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Pressley Says Voters Have A Choice: Status Quo Or Changing Washington06:35
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Ayanna Pressley speaks at her campaign office in Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Ayanna Pressley speaks at her campaign office in Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Ayanna Pressley is the first woman of color to serve on the Boston City Council.

Now she’s challenging a fellow Democrat, incumbent Rep. Michael Capuano, for the chance to go to Washington on behalf of the deep blue Massachusetts 7th Congressional District.

Pressley talked to WBUR about the need for more activist legislators, her willingness to work across the aisle and why she views this race as a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.

Read some of the highlights below:

The following has been lightly edited.

Bob Oakes: You've said that although you and Congressman Capuano would vote the same way on many issues, you'd lead differently. Your campaign says that you'd bring a fresh lens and a fresh approach to Capitol Hill. Explain that.

Ayanna Pressley: This race is about either electing someone who will keep Washington working the way that it is, or someone who wants to go to Washington and change the way that it works. If you look at the Affordable Care Act, ultimately that was saved not solely by lawmakers but because of the courage of individuals and families who went to Washington; who organized, who mobilized and said we're not turning around. The same is true for the [Brett] Kavanaugh nomination. I'm organizing phone banks to lobby senators [to oppose his Supreme Court nomination]. I don't accept these things as an inevitability simply because we are in the minority. If this administration is coming at us like a locomotive to roll back every civil rights protection and freedom that we have fought for and earned, then I'm going to make it very hard for them.

Mike Capuano says his extensive experience on Capitol Hill is proof that he's better prepared to get things done and is also therefore in a better position to oppose Donald Trump. Respond to that.

I have been a policymaker proven in tackling some very complex social issues on the municipal level here in Boston. The challenges of an affordable housing crisis, of gun violence, economic inequality and a wage gap are not parochial — they're not exclusive to Boston. These are national challenges. This is the challenge we were given in 2016 after that sobering defeat: to ignite the electorate and to grow it, and that is what our campaign is doing.

Mike Capuano has called President Trump’s border wall a “stupid idea” but also said he'd vote for it if it meant getting real immigration reform. Is that a deal you would make?

I would not invest in a Trump hate wall. We don't need to be protected from immigrants that are coming here seeking asylum and refuge. I have worked on some very polarizing third rail issues. I've done this on reforming the state's liquor license laws, on getting sex ed and condoms into our schools, on codifying equity in the cannabis industry. I can negotiate and sit at the table and work with anyone in the name of progress, but I am unwilling to be a moderate when it comes to immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, women's rights and that of the LGBTQ community.

Isn't that unwillingness to compromise and work across the aisle part of the current problem in Washington, though?

I didn't say I wouldn't work across the aisle. One of my priorities is criminal justice reform and there is certainly bipartisan appetite for that. I think we need to eliminate the cash bail system. We need to eliminate mandatory minimums. We need sentencing reform. I think we need parole reform as well. We're spending a lot of money on the issue of parole. I am the child of a formerly incarcerated parent and my father was in and out of the criminal justice system for 14 years. So I'm very passionate about the need for us to maintain familial bonds.

Make the case to voters why you’re the best choice to take on Donald Trump and represent the 7th District down in Washington.

A vote on the floor of Congress cannot defeat the hate coming out of this White House. Only a movement can and we need to build it. I'm running for Congress because the economic inequalities, the wealth and the wage gap, the structural racism, the gun violence — all issues that I've worked to eradicate or to mitigate in my tenure on the City Council and throughout my life — are worsening under this president. The Massachusetts 7th Congressional District is one of the, if not the most, diverse districts [in Massachusetts]. And it is the most unequal. I'm running because I want to do something about that.

This segment aired on August 29, 2018.

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