June 16, 2006
Nancy Skinner, A Democrat for Michigan's 9th District
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
If the Democrats want to take back the House from the corrupt Republican leadership, then candidates such as Nancy Skinner, a former progressive talk radio host, need the “Net roots” and progressives all over the country to rise up.
Once you read our interview with Nancy Skinner, and about her campaign for Michigan's 9th district, you'll understand why this country desperately needs leaders such as Nancy. Inspiring, smart, passionate, and one of the best communicators we've ever seen, Nancy Skinner represents a new politics in America -- a politics about solving problems that face our country. A politics where our government does the right thing, and the best thing for working families. A politics that works for the American people instead of being subservient to special interests.
If you liked what Nancy Skinner had to say in our interview, then we encourage you to vote for Nancy on Democracy for America's online poll by going to http://tools.democracyforamerica.com/housevote/ and showing your support for this remarkable candidate.
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BuzzFlash: You were originally a progressive talk radio host here in Chicago. How difficult was it for you to transition from being a talk radio host to becoming a candidate for Congress?
Nancy Skinner: Originally my passion for politics started when I real Al Gore's book, Earth in the Balance. That's when my progressive activism got started. I went to the University of Michigan and studied business and finance. But after reading Earth in the Balance I decided that I wanted to spend my career working on environmental sustainability, trying to find technological solutions, alternative fuels and energy sources that improve the economy and the environment. I spent ten years working on environmental issues.
After working on the issue of global warming for so long, I was frustrated with the media. The media would play tit for tat and say, “some people believe global warming is for real, and some say it isn't.” Well, 99% of the scientists were saying global warming was real and was happening right before our eyes.
I saw the problem with the media and their inability to speak honestly about the issue. So I got my own radio show in Chicago on WLS, a powerhouse station. I went nationally syndicated in the year 2000. I was co-host of a show on 400 stations. I've been on TV, on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC since 1999. I took every opportunity I could to stand up to Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and Joe Scarborough to hold them accountable.
The next organic thing for me was politics. We can only talk about what's going wrong in this country for so long. We can lament that our Democratic Party isn't doing things as they should. They haven't exhibited the kind of courage and leadership that I believe they need. So the next step was for me was to run for office.
BuzzFlash: What was more fun – having your own radio show or being a progressive pundit on TV?
Nancy Skinner: Having a radio show for sure, because on TV, they ask you a question and then just out-shout you and pull the mike away so you aren't able to even respond to the question. Having your own radio show allows you to be in the driver's seat, and be able to control the conversation. And if someone isn't responding to you and not answering your questions, you can continue to call them on it.
BuzzFlash: What did you learn from your career as a progressive radio host that helped you run for office? Because not many talk radio hosts -- there aren't that many progressives to begin with -- go on to seek office.
Nancy Skinner: Right -- they usually get a radio show after they get out of Congress! I think it's incredibly good training because essentially we need good communicators. I think that's what we need in our candidates -- great communicators, people that understand how to connect with people, how to make and frame an issue, and make it simple, and how to say it in 30 seconds if need be. I think a lot of candidates lack charisma. We need progressive candidates who have the courage to say what needs to be said.
BuzzFlash: You are an amazing communicator yourself. Why don't more progressive candidates do a better job of getting their message out?
Nancy Skinner: They're thinkers. And I think that their concern is that they want everything said correctly, and they don't want anything taken out of context. And the issues, as I say, are long and nuanced. So when you ask them a question you end up getting a response that belongs on PBS. The real world is much more direct. People need things simplified -- that's just how we communicate now. This is the reality we live in.
BuzzFlash: Paul Waldman says in his new book, Being Right is not Enough, that progressive candidates often hate campaigning. They're probably brilliant people and can effectively govern, unlike the Republicans who can't govern. But a lot of Democrats don't enjoy campaigning hard.
Nancy Skinner: What's not to love about sitting on a phone and begging for money twelve hours a day? Which is essentially what running for Congress is.
But to win, you've got to connect with people, and you really have to enjoy the one-on-one. That's my favorite part. But of course, the reality is, in modern campaigns now, you spend most of your time in a small room on a phone asking for money.
That's why this has to be changed -- because it's ridiculous. So even if you have very gregarious and wonderful candidates that want to get out and meet people, they can't because of the need to raise money. That's why I'm really reaching out and appealing to progressives over the Internet.
What's exciting to me is the prospect of a people-powered medium. If I can generate enough excitement outside my district, the “Net route,” then small donations can allow me to actually get out and meet more people.
Democracy for America right now has a contest going on, and they have 35 House candidates that they're asking people to go conduct an online vote. And whoever wins that online vote will have a runoff. And then Democracy for America is going to have a solicitation to their entire e-mail list. Well, I'm in second place. Boy, if I were in first place, and I knew that there would be some fundraising coming my way, that money would allow me to go out and meet people, shake hands, and go door to door. And that's why I'm hoping the Internet can help us progressives compete with the Republicans who just get these enormous PAC checks.
BuzzFlash: What are the obstacles you must overcome to defeat Joe Knollenberg from Michigan's 9th District?
Nancy Skinner: You know, he's got a million dollars in the bank, and that's the power of incumbency. But if you have enough creativity and a good enough message, which we do, then getting that message out to voters will make him very vulnerable.
My district is a 50-50 district. Our governor, Jennifer Granholm, won the 9th district, and Kerry got 49% of the vote. There are not many 50-50 districts in America.
My job is to build a strong campaign and reach out and try to find very creative ways to engage people in our campaign. Too many of these consultants keep doing things the same way because that's what they've always been doing. I'm interested in looking forward. How do we start winning as Democrats? Because on issue after issue after issue, the public is with us.
BuzzFlash: What would your priorities be if you were elected to Congress?
Nancy Skinner: My number-one priority is helping the auto industry “green” itself. The auto industry is in dire shape. Literally there is serious discussion of bankruptcy on a daily basis here. But every crisis has an opportunity.
We need to jumpstart the auto industry into making efficient vehicles, whether they're hybrid vehicles, something called the plug-in hybrid vehicle that gets 100 miles to the gallon or some other innovative ideas. I believe fuel cells ultimately will solve this problem.
What I will fight for in Congress, as the green Congresswoman from Detroit, is a federal partnership with the government to help the automakers -- a grand deal if you will -- to turn the corner. The price of gas is never going down again. So sitting down with the auto industry and helping them jumpstart, with tax credits, a fleet of 50,000 hybrid vehicles let's say, and a series of other measures, would help prime the market so that they can move ahead of the curve.
Everyone is very thrilled about Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Well, another inconvenient truth is if Detroit doesn't start making fuel-efficient vehicles, we can't do anything about global warming. A significant percentage of our oil consumption comes from our vehicles. And from a national security standpoint, we are financing both sides of the war on terrorism.
If we can't start reducing our oil and gasoline usage by redesigning our vehicles, then we're going to keep fighting wars for oil. We're going to be less secure. Our economy is going to be weaker. And soon we won't be able to do anything about the environment and global warming.
BuzzFlash: What should the Democrats do to retake the House? Should they be running local campaigns that target their own constituencies? There's been a big push to have the Democrats run a national campaign to try to retake the House. Should the Democrats run a national campaign like the Republicans did in '94?
Nancy Skinner: I think it's a combination of both -- running a national campaign and addressing local issues. In my district, my incumbent is the Chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee. So his bill -- his baby -- was the biggest pork bill in history. His transportation bill included the infamous Alaskan bridges to nowhere that everyone knows about, right?
For my district, the lack of fiscal discipline by the Republicans is an important and national issue. What I am doing is bringing those issues back home with a local angle. There's a bridge here that they're building for only $500,000, but Joe Knollenberg spent $2 billion on a bridge to nowhere while our roads are in disrepair. I think it's about showing what's happening nationally -- whatever that issue is -- and how it affects people at home. It can't be just all national or all local, because we are representing our district on the national scene, so that collectively our votes are determining the fate of a nation.
BuzzFlash: About a month ago, the Washington Post had a poll that showed two-thirds of the country thought the country was going in the wrong direction. But then a follow-up question showed that 50% or so of Americans don't believe the Democrats have a vision for the country. What do you think the Democrats need to do to create a vision, and then communicate it?
Nancy Skinner: I think they have to speak not to issues, but to values.
It's not just a laundry list of issues. It's about who we are. What do we stand for? What's the value of our party? And our history has always proven that we Democrats are for the common good. We have to start talking about the common good again, not just for the privileged few in this country and the special interests.
I think progressives are the new patriots. To be patriotic means you will do what's right for this entire country. And then within that frame you can talk about the issues specifically.
For instance, we need to talk about fiscal responsibility and the Republicans' budget deficit that we're facing. Why? Because our nation is becoming weaker and endangered from financial collapse because we've been pandering to the special interests in this country and the wealthy financial interests. Unless we see leadership change in this country, the piper's going to come and we will have to pay the price sooner or later.
Our health care system should not be limited to people that can afford the best program. We aren't looking at the common good anymore. Because if we were, we would bring those uninsured Americans into the process and bring down healthcare costs for everybody. And so here's a great example when you start talking about the common good, and it is truly in everybody's interests that we start working for programs benefiting all of us.
In the Republican Party, there's a crisis of leadership. They don't lead and try to solve the big issues that are confronting America. They have been literally taking the contributions from their special interests and doing their bidding in Washington. And that's why everything is a mess, as it is, from the prescription drug benefit, to the $15 billion in oil subsidies, even when the oil companies were making record profits. There's no sense among Republicans that global warming is a serious problem.
The Democrats have to be positive and have a vision. But we also have to hold Republicans accountable and tell the truth about this Administration. Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the Temple, and I think we should do the same. These Republicans can't govern. They're corrupt and they just can't govern when given the chance, while the Democrats have proven they can govern. That's what Social Security is. That's what Medicare is. Look at our achievements in the environment.
BuzzFlash: What do you want the voters in your district to know about you that would make you a viable leader?
Nancy Skinner: That I have the courage to lead. We've had such a lack of courage and leadership in confronting these issues, and frankly I want to the tackle the tough issues.
I think there can't be a tougher issue right now than how do we help our auto industry turn the corner and survive economically, but also start making the vehicles that the rest of the world will buy when oil continues to rise. And we're still fighting wars over oil. And that is one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge of our time.
My message to the voters is think of the moral victory if I were elected as a Congresswoman who worked on global warming, representing the “Big Three” automakers in Washington. Think of that moral victory.
And what it says is not that I'm going to hurt the auto companies, but I will be there to help the government partner with them. They understand they need to make change. They want to make change. My approach will be that I represent these automakers. They have to survive. We need them to start producing better vehicles for all of us to survive. And I will make that happen.
BuzzFlash: In order for the Democrats to retake the House, candidates like yourself are going to have to win in contested districts such as the 50-50 split in Michigan's 9th District. Are you optimistic that the Democrats will take back the House?
Nancy Skinner: I am. There's a palpable sense here, and that people are willing to change the direction of our country.
This is anecdotal, but I hear it on a daily basis -- people say to me: I voted Republican, but this will be the first election I vote Democratic. I hear that every single day. We have a poll that shows that only 43% of registered voters in my district intend on voting for Joe Knollenberg over an unnamed Democrat -- 43%! He's been in office fourteen years. That's a terrible number.
My job is to run the best campaign that I can. I want to reach out to the Internet community because these races are national. A lot of people live in districts where they don't think a Democrat can win. But people need to know you have a chance to change the direction of our country no matter where you live. Find a couple of the key races and support those candidates. Send $20, send more if you can.
If you want to see 15 House seats undone, then the “Net roots” community can make that happen.
I'm hoping every BuzzFlash fan goes and votes for me on the Democracy For America's website – www.democracyforamerica.com -- to help win back the House.
BuzzFlash: Nancy, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Nancy Skinner: You bet. Thanks.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Interview by Scott Vogel, Senior Editor BuzzFlash.com
Vote for Nancy Skinner on Democracy for America's poll
Nancy Skinner's web site