‘People Are Hurting’: Why Cori Bush Is Making Another Congressional Run

Cori Bush says she has a “personal connection" to the issues she is advocating for.

When asked about being labeled as a progressive, Bush said “the values that I hold true, and what I believe will help this country are the same ones that are what people are calling progressive. So if you want to call me a progressive, that's fine.” Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Progressive Democrat Cori Bush says it is her mission to make sure “the regular everyday people in St. Louis are represented in D.C.”

That’s why she’s again challenging longtime U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District after waging an unsuccessful bid in 2018. Her initial run against Clay was featured in the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House and made national headlines when Bush received an endorsement from progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

“I know what it’s like to be on food stamps and WIC and to work for minimum wage, to be uninsured, to not have any health insurance,” Bush said in an interview with Rewire News Group. “I know what that’s like to be hungry … what it’s like to be caught up in the payday loan cycle.”

“I know what it’s like to lose friends and family members to gun violence and to drugs and to mass incarceration,” she continued.

“People are hurting, and people are dying in my district every single day,” Bush said. “And I don’t believe that there is enough focus put on it because the person that is in that seat has not had to live this life.”

Bush said she has a “personal connection to these issues that [allows her] to go to people who are also experiencing these problems,” adding that “if you have not been in those situations, you don’t even know which questions to ask. You don’t even understand what are the barriers in certain areas.”

Bush described herself as a registered nurse, pastor, single parent, and an activist. “I basically got into politics after the death of Michael Brown, after the protest, because I just saw how things that I never thought could happen in my hometown happened,” she said. “The leaders that I believe were supposed to be there fighting for us and fighting with us, they didn’t,” said Bush, adding that Ferguson, Brown’s hometown, is located in their district.

Both criminal justice reform and police reform feature prominently in Bush’s campaign platform. “Cori cannot and will not sit quiet while injustice remains unchecked,” her campaign site says, noting that Bush protested after Brown’s death in 2014, “suffering police brutality herself in the process.” If elected, Bush would seek to “end mass incarceration, subsidies for private prisons, and the cash bail system.” She also supports demilitarizing the police and decriminalizing substance use.

Taking down Bush’s opponent in the race, ten-term incumbent Clay, may be an uphill battle. “Strategists and officials here say Mr. Clay—whose father, Bill Clay, helped found the Congressional Black Caucus—is simply too respected, and too entrenched in the political fabric of this heavily Democratic district that is roughly 50 percent black, the New York Times reported in 2018 during Bush’s last run.

Though the 2018 election season saw stunning progressive upsets across the country, Bush lost her bid to unseat Clay by roughly 28,000 votes, two years after she lost a run in the Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate race.

Identifying herself as “a pro-choice candidate,” Bush noted that Missouri has seen countless attacks from state legislators on reproductive rights. She vowed to “fight every single [piece of] legislation” proposed by lawmakers that may restrict “us having the rights to our bodies.”

She said it was important to make “sure that we’re not only sitting in Congress saying that we support something but [also] then we can bring it back to our community and make sure our community has the right information,” such as what services Planned Parenthood provides.

Clay, Bush’s primary opponent, supports reproductive rights. His voting record scored him a 100 percent rating with NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2016, 2017, and 2018. He has co-sponsored pro-choice legislation such as the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act of 2019, which would eliminate the anti-choice Hyde Amendment and ensure that all receiving health care or health insurance through the federal government were covered for abortion care, and the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2017, which according to the bill’s summary, “prohibits any government from imposing on abortion services.”

Clay’s 2020 bid for re-election has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Clay has opposed state-level attacks on reproductive health care in Missouri, saying in a May statement, “Abortion should remain safe, legal and rare. We will not return to the dark days before Roe v. Wade.”

Bush, when asked about her stance on the anti-choice Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding for abortion care, said: “I believe that we have people in our communities that can’t afford abortions. I have people who I work with that are my patients that live in human trafficking. And I believe they deserve a way out. So that’s really all I want to say about that right now.”

When asked about being labeled as a progressive, Bush said “the values that I hold true, and what I believe will help this country are the same ones that are what people are calling progressive. So if you want to call me a progressive, that’s fine.”

These positions have helped her win endorsements from progressive groups like Justice Democrats, which helped elect Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, and Brand New Congress, a political action committee that backs candidates who support progressive legislation. Bush was the first candidate endorsed by Brand New Congress in both the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.

“[A]s a nurse, I believe that every single person deserves access to quality health care, regardless of pre-existing condition, regardless of age, or gender or anything else,” Bush said of the policies she backs, voicing support for Medicare for All. She also supports a $15 minimum wage, free college for local state colleges and trade schools, and canceling student debt.

Clay has co-sponsored Medicare for All legislation in the House and legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

Bush said her experience running for office as a Black woman isn’t the same experience other progressive candidates may encounter. “It’s so much harder running for office as a Black woman,” she said. “It’s a whole different story.“

“There’s still less money coming in in donations, no matter how hard we work,” Bush said. “We’re still seen as oftentimes unprofessional or we have to go even further with … talking about our educational background.”

Missouri is set to hold its primaries on August 4, 2020.