We sized them up one by one, considering the character, professional qualifications and policy positions of 25 candidates for Congress in the 12 districts making up the Chicago metropolitan area.
And what did we get?
We can’t remember the last time the Sun-Times has endorsed only Democrats for Congress, and we surely will be endorsing Republicans — and possibly candidates of other parties — running in other races on Nov. 6. Our philosophy has been to endorse candidates who best fit their districts, even when that means they don’t necessarily share all our views.
But, to our thinking, a kind of perfect storm works in favor of Democrats and against Republicans this time around.
To begin with, two suburban districts that have been a lock for Republicans for years — the 6th and 14th — have shifted slightly left in recent elections. Their demographics have changed, and the Trump Effect — our toxic president’s way of repelling moderate Republicans and independents — no doubt has furthered the shift.
That has led to even less competitive races in traditionally Democratic districts, where top-tier potential Republican candidates aren’t bothering to run just to lose. And it has led to much tighter races in traditionally Republican suburban districts, where highly qualified Democratic candidates, smelling blood in the water, finally have jumped in.
In deciding endorsements, of course, we also put weight on how closely a candidate’s views conform with our own on major issues. The “right” or “wrong” stand on a matter about which we care passionately, such as saner gun laws or a fairer tax system for working people, was the decisive factor in several endorsements, most notably for Democrat Lauren Underwood over Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren in the 14th.
One last note: Our endorsements are the product of a good deal of work and consideration. We asked all the candidates (save one white supremacist) to complete questionnaires and interviewed most of them in person, either before the March primary elections or more recently — or both times.
We stand by these endorsements, proudly, but we also urge you, respectfully, to seek other views elsewhere.
The better informed the voter, the better our democracy.
Bobby Rush has represented the 1st District since 1993, often while coping with difficult personal challenges. He has had to contend with serious illness, the lengthy illness and death of his wife, Carolyn, and the gun slaying of a son. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Rush in recent years has missed more votes on Capitol Hill than any other member of Congress. Nevertheless, his constituents deserve a more engaged representative. We look forward to a day when Rush, who’s got a lock on this seat, steps aside. Any number of highly qualified candidates will jump into the race to succeed him. Until then, especially in general elections, Rush will continue to face only poorly qualified opponents. This time around, he is being challenged by Republican Jimmy Lee Tillman III, a business owner who has run before, and Independent Thomas Rudbeck, a real estate developer. Our endorsement goes to Rush, who has built up 25 years of valuable congressional seniority.
Robin Kelly, first elected in 2013, is the easy choice here. She has distinguished herself as a creative voice on health care and gun issues, and should the Democrats gain control of the House this fall, she has the makings of an effective leader. In addition to advocating for better access to health care — especially for mental health care — Kelly says she hopes to finally bring a third major airport to the Chicago region, in the south suburbs. She is endorsed over David Merkle, a commercial photographer from Bourbonnais who served on the Kankakee County Board.
In the March Democratic primary, incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski got a lot of grief from fellow Democrats who accused him of being a closet Republican. We endorsed Lipinski nonetheless, saying his more conservative views on social issues — including his opposition to a woman’s right to have an abortion — were not necessarily out of step with his heavily blue-collar, Southwest Side and suburban district. Democrats do best, we argued, when they pitch a big tent. Now, in the November election, Lipinski’s Republican opponent is a Holocaust-denying white supremacist. Enough said. We endorse Lipinski.
If you are offended, as we are, by how Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is being handed a seat in Congress like it’s a Christmas gift, look at it this way: he’s actually earned the gig over many years of honorable public service. Sure, incumbent Rep. Luis Gutierrez announced his retirement late last year and simultaneously endorsed Garcia to be his successor, all but assuring Garcia’s victory in the March Democratic primary — the only race that counts in this overwhelmingly Democratic district. That would be your Chicago Way. But Garcia, now a Cook County commissioner, has been a force in local progressive politics since he was elected to the City Council in 1986, joining Mayor Harold Washington’s team. Garcia served six years in the Council and six years in the Illinois Senate. Most significantly, he founded a grass-roots organization, now called Enlace Chicago, that has worked to improve Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. Garcia is opposed by Republican Mark Wayne Lorch, a financial adviser from Riverside, who did not respond to our repeated requests to sit for an interview and complete a questionnaire. We endorse Garcia.
One member of Congress from Illinois, Mike Quigley, serves on the House Intelligence committee, which continues to investigate Russian tampering in the 2016 American presidential election — as well as any complicity by the Trump campaign. Quigley has been only a junior partner in the proceedings of the Republican-controlled committee, but he likely will assume a more influential role if Democrats win control of the House in November. To his credit, Quigley already has worked in a bipartisan way to put a check on future tampering. He is a co-sponsor of the PAPER Act, which provides for financial and technical assistance to states as they work to beef up cybersecurity of their election systems. Russian hackers in 2016 breached election security in 39 states, including Illinois. Quigley has been a strong supporter of sensible gun laws, LGBTQ rights and environmental protections. We endorse him over Republican Tom Hanson, a commercial real estate manager, who holds some curious views. He suspects, for one, that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is “kowtowing to directives from his wife.”
As part of our endorsement process, we repeatedly invited Rep. Peter Roskam to meet and talk with us, but he blew us off. Now we know how his constituents feel. Roskam has infamously refused to hold unscreened town meetings in his district because some people have not been nice to him. Meeting with constituents, even the ones who disagree with you, would seem to be the first order of business for an elected official in a democracy. For that reason alone, we think Roskam is undeserving of your vote. Our endorsement goes, with enthusiasm, to Sean Casten, a clean energy entrepreneur from Downers Grove who has committed to holding at least four town meetings a month. Casten can claim real expertise on environmental issues, and he shares our view that the Republican tax cuts enacted last year — with a big push from Roskam — reward the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the rest of us. Casten also wants to improve, not kill, the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as “Obamacare,” which has made it possible for millions of previously uninsured Americans to obtain quality health care. In another major difference of opinion, Roskam is staunchly anti-abortion while Casten is strongly pro-choice, as is this editorial page. Which candidate’s views best represent those of the 6th Congressional District? Hard to say. The district voted solidly Republican for decades, but it favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 7 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election. The outcome of this year’s election could have national ramifications, deciding which party controls the House for the next two years.
As we wrote in February when we endorsed him in the Democratic primary, Danny K. Davis is not the force he was in 1997 when he first entered Congress. We respect his principled advocacy over the years for such causes as universal health care, a “living wage” and services for ex-offenders. But he has slowed down tremendously, and the voters of the 7th District deserve better. Unfortunately, given the ease with which he is re-elected every two years, Davis seldom is challenged by a well-qualified opponent, and so it goes again this year. His Republican challenger is political neophyte Craig Cameron, a construction project manager. We endorse Davis.
If you’re new to Congress and a member of the minority party, the smart move is to carve out a specialty on an important issue that might rise above partisan politics. Raja Krishnamoorthi has done just that. He sponsored legislation that drew bipartisan support and became law, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21 Century Act, to increase access to vocational and technical education for young people who are not college-bound. Krishnamoorthi hit the ground running, and we endorse him for a second term. He is opposed by Republican Jitendra “JD” Diganvker, an Uber driver and small businessman.
Jan Schakowsky, a liberal Democrat, has been a champion on a wide range of issues important to her district and the country, including affordable health care, lower prescription drug costs, gay rights and support for Israel. She has been a staunch defender of the Affordable Care Act. Schakowsky also runs an exceptionally responsive constituent services offices. She is endorsed over Republican John D. Elleson, a pastor.
Any road to electoral victory in the 10th District begins with holding moderate to liberal positions on social issues such as gay rights, abortion and guns. That worked for former representatives Mark Kirk and Bob Dold — both Republicans — and for Brad Schneider, the Democratic incumbent. Schneider has been particularly vocal in pushing utterly reasonable gun legislation — universal background checks, a ban on the sale of high capacity magazines and assault weapons, and making the trafficking of weapons across state lines a federal crime. Opposing Schneider is Republican Douglas Bennett, a cordial computer consultant and social conservative who opposes same-sex marriage and abortion. We endorse Schneider.
Science is under attack in Washington, and our nation is the worse for it. The Trump administration, in the service of corporate polluters, is systematically dismantling science-based policies and international agreements designed to protect our air and water and curb man-made climate change. At such times, it’s good to have a true scientist in the House, Rep. Bill Foster, a physicist and businessman. Foster, whom we endorse for re-election, has become an important resource for colleagues on both sides of the aisle on everything from cyber-security to nuclear weapons development. In his next two-year term, Foster says he will continue the fight to protect and improve the Affordable Care Act, as well as for a “fairer tax code” that shifts more of the revenue burden to billionaires and corporations, infrastructure funding for Illinois, and solutions to the opioid crisis. Foster’s Republican opponent is Chicago cardiologist Nick Stella.
In the spring of last year, Lauren Underwood, then working for a Medicaid managed care company, found herself at a public forum featuring Rep. Randy Hultgren. The congressman, who has been a consistent critic of the Affordable Care Act assured his listeners he would not vote for any Republican alternative health care law that did not include affordable insurance coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions. Weeks later, Hultgren cast a deciding vote for the American Healthcare Act, a sham of a replacement for Obamacare that would, in fact, make health care less affordable for people with pre-existing conditions. That’s when Underwood decided to run for Congress. We have endorsed Hultgren in the past, but we can’t this year. On key issues such as health care, tax cuts that favor the wealthiest Americans and lax gun laws, we believe he is increasingly out of step with a majority of 14th District voters. Hultgren’s district leans Republican, but no longer by much. And now that the district is more competitive, especially in this potential “blue wave” year, it finally has attracted a highly qualified and credible Democratic alternative — Underwood. She is a registered nurse from Naperville who served as a special assistant and senior adviser to President Barack Obama on health issues. She worked with hospitals to make sure they were properly prepared and equipped to handle sudden and deadly epidemics, such as an outbreak of the Ebola virus. Time and again, as President Donald Trump and his administration have offended the sensibilities of decent Americans — demonizing immigrants, trashing our allies, attacking the FBI and trading love notes with despots — docile Republicans such as Hultgren have protested too little too late, if they have even spoken up at all. We endorse Lauren Underwood, clear-eyed and accomplished, because we’ve had it with all that.
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