Millionaire businessman Blair Hull was an early entry into the race for the Senate post from Illinois, throwing his hat into the ring before the incumbent Republican decided not to run again. Hull's background includes pro-choice issues, and also a battle to keep Title IX for women athletes.
WCT: I'd like to start with your business background, and how you think that translates into the political arena.
HULL: I think it starts earlier than that. First of all, I'm not a professional politician. The only offices that I've had were related to business. It really starts with my parents. They worked hard during the Depression, and they were FDR Democrats. They struggled. I did, too, I had all kinds of jobs when I was growing up, such as working in a factory, taught high school math and physics. And I also served four years in the military, in the Army.
WCT: What years were those?
WCT: Where were you during that time?
HULL: I was in Texas. It was only after that time that I was able to start a successful business here in Illinois.
WCT: Was it immediately after the Army that you did that?
HULL: No, I worked at a manufacturing company. And later became a market maker on the options exchange. The business I started was related to trading, and it helped automate the process. So in a way, my political life began then because I was challenging the exchanges, and the status quo, and the old boy's network, to fight to level the playing field by automating the process. The computer allowed everybody to be equal.
WCT: Were you aware of social changes during the time, and what type of an employer were you?
HULL: Certainly in terms of all kinds of discrimination ... that first starts with my parents, who didn't have a bone of discrimination in them. So I grew up with that. I did fight for gender equality. I took pro-active steps ... I have three daughters and one son, and I had a mother who worked. I saw how my mother was discriminated against, I saw how my daughters were discriminated against.
WCT What did your mother do?
HULL: She worked with the Department of Employment. ... I became very active in the pro-choice movement of the late '80s. There was a situation in 1992 regarding my daughter and athletics—they cut her women's volleyball team at her college. And we fought to have it reinstated in 1993. With my help, there was a lawsuit brought against the university. They won the lawsuit. The NCAA and the men's programs put all their efforts behind this case. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision [regarding enforcement of] Title IX. And since that time, we've had an increase in women's athletics by approximately 50% because of that action. That gave me some sense that you really can make a change. ... My daughter was one of the nine plaintiffs in that case. I helped sponsor a documentary on that, On Equal Ground. ... Another daughter went to the same school and played on the volleyball team ... which would not have existed had the other daughter not fought.
WCT: How long have you been thinking about running for office?
HULL: I think I planned my life to never run for public office. I had been involved in the term limits issue during the late 1980s and early 1990s. I felt we needed to change the process in some way. ... I think the old establishment, especially when you develop relationships with special interests, especially corporate special interests, is damaging to the system. Representative government, the way we originally set it up, where a person could go to Congress for two years and then come home and do his job, is a better model.
WCT: When you were first looking at this Senate race, incumbent Republican Peter Fitzgerald was still in the race—it wasn't going to be an open seat.
HULL: It came up in a discussion for the Democrats, that in order to beat Peter Fitzgerald, the Democrats would need someone who could be substantially self-financed. It was under that assumption that I initially got involved.
WCT: Was the Democratic Party courting you?
HULL: No. Courting would not be the right word. I did have dinner with the mayor. The mayor suggested I look at this seat.
WCT: Since Fitzgerald dropped out, what is the situation now?
HULL: There was some sense from a number of sources that one of the reasons [Fitzgerald] did drop out, was because he didn't want to face me. But after that time, I realized that the reasons that I was running are still valid, and that my voice would be an effective voice in the Senate.
WCT: How did you decide on the Senate?
HULL: First of all, seldom do you have an opportunity to beat an incumbent. So your opportunities to serve at the federal level are limited.
WCT: What Congressional district are you in?
HULL: I'm in Danny Davis's district. So I considered running for the Congressional seat, but did not feel it was [for me]. In that consideration, it came out that perhaps the Senate would be a better place for me than the Congress. That was the first time I'd ever thought about running for public office.
WCT: Can you focus on your top three or so mainstream issues?
HULL: Certainly healthcare is a major issue. It's astonishing that we have 44 million people with no health insurance. Every sixth person doesn't have any healthcare. It's astonishing that we spend twice as much as the average industrialized country on healthcare. ... I am also just amazed that the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies write our legislation. That's why our drugs cost twice as much here as they do in Canada. I have a definitive plan to get us out of this healthcare crisis. First is to expand existing programs to cover the chronically ill, children, young adults, and early retirees. That covers part of the uninsured. But what it does in addition, which is totally unique, is create a new government plan that anyone can buy into for 7.5% of your income. So I'm advocating building a new system, allowing the old system to work—you're not taking away from anybody who has good health insurance. It allows us to build a new system to compete with the old system. So it's a rebuilding over the long-term.
WCT: What has been the response to your trips with the elderly to buy cheaper drugs in Canada?
HULL: It's interesting, the federal government doesn't want to help its citizens get less expensive drugs. We've gotten no official responses. We've had some negative calls by pharmacists who have a vested interest in people not going across the border. I think that is a short-term solution, not a long-term solution. The long-term solution is to allow the government to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies in the same way other countries negotiate. That is prohibited in the current Medicare bill that just passed. That's why this Medicare bill is such a disaster. It doesn't control costs at all. ... It's too expensive.
WCT: What other mainstream issues?
HULL: If you look at the disparity that we have in the healthcare system, it relates to the disparity that we have in our society. The gap between the rich and the poor has doubled. The top one percent earns twice as much relative to the rest of the population as they did 25 years ago. That relates to the disparity that we have in our education system. ... We have the best schools in Illinois, and we have the worst schools.
WCT: You are in that one percent—so how can you be effective making those changes, talking to other senators who are also mostly in that one percent?
HULL: I think I can be an effective voice in that. You have to look at why this has occurred. Because I have been 30 years in business. ... I'm not just going to be advocating for progressive issues. I'm looking for long-term solutions that will really restore some equity to our society. One of those is, if you look at free trade agreements, it has greatly increased the productivity of our world, but most of that increase in productivity has gone exclusively to the multinational corporations. If you look at real wages in the rest of the world, [most have gone down]. And real wages in the United States are flat. One of the issues is restoring labor standards, environmental standards, human-rights standards, to our trade agreements.
WCT: Did you take a position on the war?
HULL: I would have voted against the resolution. I felt we have 250 inspectors and that should have been expanded. I thought it was ironic that we went to war because we couldn't find weapons of mass destruction. I thought we needed a coalition. It's becoming a smaller world, we need to work with our allies.
WCT: What would your foreign policy approach be?
HULL: I think the Cuba embargo is a mistake. We helped Saddam Hussein at one time, we need to have a consistent policy. Certainly international cooperation is one of the areas I would stress. Coming back without an alternative at Kyoto was a mistake [the environmental conference].
WCT: On healthcare, what are your approaches on a domestic and world AIDS response?
HULL: I was encouraged by the fact that President Bush said he would spend $15 billion to stop the spread of AIDS. I believe he has only spent $2 billion, but that's been a lot to faith-based initiatives that have turned their back on family planning.
WCT: What causes do you contribute to in Chicago? I know you received an award from Personal PAC for your pro-choice work.
HULL: I certainly have been a supporter of Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal Defense Fund, HRC, Test Positive Aware Network. I've been supportive of those organizations.
WCT: What is your position on same-sex marriage?
HULL: It goes back to equal rights. We have to make sure we have equal rights.
WCT: There are more than 1,000 federal benefits of marriage. Is there a compromise that can make this equal?
HULL: I think the key issue is equal rights. Whether it's called marriage or civil unions, is less important than that it is equal rights.
WCT: So you don't prefer to call it marriage?
HULL: I don't have a preference to what you call it.
WCT: What about adoption and foster care for gay and lesbian parents?
HULL: It all goes back to what is best for the child ... . I would not discriminate against a same-sex partnership or a heterosexual partner. It should be up to the judge or the agency.
WCT: What about the military gay ban?
HULL: Don't ask, don't tell doesn't work. We need a more open policy.
WCT: What is your position on hate-crimes laws?
HULL: When a criminal is specifically targeting that one group, it is appropriate we have stronger laws. I do support hate-crime legislation.
WCT: What can help the Employment Non-Discrimination Act? When the Democrats were in control, it did not pass either.
HULL: I have certainly have been good at working with other people in business. You have to get along with your employees, regulators and your competitors. I would work effectively with other people. In terms of ENDA, I think many times Democrats have to stick up for their values and what is right. I'm not going to take compromising positions with regards to discrimination.
WCT: How do you distinguish from the other Democrats?
HULL: I think, with the exception of Nancy Skinner and Joyce Washington, I'm the only non-politician. I'm the only person who served in the military. I'm the only person who built a successful business. I'm the only person who actually taught school in the classroom.
WCT: On the Democratic side ...
HULL: Me and [Republican] Jack Ryan! ... I've got a record of challenging the status quo. You can't challenge the status quo unless you're independent of special interests. That's why our campaign—I'm the only candidate, Democrat or Republican, who has not taken any special interest contributions. ... If you want business as usual, the status quo, do not vote for Blair Hull.
WCT: You are in a strong position to do that. Other candidates don't have that ability, especially the Democrats. Is that a fair system—how can that system be changed?
HULL: We need public financing on campaigns. We need to eliminate special interests' impact on campaigns.
WCT: You have done a lot of outreach into the gay and lesbian community over the past year.
HULL: It is tough to get to all segments of the state. We have been doing this for a long time. The people we are pleased to have include Greg Simoncini, Ellen Meyers, Vernita Gray, who have endorsed us.
WCT: So in sum, why should people support Hull for Senate?
HULL: There are a lot of aspects that impact the gay and lesbian community, that go beyond discrimination. Whether it's healthcare and providing for the chronically ill, whether it's an educational issue. In terms of my being able to get the economy going, I am the only candidate who has actually created jobs, and paid a payroll. I think that total background in terms of fighting discrimination, being able to get things done, having a record of running a business, sets me apart.
More political interviews in upcoming Windy City Times. See Dan Hynes and Barak Obama interviews in last week's WCT, online at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .