Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes is among the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate March 16.
WCT: Let's start with your political experience and how you feel it lends itself to being a U.S. Senator?
Dan Hynes: I think my experience as state comptroller is directly relevant and beneficial to serving in the U.S. Senate. No. 1, some of the most important issues are budgetary, fiscal, and economy. And I have direct experience in those areas, as chief financial officer of this state. Nobody can say that they've done more, in terms of shaping fiscal policy, and being a real advocate for budgetary reform and responsibility, and all of those are directly tied to the economy and improving our economic prospects.
WCT: How does the comptroller impact the state budget?
Hynes: We implement the state budget. We do all the financial reports. We issue monthly, quarterly, and annual financial reports on the current state of affairs, and also on ways to improve our financial performance. More than that, I have been very proactive, outspoken and I think successful in shaping fiscal policy by advocating for policy changes that will help Illinois improve its financial standing and provide for the people of Illinois. I was the main proponent, and the main reason why we achieved a rainy day fund in Illinois. These were important for all of our healthcare providers, all of our social providers who depend on timely payments and stabilized payments from the state of Illinois. I have pushed for truth in budgeting, and other stabilizing measures, so we have an honest and fair budget. So the reason why the comptroller is important for those things is because I have a direct responsibility for financial activities, but I also have credibility to advocate for these types of reforms.
I also wanted to say that there are several reasons why my experience translates well to the Senate. First is, the fiscal background. The second is legislative experience. I have worked with the legislature, passed legislation by building coalitions and drafting legislation, everything from fiscal reforms to prompt payment reforms to corporate corruption and anti-corruption measures, to local government improvements, in terms of financial reporting. And I've also been involved in the legislative process for issues that aren't even fiscal. Senate Bill 101 [the gay-rights bill], for example. I am not afraid, and I have been willing to become a legislative activist for issues that I care about, even if they're not budgetary. And the third reason, the third experience, that I think is relevant, is just leadership. I'm the only person who's served in an executive position of [state] government, and while I'm hoping to move into a legislative position, I think that being an executive, and being in a leadership position, is extremely important when much of what you do in the United States Senate is not press a button and take a vote. It takes leadership to build coalitions to get passage of bills, to mobilize people behind an idea, to be able to communicate to a broad audience about the future and direction of our country. It's not just being able to read a bill and press a button, and to understand legislative procedure, parliamentary procedure. It's about leadership.
WCT: On SB 101, some of your supporters are not supporters of gay rights. Can you talk about what you did in lobbying your allies to change their votes, and why the gay community should vote for you even if you have anti-gay backers?
Hynes: The first thing I would say is I don't think that's a fair standard to judge anyone by. It's not fair to judge me, and it's not fair to judge other candidates. And having said that, I think there are other candidates who could just as easily be labeled with that. And I don't think it's fair. ... You can't be guilty by association. More importantly than that, I am willing to go beyond my own personal actions. I have signed a letter in support of SB 101, a public letter. I have written letters to the editor. I went to the rotunda of the Capitol and participated in a press conference. I believe I was the only constitutional officer to do it, and that was with statewide media there, it wasn't just on the lakefront. I went because I believe in this cause. This is what I've done, publicly, personally. I've shown that I'm willing to go beyond that. I want to help pass SB 101. That's why I called legislators. That's why I've written those letters to the editor, contacted those swing vote Senators and Reps whose votes were needed to get it passed. I've reached out, and I've actually been successful in converting a vote or two. I don't want to name names, but there's been one, maybe two people who I believe switched their votes largely because of the conversation I had with them. I've strategically worked with Sen. Carol Ronen, with Equality Illinois, to try to get SB 101 passed.
WCT: Why do you think these Democrats—many who know the gay vote was critical to getting them the majority in the state House and Senate, and the governor's office—oppose gay rights? Is is moral or political? Do you have a litmus test for your supporters? Are there larger issues a candidate should hold their supporters accountable to—choice issues, affirmative action?
Hynes: I don't know where I'd draw the line. I personally believe that closing people out like that hurts the cause of whatever you're trying to achieve. I believe that I'm better off keeping the relationship intact. And maybe, when I'm a U.S. Senator, I have even more influence on these legislators. ... To basically turn your back on someone and say, 'I don't think you're a morally acceptable person, I don't wish to have your support,' I think that's actually destructive.
WCT: What is your mainstream agenda for the Senate?
Hynes: I [have] put forward a comprehensive, detailed plan to create jobs for Illinois and America. It is a comprehensive, statewide plan for job creation. And I believe it's the most important issue in this election. We have been misserved in the last few years, by failed economic policies, a lack of planning, and a basic belief system by the Bush administration that tax cuts are the answer to everything. I offer an alternative, a job creation plan that goes to what's most important. Investing in our infrastructure and our transportation systems, and doing so in an equal way to what we're investing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Making sure we have a manufacturing policy in this country which will guarantee that we have a vibrant and growing manufacturing sector for middle-class Americans and people trying to get ahead. And looking at our trade agreements to make sure they're fair trade agreements that allow our workers and our country to compete in a global marketplace.
Secondly, I've put forward probably the only comprehensive plan for corporate accountability and retirement security. A detailed plan that will crack down on corporate misbehavior and malfeasance and also take proactive steps to protect people's retirement savings. ... Creating universal retirement savings accounts so that people have one vehicle for their retirement savings accounts, instead of 16 ... . Third, on education, the principles are, No. 1, going right to the No Child Left Behind Act and reforming it, so that we can truly put in place accountability measures that allow our children to have great educational opportunities that do not pull dollars away from our districts, our schools and our children and put unfunded mandates on our school districts, and unreasonable expectations and demands that have created chaos for our schools.
WCT: Are you referring to vouchers?
Hynes: Yes, choice, which is a slippery slope towards vouchers. Fourth would be healthcare. I was a healthcare attorney before I became comptroller. My wife is a physician. I have some great ideas for reforming our healthcare system, with the ultimate goal of providing affordable healthcare for every American.
WCT: What about domestic and world AIDS issues, as well as Medicare reform?
Hynes: It will incorporate both. I think we need to immediately move towards improving the Medicare prescription drug plan that was passed, because it is flawed in many ways. We need to make sure that we are not using Medicare prescription drug coverage to lure seniors into managed care HMOs. We need to make sure that we allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices, so we can lower them for everyone, not just people in Medicare. We need to eliminate the gaps in coverage that exist in the recently passed Medicare prescription drug plan. And several other flaws that I think need to be fixed. Our plan would call for an immediate amendment to that plan.
On AIDS funding, generally speaking, the two principles on AIDS funding are we need to increase it at all levels, from the federal level on down, and two, we have to stop any movement towards tying funding to abstinence-only programs, which I think is a not-so-hidden agenda of the Bush administration. It's not hidden in what they're trying to accomplish statutorally, but it is hidden in the fact that they're already doing it administratively. [It is] believed [by AIDS advocates] that agencies that are not abstinence-only are being audited at a higher rate.
WCT: If you had been in the Senate during the vote for war, what would you have done?
Hynes: I think what's most important is not what would we or should we have done, especially since none of the candidates running for Senate were in the Senate or Congress at the time. So what's most important is what do we demand and expect right now. And that is, we demand, what we should have demanded all along, a true international coalition that will be fully invested in this process of rebuilding Iraq and share the burden of doing so. We need a real plan to rebuild Iraq, to put forward a sovereign government, and to allow our soldiers to come home. What my position is, I, like many Americans, am angry about the fact that we were basically misled by this president. And this situation has been mishandled from the very beginning. Making the postwar situation much worse than it should have been and much worse than we were told it would be. ... I also think it is the unifying issue among Democrats. Now, every reporter wants you to go back and ask what you would have done. Had I been in the U.S. Senate, given the information we were presented with at the time, I would have supported the resolution to remove Saddam Hussein.
WCT: If the Senate stays Republican-controlled, how do you feel you can have an impact?
Hynes: I think I will be able to have an impact. First of all, I would work very well with Sen. Dick Durbin. As a freshman senator, look at my record as comptroller. When I was became comptroller, I was 30 years old. The new guy in town, the youngest constitutional officer since World War II, facing a governor who had been in office almost as long as I'd been alive, legislative leaders who collectively had over a century of government experience. It was, I think, an expectation that I was going to go with the program and learn the ropes and just be part of the way things are. And I didn't do that. I made an impact. I stood up to the governor, criticized his financial decisions and fiscal policies, I froze member initiatives and pork projects, angering leaders of my own party, because I felt it was wrong. I am willing to take a stand and make my mark, and I think that's what we need in the Senate, somebody who, even in the minority position, you're able to rise above that, and make a difference nonetheless. It seems contradictory, but it's not, that I'm also, despite the fact that I take strong stands and speak my mind and I'm willing to go against the grain, I'm also very good at working across the aisle, building coalitions, and working with people. The legislation that I have passed had bipartisan sponsorship.
WCT: Do you think the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act should include gender identity?
Hynes: I do support ENDA, and I do think it should be inclusive. What I want to achieve as a U.S. Senator is full equality for all Americans, and all couples. For domestic partners, and for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, I believe that that has to be our goal. To take the first step toward that goal, we have to pass an employment non-discrimination act so that people can work where they want, when they are qualified to do so, and not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. It should go further than that. I think people should be able to serve in the military regardless of their sexual orientation and whether they say it, whisper it, scream it or don't say it at all. I believe that we need to have equality in our immigration acts, and I support the Permanent Partner Immigration Act. I believe that we should have benefits for same-sex partners, starting with federal employees, and then on to all partners in America.
WCT: Are you in favor of actual equal marriage rights for gays?
Hynes: I oppose a constitutional amendment. They should repeal [the Defense of Marriage Act]. Beyond that, the states are going to make that decision. But I believe that the federal government should do what it can to enable and even persuade the states to provide full benefits for same-sex couples.
WCT: Does that mean marriage?
WCT: Do you think it's a matter of semantics? Some people say full benefits, for others the line in the sand is full marriage. If it's not equal, it's not marriage. Is it that society is just not ready for the 'm' word.
Hynes: What I want to achieve is equality and equal benefits for same-sex partners. With an emphasis on benefits. I think that this is really what we're talking about, is making sure that same-sex partners have the same benefits that my wife and I have. You can visit a loved one in the hospital, you can get healthcare, pensions, tax treatments, estate planning, all of those things. But at the same time, I view DOMA and the constitutional amendment defining marriage as nothing more than mean-spirited legislative attempts to divide people, scare and hurt people. And I don't support that.
WCT: What about hate crimes. What is the role of federal government?
Hynes: I obviously support hate-crimes legislation, including crimes committed due to the victim's sexual orientation. I support it because I obviously think it's wrong for someone to perpetrate that type of crime, but I also think it's part of society's obligation to raise awareness to discrimination. I think we should take additional steps by increasing penalties, and adding more types of crimes covered.
WCT: The Boy Scouts take public funding but want to be considered a private group which has the right to discriminate against gays ...
Hynes: I don't think groups that receive federal funding should be allowed to discriminate.
WCT: What about a woman's right to choose?
Hynes: I'm pro-choice, and there hasn't been federal legislation that I believe would pass my internal test of support, but the most recent attempt to ban late-term abortions I believe was unconstitutional, and dangerous to women, and I oppose it.
WCT: Affirmative action ...
Hynes: I support affirmative action. I believe the University of Michigan case is probably the best example of why we need it, because I believe affirmative action is about opportunity.
WCT: What about your support in the gay community?
Hynes: Ald. Tom Tunney and Rep. Larry McKeon are among my supporters. The approach is to continue what I've done for several years, which is to fight for the issues I believe in, let people know where I stand on issues, and try to add a presence in the community at events, and also try to directly communicate to members of the GLBT community.