Ward Room will attempt to reach out to each of the 22 candidates running to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. as Illinois 2nd District Congressman. For the first interview in the series, blogger Edward McClelland reached out to Robin Kelly, the former Chief of Staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Q: Let me ask you about your five-point gun pledge. How many of those can you get through a Republican Congress?
A: There are a few Republicans willing to consider reasonable gun control measures. If it happened in your area, that might push some people to consider this also. You know, [former Rep.] Gabby Giffords and her husband are gun owners, but they've even come out and said, "Enough is enough."
Q: You said you're going to refuse support from organizations that oppose gun safety legislation. I assume that means the National Rifle Associaton.
Q: One of your opponents [Debbie Halvorson] was endorsed by the NRA, and another [Toi Hutchinson] had a 92 percent rating. Do you plan to make than an issue?
A: I did send the pledge to all of the people running, because we don't know who is going to win, and I thought it was more powerful if we speak with one voice now.
Q: Has anyone sent it back?
Q: Were you in the legislature for any of the conceal carry votes?
A: I was in the legislature from 2003 to 2007. My first bill that actually passed criminalized straw purchasers of firearms. I voted on ID card checking. I don't think I voted on conceal carry?
Q: How would you have voted on that one?
A: It scares me. I am not for it?
Q: One of the things Sen. Toi Hutchinson said was that she favors allowing individual counties to set their own rules on conceal carry. Do you favor that, or do you favor a statewide standard?
A: This is a very diverse state, and I respect that. I just feel like, if each county does it separately, it's very easy to cross from Cook to Will. I can cross the street, I just think that'd be a little cumbersome to handle.
Q: Have you ever owned a gun yourself?
A: No, no, no. But I grew up in a family of cops. My grandfather was a hunter. I'm not anti-gun if you have yours legally and you're accountable. I'm not against the Second Amendment, but these are reasonable guns laws. Why wouldn't you want every loophole closed so people who shouldn't have guns don't have guns?
Q: But we have a lot of gun rights advocates who point at Chicago and say, "You have the highest gun restrictions in the country and then you have the most murders." To them, that's proof that gun control is ineffective and prevents people from protecting themselves. What is your response to that?
A: There's just too many guns on the street. That's why this is happening, because so many guns are coming into Chicago and not all in a legal manner?
Q: Do you think that local gun laws can succeed without a national gun policy?
A: I think that there should be both. I think we should safeguard in every way that we can. There needs to be something done on the federal level. Even the people who have guns, we need them to be more accountable. We need all states to report in about mental illness -- people who shouldn't have guns. I think that's going to take national law.
Q: What are your priorites as far as transportation in the Second District?
A: I've been a proponent for a new airport for a long time. I do agree there needs to be a CTA extension because it's just ridiculous what people have to go through to get to work. If you come to 95th Street and see all the hustle and bustle. I support the Illiana Highway.
Q: What kind of work did you do on those issues in the legislature?
A: When I was in the legislature, I was the vice chair of mass transit. My work in the county, transportation and highway reported to me. In the county, it was more about the infrastructure needs. If you have good infrastructure, good streets and all of that, then businesses are more likely to come to your area. I'm also for getting the rail in and out of Chicago as quickly as possible, because I've sat at meetings where rail can get to Chicago, and then it takes a long time to get out. Serving on the Transportation Committee would be something I'd be very interested in.
Q: It's going to take $1 billion to extend the Red Line to 130th Street. Where are you going to get the money?
A: Well, I would support a transportation bill, and we need to look at funding, let's say the Pentagon. The Pentagon says they don't need as much money as Congress is trying to give them, and that money can certainly go to other places. As far as closing loopholes in taxes, I would look there as well.
Q: There's speculation you may be close to Obama because Cheryl Whitaker [wife of Obama pal Eric Whitaker] is your campaign chair. Did you work with him in the legislature?
A: Oh, definitely. We passed legislation together. The gun control measure, he was one of the chief co-sponsors of that bill. I also had a bill that helped small business. He was the chief sponsor in the senate.
Q: How much contact have you had with him since he left Springfield?
A: I worked very hard when he ran for Senate, and both times he ran for president. I would see him at different events. He's the president now.
Q: Did you read Phil Kadner's column in the Southtown Star saying that the suburbs need to claim this congressional seat, since 75 percent of the voters live there?
A: First and foremost, I think it's important for it to be a quality person. I know that, since I represented the south suburbs, that a lot of people feel it's time for us to have representation. Not that you wouldn't represent everybody. But again, it's a very diverse district, so no matter where you come from, you have to have urban, suburban and rural needs in mind.