By: Kathryn Potter
For years now, Congressmen Peter Roskam (IL-6th) and Randy Hultgren (IL-14th) have been ignoring the needs and wishes of their everyday constituents in favor of pandering to their corporate supporters. They are both typical rubberstamp Republicans, voting however they are told to by their leaders without question or consideration on how it impacts the people who put them in office. That’s about to change. Literally dozens of people in the 6th and14th Congressional Districts are stepping up to challenge the Rubberstamp Republicans in 2018.
Five of those candidates appeared at McHenry County College’s Luecht Auditorium on June 28th for a Candidate Panel hosted by local activist groups McHenry County Progressives, Action for a Better Tomorrow–McHenry County, and Indivisible IL14.
The forum was designed to provide an opportunity for residents of the IL 6th and 14th Congressional Districts to hear policy stances, go over campaign needs, and encourage citizens to get involved by volunteering time and money.
From IL 6th Congressional District:
- Amanda Howland, a former law school classmate of Roskam’s, a former educator and a two-term elected trustee at the College of Lake County who ran against Roskam in 2016,
- Kelly Mazeski, of Barrington Hills, a financial advisor elected to the IL Environmental Council who ran against IL-26th District Senator Dan McConchie in 2016, and,
- Newcomer Jennifer Zordani, an attorney with her own firm specializing in regulatory law, who resides in a multi-generation home in Clarendon Hills and wants to, “Make the District proud of whom they have in Washington again.”
From IL 14th Congressional District:
- Jim Walz, a School Board Member (D121) and sales representative who ran against Hultgren in 2016, and,
- Newcomer Victor Swanson, a US Navy Veteran and teacher of 17 years from Batavia who believes “there is a greater divide between rich and poor” which needs to be fixed.
With a sizeable audience in attendance, despite severe weather, Master of Ceremonies, Drew Knobloch of Indivisible IL14 and Moderator Nancy Zettler, publisher and senior editor of local political blog the Gold Pin Independent, read questions submitted by the hosting organizations prior to the event. The subject matter ranged from healthcare to higher education funding to gun violence.
The first question of the evening addressed residents’ growing healthcare concerns given the impending repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. Candidates were asked about plans to reform the healthcare and insurance industries.
As a group, the candidates spoke of their unease with the current system and with the direction healthcare is headed under Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. Each expressed interest in moving toward a single-payer healthcare system with Jennifer Zordani being the exception. Zordani believes that for the time being, Congress should focus on what can be done immediately to fix the damage that has already been caused. She advocated for fixing the Affordable Care Act and getting the federal government to reimburse insurance companies for taking risks with the ACA, which according to Zordani, they have not been doing.
Jim Walz, spoke in support of a single-payer/’Medicare-for-All’ system, agreeing that the ACA is imperfect but believes it was a step in the right direction, reminding the audience, “We are the only industrialized nation not providing healthcare.”
Saying that we need to learn from the challenges faced during the ACA rollout, his opponent, Victor Swanson, emphasized the need to get our current healthcare system prepared for ‘Medicare for All’ by ensuring we have enough facilities and doctors available when the time comes to pass such legislation.
Amanda Howland and Kelly Mazeski, both cancer survivors, take the issue of healthcare very personally. Howland who has undergone a kidney removal, touted an increase in ability to control and negotiate costs as one of the many benefits of a single-payer system. While Mazeski, a breast cancer survivor, focused on the need to win back the House and Senate before America can move forward with the ‘Medicare for-All’ system.
Another issue impacting residents across the 6th and 14th is the question of how to deal with the rising costs of getting a college education and the burden of never-ending student loan debt, an issue which Roskam or Hultgren have more or less ignored.
While some area graduates found themselves having to settle for what jobs were available in an economy recovering from The Great Recession, others found themselves having to acquire more training for the jobs that were available and how they were going to afford to pay for it.
When asked to address the issue, all candidates agreed that the current system needs to be reformed and expanded to allow more people the opportunity to get an education that is affordable.
Having seen both her parents work incredibly hard to ensure she and her sister could receive a proper education and attend college, Kelly Mazeski is intrigued by the idea of free State and community college, but stated a current need for graduates to be able to pay back loans based on their percentage of income.
“I know what I pay for my kid’s student loan debt,” remarked Walz, who believes the incredible burden of student loan debt on individuals and families in this country is taking money out of the economy and slowing growth. He believes reforms should include investing in our students and teachers, and what he called “intellectual infrastructure.”
“Legislators aren’t attentive enough to growing problems” remarked Zordani, who discussed the need to examine current issues with Pell grants and for-profit colleges. Her opponent Amanda Howland advocated for the expansion of Pell grants and tax credits to help more families afford the costs of higher education.
Howland also pointed to the fact that banks are making an incredible profit off high student loans rates. She and Swanson would like students to be allowed to negotiate more affordable student loan rates and have greater access to apprenticeship and workforce/job skills training programs.
Jobs and Job Training
When asked whether they believe government should take measures to ensure everyone has the opportunity to earn a livable wage and if government should provide training for people in dying industries, all candidates responded in support of a livable wage with Zordani calling it a “sustainable wage” and thanking Progressives for taking the formerly “radical” issues of a ‘livable wage’ and the ‘fight for 15’ to the mainstream.
Swanson, noticing first hand that schools aren’t preparing students adequately for anything other than college, believes bringing in robotics and trades like Auto Shop back into the schools could benefit a lot more students, admitting, “[4 year] College isn’t for everyone.”
Although she referenced an instance where “Coal miners are now coders,” Mazeski expressed concern that jobs will continue to be lost to technology. Overall, the candidates agreed re-training is a necessary function of government for workers in dying industries. Zordani took it a step further by noting that there are issues to overcome with mobility and infrastructure that goes hand-in-hand with moving jobs to the places where they are needed the most.
Variety came when asked about one of the biggest social issues facing us today, gun violence, and while it appears that nobody has the answer everyone has something they think couldn’t hurt. As this country has seen a huge spike in gun violence in recent years it has also seen growing divisiveness in Washington on how to fix the issue while still respecting the rights of citizen’s. Candidates were asked their feelings on whether regulation was appropriate and if so, how they would approach it.
Howland and Swanson both have family members who are hunters and they respect their right to do so. However, they both advocated for solutions to include education and training. While Swanson stressed the need to talk to children about not playing with guns he also believes bringing programs like “Everytown USA” (https://everytown.org/) into more communities would be a good start. Howland called for “civilized restrictions” like background checks and regulations, noting that there is “no need” for some guns – like military style assault rifles.
Both Mazeski and Howland stressed the importance of protecting victims of abuse, specifically women, and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Zordani was adamant that she would be unwilling to surrender on gun reform issues. She stated candidly that, “It’s an embarrassment to us as a Nation – with the level of gun crime in our country.” Zordani believes reasonable restrictions don’t infringe on our rights, she believes we need to call out people who are taking money from the NRA, and gun owners need to say that they disagree with the NRA.
Walz approached the issue of gun violence and regulation from a different angle. He spoke about how the war on drugs creates felons, and our criminal justice system is a form of voter suppression. Walz believes weapons of war should not be in the hands of criminals and calls for background checks, closing loopholes, and legalizing marijuana.
No surprise that when asked about funding for the environment and renewable energy the candidates spoke enthusiastically about the possibilities of renewables and green jobs.
Zordani wants to remove subsidies from the fossil fuel industry. Mazeski supports growing green energy jobs big time. Howland believes the powerful fossil fuel lobby is preventing growth in renewables. Walz wants to wean us off fossil fuels and incentivize use of renewables, and Swanson says, “When the Kentucky Coal Museum uses solar for its energy source you kinda know you’re on the right track.”
The panel ended with candidates making a plea for audience members to keep the pressure on Congressmen Roskam and Hultgren and to not let up. They are looking for volunteers and waiting to hear from you.
The groups presenting the forum hope to present more forums, highlighting other candidates, in the future.
- Heroic Media Group, LLC http://www.heroic.rocks
- Trinity SS Wellness https://www.facebook.com/TrinitySSWellness