Republican Mike Kennedy is a relatively unknown lawmaker and family doctor challenging Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination in the race for Utah’s Senate seat, left open by Orrin Hatch’s upcoming retirement. The winner of the June 26 primary will face Democrat Jenny Wilson in November.
KUER’s Nicole Nixon sat down with Kennedy to talk about health care, President Trump and more.
This interview has been edited for time and clarity.
On immigration, there is a lot going on. Another round of talks in Congress, this one forced by House Republicans, this administration’s "zero-tolerance" policy which is leading to family separation at the border. What do you want to see happen on immigration?
The first thing is border security. We've said that over and over on the campaign trail. And the reality is that federal government's role is to make sure our borders are secure, and that means that not only when it comes to people wanting to cross the borders, but as to guns and drugs and human trafficking and other illegal activity, we need border security. That is the first thing that I'd focus on in regards to immigration. Second thing is improving legal immigration, and that includes any number of executive as well as legislative fixes. We need to make sure that it's easier to come here legally than it is to come illegally.
What about people being separated from their children at the border? Do you buy into the argument that it's a deterrent?
That does disturb me. As a family doctor, I see the power that parents and children have working together. And I don't like moms and dads to be separated from their children. As to why that policy is in place, what the points behind that are and whether or not there's a better way to do that, these are things that I would be very interested in finding out. But moms and dads and children, they should stay together.
I want to ask about your experience as a family doctor and how that informs your position on health care policy. You have said that you want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is something that Republicans have tried and failed to do a few times in the past year. Do you think that's a lost cause at this point?
It's actually failing on its own weight, number one. And No. 2, with the rescission of the individual mandate, it does look like the Affordable Care Act is failing on its own and being helped along in the legislative process. The fundamental for me is yeah, I want people to have access to health care, but the idea that the federal government is best suited to deliver that health care, I disagree with that. I think our local communities [and] our state have more than enough capacity to handle these things. We need to get the federal government out of the business of doing things like expanding Medicaid, which on multiple levels is a clunky system that does deliver care, but there are other ways to do it.
You've mentioned that you do support keeping an place protections for pre-existing conditions and maybe allowing younger people to stay on their parents insurance. How do you see that working out if the rest of the ACA is repealed?
That's a great question and the answer is mostly market forces and state-based regulation. The reality behind children staying on their parents insurance until 26 years old, that is something that's been helpful. Pre-existing conditions I also see as a policy change that does add cost to the process, but I had patients routinely rejected from access to insurance for benign conditions. An abnormal finding on a mammogram, for example, that made somebody unable to find access to insurance. That is not right. Even if somebody had a more serious condition like cancer, does that make it so they shouldn't have access to insurance? I think our society has taken a turn for the better on that. I am in favor of that. But government intervention in health care should be very limited, and that's just one example where I think it's useful.
You released a list of endorsements from about two dozen of your fellow lawmakers. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that at least two of those lawmakers didn't authorize their name on an endorsement list for you. What happened there?
People throughout the campaign have done a variety of public endorsements and private endorsements. So what I did with that was I sent out a request to all of those individuals that I thought would participate in that process. By the way, there are 20, and in this case one has asked that their name be removed. I suppose it's good for the media to focus on the one, in this case, that wanted their name removed. But I would also say that that's 5 percent and it's not something that I think reflects the fact that we have 19 others that are still happy to be on the list.
The most recent poll from UtahPolicy.com this month put President Trump's approval rating in Utah just 47 percent. So why align your campaign with him?
Donald Trump is an enigma on multiple levels. I didn't know what we were getting when he came in as president. I've been really impressed with his performance. Frankly I think this state, which was relatively lukewarm to President Trump's presidency when he came in, has converted. Why? The work product is truly reflective of conservative values. Anybody that's going to move the conservative agenda forward, I'd like to support them in doing that. When disagreements come up, I don't need to go public and denigrate people personally for the policies and opinions that they have.
What was going through your mind last week as you watched this historic meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un play out in Singapore?
If you'd asked me a year and a half ago if there's any possibility that that could happen I would have said "No." Especially when we had the inflammatory talk of "My red button is bigger than your red button." It just seemed like we're moving more towards war than some sort of peaceful outcome. But it does reflect something about Donald Trump and his ability to negotiate with people. So, I'm proud of our president. It's not just good for the United States of America, it's good for the world that we are moving in this direction. World peace is something that we all would like to see closer, rather than further away.
Some people have said that he conceded too much to North Korea for too little in return. Do you agree with that?
When you're in the arena fighting a fight, there are always those that sit on the outside in the spectator's stand that will criticize the activities of those that are involved deeply in these processes. And I'd say let the critics do it better. Most of those critics have no capacity to move these issues forward and when it comes to taking what we get, I'm pleased with where we're at. I'd like to hopefully move forward and see that we continue to move forward on this important step towards denuclearization and making sure that the world is a more peaceful place.
Mitt Romney is very well known. He has connections, he has money, he's worked with people in Washington D.C. He's even already talking about which committee assignments he'd like. How do you compete with that?
Thanks for that question. It's one that I've fielded multiple times before and I am pleased to answer just by saying I'm a regular person who comes out of poverty. I'm somebody who's clawed my way forward in life and have had an opportunity to attain some useful skills that I believe the people of Utah will find useful as their servant in the U.S. Senate. As a doctor, as an attorney, as a state legislator, I don't need a visitor's guide to understand this state. I've lived here and worked here. I've raised my family here and built my small business here. I love the state and I love the people of Utah. Money doesn't vote. People do. We're honored to be a part of this democratic process to make sure that the people have a real choice.
Listen to our interview with Mitt Romney here.