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Lucas Kunce: Populism and Power

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Lucas Kunce: Populism and Power

Lucas Kunce is a Marine Corps veteran running to fill Missouri's vacant Senate seat in 2022. Lucas served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and eventually went on to become an international negotiations officer at the Pentagon. He's now running a campaign that focuses on taking power out of the hands of corporate monopolies and putting it back in the hands of working people.

To learn more about his campaign, visit lucaskunce.com

You can also find him on Twitter at @LucasKunceMO

Ken Harbaugh:

Burn the Boats is proud to support VoteVets, the nation’s largest and most impactful progressive veterans organization. To learn more, or to join their mission, go to VoteVets.org.

Lucas Kunce:

What we need to do is just change where the money is coming from, change who makes the decisions. The leadership has had some serious problems, but down at its heart, this is a Harry Truman party, this is a party that has stood up for working people for generations and we can still do that. It still has a chance.

Ken Harbaugh:

I’m Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions. On Burn the Boats, I interview political leaders and other history makers about choices they confront when failure is not an option.

My guest today is Lucas Kunce, a Marine Corps veteran running to fill Missouri's vacant Senate seat in 2022. Lucas served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and eventually went on to become an international negotiations officer at the Pentagon. He's now running a campaign that focuses on taking power out of the hands of corporate monopolies and putting it back in the hands of working people. Lucas, welcome to Burn the Boats.

Lucas Kunce:

Hey, thanks for having me, Ken. I'm excited to be here. It's going to be fun.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah, great to have you. I have been to Missouri though, I have even, believe it or not, been to political rallies there...

Lucas Kunce:

Stop it!

Ken Harbaugh:

..and it's pretty red. What are you thinking, man?

Lucas Kunce:

No man, this is where it's at! Look, we're going to meet people where they're at. Here's the thing. Missouri has done some surprising things on that side of the House. Just over the last several years, we've passed four ballot measures that most people would consider progressive or in my case I consider them populist. We raised the minimum wage $5.00 above the federal level, passed medical marijuana, fought back right to work, the anti-union stuff like 68 to 32, and that's where Missouri is at. Expanded Medicaid too.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. Well good. I'm for all that, but you dropped in a word there that I think scares a few people: populist. Right before our interview, we talked to Senator Heitkamp, who I think has some similar feelings on this. She said that it was Donald Trump who gave populism a bad name. What's your relationship with populism?

Lucas Kunce:

I mean I think it's fakers that gave it a bad name. Populism is about fundamentally changing who has power in the country, so that the country is not run by a cobble of corporate elites, corporate monopolies, whatever you want to call it. The people who are buying off our politicians and stripping our communities for parts, which I mean you see all around Missouri. I'm sure you see it all around her state too and what you've got instead is a bunch of fakers who come in and they divide people as populists based on race, religion, whatever else, for their own power, for their own prestige, so that they can be in positions and they never actually do anything to change who has power in the country. They still take money from the wrong people, they still vote for every corporate judge that comes in front of them, they still do every single thing they can to make the system work for them, rather than the normal everyday people which is what populism's supposed to do. I mean Harry Truman's house, you can see it out my bathroom window, like- well in the winter anyways, but there's a populist for you. Like trying to actually change who has power, trying to make it so normal everyday people are back in the game.

Ken Harbaugh:

Is this distinction for you then around weaponizing populism to divide people, to divide citizens against each other?

Lucas Kunce:

I mean you could phrase it like that. I really think it's about being a faker. I mean anybody can say that they're anything, right? And you’ve got to judge somebody by their actions, not their words, and if someone's not doing everything to change who has power, like if you're not for increasing the minimum wage, how the hell are you a populist? You're not trying to make things better for everyday people. That's exactly what it's about. If you're not trying to abolish corporate PACs, which is one of the things I want to do, then how are you a populist? All you're doing is trying to keep a system in place that hurts everyone. If you're appointing Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs to run the economy, like how are you a populist? You're not, you're just a faker.

Ken Harbaugh:

How has your campaign been received by the big D, Democratic establishment given this populist theme?

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah, I mean I haven't gotten a reaction really either way on that. They've been very impressed with our campaign because, I don't know if you've seen this but actually just a quick backstory: When I decided to do this, I wanted to owe nobody except the people who helped my family when I was a kid in our old neighborhood in Jeff City, which is in Missouri. So I was like, "You know what? I'm going to run this campaign and I'm not going to take any money from corporate PACs. I'm not going to take any money from federal lobbyists. I'm not going to take any money from fossil fuel executives. I'm not going to take any money from big pharma executives," because these are the people who have been stripping our communities for parts. Like first of all, how does every politician, all 535 of them, run on reducing prescription drug prices and it still never happens, right? So I went around, I tried to build a team, telling people, "I'm going to do this race clean so that I can make decisions based on just everyday people," and everybody said, "No, no, you can't do that. Like that's stupid, you're just cutting yourself off at the knees, et cetera, et cetera." And I decided to do it anyway, and so far we've raised $2 million.

Last quarter, I outraised every single Republican who is in the race and obviously everyone in the race and we did that all with the highest percentage of grassroots donations of anybody in the country. More than Bernie Sanders, more than Elizabeth Warren, more than anybody else, and so what they have seen from our campaign and what we have gotten a lot of comments on is, "Wow, you guys are doing this with that message. It's obviously resonating. You're meeting people where they're at and they see something there." I don't know if they've put their arms around it and figured it out exactly yet, but they see that what we're doing is something real and that hopefully it can be lasting.

Ken Harbaugh:

But you've still got one heck of an uphill battle. Fundraising notwithstanding, you're running as a Democrat and you talk to a lot of Missourians who say the brand there is just toxic. How do you overcome that?

Lucas Kunce:

We got to recognize first of all that the Democratic Party kind of went the way of Wall Street and big tech for a while there. Dem leadership, the leadership of our party, decided that we want to compete on this big money game, ‘we're going to start making decisions for Wall Street’, ‘we're going to start making decisions for big tech’, ‘we're going to take that money and that's how we're going to compete’, and that was a failed decision. It didn't work. People around the country are rejecting what you just called the toxic Democratic brand, kind of over and over again when it's tied to that corporate power. So I mean here what we're doing in Missouri is we're doing just a completely different message, and running a completely different campaign. Like I said, 100% grassroots. We are running to fundamentally change who has power in the country, and that's what everybody in Missouri wants. The system is broken, everyone here knows it, they want to change it. We've been trying to change it through ballot measures, right? Those pass over and over again, and so we're going to just talk about the corruption in our system and actually investing here in America again.

That's another thing that you see with all these politicians, Democrat or Republican. They were all cool with spending $6.4 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan. We watched them do that. We're there, on the ground, like seeing them spend all of this money. I mean I remember watching them in Afghanistan build... It was like a $25 million building that no one ever went into. Not the Taliban, not the Americans, not our partnered force in the middle of Helmand. It was just a complete waste, and so you see these politicians willing to do that, never question it, and then when it comes time to invest here in America, to spend a single nickel here in America, they squabble over every penny. They fight, they kick, they scream, unless it's a tax break for the people who are controlling the system of course, that's usually bipartisan. But everything else isn't, and so what people want to see is they want to see investment here in their country, in their neighborhoods, in this state that's been left behind.

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm glad you brought up Afghanistan. Give us a little bit of your service backstory. You spent time on the ground, OEF and OIF, right?

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah. So in Iraq, I led a police training team around Habbaniyah and Fallujah area, running escort missions, running convoys. I had a team of 12 Marines, Navy Corpsmen, and we went around trying to train the Iraqi police to ... I don't know, make that country more secure. I'm pretty sure they all got overrun a couple years later by ISIS. And then in Afghanistan I actually learned Pashto, so I was a foreign affairs officer. I would interview Taliban, I would do legal work, I'm a lawyer too, and went through a lot of Afghan prisons trying to make them acceptable for human rights conditions and things like that, and I was on a special operations task force each time, so there were other missions and stuff going on too.

But the interesting thing is that I thought Iraq was dumb when we did it. I joined because I wanted to serve my community and I really felt ... I bought this line that Afghanistan was like the real deal. Like what we're doing there is real and lasting. I believed our politicians, I believed our military leadership, I believed this institution, that that was a real thing, that we should be doing it and that it was the right thing and I got there and I remember just interviewing the first Taliban guy I talked to, and then seeing the resolve, seeing what they were doing. I remember working with an Afghan partnered force, seeing where that went, how it was basically just a jobs program so that they wouldn't join the Taliban and I did the winter of 2012-13 there and then I did most of the year 2014 there and 2014, my entire job was to make sure that our partnered force, (which was an Afghan special operations force, so like one of the higher speed ones) still got all their ammo, all their equipment, all their food and everything like that. So I really realized that we've been lied to. Like this place is not going to work out. They still can't do this after 13 years and the irony that I see is that U.S. troops were almost like a training ground for the Taliban. I mean they spent 20 years refining their skills, practicing against the best in the world, and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that that place fell basically immediately. I mean-

Ken Harbaugh:

After--

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah, after we left.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well after $6.4 trillion spent.

Lucas Kunce:

After $6.4 trillion spent.

Ken Harbaugh:

And thousands of lives lost.

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah, and you know what? The only good that did was ... Well it's not good obviously, but the only people who benefited from that were rich Afghans and corrupt Americans, corrupt Afghans too.

Ken Harbaugh:

How do you keep your campaign from becoming a grievance driven campaign? Given that there is a hell of a lot to be pissed off about and it comes across in how you talk, in how you frame issues. Afghanistan is a great example. You're right, we were lied to. We wasted so much there, not just in terms of the trillions of dollars but lost buddies.

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah. 2,500 lives. Two of them on my last deployment. That's terrible.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. I believe it. I mean I have similar stories and it's easy to stay pissed off. Is that okay with you or do you see the risks in a grievance driven campaign given what we've experienced the last five years?

Lucas Kunce:

Well the good thing is that if you want to actually do something like grievances are an opening. I mean we are talking about ... This is it, like if we can spend $6.4 trillion supposedly building up these other nations, then we can spend money right here in America. We can invest in production. It's just going to create good jobs. I mean we can ... If we can print $120 billion every single month, month after month after month after month, and give it to Wall Street to juice the stock market, then we can print $120 billion a month and we can do whatever it takes to build semiconductor fabrication facilities here. Our failure today is a grievance for someone else in 20 years.

Let's talk about another potential war, like Taiwan. I keep reading stuff all the time, how we have to defend Taiwan at all costs. I mean you know what that's based on, right? It's based on the fact that Taiwan has a monopoly on semiconductor production, and if we don't defend it at all costs, then essentially our entire economy is going to shut down and as a military leader, do you ever want to be in a position where you have to defend something at all costs? No. That's the worst situation you can be in, right?

Ken Harbaugh:

Let's tease this out. Like where is the line for you? You're clearly skeptical of foreign intervention but what lessons do you draw from our history, both from our tendency to overreach and our occasional failures to stand up to tyranny? Our history of appeasement? I mean you're looking at Ukraine now, you just mentioned Taiwan. Surely there is a cost threshold for you. You're willing to risk something to stand up to dictators.

Lucas Kunce:

So for me what I want first is I want decision-making space. And so right now with Taiwan, there is no decision-making space. Like it will literally shut down our entire economy. Just the small supply chain disruption we've seen in semiconductors shut down automobile manufacturing, medical device manufacturing and a bunch of other stuff here. So what I see is a situation where what would be better to do is we're supplying Taiwan with arms, we're selling them arms, we're giving them military know-how. In return, Taiwan's semiconductor manufacturing corporation should be teaching us how to do semiconductor manufacturing. We should be investing in semiconductor fabrication here so that we can re-shore some of that, bring those good jobs back, bring the capacity back, reduce the stress on the supply chains, and give ourselves space to actually make a decision based on geopolitics or whatever else rather than the fact that we have no choice with Taiwan.

So when we talk about Ukraine, it's interesting. So I didn't mention this before, but after Marine Special Operations Command, being the judge advocate there, I went to Columbia Law School for a year. The Marine Corps sent me there to get an international law deal so that I could do U.S. arms control negotiations with Russia essentially. So I went down to the Pentagon, the joint staff after that and I oversaw our country's compliance with our treaty agreements in Europe and I went and negotiated with NATO allies and with Russia on conventional arms, on Ukraine, and all that stuff.

So one of the things that I saw though is like we would go to NATO and we would try to get these NATO allies on board with taking a harder position on Russia and doing other things, and they wouldn't do it, they wouldn't do it, they wouldn't do it, and then finally figured out that one of the reasons for that or the reason is that they love that cheaper Russian natural gas, and so we have this twisted situation where Western Europe is funding Russia's nuclear modernization program. They're funding their misadventures in Ukraine, they're funding their adventures in Syria, they're funding their military modernization by buying all their gas and then the United States is covering the defense bills, sending more troops over there, doing more work on missile defense and everything else, and it's this twisted situation where they get cheap gas and then we pay for it by increasing our defense posture.

So we can argue about that all day. "Oh, maybe they should pay more, et cetera, et cetera," but what we could really do here, like we have a clean situation where we could just invest in actually renewable energy production here in America. How about in the Midwest, like instead of putting the money in that defense stuff, we put it here, we build renewable energy production, even if it costs more than something else, we export it there, even if it's subsidized, and we really just cut the feet out from under Russia so that they don't have the money or the capacity to do this anymore because we get Western Europe wholly renewable and they're not interested in that gas anymore.

So like it's a situation where if we spend our money differently, we would give ourselves a lot more freedom of decision, we would create good jobs here, we would save the planet at the same time and everything else. But we're just not ... We don't have that vision at a high level.

Ken Harbaugh:

If we were starting with a clean slate, we could give ourselves that decision freedom, but we're dealing with the legacy of decades or more of bad decisions, and it might come to a point where we have to stand up to defend the little guy. Where do you stand on that, especially as a war vet?

Lucas Kunce:

I have seen that used so many times in a way that doesn't make sense, that I'm very skeptical of anyone who wants to do that. We have our NATO alliance. Like if the little guy is a NATO ally, then we fulfill our Article V obligation and we defend them. Absolutely. If it's not a NATO ally, then we should use the tools of diplomacy and everything else. We should see if there's a coalition that wants to do what we want to do. I mean we ended up in Iraq coalition-free basically. I know we claimed one but it was a pretty weak one, us and the U.K., and we need to make sure that that's real. I mean I am not for going to war over Ukraine.

Ken Harbaugh:

That bears mentioning I think that the only time Article V has ever been invoked was ... Well you probably know.

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah. It was Afghanistan.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. It was to defend us. It was our NATO allies coming to our aid.

Lucas Kunce:

I mean that's an alliance, Article V, I mean we're there on that. So if the little guy is Lithuania, Estonia, yeah, absolutely.

Ken Harbaugh:

You've said that Wall Street, and I'm using your words, has ‘sold out our men and women in uniform’. Can you elaborate?

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah. So the context for that is that September 11 happened, Wall Street was one of the targets, America's financial center, plus the Pentagon and the White House, although that one didn't end up happening, and in the wake of that, we all as Americans came together. We stood behind that institution and in the days immediately afterward, the CEOs of a bunch of those financial companies saw that as a good grab and go opportunity to actually give their leadership a bunch of shares that were under-costed so that they would make a lot of money and then over the ensuing decade while many of us signed up, went to war based on what happened to them, they spent that decade selling us out. They spent that decade ruining our housing market. When I got back from Iraq the first time, I had Marine after Marine and sailor after sailor come into my office, say, "While I was deployed, these banks violated my Service Member Civil Relief Act. They foreclosed on me illegally, they did this, they did that, all in violation of the law, and there's nothing I can do. Please help me, I don't understand why this is happening. Didn't we just bail these people out?" Because it was right after we had done the Wall Street bailout. And yes, that was the case. These big banks, the government just bailed them out and they're foreclosing on the service members who signed up to defend them, illegally. And so to me, like these guys just over and over again made decisions that worked for their quarterly earnings report rather than anything else, and so whether that's making sure that we did ship our semiconductor manufacturing overseas, whether it's a hedge fund. A guy named Archie Cox Jr. actually is the person who made it so that we don't make rare earth magnets here in America anymore. Hedge funds came in, and they destroyed business arm after business arm that the defense funding mechanisms, because it's not just DARPA, created.

And we had CEO after CEO, there's one called iRobot, I mean everybody knows them now for making the Roomba, they got a lot of money from the defense industry to make robots that defended our sniffed out bombs, and a hedge fund manager came in and said, "You know what? You shouldn't be working with the government anymore. You should be focused on a monopoly position because that's going to bring the most to shareholders." The leaders of that company said, "No, we really want to work with defense still. That's how we got started, that's who invested in us initially. It's good for the long term," and this hedge fund guy said, "No. You need to do what's good for the short-term." Did a shareholder activist agenda and destroyed their defense business and now they make everything in China.

So you see over and over again Wall Street executives put their own profits before the country, and they're really willing to sell out to anybody and the saddest thing about that is that China has figured it out. Like Chinese leadership has figured it out. They have figured out that if they just show Wall Street bankers, if they just show some of these executives, these private equity guys, if they just show them a quarterly profit or a better earnings report, they will literally sell the keys to the American castle overseas in order to get that.

Ken Harbaugh:

Is the solution to appeal to the patriotism of Wall Street then or ... I assume you've got a more sophisticated approach.

Lucas Kunce:

No. Yeah, that would be a dream, wouldn't it? "Hey guys. Remember how we're all dying over here for you or remember how ..." No, no, that's not it. I mean what we need to do is we need to put mechanisms in place that make that not possible, and we really need to break the link between their money and politics. And so you see that here in Missouri too for example and so the thing that comes up in Missouri a lot is ... Are you familiar with the company Smithfield?

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. Yeah, I've heard you talk about it. The pork producers?

Lucas Kunce:

That's right. They do about 25% of America's pork production and they're a huge, huge entity here in Missouri. Their predecessors essentially monopolized the hog industry here; killed 90% of Missouri's hog farmers in a generation. Obviously not the hog farmers themselves but their farms, and so they consolidated all this and then in 2013, they wanted to sell out to a Chinese conglomerate. But Missouri had a law in the books that said Missouri farmland, Missouri agricultural land, can't be owned by foreign entities. And so what Smithfield did was they came in, they gave a bunch of money to Democrats and Republicans in the state, and the state legislature quietly changed the law so that foreign companies could now own land in Missouri, and Smithfield was immediately purchased by the Chinese conglomerate, and now 25% of America's pork production and a lot of the concentrated animal feed operations here in Missouri, a massive proportion in hog production. You know the profits go overseas to China, we have no control over that, and everything else. So it's really the link between Wall Street money, big business money, monopoly money. Smithfield is a monopolist, and our political class that are causing us the most problems in this realm.

So we really need to break that. Like we need to abolish corporate PACs altogether. We need to make it so that when someone lobbies for something that gets registered, logged somewhere. When politicians don't write a law but a lobbyist writes it for them, it should have credits on that, so we know who's doing it at least, and we really need to break the link between the money so that it doesn't happen anymore.

Ken Harbaugh:

I see what's happening to small towns across Ohio and come to the same conclusions, but I also hear the hedge fund guys saying, "But stuff is cheaper, right?" And then I see all my neighbors driving right past the mom and pop store, and shopping at Walmart. How do you make an economic argument for the value of Main Street?

Lucas Kunce:

So this is it, many things aren't actually cheaper. Maybe your Nerf guns are cheaper, got it, stuff like that. But when you look at things like rare earth elements, when you look at things like semiconductors, it's cheaper for Wall Street. It's cheaper for these executives. When iRobot moves overseas, it's cheaper for them, but it's not cheaper for our country. Our country pays a massive tax for that. We pay in supply chains that are weak. We pay in the fact that we might have to go to war over Taiwan for semiconductors. Like we pay in a defense budget that's greatly outsized. We pay in defending these supply chains. We pay in reliance on a potential hostile actor who's currently very much an adversary. We pay in many, many ways. We pay in communities that have been destroyed. We pay in schools where kids can only go to school four days a week and where they don't go to school when it's too hot or it's too cold, right? We pay in many, many ways. It's not actually cheaper for America to be doing that, and so there are all sorts of national security implications. There are all sorts of educational, like everything else, implications. There are all the externalities that go along with it, and so it's just like pollution, right? These are the same people who for many years were like, "Well you know what? It's cheaper to have a coal-fired plant with no environmental protections than to have a coal-powered plant with environmental protections, right?" Of course it is to them, but it's not cheaper to society.

So what we need to do as a society, we need to realize that this is what China has seen. The Chinese government has realized that if they put it into nickels and dollars for Wall Street, we will make it much more expensive for ourselves and much cheaper for them than developing things for themselves. Like look at how much intellectual property they've gotten over the last couple decades by convincing American firms that they need access to the markets in China, going over there, and then requiring them to give up all their intellectual property. Like there's a real cost to that, but it's not on the balance sheet of these companies .and so it's really like..

I wrote a whole article on this called The China Hack, where China has figured out how to hack our capitalism, how to hack Wall Street, so that they can get all of these things for much cheaper and make the cost for the average American that's invisible in the pocketbook very heavy. What we need to do is we need to start capturing those externalities. We need to really divide ... And it's not that people don't see them, it's that these corporations, Wall Street, everybody else, they have so much power over our politics that this stuff just gets buried. I mean they have power over academia too. I mean they fund all this stuff.

I work at a non-profit called American Economic Liberties Project, and here's a good example. The reason it exists is because the people who work there used to work at a different think tank that was funded by Google and we were talking about how Google has a monopoly and how- when I say we it wasn't me, I was still in the military, but they were talking about Google's monopoly and everything else and Google said, "We're going to cut the funding to this think tank if you keep saying bad things about us.” So that's where we're at right now. I mean look at Hollywood. When was the last time Hollywood did a negative film on China?

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, they just censored Tom Cruise's jacket on Top Gun because it had a flag of Taiwan. So yeah, it's real.

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah. They are bowing down to- or whatever you want to call it, to China on this. Everybody is, and so, like again, China has hacked American capitalism, and until we do something to defend ourselves on that grounds, we're going to be in really big trouble.

Ken Harbaugh:

When you talk about capturing those externalities, I take it that you mean going well beyond buy American PR campaigns. We need -

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah, I mean like CFIUS with teeth, I mean legislation to make it so that they can't own land here. I mean harder export controls. I mean like actually reshoring things here, so investing in semiconductor fabs and other things like that so that we actually have them here. I mean there's a company in Minnesota right now that's trying to, rather than do rare earth minerals, they're making a magnet that can take the place of rare earth magnets that is based on nitrogen and iron, and we need to invest in that type of innovation. Like what I see a lot of people saying is, "Oh we need monopolies because we need to compete with China." It's like we are never going to compete with China on size. Like we have to innovate. We have to have competition here. Like I'm a ... I guess I sound like a raving capitalist, but I basically am. Our advantage is marketplace competition and we need to make sure that that competition benefits us and that the fruits of that competition aren't just immediately shipped over to China. So we need to protect ourselves in the economic sphere and part of that is creating competition and the other part is making sure that the fruits of that competition don't just float away.



Ken Harbaugh:

Can you talk about the impact of that consolidation and that offshoring? What's the ground truth? I'm trying to get at this idea that you're not just adopting this as effective messaging. I mean you grew up in Jeff City, you've seen what's happened to Main Street because of what Wall Street has been doing in terms of prioritizing short-term gains. What do you see at home?

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah, I mean agricultural consolidation has killed almost every single small town in Missouri, and it's killed these communities because back when you had family farmers, which we still have some of but it's getting harder and harder to do that every year, family farmers, they work with their neighbors, they see the people who they're selling their food to, they take care of the land. They buy everything that they use locally. So you have an entire supply chain that's local. The wealth stays in the community, it doesn't go away.

When you get consolidated agriculture, whether it's Smithfield, Tyson, whatever else, what they do is they create what's called a vertically integrated supply chain. They buy everything, the feed, the equipment, whatever else, they have contractors come in to actually do build-outs. Everything from out of the state, out of the community, and so what you see is that all the wealth that's coming from the land in a place like Missouri just gets sucked out to their supply chain, and so it doesn't stay here, it doesn't go back into the community, it doesn't get re-spent here, it kills the tax base, a bunch of our rural schools now only go to school four days a week, and any time that the temperature outside gets too hot or it gets too cold, they actually shut down the school because they're trying to save money on utility bills. It's madness because everything has just been sucked out of these communities and so... I mean that's where we truly need to invest right here in Middle America again. It's why you see people who are so upset when you talk about local grocers now, in a lot of places, the local grocer is gone. You only have Dollar General stores.

I mean I can give you a personal example for that. When I was growing up in Jeff City on Dunklin Street, we had a local grocer on the corner. It was the [Rackers] family. When a family couldn't make it till the end of the month, like mine often did, we could go there. We could write a check, and he wouldn't cash it until the end of the month because he knew that we were good for it, and it was a community and actually the other grocery store right across the highway would do the same thing. Well they're both gone now, and where do you go now? You go to a big grocery store, you go to Walmart, right? And I can tell you right now, or you go to a Dollar General, like a Save A Lot type situation. Those people aren't going to do that for you, they don't have the capacity... Or they don't have the freedom of decision to do that for you. It's really sad to see the way that the community can't take care of itself anymore because massive corporations have taken in and they've taken over and nothing's local anymore.

So now what are you getting if you can't make it through the month, right? You're getting a payday loan. Payday loans shouldn't even exist, like 300%, 600% interest. Come on. The only reason that exists is because some private equity guys or someone else who thought they could just squeeze everybody at the lower level just a little bit more, they created that. They sold our politicians on it, gave them campaign donations to make something like that possible. Like my family went bankrupt once for medical bills when I was younger and I can tell you right now, if we had had to get a payday loan at the end of the month every time, we would have gone bankrupt a whole lot more than one time, and the people who suffer from that is everyday people. It's the community, you're not able to take care of your neighbor when you don't have enough money or capacity to take care of yourself and that's what it's doing all across the Midwest. We're losing jobs, we're losing opportunity, we're losing the ability to take care of each other, and when the community starts to go, tell you what man, rage is what follows.

Ken Harbaugh:

Wow. I didn't think you'd land on that, but you're right. That rage has had some pretty terrifying outlets of late, and it sounds like…

Lucas Kunce:

Yeah, and people take advantage of that, right? And that's the opportunity for fakers to come in and say, "You're being lied to." I mean let's talk about Afghanistan. Like who was telling us for 20 years, "Give us your $6.4 trillion, give us your sons and daughters, this is worth it, we're building something real and lasting here, right?" It was the institutions. Systematic institutional dishonesty. All the way up, Democrat and Republican, at the very highest levels, in the military, everything else.

And people see for themselves that that was all a lie now. Like that shit collapsed ... Excuse me, that collapsed in two weeks. Two weeks. What we built, what the elite, what the supposed professional experts built collapsed in two weeks after telling us that that was worth it. Like why would anyone believe anything anymore? And so that's a more recent example but there are examples over the last couple decades. I mean we bailed out Wall Street and then everybody got foreclosed on, right? They told us that the housing market had recovered. I remember that, like my dad was trying to sell our house for two years when everyone was saying the housing market had recovered down in Jeff City. And you know what? He got $43,000.00 out for it after two years and owed way, way more than that. Like the housing market had not recovered, what people were saying worked did not work for everyone, it didn't work for people in the Midwest, jobs were disappearing, and it's just like what do you believe anymore when the institutions have been lying so much? You don't believe anything and now it's just ripe territory for these fakers to come in and just peddle whatever crap they want to and people just don't know. They don't know what to believe anymore. It's terrifying.

Ken Harbaugh:

You're pretty consistent in casting blame on both sides, but you're running as a Democrat. What makes you a Democrat?

Lucas Kunce:

This is the party of working people. It needs to be the party of working people. Again, there has to be a party for working people, for normal, everyday people, and this is the one that can do it and so like ... What we need to do is just change where the money is coming from, change who makes the decisions. The leadership has had some serious problems, but down at its heart, this is a Harry Truman party, this is a party that has stood up for working people for generations and we can still do that. It still has a chance, and so that's where we need to be. That's why I'm running as a Democrat.

Ken Harbaugh:

How do you diagnose what is going on on the right? Because I would submit that it's more than just a handful of fakers. There's something systematic and psychic happening to American conservatism and the power that Trumpism has over it now. Do you share that concern or do you think this is passing?

Lucas Kunce:

I mean when I go around the state of Missouri, whether it's in Palmyra at a family farm, whether it's down in the Bootheel, St. Louis even, out in St. Joe, like it's interesting because I don't see that much difference between Republicans and Democrats on the ground as far as what they feel. The system is broken, it's not working for me, it's a bunch of corruption, like everybody's just corrupt. And so I mean the problem for the Democratic Party in that situation is we're not standing for working people the same way we used to. We have gone Wall Street ... I shouldn't say we because I haven't, but the party leadership has gone Wall Street and big tech and so they're left deciding on alternative issues. And so when I see problems with leadership on both sides but when I see normal everyday people, I'm not seeing the fakers, I'm not seeing the dishonesty, I’m not seeing… I'm seeing people who don't know what to believe anymore and who are being taken advantage of by a party that is lying to them in many ways. Maybe the best example I can give on this is kind of related to COVID actually.

I was going around the state. This was a little while ago and I met this woman named Candy and as it frequently does, Candy brought up... I don't remember how, COVID comes up and Candy's like, "You know what? I should probably tell you this: Although I've been considering getting vaccinated, I haven't done it yet." And Candy is not your traditional Republican, but she's a conservative voter, and I'm like, "Oh okay Candy, why if you're considering it have you not gotten vaccinated?" And she's like, "I'm just really concerned about what those nanobots would do to me." And I'm like, "Oh, okay, here we go. All right, like Candy's just out there. Like I'm just going to try to wrap up this conversation and move on." But Candy starts talking about other stuff. She's going into corruption, she's talking about how our current senator Roy Blunt, how much she hates him because all his family is corporate lobbyists, how they've been selling out Missouri, all this other stuff and I'm like, "Damn, Candy's singing my song right here! This is crazy and she's bashing the right Republicans on this." And so we talked about it for a while. She's talking about Wall Street, she's talking about big tech intruding in lives, taking control, I'm like, "Actually, Candy seems to have it pretty well together on a lot of these issues.” So I'm like, "So Candy," and she knows I'm messing with her at this point. I'm like, "Candy, why would somebody even consider getting a vaccine if they think it's got nanobots in it?" And she kind of sobers up a little bit, because we were having a fun conversation, and she's like, "Well actually, I wasn't considering it, but my brother just died from COVID last week" and so of course I'm like, "Oh man, Candy, I'm so sorry. I hope you and the family are doing okay. Let me know if there is anything I can do." She's like, "No, it's okay. It's okay. That's why I'm considering it though." And then she's like, "But you know, I didn't bring it up before even though I kind of wanted to but now that it's out there, I just wanted to tell you how nice it's been talking to you because my brother was a veteran just like you are and you remind me of him in many ways, you grew up around here and it's been nice talking to someone that reminds me of him." I'm like, "Thank you Candy," and she says, "I just want to let you know that I've been going through his house this last week and I've decided to donate everything that he has to the Disabled American Veterans charity in his honor." And I was like, "Yeah, Candy, you know what? That's beautiful. Thank you from all veterans." Like I'm sure he would be very honored by that. It's an incredible thing to do. And I just can't quite let it go and I'm like, "You know Candy, I think there's one other thing you can do in his honor. You could go get the vaccine, and I know you're worried about it, but I can tell you right now, I was doing acquisitions in the Pentagon just last year. We put a lot of money into this vaccine and we've all been excited to get it. I can tell you right now, none of us would be interested in getting a vaccine that had nanobots in it. It's safe, it's going to be okay." She just says thank you, like, "I have been wanting to hear that from someone since my brother died." She's like, "But there's just so much out there I don't know what to believe anymore."

I mean that's the situation we're in right now, right? Where there's ... It just goes back to the institutional systematic dishonesty that has let these liars just lie about whatever they want, and really twist people's minds and twist their heads around when they're good people. Like Candy's a good person. She understands that the system is broken. She is donating for God's sake everything her brother had to the Disabled American Veterans charity, like these are good people, she's a good person, and she's in a place where she doesn't know what to believe anymore and so like, I feel my responsibility is to be that person that people can trust. Like to talk about Afghanistan, to talk about how yes we were all lied to. To talk about how the system is wrong, but the way to fix it is not by dividing us based on race, religion, whatever else but actually empowering normal everyday people to fundamentally change who has power in the country.

And so I mean I really think that's where we're at. Like people... we have to meet people where they're at and we have to offer something as well, and I don't think that a lot of people are offering anything right now.

Ken Harbaugh:

Do you really think you can break through, given that that one conversation might have pulled one voter over, but you can't do that millions of times and the people you have to persuade are getting their information through such stovepiped channels that it's likely going to overwhelm whatever truths you can convey.

Lucas Kunce:

You know what? I don't discount the people of Missouri and I said that in 2016, when Donald Trump carried the state by 17 points, Jason Kander, running against Roy Blunt, a corrupt guy whose family is all lobbyists as Candy pointed out, only lost by 2.8 percent. Like people in this state are willing to vote for both sides, and you saw that again in Claire McCaskill, our senator lost by six points, but hey you know what? The Democrat auditor won by the exact same amount. And so like people here, they are willing to look at the person, they are willing to look at the message, they're willing to judge very harshly someone who is incredibly wrong, someone like Eric Greitens. I mean when Claire McCaskill won in 2012, she won by like 17 points against a guy named Todd Akin who was a complete loon. I would never discount the people of Missouri. This is the Show-Me State. People will make decisions based on the right things when they're given the opportunity to do it and people are upset right now. They see how the system is broken and we're pointing out over and over again that the corruption is in the people who are leading the race on the other side.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well this has been great Lucas. We end every episode of the show with the same question.

Lucas Kunce:

Uh-oh, I guess I should have studied.

Ken Harbaugh:

I didn't tip Connor off either, so don’t be mad at him. What's the bravest decision you've ever been a part of?

Lucas Kunce:

Ooh wow. That's a hell of a question. I mean we made a lot of decisions in Afghanistan to not engage that were very hard decisions, where it was people who we knew were killing Americans or we suspected it and we just weren't 100% sure. We were worried the collateral damage would be too much and a lot of those were pretty hard decisions. There's just so many stacked up. I think I've seen other people make so many hard decisions that were so brave over there too and I don't know, that's really more what's flooding my mind right now and so I don't know. I don't want to give myself credit for making hard decisions when I've seen so many people make so much harder ones.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah.

Lucas Kunce:

I mean that's kind of ... That's the feeling I feel right now. Like how can I say that I've made a hard decision when I've seen decisions other people have made?

Ken Harbaugh:

It's interesting when I ask the vast majority of veterans that question, it's the same answer. They talk about other people. Lucas, this has been fantastic. Let's do it again, best of luck in Missouri. Thanks for joining us.

Lucas Kunce:

Thanks Ken. Take care.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks again to Lucas for joining me.

To learn more about his campaign, visit lucaskunce.com

You can also find him on Twitter at @LucasKunceMO

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more, follow us on Twitter at @Team_Harbaugh.

And if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review.

Thanks to our partner, VoteVets. Their mission is to give a voice to veterans on matters of national security, veterans’ care, and issues that affect the lives of those who have served. VoteVets is backed by more than 700,000 veterans, family members, and their supporters. To learn more, go to VoteVets.org.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.

I’m Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

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