State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, announced her candidacy for the 2nd Congressional District Special Election only three hours after Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned. Hutchinson, 39, was appointed to the state senate in 2009, to replace Debbie Halvorson, who had been elected to Congress, and was elected to a full term on Nov. 6. Hutchinson had been Halvorson's chief of staff. Before that, she was village clerk of Olympia Fields. In Springfield, she is vice chair of the State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, and also serves on the Transportation Committee. Hutchinson and her husband, Paul, have three children.
Q: In the debate on Sunday, Dec. 2 , you said it's time for a woman in this seat. Can you explain that a little more?
A: I think the skill sets that go with that, kind of a collaborative work nature and someone who brings folks together, I think women tend to do that in a different way. Here, it's been so long since we've had an African-American woman in Congress that I just think it would be absolutely profound that little girls can, when they grow up, they can do that, too. We need to show that example. I think about that every time I look at my own daughters. The last one we had, Congresswoman Cardiss Collins, she sponsored Title IX.
Q: Are she and Carol Moseley Braun the only African-American women to serve in Congress from Illinois?
A: I think so, and I remember when Carol Moseley Braun was on the ballot. That was an incredible time. It was the year of the woman, and it was the beginning of my adult life in politics. I remember running into her when she was ambassador, and I think I was at the Harvard Kennedy School for that program at the time, Women In Power. She came and talked to the class, and I remember running up to her and saying, "My name is Toi, and I'm the only one here from Illinois. I remember voting for you and I've been inspired ever since."
Q: The last three men who have held this seat have all gotten into some kind of trouble that a woman wouldn't get into.
A: (Laughs). We'll leave that there.
Q: I'm just wondering, why has this district had such bad luck with congressmen -- three in a row leaving under scandal -- and how are you going to be different?
A: For me, trust and integrity is the biggest thing that matters. Most times when you talk to people, they want to be heard. Especially now, when everybody hates government and nobody likes Congress. I just always believed that it was my job to make my little part of the world better than the way I found it, and it's hard. It's not always the easy thing to do, but it's worth doing, because I believe in people. For me, these fights are personal: Medicare and Social Security is personal to me. I helped take care of my grandparents, right up until my grandfather died, and he would not have been able to do what we did had we not had those benefits, so when I see those under attack, it's time for me to step up and fight for them.
Q: One of the biggest issues in your district is transportation.
A: I love talking about transportation.
Q: Your district is kind of cut off from the rest of Chicagoland.
A: I know. That's why it's so exciting, what's happening. We have intermodals that are coming up. We have the Illiana Highway legislation. That's the first East-West Highway built since I-80.
Q: What was your role in the Illina Highway legislation?
A: I negotiated it and carried that bill. That's my baby. I'm very proud of that. We have an opportunity to connect Indiana and Illinois, from 55 to 65, and open up corridors of economic development that has bypassed this part of the state for far too long. The best way to get jobs now is to invest infrastructure. Being the state senator for the 40th District, I had waterways, I had three intermodals that surround it, I was working on these highways. I got two existing airports, there's a proposed third airport. If it rolls, floats or flies, I'm on it.
Q: With the third airport, you've indicated that some personalities weren't coming together that needed to come together to get that done. What's been the problem, and what can you do to bring people together and get that done.
A: I concentrate on the regional aspect of the project. For me, a perfect world is getting everybody to concentrate on what the endgame is, and that's building an airport. If we concentrate on that, then folks are going to come to the table and really get that done, instead of arguing about the regional, parochial thing. If we can concentrate on the fact that this is a part of the state that needs investment, we definitely need jobs right now, and that we laid the groundwork for the infrastructure around it -- if we can fight for an extension of the southeast service Metra line, if we can embolden those intermodals to work in concert with rail and the Illiana Highway, now we're talking about an airport that sits right in the middle of an incredible amount of investment, that could be amazing for all these towns who definitely need something that makes them not so landlocked.
Q: Another project that's been talked about for 40 years is the Red Line extension to 130th Street. They say it's going to cost $1 billion in federal money. How are you going to get that much back to Chicago?
A: Considering that Congress did away with earmarks, and this money is now block granted and sent to the agencies and you have to figure out how to get it from the agencies to the end users. That's two skill sets that come into play with that. One is, I know the state process. When money comes to the state, I know where it's supposed to go. The other thing is my negotiation and collaboration skills. When we're talking about investment in anything benefitting transportation in Illinois. I think we have a lot of allies on our side. I entire congressional delegation wants to see that happen. We have the highest commute times in the Southland, so if you're waking up and it's still dark outside, and you have to get on a bus to go to a train -- it takes an incredible amount of time to get where you're going every single day, twice a day, while they're trying to raise kids and figure out when to go grocery shopping. That is a tax. A poor people tax.
Q: One of your opponents was just arrested for trying to take a gun on an airplane. Another of your opponents was endorsed by the NRA in one of her recent races. What's your position on gun control, and do you yourself own a gun?
A: No, I don't myself own a gun. But I was raised in a house where my grandfather did. He believed in protecting his family, and he served in the military. That was a belief he had, and I totally understand it. My issue really is violence reduction. What can we do to make communities safer? Where we need to be spend a whole lot of time is on programs we know that work: anti-gang violence initiatives. There's no reason why there should be 400,000 kids in CPS with less than 350 social workers, so we can't identify kids at risk. You have kids that are willing to do anything to make some quick cash, and you have parents that are working, so making communities safer means getting more people working.
Q: Would you vote for an assault weapons ban if it came before Congress?
Q: In Springfield, did you vote for or against conceal carry?
A: I wasn't in the senate yet.
Q: But how would you have voted?
A: I think that Illinois should be like New York. New York City has some of the toughest gun regulations in the country, but they have a version of conceal carry that works in their state. It's county-specific and it takes into consideration regional common sense. If you are handing coffee out your window to your neighbor, that's different than when the next house is a mile away.
Q: So if Kankakee County wanted to have conceal carry, you would be in favor of allowing that?
A: Yeah. I think the counties need to be able to manage what they can do. Cook County needs to be able to manage very different issues than the other 101 counties.
Q: Finally, what did you think of Phil Kadner's recent column saying that the suburbs need to claim this congressional seat, saying that 75 percent of the voters live in the suburbs. Do you think it's important for someone from the suburbs to hold this seat.
A: I think there's a probable in having representation from folks in the south suburbs, and I think there's a lot of time they felt they didn't have it. But having said that, I think this race is about the Southland -- the South Side of Chicago, and what happens as you move south, and how resources are distributed. The demographic shift is clear. We are in this together. A lot of people live in the suburbs and work in the city, and vice versa. We're connected throughout this entire district. I currently represent all three of those counties -- Cook, Will and Kankakee. I know those three counties, and that's why I want to keep fighting for people.