PITTSBURG — Michelle De La Isla, Topeka mayor and Democratic candidate running to represent Kansas's 2nd congressional district, visited local businesses Monday on a tour of southeast Kansas that also included stops in Parsons, Chanute and Iola.
According to her campaign website, De La Isla supports “policies that move beyond political party lines.” The Morning Sun caught up with her at Root Coffeehouse in downtown Pittsburg to ask her to expand on what she means by that.
One area where De La Isla sees a possibility for a bipartisan compromise is healthcare, she said. Between the two extremes of insisting on creating a new system of “Medicare for all” and refusing to expand Medicaid to cover more people, “I think that most people, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, have an interest in ensuring that families have access to quality healthcare,” she said.
De La Isla said “rather than destroying the current system that we have,” the approach of expanding Medicaid — which Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration is attempting to do in Kansas on a bipartisan basis — is a solution that most people should be able to get behind.
“Because in the end what’s happening is that families that don’t have insurance are using the emergency room as their primary care doctor,” she said. “So if we’re able to provide that basic insurance so that people can have preventive care, you’re not destroying the private industry, you’re allowing more people to enter the pool of health insurance that are uninsured, and you’re keeping what we have in place, so that’s an example of something that’s right in the middle.”
That position is similar to the one advocated by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who De La Isla was supporting in the presidential election race until he recently dropped out.
“When I supported Pete and I was really public about it I had not announced that I was running for Congress, but I think at this point in time I have to sit back and take a look” at the other Democrats who are running to see if there’s another candidate she will endorse before the primaries are over, De La Isla said. “I think in the end the concern that everybody has is how are we going to come together? And I would love to see a candidate that can bring everybody together.”
In terms of her own race against either incumbent Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS 2nd District) or State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, who is also running as a Republican and challenging Watkins for his seat, De La Isla has “nothing but respect for both of the gentlemen,” she said.
“I think that there is a significant difference in the life stories that each of us has and there’s nothing bad about their life story, but I think that when you look at my life and the experiences that I’ve had to overcome, it gives me a clearer picture to what our communities are for,” she said.
De La Isla, who was born in New York but grew up in Puerto Rico, has previously discussed challenges she has faced and overcome including attending college as a single mother and experiencing poverty and homelessness at times in her life.
Until recently, De La Isla worked as diversity coordinator for the electricity company Evergy, which serves Pittsburg. Although the City of Pittsburg has explored the possibility of municipalization of electricity service locally, De La Isla said her “area was not really in the public relations aspect” and she had not been closely involved in the company’s negotiations with the city.
In addition to healthcare, De La Isla said making infrastructure improvements, including increasing broadband internet access in rural areas — which make up 40 percent of the district she is running in — should be a priority. De La Isla also weighed in, however, on some more controversial issues.
“There’s this misconception that Democrats want to take peoples’ guns away,” she said. “Not the case, not with me. I know that our farmers, a lot of them use their weapons for hunting. A lot of business owners use their weapons for protecting themselves when they’re transferring deposits from one place to the other. A lot of people have weapons in their house because they are responsible gun owners.”
De La Isla said keeping guns out of the hands of felons should be a priority, however, and there should be “background checks that are efficient, that really check not only if you had any record, but if there is something that is domestic violence related, mental health related, that precludes you from having a gun because you have a history of being aggressive,” even if that history has not gotten someone “to the point of actually being arrested” she said.
On immigration issues, De La Isla said there should be a pathway to citizenship for those illegally brought by their parents to the US as children.
“They came here, they didn’t have a choice whether they were going to come into this country, and all they know is this country. But I do feel that we need to fortify our borders — not just the Mexico border; we need to make sure that there is control also in Canada, and we don’t talk about that,” De La Isa said. “Now, we have to also in the same breath figure out a more humane way to deal with the immigration crisis. We have children in cages that are dying. In a country where we talk about how much we love people, for us to have that occur is atrocious.”