Can a progressive play in Indiana? Liz Watson sure thinks so

In America’s heartland, in the state that gave us Mike Pence, Liz Watson has a real chance to win. A progressive woman, a labor attorney, and policy expert, she hopes to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Trey Hollingsworth on Nov. 6 and she hopes to do so with an earnest left-wing agenda.

Though Liz Watson hasn’t received a ton of national attention, her campaign strategy is similar to that of Randy “Ironstache” Bryce, who is running in Wisconsin’s 1st District. Both candidates think that a progressive, Bernie Sanders-style platform can appeal to rural and suburban voters who have drifted away from a more centrist Democratic Party. In fact, Bernie Sanders campaigned for Watson last week.

While Watson is currently an underdog (538 gives her a roughly 2 in 9 chance to win), she has kept the race competitive with endorsements from progressive and female-focused organizations, and a bold platform specifically tailored to her suburban district.

Win or lose, Watson has demonstrated a progressive model for running a campaign, not only standing up for a host of issues, but tying them to legislation that could make these left-wing initiatives a reality. As the author of a number of significant pieces of legislation and a veteran of the Georgetown Poverty Center, she is out to prove that policy can win elections.

What you should know about Liz Watson, Indiana 9th District candidate

Healthcare

Liz Watson’s healthcare proposals may be the platonic ideal for a progressive candidate in 2018. She outlines plans to both fight against cuts to Medicare and preserve the ACA, while also vocally supporting Medicare for All.

In terms of protecting existing programs, Watson proposes lower prescription drug costs and improving Medicare transparency. She promises to fight on behalf of the ACA should Republicans attempt further repeal efforts, and she wants to reinforce Indiana’s Medicaid expansion.

Unlike a number of more moderate candidates, Watson comes out and says, “I support the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act of 2017, H.R. 676.” She goes on to provide an impassioned defense of the bill, saying:

“In a Medicare for All program, no one will have to pay $700 for an EpiPen. Drug companies won’t be able to get away with price-gouging any more, because the Medicare program can negotiate with drug companies and bring down these outrageous costs. Americans and Hoosiers deserve nothing less.”

She underlines her healthcare policy with the personal story of her father’s recent illness and the fact that medical issues that could have bankrupted her family were made affordable thanks to Medicare.

Jobs and the economy

liz watson Liz Watson

When it comes to the economy, Watson strikes a bold, progressive tone. She points out that while Indiana’s unemployment rate is low, wages are stagnant. She places the blame at the feet of executives who make record profits while squeezing the working class.

Watson is in favor of a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. Here, she again points out that she has supported legislation to do just that: the Raise the Wage Act.

The bill would tie “minimum wage” to “median wage,” triggering increases as the economy grows, going beyond the “fight for $15.” She also prioritizes organized labor, pointing out that union membership leads to higher wages. Equal pay is also a priority for Watson; she hopes to work to end gender and racial discrimination in the workplace.

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Opioids

The opioid epidemic is an issue that is often ignored on a national level, but in regions like the Midwest and the Northeast, it is one of the top issues facing voters. Republicans have largely fallen back on law and order tactics of harsh sentences and overenforcement to solve the problem, while a concrete progressive policy has been hard to come by as national Democrats have put their energies elsewhere.

Watson offers exactly the kind of progressive vision that Democrats have been seeking on the subject. She is a supporter of the Strengthening Addiction Treatment Workforce Act, which “would offer student loan repayment and forgiveness to workers at addiction treatment facilities.” She also supports directing funds from the Department of Agriculture to fund opioid treatment.

She also wants to implement CDC’s guidelines on opioid prescription so that painkillers aren’t crutches for doctors, institute a needle exchange program, and allocate millions for additional recovery centers. In addition to these various solutions, Watson also supports the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Act (CARE Act), which “budgets $10 billion per year to make prevention, intervention, and recovery services affordable and available for every American.”

Finally, she ties all of this in with mental health and the economy, pointing to the feeling of hopelessness that leads many down the path to opioid abuse. In Watson’s view, mental health and economic improvements are going to be essential in defeating the opioid epidemic.

Education

When it comes to education, Watson would like to see big changes in both K-12 and university education. Unlike many more moderate Democrats, Watson is unapologetically anti-charter school and pro-teachers unions. She also has several plans to increase access to early childhood education, explicitly setting universal pre-K as the long-term goal.

In terms of higher education, Watson supports expanding community college and apprenticeship programs while also making debt-free, four-year college a reality. While she sets free college education as her goal, she also offers long-term solutions like caps on interest rates and expansion of Pell Grants.

Women’s rights

Policies aimed at empowering women have long been a passion project for Watson. She has run projects focused on helping low-wage earning women and she has provided legal representation to pregnant women who were wrongfully terminated. She hopes to bring that passion to Congress.

Watson views the struggles of workers and the struggle for women’s rights as one in the same. She advocates for fair scheduling legislation, which will help women with childcare costs and general work-life balance. She has written legislation around a wide range of female workplace issues, from equal pay to breastfeeding in the workplace.

Violence against women is also an issue that Watson is passionate about. She advocates reforming the criminal justice system to better care for women who have experienced trauma. She also believes that providing better economic opportunities to women (particularly women of color) will allow more freedom in getting out of abusive situations.

Watson is a champion of women who have experienced domestic abuse, and she is in favor of expanding and supporting the mandates of the Violence Against Women Act.

And in a week, Indiana will let the world know if it’s ready for someone as progressive as Liz Watson.

Brenden Gallagher

Brenden Gallagher

Brenden Gallagher is a politics reporter and cultural commentator. His work has been published by Motherboard, Complex, and VH1. He’s the co-founder of Beer Money Films, an indie production company. Based in Los Angeles, he works in television drama as a writers assistant.