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ELECTIONS 2020 Southern exposure: Gay man running for U.S. Senate in Kentucky
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2020-04-29

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U.S. Senate candidate Jimmy Ausbrooks stands out for several reasons in his Kentucky, whether it's because of his mental-health background—or because he's the only openly gay person running in a Democratic primary field of 10. ( The Kentucky primary elections are slated for Tuesday, June 23, with the winner going up against the Republican victor, who will probably be incumbent U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. )

Ausbrooks—a self-described "open book"—recently talked with Windy City Times about his qualifications, his electoral race and President Trump.

Windy City Times: Could you talk a little bit about your background?

Jimmy Ausbrooks: Sure. I'm a native of Kentucky. I'm the first person in my family to graduate from college. I went into customer service for almost 20 years. I've been a small-business owner and a private consultant. I went back to school to earn my master's in counseling, and now I'm a licensed professional counselor serving in my rural community.

I got my undergraduate degree in government, and interned with the Washington Center in 1996. I worked in the DNC Committee Chairman Don Fowler's office during the '96 Democratic National Convention. [The following year,] I was invited by Sen. Wendell Ford to attend the Inauguration of President Bill Clinton. I've been in and out of politics for a number of years.

Also, I serve on the board of the Kentucky Counseling Association, I am president of the Kentucky Association for LGBT Issues in Counseling and I'm a former vice president of the South Central Kentucky Mental Health Counseling Association—so I've been a mental-health advocate for the LGBTQ community for more than 25 years.

WCT: There are at least 10 Democratic candidates…

JA: …and nine Republican candidates, including Mitch McConnell.

WCT: So what, besides being the only openly LGBTQ candidate, distinguishes you from your Democratic opponents?

JA: Good question. One of the things that separates me is that I'm in the mental-health field, and with the state of the healthcare system, the pandemic, the rise of substance abuse in mental health… I'm a big believer in term limits so, to me, this term is about healthcare and I'm the only one who's in the system—so I work [constantly] with insurance companies and individuals who need help. That's where I'm able to move things forward, because I'm able to advocate for them on a level that none of the other candidates can.

If we were at war, I would 100-percent be supporting one of our veteran candidates: They've been there and they've done it. But in this era, I think I'm a suitable candidate. I won't say I'm the best candidate, but I'll say I'm a suitable one. I know how the system is working and I know how it's broken.

WCT: You said you believe in term limits, so how many would you serve?

JA: I wouldn't serve more than two. Again, it's going to be me being more conscious about what's going on in six years. If, in six years, there's another candidate who could handle the current crisis better than me, I would step back. I'm not doing this for a career, fame or fortune. [Laughs]

WCT: I'm curious about where you fall regarding gun rights and ownership.

JA: As a native of Kentucky, I respect and value the gun. But we have to exercise common sense. We don't need certain weapons—nobody does. I don't plan on having a militia anytime soon. [Laughs] Be trained to use a gun and require a license. Be required to store the gun in a proper way. I'm an advocate for the Second Amendment, but we have to use common sense when we have guns.

WCT: Your background, as you mentioned, is in counseling and mental health. What was Congress gotten right and wrong regarding mental-health legislation?

JA: Well, I do they appreciate that they've started to recognize that we need mental-health professionals. We don't need one mental-health counselor for every 700 people; we probably need one for every 50.

What are they doing wrong? For example, I'm a licensed professional counselor, and I can't bill Medicare. We have advocated for us to be able to do so—and we can't. That's something I want to pass when I get into office: an expansion of mental-health providers, expansion of substance-abuse treatment programs and the ability to bill Medicare.

We have [people] in jail who should be in treatment. Living in a square box isn't addressing the real issue.

WCT: Let's talk about the coronavirus. How has this pandemic affected your campaigning?

JA: Well, being an unknown candidate, appearances are vital—and now we don't have them. We were fortunate enough to have one forum March 5 in northern Kentucky that raised [my profile] a little bit; I was on stage with Amy McGrath, Mike Broihier and Charles Booker. That was the first public appearance for me.

As I still see different reports and media coverage, I'm still being mentioned. I was in Teen Vogue a couple weeks ago—that was cool. [Laughs] I only got half a sentence, but it's still name recognition. In Kentucky, which is typically red and very conservative, gay people don't get much coverage unless it's something negative.

I was also supposed to start an LGBT-support group but the coronavirus has stopped that, for the time being.

WCT: So regarding LGBTQ rights, Kentucky is …

JA: Closeted. [Laughs] Everybody I know recognizes that we are just like them; yet, no one is willing to step up and pass legislation. Over 25 years ago, I walked the first Fairness Ordinance into the city of Bowling Green, Kentucky, as a sophomore in college. We still don't have protections in my community or Bowling Green in the areas of housing and employment. There are only about a dozen communities in the entire state that offer any type of protection.

WCT: What would you say is the biggest problem for the LGBTQ community?

JA: For me, it's that I'm not being represented across the board. We're not getting protection. Mitch McConnell has had the Equality Act sitting on his desk for, what—a year now? It's just collecting dust.

We need to be recognized as vital parts of our communities, and we need protection. I've had first-hand experience being discriminated against because of my sexual [orientation]; I've lost jobs, housing.

WCT: Let's say that you win the Democratic primary and McConnell wins the Republican one. How would you assess your chances of defeating him?

JA: I think people are tired of not being a priority, and tired of him only coming to a community every six years. I can sit down with just about any family in the state, and I can relate. I live paycheck to paycheck and I have $180,000 in student-loan debt. When somebody says they're struggling, I know what that means; I don't think Mitch McConnell can do that.

Second, I'm not a polished politician or public speaker. I speak from the heart. People can see that my passion is genuine.

WCT: If you ask our current president one question and be guaranteed to get the truth, what would that question be?

JA: I think my question would be "Who do you think you are?" I mean, is he a president, a king, a god—or what? I respect the office of president—but I could never respect Donald Trump.

WCT: Is there anything you would like to add about yourself or your campaign?

JA: Here's a statement: "I'm a pro-woman's choice, healthcare-for-all, climate change-believing, minimum wage-raising, veteran-respecting, LGBTQ-embracing, immigration-reforming, teacher-supporting, student loan-forgiving, pay gap-eliminating, Universal Basic Income-endorsing, common-sense gun laws-legislating Democrat, and I am running for the United States Senate."

See JimmyAusbrooks.com for more about Ausbrooks.


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