My interview with Nancy Skinner took place in the studios of WLS-AM in the Loop on July 20, 2003 during breaks in her program and also online. Her candidacy was the subject of my column on July 22, 2003. Words in parenthesis were added later for clarification, as was some information gathered in follow-up question via-email and phone. The transcript below reflects a merger of all our exchanges and has been edited for sense and coherence. I've not attempted to verify every assertion Skinner makes below. All typos and spelling errors are mine, of course. Her campaign website is here
ZORN: You're a radio talk show host from Michigan with no legislative experience, no political organization and not much money. Why should people take you seriously as a candidate for the United States Senate in Illinois?
SKINNER: I went into radio because the left had no voice on talk radio. Against all odds, I changed that. I decided to run for the Senate because the left has lost its voice in national politics. I intend to change that.
When Senator Hillary Clinton was considering a run for the Senate seat in New York, she went on a "listening tour" to hear what people were concerned about.
As a radio and television talk show host, I have been on a "listening tour" for more than 6 years now. I've been on the air in Chicago since 1997 and have been doing a nationally-syndicated show, including a half dozen Illinois stations, for almost 2? years. I talk to people from all walks of life and all political persuasions, six days a week, about the issues that are most pressing to them personally, and their deepest concerns about our country.
All the legislative experience, political connections, and money in the world could not put you in touch with people in the way that I have had the privilege to be. More than 70,000 Illinois citizens listen to me each week. I have a very loyal following of people who are not just passive listeners, but a community of passionate, like-minded progressives.
My co-host, Ski Anderson, and I hear from people who rearrange their work schedules so as not to miss the show. We have a headphone club of people who take their Walkmans to the malls and beaches on Sunday. One man thanked me because his mother-in-law no longer visits his family on Sundays, lest she miss "Ski and Skinner." I'll take that base of inspired human beings over any machine operation any day.
It's a brave new world in national politics these days. Traditional campaigning strategies are no longer applicable. The Republicans enjoy a huge fundraising advantage and have used it to master the media and the message. They run roughshod over the Democrats, time and again, out-shouting them on cable news shows, out-sloganing them in the PR game, and snake-oiling them with their policies.
As the host of a political talk show, and in my hundreds of appearances on cable shows, I have become an expert debater. I know every weakness in Republicans' rhetoric, and I stand up to them in a way that many Democrats have failed to do.
Anyone who has ever heard me on the radio or on television understands my level of passion and conviction for my ideals for this country. But more importantly, I know how to communicate with them in way that cuts through the spin and makes sense.
Communication is perhaps the most critical skill of leadership, as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton exemplified. It's a fact that at the national level of politics, you live and die by the media, and I am the only candidate in this race that has lived through the crucible of the national media. As a veteran political talk show host, I am eminently qualified to be an effective voice of the people.
As a result of my national TV exposure, I'm also the only candidate with a national following through the Internet. As Howard Dean has done, I appeal and will reach out to proud progressives across this country who are tired of watching one assault after another on the Constitution and the U.S. Treasury, and who want to do something about it. With the help of the leading progressive web sites on the Internet, we are launching the first ever effort to elect a U.S. Senator with the help of the Internet.
It's called InternetSenator.com, and the idea is that instead of letting the establishment pick the primary candidates (usually the richest guy or the most politically connected guy), individuals can participate in the process through small donations to help give progressive candidates an opportunity to compete.
ZORN: What do you say to people who wonder if this is just another wacky deejay stunt?
SKINNER: I'm not a radio host who's going into politics. I was a citizen who went into radio. I've been studying the key issues -- foreign policy, national security, social security, defense, education, taxes, the environment--for many years.
ZORN: Among the potentially hobbling elements of your candidacy, I failed to mention a big one. You have identified, in the past, as a liberal. And the L-word seems to be poison these days. Do you still call yourself a liberal, and how will you persuade voters that it's not a dirty word?
SKINNER: I'm a Democrat. The right wing has spent 25 years demonizing the word "liberal" and it's worked. Democrats have two choices, run away from the label or take it back. I say "bring 'em on."
If wanting to make sure tax cuts go the people who need it most and will spend it immediately to help jumpstart this economy makes me a liberal, I plead guilty. Call me a liberal.
If wanting to provide quality healthcare to all Americans for a small fraction of the obscene Bush tax cuts that went to the top 5% of Americans makes me a liberal, I plead guilty. Call me a liberal.
If wanting to ensure that Americans workers have good jobs with decent pay, instead of three jobs with lousy pay and no benefits makes me a liberal, I plead guilty. You get the point.
I think labels have lost all their meaning anyway. When this so-called conservative administration runs up a record $455 billion deficit and pushes through spending increases that would make a drunken sailor blush, then the word conservative no longer correlates with fiscal discipline. When this so-called conservative administration pushed through the power to read your emails, review your library reading habits and a plan for the cable guy to spy on you, the word conservative no longer correlates to the preservation of individual liberties.
No, I'm not running from these people who constantly demonize liberals in their magazines, best-selling right-wing books, and cable TV shows. If they want to challenge the political force that brought us the five-day work week, social security, Medicare, the cleanup of our air and water, civil rights, and twice in the last century fueled the greatest periods of economic growth with the most fiscal discipline, I say "bring 'em on".
ZORN: Another word you've used in the past to describe yourself is "nerd." Specifically, you've taken pride in how immersed you are in policy matters, research and other forms of minutia. How and when did you become a nerd and how will your fundamental nerdishness play in your campaign?
SKINNER: Yeah, I have a lot of fun with the nerd thing. You know, when other young people were watching Cheers, I was reading the Oslo Accords. But in all honesty, I have had this intense desire to learn about the world, its problems and solutions to them. It's the curiosity factor we heard so much about in the 2000 election.
As a finance major (at the University of Michigan, class of `87) , I read everything I could get my hands on about the global economy, and I continue to do so.
I realized many years ago that Bill Clinton and Al Gore (of whom I am very proud, nevertheless) had the whole free trade thing wrong. I believe that we are in a race to the bottom - that we can't compete with slave labor, period, not just for manufacturing but also for service and high-tech jobs. I submitted a white paper on a global fair trade system to anyone who would listen to me, a system that rewards countries who pay a living wage to their citizens by reducing their tariffs.
I predicted (on the air) the Asian economic crisis of 1997 and the deflationary problem that now even Allen Greenspan openly discusses. I've studied for more than a decade now global warming and the solutions to it that will create economic wealth and independence from Middle East Oil. I was spouting off about fuel cells on the radio way before it came into vogue.
So how does nerdish play in Peoria? I think that it shows the people of Illinois that I have been engaged in solving our problems all my adult life. I don't just want the position of U.S. Senator. I want to advance the solutions to the most pressing problems that face Illinois, our nation, and this world.
I want to take back the word nerd, too. If wanting to solve the nation's problems instead of sticking our head in the ground and hoping for the best makes me a nerd, well then I plead guilty. Call me a nerd. Bring 'em on.
ZORN: You grew up where?
SKINNER: Royal Oak, Michigan
ZORN: When did you come to Chicago and why?
I first moved to Chicago in early 1991. My first assignment after college was in Chicago, in 1987, and I fell in love then with this great city. I've lived in other cities for brief periods, and nothing can compare to Chicago. I've had a lot of varied work experience, mostly of an entrepreneurial nature.
Following the floods of 1993, I convinced the town of Valmeyer, Illinois, and the federal government to rebuild the town off the floodplain using the best available environmental technologies and design. I worked with ten federal agencies and the White House to assemble a team of national architectural and engineering experts to help the residents maintain the character of their traditional town, develop rural economic development strategies, and save money through energy efficient homes and buildings.
The town and its mayor, Dennis Knobloch, were ultimately awarded a Presidential award by the President's Council on Sustainable Development.
I continued my environmental work in Illinois with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Communications (DCCA) by helping to establish the Governor's Recycling Roundtable, chaired by Governor Jim Edgar, in which we worked with major Illinois corporations to encourage the purchase of recycled materials.
I also assisted in the creation of the Chicago Climate exchange (CCX), which was the brainchild of Richard Sandor, former president of the Chicago Board of Trade and CEO of Environmental Financial Products. It's a fully functioning exchange now, the first ever voluntary emissions trading program, which uses the power of free markets to solve the climate change challenge. The bulk of my consulting work involved finding economically viable solutions to environmental problems.
ZORN: So you didn't attend the Famous Broadcasters School?
SKINNER: No, what happened was, in 1997, I was out to dinner with a friend of a friend who is in radio, complaining about the lack of left-wing voices on the air. He told me I should try to get in to WLS, and he gave me (then operations director) Mike Elder's name.
So I went to a junk store, bought an old radio, gutted it and filled it with a fish tank. I put into it a school of white fish that all moved together and then one red beta fish. I sent it to Elder and included a note saying "Just a lonely liberal swimming in a sea of conservatives. Talk to me. If you don't call, these fish will perish."
He had me come down and gave me an audition on the same night that Ski (Anderson) was having his first audition. So we were an accidental pairing. They put us together permanently on weekends in the fall of 1998.
. For the last couple of years, I have also co-hosted a nationally syndicated morning radio show called Good Day USA with Doug Stephan (www.dougstephan.com), which airs on 380 stations across the U.S., and on about six Illinois stations.
ZORN: I was listening to your WLS-AM show the first time a caller suggested that you run for Senate. Did that set something off in your mind? Or had the idea been percolating for a while? Describe the process of making up your mind to run and then timing your announcement?
SKINNER: Yes, we were on the air talking about Peter Fitzgerald's decision not to run again when a caller mentioned me as a candidate. So like any good talk show host I threw it up as a question to the listeners, expecting a light-hearted radio segment out of it.
But hundreds of emails came pouring in, suggesting that I really do it, offering to volunteer and to donate. I was floored.
Still, I wasn't considering it seriously until my Mom called me one day. My Mom is by far the more cautious of my parents, but on that day, she said "Nancy, I've been thinking. I think you should run. I just know how good you are on these issues and with all your media experience, I think you could win."
I'll never forget that moment. I was walking my dog, and I hung up the cell phone and said to myself, "Well, if your mom tells you to run for the Senate, you gotta do it, right?"
I later called Carolyn Kay, who started as a listener, but had built a website (Makethemaccountable.com) that had turned into a powerful force on the Net. Carolyn is an unrelenting powerhouse of a person. After her initial scream at my announcement, she said, "We're gonna really do this."
ZORN: Then what?
SKINNER: Then I met with some PTB's (powers that be) and felt encouraged by their belief that this race needed some heating up. I decide to announce this past Sunday, because in the wake of the Iraq-gate scandal, I felt emboldened by the fact that I had been asking those questions all along.
Although I was called un-American (a word that curdles my stomach) for asking about the risks to our soldiers, the costs, the intelligence, whether there was a long-term plan, the effect on international diplomacy and coalitions, I stood my ground. I think events have proven that it is very American to ask hard questions before we commit our young people to a lengthy and treacherous military assignment. I have often decried the timidity of my fellow Democrats, and I remembered Paul Wellstone's message to stop looking around for the perfect candidate--if you have conviction, run yourself.
Conviction I have. I'm trusting the rest will fall in place.
ZORN: OK, but did you ever think maybe you should set your sights a little lower? It seems to me that most of the candidates in this race on both sides are political novices who want to start off in the most important legislative body in the world. Did you ever think about maybe beginning your political career as a state representative or senator?
SKINNER: No. I've focused my whole life on the issues that a U.S. senator deals with. National issues and international issues . I think about them and study them all day long. I know the U.S. senate seems like a very elevated seat, but for me it's a natural. Local and state offices present a very different set of issues. So yeah, it's a challenge but I think it's the right one.
ZORN:. Looking over the Democratic primary field right now, it seems to me that you are hoping to win support from the voters who are now most likely to be leaning toward State Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago). I'm very impressed with Obama myself. Where do you differ from him on the issues and what would you say to voters who are now inclined to support him?
SKINNER: I would say this of the whole field of candidates right now: they appear to me to be good and honorable people who really care about our country and the people's issues. We Democrats keep sending well-meaning people like this up to bat, only to get our heads handed to us. Republicans control the White House, the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the media.
The type of candidates we're fielding just ain't making the cut. With all due respect to the other candidates, and I do respect any American who has the guts to enter a race like this, we need candidates who can get our message out, who can expose the tricks of the right and articulate the truth about the choices we voters are facing.
At this crucial point, when the media had become so concentrated, and the arena of voices so loud and confusing, the Democratic Party needs the best and boldest communicators we can put in the race. In this field of candidates, I believe that candidate is me.
Republicans will always be better funded than Democrats, so I see no great advantage to wealth.
We need a different card to play to beat their money. Name recognition and political connections do not draw out the people to vote in the general election. The rules have changed so much that even having any legislative record at all can be turned against you. There are no truth in advertising laws for political campaign ads, and ugly lies are more the reality on TV ads than not.
I do see an advantage in inspiring people, average people, to get back involved in the political process, to be re-energized about correcting this course we've set upon. After all, that's what happened to me. I'm just one person who was concerned enough to do whatever I could and use whatever talents God gave me to work for a better tomorrow.
ZORN: But Obama, in particular, is a very promising progressive candidate and he's going to need every vote from the left he can get. Aren't you just going to be Ralph Nader to his Al Gore? Don't you stand to siphon off just enough progressive support to foil his candidacy?
SKINNER: I wouldn't put myself in the Ralph Nader category at all.
ZORN: Well, how do you distinguish yourself from Obama on the issues? He was a strong voice against the war in Iraq, has a great record on criminal justice reform issues?And how do you distinguish yourself from Maria Pappas, Gery Chico, Dan Hynes, Joyce Washington Blair Hull and the others?
SKINNER: I think Barack has good views on the issues and these other candidates are good and honorable people.. But this is what I think is key:
We keep sending well intentioned, good and honorable people up to bat and they get their heads handed to them. We need better communicators. I'm an expert debater and know how to work in the 30-second-soundbite world.
ZORN: Are you now the most liberal candidate in the race?
SKINNER: Let me put it this way. I think I'll communicate the positions of the Democratic party better than any of the other candidates in the race.
ZORN: Who is now committed to support you?
SKINNER: My parents. They think I'm great! Kidding aside, I have this huge base of listeners, some who have listened for 6 years as an army of supporters and volunteers. I also have the national following to tap for fundraising. I have the support of the leading progressive websites like BuzzFlash.com, Democrats.com, MakeThemAccountable.com, and others who are working to create what is effectively an Emily's List for the Internet. Many labor organizations have decided to wait for endorsements until January and I feel that with my pro-labor background, I will have an audience with them.
ZORN: When did you file your declarations of candidacy?
SKINNER: On the way to the radio station (Sunday, July 20). I stopped at a mailbox on Ashland Avenue with the envelope and thought, well, here we go. It was appropriate that I was all alone. Because as much as I have great people who are helping me, I'm really alone. I'm putting myself, my person on the line with a decision like this, and in the end it's really just me saying "I can do this."
ZORN. Let's get to the hot-button issues. What's your position on abortion?
SKINNER: I'm pro-choice. I think Roe vs. Wade is in danger of being overturned if the expected retirement of justices occurs on Bush's watch. Republicans have threatened the filibuster mechanism in the Senate. That means Illinois, having one of the few open Senate seats, may have the deciding vote on the fate of a woman's right to decide what happens to her own body. There is a very dedicated crowd trying to take away that right.
ZORN: The wedge issue for the right is intact and dilation extraction---also called partial birth abortion. If you say you favor permitting it, they'll tag you as an extremist on abortion.
SKINNER: I'd oppose that procedure if the law made an exception in cases where doctors felt the woman's health was at stake. And this is the one thing the Republicans have been unwilling to do to. Look, as a Catholic, abortion is a choice I would never make for myself, OK, and this particular procedure is ghastly idea. And if there was that simple exception, for the mother's health, we could all agree. But the right doesn't want to make that exception because they want to use partial- birth abortion to play politics with. Fine
ZORN: They'll answer you that "health" is too broad an exception; that women would qualify if, say, having a baby would leave them depressed.
SKINNER: I'd leave a health exception up to the judgment of doctors. And you've got to trust certified, licensed medical professionals to follow the law.
But more importantly, we could reduce the number of abortions if we started to get smart about sex education and the promotion of contraception. The numbers of teen pregnancies are dropping rapidly as we've been educating kids about contraceptives, and the federal government keeps pushing abstinence-only programs in schools. That doesn't work. It ends up creating situations where young women have to decide whether to keep a baby or abort it.
Why don't we get smart about it, as our allies have in the industrialized world and educate kids and equip them with tools so we can really make a dent in this problem?
ZORN: Affirmative action?
SKINNER: Even a conservative Supreme Court got this one right. The military brass said it was essential to having an effective fighting force, business leaders weighed in and said it is crucial for competitiveness in today's global economy. I went to the University of Michigan and experienced that diversity. I believe it personally helped me in a way that my otherwise all white hometown was unable to. And the next step to eliminating the need for affirmative action must be taken as Justice O'Connor said. I believe that means ensuring the same excellent opportunities in K-12 for all Americans, so that college admissions is truly based on equal opportunity.
ZORN: Gun rights?
SKINNER: This topic has been used unjustifiably as the boogeyman against many Democrats. Look, law-abiding citizens have every right to own a gun for protection, for hunting or just because they like guns. That's their right and their choice. But no one can break the laws with impunity. So when gun dealers are trafficking in illegal guns they should be prosecuted just as drug dealers and other criminals are. That line is really very clear.
ZORN: But there are proposals out there. Some advocate for the right for licensed citizens to carry concealed weapons. Do you favor that?
SKINNER: No, I don't believe in concealed carry. The Republicans have succeeded in using the gun issue to scare law abiding citizens into believing that any attempt to crack down on illegal gun activity is actually an attempt to go after them. That's like saying," if they go after drug dealers, that means you soon might not be able to buy a six-pack of beer" Well, no. There's a huge problem with illegal guns, straw purchasers and so on, and those people should be prosecuted. That has nothing to do with law-abiding citizens.
SKINNER: Against them. If a house is on fire, do you give a hand to only a few lucky pre-selected individuals or do you rescue everyone in the whole building? You save everybody, of course. We need to fix the whole school system. Vouchers, by taking money out of public schools to give to the lucky few, make things worse for the remaining many. I do agree with choice within the public school system, where the benefits of competition remain, without destroying the integrity of the public education system.
ZORN: You say "the lucky few," but most voucher advocates don't advocate vouchers for the lucky few, they say all school-aged children should receive education vouchers to spend at the school of their parents' choice.
SKINNER: :I don't know that that's necessarily true. The programs that have been tried have been pilot program where they issue a limited number of vouchers. If it were truly within the public school system and everybody got a voucher within the public school system, I'd be all for it, because I think you'd see the benefits of competition, which I do think are very important. Competition is a great tool to eliminate inefficiently.
But if the money were to go out the system altogether and into the private school system, you'd be leaving behind those kids who most need help with less money to deal with their problems.
ZORN: So if we're talking about a plan to give every school aged child a voucher worth $10,000 or so and open up the education system to the market economy?
SKINNER: I'd support a pilot program to do just that, within a small area, to test it. Absolutely. I think it's be complete chaos if you just said to everyone at once, "here are your vouchers, have at it." But within the public school system if you want to try something, within the public school system we can try pilot program for vouchers within a public school districts and see the results before we jump into this ad risk our kids educations.
ZORN: Wait...just within public schools?
SKINNER: There is some experience with "choice" already within Chicago and with almost a third of the students transferred, the jury is still out. The No Child Left Behind Act kicks into effect this fall with as many as 124,000 students eligible to transfer into better performing schools in Chicago and 20,000 from the suburbs. But a Tribune analysis found that there weren't nearly enough slots to meet the demand and that kids would have to be bused out of the district altogether.
Under the law, the school district is required to pay for the busing using up to 20% of the federal poverty assistance funds. After that they are no longer required to bus any more children. I think you can see what a mess all this is likely to be. That's why "choice" sounds like such an easy answer but you have to see how it will work. We do know what works already though: smaller class sizes, technology and resources like computers and incentive pay for teachers.
SKINNER: Who likes taxes? I haven't met anyone who does. But are incessant tax cuts that go only to the wealthiest good for our economy? Bush's economic record has proven supply-side (or trickle-on) economics wrong once again. It's not even the fairness issue here that's most important. We are in a demand-side recession with deflationary fears on the horizon. If an ordinary recession, a supply-side recession, is like a bad cold, deflation is like AIDS. We haven't dealt with it since the Depression. Japan has been mired in it for more than ten years.
Unless we face the threat of deflation, and get money into the hands of people who will spend it, the great middle class, we will continue on this great downward spiral. When the lion's share of the tax cuts go the people least likely to spend it, raising deficits to dangerous levels, there's a double whammy effect. As economic growth gets bogged down and job losses accelerate, the Bush administration is shifting the tax burden to those suffering the most, the great middle class.
Republicans are now defending deficits again (like the "fat is healthy" crowd), but our percentage of debt to GDP is greater then Argentina's was when their debt destroyed their economy. This administration has been misleading the US public on the budget numbers, consistently understating deficit projections by tens of billions of dollars, and the impact the two Bush tax cuts have had on the deficit.
The London Times reported that former Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neil, commissioned a report on future deficits. The Bush administration didn't like the answer, $44.6 trillion dollars. The administration shelved the order to get the last tax cut passed, and Paul O'Neil gets to spend more time with his family. The looting of the U.S. Treasury by this administration, as documented in their own reports, is an outrage.
ZORN: Gay rights?
SKINNER: This is another boogeyman topic for Democrats. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws to all Americans. It was meant to ensure that all citizens are treated equally by the government. Therefore, the government can't discriminate against anyone when it comes to the financial and legal protections of its citizens.
Private religious organizations, on the other hand, have the choice to believe and practice as they choose. Churches are not required to perform gay marriages. I believe that we can come to some accommodation that provides equal protection of the laws to all citizens, while still allowing religious freedom.
ZORN: What about gay marriage?
SKINNNER: I think there's a difference between the religious institution of marriage and the rights enjoyed under the law by married people. I believe the Constitution tells us that the government simply can't discriminate --- it can't provide insurance and financial and tax benefits to one group of people and not another group. We all have the same blue passport. But marriage is a different thing. It's a personal, religious choice.
ZORN: But marriage is in fact also a legal contract--a complicated one that comes with more than 1,000 benefits and obligations. And you seem to agree that society should allow same-sex couples to form unions that have every benefit and obligation of marriage. Do you? Does using the word "marriage" hang you up?
SKINNER The problem is that "marriage" is a legal construct based on a religious ceremony. The creation of civil unions allows the rights and benefits to be conferred on all citizens without the involvement of the religious entity. Whatever way a same-sex couple wants to commemorate that union should be a matter of personal preference.
ZORN: The proper role of the U.S. in the world?
SKINNER: Our proper role is certainly not the one we're playing right now. This administration has adopted what I call the Unabomber, or the Ted Kaczynski foreign policy: Isolate yourself from everybody, write a manifesto about pre-emptive war, and start shooting.
Under this administration, U.S. credibility with the rest of the world is gone. We had tremendous support and goodwill from the whole world following the 9/11 tragedy, and we squandered it faster than we wasted the Clinton/Gore surpluses. A recent Pew Research poll showed a shocking decline in our favorability ratings across the globe, with our allies in Europe and with countries in the Middle East and Asia, whose support we need to fight the war on terrorism.
We are creating enemies faster than we eliminate them.
It didn't just start after 9/11, I may add. The Bush administration alienated our best allies by breaking its promises and pulling out of the Kyoto Treaty process, the International Criminal Court which, ironically enough, was created to prosecute bloody tyrants like Saddam Hussein.
They pulled out of a biological weapons treaty and an arms treaty with Russia, the ABM treaty, that had provided nuclear security for more than 30 years. The administration employed an in-your-face, we'll-go-it-alone strategy, and now we're paying for it. The antagonism exhibited in the U.N. negotiations on Iraq was a product of this arrogance.
The administration made the negotiations worse by short-circuiting the weapons inspection process, and spurning input from any country. To the Bush administration, you're either with us or against us. And we lost most of the countries of the world..
Now the U.S. is bogged down occupying a hostile land, our soldiers shot and killed every day. It's costing far more than the administration ever suggested, $4 billion a month that the administration hasn't even included in the huge deficit for this year, and only 13,000 foreign troops are on the ground alongside our 150,000. We need more troops to secure the madness in Iraq. To do that, we need to eat some crow and re-engage our allies.
We need their troops and their financial support to deal with the world's trouble spots and rogue regimes. How strange is it that we're sending troops to Liberia while North Korea is busy churning out actual nuclear bombs. And the U.S. ignores the North Korean threat.
In short, we need to lead by example, not by bullying, and to develop cooperative and burden-sharing relationships with our allies. We need to go after Al Qaeda more forcefully, while mending relationships with our allies.
SKINNER: I saw how casinos have affected my hometown of Detroit. The downside never proved as bad as the critics alleged, and the upside has been amazing. Downtown Detroit has been reinvigorated, not only with casinos but with restaurants and other businesses.
If casinos are regulated well by state and local governments, they can aid a region economically.
Of course, gambling can be addictive, just as alcohol can. I'm not naive about that. But we don't ban alcohol because some become addicted. We can educate people about the dangers of gambling, just as we educate our citizens about the dangers of alcohol and smoking, without banning them.
ZORN: Airport expansion?
SKINNER: It's great to hear something's expanding! This economy is on life support, and we need all the oxygen we can get.
Expanding O'Hare and bringing quality jobs to the region is very important, but it is only one part of our regional transportation system. In addition to airport expansion, we need to get serious about high speed rail.
I support the Midwest High Speed Rail Project, which includes the hub in Chicago and high speed rail corridors from Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cincinnati and major cities of Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and St. Louis, as well as medium-sized cities in between, such as Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Bloomington, Springfield, and Madison.
Construction is under way for the St. Louis corridor, but funding is needed to complete the network. For $4 billion in federal funding we could construct a nine city high speed rail system throughout the Midwest, providing jobs, easing congestion, improving environmental quality by eliminating some automobile traffic, and providing travel options to many who have stopped traveling altogether, in this post 9/11 world.
Just one month's military bill in Iraq would pay to solve a major transportation challenge.
ZORN: The death penalty.
SKINNER: I'm opposed. The experience of Illinois tells us that the system is never going to be 100 percent perfect and therefore if we have a death penalty, we're going to put innocent people to death. And it costs more of our tax money to execute people than it does to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives.
If reforms in the system could make it 100 percent perfect, we could get into a moral discussion about capital punishment. But I personally don't believe you can tell people "thou shalt not kill so we're going to kill you."
ZORN: Now what about logistics. How big is your staff right now?
SKINNER: I have about half a dozen professionals on a volunteer steering committee. I have an advertising executive, , an election lawyer, a computer programmer, an IT guy and others with a nice range of skills and experiences. But it's still all volunteer.
ZORN; So you haven't spent any money or raised any money?
SKINNER: No, I just filed.
ZORN: With something like 18 likely candidates in the two major parties (and still counting), this is looking like the most expensive primary campaign in United States history.
SKINNER: Money is a problem. I think most people understand how obscene it is that you have to raise millions and millions of dollars if you want to serve your country in Congress. It's absurd. Nobody ever anticipated that the senate would be a millionaires club.
ZORN: You're telling me you're not a millionaire?
SKINNER: No, God, no. I'm an average working person, I have to have a paycheck to survive. I think that will work to my advantage. People will understand. That'll be part of my message. We should have candidates of conviction who have ideas and solutions, and they should have a chance even if they're not wealthy.
ZORN: But how do you get your message out?
SKINNER: My following is national and I'll be tapping into the vein (former Vermont Gov. and Democratic presidential hopeful) Howard Dean has tapped into-- the discontent among progressives out there who feel that nobody's willing to stand up and really speak the truth. You'll be surprised how much we'll raise on the internet.
ZORN: How are you going to campaign?
SKINNER: I'm going to reach out to people. I'm going to get on a campaign bus and go all over the state. It's going to be good old fashioned press-the-flesh, talk-to-people, listen-to-people politics. Crazy, isn't it?
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