Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee
Running for: US Congress, Illinois -10
Political party affiliation: Republican
- 1993 -1996: University of California Berkeley, College Republicans
- 1993 -1997: Volunteer, Campaign Manager and Congressional Aide, Congressman William P. Baker (R), CA-10
- 2013 Onwards: Education (Schools): Dorris-Eaton School (San Ramon, CA) Board Member, President; Medina Elementary (Medina, WA) Gifted & Talented Room Parent; Bennett Day School (Chicago, IL), Board Member
- 2018 Onwards: Education (Colleges): Mentor, Advisor First-Generation Low-income Student Outreach, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania; Ramirez Mukherjee Foundation, to support first-generation, low-income students transfer from community to four-year colleges
- 2019 - Present: Political Candidate, Republican Nominee, IL-10, Val for Congress
- Wall Street/Silicon Valley Finance & Technology Executive, Entrepreneur
- 1991 – 1995: Wells Fargo Bank, Teller
- 1999 – 2000: IBM Global Services, Public Sector Group, Consultant
- 2002: Goldman Sachs, Principal Finance Group, Summer Associate
- 2003 – 2009: UBS Investment Bank, Fixed Income Sales & Trading, Director
- 2009 – 2012: Bloomberg, LP, Enterprise Data & Valuation Group, Head West Coast Sales
- 2012 Onwards: Zen Capital Partners, LLC, Family Investment Office, Founder & Managing Partner, mother of two middle school children, primary caregiver for 75-year old mother
- Tara Hills Elementary, San Pablo, CA
- Pinole Middle School, Pinole, CA
- 1991: Pinole Valley High School, Pinole, CA
- 1993: Diablo Valley Community College, Pleasant Hill, CA
- 1995: University of California Berkeley, Political Science (BA)
- 1999: Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs (MPA)
- 2003: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business (MBA)
Campaign website: valforcongress.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees 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. Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee submitted the following responses:
Are you satisfied with the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Why or why not? What grade would you give President Donald Trump for his handling of the pandemic, and why?
No. There needed to be a more prompt, coordinated, and uniform response by the Federal government in exercising its leadership and authority. While it may be true that China may have withheld information from the rest of the world regarding the existence of the virus and its ability to transmit human to human, the United States was slow to respond even after the information became public. I believe the federal government should have provided clear guidelines and recommendations based on science and let the states and local communities implement those guidelines. Also, the federal government should have immediately activated the Defense Production Act to produce PPE quickly to avoid states competing with each other in the open market for these supplies. It is often hard to see the light in the fog of war and accurately balance policy, priorities, and resources, particularly as ground conditions change. With the benefit of hindsight, I would give the administration a grade of C for their handling of the pandemic response.
What should the federal government do to stimulate economic recovery from the pandemic shutdowns?
These are unprecedented times that require unprecedented measures. The legislative and executive branches of the government have stepped up and need to continue to do more to get the country through these times. Perhaps this crisis could also be leveraged to eliminate unnecessary regulations and red tape, speed up the approvals process, further reduce or eliminate taxes and expand loan and funding programs to start new businesses.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd, President Trump signed an executive order on police reform. It calls for the creation of a database to track police officers with multiple instances of misconduct, federal grants to encourage police departments to meet higher certification standards on the use of force, and the greater involvement of social workers and mental health professionals when the police respond to calls dealing with homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. The order also calls for police departments to ban the use of chokeholds except when an officer feels his or her life is endangered. Will this be enough to address concerns about police brutality? If not, what other steps should be taken?
These are all steps in the right direction, but the issues are highly complex and situation-specific that cannot be adequately addressed through regulation alone. We have to address and change mindsets – both of the police and the public. Police officers perform a critical yet dangerous job in a highly unpredictable environment. Yet, I believe a vast majority of police officers in a vast majority of circumstances follow protocol and serve the public honorably to keep us safe. It breaks my heart for those who have to suffer through police brutality, just as it does for the officers who chose this as their career and risk their lives to protect all of us but get stereotyped due to a few bad actors. Instead of regulatory and legislative band-aids, perhaps a new approach, like that pioneered by Glencoe, IL, could be a way forward. Glencoe is one of two villages in Illinois that has consolidated police, fire and EMT services into a public safety department. When their public safety officers show up, they are trained in all three specialties. This training gives them a different, more compassionate perspective. At the same time, it makes citizens realize that the same officer who shows up to arrest them, if they cause trouble, will also show up to save them, if they are in trouble. This naturally engenders a level of goodwill across the board. Given the inconsistent nature of their work, such cross-training also results in better utilization of resources and lower total cost of operations, even at higher pay rates for the officers.
Also in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the House passed the Justice in Policing Act, which would ban police departments from using chokeholds, develop a national standard for use of force, limit the transfer of military weapons to police departments, define lynching as a federal hate crime, establish a national police misconduct registry, and limit qualified immunity, which protects officers from lawsuits over alleged misconduct. Do you support this legislation? Why or why not? What other steps, if any, would you like to see the federal government take on police reform?
Yes, I generally support these initiatives. However, as I stated earlier, a highly prescriptive regulatory framework will not solve the problem. Police work is dangerous and highly unpredictable, and no amount of regulatory or legislative solutions can address the unique situations that police officers may encounter in real time. I believe a combination of sensible regulatory reform and a public safety approach would be a more sustainable solution.
What’s your view on President Trump’s decision to commute the sentence of Roger Stone?
I think that was a wrong move. No Governor or President should be able to pardon anyone convicted of a crime involving (even tangentially) to the public official granting the pardon during their term of office. It is a clear conflict of interest. If the person truly deserves a pardon, I believe an exception should be established for that person to delay the sentence until a successor takes office, and let the successor (hopefully, without the same conflict) decide on the pardon.
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.
I have been involved in volunteer and civic organizations for almost three decades and supported drafting several pieces of important legislation for Congressman Baker. For most of the past decade, my civic work and involvement has been focused on education, both at the school and college levels. I currently serve on the Board of an innovative private school in Chicago, and I am a mentor and advisor to the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, first-generation, low-income groups (FLI). I recently started the Ramirez Mukherjee Foundation, which provides scholarship dollars and mentoring to FLI students. All of my work is unpaid or as a volunteer Board member. My husband and I recently seed-funded the foundation and plan to expand it in the future.
What are your views on the decision by the US House to impeach President Donald Trump? Was the impeachment process fair or not? How so? If, in your view, the President should not have been impeached, would you have supported censure? Please explain.
Fairness aside (since people will have strong opinions on the matter), President Trump’s impeachment was an unproductive, politically motivated, partisan ploy, just like President Clinton’s impeachment. Unfortunately, given the extreme polarization of the country, politicians do things to cater to their political bases. Despite knowing full well that neither President would be removed from office, they were impeached after dragging the country through the mud. This is a perfect example of the lack of accountability in politics. If I spent significant resources to devise, support, and bring a business proposal to a company’s Board, knowing full well it could not be approved, just to show someone else off, I would be fired. But somehow, we tolerate this gamesmanship in politics.
How would you reduce the federal budget deficit, which now stands at about $1 trillion for 2020? What changes, if any, to the US tax code do you support and why?
We have to grow out of this problem, not tax our way through it - just like businesses cannot cost cut their way to success, they have to grow their way to success. We need to reduce, not increase taxes on both companies and individuals to re-accelerate growth. There are several potential ways to do so. Examples include one-time tax relief to corporations to repatriate foreign profits back to the US if they re-invest 50% of these funds in creating new economy US jobs, leverage technology to eliminate the colossal waste in government spending and entitlement programs, reduce and simplify tax rates, reinstate state and local tax exemptions, provide forgivable loans to start new businesses, make non-citizens eligible for our national pension system, fraud, and abuse in entitlement programs, delay retirement, social security, and Medicare eligibility, increase legal immigration levels and even partially privatize social security to ensure it remains solvent. These are just ideas. I realize it takes a lot to get these through the legislative process – but represents my views on potential solutions.
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?
I agree that for a country as wealthy as ours, healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. Given the extreme (and arguably, unnecessary) complexity of the issue, we will have to take an incremental approach to attain a sustainable solution. Fundamentally, the guiding principles of this approach need to include personal choice, personal responsibility, risk sharing, cost, coverage, access, and government as a provider of last resort for catastrophic events. The best way to do so is to preserve the positives of the Affordable Care Act but improve upon it by also providing a free-market option to allow citizens to buy insurance they feel they need.
Do you support or oppose DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and why? Should a path to citizenship be created for the so-called DREAMers? Please explain.
Yes, I support DACA. No, I don’t believe in a path to citizenship for DREAMers, but I do support a path to legal residency (green card). The original DACA legislation, as proposed above (and credit goes to Senator Dick Durbin for this), was a compassionate and appropriate path forward for a tricky and arguably, innocent problem. Yet, as our legislators often like to do, they added unnecessary and unrelated details to the bill, causing it to fail ultimately. We all must honor the laws of the land, and breaking them, even as an unwitting accomplice, is inexcusable and unfair to others who follow the law. Also, though DREAMers were brought to the country as minors, their parents did break the law, and providing amnesty to them would be unfair to the millions who have followed the law and stood in line. Therefore, I feel a path to legal residency is a fair compromise. Politically, we need one consistent immigration policy, and one consistent message from our Executive and Legislative branch. We cannot have a situation where the Executive branch wants to enforce the law of legal immigration, and the Legislative branch wants to overthrow it with open borders. We need more legal immigration to fill the population replacement gap we face in the US. The mixed message, however, is a gross disservice to the many legal immigrants who follow the law, wait for their turn, and come to the US legally, like many of my friends and family. A case in point – my brother-in-law waited for 14 years to get his green card.
What are the three most important issues in your district on which the federal government can and should act?
Jobs, education, taxes, and if I may add a fourth - safety (JETS). I believe there are enormous opportunities to rethink and reimagine the power of the federal purse to impact these issues positively. The Federal government could enact laws that incentivize new economy job creation in economically depressed parts of the country. Given my background and passion for education, I can think of numerous ways we can redirect the same federal funds to generate better outcomes for students across the country. States could leverage federal programs to reduce tax burdens on their citizens to make communities more attractive to both domestic and international businesses and families. Finally, the federal government could fund pilot programs to implement and launch combined police, fire, and EMT services as public safety programs across the country as a way to reduce crime and improve perceptions.
What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent(s)?
I see three - perspective, performance, and progress. I don’t know Congressman Schneider, but from all indications, he seems to be a thorough gentleman with a great family and means well. However, IL politics needs to be shaken up, and, unfortunately, his voting record demonstrates his preference for party rather than performance. Like the neighboring, IL-9 and many other districts, it is sad and unfortunate to note that the signature legislative achievement of several IL Congressmen and Congresswomen have been renaming post offices. Our congressional representatives are expected to and have consistently voted along party lines. This needs to change if we are to make progress as a state and country.
Perspective: I am a recent transplant to the district and state. I see this as a huge advantage as I bring a unique and panoramic perspective given my background and life experiences. Having lived in many states, married to an immigrant, and visited many countries, I am not jaded by the negativity and status quo of IL politics but energized by the opportunities of what IL can be. This is a fundamental difference and a necessary condition for progress.
Performance: If I raised almost $20 million to win my seat and then used my time in office to pander to party elites and rename post offices, I would fire myself. My entire life has been about performance, and I intend to bring this ethos to politics if elected. Like me, my opponent has also lived the American dream. However, my starting line was way behind his. As a 22-year old campaign manager, I ran one of the top 5 most contested congressional seats in the country back in 1995/1996. I saw first-hand how focused we were on raising money instead of doing what was right for our constituents. I saw how my Congressman spent most of his time running off to fundraiser after fundraiser instead of spending time with volunteers and voters. He was compelled to give preferential treatment to his biggest donors - everyone kept telling him he had to. It was cool to be part of a campaign where we regularly met with the party’s Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees and the Speaker of the House. But that took time away from our constituents. We had become out of touch and lost the election. I see the same thing happening in IL-10. Instead of focusing on our constituents, Congressman Schneider is out raising funds for other candidates across the state and country, perhaps given his confidence in retaining his seat and following party directives. This does not benefit the district or its constituents.
Progress: From a very early age, it was ingrained in me that I was responsible for my progress. My goal is to bring this same ethos to the district. We are accountable for our progress and need to figure out a way to execute. If elected, I will be the first Hispanic-American woman to represent IL in the US Congress as well as the first woman to represent this district. However, I don’t want to be considered for the job because I am a woman or a minority. I want to compete for the job because of my credentials. As the district has changed and is now approaching almost 50% minority representation, if my election does not signify progress though, I don’t know what does.
What action should Congress take, if any, to reduce gun violence?
This is a long and simmering issue that can only be fixed through compromise. Both sides have to give something. Fundamentally, we need sensible, sustainable, and honest reform that aligns with our constitution and desire to live in a safe and violence-free country. Clearly, the legislative path has not worked for either side. I am not an expert on this topic, but at this point, I feel the best way forward is to gather a group of like-minded center-right and center-left legislators who are willing to come to the table to draft a workable compromise that protects the second amendment but also the rights of citizens to live in a safe country.
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?
Yes, yes, and yes. The science underlying climate change is alarming. I have traveled to several third world countries and experienced first-hand how lax government policies can have a real effect on climate and one’s experiences. I couldn’t breathe - the smells, the exhaust, the pollution – it was something that I had never experienced before. That changed my view on the climate. Ever since, I have tried to do my small part in protecting our planet – composting, making sure to recycle, driving electric cars, being a conscious consumer who purchases environmentally friendly goods, etc. I do believe that we are reaching a point of irreversible damage, and Congress should provide additional penalties and incentives to change behavior. If we don’t act now climate change is going to have an impact that is far worse than the pandemic. For instance, the federal tax credit for low emissions vehicles should be extended, including additional tax credits for a first time low/zero-emissions vehicle purchase. I have been driving a zero/low emissions vehicle for almost ten years, starting with the Chevy Volt and now drive a Tesla. Both made in the US, both ahead of their time. We just need to get people to try it, and I am confident they will get hooked. Accelerating the move to net-zero carbon through nuclear and renewable energy sources should also be encouraged and perhaps even mandated.
What should Congress do to ensure the solvency of Social Security and Medicare?
Robbing Social Security and filling it with IOUs to finance other entitlement programs has to stop. First, we should start by restricting Social Security funds – to only pay for Social Security. Second, given the extended life expectancy of Americans, it may be necessary to gradually raise the retirement age and perhaps phase in retirement checks from the age of 65 until the end of life. Third, we may have to privatize a portion of Social Security to ensure there are adequate returns to fund the program in the future. Finally, we should increase legal immigration to fill the population replacement gap and ensure that the working-age population is adequate to support retiree benefits, as it was intended to do.
What should Congress do to address the student loan crisis? Would you use the word “crisis”?
This is a topic near to and dear to my heart, and I have first-hand experience in navigating the issue. Yes, I would use the word crisis to describe the student loan issue. However, the fix cannot be blanket forgiveness or free tuition for all. It needs a rational and comprehensive approach that includes a combination of some reform, some relief, personal choice, and personal responsibility.
First, we need to acknowledge that college may not be for everyone. Second, people need to realize that decisions have consequences. I could have been one of these students who borrowed tens of thousands of dollars and got stuck on a massive loan repayment treadmill. I am a first-generation college student raised by a single mom who escaped violent domestic abuse, and we lived paycheck to paycheck my entire childhood. No one in my family – my older cousins, my aunts/uncles – ever attended college. In fact, several in my family lived an even harsher life than ours – many were on welfare, in jail, or on drugs. I had very few role models when I was growing up. I vividly remember the day I visited a beautiful private college that cost $50,000+ per year that I wanted to attend. I felt magical. I was transported to this beautiful place that I had never seen in my life. I was amazed that I could live in such a beautiful place, and the school would arrange my loans to pay for it. That sounded amazing. Luckily, my brother brought me down to earth. He sat me down and showed me how long it would take me to pay the loans back. I don’t know where he got his wisdom, but I am so thankful I had him as my mentor. Instead, he encouraged me to focus on the public universities in my state.
So, what did I do? I completed my first two years at my local community college, living at home with my mom. Of course, I wanted to move out, but I couldn’t afford it. Then I transferred to my local public university, UC Berkeley, where I lived my final two years and shared an apartment with my brother – to once again, save money. On top of that, I spent any extra time I had searching through books at the library – there was no Internet then – finding and applying for scholarships. And of course, getting my FAFSA completed and meeting with my financial aid office to find out any other local, state, or federal money I could get. Lastly, I worked full time through college to pay for food, transportation, clothes, and entertainment. My brother and I both graduated college with no debt – with absolutely no financial assistance from my family (they had no money to give), and we both graduated with honors.
I know this sounds like a harder route, and it would be so much easier to have the US government pay for all outstanding college debt – but we are already in a $27 trillion national debt. Just as we make tough decisions each day on what we can or cannot afford, we need to make the same decisions on attending college. I hope my story and my route can be a role model for others. What we need to do is reward and encourage fiscal discipline. Many students across our country have community colleges within driving distance of their homes. I would encourage them to attend that first, before transferring to a four-year institution, like I did, and as I understand Bernie Sanders did too. I would also increase the disclosure to students how long it will take to pay down these debts. Finally, we could also redirect and better utilize Title 1 funds.
What should our nation’s relationship be with Russia?
As much as I would prefer to live in peaceful coexistence with Russia, they are our adversaries, and we should treat them as such. Our problem is not with the Russian people, but with the Russian government. We cannot allow them or any other country to interfere in our democracy or that of other countries.
What’s your view on the use of tariffs in international commerce? Has President Trump imposed tariffs properly and effectively? Please explain.
I believe tariffs can be used as leverage in the short term but are counterproductive in the long run. While the US may play by the rules, not all countries do the same. Therefore, when we find instances of impropriety, we must act and use all the tools at our disposal, including tariffs, to combat such impropriety. I do feel that the US has been on the receiving end of economic unfairness in dealing with its trading partners. Imposing tariffs has forced countries to rethink their practices. At the same time, we should work toward resolving our trade disputes quickly and return to a healthy, sustainable state of low or no tariffs for the benefit of consumers worldwide.
Does the United States have a responsibility to promote democracy in other countries? Please explain.
I firmly believe a capitalist democracy is the best form of government. I also feel the United States should occupy a position of moral leadership but not AN obligation to promote democracy in other countries. I believe it is hard, if not impossible, to force anyone to do anything against their will. We should respect the world and their choice of government. Meanwhile, we should align ourselves and exert soft power with like-minded countries, which will naturally attract others cause them to change and bend towards us. Citizens of other countries should decide what form of government suits them the best. We should be ready to help other countries share our view of a capitalist democracy if asked and do so delicately and respectfully.
What should Congress do to limit the proliferation of nuclear arms?
Nuclear non-proliferation is a complex, dynamic, and highly volatile geopolitical issue. I believe this issue is best left to the experts with in-depth knowledge and tenure in the subject matter to help guide Congress on the best path forward. In general, Congress should work closely with the Executive branch to come up with a sustainable policy and consistent message, built on Reagan’s “trust, but verify” doctrine to address the issue – and stick to it across administrations.
Please list all relatives on public or campaign payrolls and their jobs on those payrolls.
I have no relatives on any campaign payroll. All of my friends and relatives are donating their time and money to volunteer on the campaign. They feel it is their civic responsibility and neither want nor expect anything now or in the future except for a better government and country.
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.
President Ronald Reagan. People forget that he was from Illinois. I was attracted to Republican politics as a college student primarily based on his principles and consider myself to be an authentic Republican - socially compassionate and fiscally conservative. I believe the vast majority of the country also would self-identify as such.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming, or web-based show of all time? Why?
Seinfeld. Hands down. This was a sitcom my brother and I would watch religiously when we shared an apartment in the late ’90s while we were in college. The show was a welcome respite – no matter how hard the day was for us. Ironically, it was a show about nothing that went on to be a blockbuster success. This has parallels to our own lives. My brother and I came from nothing. We were on our own – bonding together, dreaming big dreams, and navigating a path no one in our family had taken before. When I think of this show, it reminds me of that time in my life - where I came from, where I am now, and where I hope to go. Sometimes we can forget our journey and our struggles and get mired in the issues of the day. I try and close my eyes often and remember how lucky I was to be where I am.