The candidates for the 9th Congressional District race talked about jobs, health care and even the future of Big Bird during a forum held Sunday at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.
The forum was co-sponsored by the Urban League Club of Chicago and several suburban chapters of the League of Women Voters.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, and her Republican challenger, Timothy Wolfe of Arlington Heights, took questions from dozens of audience members. Many focused on big topics that have been debated during this election year, including the future of "Obamacare."
Wolfe, a certified public accounted and business owner running for office for the first time, said the federal health care law needs to be "repealed and replaced." He said the law contains some good provisions, like mandated coverage of pre-existing conditions, but is overly complicated and confusing. He said it contains federal funding for abortions, despite President Barack Obama's previous assurances that it wouldn't.
"It's a bad law," he said.
Schakowsky said she's proud to have played a role in the passage of health care reform, a law she called a "blessing." She said the law doesn't included any federal funding for abortions.
"No citizen in the United States of America will ever have to go bankrupt because he or she got sick," Schakowsky said.
Asked how he would help create jobs, Wolfe said he'd work to reduce tax rates and scale back excessive regulation of businesses.
"We need some regulations, but they've gotten too burdensome and expensive," he said.
Schakowsky said she sponsored a bill in Congress that would put more than 2 million people to work. She said a robust middle class is vital to general economic success, and called for an end to tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
A variety of other topics were addressed at the forum:
• Schakowsky expressed support for the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to residency for some undocumented immigrants. Wolfe said he opposed it, because in his view, it would reward illegal immigration practices.
• On the subject of energy, Wolfe said the government needs to allow more domestic drilling for oil. He said alternative energy sources should be looked at for the future. Schakowsky said Republicans have fought attempts to explore alternative sources, favoring fossil fuels almost exclusively. She also criticized federal subsidies for big oil companies.
• In a reference to the recent presidential debate, the candidates were asked about their feelings about public television. Schakowsky said she supported it, while Wolfe, who admitted to liking Big Bird, said the federal government shouldn't subsidize public television.
After the forum, some complained that the questions weren't hard-hitting enough. Mount Prospect resident Ernie Lasse, leader of a local Tea Party chapter, said he wanted more questions about foreign policy and the nation's high unemployment rate. He said the questions seemed slanted to favor Schakowsky.
Paula Lawson, a League of Women Voters member who moderated the forum, said all the questions came from the audience, and that she asked questions as she received them. She skipped a few during the course of the forum only because they brought up topics that had already been addressed, she said. Lawson does not live in the 9th Congressional District.