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ELECTIONS, 14th Dist. Cook Co. Daniel Roldan-Johnson, openly gay teacher, on the issues
Extended for the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Daniel Roldan-Johnson, who is openly gay, is running in the Democratic primary against several other candidates: Lauren Underwood, George Weber, Victor Swanson, John Hosta, Matthew Brolley and Jim Walz ( who ran in the 2016 general election against incumbent Rep. Randy Hultgren ). He currently teaches middle-school social studies in Volo, Illinois.

Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?

Daniel Roldan-Johnson: I really believe that Congress is not representing middle class people like myself. I am a teacher and former law enforcement. My family was lower middle class growing up. If you look at the tax bill the House just voted on it seems to really benefit the top one percent and corporations. It will not benefit the middle class that much and I think that is true of a lot of legislation that is working its way through Congress right now.

People all across the country have seen the rise of extremism since the last election. A lot of hate speech has seeped into our political institutions and many people are frustrated with that. They want Congress to work and government overall to work as well as real solutions and I want to be, even in a small way, a part of bringing about that change that I feel most people want. I also think Congress should be holding the White House accountable. The founders created the system of checks and balances for a very good reason so that each branch of government can hold the other ones accountable. Right now Congress is not holding the executive branch accountable and that is really why I decided to run.

WCT: How would you approach the job differently than what the incumbent has done in the past? If elected, will you hold regular town halls in the district?

DRJ: The biggest difference between myself and Rep. Hultgren is I want to hold forums so I can talk to people. I do not believe Rep. Hultgren is holding the executive branch accountable in any way whatsoever . You can just go on Twitter and Facebook and hear the frustration of people in the district because Rep. Hultgren is not listening to their needs. He is listening to a small group of big donors and that is something I will absolutely change if given the opportunity to serve as the district's next congressperson.

WCT: There are [several] other candidates. What makes you stand out among them?

DRJ: Any of us would do an amazing job compared to Rep. Hultgren. In terms of myself, growing up was hard. When I was very young my dad often did not have a job. He was a part-time contract worker. Then he became a pastor. We had to often rely on either government assistance or the goodwill of others to get by. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school. I did not have anyone in my life to ask simple questions about what to do if I wanted to apply for college and how to access funding for my tuition. I have always had a fierce determination to make my life better and those around me better. I think that the combination of my upbringing coming from almost nothing to where I am now, that drive and the empathy I feel for others because I want them to do better helps me stand out from the other candidates.

WCT: Where do you fall on the spectrum politically? Would you say you are more of a centrist or to the far left or somewhere in between?

DRJ: I would say I am in between. My husband is to the far left so when I am talking to him I seem more centrist but overall I am pretty left of center.

WCT: What are the most important issues facing the country and how would you address those issues if elected?

DRJ: The single biggest issue, and it is only going to be exacerbated by the recent tax bill, is income inequality. Democracies are in need of a strong middle class in order to survive and we have gotten to where we are in the word because we have a strong middle class. I deeply disagree with the current tax bill. If you look at the economic data the top one percent and corporations have never done better . They have profits coming out their ears. There is such a disconnect with many current members of congress. We need a patriotic tax policy and if your income is more than a million dollars you pay your fair share so that we can continue to have a strong middle class.

I also think climate change is a serious issue. The entire planet is a part of the Paris Climate Accords but the current administration took us out of that agreement when, in my opinion, climate change is a national security issue. We do need to address it. We cannot continue to stand by and let other nations, both in the developed and developing world, innovate in green technologies without us because we are going to be left behind. This is our future and we need to focus on that. We only have one planet and we need to protect it. We can do it if we just decide to.

Infrastructure is also important. We need better road, bridges, railroads, airports and data access. If you look at net neutrality one of the issues that some of the people argue about why we need it is because it is going to cost trillions of dollars to build out the system and yes while it is expensive I do not think we need to close off the pipeline so people have to pay extra in order to build it out. We can build it out but it will take public/private partnerships to do that. All of our infrastructure is important if we want to lead the world in creating jobs.

WCT: What grade level should civics be introduced and built upon in subsequent years?

DRJ: I teach eighth-grade social studies and we recently took a little detour from the curriculum to look at the geography of the United States because it is appalling to me that so few American adults cannot identify, for example, Australia on the map or understand the difference between the continent of Africa and the country of South Africa.

There are so many problems that arise in our democracy because we are not teaching civics in school. I would start it in first grade and teach it all the way through because I think civics should be required every year. We have the lowest voter turnout among the industrialized nations of the developed world because we are not teaching civics. There are so many things that are happening that should not be happening because we are not teaching civics.

WCT: Have you had any interactions with the LGBTQ community? If so, what are they?

DRJ: I grew up in an evangelical fundamentalist staunchly religious household. I was kicked out when I was 17 and if it were not for one set of grandparents that took me in I would have been homeless. That is a tragedy that seems to play out all across the country in certain households where if you decide to be brave and live your truth as an LGBTQ or non-binary person you can get kicked out. There are so few homeless shelters that are dedicated to protecting, supporting and helping LGBTQ youth.

Luckily, I had the support of my grandparents and I built a family of my own with straight allies and other gay people. I am now in the position where I can be openly gay as a teacher. My husband and I have a very strong LGBTQ community at our church, at work, with friends and thankfully, recently, my parents have come around after all these years so that is a good thing too.

WCT: What do you see are the most important issues or obstacles facing the LGBTQ community and how would you address them?

DRJ: The biggest obstacle at the moment in the country are the so-called religious freedom laws. I am a man of faith and I believe strongly in religious freedom. These laws have nothing to do with religious freedom. They are an attempt, and we have seen this in American history in the past, to hide bigotry behind a law. I am hopeful and optimistic that just like with recent rulings that have brought LGBTQ rights to the nation we will see the Supreme Court do the right thing.

Another big issue that is very close to my heart is LGBTQ youth homelessness because I have experienced it. I really think we can do a better job at providing more funding for more homeless shelters and providing the services those teens and young adults need, including counselors. There has to be a way to make sure their transition into a new school goes smoothly. I am absolutely dedicated to seeing increased funding for LGBTQ youth homelessness.

WCT: If elected, will you co-sponsor the Equality Act?

DRJ: Yes, absolutely.

WCT: What is your opinion on the SCOTUS Masterpiece Cakeshop case?

DRJ: I am all for art. If you would like to express yourself in art go right ahead but if you are providing a public service you cannot discriminate against anyone. I am totally against the bakers in this case for the amazing gay couple who have pushed this case forward to the Supreme Court and I hope they do the right thing and side with equality and not the so-called religious freedom bills.

WCT: Where do you stand on transgender people in the military including providing full medical services for those troops?

DRJ: I completely support the trans community. Our trans service members have dedicated their service and lives to protecting us and our freedoms. We need to stand with them and it is a disgrace that the current administration led by Trump would try to either deny them from service or deny their healthcare while they are serving and afterward.

WCT: Will you join the LGBT Equality Caucus? What other caucuses are you looking to join?

DRJ: Yes and I would also join the Hispanic Caucus.

WCT: Do you support strengthening the ACA with our current system in place or moving to a publicly funded system ( Medicare for All ) that eliminates private insurance companies?

DRJ: I believe in strengthening the ACA and I do support an open marketplace with subsidies for lower income people. I also would support, as one of the choices, a public option on the marketplace.

WCT: What is your position on immigration, and DACA and the Dreamers, more specifically?

DRJ: This is very dear to my heart because over 85 percent of my students are recent immigrants or children of immigrants. I have seen the pain that the last year has caused them, the uncertainty, the fear. The Dreamers came here not knowing they were breaking the law. They just came here with their families for a better life. This is the only country they know because it is where they grew up. It is the culture they are contributing to and I think it is an embarrassment to take away protections or send the now young adults back to countries they do not know when this is their country. I totally support the Dreamers.

We need a comprehensive immigration system overall. I think current laws can be enforced when it comes to employers hiring undocumented people.

WCT: Where do you stand on the ERA and women's reproductive choice? What about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?

DRJ: I support the ERA. Also, abortion should be rare, legal and safe. Reproductive rights are an intimate thing between a woman and her partner and the doctor. I support full access to birth control.

If you look throughout American history, there have been social movements and social change that took a long time because we did not have social media to get the word out fast. #MeToo through social media has exposed something that has always been there. I am glad women and men are speaking up. I am hopeful and optimistic that change is happening and will continue to happen as it relates to women and men feeling safe in the workplace. The sexual harassment we have seen in all industries stops. I am very supportive of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement.

WCT: Are there any elected officials that speak to you due to the way they do their jobs?

DRJ: Former President Obama. I am just amazed at his ability to continually think about the future and remain hopeful even when he was facing a daily barrage of insults, ridicule and attacks as well as a Republican Congress who refused to work with him. He stayed positive and kept his eyes on what he was supposed to do which was move the country forward. He made mistakes because we are all human. If I can embody that optimism about the country and who we are and can be if we choose to I will be doing my job.

WCT: If elected, how will your previous work and volunteer efforts inform how you do your job?

DRJ: I learned just enough of my dad's stubbornness to be effective in a positive way and when I set my mind on something I keep fighting for it. I have a tenacity that I learned over the years because of my background and all I have overcome. I am in a biracial marriage with my husband Christian which gives me a different perspective than others. I am former law enforcement for three years and a current teacher. This helps me remember that I am running for office to help the ordinary working people who are being forgotten by Rep. Hultgren right now.

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