Election 2020: Adam Christensen on Running for Congress in FL-03 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, September 24th, 2020  

Election 2020: Adam Christensen on Running for Congress in FL-03

"We have the most money in the world, we have the most billionaires, but we still have veterans sleeping on the streets."

Aug 13, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Florida is a confounding place. I’ve been all over Florida for work as a stupid 20-something selling art door-to-door in the early 2000s. You name the town and there’s a good chance I’ve been there. I’ve seen naked people in business environments, twice, in two different cities. The other naked people I saw were not in professional settings. I had a gun pulled on me in Apopka, just after “Stand Your Ground” became law. Again, in Apopka—a guy told me “Happy Easter,” to which I trolled, “Thanks, I’m kinda Jewish.” His response, without missing a beat, was “Well, you know what you did.” 

I’ve been rousted by agro, trying-too-hard cops in Orlando, chased out of lots of places more times than I can remember, and had the best meals and cocktails of my life at beach shacks and fancy, richass highrise restaurants. I’ve blared The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” out of a truck in Miami. I’ve laid on beautiful white beaches with pretty blondes as we watched the sun dip below a blue horizon of waves. I’ve set fireworks off on golf courses in gated communities. Met a magician at a bar, fell in love once, and experienced some coincidences that I will never be able to explain. 

It’s a wild state and I have lived it, from every angle. Florida is a magical place that operates on a lot of different, very strange frequencies. I have a special affection for it. The more north you go in the state, the more Southern it gets. 

Which brings us to the third congressional district, gracefully being vacated by trash goblin Ted Yoho. The third district spans six northeastern counties and includes Gainesville and Ocala. It has an interesting history. Historically, it’s been a Democratic district, but in these hyper-polarized times the seat has become more Republican. The district really hasn’t had proper representation since the ’90s. Corrine Brown was crazy. Yoho is crazy in a different way. The district is in dire need of a competent representative. 

In steps Adam Christensen. At 26, he’s a young man in a hurry, running for the Democratic nomination on August 18th. After graduating from Hampden-Sydney College in 2016, majoring in Biology, he started his first company with $3,000 he made from summer camp counseling: Essential Validation Services, an analytical testing lab for catching fraud in the essential oil market. Sixty per cent of the essential oil market is fraudulent. This is old school consumer protection, Ralph Nader kind of stuff. He coaches high school and college soccer in his free time.  

He’s been endorsed by the great Sarah Cooper, No Dem Left Behind, and the orb queen herself, Marianne Williamson. He’s for Medicare-For-All, The Green New Deal, Universal Basic Income, marijuana legalization, and expunging arrests, universal childcare, raising the minimum wage, and middle class tax cuts. This is the new progressivism birthed by the Sanders campaign. This is what comes next.

Steve King (Under the Radar): You grew up in a conservative home. How are your parents reacting to such a progresive campaign?

Adam Christensen: My parents don’t talk politics. When we were growing up, like at the dinner table, there were certain topics of conversation we just did not talk about. We never talked about politics. We never talked about money. There were some things that we just did not discuss, and if we did start discussing them, people would leave the room. With my parents, I think, they thought this was a joke, like, when I first started. I full-on think they thought it was a joke, like, “Oh, that’s cool. You have fun with that.” And as they started to realize this was actually a thing that was happening, and people were asking them about, who lived in other states that they know.... At that point, they were like, “What’s going on?”   

Like, “What are you doing down there?” 

My parents think it’s really cool. My mother is extremely conservative, extremely Republican, so she questions me on a bunch of stuff. The thing that matters most to her is that everything that I’m actually fighting for, I believe in...and at the same time I’m fighting for it because I think it’s going to help people, and it’s actually going to benefit people. So she knows my heart. She raised me and she’s a saint for having raised me and my brothers. I don’t know how she did it. I would have gone crazy. She says I’m the most bullheaded person in the world, and if anybody would ever do something like this and actually have it happen, it would probably be me. She says “Nothing surprises me anymore. I just don’t understand why you want to do this.” That’s kind of how my family is.

You’re a young candidate. More than 30 of your campaign staffers are under 23; we talk a lot about how young politically active people are always teaching older politicians new things. But we’re the ones who are going to be making policy. What have you learned from the campaign?  

The biggest thing that I’ve learned from the campaign in general is [that] there’s a way of being able to talk to people. I’ve learned what I already kind of knew, especially with Democrats and progressive people, [who] think that to win red districts, to win Republicans or Independents over, you need to become a moderate. They want you to water down your policies, and if you do that, Republicans and Independents will not respect you, because they’ll think that you’ll just sell out to whatever. Even if they completely disagree with you, at least they will respect the fact that you actually believe in something.

One big thing that I’ve learned and seen is if you start to waiver on your beliefs, you will start to lose support, start to lose people believing in you. That’s one thing we cannot do and we will not do. We will never water down our policies, but we’re able to talk to people in a language they can understand, and it doesn’t matter where they come from or their background or their political leaning, as long as you are able to talk to people about what you’re going to do and how it’s going to help them and put the focus on people, and make it emotional, you’re going to do a lot.

What are the benefits of having a younger staff? I imagine it gives you a leg up with virtual campaigning now that the pandemic has made retail campaigning nearly impossible.

As strange and as messed up as it is, the pandemic has actually been very good for young people in politics, as far as being able to create online and digital infrastructure, because we had to focus all of our time [on that] for about four months. Most campaigns never get that set up and going. Most campaigns don’t spend the time to build what they need in order to go viral, go bigger, get your name out there. That’s all we did. We did that for about four months just because we couldn’t do anything else. So now, we’re actually seeing the benefits of it.

We built an entire studio in my apartment with a green screen and everything, so we can do virtual stuff, virtual interviews. It looks nice. It looks legitimate. It looks like we spent money. We spent 20 bucks on it with stuff from Home Depot. We went to Home Depot and grabbed some stuff and put it together. We have, by far, the best online interviews and graphics. On top of that, our social media, especially with a young campaign, we were able to transition into this new kind of campaign style almost seamlessly. It also helps that we had no idea what we were doing as far as campaigns go to begin with. We didn’t know what the proper way was. We just had to figure it out as we went along, and the stuff that worked we kept doing, the stuff that didn’t work, we stopped. A lot of campaigns, when stuff isn’t working, they keep doing it. That’s one thing we were able to do very quickly, very well, that I don’t think a lot of other people have been able to.

You’ve been doing a lot of virtual town halls. Because this may have to be the future of campaigning, at least for the foreseeable future. Have you got a lot of engagement through these efforts?

More engagement that we would have gotten in person. Let’s be honest. Our district is huge. It takes an hour and a half to get from one side to the other. I could either spend three or four hours in the car driving for a town hall somewhere, or I just put on a virtual town hall, and we speak to 50 to 100 people, and as soon as I’m done, I’m still here. I don’t have to drive another hour and a half, two hours back. We’ve had a ton of engagement. It’s also a lot cheaper. We’ve had to spend almost no money doing it. We have all the tools that we need in order to campaign. You can get them for free, or online. You don’t have to go through consultants. You don’t have to go through some of these firms that all of the other candidates are using. It’s so much money to do that. We’ve been able to run an extremely effective and lean campaign with almost no funding. We’re starting to get the funding now to be able to ramp up and scale up, and we’re putting that back in the infrastructure to build on what we already have. That’s the way that we’ve approached it. We want something that’s sustainable, that we can that we can build, and it’s going to be there.

Have you been able to do any old school stuff? What kind of old-school retail campaigning is left?

You still have all the Republicans who are doing canvassing, door-to-door, no masks, no gloves. We do not do that. We do a lot of phone banking. We do a lot of text banking, a lot of other things. One of the more traditional things we do is kind of targeted literature drops, where we know where we want to hit, we have the literature cart. and we have door hangers, so we’re able to hit each of these locations without having to knock on the door, without having to talk to people. We talk to people if they’re outside or whatever, not knocking on the door, trying to get them to come out because we don’t want to endanger anyone. We’re taking all the proper precautions, dropping the literature off, we call, if they pick up, we’ll talk to them. It’s almost like a virtual canvas kind of thing.

Florida’s COVID numbers are crazy right now, but somehow not unexpected. A couple candidates I’ve talked to since the virus hit America have been delivering PPE and checking on residents first. Things like that. There seems to be a fine line between social work and politics these days. What have you personally done with residents in the district since the crisis began? 

We have a ton of people [working] on the campaign. We obviously do a lot of community work. A lot of volunteer work. There are a lot of food banks and grocery drops, where people are in their cars, and they come around and get food in a bag. A lot of our interns have been helping out with some of those. When this started we gave blood to hospitals. It was the best time to do it, before they needed it and before they reached critical levels. So blood, on top of that, we have really tried to facilitate as much good information as we possibly can on our platforms. Those are a few of the different things we’ve tried to do but I do know that bike for especially or more established politicians. I think Ocasio-Cortez, for five, six month straight, was just working in her community, and that was pretty much the entirety of what she was doing. Just making sure the people are okay.

We didn’t have very many people here in Gainesville for a little while, just because they were all home for the summer, but as we start to get more people, we’re able to do a lot more. We haven’t really done very many in-person campaign things, because of the numbers here in Florida and how bad they are; we’re trying our best. We’re really taking into account that the COVID numbers keep going up. Also, there are college kids coming from all over the country, back here, and we don’t really know who’s sick and who’s not sick. So the city of Gainesville is kind of terrified right now, with the fact that we have so many new people coming back here. I don’t know what all the procedures are right now, but we’re doing everything possible that we can virtually. 

Your approach to Medicare For All is really simple, and you discovered it trying to get coverage for employees as a small business owner, and it seems like the impetus for your congressional run. Medicare-For-All is, among other things, essentially a business tax cut. This is classic kitchen table politics. How’s it playing in the district?

I grew up in a Republican household. There are buzzwords and catchphrases that are thrown around, and they’re practically meaningless. They can be changed in any way that you want them. What I realized is that a $300 tax cut from the government a year is practically worthless. We keep talking about tax cuts, and all these tax cuts, all of these tax cuts, but at the end of the day they’re not worth anything. Right? Now we’re paying taxes to the government and also paying taxes to private companies. So the question is: How do we make it so that we’re not paying as much money in general?

The way I kind of phrase it, especially with Medicare-For-All, is that 30% of everything we pay goes to an insurance company. That insurance company is worthless. It’s a middleman. It just siphons off money. It’s taking advantage of everyone. One thing I know about conservatives, and Republicans, and Independents, is that they hate middlemen. They hate fat. They hate bureaucracy. What is an insurance company? It is all of those things. This is what I mean by talking in the language of the people you’re speaking to. What do people want? They want tax cuts. Well guess what? I can either give you $300 back from the government or I can give you $8,000 a year, so you don’t have to pay to a private company, which one do you want? It’s a small business tax cut.

That’s just the way I feel, and it’s the same with universal childcare. It’s got a return on an investment of $1.25. For every dollar you put in, you get $1.25 back. The average cost for childcare, per child for a family, is like $10,000 to $13,000 a year. You can either get $300 back from the government in a child tax subsidy, or whatever, that could call her now or you get $10,000 a year but you never have to spend it. It stays in your pocket. For most people, that’s a pretty easy option, so I just frame it as a middle-class tax cut.

You’ve got some real gems on the Republican side of the race. Judson Sapp has a good chance of being their nominee. How do you plan to run against a self-funder with big conservative heavy-hitter supporters?

Yeah, so his dad is mega-donor to the GOP. If you don’t know anything about Judson Sapp, do you want me to give you the rundown on him? It’s great. Judson Sapp went to Florida State University, which is the rival to the University of Florida. He was a philosophy major. We know from a few people who went to college with him that he had doctors’ notes to get out of the more difficult math tests, so he never had to take them in college.

Once he graduated with this philosophy degree, he decided that he wanted to move out to California and be a Hollywood actor. He joined the Screen Writers Guild, tried to become a writer, he tried to start a podcast, he tried to be in a bunch of films, none of them worked. All of them failed miserably. Then he got married and he had to come back to Florida in order to get in front of a friendly judge to get divorced, then he got married again.

Finally, after, like, 14 years, his dad wanted to stop paying for him to live in California and do nothing with his life, so he forced him to come back to Florida. He set him up as a prop CEO for his railroad company, and then paid for him to run against Ted Yoho in 2018. He got about 30% of the vote, and now his dad’s trying to buy him a seat in Congress again.

Sapp’s main logo for his campaign is the Betsy Ross flag. On top of that, the University of Florida determined they were going to get rid of a chant called the “Gator Bait” chant, because historically, racists in Mississippi and here in Florida used to hunt alligators using black babies, and they used to call those black babies “gator bait,” so the University of Florida said “We should probably get rid of that. That’s not a good look.”

Judson Sapp, an FSU graduate, not a University of Florida graduate, says he needs to go after the liberal left-wing media (again, he was a liberal Hollywood actor for like 14 years) for taking away our right to say “gator bait.” So they put out yard signs that say “gator bait” all over the district, with his name underneath of it, almost trying to troll the University of Florida.

That’s classic Stone Politics right there.

Yup. So this is the man we will probably be going against. He’s been endorsed by Roger Stone, Charlie Kirk, Dana Loesch. He’s probably going to get 20% of the vote and squeak by in the Republican primary. 

You’ve said something to the effect that modern progressive policies are really just old school conservatism and that progressives haven’t done a good job of selling their policies. How are your polls in the district? It’s not just Medicare-For-All; you’ve got the Green New Deal, Universal Basic Income, marijuana legalization. How’s that all going in the district? 

It’s good. Everyone that we talk to, at this point, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Trump Republican or an independent, it really depends on who you’re talking to, right?  Depending on who, are you really going to want the emotional argument or you just going to want the financial argument or the numbers argument? Depending on who we are talking to, we’re making the case no matter who it is. For instance, especially with Republicans, I like to say, “Look. In 2008 you invested in saving the entire economy. You gave money to all of these banks, all of these institutions, but that wasn’t a gift. You didn’t just give that out of the goodness of your heart. You became an investor. You bought equity in these companies. Well, every investor that I know after three to five years, expects to get their money back times two or times four or times five. But it’s been 12 years and you never got that back and at the same time now you’re paying more for education, more for healthcare, more for everything in your life, and yet they’re doing better than ever. And they just did it again 12 years later. They just took your money again.” 

Like you said, the new progressive movement is almost historic conservatism when it comes back and the monopolies, oligarchs, and corporate cartels, have killed the free market and if you don’t stand up and fight against that, then, I’m sorry, but you don’t have a free market. My grandfather, in his town in Iowa, almost 40 or 50 years ago, they looked around and saw all these small towns drying up. Family-owned businesses were going under. Towns were going under. The schools were getting consolidated, and they were like “why is this happening?” And then a big company decided it wanted to move into their town, and what they realized was that company had moved into all the other towns or surrounding areas around them, and they slashed all the prices and had run out all of the other businesses from town. That company was Walmart. 

Basically, Walmart was coming in and they were undercutting everyone, driving them out of business, consolidating everything and replacing the jobs that they had with jobs that paid 1/3 afterward, and nobody could survive, so my grandfather’s home basically stood up and said, “No. You don’t get to come in here. We’re not letting you destroy our way of life.” And they are hardcore conservative Republicans, but right now you have so many people on both the Democratic and Republican sides who are basically corporatists. They like corporate socialism, and no one believes that they actually care about them or care whether or not they live or die. So when we talk about all these things, I don’t care who you are, we can always make a case for why, at this point, progressive policies are good for you no matter who you are. 

You said recently that in our lopsided economy “The best you can hope for is survival” and “the market is not free.” This kind of economy and ballooning inequality has been going strong since the ’80s. Just in your lifetime, we’ve had the Bush tax cuts, the Trump tax cuts. We got rid of Glass-Steagall. At what point do we admit defeat? 

Right? I mean, we’ve had trickle down economics for like 40 years now or something. It clearly didn’t work. It clearly made everything worse, and sometimes the pitch that I give is if that [if it] didn’t work, why don’t we try the exact opposite for 40 years. Maybe we try trickle-up economics, and the billionaires, when they complain, they’ll just be told the same thing for 40 years like, “Well, it’ll eventually get up to you. You’ll eventually get money. We’ll help you at some point.” If we do that for 40 years this world would be very different. I feel that at this point we are so far to one side, you have a radical blowback when the pendulum swings back, and I think we’re at that point. We had that point in the 1890s. We’re going to have to have it again. 

Florida has a well-documented history of racism and being the worst in the country for unemployed citizens to receive benefits. DeSantis and state Republicans are doing everything they can to keep from restoring voting rights to former felons. You were mistakenly arrested while coaching a soccer game and got an up close look at what passes for justice in Florida. What can you do from Congress to help combat the state’s history of perpetuating white supremacy?

There’s a few things that you can do. Number one: you got to get rid of “qualified immunity.” “Qualified immunity” is just basically a fancy way of saying that if somebody in a position of power screws up, they don’t have to be held accountable. On top of that, we have to take the profit motive out of punishment. Private prisons should not exist, cash bail should not exist. All of these things are just predatory. If you’re rich, you don’t have to worry about them. If you’re poor, you basically have a debtors’ prison, and not only that, they charge you to be in it.

The way things are set up, especially for the criminal justice system in general, right now the focus of everything we pour money into is reactive. It’s after the fact, after something happens. We’re going to try to put a bandaid on it, and we’re going to take care of the issue after it arises. We never think of “how do we head it off before it happens?” How do we stop crime or any of these things from happening before they’re necessary? Because most people who commit crimes are just desperate. How do we make sure that they don’t get to that point? 

But we don’t think about that, and we don’t fund mental health services. We don’t find any of the things that would actually help, but then we complain and say, “Well, we just need to put more money into punishing people for the things we could have fixed beforehand.” For me, especially at the federal level, there has to be a change in priorities. There has to be a change in people standing up and saying “This is costing us more money to do this and it’s stupid.” Why don’t we actually invest wisely? Why don’t we stop paying the consequences?

You’ve said, “We cannot call ourselves the greatest country in the world if we continue to marginalize the needs of everyday people.” I’m a liberal and I’ve still always believed in American Exceptionalism, but the last couple years have been a great challenge. Are we still the greatest country in the world? Were we ever?

Did you ever watch the TV show Newsroom?

Yeah...

The first 10 minutes of Newsroom, not only did it really hit home for a lot of people, but that thing went mega-viral because it was finally someone saying the truth. We can call ourselves the greatest country in the world, but what does that actually mean? We have the greatest military but we also have severe poverty. We have the highest number of incarcerated citizens but we still make people go into debt so they can go to college. We have the most money in the world, we have the most billionaires, but we still have veterans sleeping on the streets. So yeah, it’s the greatest country in the world, but for who?

Unless we radically shift and fix the issues that the United States has, we’re looking at a situation where the United States is no longer going to be the greatest country in the world, because we haven’t actually taken care of the basics. For me, whenever you start a company or whatever you do, anything, like, I coach soccer, if you don’t take care of the basic fundamentals and make sure that those are good, you cannot build something sustainable. And right now, if we do not take care of the people of the United States, the United States will not be sustainable for the long run.

If we want to fix these things, we have to go back to the basics, the fundamentals, and make sure that people are taken care of first, not corporations, not billionaires, not scammers, not hedge funds, not predatory debt, not the people who go after other people’s pensions, not corporate raiders. But for 40 years, that’s who we have focused on.

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