your side in terms of how you frame your arguments. I would work very hard at the local level within our district to understand the data and what we’re up against, and then reach out across the aisle with my Republican colleagues who live in similar metric districts to understand their constituents and try and find some common ground in that capacity and then build from there. 

SMN: You just said an interesting phrase — common ground — and there’s another issue that people are always looking for common ground on, but it seems to be difficult to find and that is common sense gun reform. It’s a term that’s thrown out all over the place. There seems to be support for some aspects of it, but not others. What does common sense gun reform mean to you? 

KD: Universal background checks.  

SMN: Some people have advocated for strengthening red flag laws. Is that something that’s part of your worldview on firearms? 

KD: My opinion on the red flag laws is still developing. To put it broadly, my worldview on the Second Amendment and firearms is to paraphrase [late Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia when they ruled that every American had the right to arm themselves, but that did not grant any individual whatsoever a right to carry any weapon whatsoever in any sort of capacity wherever they would like. And I agree with him in that sentiment. 

You have people that are fighting to uphold the Second Amendment, which is fine and fair. The Second Amendment is written into the Constitution, just like all of the other amendments, and then you have the gun violence epidemic and those are two parallel issues that we’re trying to solve simultaneously. You’ll hear me consistently throughout our campaign talk about education and responsible gun ownership, and right now what we have is a United States Congressman who doesn’t even know where his weapons are  when he goes to board a plane. 

SMN: What you said about Scalia — all of these Amendments in the Constitution have limits. The First Amendment has limits as to the time, place and manner of your speech. The Second Amendment has limits that we already observe. People talk about limiting the ability to purchase assault weapons, or limiting the ability to purchase high-capacity magazines. Do you support limiting either of those things? 

KD: Yes, with the caveat that the way our policy is designed to understand that the limitations and parameters that they set and we saw from 1994 to 2004, with the assault weapons ban, that it’s very easy at this point to engineer around those pieces of legislation. So my concern is, what is going to solve the gun violence epidemic that face in our country? And as of right now, I think if we instituted an assault weapon ban today, if they just at the stroke of a pen passed that piece of legislation, I think that we would still have a lot of the same issues that we face. 

SMN: You seem to have a tremendous amount of experience in infrastructure and although that infrastructure is water, and we do have our problems with water here, our bigger infrastructure problem is broadband. What’s the real solution? 

KD:  Navigating the red tape so that the federal funding is used effectively. Because of the nature of our region and how our environment is built naturally and physically, the cost per linear foot to expand broadband makes it reasonably undesirable for any sort of competition to come in and install it. We also know that in 2021 high-speed internet is not a luxury. It is a necessity for any given economy to not only survive, but to be able to thrive. Pardon my pun, but there’s a large disconnect there. Navigating the red tape, it’s more complicated than throwing a bunch of money at the wall to see what sticks, like Congress has been doing. 

SMN: Cawthorn’s internal poll — and take that for what it is — suggests 90% approval among his people. He’s going to outspend you ten-to-one. He gets national exposure seemingly at will. He’s got an establishment and a network. If you win this Primary Election, how do you beat Madison Cawthorn in the General Election? 

KD: A boots-on-the-ground working class campaign. Whoever the [eventual Democratic] candidate is, is going to need additional resources that they wouldn’t normally have in a race in this district with these metrics. It’s going to be very similar to how we’re organizing to win the primary and that is keeping it local, keeping it about the people, meeting people where they’re at and compounding your network in that capacity. I know a lot of people who are switching their voter registration status, who voted for Madison in the last election who will vote for me in this next primary. And that’s not to say I’m a conservative Republican or a progressive Republican in any sort of capacity. It’s just a testament to how vitriolic he is. And I think that while he has that large national presence, his local support is waning on both sides of the aisle and he’s vulnerable. 

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