Democrats stake out debt-reduction ideas in first Senate debate

  • From left, Tammy Duckworth, Napoleon Harris and Andrea Zopp are competing in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

    From left, Tammy Duckworth, Napoleon Harris and Andrea Zopp are competing in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

 
 
Updated 2/8/2016 6:48 PM

The Democrats running for U.S. Senate pointed to different priorities to tackle the country's debt Monday in their first joint debate of the primary race.

Asked how to pay for the college tuition breaks and other programs their party's candidates for president have called for, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates pointed to the military's F-35 fighter jet program, a $400 billion effort that hasn't yet taken off.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"And still we don't have a good flying aircraft," she said, adding some of that money could be redirected.

Former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp focused on increasing revenue. She cited her business experience, which included time at Sears Holdings Corp., to argue the government makes it too easy for some businesses to avoid paying taxes.

"Every company I've worked at has a large department of people who spend all their time finding out how we can pay less taxes. We create a lot of loopholes that allow that to happen," she said.

State Sen. Napoleon Harris, a Harvey Democrat and former NFL player, looked at the military, too.

"The first step is, no more expensive wars," he said.

"We've spent trillions of dollars on wars, that at this point, have amounted to nothing," Harris said.

The three candidates spent a largely polite hour debating before the Chicago Tribune editorial board Monday, their first of three scheduled debates. They're vying for the Senate seat now held by Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Highland Park, who faces a primary opponent in IT consultant James Marter of Oswego.

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The Democrats are set to meet two more times, including a televised debate in Chicago Feb. 19, and Zopp has complained about the lack of a downstate debate.

They split over the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement with Duckworth and Zopp opposing it and Harris supporting it.

And Zopp and Harris traded disagreements about their reactions to the Laquan McDonald shooting in Chicago. Zopp called her opponents "largely silent" on the issue when she called early for a federal Department of Justice investigation. A former prosecutor, she argued she had the best background to lead on the issue.

"You have limited experience, leadership experience in dealing with the issues that are going to be addressed in Washington and that are going to make a difference for working families," Zopp said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I disagree," Harris replied. "You've never been elected."

Harris appeared before the Daily Herald editorial board later in the day and highlighted his background growing up on the South Side of Chicago.

"The American dream is being hijacked," he said. "This is an opportunity to restore the American dream."

Zopp met with the Daily Herald editorial board last week and Marter before that. Neither Duckworth nor Kirk have committed to a meeting.

The noon debate drew criticism of Duckworth by the Kirk campaign.

During the debate, Duckworth was discussing young Americans who have been radicalized by ISIS.

"Because they see people like Mark Kirk demonizing Muslim and Islam and wanting to shut down our borders," she said. She was challenged on the point about whether politicians are responsible for radicalizing young people.

"No, I think they were radicalized by ISIS, who are attempting to get U.S. politicians and the United States to react in fear," she said.

Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl called the comment "naive and dangerously foolish."

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