“I don’t vote for zombies,” I said to family, as we walked into a community play my cousin was acting in. “He just looks like one.” He, being Ralph Nader. At the time, I knew very little about the man outside of his appearance and voice. Nader just seemed like a comical figure to me, someone I couldn’t take seriously. John Kerry, now THAT was someone I could root for against “Dubya.”

I often wonder just how progressive I am. In the years since 2004, I came around on Nader after watching the documentary An Unreasonable Man. His work in civics alone is enough to earn him the title “Advocate in Chief”. His sincerity was and still is powerful, though maybe too strong at times. In an open letter/short fiction to President Obama, he wrote from the perspective of Bin Laden’s ghost. On election night 2008, he pondered if Obama would be “an Uncle Sam or an Uncle Tom.” I didn’t vote for Obama either time he ran, which is something I highly regret. Nader and Jill Stein sold me on helping the third parties out but quickly turned me off on their mission due to their public statements and questionable stances. Was it me? Was I not progressive enough?

Nowadays, if I were to grade myself on a liberal spectrum, I’d be midway between standard Democrat and outright Dem-socialist, which probably makes Our Revolution the best match for me, honestly. No, I’m not a “Bernie Bro”. I voted for Hillary and would make that selection again anytime. As I continue to learn about myself, I’ll make mistakes and successes for sure. But at least I won’t be able to say that I wasn’t looking forward, pressing onward and upward.

Jim Francis, the very progressive candidate running after Steve Scalise’s congressional seat, represents some of what I see in myself and what I’ve described above. His video discussions and website biography suggest someone who pushed himself to act out of duty to others, while also appearing to be the fun Uncle archetype, who builds guitars. I can’t help but think of Frank Zappa’s “Joe’s Garage” when I read up on Jim Francis, and it’s not just the mutual love for musical instruments, but also for potential futures based on sky-high dreaming. Ideals, character, and imagination are three things I’m hooked on.

Over email, I asked Jim a round of questions on his campaign that went a little beyond into feelings on the current political climate, “civility” and what it takes to make someone jump off from their couch and get behind a podium to stand for something. Or just to wait in line to make a little check-mark next to a name. Either or:

Bill:  At the moment of this writing, there are two pictures on your campaign Facebook page that strike me as fascinating (I’ll get to the second one in a follow up question). One is you on stage at The Willow, talking behind a microphone and a keyboard. Just a basic perusal of you online will uncover your love of music, specifically guitar building. How does this one type of performance – music – inform on the song of dance of politics that you play, so to speak? Do you feel that being a creative minded person gives you an edge, at least image wise?

Jim Francis: Music for me has always been a very big deal. I associate certain songs, concerts, albums, and even music videos to certain periods in my life. Music is a universal language in which I can find common ground with nearly anyone. That’s important to me and it reflects the way I’ll conduct myself in Congress. Our politicians seem to forget that they were sent to D.C. to get things done, and the best way to do that is start by finding common ground. With a willingness to negotiate, I know we can get things done that will improve, protect, and inspire all of us. Approval ratings for Congress are at an all-time low precisely because of the fact that selfishness keeps it separated in factions, enslaved to the “party before country” mentality. From day one I will show a unique ability to find common ground with all elected officials, and perform my duties with the interests of all Americans in mind.

 Bill: The second picture that sticks with me is your campaign logo superimposed over our Causeway Bridge, smack in the middle of both North and South-bound portions. Are voters in this region ready to come together – like a bridge – for a most progressive candidate like yourself? Are you planning on meeting some issues in the middle?

JF: In addition to being a magnificent structure, I believe that the causeway is a great visual example of joining two communities. This is a pivotal place in American history and it is imperative that we find common ground in order to find solutions. The First Congressional District is not as conservative as many believe. There was a high Republican turnout for John Bel Edwards, support for expanded Medicaid, medicinal marijuana, justice reform, and very strong support for the Affordable Care Act. What we need now is politicians that are willing to put aside partisan propaganda and discuss the facts. The fact is that what brings us together is much stronger than what divides us (both geographically and philosophically). The fact is that supporting the Affordable Care Act helps all of us. The fact is that sensible gun reform helps all of us. Improving our education system, our infrastructure, enacting justice reform, raising the minimum wage, and drafting real tax reform helps all of us. The environment of our current Congress won’t allow us to pursue these things that would be beneficial to all Americans. So, the fact is that electing representatives that are willing to find common ground with those that they disagree with in order to achieve real solutions will be great for all of us.

Bill: My parents are enrolled in the Healthcare Marketplace and pay basically nothing for medicine (or rather, the taxes they’ve paid into the system over the course of their lives and the taxes they continue to pay cover the costs of their medicine). I’m on Medicaid thanks to the Louisiana expansion, though there are some restrictions to my services. What are your legislative plans for updating and strengthening the access to health care for state residents and beyond?

JF: Glad you asked – this is an amazingly important issue for all of us. The Affordable Care Act should have 90%+ support but we see in the latest Kaiser poll that 50% support and 43% do not. I want to see the age for Medicare lowered to 60, I want to expand Medicaid to allow more to qualify, allow people to buy health insurance across state lines, lower prescription costs by allowing people to buy from other certified countries, and rebuild the ACA. I also want to restore the requirement that we all carry health insurance. This is the biggest factor in lowering everyone’s monthly healthcare payments. In addition, we can reinstate coverage for pre-existing conditions and remove any spending caps by healthcare companies – something that the ACA did until President Trump scuttled it with the promise to “replace it with something wonderful.”

Medicare and Medicaid are both incredible programs, but I would also support the necessary requirements to make everyone responsible for their healthcare. Only through a lot of hard work and reforms can we put the U.S. on the path to catching up with the level of healthcare enjoyed by our European counterparts.

 Bill: How exactly did the Parkland High students inspire you to run, and what type of gun control measures would you be in favor of as a potential representative of this “Sportsman’s Paradise”?

JF: I was on the fence about running for congress for a number of months. The Parkland shootings and the Republican Congress’s response to it is what cemented my determination to run. Seeing Republicans and the NRA attack the students, mere children who are begging to feel safe in their classrooms, was sickening. Steve Scalise said the answer was more prayer in school. The NRA’s response was to arm teachers who overwhelmingly said “No”. The majority of gun owners even agree that something has to change but Scalise, the NRA, and the rest of the Republicans in Congress obstinately stand in the way of following the wishes of the American people.

Bill: The man you are challenging, Republican Steve Scalise, was a victim of gun violence himself, yet he remains strongly in the affirmative for the N.R.A. (National Rifle Association). This reminds me of an early episode of the cartoon American Dad (which I highly recommend to readers). Considering the uniqueness of this scenario, how do you balance empathy for someone who took a bullet while serving his country AND keep in mind the reality of everything he stands for?

JF: Steve Scalise’s shooting was horrible, inexcusable,and should not happen to anyone. I can’t imagine the physical and mental pain he went through. Likewise, I can’t imagine the physical and mental pain that David Bailey and Crystal Griner endured after being injured while risking their lives to save Steve Scalise. I can’t imagine how David Bailey felt when he realized that he risked his life to save a man that would then do nothing to seek sensible gun regulations to protect others from suffering a similar fate. I can’t imagine what Crystal Griner, a gay police officer, felt when she realized that she risked her life for a man that could continue to vehemently oppose marriage equality. What happened to Steve Scalise was utterly terrible, but now that he has healed we must continue to scrutinize his character and his actions.  

Bill: There’s a push for “civility” going on now, with populist Representatives, like Maxine Waters, taking a hard stance against what they feel to be false equivalences and over-sensitive conservatives. My Mother and I had a conversation about this, taking the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) opinion of free speech no matter what, meaning that, for example, a Neo-Nazi has every right to hold a sign just as much as I have a right to call him out for being a Neo-Nazi. Where do you stand on this? Do you ever just want to let loose on Scalise or the establishment at large, no holds barred?

JF: I’ve never run for office before, but I do have a definite idea about how politicians should conduct themselves and I try to conduct myself as I believe is most befitting a person tasked with representing the needs of the country. I do not let my emotions run wild. When I speak I always try to do so with calmness and rationality. There seems to be a recklessness that pervades Washington these days, but unlike some I use filters when I speak. That said, I will always defend the rights of groups that with to protest if they are not inciting violence or encouraging hate towards someone due to skin color, religion, or personal beliefs. However, my hope is that this year voters across the country will vote out the extremists in both parties. Those politicians that can express their views in reasonable and fact-based ways are the ones I’d like to work with.

Bill: If you could put together a queue (or watchlist) of three movies for voters to watch that will give them insight into your beliefs and platform, what would be included?

JF: That’s a great question, but it’s hard to pick just three. I’d have to say The Great Outdoors because family isn’t easy but you do find common ground, All The President’s Men which reveals the incredible desire for power at all costs and that the truth always wins, and Dead Poet’s Society – the importance of not dumbing oneself down in order to cater to political ends. Bonus: Rocky – the ultimate underdog who never gives up.

Bill: When you saw our President at his Helsinki Summit completely capitulating to Putin, what crossed your mind first and last? What does this mean for the Republican Party as it stands and for progressive Democrats like yourself?

JF: Progressive Democrats like myself have, sadly, grown accustomed to being disappointed by the actions of those in this administration. The Helsinki Summit is an example of when I hate to be right. Of course, I knew that the White House communications team would immediately try to tell us what President Trump “meant,” which happened to be directly opposed to what he said. All I can say is, our President’s performance was objectively disastrous and demoralizing, and I hope that it doesn’t get a sequel in Washington.

Bill: Do you have a particular quote from anyone – famous or not, living or dead – that inspires you everyday?

JF: Actually, yes. And I can not interpret this for anyone – that’s what’s great about Hunters’ writing:  “Once in a while, you get shown the light In the strangest of places if you look at it right” – Robert Hunter

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