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U.S. Senate Candidate Jason Kander Makes His Case To Missouri Voters On KCUR's Up To Date

Aaron Pellish
KCUR 89.3

It's been 40 years since Missouri voters have sent two Democrats to represent them in the U.S. Senate. If Jason Kander has his way, that will soon change.

A recent poll released by Monmouth University indicates Kander, the state's Secretary of State since 2013, has narrowed incumbent Roy Blunt's lead to within the margin of error.

In a wide-ranging interview with Steve Kraske on KCUR's Up To Date, the Army veteran and former member of the Missouri House of Representatives explained his positions on a number of issues, and took more than a few shots at Sen. Blunt in the process.

Blunt, who held Kander's current position from 1985 to 1993, appeared on Up To Date on Thursday, Oct. 27. Listen to that conversation here.

Interview highlights:

On background checks and his 'F' rating from the NRA

"I would put my Army marksmanship badge up against a political rating any day of the week. The point that I'm making on the issue and the campaign is that I support the Second Amendment. I'm a gun owner myself, I learned how to use a gun in the Army, and I just believe that part of protecting the Second Amendment is making sure that criminals and suspected terrorists don't get the same right to buy a gun that Sen. Blunt and I get.

"I really think that our focus needs to be on expanding criminal background checks because, I know people like to talk about all the other areas (like regulations on high-capacity magazines), but it's really academic if you can't get something done that 86 percent of Missourians agree on, that the vast majority of NRA members, or gun owners, agree on. That's really where my focus is."

On social security, Medicaid and Medicare

"The dialog on this issue has become centered around increasing revenue or cutting, and I think that it's very clear that we have, for some reason, moved passed all the other ways to protect this program.

"There are things that you can do to change the incentive system for what pharmaceutical companies research. You can actually make it so they're incentivized to do research on Alzheimer's (disease) and diabetes, which are some of the leading costs. If our focus goes to actually treating  those diseases in a way that's going to bring down the cost, then you're going to bring down what the government's paying for Medicare.

"In addition to that, allowing the negotiation of drug prices, so that you're negotiating on behalf of seniors in this country (would help lower costs). Folks like Sen. Blunt will talk about cutting these programs. I think that it is disingenuous to talk about cutting it and pretending that is the only option, when there are lots of other options they haven't tried."

On legal and illegal immigration

"The immigration system's broken. I think we all know that, and I support comprehensive immigration reform. I understand the promise of legal immigration — legal immigration. My wife came to the U.S. as a refugee from the Soviet Union at the age of 8, in 1989, and I've seen the contribution to the community that she's made and that my in-laws have made.

"I recognize that what we really need is a new generation of leadership that is focused on actual solutions. Had comprehensive reform passed already, we wouldn't be in the position that we're in right now. Comprehensive reform ... needs to start with increasing funding for security at the border.

"I would follow the common sense bipartisan path that the legislation that Sen. Blunt opposed and that people like Sen. (Marco) Rubio supported would have done, which is recognizing that (illegal immigrants) are not going away, and, as a result, you need a comprehensive approach. It's certainly not amnesty."

On international trade agreements

"In Missouri, we have added close to 20,000 auto-manufacturing or related jobs in the state in the last five to six years. The idea of going in a direction that would put that in jeopardy — that future growth, that industry in our state in jeopardy — it doesn't make a lot of sense.

"I disagree with the president on (the Trans Pacific Partnership). I know Sen. Blunt agrees, but I don't. Think about the auto industry here; I was up at the Ford plant north of Kansas City, it may not be that those jobs will go away, but ... the auto supplier jobs, the next set of them, will go to South Korea or somewhere like that. It's one of the areas where we're growing and then what (will) happen is the next line of F-150s is less likely to get built here in the Kansas City area,  and more likely to be done overseas.

"Obviously the president doesn't look at it from a Missouri-specific perspective, but I do. I am somebody who believes that every single trade deal should be looked at individually."

On marriage equality

"When I was maybe 6, my family had to explain to me that my uncles weren't married, and I didn't think that was fair — I didn't think that made sense. I still (think) that was unfair. Whether it's marriage equality, or whether (Missouri is) still a state where, unfortunately, people can be fired for being gay, it's wrong.

"I'm really proud of the fact that I'm always going to be able to, as my son gets older ... look him in the eye and tell him I was on the right side of history here."

On the "Washington influence"

"People make a choice when they go there. Not everybody who goes to Washington actually becomes Washington, and so Sen. Blunt has made that choice.

"Believe it or not, Sen. Blunt used to be a reformer. He used to say, before he was in Congress, that we had to get money out of politics because it was not a fair deal for Missourians until we did. He's been there 20 years and now he's changed. Sen. Blunt has been protecting the status quo because it works great for him, and for his family, and for his special interest donors. Whether that is about continuing to support policies that send American jobs overseas, and then give companies tax credits for doing it, or whether it's voting to raise his pay 12 times, Sen. Blunt is so far away from where I believe he must have started that there's no way he didn't change.

"For me, it really comes down to the fact that there is nothing that anyone is going to ask of me in the United States Senate that is more difficult than, like, a Tuesday in the United States Army. That is why I talk so often about having more people who have voluntarily done something more difficult than a re-election campaign.

"I really think part of what happens is folks get into a position like that and they're so married to their personal identity that includes their title, or whatever, that they will do anything to keep it. I really just don't understand that, because when you are in a position to make change, doing anything other than spending your time trying to improve the lives of the people you represent seems to me like a real waste of time."

Luke X. Martin is a freelance contributor for KCUR 89.3 and an associate producer for 'Up To Date.' He can be reached at luke@kcur.org.

The Kansas City region has long been a place where different ways of life collide. I tell the stories of people living and working where race, culture and ethnicity intersect. I examine racial equity and disparity, highlight the area's ethnic groups and communities of color, and invite all of Kansas City to explore meaningful ways to bond with and embrace cultures different from their own. Email me at luke@kcur.org.