Misty Snow Wants to Make History As the First Transgender Woman Elected to the Senate
Utah resident Misty Snow is not your average Democratic candidate for Senate.
She was working as a cashier in a grocery store when she kicked off her small, grassroots campaign in February and scored a commanding primary victory against her more established opponent, the self-proclaimed "conservative Democrat" Jonathan Swinton, in June. As a transgender, working-class, millennial woman, Snow not only has the potential to make major history if elected (she's the first trans woman to ever secure a major party's nomination for Senate), but she could bring a truly unique perspective to the legislative chamber — one that no other representative can offer.
An ardent progressive, the core of Snow's campaign platform includes a $15 minimum wage, a constitutional amendment to remove corporate money from politics, protecting women’s reproductive rights, guaranteeing 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, passing federal legislation to end LGBT discrimination, investing in alternative energy sources, and creating a single-payer health care system.
This is a stark contrast to her Republican opponent, incumbent Senator Mike Lee, a Tea Party leader who, alongside former presidential candidate and “best friend” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), championed a government shutdown in 2013 as part of their efforts to defund Obamacare and made a (failed) attempt to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015. Though Lee currently holds a considerable lead in the polls, Snow is hopeful that her progressive message will resonate with voters and lead her to victory come November.
Recently, Glamour caught up with Snow to talk about her campaign, the issues she feels most strongly about, and whether or not she still has time to take shifts at her local grocer. Here’s what the candidate had to say.
Glamour: We're just about two months out from the election — how are you feeling?
Misty Snow: Tired. [Laughs]
Glamour: How have Utah residents responded to your campaign?
MS: I get a lot of positive responses. A lot of people seem really excited. It's been really good.
Glamour: As a millennial, working-class, transgender woman, you offer a rare point of view that basically no one in Congress can match. How do your life experiences shape who you are as a candidate and how can your perspective benefit your Utah constituents and Americans as a whole?
MS: Everyone has their own thoughts about life, but they give me a lot of empathy for what it’s like to be poor, what it’s like to not have everything you want, what it’s like to be [frustrated]. It helps me understand the issues affecting a lot of people, and makes me a good advocate for these issues. It’s important to have a different kind of voice in Congress. We’re supposed to have a representative form of government but, unfortunately, our government is very much made up of an elite class of people. There are too many businessmen and lawyers and bankers and millionaires in Congress, and not enough working-class people.
Glamour: Your policies — like a single-payer health care system, a $15 minimum wage, renewing Glass-Steagall, among other things — are all very in line with the platform Senator Bernie Sanders put forward during his presidential campaign. Sanders also had a commanding victory in the Utah caucus earlier this year.
MS: Bernie Sanders won 79-20 in Utah. That was pretty significant. I think that’s what helped me win in the primary, because a lot of the Utah Democrats are very much Sanders supporters and I canvassed in line with that. I publicly endorsed him during the primary.
Glamour: How do you feel about Hillary winning the nomination?
MS: I think it's a good moment in our country that we have a female nominee. As a candidate, though, I'm not super excited for her. I will probably vote for her, but I don't find her nearly as exciting as Bernie Sanders.
Glamour: This has been an atypical election season and there seems to be a larger contingent of left-leaning people being more vocal and calling for more progressive policies. Secretary Clinton has more history of being a moderate. With her as the nominee, how are you feeling about the prospect of these more Sanders-like ideas becoming reality should she win in November?
MS: You have more people speaking up for left-leaning things because you have more people in my age group — more millennials — that are coming of age and getting involved. Millennials are more liberal on every issue, and that’s true of the so-called conservative millennials, evangelical millennials, Mormon millennials, whatever. They tend to be more liberal than older generations, no matter their other demographics. They're coming of age, and millennials are now the largest age group in the country—they’re 40 percent of the population. They have a large voice, and this is what our generation is demanding. And with Hillary Clinton, we’re not that excited by her because she represents the politics of old, and the status quo, and we want something different and something better.
Glamour: What do you think is the single most pressing issue (or several issues) facing Americans today? What do you think should be done to change things for the better?
MS: We need to get money out of politics. That is one issue that prevents us from making progress on many other issues. Too many of our congressmen are beholden to the corporate interests that spent a lot of money getting them elected. They don’t work in the interest of the public, they work in the interests of multinational corporations. We need to reform our campaign finance system so there isn’t all this money in politics. Elected officials need to be beholden to their voters, not their donors. Fighting for a living wage is another important issue — $7.25 an hour is not a living wage. According to the Social Security Administration, 51 percent of people make less than $30,000 a year. The majority of people in this country are in poverty or near poverty and we need to give our workers a living wage. When you think of who’s making the minimum wage or low wages, it’s disproportionately women, it’s disproportionately people of color, it’s disproportionately members of the LGBT community. We want to start closing the wage gap and we need to raise the minimum wage. I support a $15 an hour minimum wage. I think we can get there, and I think there is a lot of popular will for it now. We can do it over a four-year period, raise it $2 a year until we get there, and adjust it for inflation from thereon after so it doesn't fall behind again. That way, people aren’t making so little that their income is being subsidized by food stamps and assisted housing because they’re not being paid a living wage. The reality is, no corporation is profitable without the talented labor of its workers. Those workers deserve to share in the fruits of their labor.
Glamour: I know in your platform you want to move toward a single-payer system. With Aetna withdrawing from Obamacare and other private insurance companies trying to circumvent the existing system, would you want to expand Obamacare or replace it with something else?
MS: What we’re seeing with the Affordable Care Act is exactly why we needed to add a public option. It needed to be part of it; it wasn’t. When we talk about improving Obamacare, we should employ the public option and talk about improving and expanding Medicare and Medicaid. We need to make sure everyone has access to health care. We have over 30 million people in this country without access to health care and over 350,000 in the state of Utah — 85,000 of which are children. They need access to health care. If we value the health of our citizens, we’ll make sure that everybody has access to health care and make sure it’s affordable health care. That’s what needs to happen. Maybe we extend Medicare or maybe we get a lot of Democrats together to do a big, bold bill that gets us a single-payer option. Maybe we do it piecemeal: Maybe we add a public option through Obamacare or maybe we reduce the age to qualify for Medicare. We’ll get there, but we need to keep fighting for it and advocating for it. When we talk about the fight for health care, though, we need to make sure that includes healthcare for LGBT people, because they need health care. We need to make sure that women have health care, including access to contraception and abortion. The reality is, if it doesn’t include those things, then the health care system doesn’t meet the needs of women. We need a health care system that meets the needs of its citizens.
Glamour: There was one policy I thought was unique to your campaign: The call for a nationwide gas tax to subsidize alternative energy funding. On a national scale, a large number of people might object to it — how would you get support for it?
MS: This year in the state of Utah we increased tax on gas by 15 percent. Most people didn’t even notice it. A lot of people don’t even know it happened. It was well-absorbed by the economy and nobody seems to be complaining about it. Nationwide, it could be something small — like 5 cents a gallon. Most people wouldn’t notice it, it would be well-absorbed by the economy, and generate a lot of revenue which we could earmark to make investments into cleaner energy or greener transportation or public transportation to reduce carbon emissions.
[Glamour Fact-Checking Note: Beginning January 1, 2016, Utah lawmakers increased the existing gas tax by 5 cents and instituted a new tax policy that would levy a 12 percent tax on the wholesale price of gas, adjusted once per year.]
Glamour: You were working in a grocery store prior to launching your campaign. Walk me through that a little bit: What made you decide to run for Senate and what was the primary season like?
MS: Back in February was when I decided to run for office, and the only reason I did was because, back in August, [opponent Jonathan Swinton] — a self-described "conservative Democrat" — said he was pro-life and said he wanted an investigation into Planned Parenthood. He was very conservative and he wasn’t pro-LGBT. I thought he was terribly wrong about important issues and he needed to be challenged for the nomination. After Bernie Sanders won big in New Hampshire, I knew that a lot of Democrats in Utah would give him a big win here. Bernie Sanders definitely got a big win, and I forced [Swinton] into a primary and then beat him because he was so conservative. That is not what Utah Democrats wanted in a candidate. I won with 59.4 percent, despite Swinton having a 6-month head start and connections to people with political experience. I beat him because I was strong on issues that Utah Democrats care about.
Glamour: The latest poll numbers show you gaining ground with Utah voters, but incumbent Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) is still coming out ahead. How do you hope to close that gap between now and November?
MS: We have to keep making the case that I’m a working class person who is going to fight for working class people. Mike Lee has not been a good enough senator for them. He shut down the government, which put a lot of people out of work. The federal government is the largest employer in the state of Utah, employing about 35,000 people. During that government shutdown, there was a period of time where a lot of people weren’t spending money because they weren’t sure if they were going to go to work again or get another paycheck. In Utah, we have five national parks. We have national mines. We have a lot of national forest lands. During the government shutdown, that all wasn’t operating. There’s a lot of restaurants and hotels that depend on tourism, so we had cities where the economies shut down because no one was visiting the national parks because the national parks were closed. Mike Lee has hurt a lot of working people and their families by shutting down the government.
He talks about wanting the poor to have more money in their pockets, but he voted against raising the minimum wage. He talks about families, but he voted against renewing the Violence Against Women Act, he blocked aid to Flint during the water crisis. If he cared about women, he would stand up and say, "I don’t want them to be domestically abused." He’d have voted with the rest of the majority of Congress to renew the Violence Against Women Act. He wouldn’t have blocked aid to Flint during the water crisis because he wouldn’t want citizens to be contaminated by lead. He doesn’t represent Utah working class families and he doesn’t represent Utah values. I’m trying to make the case that I actually understand what it’s like to be poor, I understand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. I’m going to make the case that I would be an improvement and make the case to millennials that I would be a voice for our generation. The state of Utah is the youngest state in the nation; we have more millennials in the state of Utah than Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers combined. It’s all about getting them to vote. I’m trying to reach them and connect with them and say, "Hey, this is our moment to elect someone from our generation to Congress. I need you to support me because I’ll be our voice."
Glamour: Flash forward to January 2017, you've won the senate race and have been inaugurated. What would your first action be as Utah Senator?
MS: I guess it depends on if we’re waiting to confirm a Supreme Court justice or not. If we haven’t confirmed a Supreme Court justice, hopefully we finally give Merrick Garland a hearing, or maybe another person. One of the first things we really need to do in the U.S. Senate is confirm a new Supreme Court nominee. Other issues I’d really like to push for early on would be a living wage, and trying to lift off a minimum wage bill. I’d probably put up a bill for ending the federal prohibition of marijuana. I’d like to put forward an equal rights amendment for the LGBT community. I’d like to tackle these things early on.
Glamour: Are you still putting in hours at the grocery store you were working in prior to launching the campaign?
MS: I was there last night. I still work on Sundays. Sunday is not a very good campaign day. It’s not a good day to canvass or phone bank, and there aren’t a lot of events that happen on Sunday. I work a flexible schedule and as long as I work once every 30 days they won’t kick me off full-time. I won’t lose my sick hours or my benefits. I’m working just Sundays and I have enough money coming in to pay my insurance premiums. It also works out because we get a differential payment on Sundays and we get $2 extra an hour on Sundays. It’s a good day to work. I’m trying to keep enough money coming in to cover my insurance premiums.
Glamour: Is there any question that you've been asked repeatedly on the campaign trail that you're tired of being asked?
MS: Gosh...I guess, the only questions I get tired of being asked are the questions that are uncomfortable and that I feel are inappropriate to ask. Overall, there aren’t many questions that I’m not willing to answer.
Glamour: Is there any specific one that made your skin crawl?
MS: There have been a few questions about my being transgender that I think are inappropriate and I usually don’t answer them. But most journalists are good about it. A lot of them, especially local media, don't even ask questions about that — they're more concerned about my policy ideas because and they want to know why Utah people should vote for me. There have been several articles in Utah media that haven't even mentioned I'm trans. It's very different. The national media is more interested in that because it’s unique. But it’s good.
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Photo Credit Glamour/Courtesy of Misty Stone