Dr. Rueben Brock is one of seven Democrats seeking the Congressional seat vacated by the resignation of Republican Tim Murphy. A Pennsylvania licensed and nationally certified counselor, Brock has been working in the social services since 1998 and his work has ranged from residential treatment of mentally ill adolescents to family therapy and drug & alcohol treatment.
Dr. Brock gave some refreshingly honest answers about the political process and how he has been received as an African American candidate in a Congressional District that is 95.3% white and only 2% African American.
Q: How did you come to be a Congressional candidate? What specific experiences or influences have led you here?
A: I’ve been considering a run for the past few years. I’ve always liked the idea of the House of Representatives. I like the idea of the citizen legislator. But, specifically, it was Tim Murphy’s resignation that inspired me to actually do it. He was almost unbeatable. Had he not resigned, I wouldn’t have run.
Q: Your opponents in this race include a labor leader, a veteran, a medical doctor, and a federal prosecutor. You have a Ph.D. in psychological counseling, so all the candidates bring legitimate professional credentials to the table. Do you feel your background and training is a strength or a weakness when compared to your opponents? Why or why not?
A: I have a doctorate in counseling psychology. What that means is that I’m an expert in the human mind and I have the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. That’s what counseling is. So, I absolutely believe that my training gives me an advantage in that I am trained to understand people and their experiences. That’s what we need in our leaders.
We don’t need leaders who are completely out of touch with the lives of regular people. We’ve tried that. It hasn’t worked yet.
Q: Your experience as a counselor has to give you a unique insight into the opioid crisis in southwestern Pennsylvania. If you were given a blank piece of paper and told to write a bill to address this situation as a Congressman, what would that bill look like? Please be as specific as possible.
A: Great question! If I had total autonomy, I’d do a couple of things.
The first thing would actually be to legalize marijuana.
That might sound crazy, but it’s true. The opioid issue can’t be addressed in a vacuum. We have to take a look at how we handle drugs, as a whole, in this country. And the first step toward fixing the problem is reclassifying and legalizing marijuana. That does a couple of things. One, it frees up law enforcement who would no longer have to chase and house non-violent marijuana offenders, many of whom are Black and Brown.
And two, once marijuana is legal, we tax the sale of the substance. We have seen, in places like Colorado, that marijuana sales can create a significant source of revenue. That money can be used to create treatment facilities, which is what we need to address the opioid addiction crisis. You can’t lock up heroin addicts and expect that to cure them. We have to completely change the lens through which we view drug addiction. Now, the people importing and selling these drugs need to be dealt with through the criminal justice system. But, the folks who are non-violent drug users don’t need criminal intervention. They need treatment.
Q: You are an African American man running in a Congressional District that is 95% white and only 2% African American. Those numbers cannot be ignored. In your honest opinion, how has your race influenced how you have been perceived on the campaign trail? Can you provide any examples?
There is no doubt in my mind that race is a factor in how I have been received as a candidate. I have gotten the same consistent feedback every time I speak somewhere. People say, “You’re amazing. You’re a breath of fresh air. You probably can’t win this, but we wish you could.” Well, why can’t I win this?
I’m as educated as one can be. I am accomplished in my field. I am not the only first-time politician in this. So, what’s the difference? And, quite honestly, I’ve been told by more than one committee member that this district will never elect a Black man.
You can call me a dreamer, but I just don’t buy it. Give me enough time and I believe, wholeheartedly, that the working class folks in this district would all come to realize that they have more in common with me than they do the wealthy and the political elite that we always elect. If I had the time to knock on every door in the district or hold enough town hall meetings, I could win this district. This special election doesn’t give me that kind of time, so I just have to hope that the word spreads fast enough.
Q: In your experience, do you believe the startling rise of white nationalism such as the violence in Charlottesville has made the people of the 18th District more or less likely to elect an African American congressman?
A: I actually think that stuff helps me. For the most part, people around here want to distance themselves from that movement. I’m sure there are those who identify with the white nationalists. I’ve lived here my whole life, so I know they are here. I just don’t think they are the majority.
Most of the people around here are good, hardworking folks who are embarrassed by that nonsense (WHITE NATIONALISM).
Q: What is your position on guns and the Second Amendment? Do you own a gun? Are you a member of any pro-gun groups?
A: I am all for a person’s right to own a gun. I don’t own one. But, I don’t knock those who do. I think the gun issue has become this political hotbed, and it really shouldn’t be. Most people with any sense at all recognize that there is an in our country. Far too many people die by gun than should be the case. And there has to be a way to find solutions to that problem.
But, as long as the NRA has a stranglehold on our politicians, we will never actually be able to have a real conversation about guns in America.
That’s what we need. We need to be able to just have honest conversations about what would be sensible and logical. Right now, that’s not possible. The politics behind this issue are too strong. The gun lobby is too strong.
Q: If you were the Democratic nominee in the 18th District, would you want President Donald Trump to come to town and endorse your Republican opponent, Rick Saccone?
A: If I’m the Democratic nominee, I don’t care what the Republicans do for Rick Saccone. That won’t change my race. My candidacy is all about being honest and real. My candidacy is all about actually listening to and caring about what the people of the 18th want and need.
I’m not really into the whole “anti-Trump” thing. I get why people went for Trump. People are tired of politicians. People are tired of feeling like the system is rigged against them. Well, so am I. That’s why I ran.
That’s what I am telling folks when I am out speaking to voters. And what the Republicans do won’t change that.
Q: Despite a 75,000 edge in voter registration, Democrats have performed poorly in the 18th Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 20 points in 2016. Given those numbers, what would you do that your Democratic opponents wouldn’t or couldn’t to engage Democratic voters in the 18th District?
A: Energize them. It’s that simple. The democratic party loses because they aren’t listening to their base anymore. They ignore the people who should vote for them, so the people don’t vote. Or they vote for the republican who listens.
The democratic party is operating on a model that might have worked 30 years ago, but it doesn’t work today. They tell you who you should like.
That’s what they did in 2016. The people were saying, “We like Bernie!” Then the democratic party said, “Well, you should like Hillary. Here. Take Hillary.” And people stayed home. People voted for Trump. And that’s what happens when you don’t listen to people. If it happens enough, the base stops voting. The only thing that turns that around is giving them something worth voting for. Obama did that. He energized the party. Bernie was doing that. That’s what we need, and I honestly think I’m the only one in this race who could do it.
People want something new. People want different. Well, I’m different. When I speak at a town hall, people come up to me and say, “You don’t sound like a politician.” And I say, “Thank you. I’m not a politician. I’m one of us.” People like that. I’m honest, even when it’s hard. I’m real. I’m certainly willing to take risks. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in this race. So, I can energize the Democrats.
I actually think I can win a ton of those Trump supporting republicans too. People are tired of business as usual politics.
People are tired of the fight between red and blue. People just want real leadership. I think I can give them that.
Q: Based on your travels around the district, name one elected official at the county or municipal level in the 18th District who you strikes you as doing an excellent job for their constituents.
A: That’s easy. Brandon Neuman. He’s always there. You go to an event in the area. Brandon is there. He’s talking to the people. He’s laughing. He’s not rushing off to do something more important. He’s there trying to solve the problems. He makes it clear that he is one of us. That’s what you want in a representative.
Q: In order to win the nomination for the Special Election, you need to win over members of the local Democratic committees in the District since they will be the one picking the nominee. What has your response from the members of the committee been like, and do you think they are an accurate representation of most Democrats in the 18th District?
A: The response I’ve gotten from committee members has been overwhelmingly positive. They tell me how wonderful I am. They beg me to stay in politics if this doesn’t work. I take that to mean that many of them wonder if I can win. But, to answer the second part of that question, no.
I don’t think they (DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEE MEMBERS) are truly representative of the district.
That is a thankless job, so the only people who want it are the people who truly care about the party or the process.
That is a very self-selecting group of people. And so, it can be very misleading, talking to them (COMMITTEE MEMBERS).
They are not really the “average joe.”
Q: If the Democrats retake the House of Representatives, would you vote to impeach President Trump? Why or why not?
A: I believe Trump is bad for America. Whether you like his positions or not doesn’t much matter. He is not a good leader. He sets a bad example, and he puts us all in danger.
Q: Every candidate begins a campaign with wide-eyed enthusiasm, which can drop off sharply as they learn how the process works. Is running for Congress what you expected in terms of inside political baseball, and what did you not know as a voter that you now know as a candidate?
A: This process has been exactly what you see in the movies. It’s all happening behind the scenes. Sadly, it’s not at all about who will be the best representative. That’s not how it works. That’s the heartbreaking part. That’s the part I had hoped was not true. But, it absolutely is.
Q: Some people have questioned the wisdom of a Congressional run as your first campaign. Have you considered running for lower office like a state legislative or senate seat first? Has anyone in political circles tried to talk you out of running?
A: That is easily the most discussed topic in my political campaign. Everyone wants me to run for a state seat. And I get why. But, I’m in the race I’m in. I’m in it to win it. I’m not in the business of talking about what will happen if I don’t win. That’s a sure fire way to lose.
Q: In three sentences or less, what would you like the voters of the 18th District to know about Rueben Brock before they cast their vote?
Rueben Brock is a real, honest, down to earth guy. He’s not like the other candidates. If you think that is the kind of politician you’d like, you only have one good choice.
Q: Have you or any member of your campaign colluded with officials from the Russian government? (We ask everybody this one just to be sure.)
A: I wish I could collude with the Russians to get all of the politicians deported. Send them all to Russia. Could we do that? That’s what we need.
Find out more about Rueben Brock and his campaign at www.brock4congress18.com.
Editor’s Note: Goose in the Gallows has extended invitations to all candidates to be interviewed. Our mission is to inform the voters of the 18th Congressional District, not to promote any specific political party, candidate, or ideology. Any of the campaigns/candidates can contact us at [email protected].