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Q&A: Joshua Collins on the policies driving his congressional campaign

Joshua Collins is 26-years old, a working truck driver, an avowed socialist, and a candidate for Congress in Washington’s 10th District. The descriptors Collins uses to define his political identity seem to have translated into an amalgam of progressive policy goals. Cancelling student debt, union revitalization, a federal jobs guarantee, Medicare for All, and a Green New Deal are just a few elements of his platform.

In early December, the trajectory of the 10th District primary race was altered significantly after incumbent Denny Heck announced that he would not seek reelection in 2020. Since then, the race has expanded with the entrance of State Rep. Kristine Reeves and former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

I spoke with Collins back in December after Heck’s retirement to hear more about his candidacy and what he hopes to achieve in Congress. We are publishing this interview ahead of this evening’s FEC filing deadline, the results of which might preview how the race will develop.

Michael Goldberg: Based on statements you’ve made on the subject, the idea that seems to undergird your advocacy for the Green New Deal and your environmental platform is that addressing climate change shouldn’t place an undue burden on workers. To transfer the burden, from workers to corporations as you put it, it seems that you’re advocating for a reform focused more on structural change. As a member of Congress, i’m curious how you might encourage people to move away from some of the more individualized elements of environmentalism; to perhaps direct one’s focus away from personal habits and toward advocacy for structural change?

Joshua Collins: As a member of Congress, I would be one of the fiercest advocates for climate action. What I would like to do is support a national workers movement that is joined with the climate strike, because I think the best way for the climate strike to succeed is for it to become a workers issue. I would support that with my platform and all of the resources I would have. I would put every bit of effort into getting real action that doesn’t harm workers. We’ve seen in other countries where, instead of taxing the rich and spending on infrastructure, they do market tweaks like carbon taxes and other regressive policies that make it more expensive for the working class to get by. I think we should pay for it all and fund it through progressive taxation on the wealthiest people. 

Our state has the most regressive taxes in the country, with the two rich richest people on the planet here in Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. I would definitely be a good advocate for taxing them rather than regular people to fund these projects and transition our economy. I also want to see us transition to green energy that is government run and free so we are not double paying. Our energy should be included in our taxes.”

MG: Let’s talk about your presence on the internet. You’ve clearly built, and are continuing to build, a grassroots following online. I know you’ve cited in the past a willingness to be straightforward and direct as what sets you apart as a politician. One issue we’ve seen reporting on is that there might be an incentive structure in place on the internet which pushes people toward saying the the most “radical” or extreme thing possible, essentially to cut through the noise. While not specifically talking about the internet, this is something Rep. Heck mentioned in his retirement letter; the notion that “Civility is out. Compromise is out. All or nothing is in.” How do you view the task of running for office while being extremely online? 

JC: I’m just a truck driver. I’m not someone who had institutional power or support from national organizations. If I was going to challenge a sitting incumbent with $1.5 million, I knew my support would have to come from outside the establishment. We have the lowest voter turnout in Washington state in Pierce County, so I knew I would have to reach people who weren’t already politically active. So, I set out with the goal of building a giant grassroots funding list. 

The support I’ve always received already makes me a viable candidate, despite whether the party supports me. This is what makes Bernie Sanders so formidable; no one can touch his donor support. It also doesn’t take much effort for him to raise money because his supporters see what he’s doing and they donate because of that. That’s also been the case with me. When we released our platform, we had one of the best fundraising days ever because people were so excited about my policies. 

The thing that a lot of more establishment folks like to assert is that having radical positions online is only popular because it’s online. The reason my positions are popular on platforms like Twitter and Tik Tok is because young people like them. When I talk about taking serious action on climate change, erasing student debt, making health care free, guaranteeing housing as a human right, establishing rights for the trans community; that is something that appeals to the entire gen z and millennial generations. They are used to talking points with no real substance and they recognize that my policies are real and that we spent a lot of time developing them. 

Something the old guard doesn’t understand: online support isn’t just online anymore. When I’m posting online, a lot of the support I get still comes from my local community members. I went to the climate strike recently and had a few dozen young people come up to me and introduce themselves. And it’s because I think we’re getting access to a lot of voters other people aren’t reaching.

In the first 48 hours after my opponent announced his retirement, we raised $25,000. I didn’t have to make any phone calls, I didn’t have to hold any events, I just posted a tweet, a Facebook post, and an Instagram post.”

MG: This grassroots following you’re building, I imagine the plan is that you’ll bring this following with you to Congress should you get elected. But I’m curious whether you think your approach to politics might change at all once you reach the halls of Congress. It seems that working with people you oppose might not be your first priority. How do you view the process of coalition building in Congress? How will you get people who might disagree with you to vote for your legislation?

JC: I will always work with someone who wants to support progress for the people, even if it’s someone I disagree with on other issues. But I’ll never compromise my values to appease other members of congress. I will say that if Republicans are agreeing with Democrats on something, it’s usually on something bad. The ACA was a moderate plan and not a single Republican voted for it. We cannot count on Republican votes for passing legislation. We need to push the Democratic Party to align with our progressive values and our American values. These policies are what the majority of Americans support.”

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

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