Live Chat: Blue America Welcomes Fred Johnson (D-MI)

One of the sharpest candidates running for the House this year is Dr. Fred Johnson in western Michigan, for a seat being abandoned by the ever-ambitious twitterer Pete Hoekstra. In April Fred did a great guest post at DWT on education and societal priorities— well worth reading. Today, Blue America’s latest endorsed candidate, he’s joining us for a live blogging session below in the comments section.

Before we get into the reasons we’ve endorsed Fred for the seat, I want to mention that he gave us an autographed copy of a book he wrote with Tayannah Lee McQuillar, Tupac Shakur: The Life And Times Of An American Icon which we will be giving away to a randomly selected donor today. To qualify for the drawing, please give any amount– there is no minimum– at the Blue America PAC page. You might be interested in knowing that all the money donated through this page this weekend will be put towards campaign advertising on Michigan blogs.

A former marine and a genuine progressive, Fred is well positioned to take advantage of the rapidly changing demographics and political identifications in the district. 2008 saw a huge jump in the Democratic vote throughout the district. This was delivered primarily through the top-notch voter registration and GOTV efforts of the Campaign for Change. The district now has a whopping 45,000 first time voters, who can deliver this seat to Fred in November. Despite the fact that conventional wisdom calls this a safe Republican district, it is very much worth noting that Senator Levin won here with 53% of the vote, and President Obama fell just short, at 48.5%. This district is turning purple rapidly, and 2010 can complete the process.

To give you a sense of Fred’s priorities, here’s a statement he gave me soon after I first met him this spring:

There are two interrelated issues that command the attention of any freshman progressive Representative: financial reform and campaign finance reform. The hard fact is that the two are so intertwined as to be inseparable.

The mavens of Wall Street have proven both their incompetence, and their venality. Only the strongest possible financial reform package will stop another catastrophe from hitting our economy. As a historian, I strongly reject the revisionism currently in vogue on the right, and feel that the reimposition of Glass-Steagall, and a whole host of strong reform measures is now demanded of Congress by the American people. This is one area where I diverge from the President. I believe we need stronger financial reform. Too big to fail is just plain too big.

But, how do we get there when the lobbyists and PACs of Wall Street have so much influence? My number one priority upon taking office will be the Fair Elections Now Act. This bill is a great first step in leveling the playing field at election time. But we need to do more. I strongly support the package of legislation being drafted by Rep. Frank and his colleagues in the Banking Committee. We need to take every avenue available to us to undo the destruction of the last vestiges of fairness in our campaign system wrought by the Citizens United decision.

Whether it be through statutory restrictions on the political activities of corporations or, at minimum, much greater influence on the part of shareholders, we must strongly address campaign finance in order to have any chance at real reforms in other areas.

There are virtually no problems our country faces that can be solved without first solving the way the ruling elites can buy and sell our politicians and manipulate our system for their own benefit. One that Fred would very much like to address — as would the people living along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore has to do with protecting the environment, something very much treasured for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities by most of the people living there. I say “most” because, believe it or not, there are Big Oil corporate types and the Republicans who they finance and who serve their interests who actually want to drill for oil in the Great Lakes! I’m not kidding. Just last week Pat Toomey, an ex-congressman running for the Pennsylvania Senate seat was yelling about drilling in the Great Lakes again, despite the fact that they contain some 20% of all the world’s surface fresh water and that even a smaller spill than the BP Gulf disaster could contaminate every drop of drinking water for 40 million people and destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs. What is wrong with these people?

“The level of debate regarding energy policy,” Fred told me a few days ago, “just amazes me. Here you have a disaster of unprecedented scope, and yet there is very little of what I would call ‘jumping up and down’ in Washington. I mean, good grief, if this doesn’t wake people up on energy policy, what will it take? What we’ve actually seen is a calcification of the partisan positions that are out there– which I don’t mind on our side because I know we’re on the right track. But there hasn’t been one single Republican who has moved in the direction of strong changes to our energy policy — not one!

I also wonder what the endpoint is of this process. When you have elected officials responding to this disaster by proposing greater deregulation of the oil and gas industry, where does that lead us? Do we end up with oil drilling in the Great Lakes? That’s the kind of thing that gets voters in my district just going crazy.

But we have to see this as all interconnected. If you don’t want drilling in the Great Lakes, then you have to send folks to Washington who get the picture on energy policy. And I’m doing my best to lead on this locally– I talk about it with voters all the time. That’s why I’ve been very supportive of wind power here– against some of the usual NIMBYism. We just gotta do this stuff.


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