For The Tribune
The three Democratic candidates hoping to represent Indiana’s Ninth District believe voters deserve a representative in Congress who is one of them — someone who understands the needs of the people and will speak up for their concerns.
Hoosiers don’t have that right now, they say. While all three have different platforms and priorities in their campaigns, all are adamant that they will do a better job.
Three first-time candidates are vying to be the Democratic nominee to unseat either incumbent Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth or Republican challenger James Dean Alspach in November.
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Rob Chalos, Dan Canon and Liz Watson will square off in May’s primary election, offering voters a progressive platform of ideas to counteract what they see as a lack of a voice in Congress.
The Ninth District covers a swath of southern Indiana from Johnson County to the Ohio River. Hollingsworth won the seat in 2016 for his first term.
In his work as a civil rights attorney, Canon has focused his career on defending those without power from being taken advantage of. He has represented union laborers, veterans, police officers and teachers in their fights for justice. He has helped represent immigrants and refugees fighting against the travel ban imposed in 2017.
When the issue of marriage equality went before the U.S. Supreme Court, Canon was part of the legal team arguing in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case.
“Here in Indiana and in the region, my whole career has been getting elbow deep and trying to solve problems here in Indiana,” he said. “That makes me uniquely qualified in some ways. I’ve been able to understand the real problems people are going through in Indiana’s Ninth District through some of the experiences of my clients.”
Universal health care, significant reforms to campaign financing, comprehensive environmental protections and improving employee wages are all important issues for Canon, a New Albany resident. In addition, he’d like to focus on protections for working people, such as paid leave and banning discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender expression.
His background in civil rights and a wide range of important progressive issues convinced him to run for office, he said. That was bolstered by what he says was a wake-up call following the 2016 presidential election.
“Looking at what happened in 2016, there are two major conclusions I came to after the election. One is that American democracy is really in trouble, and two, that if you think about the success of the Trump campaign and the Sanders campaign, you can look at that as a referendum on the status quo,” he said. “American democracy is in trouble because of the status quo. If we keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them, the same people who are at the bottom of the stack will continue to be at the bottom.”
Canon considers himself the opposite of a stereotypical polished politician. He dropped out of high school at age 17 before going back to get his diploma, was the first in his family to graduate from a university and has been divorced once.
“I’m not what you’d call a ‘standard-issue politician.’ I haven’t led a picture-perfect politician’s life,” he said.
Watson, a Bloomington resident, wants to ensure that all people have health care, good-paying jobs are available and the nation’s public school systems are strong, robust institutions equipped to prepare all children for the future.
Other issues, such as investing in clean energy, standing up for LGBTQ rights and devoting money and resources to combating the opioid crisis, all fall under her goal of making life better for all people.
“When we invest in people, making sure that every single person in the richest nation on earth is treated with dignity and respect, that’s how we grow our economy, and it’s the moral thing to do,” she said.
Watson was motivated to run for office after seeing Indiana be neglected for too long by legislative leaders. The state’s struggles, such as the toll of the opioid epidemic, adequate health care, job creation and ailing public schools, aren’t being addressed, she said.
“What I have seen from this Congress and previous Congresses is that they don’t care about Hoosiers,” she said. “These are things people want addressed. We’ve got a member of Congress, Trey Hollingsworth, and a whole lot of other folks who are in cahoots with them from across the country who are not at all interested in coming up with solutions.”
A fifth-generation Hoosier, Watson believes she understands the unique challenges facing the state. At the same time, she has extensive experience working with Congressional leaders to shape real solutions to help people.
She served as the labor policy director for Democrats in Congress, helping draft bills that protected workers with living wages and access to training for good-paying jobs. She also has worked as the director of workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center and the executive director of the Georgetown Poverty Center.
While working in Congress, she helped introduce legislation for a $15-per-hour wage bill. Her background in the inner workings of the legislature gives her an advantage over other candidates, she said.
“Congress is a difficult place to navigate. It’s really important to send someone who knows what they’re doing and who is ready to take people on and do what’s right for Hoosier families,” she said. “I’m ready, and I know how to do it.”
Bloomington resident Chatlos is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, having served in Operation Desert Storm. He owns his own small trucking company and has volunteered for causes ranging from the Minnesota AIDS Project to missionary work in Central America to pulling the equipment trailer for Bloomington North High School’s marching band.
His decision to run for office stems from his belief that he can bring people together at a time when the country is so fractured and divided.
“I have the talents and abilities that can draw very different types of people who have very different perspectives and beliefs, to bring them together to see eye to eye so we can move forward and work together,” he said. “We cannot keep drawing lines in the sand and expect people to cross one side or the other.”
Chatlos’ platform is centered on unifying voters, including people of different viewpoints to strengthen our democracy.
“I think our No. 1 issue in this country and in this district is unity. We are divided, and we do not realize or are losing the perspective that we’re invested in each other,” he said. “We have to come to some consensus and cooperate.”
If elected, he would focus on issues such as providing more resources and treatment for people struggling with addiction, particularly to opioids, reforming gun regulations, providing single-payer health care coverage for all citizens and moving the nation toward renewable energy.
Addressing foreign influences to the country and helping to reform campaign finance laws would limit domestic and outside threats, Chatlos said.
“There are so many important issues right now that it’s hard to put off one or the other,” he said.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About the job” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
U.S. Congressional District 9
Duties: Approve the federal budget and propose and approve federal laws
Pay: Base salary $174,000
Term: 2 years
[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”The Canon File” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Name: Dan Canon
Residence: New Albany
Family: Wife, Valerie; two children
Occupation: Civil rights attorney
Educational background: Bachelor’s degree in religious studies from the University of Louisville; law degree from Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville
Political experience: None
[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”The Watson File” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Name: Liz Watson
Family: Husband, Craig; two children
Occupation: Instructor of law and policy at Indiana University
Educational background: Graduated from Carleton College and Georgetown University School of Law
Political experience: First time running for office, but served as the labor policy director for Democrats in the U.S. Congress
[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”The Chatlos File” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Name: Rob Chatlos
Family: Partner, Derek Volker
Occupation: Owner of Mad Bear Trucking
Educational background: Two years college in general studies, no degree
Political experience: None
Memberships: Veteran of U.S. Air Force, honorably discharged