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Dee Thornton and I are members of the same church, and it was there one Sunday morning that I learned she was running for a seat in Indiana’s 5th Congressional District of the United States House of Representatives. I’ve never forgotten the fact that Dee and her husband were among the first people to welcome me when I first started attending her church.

What I remember most about those early conversations was her genuine interest in me and my circumstances. She was smart, engaging and compassionate. It was obvious that she wasn’t just going through the motions. Her queries were the start of a real relationship.

For many of us who know Dee through our religious affiliation, it’s exciting to think someone of her caliber may be representing Hoosiers in Congress after the November elections.

I know the 5th District. It’s conservative and affluent. Through my work and personal life, I feel like I have a window on the mainstream views its constituents have about government. I assumed that Dee was facing a tough race, but she doesn’t necessarily see it that way.

Dee considers this coming election as perhaps the most important one in our lifetime. “Everything that has been accomplished in our country over the past 60 years is at risk,” she says. “If we don’t change the representation we have, I think we will see so many reversals of history that will be bad for the future of this country.”

I asked her to explain more about her candidacy and why she is the right person to replace Susan Brooks, the three-term Republican incumbent. Here are highlights from our conversation. If you’re not from Indiana or the 5th District, I hope you’ll read this and be encouraged that no matter how ugly political discourse has become, there is reason for hope.

A Fresh Voice

From Dee’s perspective, the 5th District deserves a representative who has the mindset of a public servant. For her, that means listening to constituents and practicing open communication. She says she’ll approach communication in a far different manner than incumbent Susan Brooks. “Have you ever tried to speak with Susan Brooks?” Dee asks. “If you attend one of her town hall meetings, you are called back to a private room where you ask your question. Three or four minutes later, the meeting is over and the next person is called.”

Dee has heard from voters who attempted to speak with Brooks about her vote on the Affordable Care Act, but were escorted out of her office. “People were just trying to understand her vote,” she says. “If you vote a certain way on legislation, you should be able to explain it.” Many in the 5th District want change and do not feel Brooks has listened to their concerns well enough to represent them for another term. “When you lose sight of the fact that you’re there as a public servant, you’ve really lost your way,” she says.

My knowledge and life experience have prepared me well to serve in the United States House of Representatives.

Not a Career Politician

For the first time in her life, Dee is free from work and family obligations that would prevent her from being a devoted public servant. As a female candidate who has never held an elected office, she is often questioned about her motivation for running. “If the qualifier to represent people in Congress is to be a career politician, I think that’s wrong,” she says. “My knowledge and life experience have prepared me well to serve in the United States House of Representatives.” (Check out her bio to learn more about her.) 

I see my candidacy as part of a transformative government that brings in new leaders with fresh ideas, working across the aisle, unafraid to tackle big issues in a way that’s beneficial for all.

Getting Beyond Politics

Dee recognizes that her campaign is occurring amidst one of the most combative eras of American politics. She says the root causes for these conditions are manifold. “Many years ago, we started to understand globalization and what that means for our country,” she says. “Our economies have changed, and it requires us to look at things differently. We have a situation where people are fighting for control and jockeying for position. That’s crept into our politics and separated people to the extent that we always think it has to be one group or the other. As we’ve moved into an era of greater technology, we have large groups of people who have been left behind. The fact that their needs are not being addressed has brought us to what we are dealing with today.”

One antidote to that is to stop framing everything in a political context. “We have to start thinking about people and the kitchen table issues they are dealing with day in and day out,” Dee says.

Too often, people abandon the political system because they don’t see government making much of a difference for them, yet they are paying taxes that support services for the whole nation. “I think we need more people in public service who are governing for all people—not just a select few,” she says. “I see my candidacy as part of a transformative government that brings in new leaders with fresh ideas, working across the aisle, unafraid to tackle big issues in a way that’s beneficial for all.” She says legislators need to understand the full scope of any problem and avoid implementing short-term solutions.

Joining Together Around Shared Goals

Americans should expect our leaders to come up with common sense, responsible solutions—solutions that are good for all of society, not just a few special interests that we hold dear. Voters should think more globally about their elected officials rather than settling on a candidate because of his or her position on one or two issues, according to Dee. A political system where one party becomes known as the gun-rights party and the other is anti-gun is far too simplistic.

Dee would like to see both parties come together around goals such as having affordable, quality healthcare for all Americans. “The Affordable Care Act wasn’t a perfect piece of legislation, but it was a start,” Dee says. “Congress should be looking at ways to make it better—not tearing it down before it has a chance to work.”

She believes government has a role in leveling the playing field so that all Americans have access to affordable healthcare. “If this particular issue is not addressed, it will have significant consequences for generations,” she says.

The Guts to Address Healthcare

Dee is critical of a system where big businesses fund campaigns that represent their interests. She says candidates shouldn’t be able to buy their constituents. “If you think about the kind of money that’s sitting out there to invest in advertising, trash talking, and promotion of self-interests, it’s amazing,” she says. “It’s not as if it [healthcare for all Americans] couldn’t happen in this country. It absolutely could happen. There are plenty of reports and research that indicate Medicare for all could be done financially. We just need a group of people who have the guts to make it happen.”

The GOP characterizes Medicare as an entitlement program that needs to be diminished. Dee views it as a very efficient system that should be expanded. The majority of the voters in the 5th District are over the age of 50. A significant percentage of them have pre-existing conditions long before they are eligible for Medicare. She believes they should have earlier access to Medicare.

She is against reducing or withholding benefits for people who’ve paid into the system for decades. For example, she cites a statistic showing lower- or middle-income couple with a combined income of $44,000 to $50,000 a year may pay as much as $750,000 into Medicare before they are eligible for benefits. “And now we’re telling them that our government is going to try to get rid of that program or take money from it to the tune of $1.5 trillion to pay for the tax cut given to the top 1.5 percent and big corporations? Tell me how that works.”

…We certainly don’t want to single out news we don’t like as fake or purposely create distrust. Freedom of the press is one of the most important aspects of our country.

A Well-Informed Public

Dee sees media as a fundamental part of democracy. She is concerned about Americans’ distrust of all media. “It’s extremely dangerous to call the news ‘fake,’” she says. “The news is a way for people to educate themselves and stay informed. I recommend that people vary their sources. And we certainly don’t want to single out news we don’t like as fake or purposely create distrust. Freedom of the press is one of the most important aspects of our country.”

Acknowledging the increasing role of social media as a news source—one that isn’t designed to provide us with credible, balanced information—she is happy to see Facebook implementing new safeguards that will make them a more honest broker of information.

I’ve taken a lot of space to explain more about Dee, but how could I not? Even though she’s not my representative in Congress, I believe she would be great for the 5th District. You really need to meet her and decide for yourself, and this Thursday, you can.

At 6 p.m. on October 4, I’m co-hosting a meet-and-greet event for Dee at the Ironworks Club Room, Level 2, 2727 East 86th Street, Indianapolis, IN. (My co-hosts are Deborah Dorman and Jenny Bizzoco. Please RSVP at deborah.dorman@encoresir.com or (317) 935-7053.)

We are serving a light buffet and welcome everyone to come discuss the issues one-on-one with Dee. Our democracy only works when we participate. If you can arrange to be free this evening, please don’t miss this opportunity to get involved!

Life is short. Do the good stuff.