By Jessie Molloy
As a number of Congressional races are gaining nationwide attention for their increasing competitiveness, the race for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District has been noticed for a different reason: One of the candidates is the former leader of a Nazi group.
Arthur Jones won the Republican primary to challenge incumbent Dan Lipinski, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress in the Tuesday, Nov. 6 election. Although Jones ran unopposed, his placement on the ballot has drawn scorn from both parties.
While many voters enter their polling places intent on voting straight down one ticket or the other, GOP figures nationwide, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, have urged Illinois Republicans to support anyone but Jones.
Joining this rare bipartisan outcry is lawyer and LaGrange resident Justin Hanson, who grew up in Hickory Hills and Palos Hills. He launched his own write-in candidacy for the seat in August in order to give 3rd District voters “a real choice.” Oak Lawn resident Kenneth Yerkes is the other Republican write-in candidate.
Hanson is running independently and identifies as a moderate, “leaning towards center-left.” Though he says party politics were irrelevant in his decision to run, he has criticized Republican officials for letting Jones get this far.
“I was upset that there was an actual Nazi on the ballot,” Hanson said. “The local Republican officials knew he was trying to run, yet they failed to find anyone to oppose him.”
Hanson said if elected he wants to be a voice of cooperation and compromise.
“I’m really tired of people being so pinned down by party affiliation,” Hanson told the Reporter. “It’s tearing us apart and has led to the functional breakdown in the federal government we’re seeing today.”
Before attending the Chicago Kent College of Law, Hanson, 35, worked for Congressional leaders in Washington D.C. for three years.
“People always assume I’m a Republican because I worked for Republicans on the hill,” he said. “I’ve always been a moderate though, and the Republicans knew that when I worked there.”
Hanson started as an intern and worked his way up, spending time as a staff assistant and then a policy analyst for then-representative Adam Putnam of Florida, where he would read upcoming bills and summarize them for congressional members and the public.
Hanson said his time in D.C. gave him “a front row seat to the lawmaking process,” but says the most amazing part of the experience was watching what went on behind the scenes.
“I would see these guys from the Democratic leadership fight all day with the Republicans on the floor, and then later they’d come up to my boss’ office and I’d hear them talking and laughing and working to hammer out a compromise. It absolutely inspired me.”
Hanson maintains that despite the political polarization dominating the news cycle, most voters would prefer the nation’s issues be addressed with middle-of-the-road solutions.
“I’ve found that even though a lot of conservative voters disagree with me on social policy, my promise to try building relationships between parties has resonated with them,” Hanson said.
Although his first goal in running was to undermine Jones amongst voters opposed to Lipinski, Hanson believes he could do more for the district than the 13-year incumbent has.
“Our district stretches from Comiskey Park down to Joliet,” Hanson said. “We are really a cross-section of America, and I think we should have a more prominent voice in Congress.
“I'm trying to run a positive campaign," Hanson added. "I think Dan is a nice guy, but he’s become complacent and the voters in the 3rd District deserve to have an option other than a Nazi or a silent incumbent.”
Since launching his campaign on Aug. 11, Hanson has raised over $44,000 from small donors, twice what Lipinski raised in the same quarter, he said.
Hanson said that the 3rd District has Illinois' worst Real Income Growth, which is measured by the amount of work available in a district as opposed to individual wages. In 2017, the district's RIG went down 3.6 percent, while the average district nationwide increased by 1.8 percent. Hanson said this issue is directly tied to residents’ other concern, infrastructure.
“Transportation and infrastructure create jobs,” he said. “We have a very strong union population and they need to be supported.”
The American Society of Civil Engineers reported that 18 percent of the district’s roads are in bad shape and the area has over $40 billion in deferred maintenance projects.
Hanson finds this troublesome since Lipinski is the longest serving member of the House Transportation Committee, a position, Hanson argues, should allow him to acquire funding for the district’s roadways and airport.
Hanson, who is active in community politics, says if he were to win on Nov. 6, he would bring a more hands-on approach to fixing the district’s problematic infrastructure by meeting with local leaders to identify priority projects and push for them.
On the issue of healthcare, Hanson said he sides more with Democrats, favoring affordable coverage options and protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
“Medical bills are the number one cause of personal bankruptcies in America,” he said. “Nobody should have to worry about how they'll pay to save their child’s life, or choose between getting medicine and feeding their family."
Hanson mused that Americans' lives would improve if Congress could have a "real dialogue" about healthcare and "come up with a compromise that would be settled law" so people could rely on policy staying constant.
“I’m tired of laws being forced through on party lines and being uprooted every time control of Congress flips," he said.
As a prosecutor for Cook County's State’s Attorney’s office and a litigation attorney at Gould and Ratner in Chicago, Hanson said he has always worked to find common ground with his opponents.
“I always try to have a good relationship with opposing counsel,” Hanson said. “I don’t believe in hating people because they oppose me, and I would try to bring that same approach to Washington.”
The one exception to this philosophy for Hanson is Jones, who he said “deserves whatever criticism he gets.”
Last month, Hanson’s campaign received screen-shots from the election organization BallotReady.com, which provides background information about candidates in elections around the country.
Hanson said when he saw the group's page on Jones failed to mention his bigoted background, he questioned the omission and was told the site's policy was not to post "biased or negative information." So, he went to the media.
“There is no place for a Nazi in 2018 America," Hanson said. "His beliefs are an insult to everyone who was killed in World War II.”
Hanson said he told Jones to his face after he crashed his campaign launch event and challenged him to a debate about the Holocaust.
“I went toe to-toe with him and told him I would do no such thing, because there is nothing to debate on the subject,” Hanson said.
More information about Hanson and his positions is available on his campaign website www.justinhansonforcongress.com.