Joe Sestak

Joe Sestak

When Joe Sestak campaigns for president throughout Iowa and New Hampshire, the retired Navy admiral and former U.S. congressman often points to three areas he would emphasize, if elected, to help rural communities – medical care access, small business development and job training.

And Sestak, the only Pennsylvania resident in the crowded Democratic Party field, also feels that approach could benefit small towns in places, such as Cambria, Somerset and Bedford counties.

“This is a win, win, win,” Sestak said during a telephone interview with The Tribune-Democrat on Sunday afternoon. “It’s three legs of a stool. There are other things to do, but those are the three primary ones I talk about in the rurals. And I got to tell you, heads nod.”

Part of his platform, called “Training for a Lifetime,” involves increasing opportunities for job skills development, including for older adults looking for new careers after their former professions changed, leading to layoffs.

“I tell them we invest in public education, sometimes subsidies to go into a community college,” said Sestak. “These workers, when they lose their job, we don’t take advantage of the investment we already invested in them by having them reacquire a new skill.”

He added: “Technology can become obsolete, but never should a worker become obsolete that we’ve already invested in.”

Sestak wants to expand Revised Pay As You Earn, a U.S. Department of Education program with multiple income-driven options that are designed to make paying back student loans more manageable.

“What we’re going to do is make it mandatory, universal and grandfathered to everyone where you don’t pay more than 10% of your income – disposable income – back, and that’s after you’ve already deducted the 150% the equivalent of the poverty-level income,” Sestak said. “So you’re down to like 7% of your income. And we can lower that to 5% and, for the lower-income people, forgive it after 20 years. So there’s an easy way to fix the student loan program without making the blue collar worker pay for it, just by forgiving it all.”

Expanding training options should go together with encouraging more investment in rural start-ups, according to Sestak.

“Small businesses need mother’s milk,” he said.

In regards to health care, Sestak wants to advance the Affordable Care Act with a public option, using the Veterans Health Administration as a pilot template, with hospitals and doctors being government-provided or a Medicare-for-all system where the government makes direct payments to private hospitals and doctors.

“What you want it to be is a transition of choice,” Sestak said. “Test it out, see if it’s going to work for a number of years.”

Sestak said he is running with the goal of “uniting America for all Americans.”

He did not enter the race until June – when more than 20 candidates had already launched campaigns – because he was spending time with his daughter, Alexandra, who was battling brain cancer.

“They may deem I’m late, the establishment,” he said. “But my ideas are timely. And so that’s what I’m doing. I still think we have a decent chance, done well, done persistently.”

He has raised concerns about how the actions of President Donald Trump have, in his opinion, negatively affected the country.

“We’ve got to beat Mr. Trump for the character of our nation,” Sestak said.

Sestak called Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria, which led to an invasion by Turkey, “inexcusable.”

“The president is abandoning our allies, our commander-in-chief is saying you were there fighting with us against ISIS; now it’s a wrap. I’m coming home and leaving you,” said Sestak, the highest ranking military official ever elected to Congress where he represented the state’s 7th District.

He criticized Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that led to an impeachment inquiry by the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives.

“For the commander-in-chief and president to reach out to a foreign leader – in the case of Ukraine – and ask him to intervene in the most blessed sanctity we have in America, our free elections, is wrong,” said Sestak. “And the evidence – he has said that he did it – that demands that Congress does its duty and does an impeachment inquiry, which they’re doing. But I wish to heck they would do it in a nonpartisan way because the outcome of this has to be at least looked upon by those in both parties as that it was done in a fair and objective way. And I fear that we’ve already lost that higher ground. And that’s a shame.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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