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Rick Kennedy says he’s ready to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic

This story ran originally as part of KBTX's Your Vote Counts: Campaigns and Coronavirus special report. Watch the special in the video player on this page.
Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 6:54 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) COVID-19 has changed our lives, from how we interact to our political process. The District 17 Congressional race, currently in a runoff that will be determined July 14, has felt the impacts of the pandemic. KBTX’s Fallon Appleton spent a day on the campaign trail with each candidate vying to be District 17′s next voice in Congress.

“I don’t think we will ever get back to the normal we had a couple of weeks ago or a couple of months ago. Just like we really didn’t get back to normal after World War II. We didn’t get back to normal after 9/11. We didn’t get back to normal after The Great Recession.

Democratic congressional candidate Rick Kennedy is forging a new normal.

It includes a lot of work from home, but for him working from his house is nothing new. The Austin-area software engineer has been officing at home for years.

The challenges presented by the pandemic are ones that Kennedy says he’s ready to meet.

He campaigns through phone calls and virtual meetings, which is very different from his 2018 run for congress. I asked Kennedy about this new campaign process, and he said it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been a challenge, to say the least. We have tried everything we can to be innovative to be online as much as we can to engage people with Zoom meetings. I have a couple of what I like to call ‘virtual block walking,’ which is basically 15-minute phone conversations as if I knocked on your door.”

Rick Kennedy

Since the start of the pandemic, the concept of social distancing has changed the way people interact. For Kennedy, that means putting extra effort towards reaching people virtually, since he can’t go in person. To do this, he holds virtual town halls every other week on Zoom. Any topic is fair game. During this town hall, the group discussed everything from district issues to global issues like politics in Venezuela.

I asked Kennedy about why he does the town halls. He believes they are crucial since people can’t gather in groups.

“It is very important during this time when we are so separated. People need to know who their candidates are, and its incumbent on the candidates to make the best possible effort to connect with as many people as possible.”

I asked Kennedy how he felt about how the pandemic has been handled and he began by laughing, frustrated about how he sees the state of the country.

“Let me preface this by saying nobody wants a federal government, an intrusive, overbearing government that is running our day to day lives, right? Nobody wants that. But we do want a federal government that is prepared and capable of reacting to a crisis such as this. And we’ve gotten nothing along those lines. So far, the response has been between incompetent and appalling.”

Rick Kennedy

One group struggling during this pandemic are rural hospitals. According to the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals, rural hospitals are “highly vulnerable (financial distress, bankruptcy, and on the brink of closure).”

Kennedy believes rural communities are being neglected when it comes to healthcare. In the 17th district, rural hospitals are closing fast. The lack of medical care in those communities, Kennedy says will only get worse without action.

“We are at 17% uninsured. A lot of that uninsured rate lies predominately in our rural counties... By extending health insurance to every American we can reduce that burden of uncompensated care and get these hospitals and medical service providers the cash flow they need to stay in business to stay located in the rural areas.”

When it comes to raising awareness about agriculture in the area, Kennedy admits its an issue he hasn’t really thought about.

“I’ll be fully transparent. I haven’t thought about raising the awareness with the general public about how important that is. It is the basis of everything we do. You know I’m wearing clothing. Cotton might’ve been grown right up the road from here. Of course, we all eat food every day. I was on the phone with some of these folks last night and you know they have suffered a double whammy. They were targeted with retaliatory tariffs in the trade war and now COVID-19 has hit everything from cotton, corn, to cattle. They need support right now from the federal government perhaps even more so.”

Looking forward to 2021, Kennedy tells me his main goal is getting elected first.

“I don’t want to sound trite, but getting elected is the primary goal because when you look at my candidacy in this district, I’m running as a centrist-democrat, practical problem solver, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work for the American people, candidate in a gerrymandered Republican district.”

“The voters of central Texas have an opportunity here to send a seismic political message to the rest of the country and say ‘we are done with the status quo. We have had enough. We want Congress to get back to work.‘”

For more information on Rick Kennedy’s campaign, click here.

There are a couple of things you need to know before casting your vote. If you voted in a party’s primary in March, you can only vote in that party’s runoff.

Early voting begins on June 29, and election day is July 14.

Copyright 2020 KBTX. All rights reserved.

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