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A Conversation with Andy Ruff, Democratic Candidate For Indiana's 9th District

Andy Ruff, Democratic candidate for Indiana's 9th District

(Mitch Legan, WTIU/WFIU News)

As part of WTIU/WFIU News’ 2020 election coverage, reporter Mitch Legan invited the three candidates running for Indiana’s 9th Congressional District to discuss their policy positions.

The three candidates are Tonya Millis, Libertarian of Mitchell; Andy Ruff, Bloomington Democrat; and incumbent Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, Republican from Jeffersonville.

Indiana’s 9th District consists of Brown, Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Jackson, Johnson, Lawrence, Monroe, Orange, and Washington counties, with parts of Crawford, Morgan and Scott counties included.

The conversation with Tonya Millis can be found here.

The conversation with Rep. Trey Hollingsworth can be found here.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Mitch Legan: To kick this off, why did you decide to run for Congress?

Andy Ruff: I’m from Southern Indiana. I've been here my entire life. I know the people and the communities and the land. I decided to run because I was done with the lack of representation that I felt we were getting from our current incumbent representative, a guy who is has no connection to the state and has no connection with ordinary Hoosiers. And constantly votes that way – constantly votes in ways that don't represent our benefit or serve the interests of ordinary Hoosiers, but instead serve the interests of the corporate elite.

READ MORE: Ruff Projected To Face Hollingsworth For Indiana's 9th Congressional District

And I was also done with the divisiveness. I'm just done with the ugly divisiveness of the country. You know, we're not liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. We are not as different in our fundamental interests and values as the corporate media and talking heads on TV – and a lot of elected leaders – would like to have us believe. I believe that we have much more in common as Hoosiers and as Americans than we do differences. The challenge at this point in our history is getting past the seeming differences and divides that we have between us and finding the common ground and the shared values that we have. And then being able to use that as a step to make progress that will benefit ordinary people.

And thirdly, I'm fed up with an economy that doesn't serve ordinary people, that serves the already powerful and wealthy and keeps people's voices and interests from being the priorities of government.

ML: What has campaigning in the middle of a pandemic been like?

AR: It's been really difficult because what I intended to do from the start was to be out in the communities, be out amongst people and hear what their concerns were face-to-face, directly. And the pandemic has pretty much eliminated almost all those opportunities. I was going to be at all the county fairs, for example, all summer long. I was planning to go take my guitar, sit in the vendor area at a table [and] just table with my literature [and] my swag. And when people weren't talking to me I was just going to play country songs. And then when people wanted to talk and engage, I was going to be there to listen, to answer their questions about me and about my platform, my priorities, my background, but really to listen to their concerns and their priorities and their feelings about what we need to do to make things better in this country. And that all changed with the pandemic.

So it's been a lot of online social media, a lot of time spent on the phone, trying to raise campaign funds – [that’s] one of the fundamental problems in our system. And one of my platforms is to try and get big money, corporate money, PAC (political action committee) money, money that's influencing our elections so much – get that out so the people's voices can be heard and represented. And so I've been trying to run a campaign without relying on any of those money sources and just relying on grassroots contributions from ordinary folks. And that's been taking a lot of work. Because, you know, if I can get 50 contributions of $25 from ordinary folks, to me, that is worth a lot more than [a] maximum multi-thousand-dollar contribution from a wealthy donor or super PAC acting in my behalf. This is a major problem, I think, with our system. And I've sworn it off. But it's made campaigning and fundraising different. It's challenging.

We made this music video of a song that I wrote. [We shot it] in a quarry scene in Southern Indiana in the 9th District. And I wrote it, sang it, performed in it. We've been using that as a vehicle to both convey the message of what I stand for [and] what my campaign is about by contrasting it with my opponent in that video. We've been using that as a fundraising vehicle [and] it's been pretty successful. People really like it. We're still working on it, hoping it goes viral. And I hate to use that term in this current pandemic environment. But that's the idea.

ML: You beat me to it – who came up with the [“Ballad of ‘Tennessee Trey’ (Hollingsworth)”] music video? Take me through that process.

AR: That was all my idea. I'd written that song for fun early in the campaign, didn't really know for sure what I was going to do with it. I assumed that the pandemic was going to ease up at some point during the summer and I'd be able to do regular campaigning. But when it became obvious that that wasn't going to happen, I had to start getting creative with campaigning ideas – how to get my name out there, my message out there, my face out there without being able to get out there, right? And the idea of turning that song into a music video as a way to get me in front of people seemed to be a pretty good idea. And so I rounded up my people and I asked them if they'd help me with this video shoot and we put together what I think is a pretty good product.

ML: Moving on to policy, your campaign website refers to you as a "Progressive before it was cool" sort of thing. What are some of those progressive issues that are part of your platform?

AR: Fifteen years ago, I spent two years and a lot of hard work to bring people along to develop and pass on the council the most advanced, aggressive living wage legislation in the state of Indiana. And there's still nothing that comes close to what Bloomington has done with their living wage. We pushed it as far as our state law and state constitution allows a local government to do. And, you know, I started working on that 17 years ago, that was way before the "Fight for 15" or it was still a very sort of edge issue at that point.

Same with health care. I co-sponsored a resolution 15 years ago for what we called "single-payer universal health care," which now basically is called “Medicare for All.” [We] passed a resolution asking our congressional delegation – our federal delegation of representatives and senators – to start working towards single-payer universal health care, which is Medicare for all. 

And climate legislation. I have been advocating for reevaluating our transportation infrastructure – how we spend on transportation, how we how we look at the way we use and consume fuel with the climate and environmental change in mind – and I've been doing that for 20 years.

ML: The 9th District has gone red the past decade or so. Do you have any concerns calling yourself a “Hoosier Progressive” [and] running in what's been a pretty red district recently?

AR: I don't think it's as red as people think, you know. This whole state went for Barack Obama a couple elections ago in the presidential election, right? We had a Democrat in this area – the boundaries have been shifted – but Lee Hamilton represented the area for I think 38, 36 years. And 10 years ago, Baron Hill had multiple terms as a Democrat in the district.

I think people are willing to look past labels if they have a candidate that seems like he or she is on their side and understands them and is honest and has character and seems to be connected to the district and [its] people. I think Hoosiers are willing to give that kind of candidate a chance, and I think I'm that kind of a candidate. I'm an ordinary Hoosier with progressive policy values that I think are popular [and] widely shared. They're progressive ideas and progressive ideals but they come from basic, fundamental, shared Hoosier values.

ML: Going back to the environmentalism, I saw on your Ballotpedia page you’d said you're a fan of the Green New Deal. Is there anything specific in the Green New Deal that you appreciate?

AR: Look, everybody knows coal's on the way out for multiple reasons. We have to take care of our coal miners and our coal industry workers. And we will have a plan and resources to transition them [away from coal]. But what I think the best thing about the Green New Deal is it's an economic development plan. It's the best economic development plan that we could have. Because transitioning to fuels and energy that is not going to continue to destroy the global environment will create literally millions and millions of jobs. All jobs are not created equal, you know. Some jobs and the output of those jobs benefits society more than other jobs. I mean getting cancer and being ill generates economic activity, but is it the most productive economic activity that we could have?

I think creating a green infrastructure that would be required under the Green New Deal and all the jobs that would result are jobs that reduce the external costs that are placed on our society and the environment, in terms of our health [and] the cost of the environmental devastation of climate change. Building a green infrastructure, [green] energy future, that's hugely beneficial. That not only pays people to do work and to build this infrastructure, [but also] actually has a huge economic benefit by reducing the amount that we have to spend on reclaiming horrible damages to our economy and our land and our cities from the impacts of climate change.

ML: On your website you said the reason you got into politics in the first place was because you weren't a fan of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Now NAFTA has been replaced by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. What’s your take on the new trade deal that has replaced NAFTA?

AR: While there've been some improvements in recent trade deals, they're nowhere near where they need to be. We need to do much more to protect labor and labor rights so it's not a race to the bottom in terms of job benefits [and] wages here because we're competing with places that do not have the labor protections, the labor rights, the wage levels, the environmental regulations [and] requirements to keep our environment healthy. We should be doing everything we can to compete against those. Plus, these trade deals still include monopoly protections, these extended patent rights that, to me, are anti-market; they're anti-competitive and they damage [and] hurt our economy. And we need to take a serious look at those types of sections of these trade agreements because they're not helping ordinary people. They're in there to protect mobile capital and giant amounts of business interests at the highest level, not the interests of ordinary workers and ordinary people. And so we've got still got a long way to go on our trade deals. They've been better than NAFTA but we still have a lot of work to do.

ML: 2020 is gonna be remembered for a lot of reasons. Over the summer, we've seen a huge groundswell of support for social justice movements. And one of the hot topics that a lot of people have been bringing up, especially here in Bloomington, [is] this "defund the police" movement. Your thoughts?

AR: It's very simple. Things that police departments have been pushed into doing that aren't really policing, you know, social service work – I don't think that's where that burden should be placed. I don't think that burden should be placed on police departments. I don't think they're trained to do it. I don't think they want to do it. It's not their job, I think. So if we mean diverting certain resources for activities that police over recent years – with good intentions, they've been well-intended to put social service workers, etc. in police departments and police budgets – I think those things should be moved out.

ML: One of current Rep. Trey Hollingsworth’s big things is term limits. What’s your opinion on term limits?

AR: Term limits as used by Trey Hollingsworth is a distraction from the real problem. The real problem, of course, is money corrupting our politics. It's a complete distraction. because Trey, he's very happy with the current system of unregulated, unlimited money going into our politics, influencing our electoral politics and our policymaking, buying access to our political leaders. It's not term limits.

If a representative is doing a really good job of representing ordinary people, their politics aren't going to be corrupted by special access by moneyed interests. They're just serving ordinary people. If you put term limits on, then you further disadvantage candidates of the people, ordinary candidates. Because the way they get in and stay in office is by doing a good job of serving the people, the common people. If you put term limits on them, then you're simply setting it up again for money to have more influence every election because that's where money can come in [and] overwhelm the airwaves with advertising. And you can influence elections so much that way. The people's representatives, who often will have less money, they need to be able to serve and be elected for doing a good job, regardless of how many terms they serve. So the threat is not whether you're serving multiple terms, the threat is how susceptible you are to being influenced by money and by corporate special interests. So it's a complete smokescreen.

ML: Another one of those big things on your campaign website was getting “big money” out of politics.

AR: Big money [is] corrupting our elections and then our officials. Even if an elected person credibly says, "Well, I don't do special favors for large donors." Still, those donors have access, believe me. I know they do. They have access to those elected representatives that normal people don't have. So when it comes to an issue where there's some controversy or some difference in how an ordinary person might feel about that policy, whose point of view are those elected officials hearing? They're not hearing the point of view of the ordinary Hoosier on the street. And so we're not going to get the changes that I believe we have to have in so many areas – election reform, candidate campaign finance reform, health care for all, supporting our public schools, climate action – we're not going to get action on these things as long as corporate money and the ultra-wealthy have dramatically disproportionate influence on our elections and on policymaking. So that's why that's such a fundamental piece of my platform. I just don't think we'll be able to change the other things we need to change in our country until we reduce the influence of corporate money.

ML: Why should the people of the 9th District vote for you, Andy?

AR: I think these are all things that your ordinary Hoosiers, regardless of whether they consider themselves conservatives, liberals, care about. They care about the environment and they care about their kids’ future. And they know something's up with the climate. And they know that everybody deserves health care – it shouldn't just be tied to you whether you're fortunate enough to have the employment that provides you a good health care plan. They believe we should have access to health care; they believe a hard-working person should be able to earn a wage that they can support their family on and live with dignity. These are Hoosier values, these aren't liberal values. And that's why I could call myself a "Hoosier Progressive" as what kind of politician I am, what my philosophy is.

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