Trevor Thomas, who has been a part of Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), is running for Congress in Michigan's 3rd District. During a recent stop in Chicago, he talked with Windy City Times about the area and his reasons for running.
Windy City Times: I have a very general question: With this being your first political race, what are you discovering about politics that you didn't know?
Trevor Thomas: I think people feel it's a bit ugly behind the scenes. I would say that's true. [Laughs] I think you do know who your friends are. You also are pleasantly surprised by those who reach out to you whom you've never met before; [there are also] those who were at arm's [length] at one time in your life and, all of a sudden, are thrilled to help in a meaningful way.
I think when you're in an underdog campaignand we areyou don't have everyone necessarily wanting to be your friend. We're somewhat unpopular. It's a test to make sure a candidate like myself is in it for the right reasons. When people are contacting you and are suggesting or directly asking you to drop out, you certainly have to have a coming-to-Jesus moment with yourself.
WCT: People are asking you to drop out?
TT: It's a little intense in Grand Rapids, Mich., right now. I started looking at this in November. It was strongly believed that a Democrat would have a one-in-20 shot [of winning]. I went to the local elected officials and community members, and we were fortunate enough to have a number of people supporting us. However, when I told the world that it was winnablenot just from a field perspective from new district lines but also when [Republican incumbent] Justin Amash had a 30-33-percent re-election rateit turned out that more people want to be a member of Congress.
So we're in a primary for our life. It's a true reality that I'm against a businessman [Steve Pestka] who's able to self-fund in this primary. He is a man who, when someone asked him about Trevor Thomas at his kickoff, believed that the things I've worked on have been extreme. I believe he was directly referring to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He's also a man who's completely against a woman's right to chooseeven in [cases] of rape and incest.
WCT: We're talking about your primary opponent?
TT: Yesa Democrat.
WCT: Having a Democrat who's that conservative leads me to ask what the political climate in your district is like.
TT: We do have a generational divide. It hasn't been everyone lining up behind Mr. Pestka. We've witnessed some folks who were behind us go to him, but some people who were behind him have come to us.
This district leans red. It is home to [President Gerald] Ford, and what I mean by that is Justin Amash has carried us to Tea Party and Libertarian values; I believe those are not Grand Rapids' values.
Grand Rapids' values are in line with President Ford's. He was a man who believed in a woman's right to choose, although that was very controversial at the time. He believed in equality for gay and lesbian Americans, and he was also [behind] everything from civil rights to the Clean Water Act. He was a guy's guy. I think the district, socially, is there; I wouldn't be in this if I didn't believe so.
It turns out you have to do a lot of testing, and we certainly did. We did a poll. (I always tell people we have the best pollster in the country, and his name's Mark Mellman. He's ranked the best by an independent agency.) We literally [asked], "Would you vote for Trevor Thomas, a pro-abortionist who'll fight for the homosexual agenda and work to legalize gay marriage?" (That's the sentence, directly.) We learned that some folks who wouldn't vote for me, but that was only about 32, 34 percent[but] they also identified as conservative, so we didn't have them anyway. When I sat down with my team and asked, "What do you think?," we thought it was phenomenal. It was within a few points of Justin Amash, and the independent swing was with us.
WCT: Tell me why you're in Chicago.
TT: I think that aspects of our race are attractive to people around the country. In [Illinois], [Ilya] Sheyman ran [in the 10th Congressional District], and that was one of the youngest [candidates] in the nation. [Note: Thomas is in his late 20s.] Also, the Democratic caucus is older than the Republican caucus. I don't think we take enough chances.
I have two parents who worked 34 years at GM [General Motors]. Their pensions continue to suffer the consequences of a changing economy. It is certainly frustrating, because I'd love to be able to self-fund, but that's not possible. I also think it's more real when you have to work for it.
I call our campaign "the campaign for us all." We try to be as inclusive as possible. I had a former chair of the Republican party introduce me at my kickoff; it was important to me that people know that if this seat does bleed red, we are working with people across the spectrum.
I think, nationally, more and more people are stepping out who are openly gay. I think it's almost a non-issue in this race, actually. I don't think we'll be attacked for it unless we're within a few points in a general-election campaign, but I don't see Justin Amash doing that.
WCT: I have to say that when I looked at your website, I was struck by the fact that [your sexuality] wasn't mentioned in your bio.
TT: I guess I felt that it didn't need to be mentioned.
WCT: Also, I noticed that your campaign fundraiser is not in Boystown. [It was held at Black Rock Pub and Kitchen, 3614 N. Damen Ave.]
TT: Oh, that's because it was a free location. [Smiles] We called all the places; don't worry. There were some options, but some places already were booked for tonight.
WCT: Let's say you are elected. What would you do first?
TT: There are three things, but I'll very clearly articulate a first.
It is critically important that we help the automotive industry, which is very key to my district and to Michigan. In Michigan, one in three jobs is connected to the industry; around the country, it's one in seven. Had we not helped out the big three [automakers], the reality is that more than a million jobs nationwide would've been eliminated. So when Mitt Romney or Justin Amash agree that we should not have helped the automotive industry, it is shocking to me; I think that's out of touch and lacks empathy and understanding as to where Michigan is at.
So it will take Congressional action to make sure we are rewarding companies that are investing here with federal-incentive programs. Right now, a number of companies being rewarded are promoting jobs overseas. Not only do I believe that is wrong, but I believe it's a fairly easy fix. This is not about Michiganit's about our country and the manufacturing industry, which has been the lifeline to so many other sectors.
If someone thinks I have any other agenda item, they're wrong. This is personal for me, and personal for my family, neighbors and friends. It's our way of life.
There's a laundry list a Democrat can bring to the table, but I'm staying away from that. You won't see that in my campaign. I will not go into 20 different levels of talking points.
[There are] two things that are key to my personal narrative. One, there are no opportunities for young people when they leave college, and they have more [student-loan] debt than credit-card debt. Student-loan debt is not forgivable, meaning you just can't file for bankruptcy. So, facing that reality, it takes Congressional action and a voice from a new generation to recognize that federal student-loan interest rates are increasing. Colleges and universities need to do their part to make sure they are keeping their overhead in check.
We need to lower the rates for college education. It's not just about making it affordable; it's also about making sure that people who are buried in debt are also being looked out for.
[Lastly,] my dad and brother served, and are both veterans of our great United States of America. I have worked tirelessly for veterans on active duty who were discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." SLDN was able to provide services on a broad range of issues.
We have an Air National Guard base in Battle Creek, Mich., that may be scaled back. We have a veterans' home in Grand Rapids where they closed a floor because of a lack of federal funding. Justin is completely against the federal funding until we get our budget under control. That's admirablebut you can't do it at the expense of our veterans. They put a lot on the line for us.
See www.TrevorForCongress.com for more information.