CD 2: After Losing Her Mom To Cancer, Shireen Ghorbani Runs For Congress To 'Save Medicare'
The second in a series on the Democratic candidates challenging Utah's Republican incumbents in this year's congressional midterm races.
On a hot July evening, Shireen Ghorbani walked a neighborhood on Salt Lake's west side as she campaigned to represent Utah's 2nd Congressional District. Not many people answered their doors, but eventually, someone did: Brandon Jensen, who works in finance.
In a just the course of a few minutes, Ghorbani ticks off some of her top issues as the Democratic candidate for this massive southwestern district: air quality, student debt and, most importantly, health care.
Ghorbani's door-to-door campaign is about as grassroots as it gets. The 37-year-old Democrat says she will not be accepting donations from corporate PACs and several nights a week she canvasses neighborhoods on foot.
The 2nd District covers the entire southwestern corner of the state from Salt Lake all the way down to St. George. Ghorbani has been traveling around towns sandwiched between these two metro areas — from Tooele to Farmington.
Ghorbani and her husband have a 3-year-old son. She holds two masters degrees works in communications for the University of Utah.
The Salt Lake City resident opposes much of the GOP's agenda in Washington, including the Trump administration's immigration policies. She is championing policies popular with Democrats this year, including higher wages for American workers and protecting Utah's public lands.
When she canvasses, Ghorbani doesn't mention her opponent, Republican Rep. Chris Stewart by name. But she says when he does come up, there's a recurring theme.
"Most of the time, people have no idea who he is," she said. "So when I say, 'Are you satisfied with your representation?' It's hard for them to pin down exactly what that means."
Stewart, a three-term incumbent, has gained some attention recently by disputing that Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election was to benefit Donald Trump's candidacy. But what really sticks out for Ghorbani are his repeated votes in favor of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
By her count, she claims Stewart has voted against health care legislation at least 40 times.
"Not one time did I see him coming to the table with a clear solution on how families are going to get access to affordable health care," she said. "To me, that's unacceptable."
Ghorbani's passion for the subject is personal and still painful. Her mother died two years ago after a short but difficult battle with pancreatic cancer.
"In the span of weeks, we got the diagnosis, her health declined very rapidly," Ghorbani said. "We didn't even have time to set up hospice care or anything like that."
Ghorbani's mother had a small amount of savings, but what really saved their family was Medicare, the government-run health care program for people over the age of 65.
"In that span of time, we saw just how quickly families can lose everything," she said.
"I'm so grateful that our last conversations were not about what we would have to sell. Did we have to sell the house? Did we have to liquidate every dollar that she ever saved?"
This summer House Republicans released a budget plan that would slash more $500 billion from Medicare and $1.5 trillion from Medicaid. Ghorbani calls the proposed cuts "immoral."
"Those are lifelines for families," she said, noting that thousands of Utah children and seniors rely on Medicaid. "Where are we going to cut $1.5 trillion from that program?"
In that span of time, we saw just how quickly families can lose everything — Shireen Ghorbani
Ghorbani supports all three of Utah's proposed ballot initiatives that will appear on this November's ballots. Those measures include questions to legalize medical marijuana, fully expand Medicaid, and create an independent redistricting commission.
And like many Utah Democrats running for office this year, she's hoping they'll drive new voters to the polls.
Not taking any vote for granted, Ghorbani said her campaign has already knocked on more than 13,000 doors in Utah's 2nd Congressional District.
"This hasn't been done in a really organized and dedicated way in this district, either by the incumbent or by previous Democratic candidates," she said.
It's been grueling work, but Ghorbani hopes the conversations she's had with thousands of voters on their doorsteps will make a difference in November.
Check back tomorrow for KUER's profile of James Singer, the Navajo Democratic candidate running in Utah's 3rd District.
Correction 8/15/18: An earlier version of this story stated Republican Rep. Chris Stewart had denied Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. Stewart has acknowledged Russia interfered in U.S. elections, but he has contradicted U.S. intelligence officials' assessment that it was done to benefit Donald Trump's candidacy.