Danville hosts first public forum for Democratic congressional candidates

Published 11:01 am Thursday, February 22, 2018

All four Democratic candidates for U.S. representative in Kentucky’s Second Congressional District appeared together for the first time in their primary race Tuesday night, and Danville was where it happened.

Hank Linderman, Brian Pedigo, Rane Sessions and Grant Short participated in a 90-minute public forum at Inter-County Energy, in front of about 40 interested potential voters. Indivisible Danville, a local grassroots progressive group, organized the forum.

The four Democrats were candid about what they’re up against in trying to become one of Kentucky’s six U.S. representatives: Sitting Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Republican, has far deeper pockets and any attempt to unseat him would be a long-shot at best, they acknowledged.

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Guthrie hasn’t seen real competition for his seat since he first won election to it in 2008, when he defeated Democrat David E. Boswell by gathering 52.6 percent of the votes. Since then, he’s won re-election four times, earning at least 64 percent of the vote every time. In 2016, Guthrie was unopposed in his re-election bid.

The candidates said Guthrie already has around $2 million in the bank for his 2018 campaign. That’s not a figure any one of them expect to match, but they all said they believe they can be viable and pose a threat to Guthrie regardless, especially in a year where there are rumors of a “blue wave” from voters that would carry Democrats into offices nationwide.

“I’m eager to get out there and show people … if you don’t have $2 million, you can still come close and put a dent in what’s going on and try to at least slow things down a little bit,” said Grant Short, a lifelong Kentucky resident who described himself as an “avid outdoorsman” and gun owner and hunter in his introductory statement. “I think unfortunately, money has kind of gotten out-of-hand, but it is a realistic thing (we have to deal with).”

“It’s very unlikely that we’re going to out-race the Republicans; that’s the reality,” said Hank Linderman, a professional musician who moved to California for his career before coming back to his family’s home state of Kentucky. “… I don’t believe we can raise money to compete, but what we can do is make them spend a lot of money. And that’s why it’s really important that we fight in this district. If we can force them to work hard and if we can change the conversation, we’re well on our way to winning.”

Brian Pedigo, a lifelong resident of Glasgow and military veteran who ran as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Representative in 2000, similarly said he believes it’s possible to get some momentum going against Guthrie and the Republican Party and “scare them a little bit,” causing them to bring in their “dark money” sources to prevent losing Guthrie’s seat.

“If polls show any of us within 10 points of Guthrie in September or October, they will drop a ton of dark money, whether it be the Koch brothers or whoever,” Pedigo said.

Sessions, an Army veteran who raised two children in California before choosing to move to Kentucky for its lower cost of living, said she believes any of the four Democratic candidates could help move the needle on many important issues.

“Whoever wins the primary — I want it to be me, but if it’s not, I will be behind whoever does win the primary,” she said. “We’re on the same team. We want Brett Guthrie out and someone who has some compassion and ethics in.”

The forum was a question-and-answer format, with members of the audience posing questions, which all four candidates then took turns answering.

All four agreed that global warming will already be creating devastating environmental impacts for years, even if humans stopped producing excess greenhouse gases tomorrow, but that reductions in carbon emissions now can still lessen the problem for future generations.

All four also agreed that a common idea among conservatives of “trickle-down” economics — giving tax breaks and benefits to the wealthy and letting the wealthy pass on benefits to others — is “a failed concept” (Linderman), a redistribution of wealth to the wealthy (Pedigo), a generator of wealth inequality (Sessions) and “a joke” (Short).

And all four were in favor of protecting national parks and preventing President Donald Trump from selling protected lands for private corporations to make money from.

On other topics, their opinions varied somewhat:

Rane Sessions

Democratic congressional candidate Rane Sessions, standing, answers a question during Tuesday night’s public forum event in Danville. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

Sessions said her top two priorities if elected would be health care and a big problem with education — student debt.

“One of those two things are going to bankrupt most people,” she said.

Health care costs are going through the roof, while “loopholes” allow CEOs of health care companies to earn massive bonuses, she said. There are examples from around the world of places where health care costs do not bankrupt people.

“Other countries can do it; we can do it, too.”

Session said she would support an assault weapons ban because she is not OK with large-capacity magazines, weapons that can be altered to be automatic and other aspects of firearms that make it easier to kill people.

“I do think there’s a place for it if you want to call it shoot or playing with those things,” such as shooting ranges where people can safely use “massive weapons,” she said.

Session said she attempts to sell herself as a Democrat by showing people how issues directly affect them or their family or friends. She recently had a conversation with someone who said they were “tired of lazy people taking their tax dollars” and wanted reductions in various social safety net programs. Sessions told the person that a family making $50,000 a year pays about $52 in taxes for welfare programs and about $4,000 for “corporate welfare.”

Sessions said she is firmly pro-choice when it comes to the issue of abortion.

“And I know how dangerous that is to say out loud in a lot of places,” she said. “I am really, strongly in favor of sex education, family planning, women’s access to birth control.”

Sessions said she believes many people who call themselves “pro-life” are “really pro-birth and their checkbooks slam shut the moment that baby is born.”

“I want to take care of our children, too.”

Brian Pedigo

Democratic congressional candidate Brian Pedigo answers a question during Tuesday night’s public forum. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

Creating a universal health care system through the existing Medicare system would be a top priority if he is elected, Pedigo said.

He said he would also work to pass a law ensuring Social Security payments can only be used to fund Social Security, preventing people like President Donald Trump from raiding Social Security to “pay for billionaire’s tax cuts.”

Pedigo said when he got out of the military, one of the first things he did was purchase an AK47 — “and it was a wonderful weapon to go out and target shoot with.”

“But I will give that up if that saves one kid,” he said. “I guess that’s the time we’ve come to now in our life — we’ve got to decide what’s more important.”

Pedigo said there need to be stronger background checks and better controls on who can get dangerous weapons.

“It should not be profitable to sell guns to people who don’t need them,” he said.

Pedigo described himself as a “blue-collar Democrat” who has worked in factories all his life.

“I am not a silver-spoon-fed person. I’ve worked hard to get where I am at,” he said.

Pedigo said he is pro-choice when it comes to abortion; and the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies is to educate children about the choices they make.

“In no circumstance, do I see a good reason to have a government official stand between a person and their doctor,” he said.

Hank Linderman

Democratic congressional candidate Hank Linderman, left, talks to those gathered for Tuesday night’s public forum. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

Linderman said health care for everyone would be his top priority.

Many other nations are able to keep their health care costs at a far lower percentage of their gross domestic product and provide comprehensive health care services including things like dental care.

“If you tell a story about health care in New Zealand, it takes about 25 seconds. If you tell a story about health care in the United States, you’d better have a cup of coffee and some Visine,” he said.

On gun control, Linderman said he is “not so much in favor of any particular gun ban; what I have a problem with is gun violence.”

Linderman said there are a wide number of issues he believes contribute to the violence being seen in the U.S. recently, and any solution is going to have work for a lot of different constituent groups.

“We’ve got to do this together in some sort of way that lets everybody be heard, because that’s the only way we’ll come up with a lasting solution,” he said.

Linderman said he believes “national Democrats have abandoned” Kentucky and given it up to Republicans. He disagrees with that decision.

“Kentucky is ground zero, in my opinion. This is where Democrats must construct a narrative that works for rural America. This is our opportunity to make a huge difference,” he said. “In other words, we respect our past, but we have to come up with a new paradigm, we have to come up with a new way to help the folks in the Second District.”

Linderman said he is pro-choice on abortion, but he also favors improving health care and benefits like parental leave to make it affordable and possible for people to choose not to have an abortion.

Linderman said he and his wife were told one of their children had a one-in-three chance of being born without any quality of life, but they decided to have the child anyway, and she is now 25 years old and earning her master’s degree.

“I’m fine with encouraging life,” he said.

Grant Short

Democratic congressional candidate Grant Short speaks to those present at Tuesday night’s public forum. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

Short said his main priority if elected “will be stopping Trump,” including backing lawsuits against the president.

He said he also has a plan for a “second new deal,” which would address “the $2 trillion that civil engineers say we have in infrastructure debt,” care for seniors and improvement of the health care system so that people can afford the care they need.

Short said he would support an assault weapons ban as proposed by Sen. Diane Feinstein, but “as something kind of in between that,” he has been working for more than 10 years “as a gun owner to curb gun violence.”

Short said he has gotten into guns as an adult, after having no guns in his home and not being allowed near them as a child. He said he supports banning all gun modifications that allow a single trigger-pull to potentially cause more than one death.

Short said Kentucky has a “long history of Democratic success” and he thinks Democrats should “run on that, not hide from it.” He said he thinks there is a strong perception that Kentucky is a “red state,” but that’s not true.

“We are a state that has been overrun by red money and our legislators have represented that in their votes,” he said.

Short said he is pro-choice, but prefers to say “pro-women” or “pro-my daughters.” He said he doesn’t think Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Trump or any government official should be “in the room” with one of his daughters when they are consulting with a doctor.

“I thought that was one of the conservative principles I thought they relied on was not to have government in everything,” he said.


Kentucky will hold its primary elections on May 22. Hank Linderman, Brian Pedigo, Rane Sessions and Grant Short are the candidates in the Democratic primary for U.S. representative in the Second Congressional District, which includes Owensboro, Bowling Green, Glasgow, Elizabethtown, Bardstown, Harrodsburg, Danville and Lancaster, among other cities. The winner of the Democratic primary will face the incumbent Republican, U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, in the general election on Nov. 6.