Jon Hoadley was first inspired to run for Congress because of a personal health care story.
“My partner, Chris, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,” says Hoadley. “It’s one of those chronic conditions, that, if we lost the protections of the Affordable Care Act, would make it nearly impossible to insure him if he ever lost his job.
“Every January, we are worried about the cost of prescription drugs: the prescription drug that keeps him healthy right now, is that still going to be covered by his insurance? Is it still going to be affordable? If his insurance didn’t cover his prescription, it could cost $7200 a month for the medication that’s keeping him healthy,” he adds. “We can’t afford that. I don’t know very many Americans who can afford that. And the guy that I’m running against, who has taken taxpayer-funded health care for the last 34 years, voted to take away health care from Americans over 60 times.”
Hoadley, a state representative and self-described progressive running against Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District, sees himself carrying on the Midwestern tradition of “prairie progressivism” that swept the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was renewed by the New Deal, and is experiencing a revitalization as Americans on both sides of the aisle have begin embracing populist policies.
“I feel like we need some bold change to deal with the issues that we’re facing,” Hoadley says. “And I’ve built a reputation of making sure that I build a strong vision of what we’re fighting for and the direction we’re going towards. And I also want to work with folks to take practical steps along the way.
“We need to put people and community at the center of decisions,” he continues. “Special interests, insurance companies, they have enough power already. It’s time that we fix that so working people and folks who’ve been shut out of this process for decades have their voices heard in policy.
“We electrified the prairie decades ago. We can be doing the same thing on rural broadband. If we want to save our rural health systems, then we need to make sure that we have strong supports that tip the scales away from for-profit health care and go back to health care being a human right,” he adds. “We need bold action to invest in programs that are going to spark green jobs, energy conservation — jobs, by the way, that can’t be outsourced off-shored, which in Michigan matters a lot. And when I talk to folks in southwest Michigan, this is the type of change they want to see, too.”
Hoadley dismisses the idea that the long-serving Upton is a political moderate, pointing to votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, opposing legislation to combat climate change, and being largely silent about President Trump’s more offensive or controversial statements.
“I think people have realized that Fred Upton has changed,” notes Hoadley. “He had the amendment that actually allowed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to move forward out of the House. The amendment was named after him. But for John McCain’s historic and heroic thumbs down ‘no’ vote in the Senate, we could have lost coverage for pre-existing conditions.”
Related: Republicans accused of homophobia in Michigan congressional race
Earlier this cycle, Hoadley’s race was added to the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” list of competitive races, meaning it’s being prioritized as a potential flip for Democrats this year. Hoadley is confident, but not cocky, about the campaign he’s put together to try and win, including, in the run-up to the election, a robust initiative to encourage voters to cast their votes via mail-in ballot.
“We’ve been organizing voters since April of last year,” says Hoadley. “This is not my first time being on the ballot. I’ve built a track record of being a champion on issues that southwest Michigan families care about, through my role as a state representative. So we’re starting with a higher name identification. And we know what it takes to build a big team to turn out voters.”
He adds that the demographics of the Southwest Michigan district are changing and that the district isn’t as socially conservative as people may believe it to be — a plus for an openly gay candidate like him.
“Southwest Michigan has been a diverse and welcoming place for years,” Hoadley says. “We’re home to one of the largest universities in the state, Western Michigan University. We have numerous Fortune 500 companies that are in our area. We have international ports that are based off the Great Lakes. We know a number of communities from Kalamazoo to St. Joe and smaller communities in between have passed LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies at the local level. We’ve watched as we have a diverse and welcoming climate because of a number of immigrants that are in our area. Sometimes I think some folks are painting a picture of southwest Michigan that is ten or fifteen years behind where it actually is.”
Notably, Hoadley has been attacked by the National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican-leaning super PACs highlighting off-color, snarky comments he made on a blog as a college student more than a decade-and-a-half ago.
Although Hoadley has apologized for the blog posts, dismissing them as “bad poetry,” one of those remarks recounted a friend’s joke about straight weddings, in which the friend said he did not want to see a “four-year-old in a thong.” Republicans have distorted that comment to label Hoadley a “pedo sex poet.”
National groups, particularly LGBTQ organizations, have come to Hoadley’s defense, noting that the comments were made long ago and calling out Republicans for embracing anti-gay tropes that rely on casting gay men as sexual predators. Hoadley has also called out Upton for condoning the ads on his behalf.
“We definitely know that there is more work to do. We know that homophobia is alive and well,” he says. “National organizations have repeatedly called on Fred Upton, if he continues to espouse this idea of ‘civility,’ to stand up and say ‘These attacks are out of line.’ But he won’t do it. And I think for LGBTQ candidates, and LGBTQ people across the country, it is important that we don’t let these sort of homophobic attacks go unanswered. We have to make sure that we’re holding the people who practice and utilize these types of attacks accountable.”
While noting that he is not the only LGBTQ candidate being attacked, he also characterizes the attacks on him as a cynical attempt to distract voters from more important issues.
“My race has drawn a lot of fire, because they intentionally want to distort my record,” he says. “The reason they want us talking about these attacks and these distractions is because Congressman Upton doesn’t have a plan for health care. He’s got an abysmal record for the environment. He’s voted actively against LGBTQ equality for years. And he doesn’t want you talking about those things.”
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