Elisabeth Jensen is the Democratic frontrunner to face first-term Republican Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District in 2014. Jensen, who announced her candidacy in June, is president and co-founder with horseman Bill Casner of the Race for Education, a non-profit organization that has provided over $5 million in scholarships and educational programs. Originally launched as a scholarship program for children of horse industry and agricultural families, the Race for Education is now a multi-faceted program that has received nationwide recognition for the impact it's had in Central Kentucky.
Prior to her work with the Race for Education, Jensen, a single mother who has lived in Lexington for more than a decade, was an executive with the Walt Disney Company.
Why are you running for Congress?
I have never lived my life planning for a career in politics. But the last two years I've been involved in issue-based politics, working with candidates and campaigns on issues I've cared about. Things like expanded gaming and tax parity for the horse industry, but also education, family and children's issues have been important to me.
What qualifies you for this?
Prior to my work at the Race for Education, I spent 15 years in manufacturing divisions of Fortune 500 companies, including managing the manufacturing of children's apparel for Disney Consumer Products. I've been in the corporate world. I know what that means. I've lived on both sides of the aisle.
How is Central Kentucky doing in terms of education?
There's a big disconnect between public education and what our work force and employers require. We also have people who are chronically unemployed and who do not have skills for the jobs that are out there today and for the jobs of the future. I've spent the last 10 years working with young people in our community. So many of them end up with huge student loans and are in low-paying jobs. Those young people are not buying cars, not buying homes, not contributing enough to the economy. This 20- to 35-year-old generation are significantly underemployed, without benefits, and unable to save for their future. Everyone in Washington, D.C., is worried about putting out fires, but this is an issue that is growing in importance.
What is the future of the Race for Education?
The Race for Education will go on, with Chris Young (chairman of board of directors) taking a strong leadership role. Over the last five years it has broadened with the creation of the Starting Gate, an after-school program for middle school students in Fayette and Bourbon County public schools focused on building literacy and language arts skills. We placed the program in communities where people in the horse industry live.
What has surprised you the most since you announced your candidacy?
The focus on fundraising. From the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington and anybody you want support from, the first thing they say is, ‘How much money have you raised?' The pressure to raise money is enormous. With federal election commission requirements, individuals can only give $2,600, so you have to have a broader audience to raise significant funds.
What are some things you've learned?
I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support I've gotten from throughout the district, which includes 19 counties. Trying to include everybody and engage everybody in those 19 counties is a challenge, but it's something I've been able to do. I've been overwhelmed by people who have stepped up, who want to help. The government shutdown really affected a lot of people. They want someone who is going to work for them.
Do you think the federal government has a role in regulating racing?
I think revising the Interstate Horseracing Act would be opening a huge can of worms that we don't need to open.
What can Congress do to help the horse industry in Kentucky?
The biggest thing at a federal level that can impact the horse industry is a stable economy. We have seen a significant improvement this year at the sales level. But to get people to the track and more actively engaged in the sport, we need a stable economy – and to have that we need to have a government that works. The equine industry here in Kentucky relies heavily on foreign investment, not only with horse sales, but in real estate. Even amid civil war in Syria, they have kept the government open. How does it look to the rest of the world when we risk the full faith and credit of our government and can't keep our lights on in the capital due to political games?”
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