Joel Pollak’s website describes him as a “human rights lawyer and author from Skokie.” Originally from South Africa, he moved to the U.S. in the 1970s and became a citizen in 1987. After graduating from Harvard, he returned to South Africa to teach and write. He also worked as a political speechwriter for the main opposition figure in the South African parliament. He returned to Harvard to attend law school. While a student, Mr. Pollak rose to national prominence when he challenged Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Barney Frank to take some personal responsibility for the country’s economic state. He has been endorsed by the Tea Party Movement and is the Republican nominee.
“I’m running in this race because our economy is suffering in the 9th District,” says Mr. Pollak. “We’ve lost thousands of jobs, businesses are closing, homes are being foreclosed upon and we’ve had 12 years of one approach [with Ms. Schakowsky in office], which has been to tax more and over-regulate. It’s really time for a fresh start and to do something different.”
Evanston “can form the core of an innovation corridor,” explains Mr. Pollak. Proximity to Chicago and its infrastructure can allow the 9th District to be “the leader, not just” regionally but “nationally and internationally in the development of alternative energy technology, biotech and computers.” He will support federal funding for research projects “to create a positive business environment” and spawn spinoff projects and stable businesses that will not require any additional tax dollars. Evanston can be a better, more prosperous place with targeted federal money for “research in basic science” and “medical research” including programs at Northwestern and the hospitals, and those contributions will result in new, cutting-edge jobs that Mr. Pollak believes, if the atmosphere and tax burden is properly set, will stay in Evanston or the 9th District.
Mr. Pollak emphasizes that funding, while appropriate and critical, must not be in the form of earmarks. He has publicly criticized Ms. Schakowsky for some of the projects she has supported, particularly a research grant to an Evanston alternative-energy company, Indie Energy, a company that completed a pilot geothermal heating system at an engineers’ union hall. “I didn’t refer to that particular grant as an earmark,” he says. “I think there’s been a lot of evidence that stimulus projects have been steered toward political supporters and this is one example. …”
Although he says he believes in smaller government and less spending, Joel Pollak does not go as far as many in the Tea Party Movement go when it comes to the elimination of federal spending. He “absolutely” sees a federal role in funding infrastructure improvements such as interstate road and rail projects. “It’s an investment that brings value, and that’s what we should be investing in,” he says. “All this brings economic growth and brings businesses to the City,” he says. But he expresses limits: “I think there are some functions that the state is primarily responsible for,” he adds, such as local roads and intercity rail (CTA and, for the most part, Metra). While he believes in public transit, he says, he sees it as a state issue only, even when taking environmental impact into consideration.
Mr. Pollak does not call for the abolition of the Federal Department of Education, but says, “I think we need to reappraise the [federal] role … and see what policies have had a positive or negative effect.” No Child Left Behind at times punishes schools for doing what they are supposed to do, he says: “teaching new immigrants” and “kids from poor backgrounds.”
“It makes no sense to call an outstanding school like Niles North, where I went to high school, a failing school,” he says. He praised the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program as an example of the type of program he would support.
“I believe in the second amendment because I believe people do have a right to protect themselves,” says Mr. Pollak. Rather than supporting efforts to limit handguns on the streets, Mr. Pollak supports expanding gun rights within Evanston: “I’ve talked to business-owners in Evanston, some of whom have been held up at gunpoint, and the worst feeling is the fear that there’s nothing you can do to protect yourself in the event the police don’t arrive in time.” While acknowledging that “guns are used by people to do terrible things,” Mr. Pollak says that he does not support any effort to limit access to handguns. Instead, he calls on community leaders to get together to “really put a stop” to crime in the community. Such efforts are hurt by elected officials breaking the law, he says. “People feel they can get away with it,” he said. “If they can do it, why not me?”
“I learned to sail on Lake Michigan,” says Mr. Pollak. The lake and the entire Great Lakes system, including the St. Lawrence Seaway, he says, require bipartisan cooperation and a strong federal role with a view toward the “holistic effect” decisions have on the environment. He cautiously supports windmills in the lake. “I am not sure I support [the current proposal] because I think there are other designs that might be better.” The right project, however, could “put Evanston on the map as being on the cutting edge of alternative energy research.”
“The most important thing that we can do to create jobs is reward businesses for creating jobs,” says Mr. Pollak. Investment tax credits, providing for “10 percent back to small businesses for everything they invest in new capital,” and limiting or eliminating new regulations and taxes, are ways to reward job creation, he says. “We have to put jobs first, and I think President Obama came into office with a tremendous opportunity to do that – instead of which he put just about everything else first,” Mr. Pollak says.
Mr. Pollak wants to cut wasteful Washington spending “so that people feel better about our economy and feel better about investing and taking risks again.” While he agrees, he says, with Defense Secretary Gates that some of the cuts should come from the defense budget, he adds, “I think that when you look at long-term projections of where our spending problems are in our budget, defense spending is not one of them.” He says that while fighting on two fronts, “we may even have a third front [as] North Korea and Iran and all the terrible threats we are facing … This is not the time to stand down.”
Mr. Pollak says that he constantly faces questions about Sarah Palin when people hear that he has been endorsed by the Tea Party Movement. He has never personally met Ms. Palin, but he has attended rallies at which she spoke and he helped “prepare some of the materials she used to prepare” for the vice-presidential debate with then-Senator Biden. “I continue to be impressed with her ability to connect with her audience,” he said. To him, though, “the focus of the Tea Party has been on ending government deficits and overspending. … I don’t think Sarah Palin is the Tea Party, and I don’t think the Tea Party is Sarah Palin.” He credits Ms. Palin with saying the smartest thing anybody has said about the economy when she said, in the VP debate, “Never again can we do this.” “Rather than blaming Washington and Wall Street [for our economic woes],” said Mr. Pollak, we need to “look at our own lives.”