Misty K. Snow, the First Major-Party Transgender Nominee for U.S. Senate

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This week in KCRW's "Scheer Intelligence," Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer spoke with Misty K. Snow, the first major-party transgender nominee to run for the U.S. Senate.

A millennial from Utah who works full time in a supermarket, the Democrat told Scheer that her experience living paycheck to paycheck was among her inspirations to run. She said she is highlighting issues of poverty and class in her campaign.

Snow also talked about potentially being one of the few working-class senators and explained why Hillary Clinton will have an uphill battle in the 2020 election if she wins the presidency this year.

Adapted from Truthdig.com

Read the transcript below:

Robert Scheer: Hi. This is Robert Scheer, "Scheer Intelligence," for KCRW, where the intelligence comes from my guests, in this case, Misty K Snow. 30, 31 year old? What are you, Misty?

Misty K. Snow: 31. I turned 31 on July 19th.

Scheer: Who is the first transgender candidate of a major party for the U.S. Senate. In this case, it's the Senate seat in Utah, occupied by a pretty conservative senator, Mike Lee. I guess, Misty, you'll tell us just how conservative he is, and I met Misty at the Democratic convention. You don't mind if we're on a first-name basis, until you become senator, do you?

Snow: That's fine.

Scheer: My son Josh, who is the producer of this show, was interviewing you, and I must say, what you were saying was much more interesting than what was being said up on the platform, and it struck me that the question I really wanted to put to you ... We could talk about being the first transgender candidate, but I'd really like to begin by asking you, as somebody who has said that you got turned on to politics, or at least running for office, pretty much by Bernie Sanders, and then you looked at the conservative Democrat who was about to be nominated to be the Democratic nominee against the incumbent in Utah, and you said, "Why do we have to settle for that?" You again, I think inspired by Bernie, decided to run, and the Democratic convention actually was not going to endorse you, but you had enough support that you could force a primary, and in that primary, you walloped the person who had been the anointed Democratic candidate. Is that a fair assessment?

Snow: Yeah, kind of. It's kind of [morbid]. I knew that, because Bernie Sanders did well in New Hampshire, that he'd probably do well in Utah, given our demographics, and I knew that a lot of the delegates from the state convention, they'd be elected out of those same caucuses, so I knew that the delegation at the state convention would potentially be very progressive, so someone running to challenge this guy from the left could possibly do really well, and I thought about that when I decided to run. I actually ran because I wanted this guy to be challenged, and I was really disappointed that no one was stepping up to do it, because I thought he was terribly wrong on important issues. A Democrat who wants to write an op-ed coming out against Planned Parenthood is, I think, not just unacceptable, but offensive, and he was wrong on LGBT rights, and military, and I just thought he was wrong on almost all the issues I care about, and he wasn't being challenged, and I didn't know anything, really, about running for office, didn't have any support of the Utah Democratic party, didn't really know anyone, didn't have any money, but I had this gut feeling, "I need to do this, because if I don't do this, and no one else will, and the important issues that I care about will not be given a voice."

Scheer: Yeah, and you beat him by quite a bit in the primary in the Democratic party, and it's interesting, because you've said you don't want your campaign, your candidacy, to be seen primarily as the transgender issue, although it's important, but you're running, really, as someone who is a working person who comes from a poor background. You work in a supermarket as a cashier, and your identity, really, was with Bernie Sanders on these issues of economic exploitation and what's wrong with the economy and the lousy jobs. Is that accurate?

Snow: Yeah, a lot of that's accurate. I didn't win the primary because I'm trans. That wasn't even really an issue in the primary. I won because I attacked him on ... Honestly, Planned Parenthood was really, I think, the defining issue of the campaign. We forced him into the primary on that issue, and every interview he had challenged him on his pro-life stance. It came up in every interview he had from then, because he wrote that op-ed where he called for an investigation [into] Planned Parenthood, and if you're running for a Democratic nomination, that's [a] pretty controversial position to have.

Scheer: We're talking about a fellow named Jonathon Swinton who defined himself as a conservative Democrat, and that in fact was actually taking positions that really seem out of swing with the Democratic party, but in Utah, where no Democrat running for the Senate has gotten more than 33 percent of the vote since '92, he thought he fit right in, right? Was that the strategy?

Snow: Yeah. He described himself as conservative, described himself as pro-life. Some of the news articles talked about how he used to be a registered Republican, so he's what we call ... We call them "Republican lights." I made the arguments that Scott Hall ... He ran for U.S. Senate in 2012, against Orrin Hatch. He got about 30.8 percent of the vote. Sam Granado, he ran against Mike Lee in 2010. He got 32.8 percent of the vote. They both ran as moderate Democrats, and [being 00:19:28] a moderate Democrat doesn't seem to be a winning strategy, because if it's a winning strategy, you wouldn't lose by 30 or 40 points, so why don't we ...

Scheer: If I can interrupt you, the polls are showing that you pull well among millennials like yourself, who really don't go very much for that sort of traditional, safe, moderate label. Is that what you're finding as you go out campaigning?

Snow: Yeah. There's definitely a lot of excitement [among 00:19:58] millennials, and I try to make the case that if I was elected, I'd be the first millennial in the U.S. Senate. I'm 31 years old. I'd be a voice for our generation, and that excites people my age. They're like, "Yes. We need representation in congress." If I could generate genuine excitement and make them want to come out, I think we'll do a lot better, because no one wants to come out for a Democrat who is almost indistinguishable from their opponent. Pick your poison. Why bother to show up when there's not a real choice?

By offering a real choice, I feel like I'm generating real excitement that makes people actually want to turn out and vote, and I think that matters, and whether or not I'm [also going to be] able to win, it should help some of our down-ballot Democrats. In 2014, we lost a house legislative seat by 47 votes, another one by 53 votes, another by 195 votes. Having a few more Democrats turn out, we could have had a few more Democrats at state legislature. We lost a house of representatives seat by 7,511 votes, while more than 15,000 registered Democrats in that district didn't even show up to vote, so I think it's very important that we have candidates that are actually exciting among our own base. Quite frankly, there's not a path to victory for a Democrat who can't turn out their own base.

Scheer: Yeah, and think the interesting thing is that Bernie Sanders did carry Utah in the Democratic primary, defeating Hillary Clinton, and I want to get to some of these bread and butter issues, because you're living the life of people who are having a hard time. You couldn't do this interview until late in the day, because I gather you work, still, right?

... You couldn't afford to go to college, and it wasn't going to work for you, but the fact is that we've got plenty of people. We're doing this broadcast from the University of Southern California, and there are plenty of graduates from very fine schools like ours who still struggle to find jobs after they graduate. I know that may be not something that we want to advertise, but that's true right across the country. I had a guy tow my car the other day up by Santa Barbara who graduated with a degree in geology, and was towing cars for the last four years, so I think the heart of your campaign is really the same as Sanders campaign, which is, the economy is not providing an opportunity for most of the people of your generation.

Snow:
Exactly. We want an economy that works for everyone, instead of an economy that only works for the one percent. That's a big reason why I decided to run, because there's a lot of important issues that establishment Democrats don't want to raise, so I decided to run for office because ... I ran against an establishment Democrat, and I think that's why I was able to get the endorsement by Our Revolution, which is that organization founded by Bernie Sanders [to support] progressive candidates and policies. I'm one of just three U.S. Senate candidates running to have that endorsement, along with Russ Feingold and Deborah Ross, so I think that's an important endorsement. That, I think, shows that I do care about these issues.

Scheer: I think the issue that you're really raising is, how is it like to live from paycheck to paycheck? That's really what I got out of some of the speeches I've read that you've given, and your comments and so forth. There's a reality out there now, which is that it's pretty hard to get by, even when you want to work hard, when you have the right attitude, and it's very interesting that, in your case, even though the thing that magazines and others pick up on is that you're the first trans candidate to run, you're actually making these economic issues the heart of your campaign, aren't you?

Snow: Yes. That's exactly it. Congress, they're disproportionately made of millionaires, lawyers, hedge fund managers, business owners. We have a government by and for the millionaires. That is so out of touch with the needs of average working people. If we want a government that actually represents working class people, I think we need to elect more working class people to government. Before I ran for US senate, I'm working at a grocery store. I'm making less than 30,000 a year. Mike Leib, in 2010, before he ran for US senate, he was a lawyer in the district of Columbia making about 500,000 dollars a year, and his father was a politician, and so he's out of touch. He doesn't understand what it's like to be poor, what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck. He's voted against minimum wage increases, even though 7.25 is not a living wage. It's not a living wage in Utah. It's not a living wage in the district of Columbia or anywhere else in this country, yet he will talk about how he wants working people to have more money in their pockets. If you really believe that, than why are you voting against raising the minimum wage?

Scheer: This is Robert Scheer. I'm talking with Misty K Snow, a 31-year-old transgendered person, a woman, who is running for the Senate, the first transgendered person to run for the Senate in a major party. She's the Democratic party nominee, selected in a primary that also selected Bernie Sanders in Utah, and represents a progressive view from a millennial perspective, which I think could catch fire here. In fact, if you just get more than 32 percent of the vote, you'll be doing better than any Democrat, whatever they call themselves, and whatever age, and whatever gender, has done for what? 30 years, right?

Snow: The best has been 33.0 percent since 1992. If I can pass that threshold, it would be better than any Democratic U.S. Senate candidate since '92, and the person who ran in '92 was actually a sitting congressman, so that'd be a huge victory, and it'd also show that Utah Democrats ... that running as a progressive candidate was actually more successful than running as a moderate candidate, and that if we're going to run for U.S. Senate, we should run on issues that Democrats care about. We should stand up for the working class. We should stand up for women's rights. We should stand up for the LGBT community, stand up for college students who can't afford to go to college, and actually run as Democrats who fight for the core issues of the Democratic party, instead of running as moderates who want to make themselves almost indistinguishable from Republicans.

Scheer: ... I guess I am putting you on the spot, but you're at the Democratic convention, and I was there. I guess it was the night before Hillary got the nomination, but we knew it was going to happen, and you were sitting a few seats away from me at the convention, and you were for Bernie Sanders. Many people in that hall were for Bernie, and he certainly was going to raise the issues of how do you live on $30,000 a year in this country? How do you live on even twice that in this country? Certainly many communities, schoolteachers in many communities can't afford the rent where they're supposed to be teaching the children, and you're at the convention, and Hillary Clinton gets the nomination, and I know you're carrying the banner of this party, but you must have been disappointed, because she certainly has not shown all that much commitment to people making those kind of wages.

Snow: Obviously, I always supported Bernie Sanders, always wanted him to win, always knew it'd be an uphill battle for him to win, because Hillary Clinton had the backing of the establishment, and right after the California primary, I think I spent a month and a half just hoping, maybe she'll nominate Bernie Sanders the vice presidential candidate, because that would be, certainly, something, or at least maybe a more progressive candidate. Heck, even Martin O'Malley, but instead, we get Tim Kaine, so it was really disappointing, but on the other hand, I don't dislike Hillary Clinton. I wish she was better on a lot of issues, but on the other hand, I think Bernie Sanders, challenging her as hard as he did, helped make her take stronger stances on a number of issues, but also helped define the platform in a much more progressive way, so I think it was very important. I think he had a lot of important victories. Whether or not I think Hillary Clinton's the best candidate, I do think it is a good moment that we have a woman as a major party nominee. I remember at the night of her accepting the nomination, I actually teared up a bit, because I thought it was a beautiful moment, so it's not that I'm anti-Clinton, but I would love to see her take stronger stances on a number of issues.

Scheer: Yeah, and fortunate for someone like yourself who's running as the official Democratic party candidate, you can point to a greater-evil Republican candidate and so that sort of makes it easier, but let me ask you about being a progressive in Utah. You grew up as a Mormon. How long did that last?

Snow: I was raised LDS. I stopped going to church in my teenage years. I never officially, officially left the church, but I haven't been to one of their services in over 15 years. Probably a bit longer than that. My mom still goes to church sometimes. A lot of my best friends, they go to church. They're LDS. They're super-active. How I was raised, it kind of gives me a good understanding of the culture of the LDS faith, and the people who believe in that religion. I understand where they're coming from, and kind of understand how that shapes the culture, and I think it probably has helped inform a lot of my own values as well.

Scheer: Yeah, and it's easy to demonize any group as different or so forth, but there's a lot of good things that have come out of that religion, and that was a minority religion that had to fight against intolerance, and I'm just wondering now that that there's been ... the one issue that ... Race, and certainly homosexuality have been two issues that the church has been so poor on, but how is it reacting to change now, and how are folks reacting to your candidacy?

Snow: I haven't had any real negativity about it. I was a lot more afraid when I first started running. I was afraid they'd be [a lot] to me, but most people seem super supportive. A lot of people seem to like that I'm a working class person running for office, and honestly, very little focus is given in the local press about me being trans. Far more focus is on the fact that I work in a grocery store. That's really where a lot of the focus is, or the fact that I'm a millennial. There was one report on the local media that talked all about me being a millennial, so those seem to be the issues that really get focused on. Some of the others, there's been a couple women's publications [and] national media talked about how the fact the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Utah, because Utah's never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate, so I've been interviewed by publications like Lenny Letter and Broadly and Glamour, that are more of women's publications, that focus more on me being a woman in the U.S. Senate.

Scheer: I think it's fascinating that you bring up the really critical point. What would someone who's making a half million dollars a year like your opponent, senator Mike Lee, the incumbent senator, know about living on the minimum wage as it's now, or even as it's supposed to be raised to what Bernie Sanders [would call], 15 dollars an hour, and who had a wealthy father? I know from what I've been able to research about Mike Lee, he's pretty good on some issues, like the surveillance state, and that sort of thing, but he's a Libertarian, basically, who I've ... I read a quote from you. You said he really doesn't want government to do much for anybody. Is that basically a fair assessment?

Snow: That's kind of it, but saying he's a Libertarian is kind of ... The chairman of the Utah Libertarian party has told me, "No, I don't think any Libertarians should be voting for Mike Lee," because the Libertarian party of Utah actually doesn't like Mike Lee, so he's really more of a solid conservative, because he's anti-LGBT, and Libertarians are certainly pro-LGBT. Mike Lee hasn't made any indication he'd be against de-criminalizing marijuana, or restoring the rights of legal pot users to own firearms, so Libertarians would encourage him to take different stances on those issues, but he's the guy who shut down the government. Libertarians believe in the Constitution.

If you're in congress, passing a budget is your constitutional duty. By refusing to do that, by leading the government shutdown, you are actually abdicating your duty. He's been against giving Merrick Garland a hearing, which again, that's his constitutional responsibility. The Senate is supposed to give hearings for court nominees, and if they don't like a nominee, they're welcome to vote him down, but their job says they're supposed to actually have a hearing, and they are refusing to even do that, so there's this culture of refusing to do his job, and a poll from public policy polling in August actually showed 65 percent of Utahans actually want Merrick Garland to have a hearing, so he's really out of touch with what a majority of Utahans want on that issue, and a number of other issues, but when we look at Mike Lee's record, he's pretty much senator no.

He voted against the opioids bill, which would have provided more funding to help combat opioid addiction. He was one of just two votes on that bill. It was passed 92 to 2, and if I remember correctly, that bill was actually sponsored by the other Utah senator, Orrin Hatch, so Mike Lee is ... It's interesting to see that Mike Lee takes a complete opposite position to that, and then he voted against aid to Flint, that bill that passed last month 95 to 3. He was one of the three no votes, and [inaudible] he used a procedural hold to try to block that aid, which a lot of people find really hard, because we're talking about children drinking water contaminated with lead, which can cause brain damage. Most people are like, "Yeah, we want to do something, make sure children have clean drinking water." Mike Lee doesn't seem to care. Mike Lee voted against redoing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. Most people are like, "We care about women having resources and places they can go so they can escape an abusive partner," and Mike Lee, again, doesn't seem too concerned about that, so he's not just necessarily even anti-gay. He's certainly that, but anti-women, anti-children, I think just anti-people. ...

Scheer:
In the main, what I got from his whole attitude, it's like what they used to say about George W. Bush, or maybe his father [it] was said about, but that he was born on third base, but he thought he hit a triple, and here's a guy who, like you say, he's making half a million a year, and he'll make a lot more after he leaves the Senate, and his father obviously made a lot of money, and yet can pass judgement on ordinary folks trying to get by, and here's a government that gives enormous amounts of money to the big corporations, to the military industrial complex ... The big [rap] on Trump now, he doesn't pay taxes at the level that you pay taxes at, and yet, here's a guy under the guise of being a Libertarian ... I like things about the Libertarians, as far as keeping government out of people's personal lives in a negative way, but the fact of the matter is, there's something absurd for this guy thinking that he could understand what you understand working in that grocery store. Your mother made that point. She said, speaking about you, "She's always followed her heart. She's a brave girl." She also works in that supermarket, right? In that chain?

Snow: She works at the same company. She doesn't work at the same store. ...

Scheer: No. I know that. She went on to say, "Becoming a woman is something that she has wanted for a really long time, ever since high school. I think by running for the Senate, she's showing people that a person's gender isn't what matters. People are people. Everybody matters, and that is Misty's message."

I'm talking to Misty Snow, who is running for the Senate as a Democrat, official Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Utah, and I think one thing that's very positive ... I know your campaign is not about your gender. It's about the issues you're raising about the quality of life, but certainly one big issue is respect for everybody out there, as your mother points out, and I think you would agree that there's been incredible progress regarding gay issues, and now, hopefully, transgender issues, and that the American public has shown an amazing openness, because they suddenly realize, "Hey, it's the guy I know from the grocery store. It's the guy I know from church, or the woman I know from church," so it's very difficult to make them the other. Is that what's been your experience in the few years that you've been out?

Snow: Yes. I think that's exactly it. A lot of people are afraid of people that are different from them, simply because they don't know anybody that's like that, and the more visibility people have, the more people become aware of them, and the less they are afraid of them. That's really just about building understanding, and building awareness, and as people become more aware, they become more understanding, and that leads to acceptance.

Scheer: I think in terms of understanding other people, I think when I try to understand why ... First of all, why Sanders was so successful, and that's the progressive side of the coin, and then why Trump is able to appeal to a lot of working people on the reactionary side, with scapegoating people and being racist and so forth, there's one common theme, though. A lot of people in this country are hurting. They're hurting. They're seeing the good jobs go. They were sold fraudulent loans, and houses that they couldn't hold on to. They're hurting, and I think that's a message that the Democratic party ... The Republican party is out to lunch on it, totally, but the Democratic party is having a hard time, on the elite level, understanding the pain out there, and it seems to me that the value of your campaign is that you are one of the most clear-thinking candidates in expressing that pain. What does it mean to try to get by in America now, given the rigged economy?

Snow: That's exactly, I think, [why I resonate]. Social Security Administration says 51 percent of people in this country make less than 30 thousand a year, so that's literally a majority of our working people barely scraping by. They're in poverty or close to it, so there's all this anger, because they don't see they economy working for them. They see the economy working for Wall Street, but not for Main Street, so Bernie Sanders, he has this great, grand vision on how to fix the economy so it actually works for people, and you have Donald Trump who, he's more of a demagogue, is misdirecting the anger. Instead of directing anger at Wall Street, and other corporate interests, he's [happy to] misdirect that anger towards minorities, and so we have this anger, and a lot of people, they want to see some change, and I think the longer these issues go un-addressed, the fundamental [inaudible].

I think these issues will keep coming up, and I think Hillary Clinton will probably win in 2016, but in 2020, I think a lot of these issues will still be present, and unless Hillary Clinton really makes good on a lot of her campaign promises, I think there will be still that bubbling frustration for some real change, and she's going to have to either take a more progressive stances and actually start really ... She has to really follow through with that or she's going to be primary challenged, or she's going to be challenged from a Republican, and then it might be a one-term presidency if she fails to actually address these issues over the next few years.

Scheer: I want to thank you, Misty K Snow. She's running for the Senate as the Democratic candidate in Utah, and before I wrap it up, I just want to say, that last statement is probably the most important message that has to be gotten through to the Democratic party in this election. Yeah, you've got a real bum there running as your opponent, and he's coming apart at the seams, but the very fact that he's even a contender shows how much pain, suffering there is out there, that people would turn to, basically, a rube like that, and I think we don't hear enough of what we just heard in the last half hour from you, somebody who's out there trying to get by paycheck to paycheck, and seeing what's going on in this country, and so I want to thank you. Do you have any last words?

Snow: ... those who've been listening, if you'd like to find out more about me and my platform, or like to donate or volunteer or see my social media, I encourage you to go to my website at mistyksnow.com, M-I-S-T-Y-K-S-N-O-W, dot com. Like I said, [I have my] donation, volunteer, social media is all linked there. My platform's there, and my final word, if I want any lesson to come out from my campaign, it's that it doesn't matter what you look like, where you're from, what your background is, what your education level is, you can run for office. You can make a difference in your community. You can give a voice to issues you care about.

Scheer: Thank you so much for doing this, and I hope you get that word out in the campaign. I guess I should make an offer to any of your opponents, if they want to be interviewed by me, we'll give them equal time, and I'll certainly send that request to them. This is Bob Scheer, another edition of the Scheer Intelligence. Josh Scheer and Rebecca Mooney are they producers of this show for KCRW. Mario Diaz and Kat Yore are the technical engineers. We're broadcasting from the Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication at USC, and our chief engineer here is Sebastian Grubaugh. See you next week. Thanks.