Kristine Schanbacher, 7th Congressional District Democratic candidate profile

Her top priorities include health care, education and criminal justice reform.

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Kristine Schanbacher, 7th Congressional District Democratic primary election candidate, 2020

Kristine Schanbacher, 7th Congressional District Democratic primary candidate

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Candidate profile

Kristine Schanbacher

Running for: Illinois’ Seventh Congressional District as a Democrat

Political/civic background: Human Rights Activist engaged with numerous local and national organizations, including: the Greater Chicago Food Depository, National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs (JAC), and Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR). 


Education: Bachelor of Arts from Northwestern University and Juris Doctorate from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law





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The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their districts, the state of Illinois and the country. Kristine Schanbacher submitted the following responses:

Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or other paid or volunteer work to improve your community. 

Over the last two years, I have helped reinstate wrongfully terminated food benefits, won a reduced sentence for a juvenile unconstitutionally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and represented a non-violent, low level drug offender in his clemency hearing.

In addition to my human rights victories in the courtroom, I have lobbied Congress to protect: food benefits, the right to choose, and the separation of church and state as well as to enact common-sense gun safety legislation.

What are your views on the decision by the U.S. House to impeach President Donald Trump? Has the impeachment process been fair or not? How so? If, in your view, the president should not have been impeached, would you have supported censure? Please explain.

I fully support the U.S. House’s decision to impeach President Trump. The U.S. House conducted the impeachment process fairly. President Trump abused the power of the Presidency for his own personal gain and actively obstructed Congress’s efforts to obtain information regarding his actions. The country needs adherence to the system of checks and balances. There must be consequences for such actions, particularly when those come from the Presidential office. Further, the trial must be fair, open, and transparent, and the country needs to come before one’s party. 

How would you reduce the federal budget deficit, which now stands at about $1 trillion for 2020? What changes, if any, to the U.S. tax code do you support and why?

To reduce the federal budget deficit, we need to reduce spending and increase revenue. 

We need to reduce our military spending and obtain regular independent audits of the country’s military spending. While other government agencies’ budgets are being cut, our military spending is at the highest level that we have seen in several decades. And unfortunately, there are many examples of exorbitant military spending. Wasteful military spending does not keep us safe, all it accomplishes is lighting money on fire. Defense spending accounts for about 15% of all federal spending and about half of discretionary spending. In fact, we spend more on our military than the next 7 to 8 countries combined. We need to cut our military spending. 

We also need to increase our revenue. One way we can do that is by becoming a world leader in renewable energy. Focusing on this type of innovation will not only create more jobs and stimulate the economy, but it can also be used to increase our revenues through renewable energy exports.

Additionally, we need to close large corporate tax loopholes. In 2018, companies like Amazon, Chevron, and Eli Lilly paid $0 in federal income taxes. In fact, more than 75 Fortune 500 companies paid $0 in federal income tax in 2018, despite being profitable. This is not acceptable; it is depriving our country of billions of dollars in revenue, while the average taxpayer continues to shoulder the tax burden.

What changes would you like to see made to our nation’s healthcare system? Would you shore up the Affordable Care Act or work to repeal it in full? What’s your view on Medicare for All? And what should be done, if anything, to bring down the cost of prescription drugs?

The two most important changes I would like to see made to our nation’s healthcare system is to (1) add a public option to the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and (2) lower prescription drug costs.

Improve the ACA

An important way we can enhance the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) is to add a public health insurance option, which was in the original 2010 ACA proposal, but it was dropped as part of a compromise to pass the bill. A public option would create an affordable alternative to private plans, expanding coverage, specifically capturing the millions of uninsured Americans who do not qualify for Medicaid, but who are often priced out of private health insurance. Adding a public option to the marketplace also limits private provider pricing power, and therefore helps control the costs of quality care regardless of the provider.

A country that the U.S. can look to for a model of a public-private insurance system is Germany. Germany’s public insurance option is made available, free of out-of-pocket costs, to anyone making less than a minimum annual income. It is paid for mostly by employers and employees through payroll contributions. The plan covers primary care, as well as specialty care, prescription drugs, and medical devices. Anyone who wishes to have additional benefits, beyond those offered by the public option, may buy a private insurance plan to cover those additional benefits, like Medicare Part C in the U.S. This system allows everyone access to affordable, quality health care, regardless of income and ability to pay.

Lowering Prescription Drug Costs

Prescription drug prices continue to skyrocket, and it is unacceptable that drug makers continue to raise drug prices and profit at the expense of the people who rely on those drugs every day. We must enact measures to cap drug price increases, as well enact measures to manage pricing and availability particularly on life-saving medications.

Allowing drug importation from Canada would have a huge impact on drug prices in the U.S. It would provide a cheaper alternative to the options available to consumers in the U.S., even the generic drug options. The U.S. allows drug companies to charge virtually any price they want. If those consumers were able to import drugs from Canada, they could obtain the same drugs at a lower cost, because there are more options available in Canada. Further, drug manufacturing is strictly regulated in Canada, just as it is in the U.S., so drugs made in Canada are as safe as the drugs made in the U.S. The market competition would result in reduced drug prices.

Another measure that would curtail drug prices is better regulation of Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), which serve as middlemen that negotiate discounts on drug prices from drug manufacturers, on behalf of their pharmacy clients. Currently, the discounts PBMs negotiate are non-public, confidential information. These discounts should be made public in order to help negotiate better prices for consumers who pay directly out of pocket for their drugs. Publicizing the amount of these discounts will also allow prescription drug plans to better negotiate its reimbursement rates and pass along those savings to members through lower co-payments and deductibles.

The Trump administration is awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court as to whether it can end the DACA program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Do you support or oppose DACA and why? Should a path to citizenship be created for the so-called DREAMers? Please explain.

I support the DACA program. Ultimately, we need to accomplish comprehensive immigration reform on a legislative basis, which would include expanding protection to DACA recipients and providing a fair and understandable pathway to citizenship. Legislative action is a must regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the pending case. Native-born or immigrant, undocumented or documented, we are all humans first and foremost. DACA recipients grew up here. They attended schools here and engaged with their local communities. However, while DACA recipients have some additional protection; it is not a permanent solution or answer. While this protection has reduced some of the psychological impacts, it has not eliminated them. Illinois has the third highest number of DACA recipients trailing only the border-states of California and Texas. Comprehensive legislation to protect DACA recipients -- our friends, neighbors, and colleagues--is a necessity.

Yes, a pathway to citizenship should be created for DREAMers. We need to eliminate the current barriers that DREAMers face that prevent them from applying for green cards and obtaining citizenship. 

What are the three most important issues in your district on which the federal government can and should act?

Healthcare, education, and criminal justice reform.

Regarding healthcare, the federal government needs to improve and strengthen the ACA and lower the cost of prescription drugs as discussed above.

Regarding education, the federal government needs to increase federal funding for public education. Money that we save by reducing our wasteful military spending can be used towards education. President Eisenhower utilized defense spending to help build our interstate and highways. We are not a world leader, let alone in the top 10, for any of our education brackets-- pre-K, K-12, or post-secondary. The more we fall behind on public education compared to other nations, the more our national security is threated, and that justifies use of defense funds. We need to re-prioritize education, and adequately invest in our children, teachers, and schools. 

Lastly, regarding the criminal justice system, the federal government needs to first and foremost end the failed War on Drugs. Non-violent, low level-drug possession offenders should not be incarcerated. Barring aggravating factors, such as driving under the influence, non-violent drug use should be treated like the medical problem that it is and should not result in prison/jail time. Furthermore, the War on Drugs has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities, despite the fact that there are statistically more White drug offenders across the spectrum of different narcotics. The War on Drugs is largely responsible for our ridiculously high prison population. We are a world leader in terms of our prison population. That is unacceptable. Instead, we need to prioritize providing food, education, job training/skills, healthcare, and mental health services to communities.

What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent(s)?

My energy, dedication, and determination to make the Seventh Congressional District a powerhouse for human rights and innovation is the biggest difference between me and my opponents. I have a proven track record of significant human rights victories, as I have: successfully fought to reinstate food benefits (SNAP) that were wrongfully terminated, won asylum for a transgender woman fleeing severe violence in Mexico, helped overturn a statute that would have shuttered every abortion clinic in Wisconsin, and won a fair, reduced sentence for a juvenile that was unconstitutionally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In today’s political climate, ideology is not enough – we need action. We are leading the world in prison population, mass shootings, prescription drug prices, and guns per capita. Instead, we can, and should, be leading in: education, healthcare, human rights, quality of life, green energy, and infrastructure. We have the resources and policies to become a world leader in the areas we should be leading in. What we lack is the political will to stop following failed policies, and to implement policies that are effective, humane, and in a lot of cases, less expensive than our current policies. As the Congresswoman for Illinois’ Seventh Congressional District, I will work tirelessly to move our district and country forward. 

What action should Congress take, if any, to reduce gun violence?

Federal common-sense gun safety regulations are part of the solution to decreasing gun violence. I have lobbied Congress to enact common-sense gun safety regulations, and when I get into the halls of Congress, I will fight to ban assault weapons, to require criminal background checks on all firearm transactions, including at gun shows and online, provide the CDC with significant funds to conduct ongoing research on gun violence, and implement mandatory waiting periods before being able to purchase a gun. 

However, decreasing gun violence requires more than just regulations. It requires investing in communities facing high levels of gun violence. The investment needs to be multi-faceted, including investment in economic/job opportunities and job training, affordable housing, quality education, quality healthcare, social services programs, and sufficient nutritious food.

Is climate change real? Is it significantly man-made? Is it a threat to humankind? What if anything should Congress and the federal government do about it?

Climate change is real, and it is significantly man-made. Climate change is a major threat to our national security, and we must address it now. The United States should be a committed and strong member of the Paris Climate Accord, and become an innovator and a leader in green technology. 

We must address environmental racism, ensuring that communities of color do not continue to disproportionately bear the cost of our failed environmental policies. We must invest in urban green space, urban farming initiatives, and move the country towards a renewable energy grid and net-zero carbon footprint.

I will work to drastically reduce, with the goal of eventually eliminating, non-recyclable packaging with a combination of tax incentives for sustainable packaging development and fees for continuing to utilize single-use plastics.

What should Congress do to ensure the solvency of Social Security and Medicare?

Social Security trust fund reserves are projected to become exhausted after 2034. This requires prompt attention to avoid increased costs if we delay addressing this issue. To ensure the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, we should increase the maximum earnings subjected to the Social Security payroll tax, and increase the FICA tax rate from 6.2% to 6.4%. 

What should Congress do to address the student loan crisis? Would you use the word “crisis”?

Yes, I would use the word crisis. The student loan crisis has become too expensive and serious to ignore. 

Over the last two decades, we have seen a significant increase in college tuition and that increased tuition is being pushed onto students and their families. This is coupled with significant cuts to state funding to college education. We need to reinvest in higher education, and this will help reduce the costs (i.e., student loans) being passed onto students and their families. 

Congress also needs to reduce predatory student loan interest rates and repayment programs. Student loan borrowers should be eligible for more consumer-friendly repayment and refinancing options, including repayment options with a lower interest rate, similar to a mortgage interest rate. 

Congress also needs to enact partial student loan forgiveness that considers key factors, such as: household earnings, duration of the loan, and the total amount of student loan debt. 

What should our nation’s relationship be with Russia?

Peace between both nations is a priority. However, we cannot ignore Russia’s blatant moves to compromise our democracy.

We need to be firm, but not overly hostile, in demonstrating that we will not tolerate efforts to interfere with our democracy. 

What’s your view on the use of tariffs in international commerce? Has President Trump imposed tariffs properly and effectively? Please explain.

Tariffs can sometimes be a useful tool to support domestic industries, but it can be harmful without proper moderation. Every tariff imposed brings an immediate tradeoff between consumers and producers. Further, tariffs can cause retaliatory practices between nations resulting in a “trade war” by increased tariffs and quotas on both sides.

President Trump has led us into a trade war with China. In an attempt to strong arm a successful domestic agricultural economy, President Trump essentially provoked China into taking retaliatory measures, creating tariffs and quotas with costs that fell hard on American consumers.

Does the United States have a responsibility to promote democracy in other countries? Please explain.

Yes, the United States should promote democracy and human rights abroad. There is a rise in authoritarianism and human rights violations, and while the United States cannot control everything that happens abroad, we do have a responsibility to help victims of severe human rights violations. Moreover, when a country goes from a dictatorship to a democracy, it makes the United States safer. And when human rights violations are stopped, the whole world benefits, including the United States. 

What should Congress do to limit the proliferation of nuclear arms?

I support negotiating with other countries for denuclearization. If attempts at foreign diplomacy are unsuccessful, Congress should evaluate and, when appropriate, legislate sanction mechanisms in the event that the United States’ safety or security is at risk.

Please list all relatives on public or campaign payrolls and their jobs on those payrolls.

I do not have any relatives on either a public or campaign payroll. 

What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.

The historical figure from Illinois that I most admire and am inspired by is Jane Addams. She was an absolute powerhouse for human rights. She was a strong, civically engaged woman, who actively worked to uplift her community by helping provide social services. She was instrumental in the founding of the ACLU and was the first woman in the U.S. to win the Nobel Peace Prize. 

What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time? Why? 

My favorite TV show of all time is The Wire, because it is not only a great crime drama series, it provides a biting portrayal of American culture, including, crime, education, media, police, politics, and urban living. 

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