03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Promising Senate Candidate from Illinois

Home values fell $2.4 trillion from December 2007 to December 2008 and around 1.7 million homeowners were on the verge of foreclosure in the fall. You'd never know that to hear Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk tell it. He's busy reveling in the health care reform bust while everyone else tries to figure out how to pay their monthly insurance premium. One Senate candidate is well aware of what is happening to most of us on the ground in real life Illinois: Cheryle Jackson. She spoke to the Tenth Dems in Highland Park as part of the Tenth Dems University "Meet the Senate Candidates" program.

For guidance in her political career, Jackson looks to her background as the daughter of an accountant who struggled with employment upon his family's move to Memphis in the 1960s. Her dad ran up against 1960s style race discrimination in the job market and learned how to use his business skills to work with small mom and pop, minority businesses, to help them find financing sources and expand. Jackson took that example to Chicago's Urban League where she shifted the mission from social services to economic development. While she acknowledges that social services are important, she feels that economic development is the long term solution to unemployment and the ills that lead to and come with it.

Last year, when President Obama's proposed stimulus package was the focus of the nation, she wrote an article that appeared in the Tribune about the stimulus needed for urban areas. Jackson was talking about Main Street when most everyone else was talking about Wall Street and just plain old streets. She focused on the gaps of the proposal including jobs for people who did not have the construction skills to take work building roads and other proposed infrastructure projects. She also focused on the role of small businesses in creating jobs:

While everyone agrees that small businesses will play a major role in a rebounding economy, do they agree on the types of businesses eligible for relief under a stimulus plan? Minority businesses tend to be more service-oriented and lack the collateral that weighs heavily into loan decisions. Growing these businesses will require more prescient financing models such as mezzanine funding, a private equity tool that gives fast-emerging companies greater access to capital based on different requirements for collateral and personal credit history. A payroll tax credit would be another powerful tool to help small businesses create jobs.

She went on to discuss that helping small businesses with greater guarantees of SBA loans don't really help because the SBA requires a certain level of cash flow that many small businesses do not have. She favors green jobs, but recognizes that we don't yet seem to understand what that means beyond building efficiency and don't have the training in place to prepare the unemployed ready to take the jobs. Her stimulus suggestions remind me of my recent post on the economic proposals of New America Foundation. Presently, she's concerned about the small amount of stimulus funding that has been released.

Jackson's other main focus is education and improving our nation's skill sets. She's run many job fairs through the Urban League where many standing in line didn't have the skills for any of the available jobs. She feels we are not doing enough to lessen the cost of college. She's met many people unable to send their kids back for second semesters and worked with many people to help them find money for all the fees that can keep a student from attending even when the student has a scholarship.

Jackson is very familiar with the effects of the credit and housing crisis. She's worked with families unable to get help from their banks, noting that help is not available unless the borrower is 4 to 5 payments late, a situation that completely ruins their credit. She also been on the phone with lenders on behalf of many people trying to refinance.

Mark Kirk talks about deficits, according to Jackson, but never mentions that he participated in creating them with the Iraq War. Jackson gives Republicans no leeway on their role in putting our country into debt and favors withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan to focus on our economic issues here at home, noting that our economic strength is part of our national security.

I had to ask her a health care question. I asked if she'd vote for the current version of the Senate bill. Jackson's bottom line for an acceptable bill includes an entity large enough to drive down costs and create competition, coverage for pre-existing conditions, no further restrictions on choice beyond Hyde (and she'd favor eliminating Hyde as well), and any bill must not reduce Medicaid payments and services. She wasn't as familiar with the current state of the Senate bill, but acknowledged after hearing the details that she'd probably have to vote no. I expressed my wish that she'd consider single payer.

She hedged a bit on a free trade question which I don't think she was really prepared to answer. However, she did say that she likes to ask the question that no one else is asking and brought it back to what we can do to nurture small business and economic development around the world without harming the workers and the environment. She proved she knew what she was talking about when she mentioned the need to level the playing field, understanding that free trade policies leave developing countries without potential markets and hurt American workers when workers in other countries are underpaid and otherwise abused.

As she was in the Illinois Tenth, Jackson was asked a question about Israel. She recognizes it as our country's most important Mid-East ally and it's right to defend itself. She was unsure about the Jerusalem issue, but is getting advice from AIPAC and was reminded of J Street of which she was already aware.

On a question about banking, Jackson was familiar with an Obama campaign proposal about a mission and not profit driven bank to help get credit moving to the right places.

Jackson seemed very open and honest to me. Smiling, she acknowledged that hay will be made over her work for Blagojevich, but reminds that she left during his first term. She reminds me of candidates from years ago who were less interested in grandiose international plans and more interested in what happening with our jobs and families. She'd be an interesting and perhaps much-needed addition to the Senate with this focus as our current Senators are clearly out of touch with our needs as displayed in the recent health care reform negotiations.

Many of us in Chicago's northern suburbs knew very little about Cheryle Jackson until this presentation. While not as polished as some candidates, Jackson exudes a genuineness, and not only an earnest desire to learn, but the ability to go out and actively teach herself. She tells a clear story about why she's running and what she hopes to accomplish if she wins. She has a command of local economic issues not shown by any of the other candidates and extrapolates that understanding to form her view of international issues.

Jackson trails Giannoulias in the polls, but has gone up 5 points without slick mailers or television ads. David Hoffman, who has been running an intense television advertisement designed to tear down Giannoulias as a banker, trails Jackson by 8 points in the latest independent poll.