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Interview with John Fritchey [18 February, 2009]

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Democrat John Fritchey is currently the 11th District State Representative.  He’s also among the many candidates seeking to fill Rahm Emanuel’s recently vacated seat in Illinois’s Fifth Congressional District.  Fritchey has a reputation as a progressive and is backed by a number of labor unions.  He spoke to Windy City Times about his views on gay marriage, DADT, hate crimes legislation and his stand on labor-related issues.  The primary will take place on March 3 and the general election on April 7.

Windy City Times: What are your views on gay marriage?

John Fritchey: Since long before I was in the legislature, and the 12 years I have been a state representative, I have been supportive of equal rights across the board regardless of consideration of sexual orientation, race, gender [and] age.

WCT: But would you support a state or federal law that legalized gay marriage?

JF: I’m more concerned with the rights that come with the institution than with the institution itself. Accordingly, I support the idea that each and every right that’s extended to every couple by virtue of the institution of marriage be extended to same-sex couples as well.  I don’t care what government or anybody else wants to call it.  I think at the end of the day what I want to do is make sure is that we recognize the institution for everybody.

WCT: What about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”

JF: It was a terrible idea whose time not only has come but whose time never existed.

WCT: What are your views on hate-crimes legislation?

JF: I have been a co-sponsor of, I believe, every piece of legislation strengthening penalties and extending coverage of hate crimes since I’ve been in office and I will continue to do so.

WCT: Progressive organizations like the Audre Lorde Project and the American Friends Service Committee are critical of hate-crimes legislation, especially with regard to penalty enhancement.  They feel that these laws only increase the rates of incarceration, especially among the poor and minorities.

JF: I’m aware of their position on the issue.  In a perfect world, there would be no hate crimes so there would be no legislation punishing hate crimes.  But we, of course, don’t live in a perfect world and, until such time as we do, I believe we need to take significant action against repugnant behavior.

WCT: What ideas do you have for prevention of hate violence?

JF: I think that the best defense is a good offense, and the best offense will come through education.

Obviously, we need to work on educating our adult community but a long-term solution rests on educating children.  The beautiful thing about children is they are inherently free of biases, be it based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation.  Prejudice is taught and learned.  Tolerance should be as well.

WCT: Can you speak more specifically about what that education looks like?

JF: When I talk about education, I don’t mean only within a child’s school, but also within their homes, their family and their community.  These prejudices have been passed down from generation to generation.  There’s some very direct parallel between hate crimes aimed towards the LGBT community and those that we saw aimed at African Americans and other minorities in the past.  What we need is structural social change.

WCT: In relation to that, what are your views on the plan for an LGBTQ high school?

JF: I have certain reservations only because it strikes me as having the potential to segregate communities rather than integrate them.  I would rather see LGBTQ curricula incorporated as part of traditional learning.  By that I mean options to study issues on particular importance to the community, and discussions on tolerance for all children.  My concern is that having a school of that nature, as well-intended as it may be, may serve to be a refuge rather than an institution for enlightenment.  The idea is to tear down walls, not to build new ones.

WCT: What are your views on passing anti-bullying measures?

JF: I’ve sponsored legislation in the past regarding bullying issues in the classroom.  Bullying tends to be the building block for hate crimes down the road.  I don’t just blame the child that engages in the bullying activity; I blame the society that taught him to do that.

WCT: There has been some controversy regarding Sara Feigenholtz’s polling strategies.

JF: I did not get in this race to run against anybody.  I got in this race to run for an office.  Yet, days after I was in the race, Sara had put out a poll alleging, among other things, that I was running my campaign out of a taxpayer-funded district office.  That was wholly untrue, which her campaign either knew or should have known.  It set a very unfortunate tone.  I think the responsible thing would have been for Sara to acknowledge that they had done it, and that it was a mistake and move on.  Yet to this day, she won’t do something as fundamental as accept responsibility for a poll that everybody knows was hers.  That sets a troubling tone not just for the campaign but for a lack of transparency in how she operates.  It was an avoidable situation.

WCT: The issue of transparency brings me to the question of Illinois having become known as a bastion of corruption.  How would you remedy that perception and even the reality?

JF: I have sponsored more ethics reform legislation than any legislator in Illinois; over two dozen pieces of legislation in the last decade.  I was the author of legislation that was at the core of the condition of George Ryan.  Most recently, I sponsored the law banning pay to play politics in Illinois.  I’ve been a steadfast believer that all government, including state government, belongs to the people and should be treated as such.

WCT: How do you differentiate yourself from Rahm Emanuel?

JF: Rahm has a very contentious style, which works very well for him.  Because of my background, I’m inclined to work with individuals and groups across the spectrum.  Everybody finds a style that works best for them: That’s the style that works best for me.

WCT: You’ve been endorsed by a number of labor unions.  Can you speak about the connection between labor issues and social and cultural issues, especially in the context of this economy?

JF: I have a 97 percent lifetime labor record and I’m proud to have the endorsement of the AFL-CIO.  Standing up for working men and women means more than just supporting more jobs in a better economy.  It means supporting a healthy and viable workplace for those men and women.  So whether it’s a living wage, access to health care or a workplace tolerant of workers’ natural languages—the issue of standing up for workers’ rights is a broad one.  Advocating for more jobs is simply one part of that.

WCT: What are your views on the stimulus package?

JF: There’s no question that a stimulus package was needed and it will have lasting benefits not only in terms of the physical changes it will bring to our city and state but in the lives of the men and women that will bring those changes about.  We are about to invest dramatically in everything from physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges to human infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.  This will change life not just for us but for generations to come.

WCT: Any parting thoughts?

JF: Ordinarily candidates run on campaign promises about what they are going to do.  I’m running my campaign showing people what I’ve done.  I’m confident that when people look at my record, they’re going to like what they see.  Past performance is the best indicator of future behavior.

Originally published in Windy City Times, February 18, 2009

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