9th District Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Evanston is opposed for re-election by Republican Joel Pollak of Skokie and Green Party candidate Simon Ribeiro of Evanston. The three candidates responded to the Daily Herald questionnaire.
Q. What is your Number 1 campaign issue?
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Schakowsky: Jobs. We need to act aggressively to create good jobs in the 9th Congressional District and in Illinois as a whole. This will require working with the private and public sectors to leverage funding and to make sure that credit is available for entrepreneurs and small businesses, and to guarantee that our students are educated at the highest levels so that they can participate in the 21st century work force. Jobs grow the economy and reduce the deficit.
Pollak: Create jobs.
Ribeiro: We need to nationalize the Federal Reserve System and reform our fiat monetary system so that the government can issue out currency without going into budget and national debt and so that the government will not need to tax people for revenue. Which means abolishing all taxes after we get this new monetary system and always being debt-free and having good programs always well funded.
Q. What is your Number 2 campaign issue?
Schakowsky: Health and long-term care. This year, Congress passed a historic health care bill, and I am working hard to ensure that it is implemented efficiently so it meets the needs of health care consumers, payers and providers. I am also pushing to make sure we build upon the law by including a public option (which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates will reduce federal costs alone by $68 billion between 2014 and 2020), ensure access to the full range of preventive and reproductive health services, and expand state and federal regulatory authority to block excessive premium price increases. We also need to provide greater access to quality, long-term care.
Pollak: Fix health care.
Ribeiro: We need a single, national government-payer health care system in which services would be free to the patient; no out-of-pocket pay, and that covers everything like dental, mental health, and prescription medications fully).
Q. What is your Number 3 campaign issue?
Schakowsky: Retirement security. Many individuals have been hit hard by the economic crisis, but this is especially true for those close to retirement and for seniors - many of whom have lost 401(k) savings and pensions. I am committed to protecting Social Security and Medicare benefits while looking for ways to help boost savings opportunities and ensuring access to affordable prescription drugs, housing, transportation and other essential needs.
Pollak: National security/defending allies.
Ribeiro: End the U.S.-led Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Columbia and create a political solution to the Arab-Israeli Conflict so that Peace with Justice prevails internationally. Also we need to establish positive relations with Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea.
Q. What are the suburbs' most pressing transportation needs? What will you advocate for to help with the state's infrastructure challenges? How do you, if at all, propose funding the STAR Line rail project? Do you support or oppose O'Hare expansion?
Schakowsky: Although the Recovery Act provided our region with a much-needed boost in funding for infrastructure projects, there is still a large and increasing need for funds to improve highways, streets, roads, bridges, and our outdated water infrastructure systems. Additionally, many parts of my district are making investments in more transit-oriented development projects, which will provide long-term social and economic benefits for our region. These efforts will require significant federal investment to implement these projects successfully and in a timely manner.
In my conversations with elected officials across our district, one of the most pressing issues they mention is the need to update their antiquated water infrastructure systems. This critical investment is necessary to prevent flooding, protect human health and to care for the environment.
The vitally important Star Line Rail project will provide a long-needed alternative to the automobile for the nearly 1.6 million residents who today live in an area that is chronically congested with highway traffic. By linking nearly 100 communities in the southwest, west, and northwest suburban regions of Northeast Illinois, the STAR Line fills a critical void for inter-suburban commuter rail service that will complement Metra's high-performing suburb-to-city model.
(Skokie) Mayor George Van Dusen recently said that the most commonly asked question by developers and real estate investors is: what are the transportation options for this property? That is why my office was supportive of the new CTA stop at the Illinois Science and Technology Center. Throughout my district, road and mass transit projects are directly linked to economic vitality and I have helped bring funds to realize those projects.
Lastly, while I do support the expansion of O'Hare Airport, there is no doubt that it has been disruptive to thousands of my constituents who have expressed great concern about the noise. That is why, at my urging, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting a study to determine whether noise pollution from O'Hare airport is being properly measured. In the meantime, I am working with the FAA on short-term measures that can reduce noise pollution for residents impacted by the expansion of O'Hare. This includes increasing the amount of funding available for soundproofing in homes, schools and businesses.
Pollak: The most pressing transportation need is the rehabilitation of public transportation infrastructure. We need to sort out the financial mess of our various public transportation services, and attend to the crumbling bridges that haunt our district. We also need to expand and strengthen public transportation in order to foster economic growth and an "innovation corridor that can rebuild the suburbs' manufacturing base with a focus on high-tech industry. The state needs to become serious about fiscal responsibility, immediately, and a period of fiscal austerity will be necessary before large-scale investments can take place. Federal funding can be used to fund the STAR Line project, as well but only in exchange for a legally binding commitment by the state of Illinois to eliminate the state deficit over the next 15-20 years. That will put the political pressure on Springfield to sort out the state's budgetary mess, while allowing for some prudent spending on infrastructure that will ultimately provide a positive net return for the taxpayers. I support the role and an expanded O'Hare plays in our regional economy, but seek to mitigate the impacts of expansion, and will support a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement process that can give greater voice to the suburban communities that are suffering the impacts. We need to consider new solutions for air and noise pollution, such as congestion pricing, and more sensible distributions of air traffic.
Ribeiro: We should make the buses run later and the trains run later.
We should get rid of the high, regressive burden motorists take on with their vehicle's annual License plate stickers and city and/or permit stickers. We should abolish the tolls and the title transfer tax/fee.
We should also make the minor traffic tickets much cheaper and have the traffic courts open on the weekends, evenings, or online, so folks don't need to waste time and space getting there, and lose work while trying to appeal tickets.
Q. Is government debt a problem? If so, what should be done? If you were in Congress at the time, how did you vote on measures, including the financial reform bill? Are you against earmarks? Will you accept them? Should taxes be cut at the federal level?
Schakowsky: I believe that our deficit and the national debt are on an unsustainable path. In order to address the significant fiscal challenges that we face as a country, both cutting spending and raising revenues will be necessary. As a member of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, I am working with the other commissioners to evaluate all of our options to address our deficit and debt.
I have approached our mission with a focus on eliminating waste and inefficiency in government programs and closing tax loopholes that benefit companies that take American jobs overseas. There are two components to the problem. The first -- the cyclical deficit -- is caused by a Great Recession and high unemployment, that have reduced revenues at the same time that there is high demand for unemployment benefits and other assistance. We can solve this problem by making the investments that will create jobs and restore economic prosperity. If we do not, future growth will be much lower and deficits far higher.
The second part of the problem is the structural deficit. We got into this economic mess in large part due to the failed Bush policies of two unfunded wars and unpaid for tax cuts for the rich. Those policies need to be reexamined. I support ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and I would not extend tax cuts for the rich. We need to lower overall health care costs by promoting value and efficiency, not eroding the guarantees providing by Medicare and Medicaid or shifting more costs to individual consumers and businesses. We need to eliminate waste in government and pay for new initiatives, while protecting Social Security, whose modest benefits represent the majority of income for 60% of retirees. There is much rhetoric about shared sacrifice as part of deficit discussions. I think it is important to recognize that not everyone benefited equally from the pre-recession economy and many Americans have been sacrificing for years while nearly all of the economic growth during the Bush years went to the wealthiest Americans. I support increasing tax rates on individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000.
Pollak: Government debt is THE problem, because it is undermining confidence in our economy and placing an enormous burden on future generations. We need to roll back nondefense discretionary spending and freeze it at pre-2007 levels. I agree with the $1.3 trillion in cuts over ten years that have been identified by Republicans on the budget committee. At the same time, we need a concerted, bipartisan effort to deal with our long-term mandatory spending. We will lose Medicare and Social Security if we don't change the way we fund each of them. And we have to repeal Obamacare and start over with real, sustainable insurance reform, because we cannot afford the heavy cost of the new entitlement. If I had been in Congress at the time, I would have voted against the stimulus billwhich created debt, not jobs. I also would have voted against the financial reform bill, especially because it failed to regulate or deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac just as Congress refused to regulate them in the years before the financial crisis. I am against earmarks and will neither seek nor accept them. Taxes on business and investment should be cut at the federal level, because we have the second-highest (soon to be the highest) such taxes in the world. That drives away investment and frustrates job creation. If we cut those taxes, we would see revenues rise, because more people would invest and start or grow businesses in America.
Ribeiro: Yes, the debt is a problem, but we can fix it by nationalizing the Federal Reserve System and the Fiat Monetary policy.
We need to Nationalize the Federal Reserve System and Reform our Fiat Monetary System so that the government can issue out currency without going into budget and national debt and so that the government will not need to tax people for revenue. Which means abolishing all taxes after we get this new monetary system and always being debt-free and having good programs always well funded.
Q. Do you believe the country's immigration laws should change? If so, how? Do you favor or oppose Arizona's new immigration law and why? Would you support increasing the cap on the number of legal immigrants in the U. S.?
Schakowsky: As a first-generation American, I know firsthand the tremendous contributions immigrants have made to our country. The 9th Congressional District of Illinois is one of the most diverse in the country: 40% of our residents speak a language other than English at home; one-third came as immigrants, and fifty-some languages are spoken in our schools.
But America's immigration system is broken and in desperate need of a solution. It is this dire need that will propel us to passage of comprehensive immigration reform. We've already seen an extreme example of misguided policy put forth by Arizona's recently-passed immigration law. Not only excessive and draconian, the Arizona law allows basic civil rights to be trampled by suspicion and prejudice. While an appellate court ruling struck down key provisions, the Arizona law must be scrapped entirely.
Instead, I support an approach that protects our borders, allows people to fill jobs that don't attract American workers, requires those who are here illegally to step forward, register with the government so we can know who's here, and, if they have no criminal history, requires them to get work permits, pay their taxes, learn English, get legal status and eventually qualify for citizenship. These principles are all part of the legislation that I co-sponsored, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for American Security and Prosperity Act, H.R. 4321.
Pollak: I believe that border security must come before changes to the immigration law. I believe that the Arizona law is constitutional especially after key amendments were made by the Arizona legislature. (I actually read the bill before commenting on it, and consulted friends and colleagues more knowledgeable than I about immigration law. I found the language of some sections of the bill to be vague, in a way that could allow for racial profiling. Those sections were amended, and the law actually bans racial profiling.) I do not think the law is the best solution, because it places a huge burden on state and local law enforcement officers, who often rely on illegal immigrants as informants in solving crimes. The law does point to the urgent need for the federal government to fulfill its basic duty, and protect the border. I do support immigration reform once border security is achieved, and I would focus on making it easier for skilled immigrants to come to America. We need to increase or lift the cap on skilled legal immigrants, because otherwise our companies are simply going to continue outsourcing jobs to offshore offices.
Ribeiro: Yes, they should make legal immigration easier for people that are seeking jobs that need to be filled in (by traditional immigrant labor). They should legalize undocumented workers that are positively contributing to society by either putting them in a gust-worker program or give them legal residency.
We should recognize dual citizenship with other countries instead of just Israel. We should have a better partnership with our neighbors, Mexico and Canada.
Q. What is your view on the Defense of Marriage Act? Should gay and lesbian couples receive the same benefits as heterosexuals? What's your view of "don't ask, don't tell" and why?
Schakowsky: I fully support the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed, to be recognized as legal partners in marriage, and to be afforded all the rights and partner benefits currently given to heterosexual married couples.
I do not believe that marriage should be limited to the definition of the union of one man and one woman and I oppose the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The law is woefully misguided and I look forward to a day when it is overturned.
Pollak: I believe that the federal government should not define marriage, and that the precise definition should be left to state legislatures and voters to decide. That is why I believe the Defense of Marriage Act is probably unconstitutional. I personally believe marriage is between a man and a woman, yet I do support civil unions, and would support legislation to ensure that gay and lesbian couples should receive the same benefits as heterosexuals. I would not stand in the way of the state of Illinois if the majority of the people sought to change that definition. (It may be better to take government out of the business of defining marriage altogether.) I believe that Congress should not act on "don't ask, don't tell" until the military review of the policy is concluded. I would not oppose its repeal, yet I also believe that we must preserve the primary purpose of the military, which is to defend our country and not to act as an engine for social change. The possible negative effects of a change in policy in wartime ought to be considered very seriously.
Ribeiro: One state should respect another state's marriage laws. We cannot be a "house divided." Traditional marriage has state-to-state reciprocity and therefore so should gay marriage to make things simple and on the "same page."
Openly gay American adults should be able to serve in the U.S. military as long as they do not engage in sexually inappropriate things while on duty.
Q. Should there be more or less government oversight with oil drilling? What are your ideas for improving the U.S.'s response to the BP oil spill? What would you have done differently if you were in Congress at the time?
Schakowsky: The oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon rig in April 2010 is without question the greatest environmental catastrophe in our nation's history. In addition to the tragic loss of eleven lives, an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil were spilled into the gulf, drowning animals, destroying fragile wetlands, and wiping out entire populations of fish -- and along with it, the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people.
What is most upsetting about this tragedy is that it could have been avoided. I am a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has learned through rigorous investigation that BP executives created an atmosphere where safety concerns were ignored in order to ensure that the company's already staggering profits this year, approximately $93 million a day, continued unabated. At the same time, it is true that our government was too lax and did not provide enough oversight of the oil and gas industry.
I strongly oppose offshore drilling because the relatively low amounts of oil extracted from these areas do not outweigh the tremendous risks posed by drilling in environmentally sensitive areas. The devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April is not only a clear indication of the important role our government must play in overseeing offshore drilling operations, it is also stark reminder that the United States must develop a comprehensive energy strategy that ensures we have the resources to meet our demand. I believe the U.S. must promote energy conservation and invest in renewable fuel sources. This strategy would lessen our environmental footprint and decrease long-term demand. Instead of depending on foreign oil and depleting our natural resources, we should instead invest in domestically generated renewable energy like biofuels, wind, thermal and solar power, which would support our economy and keep our environment clean.
Pollak: There should be better oversight, which is not the same as more or less oversight. The oil industry is already one of the most heavily regulated industries. The Gulf disaster came about because of poor enforcement and conflicts of interest. The Obama administration also allowed politics to interfere in its response. The best response, in preventing future problems, is to make sure the U.S. Coast Guard has the resources it needs to stop oil from reaching the shore - major cuts were announced just before the spill. In addition, the cozy relationships between regulators and the industries they regulate need to be ended. We also need to stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The moratorium on new drilling, for example, did nothing to help the environment but did destroy 23,000 jobs in the Gulf region. If I were in Congress at the time, I would have made sure we maintained the strength of our coastal defenses, and worked more effectively with state governments to make sure they could respond to the spill. Congress should have enacted emergency legislation to lift restrictions on dredging and filtering, for example, to allow barrier islands to be built and to allow more skimmers to operate in the affected areas.
Ribeiro: There should be more government oversight and enforcement regarding oil drilling and the safety precautions thereof. Congress and the executive branch should have monitored the actual leaks right away to assess the true enormity of BP's liability.