Jane Kleeb is the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. A founder of BOLD Nebraska, she put together a coalition of ranchers, farmers, Native Americans, and environmentalists that fought the Keystone XL Pipeline to a standstill. She’s also on the board of Our Revolution, and is a member of the national Democratic Party’s Unity Reform Commission. Nation contributing editor D.D. Guttenplan spoke with her in her hometown of Hastings, Nebraska. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Nation: What do you want from the Democratic Party nationally?
Jane Kleeb: Well, for one, to stop screwing our local candidates. Two, I want them to stop giving lip service to rural and red states and actually give us the resources—both financial and training—that we need. If you’re serious about turning around a party, it is a full-time job. Right now I’m in the middle of raising my salary so I can come over to the party full-time. It is mind-boggling to me that we only have 12 paid [state] chairs. All the rest are either part-time, or full-time volunteer like me. And then you wonder why we’re losing elections at the state level…
TN: I want to ask a more personal question: You often refer to your own history with an eating disorder and coming from a background where money for treatment was not lying around on the ground. Why do you do that?
JK: Because I’m an organizer. I feel like the only way I was able to get parents to come help their kids learn how to read when I ran an AmeriCorps program, or get young people to help other young people turn out to vote—or for the Keystone Pipeline, the only way to get farmers to the table—was to share our personal stories of why we were doing this work.
For me, battling an eating disorder and coming to a realization that Republicans were protecting big insurance companies, and that that power structure was in place, was [the start of my] political awareness. I was raised a pro-life Republican.
TN: In South Florida?
JK: In Plantation. Right outside of Fort Lauderdale. My dad and my grandmother had a Burger King in Hollywood, Florida. I was draining pickles and cutting tomatoes and onions in the back growing up. For me, telling stories is how you connect with people. And how you really show folks that our political leaders don’t have to be some magical people picked out of the ground—that all of us have stories. And all of us have the ability to lead on these issues and lead in politics. I never want to hide that part of me.