Politics wasn’t necessarily what Amy McGrath had planned for her retirement.
By 2014, the former Marine Corps fighter pilot and weapons system operator was teaching political science at the U.S. Naval Academy. In those classrooms, she began to notice how the young cadets and midshipmen she taught had grown discouraged because she says they didn’t see the values the Navy had instilled in them – character, courage, and integrity – reflected in the Washington politicians they studied.
“It made me sad as an American,” McGrath says, “because I lost friends in battle fighting for our country, and I just said after the 2016 elections, I don’t accept this… We need better leaders, and we need them now.”
So the Kenton County native retired from the military and moved with her husband and three children back to Kentucky. The family settled in Georgetown, and McGrath launched her campaign for Congress in the state’s 6th District in August 2017. The Democrat defeated five challengers in the May primary and will face incumbent Republican Andy Barr in the Nov. 6 general election.
McGrath appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss her entry into politics and her views on health care, immigration, abortion, and other issues. Rep. Barr will appear on Connections on Oct. 26 at 5 p.m. ET on KET2 and on Oct. 28 at 1:30 p.m. ET on KET.
An Allegiance to the Constitution
McGrath says she views politics as another way to serve her country. She argues that it’s important for more retired military personnel to seek political office.
“Veterans have proven that they can serve the country first,” says McGrath. “The other part of this is, we’ve been at war for 17 years and we need veterans in Congress who understand the complex nature of the wars we’re fighting.”
Through much of her military career, which took her to the Middle East in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., McGrath was registered as an independent. But when it came time to seek office, she wanted to run as a Democrat. She says that’s because Congressional Democrats made it possible for women to become fighter pilots, a job she had dreamed of doing since she was a child. Despite her Democratic registration, though, McGrath says she will put the needs of the country first.
“If I’m elected as a member of Congress, my allegiance will be to the Constitution, not to a president and not to a political party,” she says. “It’s very, very important that people understand that about me.”
While she considers herself a progressive, McGrath says she’s tired of the traditional liberal and conservative labels that get placed on politicians today. She also downplays being a female candidate, even though she says the country would benefit from having more female officeholders.
“I think I’m the right candidate because of what I bring, not necessarily because I’m a woman,” McGrath says. But she adds, “There’s value to having more women in places like Congress because, let’s face it, we bring a different attitude, we bring a different voice, we bring a different life experience.”
Fundraising Success Fuels ‘Positive’ Campaign
McGrath has raised more than $6.5 million for her Congressional bid and she heads into the final weeks of the campaign with about $1.7 million in the bank. (In contrast, Incumbent Rep. Andy Barr has $1.3 million on hand after having raised a total of about $4.4 million.)
McGrath says the vast majority of her support has come from individuals who have contributed amounts of $50 or less.
“My donations are from people,” she says, “people all around the country, people here in Kentucky.”
Republicans have criticized McGrath’s out-of-state fundraising efforts. She counters that she has more donors from Kentucky than Barr and her primary election opponents combined. Plus, she says when she gets a $50 donation from a veteran in Iowa, it’s because that person wants better government, not because they have a specific piece of legislation to promote.
McGrath has used her money to staff field offices in each of the district’s 19 counties in central and eastern Kentucky. She’s also invested in campaign commercials that have avoided negative attacks on her opponent.
“I want to run a positive, substantive campaign,” McGrath says. “This shows you I’m a different kind of candidate.”
On the Issues
Health care is the top issue among voters in the 6th District, according to McGrath. She says people want to know they won’t lose their insurance coverage, especially if they have a pre-existing condition, and that their premiums and deductibles will decrease.
McGrath contends that health care is a right and should be affordable and available to all Americans. She opposes Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“No major piece of legislation in our country ever came out perfect,” she says. “But we don’t throw it away. We fix it.”
McGrath does not want a single-payer system. Instead, she would allow Americans aged 55 years and older to buy into Medicare. She also wants to provide a government-run health care option among the private plans offered through the ACA.
“You can choose Uncle Sam if you want, and that would bring down prices because now the private insurers would have to compete with a non-profit public plan,” she says.
Regarding the opioid crisis, McGrath says she does not oppose legislation promoted by Barr and other Republicans to address addiction. She says the problem is that Congress has failed to adequately fund those efforts, especially when compared to previous government expenditures to stop polio and AIDS. She says it will take massive federal investments in research, prevention, and education to properly address opioid addiction.
The Democrat says she is pro-choice when it comes to abortion, but she opposes abortions in the ninth month of pregnancy. She also says she supports funding for Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health services for women. Even though the abortion rate is the lowest it’s been in decades, according to McGrath, she says she wants it to be even lower.
“How do you lower it?” McGrath asks? “You lower it with better, more affordable, and accessible birth control.”
As for immigration, McGrath supports a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, or migrants who were illegally brought into the U.S. as children. She also says the country must have strong borders and better surveillance to stop illegal immigration, but she opposes President Donald Trump’s plan for a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The wall, I think, is a waste of money and it’s not something that we need right now,” she says.
McGrath says any talk of impeachment of the president is premature until Special Counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. She also says it’s premature to discuss who she would support for Speaker should Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives. McGrath says she wants the best person for the job, and that she hopes party leaders will elevate younger members and those from the American heartland.