Tom McDermott discusses his campaign for U.S. Senate. Photo courtesy of Tom McDermott.
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With the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 8, voters across Indiana are watching the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Todd Young and Mayor Tom McDermott. The Butler Collegian will be providing coverage of local elections throughout the remainder of election season.
McDermott has served as the mayor of Hammond, Indiana since 2004 — the longest-serving mayor in the town’s history. A Navy veteran, he earned his undergraduate degree from Purdue University Northwest in 1996 and graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 2000. After almost twenty years of service in Hammond, McDermott has his eyes set on Washington D.C.
The mayor agreed to sit down with The Butler Collegian to discuss his campaign for the U.S. Senate and the issues at the forefront of his platform.
The Butler Collegian: What made you first decide to run for office, and why did you choose to run for the Senate seat this term?
Tom McDermott: When I was 13 years old, my father was elected mayor of the city of Hammond. I went from seeing my father as just a normal person to watching him become elected mayor of the city of Hammond. It was a very big moment for me, as a young person, to see my dad become an elected official and get interviewed by TV and radio and wake up in the morning and see him in the newspaper and run the city. I think that was important for me as a young person because I realized that everybody could become elected officials and lead your community. I joined the Navy at age 18. I remember thinking about one day possibly running for office, so I knew I had to do a good job in the military for that reason. As far back as I could remember, I’ve always thought about running for office. I graduated law school from Notre Dame in 2000. I started eyeballing the mayor’s office in Hammond, which was three years away … I was already eyeballing that race as my first one, which was pretty cocky considering I was 31 years old when I graduated law school, running for mayor for my first office, but it all turned out.
TBC: What are the issues at the forefront of your platform?
TM: Women’s reproductive rights. I’m an attorney in Indiana; I’m licensed to practice still. In law school, one of the first things I learned about the U.S. Supreme Court is how they stick to the precedents. You know that they stand undecided cases for predictability reasons, and they did everything but that with the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs that overturned over 50 years of precedent. It’s treating women like second-class citizens in Indiana. Dobbs being overturned allowed the Indiana legislature to pass SB1, which is a near total abortion ban. I don’t think it’s right that my daughter and my wife are treated differently than women that live five miles to the west of me in Illinois. I think that’s a disgrace, and that once the Supreme Court gives people rights, the Supreme Court shouldn’t take them away 50 years later. That is the most pressing issue on the November 8 ballot. I realize I’m a man, and I’m being trusted by Hoosier women to do the right thing, so I will.
TBC: In your opinion, what is the biggest issue facing Hoosiers today?
TM: [Women’s reproductive rights] is definitely the biggest issue … My campaign has been on fire, and it’s because of women … When I win on November 8, I know why I won. I won because Hoosier women got behind me, and they trust me to be their surrogate and to do the right thing when I get to the Senate. I will, and I’m being straight up about it because I’m a man of my word. I want women to know that I’m going to win because of [them]. I promise to do the right thing when I get to the Senate, which is codifying Roe v. Wade. I’m going to fight like crazy to codify because it worked — and it’s an ugly topic nobody wants to talk about, but the fact is, forcing women to give birth when they’re not ready to give birth is not American. It’s against 50 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedents, and I’m going to fight to codify Roe vs. Wade when I become your senator.
TBC: Why do you think it is vital for collegiate Hoosiers, especially Butler students, to vote in this upcoming election?
TM: Elected officials pay a lot of attention to senior citizens because seniors vote in very high percentages. If you look at students, 18 and older, we don’t get the same voting percentages with the youth — and issues important to the youth are just as important as issues to seniors. The fact is, if seniors are the ones that vote in larger percentages, it forces elected officials to pay more attention to seniors because they’re voters … Hoosier youth have to realize that if they voted in higher percentages, those issues would become more important. Issues like reproductive rights and climate change are very important to young people. Cannabis legalization is also important to young people and, by the way, important to me as well. If we had a higher percentage of youth showing up to vote, those issues would become a higher priority for America. I think it’s really important to encourage your fellow students of Butler to vote.
TBC: In your position as mayor, how are you contributing to the Indiana education system, and what do you believe needs to be reformed?
TM: One of the best things I’ve ever done is I established a college scholarship program that helps send students to Butler and other universities in Indiana. This program has been in operation since 2006. It’s called the College Bound Scholarship Program, and there are students at Butler under this scholarship. It’s a $10,000 a year scholarship for Hammond homeowners. You have to get a certain GPA, SATs or ACT scores, and then we monitor your grades while you’re in college. There’s probably about 600 kids in this program right now. We’ve had thousands of kids graduate from the program; it’s costing Hammond taxpayers around $50 million that we’ve spent on college scholarships since we started this program. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s helped stabilize our population in Hammond and helped educate thousands of Hammond residents to attain their college degree. Best thing I’ve probably ever done and one of the best things I’ll probably ever do. It’s gonna be hard to match that.
TBC: What is your position on the Senate filibuster?
TM: I think the Senate filibuster is ruining the U.S. Senate. I’m anti-filibuster; I’m going to [be] anti-fillibuster from the minute I walk into the U.S. Senate. First off, I want to point out that the filibuster is not in the Constitution. There’s no word “filibuster” in the Constitution … When the founding fathers put the U.S. Senate together, they did it with the idea and the expectation that the Senate would be a place of great debate that Senators were going to take brave, hard votes — votes that were in the best interest of the United States of America. And because we created the filibuster, what has happened instead is made it so that there’s no great debate that takes place in the Senate. People like Todd Young, my opponent, don’t even have to put themselves on the record at all, as long as you don’t have 60 votes … That’s not why we give six-year terms. We did that because we want senators to make tough decisions in the best interest of our country … Because of the filibuster, you know, the Senate is a place where good bills go to die now.
TBC: What do you think about the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan — and Indiana’s policy of taxing the loan forgiveness?
TM: I paid off my student loans myself; I had $100,000 worth of debt when I graduated from law school — it was hard. I was broke. And so when I first heard about it, like a lot of grumpy Americans, I was like, “Well, people should pay off their own debt.” And the more I thought about it, though, I would think about Senator Young, who thinks it’s the end of civilization, that capitalism is falling apart because we’re forgiving student loan debt for some of the poorest Hoosiers — forgiving debt for struggling students that are just graduating and economically are not doing as well because they’re just getting started. I thought about Senator Young supporting the Trump tax cuts and how that’s targeted to [benefit] the ultra-wealthy. It added $2 trillion to our nation’s debt that [the younger generation] is going to pay off. These multimillionaires and billionaires are getting tax breaks right now, so I thought, why can’t I support one-time student loan debt forgiveness for some of the poorest struggling Hoosiers right now? … Indiana is punishing students by taxing [the loan forgiveness], but that’s what the GOP supermajority does, and that’s something we have to take care of also, and I think we will on November 8. I support President Biden’s one-time tax relief, but it doesn’t do anything to address the spiraling cost of higher education. I know Butler students know, [Butler is] a wonderful university, but it’s not cheap. I know [the students] know that, and that’s something that needs to be addressed as well. That’s not addressed with President Biden’s one-time debt relief, but I do support it. I don’t think it’s the end of civilization like Todd Young does. He also supports the Trump tax cuts, which targets only the ultra-wealthy.
TBC: Earlier this month, President Biden pardoned thousands of Americans on simple possession of marijuana charges — what is your position on these pardons, and on cannabis legalization?
TM: I came out early that marijuana legalization and decriminalization is important to me and important to this campaign. I believe that everybody that’s been convicted of marijuana-related crimes should be pardoned; their records should be expunged. Indiana is missing out on millions of dollars of new economic development — billions of dollars of tax revenue. We’re a pro-business state, and we’re not acting like a pro-business state when it comes to [the cannabis] industry. [The cannabis industry] is exploding, and we want nothing to do with it — that makes no sense to me. I have a cannabis store located less than five miles away from my house in Hammond, Indiana, and if I drove over there and sat in the parking lot, 75% of the license plates there are Hoosier license plates. So these Hoosiers are driving to Calumet City, or driving to Illinois to buy their marijuana. As soon as they cross the state line back into Indiana, they turn into criminals. They can be arrested and charged with a crime for having gummy bears in their car. It makes no sense to me. We have our head in the sand, and we need to decriminalize [cannabis] from the federal level, and that’s something I’m determined to do. I don’t think that people who use cannabis are criminals. Quite frankly, I think it’s a great alternative to opioids. [Indiana] has a major problem with opioids right now. I’ve been mayor of Hammond for 19 years, during which I’ve seen a number of unfortunate fatalities, a lot of them from overdoses. I have yet to see one person that overdosed on marijuana, and I’ve been mayor for almost 20 years. I don’t think [cannabis] is a dangerous drug at all. I think it’s an unfortunate history we’ve had; I think [Hoosiers] need to reverse that and embrace it and make it an industry. This is an agricultural state. We could grow that plant in this state and make our farms worth more money and give us another cash crop.
TBC: As our senator, how would you listen to the voices of college students?
TM: I already do. I’m 53 — I was 34 when I got elected. I’ve always considered myself young. I still consider myself young, and I don’t look very young, but I’m young at heart, and I get along with students very well. I was a travel baseball coach; I coached over 500 games. I’ve been surrounded by young people my whole adult life … I make it clear to all professors and high school teachers that if I’m invited to the classroom, I’ll go. That’s the way I’ve always acted as mayor, and that’s the way I’m going to act as U.S. Senator as well. I’d be more than honored to come to Butler and talk to students. You have to make yourself available and be a good role model for young people. I would love to see [students] run for local office and run for governor one day. Sometimes the way to spark that interest in people is how it was sparked for me when I saw my father become mayor. When I show up to colleges or high schools, and people see what I do, there’s somebody out there in the audience going, “Wow, I’d really like to do that one day.” You know, that’s my role. That’s what I want to do: be a good mentor and role model for all Hoosier youth.
TBC: What is one thing you want Butler students to know about you and your campaign?
TM: I’ve been campaigning for 14 months. I’ve driven 70,000 miles across the state of Indiana in the last 14 months, raised $1.5 million. Shook 10,000 hands, been sneezed on a number of times, got COVID once. I’ve been working real hard, and the guy I’m running against, Todd Young, he’s mailing it in. He thinks because he has millions of dollars in his campaign account that he’s got it in the bag, that he doesn’t have to work hard — and he’s not working hard. The fact is, I’m working harder. I think I know the issues better than him. I think I’m definitely more of a regular Hoosier than he is. I just would ask [Butler students] to take a real good look at both candidates. Obviously, if you’re at Butler, you’re a very smart individual. Take a real good look at both candidates and how hard we’re working and what we’re doing. I’m confident that once [students] educate themselves on both the candidates, they’ll vote for me.