SALT LAKE CITY – In this informative and reoccurring series I will be conversing and partaking in insightful discussions with various elected officials and important people in the state of Utah. Through these conversations, I intend to explore the core of their roles, shedding light on the significant responsibilities and duties that come with public office.
Throughout this series, we will also delve into their viewpoints on critical issues affecting their constituents and the efforts they have made to address these concerns and promote advancement within their communities.
This week’s article features a comprehensive interview with Kathleen Riebe, the Democratic candidate for the special election in Utah’s second congressional district, vying for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The announcement of this special election came earlier this year after the incumbent representative, Chris Stewart, resigned from his position midway through his term.
Riebe is originally from New York and attended the University of Hofstra earning a dual degree in Elementary Education and Sociology. Riebe moved to Utah over thirty years ago and has worked several jobs, including working as a truck driver, bartender, wildland firefighter, and dispatcher for the Alta police department.
Riebe, after residing in Utah for almost a decade, chose to embark on a teaching career. She secured a teaching position at the Granite School District and has since dedicated 22 years to her teaching role there. While teaching, Riebe attended Utah State University and graduated with a master’s degree and administrative certificate in 2006.
During her teaching career, Riebe became involved in advocating for more resources for teachers, which eventually culminated in her running and winning a seat on the Utah Board of Education in 2016.
“Seeing the struggle that teachers go through firsthand had had me going to the State Legislature and the State Office of Education to see how that ran and what was going on,” Riebe said. “And I said, I think teachers need to be more present in these situations because they’re making very big decisions about our kids and our jobs, and I decided to run for the State Board of Education.”
Riebe served on the State Board of Education for two years, from 2016-2018, and worked to bring financial transparency to Utah schools. During her two years on the Board, Riebe served as the finance committee co-chair and sat on the financial literacy committee as well as the under-age drinking committee.
After spending two years on the Board of Education, Riebe decided to take another leap and ventured into the realm of politics when she ran for her district seat in the Utah State Senate.
“After I was on the state school board for two years, the person from my district here in the Senate seat resigned to go do another thing in Colorado, and I said hey, why don’t I try that,” Riebe said. “The state school board interprets the laws that you get from the state legislature. So I thought it’d be interesting to help make the laws instead of interpreting them.”
Riebe ultimately won the Senate seat in 2018 and has been one of the few Democrats in the state legislature since. In the state senate, Riebe has sat on the Senate Education Committee, the Senate Transportation, public utilities, energy and technology committee, and the Senate government operations and political subdivisions committee.
Riebe is currently one of six Democratic senators in the state senate, but she still believes Democrats have been able to accomplish a lot.
“There is a lot that we do. We work behind the scenes to change bills, and we work hard to compromise behind the scenes. We really do affect change for the better for every bill that is written,” Riebe said of the Democratic minority in the state senate. “There’s only six of us but we actually carry a heavy burden because there’s only six of us, we’re in more committees, and we kind of divide and conquer. Each one of us has a specific wheelhouse and we go over all the bills really carefully.”
In the congressional race, Riebe knows she will have to reach across party lines and attract voters who typically would not support a Democratic candidate.
“We’re looking for people who believe in having more responsive representatives. We are reaching out to civil servants, we’re reaching out to teachers, we’re reaching out to people like veterans that are mad about the votes that happened,” Riebe explained. “When we think about some of the votes that Chris Stewart has made, and votes his party has made, we think about how they’re not representing us and the party has not aligned themselves with some of the values that our voters have.”
“We have an Air Force base, and our veterans, when they come back, they don’t have any protection. Their benefits have been cut, and their education opportunities are not as robust as in other states, and I find this deplorable. The Republican party continually forgets to represent a person like me who goes to work every day, struggling to pay for my son’s college, struggling to pay the bills. When we put taxes into this system, we expect to get that support we need for the people that need it.”
In our interview, Riebe described how she is running to represent the voters in the district, not the political party. As part of this notion of being representative of the district, Riebe’s campaign is focused on issues central to Utahns everywhere.
“Something that I’ve seen all across the whole entire state is affordable housing. People are really struggling with the housing situation right now. We are thinking about how we can advocate for Utahns by maximizing federal dollars, and when we think about housing, we can actually find federal money to help people with those issues,” Riebe said.
“When we say using federal dollars, it doesn’t always mean raising taxes. It means taking dollars back that are not being used. We have a lot of private contractors that are manipulating the system to ingratiate themselves, and who are not meeting the needs of our society. There’s a balance there, and we could ensure that we can take care of people with the current tax structure. It’s just a matter of using our dollars wisely.”
Riebe is also drawing on her time in the legislature to appeal to Utahns, as she understands how state-level politics have affected people throughout the state.
“I want to make sure that we can protect all of the local governments. I’ve said this many times, we in the legislature are starting to be heavy-handed and we are requiring a lot of districts and school districts to change their policies. We have taken away some of the control of our mayors, our cities, and our buildings zones with policies that are coming out of the Capitol,” Riebe said. “When I look at that at a state level, I want to make sure that I carry that with me to a federal level. We can’t make laws that are too binding, they need to have elasticity to meet the needs of each community.”
Another key issue Riebe is passionate about is healthcare, especially at a rural level.
“One thing that I think about a lot is our rural health care. I think every person should have access to good health care. We live in the best economy, that’s what Republicans boast about, having the best economy in the country. And yet, it’s really not the best for everyone, it’s best for a select few,” Riebe said. “I think if we’re going to have the best economy in the nation, everyone should have the best health care, including people living in rural areas.”
While one of Riebe’s main campaigning points will be to improve access to quality healthcare, she is also aware of one of the most pressing issues, the looming government shutdown due to the ever-increasing federal debt.
“When we start looking at the budget, we have to really be careful about how we do that. And I think there are definitely ways that we can do that, we need to start getting away from some of those gouging contractors and special interests and really just keep the people who are paying U.S. taxes, keep them in the front of our minds and do the best amount of good for those people.”
“Our children and our grandchildren will be paying for that, and there’s no reason for that. We can do this without raising taxes. We can do this by just spending money wisely.”
Riebe then broadened the discussion, moving on to foreign policy, and highlighted the interconnectedness of our world, and expressed support for aid to Ukraine.
“We live in this really big world, but our world is getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and we need to share resources. We need to share natural resources and everything’s connected. So I support the aid we are giving to Ukraine because it’s having a terrible toll on our economy worldwide,” Riebe said.
Riebe is also in favor of strengthening security at our southern border, but she would also like to see more avenues open up for people to legally immigrate and work.
“I think that we need to have security. And we need to have common sense solutions,” Riebe said. “I think some of the things that we need to recognize, though, is that when you drive around any city in this whole entire country, people are in desperate need of workers. We need to make sure that people have the opportunities to get employees and we need to make sure that when they do need employees, they have a legal way to get it to a green card.”
“It’s a humanitarian crisis. And I think that we can do more common sense things like creating better paths. We need to make sure that people have the opportunities to get employees and we need to make sure that when they do need employees, they have a legal way to get it to a green card.”