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Lipinski: Pragmatic problem solver or out-of-step Democrat with ‘squishy’ views?

U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski with candidate Marie Newman, Wednesday, January 24th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times . | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

The Lipinski family formula for political longevity, now spanning 36 years, has always been built upon hewing to the conservative side of the Democratic Party, finding peace with Republicans as protection for general elections.

LaGrange businesswoman Marie Newman thinks that formula has passed its expiration date for U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, who followed his father Bill into Congress 14 years ago.

“I don’t think he understands the district has changed beyond dramatically since his tenure,” Newman told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board Wednesday in a joint appearance with Lipinski, their first of the campaign.

The 3rd Congressional District, which represents much of Chicago’s Southwest Side and the southwest suburbs, is now solidly Democratic turf that deserves a solid Democratic vote in the House, not a “squishy situation where you don’t know how the congressperson is going to vote,” Newman said.

Lipinski, 51, countered that the “pragmatic” voters of his district want a like-minded representative willing to reach across party lines to solve problems, not someone who would add to the “bickering and gridlock” in Washington.

U.S. Congressional Candidate Marie Newman, Wednesday, January 24th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times
U.S. Congressional Candidate Marie Newman, Wednesday, January 24th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Throughout the Editorial Board session, the 53-year-old Newman sought to portray Lipinski as someone who has been out of step on many of the hot button issues that define today’s Democratic Party — abortion rights, immigration and gay rights.

She also took Lipinski to task for votes through the years in which he rejected the party’s position on high profile matters, including votes against Obamacare and the DREAM Act.

Lipinski spent most of the hour on the defensive.

“On abortion, yes, I’m pro-life. I think science shows that life begins at conception, and that is a value that I think as a Democrat who believes government has a role in protecting those who are vulnerable that we should protect,” he said.

Newman argued Lipinski should set his personal beliefs aside to support abortion rights because 70 percent of the district’s voters do. He said it’s a matter of principle that should not be dependent on his constituents’ views.

Lipinski tried to walk a middle ground on gay rights, saying he supports same-sex marriage “because it has been declared the law of the land,” then adding: “Personally, I don’t support it, but that doesn’t matter in how I vote.”

Newman noted Lipinski co-sponsored the First Amendment Defense Act, regarded by gay rights activists as an attempt to legalize state-sanctioned discrimination against same-sex couples.

Lipinski cast the issue as one of religious freedom and said he sponsored the bill out of concern churches would lose their tax exempt status.

Asked about the Colorado court case involving the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, Lipinski called it a “very difficult question” of the baker’s free speech.

Newman said it was a “horrific” case of discrimination against the gay couple.

Lipinski said he voted against Obamacare because he didn’t believe it would work, but pointed out that he’s never supported Republican efforts to repeal it.

Newman said she supports “Medicare for all” proposals promoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders and other Democrats. Lipinski said he doesn’t.

Newman portrayed Lipinski as a Johnny-come-lately on immigration reform who voted against the original DREAM Act legislation to protect young immigrants brought here as children. That legislation later served as the template for President Barack Obama’s executive order offering similar temporary protections, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Lipinski said he opposed the DREAM Act because “at the time, I thought we should not just deal with one group of immigrants.“

“That’s not my position right now,” added Lipinski, who said in November that he would support legislation to extend the DACA protections if it comes to a vote.

Newman said she wants Congress to approve a “clean” no-strings-attached DACA bill without funding for a border wall, but understands Democrats may need to compromise.

Still, she said that if she were in Congress she would vote to shut down the federal government again in three weeks if no solution has been found to protect the Dreamers.

Lipinski said it’s too soon to say, but that he generally opposes government shutdowns.