Thursday, February 02, 2006

An Interview with John Featherman

Regular readers may have noticed that the other Republican candidate for Senate, John Featherman, has been stopping by regularly and leaving some thoughtful comments. It’s a given that if you go to someone’s house for dinner often enough you will be asked to help with the dishes. So, I have asked Mr. Featherman to do the blogger version of that and take the time to answer some interview questions. He kindly consented.

You’ve said that Santorum’s book It Takes a Family was the final push for you to run for Senate. What was it about the book that brought you into the race?

Arguably, I know Rick Santorum better than any other declared candidate in the race. I can say that confidently because I ran against him 6 years ago in 2000. The current Democratic contenders -- Bob Casey, Chuck Pennacchio and Alan Sandals – have never campaigned against Santorum. I know firsthand what a ferocious campaigner he is. They don’t. I know how strong a debater he is. They underestimate his skills simply because they don’t agree with him on many issues (with Casey an obvious exception on the social side). So I have seen Santorum evolve – perhaps it should be devolve -- over the past 6 years. Does “man on dog” or comparing abortion to slavery or blaming the priest scandal on Boston being liberal drive home my point or what? So I watched a number of events last year. I saw him get into people’s private medical affairs with his butting into the Shiavo case. And finally, when I read his book, it fired me up. That was it. I saw nobody from the Republican Party – and I’ve been a Republican since 2001 – standing up to challenge his ridiculous views, and, quite frankly, I saw no strong Democrats emerging. I’ve always believed – and people that know me know this – that when there’s a political stand to make, I will make it. Look, I know the odds. But I’m not running because of the odds. I’m running because this man cannot go unchallenged. He has a responsibility to share his views with Pennsylvanians, and, as a man, he has a responsibility to address those that he degrades. Rest assured, if he agrees to debate – and thus far, he refuses – I will address the many groups he has offended. What’s shocking is that no other Republican has had the courage to stand up to him. It’s almost as if it’s the kiss of death to run against Rick Santorum. But ultimately, I am not running as a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or anything else. I’m running as John Featherman, a socially liberal, fiscally conservative Pennsylvania who wants to bring statesmanship and dignity back to the U.S. Senate seat.

You’ve also said that Pennsylvanians deserve a senator who doesn’t really offend other groups. What did you mean by that?

I support gay marriage. Rick Santorum is against gay marriage. Fine, we can debate that. But “man on dog” is remarkably offensive. Every family has gay members. If he has a gay family member, will he say to them, “Well, at least it’s not man on dog.” Remember that I’m a Republican, and although I’ve received lots of kind words from Democrats because of my socially liberal viewpoints, there will be those who don’t agree with me on the money side. But I’m not going to insult their group. I’m not going to call them names. I’m not going to be hostile to them. Likewise, many social conservatives may not like my view on abortion. I’ve been on talk radio before and been labeled a “baby killer.” I don’t like that term. Also, I’ve been referred to as “pro-abortion.” I’m pro-choice. But simply because someone is pro-life, I’m not going to call them names. I’m not going to insult them. If anything, I will try to find a common ground. Where’s the common ground with Santorum?

As an expert on privacy, how secure do you think voting machines are? Can anyone find out how we voted? There were some reports that you actually received more votes than the official count showed because votes for the Libertarian Party were not transcribed onto counting sheets. Do you agree with this theory? What can be done to ensure more accurate voting results?

I’m glad you asked this question. I’ve written on the subject, and I’ve spoken about it in the classes I teach at Temple University. There’s no magic bullet. There are several issues involved. First, there are voting machines to consider, and then there is Internet voting. Both are subject to fraud, yet both offer amazing potential. Internet voting offers the ability for so many more citizens to participate, including, but not limited to, seniors, handicapped persons, poor people, and those traveling. These are also different kinds of fraud – there is fraud when returns can be manipulated, and there is fraud when dead people vote, or when identity theft happens in the voting booth. There’s no short answer, but I do believe fraud is widespread. However, we must see if we can harness the power of technology to provide checks and balances. I was told I received many more votes than I did, but it wasn’t close, and so I didn’t think that was a battle worth fighting for. Trust me, in 2000, some things going on down in Florida were much more important than John Featherman’s candidacy in PA.

In 1996 the Inquirer published a feature on you and your privacy newsletter. To quote one paragraph: “Following the Oklahoma City bombing, he listed phone privacy tips – [list of tips deleted] – tips, that he agrees, could be useful to a potential terrorist. ‘I’m not that far away from people who write stuff like How to Build a Bomb,’ he says.” That sounds inflammatory. Can you explain that remark a little?

Michael Rozansky wrote a great article about my newsletter – Privacy Newsletter – as the cover story in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Business section. I started the newsletter from nothing, and he originally didn’t want to write about it. Yet, in the months before the Inquirer article, he saw my newsletter got quoted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and was receiving press coverage in other popular media, so he decided to interview. As is the case with many reporters, he asked a lead in question which was whether these tips could be used by a potential terrorist. I said that it could be. So there you go. You have to understand the media and how people get quoted. Perfect example: In a fair, but somewhat mean-spirited article in the Citypaper, Doron Tausigg said about me: “He doesn't plan to bring up Santorum's gay staffer or controversial use of state funds to homeschool his children, he says (never mind that once he said this, he had brought up both those things).”

What Tausigg doesn’t tell you – and he recorded the interview with me in front of my campaign treasurer – was that he asked me to comment on Rick Santorum’s personal life, specifically Santorum’s religious conversion. So I said I wasn’t going there, that I wasn’t going to discuss his personal life, his family’s or his staffer’s. I said it’s not my style to get personal and that it’s also political suicide. But Tausigg doesn’t tell you that. So you see what I mean? Even this interview will probably be quoted out of context by my opponents. It almost makes a candidate who is thoughtful afraid to make any statement, unless the statement is quoted in its full context.

What, if any, legislation should be passed to help prevent identity theft?

This is easy. Two pieces of legislation can significantly cut down on identity theft cases, which are now over 10 million reported cases in the United States alone. First, expand a current California law and require all financial organizations that manage personally identifiable information to notify those affected when their personal information is lost or stolen. In fact, I would add on all healthcare providers and maybe some other industries as well. Second, mandate affordable rates for consumers to have daily credit monitoring, so that they can be notified when someone looks into their credit. You do these two things, and you can nip it in the bud and stop identity theft before it occurs.

You have done research on how race affects voting behavior and found that, at least in Philadelphia mayoral races, people tend to vote for someone of the same race. What other voting patterns have you observed?

The interesting thing we found out is why people often vote for members of the same race or ethnicity. It’s often due to an inherent assumption – sometimes right, sometimes wrong -- that someone of the same race or ethnicity will share the same views as them. In the absence of information about a candidate, people often look at the last name and guess an ethnicity. There was one case where South Philadelphia voters in a predominantly white precinct voted for a candidate with an Italian-sounding last name. Many of the voters admitted afterwards that they were unaware the candidate was indeed African-American. The moral of the story is that names matter when it comes to voting.

When running for congress against Bob Brady you criticized him for missing a vote in Washington to be in Philadelphia to meet with negotiators in a SEPTA strike and also for leaving a debate to go to a ward meeting. Shouldn’t federal representatives be concerned about matters in their district? How would you handle that dichotomy?

Bob Brady left the debate when it got heated between us. It’s reckless to leave a scheduled debate – the only debate, I mind you – to go to a ward meeting. Is that a lame excuse or what? For what it’s worth, the Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed me in the Special Election race for U.S. House. Keep in mind that I was a Libertarian, and they endorsed me over a Democrat and a Republican. They endorsed me because I had the right views.

It’s 8 years later, and I still have the right views. And I’m still an underdog against a Republican and a Democrat. But I’m no invisible man, and my energy and enthusiasm will guide me through this.

In previous campaigns you have called for decriminalizing drug use. Can you tell us where you would draw the lines on that issue? Would you want to see all drug use be decriminalized?

The war on drugs is a failure. It’s turned into a racist war, and it’s a war on our own people. I want to repeal all laws that outlaw consensual behavior between consenting adults. I would call for everyone who’s in jail for a victimless crime to be released. I want to start by having pilot programs that look at decriminalizing the hardest drugs. If the pilot program works, then we make it permanent. We would put all this money into rehabilitating the addicts, not putting them in jail. Also, it’s inhumane not to let very sick people take whatever medicine they want to feel better. Medicine marijuana should be decriminalized immediately.

Politicians talk about how they would reduce crime. Democrats blame all guns; Republicans blame illegal guns. John Featherman blames the war on drugs. Once we decriminalize drugs, street crime is gone. Poof! You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that crime went away after prohibition was repealed. Bootleggers were out of business. And so will be the street-corner drug dealers. Once the government decriminalizes drugs, the financial incentives will disappear, and gun-related crime will go down significantly.

But I remain the only candidate in the race who brings up this issue. And I won’t let it die. Because too many people are dying because of this failed war.

You’ve called yourself a Libertarian with a little “l.” What do you mean by that?

I am no longer a registered Libertarian. I am a registered Republican. But I am still a civil libertarian.

Personally I tend to think of Libertarians as people who want to cut government spending so severely that it shuts down public libraries, forces people to take their own trash to the landfill, and leaves huge potholes in the road. How far off the mark am I?

I can’t comment on all registered Libertarians. I find most not to fit that stereotype. I have never been an extreme person, and I support funding libraries, public trash pick-up, and having the government fix potholes. Every party has a host of characters – some great, some not so great. The Democratic Party has Bill Clinton, Al Sharpton. Bob Casey, Robert Byrd, and John Street. The Republican Party has George Bush, Condi Rice, Arlen Specter, Rudy Guiliani and John Featherman.

If elected, what would you do to stimulate the state’s economy?

Other candidates – specifically the three Democrats in this race -- talk about increasing the minimum wage or creating universal healthcare or supporting protectionism. They say that this will help the economy. Who are these guys kidding? Let’s be clear. I believe all the Democrats mean well and sincerely want to help the average worker. But if you increase the costs of doing business without letting them pass on the costs to their customers, then they will soon be out of business. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the carmakers who have record profits and reward the executives but not the workers – that is just flat wrong and unacceptable.

The area where I distinguish myself from all the candidates – including Santorum – is that I recognize that the real way to create a living wage is to encourage entrepreneurship and to get small businesses to expand. The way you stimulate an economy is by welcoming businesses. Instead of jamming high wage taxes and draconian business privilege taxes down their throat and making them feel unwelcome, we should be taking steps to encourage them to come here, such as tax incentives and repeals of unreimbursed government mandates that scare them off.

Two years ago, AAA decided to move its headquarters from Philadelphia to Wilmington, DE. Pennsylvania lost over 400 jobs because Wilmington and Delaware officials played the game and offered $7 million to lure them. If it sounds like Art Model and sports welfare, it ain't far off. You can't force businesses to stay in business, and they often play one city against another, one state against another. Ultimately, a pro-business attitude and a competitive business tax structure is the only way you can encourage them to come to town. As a real estate agent, I can tell you that companies will start leasing space in Philadelphia -- as an example -- when we reduce or, better yet, eliminate the Draconian wage and business privilege taxes.

A magic genie allows you to pass one law without amendments. What would that law be?

Repeal all laws that outlaw consensual behavior between consenting adults. That should cover ending the war on drugs and ending draconian blue laws invading people’s bedrooms.

Your father owned a steel business and your mother is a college president, not exactly humble origins. What experiences would allow you to understand the problems of Pennsylvanians on fixed incomes or struggling financially?

You’re looking at the result not the origins. My mother came from a lower-middle class family and could not have attended college without a scholarship. My father started out working in a small shop owned by his father, who previously lost just about everything in the stockmarket crash in the 1920s. So they came from quite humble origins. What they did with their lives to achieve their success is what has turned me into such a motivated person. My parents give a lot back to the community, and so do I. I teach courses at Temple University that help people with identity theft – specifically, with repairing their credit. As a Realtor, the majority of my rental clients are either students or people on very fixed budgets with very low credit scores. So I deal with “creative financing” everyday. I don’t spend any of my day with aristocrats and lobbyists.

The issues page on your website says that “law-abiding gun owners should not be under attack. Conversely, we must protect the public from the onslaught of illegal weapons and random acts of gun violence….” How do you do both at the same time? What regulations would you like to see?

I am not in favor of allowing the gun industry to be immune to lawsuits. I am in favor of laws that require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns. I am in favor of mandatory gun locks. I am in favor of a gun tax that goes to sponsor a “gun control commission.”

Also on your website, on social security, you say “Means testing determine whether or not an individual or family is eligible to receive Social Security benefits from the government. The test can consist of quantifying the party’s income, or assets, or a combination of both.” Now, I harbor a secret hope that the sale of those limited edition Batman prints I picked up a few years ago will help pay my kids’ college tuition or my retirement or both. Would I have to have them appraised and included in my assets? Would someone’s income or assets be assessed through tax returns? Investments often don’t show up on documents like that. How would you assess assets?

We have to do the calculations. We would start with means testing of income. If that’s not enough, then Batman becomes part of it. Sorry. But this is a real problem. Privatization is a scam; it won’t work. And increasing social security levels is unfair. Call it what it is. Social security is not insurance; otherwise, it would be in an annuity that can’t be touched. It’s a tax, and if you don’t want the tax increased, you means test it. Every year. Same bat time, same bat channel.

You are running to represent the entire state of Pennsylvania. What parts of the state have you lived in or spent a lot of time in?

Born and raised in Philadelphia. I love it here. If I win, I’d probably move to the Western part of the state at the half way point of my 6 year term. I like Pittsburgh. Half in Philly; half in Pittsburgh.

What is one question you wanted to answer that I didn’t ask?

With tremendous odds against you, why would you ever think of running against Rick Santorum? The answer is because someone has to step up to the plate and put an end to the politics of divisiveness in Pennsylvania. I am not wealthy, and I am giving up most of my income during the race, but it’s important that I let Pennsylvanians know that I had the courage to put my name on the line, my reputation on the line, and my passion on the line. I welcome them to join me in giving Rick Santorum a run for the money.

Thank you, John Featherman!


Benson, Clea, “3d parties: small, but driven / Phila’s other parties are organizing for election day. Besides hoping to win, they want their voices heard,” Sept. 12, 1999, p. B1.

Fitzgerald, Thomas, “Old rival to run against Santorum in GOP primary,” Philadelphia Inquirer August 18, 2005 p. B3

Infield, Tom, “Brady takes the heat for skipping debate / The Democratic Congressional candidate was accused of attending fund-raisers instead of tackling issues,” Philadelphia Inquirer May 9, 1998, p. B4

Infield, Tom, “Race played large part in Phila. Mayoral election results, report says the analysis by an ex-Temple professor and her son found most blacks voting for Street and most white for Katz,” Philadelphia Inquirer Feb. 29, 2000, B1.

Infield, Tom and Russ Eshleman, “ Congress candidates debate,” Philadelphia Inquirer May 12, 1998, p. B1

Lowe, Herbert,” For Brady, victory seems a certainty/ the first district race really isn’t one,” October 29, 198, p. B1.

Rozansky, Michael, “He’s watching big brother – it’s a nosy world and you can get plenty of tips – from a privacy newsletter’s editor on fending it off,” Philadelphia Inquirer January 14, 1996, p. C1

Toland, Bill, “Underdogs growl at Casey, Santorum” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sept. 2, 2005,


Jamison said...

Great interview Jane! Very informative.

plshark said...

Agree --Great interview!

Please thank candidate Featherman for his thoughtful responses.

AboveAvgJane said...

Thank you! I enjoy doing the interviews, although they are a lot of work for me and the candidate. It's wonderful to know that people are reading it and find it useful.

Anonymous said...

Santorium can not win.
I'm glad to here that john Featherman will be on the primary ballot