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CLEVELAND, Ohio – John Barnes Jr. has been a colorful, outspoken Democratic lawmaker in the past.
A Cleveland native and the son of a former Cleveland city councilman, Barnes, 62, was first elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1998, holding the seat until 2002 when he left office early to join the administration of Mayor Jane Campbell.
He returned to the legislature in 2011 after a competitive primary, but his outspokenness often landed him at odds with the Democratic Party. He didn’t receive the party’s endorsement as an incumbent – a rarity – in 2014, but held on to win election that year, remaining in office until 2018.
Now, Barnes is one of 13 Democrats vying to take over in Congress for the recently departed Marcia Fudge, who Democratic President Joe Biden tapped to be his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Barnes sat down with cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer for an in-depth interview on how he would handle some policy areas should he emerge victorious.
The Democratic primary for the 11th Congressional District is crowded.
Thirteen candidates will be on the ballot for the Aug. 3 primary, with a chance to succeed former Rep. Marcia Fudge, now the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The district is one of the most heavily Democratic districts in the country, making the winner of the primary the likely winner.
Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer talked to each of the most high-profile candidates – the six who have been most active in campaign events throughout the district – to try and get a deeper understanding of some important issues.
About the interview
Barnes’ interview was conducted May 26. It has been edited for grammar and clarity.
Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer started with a uniform set of questions for each candidate. However, there may be some variation, for instance, when a candidate answered a later topic earlier in the interview or was asked a follow-up question.
Generally speaking, candidates’ full responses are transcribed, though some responses may be cut off if they veered off-topic or their answers were repetitious.
Do you support single-payer health insurance?
I support the concept. I believe that we have a lot of people we made promises to about health care and we must keep that promise. There are a lot of seniors that are retired who were promised care. They, quite frankly, are upset about being forced. I think we need to expand Medicaid expansion even more. And we need to achieve the goal of health care for all. But I believe in health care choices.
Do you support lowering the Medicare age to 55?
Yes. One of the reasons why is that I think there are a lot of people who are retiring early. This will contribute significantly to closing the gap on some of the care that they have.
Criminal justice and racial equity in policing
How should the federal government address racial inequities in policing and criminal sentencing?
First of all, we need to stop pretending something is happening that is not. If you look at a lot of the police officers that have been charged or have been in situations where their behavior has been inconsistent with the policies of those departments, those departments themselves have the responsibility to ensure the individuals they are hiring go through a proper screening process.
In other words, if you had an issue in another department and you’re trying to apply for a job in another, there should be a national database to ensure that the federal government provides the data on the behavior of those individuals. In most cases, there is a presumption that one bad apple spoils the bunch. I don’t happen to believe in that. I believe it is the responsibility of top officials in municipalities that they do their due diligence to reduce the probability of individuals acting outside the scope of them acting under the color of law and make sure they apply the rule of law as they go about their day-to-day duties.
What sorts of criminal justice reform measures should Congress pass?
The George Floyd reforms is something that is currently stalled in the Senate. I’m hoping that they’re able to work through. I was very impressed with the speed the House passed the bill. Now we need to go on and get it passed so many of these new rules will apply across the board.
Barnes provided this follow-up statement to this question via email after the interview:
I support sentencing reform. My strategy to address this extremely important issue will be included in the community intervention I mentioned to purposefully identify short- and long-term opportunities to advance swift change at each level of the criminal justice system. Specifically whether or not change requires administrative or legislative action to give people a reason to believe relief is focused, fair, and in the public interest.
Should marijuana and/or other drugs be legalized both in Ohio and federally?
There’s a contradiction in how federal law applies to the desire of the people and the states today. Because of the nature of it, that’s a decision the citizens should make here in Ohio. I supported medical marijuana. I feel it is something that was extremely important because of the evidence that was presented about it assisting people with pain issues and in other areas which doctors prescribe marijuana based on science.
I think we need to continue to see how that is acceptable in society and I think that is something that government should regulate but give people choices as we move forward.
How about at the federal level?
There are some affirmative defenses that I have read discussions and read articles about, the fact that enforcement has been ignored. That’s probably one of the few instances that the federal government has been responsive to what they’re seeing in society, which is the way government should function.
Should it continue to remain illegal at the federal level?
It’s something that needs to revisited and based on the evidence and science, a decision can be made that ensures the safety and health of all Americans.
Cleveland is currently mired in a recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but things weren’t going particularly well for people before the pandemic hit. If elected, what can you do to address economic revitalization in Northeast Ohio?
First of all, I would engage in a process of developing a community intervention. This intervention would give our congressional office real street data about the antiquated state of the top 25 industries that have impacts on jobs. Looking at issues around education and our ability to prepare for the workforce with job opportunities that are out there.
In Northeast Ohio, we have a lot of great things happening, but it’s not good enough. It’s not responding properly to an area of the country that has uneven economic growth. And we are not responding to the needs of our business community that provides jobs and getting them training and ready to work. Nor have I seen a substantial amount of focus on how people are retiring and moving on and what we can do to ensure that we’re able to replace those jobs so that we can maintain them in the state of Ohio.
In addition, as a result, the COVID-19 pandemic, we have got to reassess where we are at this point in time. Where we’re going to be. There’s information that suggests that over 50% of many of the entry level jobs will disappear in the next five years. It may happen sooner rather than later as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. We have got to get very serious about how we’re going to provide a trained workforce that is going to respond to the needs of economic growth.
We are uniquely situated in a state that is number 9 among the states by economy. And about the 22nd largest economy in the world. Yet we have got to develop the kind of quick, innovative strategies and mentality that will respond to providing opportunity for all and responsibility from all.
Northeast Ohio has a lot of opportunities it could take advantage of. We have a global center downtown, the county that we run. We need to tap in again to the foreign consulates that are positioned in Northeast Ohio. Most international affairs have shifted to a more economic-based relationship. Those relationships can contribute significantly.
So, identifying why Cleveland has the best port, why Cleveland does not have international flights from abroad (note: Burke Lakefront Airport does not have regularly scheduled international flights. Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in the neighboring 9th Congressional District does have international flights), why Cleveland, previously known as the best location in the nation, is logistically positioned to develop relationships with those countries who have individuals here who are here for the purpose of building relationships that can help and assist with promoting economic growth that is as a result of those relationships. If you’re in the right place at the right time and you build the right relationships with the people here, that are American citizens, mind you, that can give you access to areas of the world we have not typically taken advantage of, we need to do that.
In front of our global facility downtown, I said this before when I served in the House of Representatives, we need to have a display of those flags downtown. We need to welcome them. And we may need to, perhaps, provide a 12-by-12 space in that building’s atrium so everyone will know the citizens who are here who need to do business abroad can have those relationships that are there so they can export their products.
Building on what we have, we have a lot of great things going. The problem is that it’s not good enough.
This community intervention that will provide stakeholders from every level of our community is important for the congressional office because it’s important to access the vast resources of the United States government. I know how to get that done.
What can you do as a member of Congress to encourage job growth in Northeast Ohio?
As a member of Congress, we have to look at, again, the evidence. The evidence shows in our less-performing school districts, about 3 out of 10 students are matriculating to colleges and universities. About 1.5 out of 10 actually graduate. It’s the 7 out of 10 we have to focus on and invest early to prevent spending later because we have not provided them access to opportunity.
With respect to Congress, we need to have more access and relationships with busines to provide training for individuals, we need to have more internships, and we need to integrate the needs of our community with the institutions that provide educational services. If we do it right, we will develop the kinds of relationships that will respond.
We can’t ask more companies to come to Northeast Ohio when we’re not supplying the ones here with enough employees to get the jobs done. Fixing the infrastructure of employment and career delivery is extremely important towards building a better tomorrow around workforce and education. It all comes hand in hand. If someone goes pursuant to some of these institutions that provide support for new business, the first question is do we have the investment. Do we have the right location. Do we have the right infrastructure for our deliver. And most important of all, do we have training for people to get the job done.
When I go into communities and see people pushing grocery carts, there’s a presumption that some people don’t want to work. I don’t believe that’s true when I see people going and collecting cans in grocery carts. Do you know how hard that job is in the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter?
People need to have the opportunity to get the right training to discover where they need to go and then give them a path to a destiny that will open up the American Dream for them. We, of course, have got to make sure that we systematically look at how over a period of time we can give them access to the internal culture of companies so they become a good fit that is based on training and understanding that lacks in certain areas where you have individuals who have not had certain exposures. They may have come up with the so-called at-risk factors. The factors, there are about 28 of them that contribute to why they are not as successful as they can be.
The United States Congress has to look at legislation that is going to help fill the gap for individuals who are part of those at-risk categories. Those at risk categories can be someone who has not been to a dentist, someone who has been abused, someone who has not had access to health care, someone who comes from a single parent household who has a strong mother doing her best out there for her families. Assisting in programs as I did at the Harvard Community Center to bring $2 million in to help single mothers and help young men who have not had access to certain, natural training that is a part of growing up.
We have a lot of work to do. I think it’s extremely important in this process, this special election, for me it’s like a hiring process. The new congressional representative in what I hate saying is the poorest congressional district in America means we have to get it right because we don’t have a lot of time to play. In terms of me, I recognize that I’m qualified, have the experience and have a proven track record of getting things done with people and community institutions. I think at this period in time that makes me the best choice.
Do you support the return of earmarks?
Absolutely. If you look at everything that I’ve done has been a result of earmarks that we have worked on. For instance, when Opportunity Corridor was coming to Cleveland, we sat down with officials and we had a discussion about that huge investment, that $300 million investment by the state. What I was concerned about was people sitting on the porch watching cars from Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia coming in for their jobs and they know how to lay bricks and didn’t have an opportunity to do it.
The governor was very gracious in indicating that we were not only going to do the normal percentage, but we were doing 20%. We were able to get $60 million to help people like that individual sitting on their porch, as well as women. Women enterprises that needed that opportunity.
Earmarks are very important. I can’t wait to sit down with President Biden and explain to him as a representative from the poorest district in American, I know what I need to do to get done here with the assistance of his influence as president of the United States to make sure that this area of uneven economic growth needs a boost. We need a monetary boost.
We need policies that respond to small lending. I was down in Akron over the weekend and I just started talking to businesspeople and folks on the street. There’s one business that seems so vibrant – so vibrant – with products and a wonderful atmosphere. It was a professionally put together business.
So, I talked to the owner and he said, ‘I’m just about out of business. My other store I had to close.’ He told me it has been so devastating because he had not had access to borrowing that will assist. He did participate in the PPP program, but the problem is it was not enough to sustain what was a good business. You know when you go into a business and see this, that or the other happen and you see that it has meticulously been put together in a professional way with all of the marketing, with all of the access to online activities.
These are people out there that nobody talks about, that nobody knows about. And if we don’t reach out to them, we cannot rebuild our economy in a way that is going to move us from outside of the area that doesn’t have the kind of growth. That uneven economic growth that I spoke about earlier.
Likewise, there are individuals who have been in the news recently that, I’ve talked to people that, some of whom make public policy, and I talk to them about the relief funds. ‘John, we really don’t know what to do with the money.’ Well, we need a process that gets information, because these one-time earmarks are important for laying the foundation for a better tomorrow for our community. Our small businesses – I know a person that I buy doughnuts from. Wonderful doughnuts, right? It can be a person who makes a great pie. It can be a person that has a wonderful restaurant which has been hit hard. We need to set up an institution that has the requisite services.
The only difference between a large business and a small business is their research and development and their access to professional services that provide an opportunity for them to have access to their best. The best in marketing. The best in developing the right locale for the times. Looking at how you can enhance your location. Understanding that if you’re making a product, how many of that product – how many doughnuts can you get out of a bag of flour.
A lot of these basics, people simply have not had exposure to. And it’s attributed to the long history of our school districts not providing and being underfunded and access to the intellectual community that can provide business, legal and other important services of marketing and, today, more importantly it’s online activities. Where Facebook plays an important role, it is not just the avenue that people have access to.
So, setting up an institution and feeding that institution to our young people, that are at community colleges, that are at Case Western and Cleveland State and John Carroll and so on and so forth, to have those individuals to work in those institutions where they will gain experience and see that there is an untapped market in Northeast Ohio that can contribute significantly to them building the kind of business access that is going to move us from an area of uneven economic growth to an area where the sun shines and we sit down at the table of brotherhood and plan based on our 107 different ethnic groups, the kind of access to market that can be second to none.
Name three federal infrastructure projects in Northeast Ohio you would make a priority if elected.
Infrastructure projects, our streets and roads, a tremendous amount of it has been done. In the city of Cleveland, it’s almost like an obstacle course for many people and the damages that have been done to their cars. We not only need a pothole initiative, we need an initiative that is going to replace and be durable where the city can conduct maintenance in infrastructure that will fix our streets.
I was out yesterday in Brecksville and only about 29% of the streets have sidewalks. That’s an important infrastructure for people to participate in so they need that. I know that with the development that I assisted with, with some of the legislative issues that was out in Orange, and Orange now has put all new sidewalks in. They give people an opportunity for exercise and expand visibility on the street, which not only contributes to their well being but eyes in the community.
Out in Brecksville where there are some streets that need to be done, that should be happening.
Also, infrastructure should provide, in the inner city, it depends on what your definition is. When you initially asked that, I paused, I think President Biden has set forth the definition that should be followed. We need to be using some of the money to be sure we’re prepared if we have a second wave of this pandemic. We need to get prepared in a warlike fashion with broadband and to make sure our young people are at home when the schools have shut down have access to technology to get them connected to do that. Likewise with the small business I spoke of earlier, there’s a great need to make sure these businesses understand that we’re living in an age where technology has contributed significantly to sustaining a lot of businesses during the pandemic. Had it not been for the infrastructures in place, we would not have that.
A lot of our cities need assistance with enhancing their infrastructure or providing services to get things done for people. And, so, we’re in an era where we have huge investment and we need the leadership to provide direction on understanding where we are, where we’re going and what we need to do to get there. An important part of delivering those infrastructures has to do with understanding the politics.
The problem with our politics today is there are too many people today who can’t stand being in a room with people they can’t stand. My approach and why I am best suited to go to the United States Congress is I have a more pragmatic approach to it. I talk to people and not at them. My objective is doing the work to get to ‘yes.’ I think Einstein said it best: ‘The more knowledge, less the ego. The more ego, less the knowledge.’
In politics that is a huge hurdle to get around. If you’re smart, if you understand the processes, if you don’t allow it to a personal level, you can build the right relationships to get it done.
Should Burke Lakefront Airport remain open? What can you do to address the issue from the federal level?
I think, first of all, that’s something that has to be discussed with the community. I think that it is extremely important to look at that aspect in a way where we have an understanding with the federal aviation commission about what are their plans for the future.
Again, that would be a part of our community intervention that would, more or less – instead of simply responding to this and that and that and this, I believe in a more systematic approach to giving people an understanding about where we are, where we’re going and how we get there.
Having a discussion with a community, I know the issue from both sides. What I don’t know is all the intricacies that have to do with the leases, that have to do with the airport and the obligations of the city over a period of time. That might require some other legislation. It might require other considerations with the discussions with the president on how to get that done. And, so, it’s something that would be at the top of the list of issues that we must address. I know that Cleveland is on a roll in terms of how our real estate is expanding. Certainly, that is something that I would be more in a position of commenting. Right now, your question puts me in a position of responding to a hypothetical. I generally don’t do that. What I really need to do is get a briefing from the appropriate federal agencies to understand the obligation for the agreement that’s been signed. To do otherwise would simply not be prudent.
Barnes provided this follow-up statement to this question via email after the interview:
While it’s difficult to be precise on hypotheticals. It’s important to note, I support the notion of developing underutilized land including Burke, which will fulfill the development opportunities for investment attraction to Cleveland and the region. I am the best prepared to strategically understand the complexities of developing these opportunities. Moreover we need to examine all strategic assets, which can advance our global standing and future, including but not limited to International flights, tourism, population sustainability, inclusion, and business attraction. I am absolutely committed to navigating system and bureaucratic obstacles to get it done, which will contribute significantly to building a better tomorrow for the region.
Should any federal changes be made to K-12 education?
I think that in the poorest district in America, we need to look at how we connect skills to opportunity. I think that the federal government can contribute significantly to doing that. I can tell you an issue that I worked on when I was in the General Assembly, and we didn’t get the kind of traction that I felt was necessary because of other institutions that were involved and would have been involved in the change.
We know that only about three out of 10 students that are going to colleges. If we were making widgets or doing anything else, that would not be a successful business. Many people put off going to college immediately, but they want to have training that qualifies them for jobs. I know that in most of our high schools, they have an array of different offerings that prepare young people.
The problem that I have is that in a section of the United States code that gives the education secretary the authority to appoint commissions, in this case it’s the higher learning commission over in Chicago, that would give accreditation.
If we have young people who are in our high schools. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, we will use the occupation of a nurse. Tri-C has a two-year program. Those individuals graduate with an associate’s degree. If they go to one of our high schools and they take the same course, they have different instructors. At the end of two years, they graduate with a certificate. Now, here’s the problem. Both of them, in order to enter the workplace, have to pass the state exam, which quantifies the learning.
So, if, for instance, someone doesn’t pass on either side, they have an opportunity to come back. But when they pass and they have quantified the basic competencies that have been established by the state, they should be given equal recognition. That is not happening right now.
With an individual who is looking to cut in half the cost of their education, if they receive that associate’s degree from the high schools – now they do have some agreements between community colleges and others who allow them to get the credits and sometimes get the award – but it’s not good enough. Because if they pass the state exam and they demonstrate the competency, they should be equally awarded, which gives this individual who was educated on the public side the ability to continue their education and cut in half the cost of their education and boost them, probably two years.
I think that is something that I will be working on in the United States Congress because it would, one, in Ohio, it would increase the number of degrees that are issued and it would position individuals that are with employers, particularly in the area of medical, where we may be able to reduce the cost of them going on to get their baccalaureate degree as need for these occupations increase.
Should any changes be made to higher education?
There are always opportunities to enhance positions. I think that, again, that would become a part of our community intervention to talk about public policy in the context of where we are in this point in time. What we are in the midst of is the second wave of revolution in higher education where online activities have become more prominent.
There are arguments on both sides, but I think that is something that has to continue to advance the access. What we are in the midst of is a conversion of what we have in terms of access to information. Twenty years ago, you couldn’t get on your phone and google something and have it in a millisecond. Today you can. The question is how does all of that come into play in terms of what, if anything, should happen to reform our higher learning system.
Should any portion of higher education be debt free? If yes, what kind, which institutions and how much?
I think that everybody ought to be able to go to college debt free, but they ought to be in occupations that are in demand. I think I described earlier how I believe for certain occupations we can cut the cost of education in half. America should work on the eradication of debt that many of our students have. Many of them have been plunged into occupations that no longer exist, yet they still have to pay back those student loans.
More importantly, there has been no effort to help them enhance the training to get rid of it. I mean, why is it that we have a debt under education that cannot be canceled out with bankruptcy? Why is that? Why is it that almost every other area of lending, people can file a bankruptcy Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 and they can get rid of it. It is so unfair to see young people come out of college and they make barely over $15 an hour, and yet they’re scheduled to pay it back for 30 years. And then you have students that forego families, purchasing homes, the system as it is is not stable and it’s inherently unsustainable. It cannot go on. So, yes, we need to eradicate that system and make sure that people have a fresh start.
Should student loan debt be forgiven? If yes, which kind and how much?
Yes, student debt should be forgiven. And I think that it needs to be across the board, unless there are exceptional situations and margins that would be created by the president and the Department of Education. Again, I don’t want to comment on a hypothetical. What I want to do is see the real-time data that is not accessible by the public to make sure I make policy recommendations that are consistent with the realities we deal with.
The quick answer is, yes, they need to have forgiveness on this debt.
Do you support the Green New Deal?
Absolutely. I was an environmental legislator and I served in the national caucus of environmental legislators for years. I think, conceptually, there are some things we need to do. As an independent thinker, I’m going to want to look at it and see what the local concerns are so that we’re not merely responding to a policy that does not necessarily recognize the local issues.
As a congressional representative, you are a leader for your district and you must consider information at that level before having far reaching implications on public policy that could have an impact in a negative way. So, we have to look at that. But we still have a long ways to go. I don’t think there’s too much distance apart, but I think, again there is a lot of data out there and a lot of experts that we need to have access to tweak it in a way that is in the interest of the people of the 11th Congressional District of Ohio.
What should the United States’ climate goals be in terms of carbon emissions? By when?
I’m glad the United States returned to the international community on those issues and those guidelines I think are important to follow. I think we also have to have some flexibility where we have to look at what is responsive to local communities and the decisions that have to be made relative to them.
There is no question about it, we have got to have a consistent policy that is going to get down to zero emissions, that will move our local industries in a way that is going to not only respond to the environmental challenge, but also will respond to assisting with our economic growth opportunities that is a part of that proposal.
Lake Erie is by far Northeast Ohio’s most important natural resource. What sort of federal policies do you support or oppose as it relates to the health of Lake Erie?
Well, Cleveland has the distinction of a burning river. I think there has been progress made but we have got to look at some of the things that is bringing in the algae. I know I had discussions when I was in the House to look at what was the composition of algae and also the fact that we have a lot of ships coming in, these mussels, and to find ways to see what is the compounds there that can be used for other uses. What a system that would not only clean up coming from the federal government, but to look at anything could happen with research and development that would look at those compounds.
I know there’s been some discussion about diesel fuel and some other discussions. We have not invested enough to see that in addition to eradicating conditions on the lake, what, if anything, can be done to qualify for business development to create jobs and at the same time create a new system of harvesting things that are hurting our lake and drinking water. We have a responsibility to go above and beyond where we are to ensure it at this point. That is something I would be pushing.
I’m not going to necessarily look at implementing things without first having, again as part of our community intervention, some insights from industry, citizens, advocacy groups and national advocacy groups and global. To have an understanding about where that happens. Because the connectivity at least with what’s coming up the St. Lawrence Seaway and the increased traffic in terms of what we have in our container commitment and the open maritime activity on the lake is something that we need to develop partnerships with to make sure that does not happen and we have some goals that are consistent with most of the proposals that have been out there.
Cleveland also has a lead problem. Should the federal government address that and how?
The federal government has an absolute responsibility to work on the lead issue. It did not defend people in terms of the paints that were developed that created those problems that are having an impact on many young people in our community.
I feel that the industry has a responsibility together with our local initiatives and our health department and the state of Ohio as well as the county to look at how we can eradicate that. I know there was some legislation passed in the city of Cleveland. It is a start but it is not good enough. We have to pursue areas of the federal government to make sure we are able to eradicate these things. I think that the lead problem should not be an excuse to further cause demolition in our city. Without giving people that are in the city and local developers opportunities on how to look at how those properties can be corrected and to eradicate the lead issue that is a health issue.
The 11th Congressional District has the largest Jewish population in the state. How do you think the United States should handle Israel and Palestine?
The 11th Congressional District has one of the largest Jewish populations in the state of Ohio. An attack on the state of Israel is an attack on the United States of America. We have to make sure that the United States foreign policy, which the Constitution gives the president to focus on framing foreign policy, that is to look at the de-escalation, which I understand we have a four-day ceasefire that’s going on right now. And we have to find a way to find common ground that is important to both sides and that leadership has got to come from our allies in the region as well as the president and the United States government to ensure that there is sustainability in that region, which preserves the state of Israel.
Barnes provided this follow-up statement to this question via email after the interview:
There is no justification for the reported aggression against the State of Israel. Any aggression against the State of Israel is an aggression against the United States of America and we must be strong and unapologetic in our stance with our ally.
I urge all sides to come together and work towards an immediate de-escalation of the tensions and against further extremist provocations respectively.
The United States can demonstrate their moral commitment towards the ongoing liberty and stability of the State of Israel by working towards a peace solution. This peace solution must include all allies in the region working collaboratively with the Biden Administration to find areas of opportunity and common purpose towards peaceful outcomes between Israelis and Palestinians.”
President Biden said he will pull troops out of Afghanistan by this September. Is that a decision you support?
I don’t have enough data to tell you one way or the other. Again, I think that’s a hypothetical question that the decision the president made with intelligence that I don’t have access to. I support it and I believe in the leadership of Joe Biden and he is probably making the best decision for the nation in that region at this point in time.
Do you support a return to the Iran nuclear deal?
You always have got to be in a position of looking at peace. Our foreign policy goal is to focus on promoting a sense of peace. That peace is based on whether or not the behavior of any part of the world is consistent with the opportunity to de-escalate and promote peace.
So, again, I do not have access to intelligence that would help advance whether or not that should happen. But I can say this that we should always look at how we can build a relationship that is going to promote peace. That has been the foreign policy foundation of America as long as I have known. I see no reason why we should not try to seek peaceful resolutions, even if you go to war. Even if you go to war. The best result is what? Peace. That is what you’re seeking. That is the ultimate goal. That should be the ultimate goal. That can only be achieved if we see the type of behavior that works toward approving those kinds of strategies.
Who do you think our top foreign adversary is and why? How should America approach and address this adversary?
I think that there is tension all over the world. I think that our adversaries have to be dealt with based on what Ronald Reagan said: Trust, but verify. President Clinton always focused on containment. And so on and so forth. I think that we have got to look at our adversaries. There have been some threats.
You have to look at and quantify the decision-making that has been done and increase. Ultimately, we have an obligation to ensure that the interests of the United States of America are carried out as set forth by the president.
So is there no specific country?
You could look at Korea. You could look at Iran. Right now there are tensions in parts of the world that I’m not going to specifically mention because I don’t think that it’s prudent and in this particular instance should be outside the area of whether or not you have intelligence or you’re just making a bold statement. I think we have to be very careful about how we go about our foreign policy, not do foreign policy in the press but in a way that gets it done in terms of promoting peace around.
Do you see any looming threats on the foreign policy front? How would you address those?
I think I’m going to stick with my previous question on the issue. The United States of America has got to have a strong position on defending the interests of America and I think that, for instance, when you’re running for president, you get intelligence briefings, right? I don’t want to come across because I have every intention of winning this election to deal with situations based on previous statements I’ve made that are sometimes outside the scope of reality. To do so would be reckless and not in the best interest of the country. What I stated previously is what I’m going to stick with.
Should the United States lessen, expand or keep level the amount it spends annually on foreign relations for our allies?
There is a lot of discussions out there. I think many of those discussions – I was at a forum and someone said we’re going to do this that and the other. We have a responsibility to ensure and protect American interests. I think, again, those kinds of decisions are based on hypothetical questions not based on access.
If you give me some document or something I can read and verify that has some insights that would contribute to decision-making along that line, then we will deal with that. But we have the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we have the Secretary of State, we have the president and vice president who get briefings every single day, not to mention the briefings from the foreign relations committee in the House and Senate who all have exposure to that.
That said, I don’t want to see American dollars wasted in other areas, but those decisions have to be based on evidence and assessment of that area of the world and our assessment of the world and perhaps what the threats are to the United States.
I do think some of the things we are seeing in terms of domestic terrorism is something that has got to be considered in terms of its implication because of the evidence that suggests there is foreign influences that it’s having an impact on that that is affecting the safety and security of American citizens here at home and around the world.
We need to look at whether this is an important period of time to reallocate dollars for ensuring the safety of Americans. That is extremely important and for that, I think we do have to make decisions sooner rather than later.
About the race
What is the greatest accomplishment Marcia Fudge had while in office?
You need to ask her that question. It’s not a question for me.
Surely you have an opinion on her performance?
I think the secretary served Greater Cleveland and she was elected by the people and we are very happy to see her now set forth housing policy that can contribute to better conditions not only here in Cleveland but around the nation.
What was her biggest failure?
I think that she did her best and I think that the question before voters now is who they see as a new era of leadership that is going to address the most impoverished city in America. We thank her for her service.
That doesn’t really answer the question though. What do you think her biggest failure was while in office?
That is not something that is for me to judge. What I’m concerned about is putting forth an agenda that is based on community intervention that is going to look at where we are, where we need to go and how to get there and to provide the leadership that is important that will give people a reason to believe they have a stake in the future.
What is your greatest weakness in this race?
I don’t think I have a weakness. I think I am the best qualified. I’m the most experienced and I have the best track record of getting things done.
What’s one area where you disagree with the Biden administration?
I think the president has done an outstanding job at this particular point in time. To deal with the enormous challenges that America has and the divisiveness that is going on in this country that has reached the very heart of what it means to be an American. And, so, I agree with most of what the president has done. I know that once I sit down with him, I will build a relationship because of my ideas and the innovations that I understand that can contribute significantly to making his administration more successful than it is now.
Candidate specific questions
You have a pretty contentious relationship with Democrats in the state, including the Democratic Party. Why should voters in the Democratic primary vote for you given that you’ve clashed with the party so often? Why should they expect that you’ll serve the Democratic Party well?
I don’t know of what you mean by clashed with the party. I’m a leader and so I make decisions based on the people that I represent.
We, sometimes, have differences based on how we get to a point. And that’s no different than any family and what they go through. I think that rather than air any of those differences, which I think right now what we want to do is move forward and advance the economy and make sure people’s civil rights and all of that is taken care of, I think that is what’s important.
More importantly, the Democratic Party is about democracy. And so we have to ensure that we utilize that democracy to expand our reach so we can expand our constituencies and ensure that we can be in the room with someone that we might disagree with and find some commonality that is going to move us forward to victory.
You sued the party in court and didn’t receive the endorsement from the state party as an incumbent. You wouldn’t describe that as contentious?
You know what, I’m not hiding from anything I’ve done in the past, but I look at it as being in the past. I’m ready to move forward.
Do you think your clashes have at times been a distraction? And why should voters expect you won’t be a distraction in Congress?
Well I think the Congress is at a different level and so I think that we have to move forward and, in a way, start to get something done. I’m about getting things done. And, so, I think that is extremely important to move forward in a positive way and to put behind things that really doesn’t contribute to the progress of Northeast Ohio. I’m ready to move forward.
I have always worked with – I’ve been a Democrat all my life. I worked in Sen. (Howard) Metzenbaum’s campaign, (former Gov.) Dick Celeste’s campaign, (former Rep.) Ed Feighan’s campaign, the Stokes brothers’ campaign. I’ve worked in (Sen.) Sherrod Brown’s campaign, (former Gov.) Ted Strickland’s campaign, (former Rep.) Stephanie Tubbs Jones’ campaign, (former Cuyahoga County Commissioner) Peter Lawson Jones’ campaign, and a lot of people that I have been around since a kid.
So, I’ve always been a Democrat. But, you know, Jesse Jackson described the Democratic Party as a quilt and the uniqueness that the Democratic Party has that makes it successful as a people’s party are the pieces of that quilt that make it up. You’re always going to have pieces of that quilt that are going to flare because of how it goes.
And, so, we have to make sure that we continue to give people a voice, and I think, actually – and I was a little bit ahead of my time in raising certain issues. I think those issues were, perhaps, a learning experience for aspects of our mutual interests, and that’s inclusion. And inclusion is extremely important in today’s society based on issues that all lives matter and individuals within this party that recognize the African American lives matter, that we have to ensure that that quilt that Rev. Jackson described many years ago – which is a reflection of my experience and exposure – we have history right here in Cuyahoga County that speaks to that.
We have fortunately grown to the extent that the diversity that is important has gone all the way from the precinct level to the White House. Now, once again, that opportunity is there.
So, I don’t see issues not being addressed in terms of the constituencies that you represent. I think that’s important, and with respect to anything I may have filed in public, it’s a public record and if anyone is interested in it, they can read it. I stand by it.
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