There’s a new candidate running in Indiana’s 9th congressional district—a progressive running in the 2018 Democratic primary: Dan Canon.
Canon is an Indiana native. He grew up in Clark and Floyd counties and is the son of a working-class mother and a lifelong Hoosier. Admittedly, he is not a traditional Washington politician; “I haven’t exactly led a perfect politician’s life,” Canon said, “I’m not one of the perfect media creations you think about when you think of politicians. I dropped out of high school, I’ve been divorced, and I’ve done the kind of stuff that real people do.”
Dan eventually pursued his GED and later worked as a music teacher for a number of years to put himself through college before obtaining his law degree.
Canon’s work in civil rights law has been key to landmark marriage equality cases. He is best known as lead counsel for the Kentucky plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges — the Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.
Below is the full text of my conversation with the congressional candidate.
What made you want to run for public office? More specifically, was there an event or revelation that pushed you to declare your candidacy?
“When you’re a lawyer that cares about social issues, when you care about your community, when you’re involved in your community, when you care about people—people ask you to run for public office. People think that’s sort of a natural fit. You go from practicing law to politics.
I think there was, as you say, a revelation. When you see that kind of massive takeover of government, especially the executive branch, by people that are, in my view, con artists—who con the people who I grew up with, the people I live with, the people I live around, my friends and my neighbors, my community, and these people that I’ve served for so long. I take that a little personally.
That made me start think about what else I can do to help my friends and family, what else I can do to serve my community, and what ways can I do more than what I’ve been already doing. That, plus the sort of revelation that I don’t think it’s going to be enough for us to just work within the court system. We need to have good people that are in a law making capacity, that are in legislatures, and that are in the executive branch. I decided that this was something I could do to step up and do more for my community.”
What is a policy priority for you?
“There are a lot of problems that need to be solved that aren’t going to wait. Right at the top of the list should be healthcare. I think there’s an increasing realization by all people of stripes, that it is morally and economically wrong to allow our people to go bankrupt or die because they can’t pay a medical bill.
Campaign finance reform is another thing that is right at the top of my list. And to the extent that people have a litmus test for any candidate they support, they have got to know where their candidates stand on campaign finance reform.
I always knew that this situation with dark money in politics is bad, but having been in it now for several months and really seeing how the sausage is made, it’s absurd that we have a political system that is so dependent on so much money from contributors.
It’s a system that is not necessarily inherently corrupt but it lends itself very easily to corruption. It’s a priority in my campaign and it needs to be a priority in the campaign of every elected official that actually cares about the people they’re trying to serve.”
Do you feel that your campaign should be more about the current administration’s policy, or local issues—perhaps a mix of both?
“I think it’s got to be both.
We have to fight these battles on multiple fronts, and that’s really the challenge of modern politics. One of my first priorities when I get into office is to set up a very robust constituents services program—I think that’s probably the most important thing that a congressperson can do. Make sure that they’re on the grounds and listening to the concerns of the people that are in their community and doing their best to act upon those concerns, and to take care of the people that they serve.
The issue of accountability, of holding the folks that are in office accountable, is critically important. It’s one of the major reasons why we need to have a full-scale replacement of the folk that are in Congress now. There’s just not enough accountability there. You see these ethical breaches and ethical violations that have gone on over and over again in the Trump administration, you’ve got people in the executive branch agencies who are simply not doing their jobs, that are refusing to engage in basic diplomatic tasks, basic functions of their agencies—and no one is taking them to task on that. And that should properly be the job of Congress. It’s a battle that we have to fight on both fronts.”
With Indiana’s 9th being one of the most coal-centric districts in the country, do you feel that there is a conflict with your more liberal principles on energy issues, specifically because ⅔ of coal mined in Indiana never leaves the state and coal accounts for 85% of Indiana’s energy?
“We know what direction the wind is blowing on energy policies and on the environment in general. You asked me before about top priorities, I think that the environment should be a top priority of anyone who wants to be an elected official in the United States. It is an urgent problem and another battle we have to fight on multiple fronts.
We know that the renewable energy sources are creating lots and lots of jobs. Solar, for example, is creating jobs at something like 20 times the rate of the rest of the economy. We also know that coal jobs, and the coal industry in general, is going away.
It’s happening in some places faster than others, but we have to look at ways to replace those jobs for working Hoosiers, we have to look at replacing those sources of energy–because we know they’re not sustainable in the long term. There’s no reason to wait for those things, we need to start working on those solutions now. I think, to the extent that we can implement renewable energy policy that makes sense, we should be doing it right now.”
We know that Monroe County, and Bloomington in particular, has high rates of opioid abuse and overdoses– how will you effectively address the opioid crisis?
“The pitiful shame about the opioid epidemic is that in America we have, for decades now, treated addiction as though it were a criminal justice problem and not a public health problem. So I think fundamentally as a conceptual matter, we have got to pick up the problem of addiction and take it out of the criminal justice box and put it in the public health box and adjust all of our policy accordingly.
Most people that have problems with addiction, the first contact they have with a health provider is through the criminal justice system. They end up in jail, or they end up with some sort of court order with a plea deal, and that’s how they get their treatment. That’s not early enough.
A lot of these folks can’t simply afford to get treatment on the front end, or they don’t have have the resources. I think we can do better than that.
It goes back to healthcare. We need to make sure that mental health services and addiction therapy services are available to people who need them, we need to make sure that it doesn’t leave them financially destitute if they go and seek out those services, and we need to make sure that they can sustain those services over the long term. The way people are getting treatment now in the United States is that they go to jail and then they detox, and that’s not a long term solution.
Really, what they need, is long term healthcare.
I also think that a common-sense solution to the opioid epidemic is the legalization and regulation of medical cannabis. This is not a radical idea, twenty-nine states are already doing it. What we see in those 29 states is that you have a reduction of about twenty percent in overdose deaths in states that have medical cannabis, you’re giving people access to something that is safe, that is natural, that they cannot overdose on. We see a reduction in opioid dependency in states that have medical cannabis, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing that in Indiana and nationwide.
We have to strike at the root of a lot of social problems that lead to addiction in the first place and that means making sure that people have proper housing, and making sure that people have a safe environment, and making sure people are financially able to provide for themselves and to provide for their families.
I think that when we start to strike at the root of some of those social problems that lead to addiction in the first place, we will see a reduction in the opioid crisis overall.”
If you had the chance to deliver one message to Trey Hollingsworth, what would it be?
“You need to care about the people that you serve. You need to listen to the people that you serve, and you need to care about the people that you serve.
What we see, because of the prevalence of money in politics, is that you have people who want to purchase a seat in Congress and they are able to do that.
I’m sad to say that that’s what Mr. Hollingsworth accomplished in the last election cycle. If they know they can just walk in and purchase a seat, it gives them very little incentive to get to know about the people on the ground, to serve those people, to set up constituent services, or to solve any real problems faced by real Hoosiers. Let alone the fact that I can’t imagine Mr. Hollingsworth would know anything about any real problems that Hoosiers face. Here’s somebody who has never had to live paycheck to paycheck, who has never had to take on student loan debt, who has never had to worry about how they’re going to pay their health insurance premiums. These are real problems that Hoosiers face everyday.
I am at a loss as to how Mr. Hollingsworth might be able to understand any of those problems, given the fact that he’s a multimillionaire who comes from multigenerational wealth, and he doesn’t spend any time on the ground talking to people about how to solve those problems.
Based on his legislative history so far, it doesn’t appear as though he’s interested in working on solutions to those problems. We need Congresspeople who are interested in solving real problems.”
Historically, Indiana has been a home to a number of key progressive figures from Eugene Debs to Kurt Vonnegut. We’ve been a manufacturing state, a union state– what is your vision for a progressive Indiana?
“My vision for a progressive Indiana is simply an Indiana in which we are giving the people the tools and opportunities to live their best lives. I think that’s the core of progressivism. Government ought to be a force that provides people with the tools and opportunities to live their best lives.
We know we can do that here in the wealthiest country in the history of the world. Look around you, there’s an abundance of all things here. We can make sure that nobody goes without.
We can make sure that our seniors don’t have to choose between medicine and housing and food. We can make sure that people don’t have to die or go bankrupt because they have a medical bill that they can’t pay. We can do all of those things.
I think the essence of a progressive future for Indiana and America is that we take care of each other, we take care of people, and make sure that we provide the tools and opportunities that they need to live their best lives.”