Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee: Candidate profile, U.S. House District 10

Republican Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee of Northbrook is running against incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider in the 10th Congressional District.

Q: What has Donald Trump's unconventional leadership taught us about politics in the United States? What is the best thing his presidency has done? What is the most significant criticism you have of it?

A: In politics, like everything else in life, both action and words matter. President Trump's disruption of the political status quo and economic policy successes are undeniable, but his rhetoric is untenable. Until the pandemic, his economic policies had positively impacted every segment of American society, and his disruption put both allies and enemies that took us for granted on notice.

While the straight talk and irreverence for political correctness are refreshing, the singular focus on the economy, even when faced with hard science and data to do otherwise when confronting a pandemic, was ill-advised. The dual impacts of the pandemic and rhetoric have exposed latent feelings and attitudes and unnecessarily politicized the issue. This was a missed opportunity to lead by example.

Q: Many critics of governmental process complain that both Barack Obama and Donald Trump governed too much through executive orders rather than in collaboration with Congress. Is our system in danger of veering toward authoritarianism? From a structural standpoint, does Congress need to place stronger limits on the power of the presidency? If so, be specific on what some of those limits might be. If not, please explain your view.

A: Presidents would not have to use executive orders if Congress did their job, and no, Congress does not need to limit Presidential powers. Executive orders are a symptom, not the cause, of the extreme polarization of politics and misguided focus in Congress.

For example, Congressman Schneider has been in office for six years and raised almost $20,000,000 to get elected. What are his results? Nothing. Zero of his sponsored bills have become law, yet during that time 624 laws sponsored by his peers have become laws. So he is six years, $20,000,000 raised, and 0 of 624.

He's not alone, though. You have performers and underperformers just like you would in any industry. But the difference is in Congress the underperformers get away with it if they can be a star fundraiser - like Congressman Schneider and his low performing peers who chair the Democratic fundraising arm with him - another Illinois member of Congress.

The media tends to focus on fundraising quarterly rather than publishing who is getting stuff done. And our voters suffer the consequences of that. If we change our attention to results, I think we could change the effectiveness of Congress rather quickly.

Q: Protesters have massed in the streets throughout America calling for greater social justice. How significant a role does systemic racism play in limiting equal opportunity in America? To the degree that it exists, what should be done about it? Do you favor reparations? Should police be "defunded"?

A: Racism, whether systematic, inadvertent, or latent, does play a part in limiting equal opportunity. Racism is a symptom of our natural tendency to be afraid of who or what we don't know. No amount of training, discussion, reform, regulation, "wokeness," or reparations will solve this issue unless there is an intrinsic desire to change.

The best antidote to racism is (early) exposure and economic opportunity for all - and the path with the highest probability of success, I believe, is education. I know this firsthand, as this is my own life story. More than any affirmative action, handouts, reparations, etc. mentorship by role models - family, friends, organizations, or society - can permanently root out racism within a generation.

No, police should not be defunded, but policing needs to be re-imagined. The Public Safety approach of Glencoe, where officers are cross-trained in police, fire, and EMT functions, is one worth emulating. While an officer may show up to arrest you if you cause trouble, the same officer may show up to help you if you are in trouble, which automatically engenders a level of compassion and trust, while saving costs and improving utilization and quality.

Q: Does today's climate of polarization reflect a natural and necessary ebb and flow in the tone of civic debate? Or does it reflect a dangerous divide? What, if anything, should be done about it?

A: No. The tone of civic debate is unusual and reflects an unnecessary and dangerous divide, which at least I have not seen before.

I began my career in politics as an undergrad at UC Berkeley in the '90s in a time where we welcomed differences. I was an outsider in my political science classes - a woman, minority, first-generation, low-income college student - who embraced Republican principles.

I didn't fit the stereotype of a typical Republican. But my classmates and my professors listened to me and we were all respectful of each other's views - no matter our political party. I was encouraged to speak up and share my difference of opinion, and I was never discriminated against for being a Republican. Yet, how so much has changed since 1995.

Fast forward to 2019 when I stepped back in to politics after building a career in finance and tech and obtaining two Ivy League degrees and I am discriminated now on my party often. Just last week I was refused a technology product because of my political party. This is not how we used to be, and I know we can change this. I hope to be a part of that change.

Q: Is there a "cancel culture" in America?

A: Yes, unfortunately. As a society, we tend to favor extremes and frequently swing from one extreme to another. This cancel culture has been inflamed by the 24-hour news and unchecked and anonymous social media cycles, where people are convicted in the courts of public opinion before the courts of law. Of course, egregious behavior should be punished, but we should also hear both sides of a story and provide an opportunity for nonhabitual offenders to reform and redeem themselves. Once we jump the gun, no amount of backtracking or corrections can restore reputational damage.

Q: What do you see as the most important issues to address regarding immigration reform? If you oppose funding for a wall, what steps do you support to try to control illegal immigration?

A: Fortify our borders, enforce existing laws, tweak and expand legal immigration and help our neighbors. Most importantly, we need a consistent immigration policy and message that transcends administrations. Like every other country, we have the right to and must protect our borders. This could include a wall where necessary, but also natural obstacles or technology, if appropriate.

Our immigration laws are well established, time tested, served us exceptionally well, and made us the envy of the world. We just need to ensure that our current laws are enforced. I support DACA, but do not believe in a path to citizenship for DREAMers, but a path to legal residency as a compassionate compromise.

I believe the most durable solution to illegal immigration is to offer our neighbors - where my grandfather and stepmother are from (Mexico and El Salvador) - security and economic help to strengthen their economies and security profile so that their citizens have the option, but not the compulsion, to flee their homes.

Q: Please define your position on health care reform, especially as it relates to the Affordable Care Act.

A: For a country as wealthy as ours, health care should be a right, not a privilege. With the extreme (and arguably, unnecessary) complexity of the issue, we will have to take an incremental approach to attain a sustainable solution. Given where we are, the best way to do so is to preserve and improve the Affordable Care Act.

We can do so by leveraging lessons from the technology industry where companies constantly and voluntarily improve their products to better serve their customers. I believe the guiding principles of this approach need to include personal choice, personal responsibility, risk sharing, cost containment, expanded coverage and universal access with public and private options, where the government could be the "reinsurer" or a provider of last resort for catastrophic conditions.

Q: Should everyone wear a mask? Should our schools be open? What has the country done right about the pandemic? What has it done wrong? How optimistic are you that we'll ever get back to "normal"?

A: Masks: yes. Schools: It depends. Acknowledging the gravity of the problem, developing a suitable response and guidelines to combat the pandemic as we learned more based on science and data was the right thing to do. Inconsistent standards across states, and a lack of examples in the "fog of war" that inadvertently led to politicizing and inconsistent enforcement of the response was the wrong thing to do. Yes, we will get back to normal, but I predict it may take another year, maybe two.

Q: What do you consider America's role in world affairs? What are we doing correctly to fill that role? What else should we be doing?

A: America is the shining moral light of the world. We have rightly built strong military and commercial alliances and are able exert tremendous economic and soft power globally. This has, and will continue, to help us in the future as the world continues to coalesce and globalize.

The U.S. accounts for only 5 percent of the global population, but 25 percent of world GDP, two thirds of which is U.S. consumer spending. With an aging population, and growth rates below replacement, it is in our interest to build on this advantage now and help countries emerge from poverty so that they can become markets for our goods and services.

It is imperative that we maintain our moral, economic and military position in the world and do so with "free" soft power than "expensive" military interventions and continue to lead by example.

Q: Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should government be taking to address the issue?

A: Yes. The science underlying climate change is alarming. I have traveled to several Third World countries and experienced firsthand the real effects of lax government policies. I couldn't breathe - the smells, the exhaust, the pollution - it was something that I had never experienced before. That changed my view on climate change.

Science tells us that we are reaching a point of irreversible damage, and the government should acknowledge and address this problem urgently. If we don't act now, climate change is going to have an impact that is far worse than the pandemic. I believe the approach to address the issue should be commercial and incentive-based rather than punitive and regulatory, to ensure that efforts are focused on sustainable solutions rather than workarounds to regulation.

Q: What role does Congress play with regards to the growth of conspiracy theory groups like QAnon?

A: Conspiracy theories are not new. What is new is the speed with which these theories can be spread that result in deadly consequences. Congress can play a role in controlling the spread of conspiracy theories, but has to do so gently and under a different context, given the fine line between free speech and such theories.

The context could be, for example, forging our response to the two most serious national security threats: biological and cyber. Regardless of its origin, whether man made or natural, the pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world. There will likely be more. Similarly, cyber warfare, that includes commercial espionage, infrastructure sabotage, election interference and disinformation campaigns, among others, are more pressing than conventional or nuclear warfare.

Congress could expand the remit and funding to improve our cyber defenses and/or establish standards to counter conspiracy theories instead of trampling on free speech rights.

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