Roskam, Casten talk economics in Oak Brook

How to keep politics out of the way of economic development was the central theme at a gathering Thursday of 200 business leaders and two competing congressional candidates in Oak Brook.

Appearing together in a town covered by the 6th District for what likely is the first time during their hard-fought campaign, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam and Democratic challenger Sean Casten both courted entrepreneurs and executives in real estate, banking, hospitality and manufacturing during the breakfast at the Oak Brook Marriott.

Speaking before the man he's trying to block from winning a seventh term, Casten said he offers skills that are typical in business, yet "remarkably exceptional" and "unbelievably rare" in politics, such as the ability to seek and create win-win situations.

Casten, 46, of Downers Grove, ran businesses in the clean energy industry, and said that experience gives him the ability to make tough choices with clear eyes.

"To actually say, 'I'm going to make decisions based on facts and I don't care what politics is,' that sounds kind of inspiring in a political environment ..." Casten said. "But the biggest thing and the biggest take-away and the reason that I really decided to run is this whole idea of the win-win."

Partisan politics, Casten said, stops leaders from seeing solutions that benefit all.

He said he would aim to put values first, country second, and party a far distant third, allowing him to advance positive legislation on issues such as climate change and health care.

Roskam, who has represented the 6th District since 2007, said his job is to make sure the economy expands in a way that helps all. He told his audience at the Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Leadership Forum that he feels he's on the same page with their economic views.

The event came the day after two large chamber groups - the Illinois and U.S. chambers of commerce - said as much by endorsing Roskam's campaign. Casten, meanwhile, recently has been endorsed by PL+US Action Paid Family Leave and the Alliance for Retired Americans.

"What we want to pursue is the economics of growth. We want an economy that is expansive and growing and buoyant and opportunistic," said Roskam, a 56-year-old Wheaton resident. "As you flourish, that's not a threat to anybody, but that's an opportunity for more people."

The tax changes approved late last year would have been an easy subject in front of Thursday's business-minded audience, and indeed Roskam and Casten touched on their views on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, each sticking to his oft-repeated statements.

Roskam, one of the architects of the tax bill, told stories of businesses that have made improvements because of the new tax structure - a car mechanic that added a 401(k) plan for employees; a mother-daughter day care that has seen business boom as nearby employment has increased; a manufacturer that invested $4 million in equipment, hired more people, improved efficiency and better met environmental goals.

"Under this (tax) plan, what we've seen now is ... unemployment near a 50-year low; very forward-learning manufacturing confidence at a level of a 20-year high," Roskam said. "We've got manufacturers that are saying, 'I'm willing to invest, I see opportunities.' That's what it's all about."

Casten, however, said the tax law has not made any directional changes in macro-level measures of the economy, and its benefits tend to help the wealthy. Without steps to counter what he says is expanding underemployment and widening income inequality, he said the middle class could be in trouble.

"If we don't make a point to invest in industries that are going to create jobs and grow jobs for the future that are being lost in modernization and globalization, then we're going to be left out," he said.

Oak Brook and most surrounding towns are part of the C-shaped 6th District, which runs from a southern point in Naperville, curves west and north to Tower Lakes and encompasses parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

The election is Nov. 6.

  Democrat Sean Casten, left, and Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, greet each other before a question-and-answer session Thursday morning at a Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Bev Horne/
  Casten touts his experience running businesses in the clean energy industry, making decisions based on facts and seeking win-win solutions. Bev Horne/
  Roskam talks about the local business benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which he helped write and pass. Bev Horne/
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