Bill Foster: Candidate profile, U.S. House, 11th District
Incumbent Democrat Bill Foster of Naperville faces a challenge from Republican Rick Laib of Joliet, a sergeant in the Will County Sheriff's Department, in the race for the 11th Congressional District, which includes all or parts of Aurora, Naperville, Lisle, Bolingbrook, Plainfield and Joliet.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates a series of questions. Here are some of their responses.
For complete election coverage, visit www.dailyherald.com/news/politics/election.
Q. What next steps should Congress take regarding the COVID pandemic?
A. The need for aggressive federal action to mitigate the economic effects of this crisis are clear. We are facing the highest unemployment levels and worst GDP performance since the Great Depression. The economic strain is being felt by small business owners and workers whose jobs have been lost. Across the country, people are struggling to make ends meet.
Congress took aggressive action with the CARES Act, which included direct payments to families, enhanced unemployment insurance, and the PPP loan program to help businesses keep employees on payroll. We need to do much more, however. The data suggests that the economy is still reeling, especially because of President Trump's failure to manage the coronavirus crisis. I was proud to support the Heroes Act and vote for it in the House. This bold legislation provided even more relief for hard working American families and small businesses that are hurting, however the Senate did not do its job.
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. Donald Trump's unconventional leadership has taught how divisive politics in the United States can be, and how important it is to have trusted and reliable news sources.
The Trump administration's decision to try to bring critical supply chains back from China is correct, although he unfortunately has very little to show for these efforts. Trump's unilateral tariffs accomplished little. And, the multibillion dollar subsidies offered to Foxconn to bring back flat screen TV manufacturing to Wisconsin will generate few manufacturing jobs. The idea behind this effort was correct, and it should continue under competent management.
This administration has failed to manage the coronavirus crisis and we are paying the price for their incompetence with the lives of our fellow citizens. From the very first case of COVID-19 in the U.S., the President has been denying the science, deliberately lying to the American public, and pandering to conspiracy theories. The administration failed to set up a comprehensive system for testing and tracing and left states competing against each other for PPE. These failures contributed to the highest COVID-19 death toll of any country in the world.
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. I agree with this objection. We are paying the price for relying too heavily on executive orders and an assumption of good faith on both sides. For example, nobody believed we needed a law that all presidential candidates must reveal their tax returns, because for 40 years all serious candidates had done so; now it is clear we need a law that the IRS should make these tax returns public the moment any candidate files for office.
A dysfunctional Congress only encourages executive overreach. The constitutionally contentious DACA program was only initiated after Republican House leadership blocked even a vote on the DREAM Act, which was supported by the majority of the House and over 80% of Americans. In this case, I believe the most constructive reform would be to strengthen the process for Discharge Petitions in the House. These can force a vote on a popular measure even when the Speaker is opposed.
Q. Please define your position on health care reform, especially as it relates to the Affordable Care Act.
A. I believe that health care is a human right and that we should continue moving toward universal coverage. One of my proudest votes in Congress was for the Affordable Care Act in 2010. I have voted for a robust public option because it is vital to provide people with a high-quality, low-cost coverage option that competes with private insurance plans. I remain committed to strengthening the ACA and ensuring that live-saving health care is available and affordable for everyone. Specifically, this should include continuing the ACA's Medicaid expansion and eliminating means-testing, a gradual reduction of the age of eligibility for Medicare, and reducing out-of-pocket costs and drug costs by cost-reducing measures such as H.R. 3.
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. I am proud to stand with those calling for an end to racial injustice and systemic racial discrimination throughout society. We have a lot of work to do to address systemic racism and discrimination and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was a strong first step, but it cannot be the end of the conversation.
I believe that police should not be defunded, but that their effectiveness should be increased by providing them better training and more assistance from social support services and psychological counselors. Allocating more resources to social services will not only help people who need assistance, but it will relieve some strain from police departments that aren't equipped to provide those services.
I believe that too much time has passed for effective and fair repatriation payments to individuals, but that more subsidies to education (for example, at historically Black colleges and universities) and more community-level assistance to neighborhoods that were injured by "red lining" are appropriate.
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. It is dangerous. As a scientist, it's troubled me for a long time that scientific facts are so often ignored by leaders who would rather mislead the public than tackle the pressing issues that deserve rational debate and scientifically sound policies. Because of the proliferation of social media over the past decade, the problem has only gotten worse as people and algorithms are able to cherry pick information that supports their position and block out opposing arguments. To decrease polarization we need to get back to science, facts, and rationality.
The single most effective remedy for today's political polarization is to eliminate separate partisan primary elections, and replace them with unified nonpartisan primaries (either ranked-choice or top-two). States from Maine to the West Coast have done this, and results are encouraging. Separate partisan primaries empower extremists in either party, and are designed to prevent any centrist politician from surviving.
Q. What role does Congress play with regards to the growth of conspiracy theory groups like QAnon?
A. Let me be clear: President Trump's embrace of wild conspiracy theories has only made the political climate worse and in some cases, dangerous. It is incumbent for any elected official to denounce harmful conspiracies that do nothing but get in the way of the real issues the American people are facing and that the government should be addressing. The willingness of the Republican Party to allow conspiracy theories to gain traction and be promoted by their own candidates in some places is shameful and is an example of how they've allowed a once great party to be hijacked. The solution to preventing these nut cases hijacking a political party is to eliminate separate partisan primaries and replace them with ranked-choice voting.
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. I strongly support comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, improves our legal immigration system, unites families, and provides an earned path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who currently live in fear of deportation. I regard it as a tragedy of history that the House of Representatives was not allowed to vote on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill the Senate passed in 2013. I was among those Democrats who were collecting private commitments from Republicans to vote for the CIR bill, and I believe that it would have passed by more than 30 votes if we had simply been allowed to vote on it. While I do not support funding for a wall, partial funding for improved border security was included in that compromise -- a compromise that could well be resurrected when Trump leaves the stage.
I also support DACA and will continue to work to create a path to citizenship for the DREAMers, who came to this country through no fault of their own.
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. We should be listening to the public health experts and following the best available science. Right now, everything we know about COVID indicates that it is spread from person to person through droplets expelled by talking, laughing, coughing, etc. and that people can be so-called asymptomatic spreaders which means they can feel healthy but still contagious with COVID. We also know that masks can significantly reduce the spread of these droplets, and that countries which adopted universal masking had a much easier time controlling the pandemic. Based on this knowledge, it's only logical that people should be wearing masks whenever they leave their house and cannot socially distance from anyone not in their household. We also know that children are not immune and we don't yet know the lasting physiological effects of COVID on young bodies.
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. Today, the United States remains a beacon of freedom and democracy around the world. As a nation that prides itself on democratic values and the rule of law, we must continue to utilize multilateralism and the international institutions created in the aftermath of the Second World War to promote human rights, peace, and security around the globe. The single most important thing the U.S. can do right now to promote democracy is to demonstrate how a democracy can defend and repair itself from the damage done by a dishonest and corrupt leader.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials remains one of the greatest threats to global security. Congress must act on the extension of the New Start Treaty and continue to support the indispensable work being done at our national laboratories and international institutions.
Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should government be taking to address the issue?
A. As a scientist, I know that climate change is real and largely man-made. It is a real threat to our children's future and our world's natural beauty and resources. If we fail to act, we will lose many of the landmarks and natural beauty that make this world so wonderful. According to NASA, the average global temperature has increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius or 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880.
We should be investing more into research to lower the costs of reliable, sustainable clean energy. As an example, decades of federally-funded research at Argonne National Lab and elsewhere has resulted in batteries with lower cost and far higher performance. As a result, in the next few years the total cost of ownership of electric cars will be lower than gasoline-powered cars. When this price crossover takes place, we will no longer need to be arguing about CAFE standards since nobody will want to buy a fossil fuel powered car. This technology will then be adopted by the rest of the world -- dramatically lowering the carbon footprint of all mankind.