Kevin Stine grew up in poverty, with a drive to make things better for those in the same circumstances.
His chosen arena is politics, and he is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate against longtime incumbent Ron Wyden.
“We base a large part of what we care about on past experiences, and for me, coming from a very low income household, I care about things to help the working class,” he said.
He wants to create policy to help those who “work 40, 50, 60 hours a week and barely get by. I want to help them make their way into prosperity, and I don’t think there’s too many people doing that.”
Stine is only 30, looks younger, and has one political credit to his name: in 2014 he beat two other contenders for a seat on the Medford City Council.
So why go straight for the big time with a Senate run?
“I don’t think there’s a reason to wait,” he said. He said politicians who “go through the pipeline” of smaller to bigger seats “pick up what I call bad habits.”
He feels politicians seek campaign donations and then end up beholden to “the Wall Street class,” because the donors expect a return on their investment, he said.
He spoke of a time when the Democrats held both houses of Congress and the presidency, but still produced “watered down” legislation because of the power of special interests.
Stine opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement he and other critics say would cost the US jobs.
He said it’s similar to other trade deals, like NAFTA, that cost American jobs.
He said trade deals purport to be about boosting American exports by lowing tariffs in other countries, but it really ends up being about business going global to find the lowest labor costs.
“This isn’t new. With every trade deal we end up losing American jobs, usually union jobs, and it’s not good for our country,” Stine said.
Stine said he feels the Democratic Party has moved to the left, and Wyden hasn’t. While he shares many of Wyden’s social beliefs, including being pro-choice and supporting same-sex marriage, he diverges with him on economics. “Economically, he’s had many poor decisions,” he said.
Growing up, Stine didn’t have insurance. He only got it once he joined the Navy. He’d like to see a single-payer national health insurance for Americans.
He criticized Wyden’s 1994 vote in support of welfare reform, which cut funding of welfare. “We’re still seeing the fallout from that,” Stine said.
He said people in Oregon who once might have been able to get food stamps are now flooding private entities like the Oregon Food Bank.
“We’re shifting people onto non-profits,” he said.
Born in Medford, Stine later moved to a tiny Oklahoma town, where he graduated high school.
He went into the U.S. Navy after high school, serving nine and a half years as an electronics technician in communications on a fast-attack submarine.
He and his wife of nine years, Casey, have a two-year-old daughter, Riley.
He honorably separated from the Navy in 2013 and just got his political science degree from Southern Oregon University.
Stine said he asked Wyden for a debate, but he declined.
“If his 35 years of Congress have been so great then he should be able to defend his record,” Stine said.
Raised by a single mother, Stine said he came from “a very non-political family.” He thinks his mother and others on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum tend to think of both major parties as essentially the same thing.
“That was kind of the household take on politics,” he said.
But he grew up between the Iraq wars; he was still a teenager going to school whenthe 9-11 attacks happened.
“I was a senior in high school when we went into Iraq.
“That’s kind of how I became politically active, seeing the mistakes there.”
He said his draw to politics can be summarized in a quote he’d heard:
“You might not want to be involved with politics but politics will be involved with you.”
He added, “Whether you like it or not, there’s going to be decision makers that affect your life and I would prefer to be at the table helping to make those decisions rather than someone making decisions for me.”