Jim Oberweis: Candidate profile, U.S. House 14th District
Republican State Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove is challenging incumbent Democrat Lauren Underwood of Naperville in the race for the 14th Congressional District, which includes the outer ring of the Chicago suburbs from Minooka north to the Wisconsin border. The Daily Herald posed a series of questions to the candidates; here are their responses.
Q. What next steps should Congress take regarding the COVID-19 pandemic?
A. The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the lives of too many Americans and our response to the virus has cost millions of Americans their livelihood. Entire industries have come to a complete halt because of this disease. If ever there was a time for America to be united, it should be a time like this.
Unfortunately, because of the politicization of this disease, we are more divided than ever. Are there things the federal government could have and should have done better in responding to this virus? Absolutely. We should, when the pandemic is behind us, thoroughly examine what actions were successful and what actions need improvement. This should not be done as a finger pointing exercise but rather as a good-faith effort to learn how to better prepare for future pandemics.
We also need to look at drug manufacturing and medical equipment manufacturing and look at ways to be less reliant on China for these things. The shortage in PPE and availability of medications is something we need to address before the next crisis.
Finally, Congress needs to work with the executive branch of government to enact policies that will help our economy come back. Many Americans are out of work through no fault of their own. We need bipartisan solutions to get America working again.
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. I have said all along I support the president's agenda. There are always going to be differences of opinion, but the president is a deal maker and he is willing to sit down and negotiate. I admire that about him. He has accomplished many very positive things like the Tax and Jobs Act of 2017 and reducing unnecessary regulations. His Executive Order to allow the reimportation of American-made drugs from Canada is the right policy.
Going into the pandemic, we had a robust economy thanks to the president's economic policies of lower taxes and a reduction in regulations.
I am not always fond of his social media presence. His style can be abrasive at times, but I support the things he has done for this country and I believe he is acting in the best interest of the country. That is really all we can ask from a president.
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. We need to get away from governance by executive order. Instead of endless investigations and hearings, Congress needs to be proactive in working toward real, meaningful bipartisan solutions to the issues facing our country. Yes, the House passes bills, but these bills lack bipartisan support and are therefore DOA in the Senate. On at least a half dozen occasions on the floor of the Illinois Senate, I have pleaded with my colleagues to vote "yes" on the bill if they believe it is a good bill and to vote "no" if they believe it is a bad bill, regardless of which party sponsored the bill. Too often, Democrats will only support a bill filed by another Democrat and Republicans will only support Republican-sponsored bills.
The McCourt School Bipartisan Index House Scores for 116th Congress First Session (2019) from the Lugar Center ranks Lauren Underwood 344th out of 437 members for bipartisanship -- not exactly a stellar record of bipartisanship. I will work with both Democrats and Republicans on real solutions to the complex problems facing our nation.
Q. Please define your position on health care reform, especially as it relates to the Affordable Care Act.
A. People want access to affordable, quality health care. There are free market solutions that will enable us to achieve these goals. We can lower costs and increase access while protecting preexisting conditions. Allowing more competition, increasing price transparency, and allowing portability of health care coverage are just some of the ways we can improve health care.
We need to increase price transparency of health care services. Consumers have no idea what the actual cost of their health care is. We also need to encourage more competition in the open market. Another way to lower costs would be to allow health care plans to follow the individual rather than tie these plans to employment. Portability of health care costs could help substantially lower costs.
We need to fix Obamacare. It is not working and is very expensive. There are elements such as providing care for preexisting conditions that we should keep, but we need to look at ways to reduce the cost of health care rather than merely shifting the cost of health care to taxpayers.
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. Racial discrimination is wrong and has clearly happened at times in our country. We need to take steps to heal this nation and address racial discrimination, but we do not need to adopt radical policies like "defunding" the police. We need to enable our police to keep our communities safe. I would support measures to improve training for police officers and to make it easier for departments to weed out bad actors who abuse their positions. Lack of support and confidence in our police can lead to vigilantes taking control, and that would be the worst possible outcome.
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. I think we are looking at a dangerous divide. People are getting beaten and even shot and killed simply for expressing a different political point of view. We need a return to civility in our society. We can and should have robust debates on public policy matters but there is no reason for these disagreements to turn violent. We must allow both sides to express their opinions without fear of reprisal. I believe that the press has played a role in this divide. Thirty years ago if I read something in The New York Times or heard it on CNN, I could be highly confident in its accuracy. That is no longer true today. It seems at times like certain members of the press are primarily interested in supporting their positions and candidates rather than a balanced approach to the news.
We need leaders in our society to stand up and condemn violent behavior. That should not be a Republican or Democrat issue. Both sides should firmly condemn rioting and looting. Allowing violent actions to remain unchecked is only going to produce more violence. We as a society need to call out the violence we are seeing in our cities and make it clear that this kind of behavior is not acceptable.
Q. What role does Congress play with regards to the growth of conspiracy theory groups like QAnon?
A. Congress is fueling conspiracy theories by the endless investigations that waste time and advance erroneous theories such as the Russia collusion narrative. It is no wonder that people in the general public are coming up with conspiracy theories of their own given the outlandish conspiracy theories coming from the Democrat leaders in the House. It is time for Congress to lead by example.
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 am a strong proponent of immigration and a fierce opponent of illegal immigration. As a matter of policy, we should not hold children responsible for the actions of their parents. I believe there must be a reasonable path for citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who have grown up in the United States, but I would not provide a path to citizenship for the parents who broke the law. They could be granted a nonimmigrant visa which would allow them to stay and work but not provide a path to citizenship. If they want to become citizens, they would have to follow the same path as any other applicant. Trump's attempt to end DACA is a great negotiating tool to bring true reform, which in my mind involves a compromise for dreamers while providing strong border security and ending birthright citizenship for those born here to parents who are here illegally. I believe this is a reasonable compromise and should be the approach we take to bring about meaningful immigration reform.
I think there is and should be a bipartisan solution to immigration. I have a history of working with Democrats to address big issues. My opponent is one of the least bipartisan members of Congress. She has no interest in working with Republicans. If we want to make progress on big issues like immigration -- it won't happen with people like Lauren Underwood in Congress.
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. I wear masks, especially when I am indoors with a group of people. We require everyone at Oberweis Dairy to wear a mask except when eating or drinking. I think people need to use good judgment and take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Once again, this should not be a political issue. It is a health issue. We just need people to exercise common sense.
We do need schools to be open. The science clearly shows children are not as at risk as older people are and that in-person education is critical to the development of the child. We should move forward with safely opening our schools. This cannot be a national policy or even a state policy. The procedures need to be set up by the school districts or even by individual buildings because circumstances and rooms might be quite different.
The president was criticized for instituting a travel ban to China early in the pandemic. Democrats like Nancy Pelosi claimed he was overreacting, but clearly he was right. We have dramatically increased testing and the president's public/private partnerships have been well-executed.
But there are some disappointing aspects to our response to the virus. The most frustrating part of confronting COVID-19 has been the politicization of this virus. From the very beginning of the pandemic we lost valuable time in terms of responding to the virus because of the misinformation coming out of China. Had China been more forthcoming with good information about the disease, we could have been more informed in terms of how to respond.
Our initial view of the virus was shaped by the information coming from China. At the beginning of the outbreak, health officials told the public that there was nothing to fear about the virus. Dr. Fauci did numerous interviews in which he said COVID-19 was not something Americans should be concerned about.
Once the virus took hold in our country, it became as much a political story as it was a medical story. Democrat governors took to the podium every day to blast the president and then the president spent a great deal of time in his press briefings defending his decisions and pushing back against the political attacks. The partisanship is not helpful. We need to work together as Democrats and Republicans instead of making outrageous accusations against each other.
I do fault the president for being slow to encourage the wearing of masks, but he has come around on that issue.
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. Our focus should be on protecting American citizens and American interests abroad. The United States cannot afford to continue to be the world's policeman.
We must also ensure that our trade deals do not hurt American workers and the American economy. It is in our interest for developing nations to become more self-sufficient and certainly the United States can and should use its economic power to help these developing nations, but we need to make sure we are not hurting our own workers and our economy in the process.
Finally, we need to continue to encourage other nations to pay their fair share of the cost of NATO, and we must also make sure our investments in global initiatives are aligned with our national interests.
Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should government be taking to address the issue?
A. I do believe climate change is real. The transition from fossil fuels to renewables should be the goal, but it is not something that is going to happen overnight. We must work toward these goals with the objective of maintaining accessibility to affordable energy. We cannot jeopardize the availability of energy. Many of the advocates for wind and solar are not realistic with their timetables. We are nowhere near ready to make wind and solar the dominant source of our energy. It is not necessary or advisable to rush and use the force of government to set artificial timetables that have no basis in reality.
Finally, we should focus on continuing to develop clean coal technology and safe nuclear energy while we work toward renewable energy solutions. Parts of the so-called Green New Deal like banning air travel are unrealistic and would badly damage our economy and the economies of many other countries throughout the world.
Q. Is there a "cancel culture" in America?
A. The cancel culture has been around for a long time, but it certainly has gained momentum in recent months.
This is a radical departure from the forgiving nature of the American people. We have long been a country that looked at what people are doing in the moment rather than evaluating them on past mistakes. I tend to be someone who sees the best in people. I know I don't want to be judged solely by my mistakes, but rather by the good things I have accomplished in my life.
We need to be more proactive as a society in treating people with dignity and respect. We need a return to civility in our culture. Real life is not the rot we see on social media. If we all followed the Golden Rule and loved our neighbor as ourselves, the world would be a much better place.