The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the nominees for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their district and the country. Write-in candidate Justin Hanson submitted the following answers to our questionnaire.
As a member of the U.S. House, what are or would be your top cause or causes?
Hanson: A top cause for me as a Member of the U.S. House would be loosening the grip that partisanship has had on the political courage of our Members for far too long. My campaign believes that when Americans talk about politics around their kitchen tables or at work, we all agree that our elected leaders need to worry less about what makes us different and more about what can bring us together. Americans want our leaders to put country before party again. I am running to do just that.
Being that kind of leader means remembering the people our partisan politics have forgotten. In my private life and my life as an attorney, I have always stood up for justice and fairness, and fought to make sure that ill-gotten gains don’t go unchecked. As the Third District’s representative in Congress, I promise to view every issue through the lens of fairness and not party politics, because Americans deserve a democracy where fairness and justice, and not might, determine our policies.
If my campaign were to succeed, it would demonstrate that the “difference makers” in our country’s future will be ordinary men and women who have had enough of spiteful party politics.
Who is Justin Hanson?
He’s running for: U.S. Congress, 3rd District
His political/civic background:
- Commissioner, Design Review Commission, Village of La Grange
- Lyons Township Community Advisory Council Member
- Citizens’ Council of La Grange Member
- Former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, Civil Actions Bureau
- Former policy analyst for Congressional Leadership, US House of Representatives
- Former Commissioner, Environmental Quality Control Commission, Village of LaGrangeHis occupation:
- Attorney, practicing Complex Commercial Litigation and Corporate LawHis education:
- Marquette University, BA, 2005
- Chicago-Kent College of Law, JD, 2012Campaign website: justinhansonforcongress.comTwitter: @JWHforCongress
Please list three highly specific needs of your district that you would make priorities.
Hanson: First, the Third District needs significant investment in our aging transit and infrastructure systems. Our roads, rail, and transit systems have been underfunded for far too long and are increasingly in disrepair.
The Third District is a vital transportation hub in this region. We have some of the busiest roads, highways, and railways in the country, as well as important waterways and Midway International Airport. Each of these systems is heavily used by families, commuters, and businesses every day – and each of these systems is in serious need of maintenance. A recent report from the Metropolitan Planning Council, which tracks regional transit and infrastructure issues, found that Illinois has approximately $40 billion in deferred maintenance problems. (“Deferred maintenance” means repairs and necessary projects that have been ignored and put off.) Think about that. The Council estimates that it will take $4 billion per year just to keep Illinois’ transportation systems in a good and safe state of repair. If this number sounds high to you, consider the lower estimate: the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, composed of labor, construction, and business interests, says that Illinois needs $1.8 billion per year to keep our roads, railways, and transportation systems safe. Whether it’s $4 billion or $1.8 billion, either way, we’re talking about billions of dollars in crucial repairs each year that aren’t happening and have been ignored.
President Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure spending plan says it will address many long-neglected aspects of our nation’s out-of-date infrastructure. But the President’s current plan does not include funding for Illinois anywhere near the amount necessary just to keep our commuters safe. On his campaign website, it appears that Congressman Lipinski claims that, in his thirteen years in office, he has “brought home more than $375 million in federal money for local transportation projects.” While I, as a voter and resident here, appreciate the effort, this is barely a drop in the bucket. It doesn’t cut it when my two children, family, and friends use our aging roads and bridges every single day. The bottom line is that we need $40 billion to repair our neglected roads and railways to avoid a tragedy like a bridge collapse or derailment. Knowing this, ask yourself if you should once again settle for more of Congressman Lipinski’s performance these past thirteen years.
If elected, I will meet with each and every stakeholder who will be a part of the efforts to restore these important infrastructure and transit systems. Further, I will bring industry experts with me to inspect every system in our District that needs attention. I will advocate aggressively for Illinois’ funding needs as a priority in the American transit landscape, and I will bring a hands-on approach to my representation of our District to strengthen the fight for the funding we need.
Second, the Third District needs more well-paying jobs.
Right now, the economy is performing well and unemployment is below four percent. Yet there are still plenty of skilled people right here at home that want to be working. As I said above, I will work to finally bring much needed funding back to the District for our long-neglected roads, highways, rail, and transit systems. This alone will create many important and well-paying jobs for skilled workers and other professionals who call our District home.
Of course, supporting the long-term health of our District’s workforce goes beyond our transit system. For example, I will work to ensure our District’s businesses have the clarity and predictability they need from our federal tax laws in order to grow. The hastily-written Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has put the plans of many local brick and mortar businesses in a state of uncertainty due to poorly crafted provisions relating to tax credits for business site build-outs and improvements. I will work with other Members of Congress to legislate the technical corrections necessary to clarify these and other tax credits. This will immediately help our local restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses plan for needed improvements and updates to their facilities and will provide many of our skilled union workers with work.
Meeting our District’s transit system funding needs and business tax clarity needs are steps that I can take immediately and that will have both short-run and long-run impact on our District for the better. Being a safe, modern, and financially predictable place to do business will help the Third District remain attractive and competitive for new and existing businesses of all sizes and employment levels.
Third, the Third District residents still need our Healthcare system to be improved.
Healthcare is one of the key issues where partisanship has truly hurt Americans. I believe the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) under President Obama was a step in the right direction. Before its passage, more than fifty million Americans lacked access to meaningful preventive health care and coverage for delivery of healthcare services under emergency or life-threatening disease situations. Yet the ACA, similar to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act recently signed into law by President Trump, included flaws and unclear provisions which put significant responsibility in the hands of implementing agencies to clarify. The recent efforts by House Republicans to repeal the ACA and dismantle its core provisions are misguided. More pointedly, these efforts are an example of political grandstanding that forgets that real peoples’ lives are in the balance.
The reality is that medical costs remain the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in our country. Medical bills are typically unexpected, involuntary, and large. Patients still lack the ability to compare or negotiate prices with providers and to know that their insurance will truly insure their protection against enormous out-of-pocket burdens. The Third District is no different from the rest of America: we all worry about medical bills, even when we have insurance. And this has got to change.
As a Member of Congress, I would work with my fellow Members to ensure that legislation addressing the remaining opportunities for improvement within the ACA is prioritized, debated, refined, and brought to the floor for a vote. Voters can no longer afford for Congress to sit on its hands on this matter.
Bipartisanship is virtually non-existent in the House. What would you do about that?
Hanson: I would first join the recently-formed House of Representatives’ bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. This Caucus is a group of Members evenly comprised of Republicans and Democrats who leverage a unique set of rules to guide their legislative problem solving: they require bipartisan negotiation, bridge-building, and compromise to move legislation forward. The Caucus has proposed revisions to House procedural rules, and I believe these revisions could be a critical step to ending both parties’ recent practice of “gaming the system” in the House, so to speak. Both parties have taken advantage of loopholes in the process by which the House debates and votes on legislation. These partisan procedural maneuvers have diminished the overall quality and volume of legislation being passed by the House. The Caucus’ proposed revisions would curtail the ability of any party to hold the legislative process hostage, and we need Members on both sides of the aisle to be accountable to quality and transparency standards now more than ever.
I would strive to bring a far more energetic and effective voice to the Caucus on behalf of our District. I would work with my peers to revive bipartisanship and political decency in the halls of Congress.
America has been living in the age of revenge politics. More than ever, it seems like half the country is destined to be disregarded by whatever party is in power. The party in the majority is fixed on forcing the entire country to live in an America created in their image alone. This is unacceptable, and it feels miserable as a voter. My campaign recognizes this unfortunate reality and wants to be a part of the solution that breaks this cycle. By electing an independent candidate in this partisan climate, this District has the chance to send a loud message to the rest of the country that it is time to break the partisanship. We believe in advocating for all voters, not just half of them. If there is a District than can succeed in sending this positive message and leading the way for the rest of the county, it is this one.
Are you convinced that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in support of the candidacy of Donald Trump? Please explain.
Hanson: This is actually two questions. The first question is whether I am convinced that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The second question is, if so, do I think Russia supported the candidacy of Donald Trump.
As to the first question, yes, I agree with the overwhelming consensus of the intelligence community that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Further, I agree with Defense Secretary James Mattis that the Russian interference came from both government and non-government actors. Earlier this month, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats stated that he “continue[s] to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States.” He is far from alone in this assessment, with Secretary Mattis and others concurring. I encourage the Administration to take all steps necessary to protect our elections and voters from foreign interference. Any undermining of the sovereignty of our electoral process is harmful, regardless of which candidate might benefit or be harmed.
As to the second question, yes, I do believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election for the purpose of helping then-Candidate Trump win the election. But I want to make an important distinction here: Whether President Trump was criminally involved in Russia’s interference or whether he was just the uninvolved beneficiary of Russia’s interference is a serious question, and I defer to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into this very point. I am far more interested in letting the facts and the truth about exactly what happened by all actors in the 2016 presidential election come forth, and far less interested in the useless and dangerous partisan political judgment that comes from pre-judging this issue before the criminal investigation is complete.
If elected to Congress I would work constructively with the Administration and the women and men of the intelligence community to ensure that future American elections are safe and secure, and that the only deciders of our elections are American voters.
Do you support the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller? Please explain.
Hanson: Yes, I support Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. The Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was a very serious breach that sought to undermine the cornerstone of our democracy – our open and fair election process. There is no question that this investigation is a painful process for the American people and is both a frustration and a concern for this Administration. But, the voting public deserves to know the extent of this interference and justice demands that anyone involved answer to the law for their involvement. That this investigation has resulted in charges against individuals for conduct unrelated to election meddling only speaks to the thoroughness and importance of the investigation.
However, my support for the investigation is not a blank check. Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is also taking place in the court of public opinion. The longer his investigation takes, the more the American people will become impatient and frustrated. Whatever the outcome of this investigation, the American people deserve a thorough and expedient investigation with a firm and just conclusion. America needs to turn the page on this issue.
If President Trump were to fire Mueller, directly or indirectly, what should Congress do?
Hanson: If the President were to fire Mr. Mueller and end the investigation, Congress must immediately intervene to reinstate Mr. Mueller as Special Counsel, or at the very least take immediate action to reinstate and protect the investigation through its completion. The Special Counsel was appointed to investigate the activities of President Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election. It would therefore be highly suspicious and require Congressional intervention if the President were to unilaterally and intentionally terminate an investigation into those close to him and even into himself. It should make all Americans uncomfortable if any President were to take steps to end an investigation into the activities of his or her own campaign for the United States Presidency. If the President were to terminate the investigation, Congress must defend the integrity of our electoral and justice system. It would be an incredible test for our country in this age of partisan divide.
It is worth mentioning that a lot of Americans seem understandably confused about this investigation and what it means for the country. If anything, they know that the President openly hates the investigation, and that he really, really dislikes “witch hunts.” It is my understanding that Mr. Mueller can only be fired by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation. Also, Mr. Mueller can only be fired for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest” or “other good cause.” Mr. Rosenstein has said that he finds no such grounds to exist. So, if the President wanted to fire Mr. Mueller, he would technically have to fire either Mr. Sessions and/or Mr. Rosenstein, then replace them with individuals who would have already agreed to fire Mr. Mueller and end the investigation. That’s a lot of suspicious maneuvering to end a criminal investigation into your own Presidential campaign.
However, I would rather be proactive on this issue than reactive. I support the bipartisan measures being proposed in the Senate that would get ahead of this problem by providing a clear judicial process through which Special Counsel Mueller could be fired.
I understand that this process must be very stressful and frustrating for the President. But, I sincerely hope that President Trump permits Mr. Mueller to continue his investigation to conclusion.
If Trump were to pardon his former campaign aide Paul Manafort, what should Congress do?
Hanson: As difficult as it is to say, I do not believe that Congress should take legal action against President Trump if he were to pardon Paul Manafort. I take this position not because I believe the President would be right to issue the pardon, but because I believe in the balance built into our Constitution. The power to pardon is one of the checks the Constitution gives the President we elect over the Judicial Branch. Regarding this power, the Supreme Court has held that “[t]he administration of justice by the courts is not necessarily always wise or certainly considerate of circumstances which may properly mitigate guilt.” (Interestingly, this passage was written by then Supreme Court Justice and former President William Taft). The foresight of the Constitution gives the President the power to correct these rare imbalances. However, the Court went on to caution that, “Our Constitution confers this discretion on the highest officer in the nation in confidence that he will not abuse it.” (For my friends in the legal community and court-watchers, the citation is: Ex Parte Grossman, 267 US 87, 120-21 (1925)).
The bottom line: while the President has the power to pardon under the Constitution, it is a serious power and is not to be abused.
Mr. Manafort was found guilty by a jury of his peers on five tax fraud charges, one charge of hiding foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. He has also agreed to plead guilty to two additional criminal charges in connection with the Mueller investigation. It would be an abuse of the pardon power and, in this circumstance, would undermine the justice system designed to protect Americans were President Trump to pardon Mr. Manafort. To be sure, we have seen many past Presidents of both parties abuse the pardon power. But the abuses of past Presidents do not ever justify a sitting President’s decision to follow suit. I hope President Trump breaks with this practice and does not pardon Mr. Manafort.
My enduring hope is that, whenever any official vested with the trust of the American public abuses the powers with which they are entrusted, we the American people will hold them accountable with every election. We are the ultimate check on all three branches.
Which three actions taken so far by the Trump administration do you most strongly support?
Hanson: This question is a challenge. I’ll be clear: I personally and strongly disapprove of how President Trump conducts himself as our President and Commander in Chief. Where he seems to consider empathy, restraint, and humility as weaknesses, I consider them invaluable strengths essential to effective governance. I think he is too often impulsive and reactionary. However, I don’t believe that it does him, me, this District, or anyone any good to join the very full chorus of people who spend every waking moment voicing their contempt for the President. I don’t see how it helps. If I am elected, the President and the public will know my thoughts on his actions – both good and bad – but from one elected office holder to another and always to help move our District and the country forward.
This question is also a challenge because I do not agree with any of the Administration’s actions in their entirety. One of my main criticisms of this Administration is that it never seems to act with a clear and cohesive plan for its many goals.
Despite my many criticisms, I do acknowledge that some things are going well. The economy is performing a little bit better every day and some good things are happening for our workers’ wages. A specific example of a positive step taken by this Administration is the President’s recent Executive Order that will help more Americans increase their savings by strengthening 401(k)s. This Executive Order asks the Labor Department to consider allowing businesses to pool resources to offer their employees 401(k) retirement plans through what are often called “open multiple employer plans.” These plans, which have bipartisan support, allow unrelated small businesses to band together to form 401(k) pools, affording small business employees a tax advantage that, at present, is often limited to large employers. This is a great boost for small businesses and their employees, and it would remove an advantage often leveraged unfairly by huge businesses. The savings vehicles of 401(k)s, along with IRAs and other retirement accounts, have supplanted traditional defined-benefit pensions as the backbone of American retirement preparation. There’s no reason not to open them up to more Americans, especially with wages recently showing signs of growth.
I also support, at least in theory, this Administration’s efforts to recalibrate our trade deals with China. The principle behind this – to safeguard the well-being of American workers and industries – is sound. But I have little confidence that this Administration understands how to quickly and easily conclude the trade war with China. Indeed, this trade war is threatening to spiral out of control, endangering Illinois businesses and consumers. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S.A Trade Database, and the U.S. Trade Representative, Illinois imported $1.1 billion worth of goods from China, and exported approximately $990 million in goods to China in 2017. The recent $16 billion in new tariffs the U.S. and China imposed on each other’s goods will hit Illinois businesses with more than $400 million in new tariffs on our exports to China. This is very troubling and the Administration does not seem to have a plan to end this kind of escalation.
Like everyone else, I wait to see how the Administration follows through on actions like the trade war with China and the revisions to NAFTA. If elected, I will stand ready to work with President Trump when merited, and I will hold him fully accountable for his actions.
Which three actions taken by the Trump administration do you most strongly disagree with?
Hanson: Again, this question is also a challenge. I strongly disagree with much of what this Administration does and have no patience for the combative, unapologetic, and disrespectful tone it takes with anyone who disagrees with the President. This list will not be exhaustive.
First, President Trump has done nothing to promote bipartisanship or elevate the national discourse. I sincerely believe that our President has a solemn obligation to be the President of all people. Of course, no President should have to compromise their goals or abandon their party. But a President should know that the country comes first — not partisanship, not reelection, and especially not personal pride. We more often see President Trump engaging his political opponents and world leaders with unabashed disrespect, rather than constructive dissent. I wish President Trump would discontinue this kind of conduct, which is wholly unbefitting the Office the President of the United States.
Second, I strongly disagree with this Administration’s attempts to attack and discredit our intelligence community and the FBI. The men and women of the intelligence community and the FBI safeguard the American public every single day. The President’s bold dismissal of the intelligence community’s consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election was outrageous, especially when he publicly said that he believes the word of Russian President Putin over that of the American intelligence community. As with all levels of law enforcement, these men and women deserve much greater respect from the President.
Third, I firmly oppose this Administration’s policy that separated migrant children from their parents. Policies that separate children from their families and place them in the conditions we saw on the news can only have been a deliberate effort to frighten and deter immigration by threatening children. This is unacceptable, unconstitutional, unconscionable, and un-American. This is not who we are and we must do better. As a parent myself, I was deeply disturbed, strongly angered, and moved to action by this policy. These kinds of policies are wrong under any administration of any political party.
The Trump administration has taken action to roll back Obama-era policies aimed at curbing climate change and limiting environmental pollution. The administration has done so in the name of supporting business growth and making the United States more energy self-sufficient. Most notably, the administration has begun to dismantle Obama’s federal rules over American coal plants, weakened automobile fuel-economy standards and ended American participation in the Paris climate agreement. What is your take on all this?
Hanson: I disagree with this Administration’s decisions to undo hard-fought gains toward better environmental protection laws. President Trump has long called climate change a hoax. We know better than that. I more fully discuss my views on climate change in the response to Question 11. (Spoiler alert: I believe science confirms climate change and confidently identifies the causes.)
The President has previously expressed his views against forms of clean energy generation and other programs aimed at reducing climate change. This is mostly because he seems to think that we cannot simultaneously enact laws that protect our environment and protect our economy from the impact of environmental regulations. I understand the concern, but I simply do not think so little of America’s ability to solve complex problems like climate change, and I believe it’s time to think our way out of this corner. In fact, I believe that we hurt the American economy and stifle American job growth by not incentivizing our companies to compete in renewable energy technology sector. Since 2017, China and India have surpassed the United States as the world’s most attractive countries for innovative renewable energy technology markets. We have the best and brightest minds, and the hardest workers in the world, right here in America. We should be leading the world and the market in the inevitable rise in demand for renewable energy technologies.
This is not to say that I don’t understand some of this Administration’s frustration regarding American environmental policies, as with our participation in the Paris Agreement. The gist of the Paris Agreement is that all member countries pledge to lower their carbon footprint and meet certain standards over time, with wealthier industrialized countries (like the United States, Germany and France) making contributions to poorer countries to help them take action to curb climate change and adapt to the impacts thereof. And the contributions expected of wealthier countries was genuinely substantial. The United States committed $2.7 billion in funds in 2014 and was working with other wealthy countries on a roadmap that committed America to a combined $100 billion in funding annually. That’s a lot of money.
Even with the major funding commitment, I think the President’s decision to abruptly withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement – to basically pick up his ball and go home– was not the move of a leader, and we can do better. One significant effect of this Administration’s general dislike for multilateral agreements, like the Paris Agreement, is the void that is left by the lack of the United States’ leadership on these important international issues. The United States brings unparalleled leadership, talent, innovation, and experience to challenges such as climate change. The world needs us to be in the rooms where these solutions are discussed, ensuring the interests of America and the world are protected and advanced. This President has a tendency to be unpredictably mercurial and overly impulsive on issues like this. I hope that his staff looks at the data and helps him come around on this issue.
To what extent is climate change a man-made phenomenon? How serious is the threat to our children’s future? What should be done?
Hanson: I believe we can confidently say that human activity has significantly contributed to global climate change. Climate change is a serious threat to the future of our children, and their children, and to the planet they will inhabit in the future.
The scientific research on climate change can no longer be plausibly denied. According to their website, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was established by Presidential Initiative and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” According to a government report issued by the USGCRP in October of 2017, the annually averaged surface air temperature has increased by about 1.8°F, and we are now living in the warmest period in modern history. The Report states: “It is extremely likely (greater than 95% likelihood) that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th Century.” The Report cites extensive evidence concluding that activities like greenhouse gas emissions are the dominant cause of the observed warming. Thousands of studies conducted by researchers around the world have documented many other types of changes to our planet and atmosphere. For example, the global average sea level has risen by about 7–8 inches since 1900, with about 3 inches of that rise occurring since 1993. These are science-based facts, and we shouldn’t ignore them any longer.
It is time for our leaders to have the meaningful discussions, debates, and hearings with energy industry experts and stakeholders that influence environmental policies. It is time to break through the tired idea that we cannot improve our environment while also protecting our businesses. Safeguarding a healthy environment is not beyond us.
An important question raised in the debate surrounding environmental policy is that of how to use the revenues the government collects from levying new taxes and fees as a part of new environmental standards, particularly as it relates to auto emissions. Businesses and workers that would need to adapt to new emissions standards must not be ignored or cast aside. I would support laws that require revenues collected from such new regulatory requirements be reinvested and distributed among participating businesses to help them alleviate the expected impact. These revenues could be used in a variety of ways to help these businesses, and especially their workers, adapt to a new American economy that values the health of our environment. I would also support provisions in these laws that call for more frequent committee and subcommittee hearings where Congress can listen to and understand concerns from our carbon-intensive and trade-exposed industries. We need better laws protecting our environment and we cannot leave our businesses or their workforce behind.
What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence?
Hanson: First, I want to be clear that a complex issue like gun violence cannot be meaningfully addressed, even in part, by just one action by Congress.
Time after time, we end up in the same cycle: First, a tragic mass shooting happens. Then thoughts and prayers are posted on social media. Next, a national debate occurs about what Congress needs to do to stop the loss of innocent life. Soon after comes the failure of Congress to do anything, and the nation shakes its head in frustration. Then we start the cycle over, mourning in the wake of the next preventable mass shooting. This cycle needs to end. Our police officers who face these guns every day, and our family, friends and coworkers who have been killed or harmed by these legal and illegal guns, deserve action.
To curb gun violence, Congress must start where building consensus and agreement among Members should be most possible: Enacting real background checks. Our current background checks still permit people with most kinds of violent misdemeanor convictions to purchase guns. This is because the current law is narrowly written to screen only people with a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction. The “domestic” language means only individuals convicted of physical violence against a spouse or a co-habitant are red flagged when they are trying to purchase a gun. People convicted of other violent misdemeanors are not flagged and thus can still legally purchase a gun. I would fight for laws that ensure nobody with a violent misdemeanor is allowed to purchase a gun.
Relatedly, I would also fight to require gun-seller licenses on every gun sale. We need to close the gun show and private gun sale loopholes. Every gun sale must be made by a licensed seller, and every gun sale must be reported and subject to a real background check.
I believe that responsible Americans have a protected right to bear arms under the Second Amendment and should be able to hunt and own a firearm for home defense, should they feel it is necessary. But there has to be a balance.
Another equally important action that Congress can take is to limit the influence of lobbyists by enacting real campaign finance reform. For too long, powerful and wealthy lobbyists have influenced our laws, and Members of Congress have exchanged courage for money. For this reason, I have pledged never to accept campaign funds from the NRA or any PACs.
Is the media the “enemy of the people”? Please explain.
Hanson: No, the media is not the “enemy of the people.” The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and a free press is one of the most essential cornerstones to our democracy. It sets America apart from many other parts of the world. The media is not the enemy of the people, and the President is wrong to say so.
However, I am frustrated by the vast differences across media outlets that inform Americans about what is happening in our county. Here’s an example: This past winter I was listening to the radio while on a long drive to a hearing at a far-away courthouse. Some big news story about the Administration had broken that morning. Out of curiosity, I switched back and forth between two major political news channels whose audiences tend to have very different political leanings. As I listened to the updates and analysis of the story, I was shocked that I was listening to news about the same event, because the two news stations had entirely different talking points on the exact same story. This kind of thing – where we as listeners can essentially choose the truth we prefer – will only deepen the divide between Americans.
To this point, I think that the real “enemy of the people” is that we seem less willing to think critically and independently, and are increasingly willing to let others tell us exactly what and how to think. We consume just enough of the headlines and news to make the argument we want and confirm our world view. We are a smart country, and we need to encourage each other to engage in more critical thinking about the issues the media puts before us. When most of us were young, our parents and teachers taught us to seek out people, ideas, articles, and books that we disagreed with, and to do so with an open and strong mind. The purpose of seeking out and considering different ideas is to know ourselves and the world better. That inquisitive spirit is still alive in our society, but it has become less prevalent in the partisan shouting match that makes up so much of our political news coverage.
As an editorial board, our core criticism of the tax overhaul legislation pushed through Congress last December is that it lowers taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans at a time of historic inequalities of wealth and income in the United States. We believe in free markets, but the ‘silent hand’ of the market does not seem to be rewarding merit fairly. What’s your position on last December’s rewrite of the tax code? Would you push for further changes, or for the law’s repeal?
Hanson: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed last December was a hastily drafted bill that was created and passed along bitter and partisan lines. If that sounds familiar, it’s because a similar criticism could be made of the Affordable Care Act and many other landmark pieces of legislation. We are all tired of hearing that major bills are passed with “slim majorities with votes cast along party lines”. Laws passed entirely by politicians who only represent a portion of America usually only end up serving that portion of America. This is especially troubling when policies that impact the finances of middle income and lower income Americans are forced through into law without meaningful input from the very legislators who represent those people.
The TCJA took some steps in the wrong direction. The tax burden of our government should not fall on the shoulders of everyday American families, and our policies need to support the strengthening of our small businesses and the prosperity of middle and lower income Americans. According to the Tax Policy Center, the TCJA will reduce taxes on average by $1,610 in 2018, but after-tax income will increase by a greater percentage for high-income than for low-income households. The boost in after-tax income is 0.4 percent for households in the lowest quintile, compared with 2.9 percent for those in the top quintile, and more than 4 percent for those in the 95th–99th percentile, and 3.4 percent for taxpayers in the top 1 percent. I don’t believe that’s fair distribution of tax liability among Americans. Especially when recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the hard work of everyday Americans is not being rewarded fairly.
However, it needs to be acknowledged that there is a lot to be happy about with regards to the American economy right now. The U.S. economy added a solid 201,000 jobs in August and the unemployment rate remained at the impressively low level of 3.9 percent. Most importantly, wages are finally growing. Last month, wages increased at 0.4 percent in average hourly earnings, which is the fastest they have grown in nine years. However, we cannot rest on the positivity of the moment – there is still much work to do to address the historic income disparity and inequalities of wealth.
This is why I would push for further changes to the TCJA, targeted specifically at initiatives that will increase wages for middle income and lower income Americans. Additionally, the tax law is projected to cause U.S. revenues to fall significantly below levels needed to address our federal deficit, which was significantly added to by the tax law and other recent policies. I would work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to address these aspects of the TCJA over the next several years. Further, the TCJA created many questions for small businesses who want to improve their physical space, because of how unclearly the tax credit provisions were drafted. I would work with Members to draft the technical corrections necessary to amend and clarify these provisions. Doing so would help our small businesses plan improvement projects and in turn create new work for our trade workers.
Positive economic numbers, such as those we are seeing, should be encouraging to all Americans – regardless of which political party controls Congress or resides in the White House. We can do better if we work together, rather than work to crush the opposing party and its supporters.
Speaking of income inequality, top executives of America’s biggest companies saw their average annual pay surge to $18.9 million in 2017, even as the pay of ordinary workers has remained flat for a decade. What, if anything, should be done to address the growing gap in wealth and income?
Hanson: There is no question that the gap in income inequality between American classes has grown unacceptably in the last 20 years. And yes, Congress needs to do something to address the growing gap between wealth and income. Some of those who say that income inequality isn’t really a problem make the argument that there is little relationship between income inequality and poverty. Try telling that to a middle-class family from my District, a family trying to plan and save for things like college tuition, rising health insurance premiums, or a modest family summer vacation. These things, which middle class Americans used to take for granted, are receding out of reach. We need to get our economy back to a point where the hard working middle class sees its labor rewarded in fair and reasonable proportion to the rewards enjoyed by wealthier Americans.
As I previously discussed in my answer to question 14, our nation is also experiencing a lack of upward mobility. Too many Americans are trapped by circumstance and denied their fair shot at flourishing (something that used to be called the American Dream). Changing the tax code, as I said above, can help, but, realistically, there is no easy or short-term solution to income inequality.
Thinking longer term, we can and should work to ensure more Americans are able to receive and afford the education they need to pursue and build the futures they want. More Americans should be able to go to college and graduate school without being crushed by debt, and more Americans who want to attend trade schools should be able to do so without fear they won’t be able to support a family. This should include investment in innovative partnerships that connect high school students with training and development pathways for skilled roles our employers know they will need to fill as our nation’s industrial focus evolves. Our educational system can benefit from direct partnerships with employers that have an eye towards keeping our economy competitive. I believe we should also require our high schoolers to take at least one course in basic personal finance before they graduate, to ensure each generation of high school graduates knows how to save, spend, and borrow money responsibly. There is no time like the present to make these changes.
Would it be appropriate at this time for President Trump to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit the White House? Why so, or why not?
Hanson: No, it would not be appropriate for President Trump to invite Russian President Putin to visit the White House at this time. Highly respected intelligence personnel in President Trump’s own cabinet have decisively concluded not only that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election, but that the Russian government is actively trying to interfere in our upcoming elections this November. To invite President Putin to the White House in light of this conclusion would be not only insulting to the intelligence community that keeps us safe, but also disrespectful to the American people who believe that fair and free elections are the cornerstone of our democracy.
How would you assess and grade the Trump administration’s efforts to recalibrate our nation’s relationships with Korea, NATO and Russia?
Hanson: I give the Trump Administration a poor assessment of its overall efforts to recalibrate our nation’s relationships with North Korea, NATO, and Russia. Since President Trump took office, North Korea and Russia have each threatened the security of the United States, both directly and indirectly. It is well established that neither county is an ally of American interests, yet President Trump consistently exhibits a greater willingness to engage the leaders of these nations than he is with our traditional allies, such as NATO, Germany, and the United Kingdom. As the interconnectedness of world markets and powers becomes more complex, I am concerned that President Trump may be undermining America’s status as a valued leader in the international community.
In late June, the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration’s travel ban on visitors and immigrants from seven countries, five of which have Muslim majorities. What is your view on this ban?
Hanson: I do not think that this travel ban was justified. The version of the ban that was finally upheld by the Supreme Court indefinitely suspended the issuance of immigrant and non-immigrant visas to visitors and immigrants from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela. The Supreme Court is correct that the President should have broad discretion to protect the national security interests of the United States at the border. We know that terrorist states and groups have declared their intent to infiltrate our nation by exploiting vulnerabilities in our immigration systems. Also, there are countries that cannot be relied upon to adequately ensure that United States national security interests are met. However, I believe this specific ban was less about protecting the United States from any immediate threat, and more about the President sending a message that he does not want people who pray a certain way in this country. Indeed, there was no immediate threat ever identified by the Administration, and the non-Muslim countries of North Korea and Venezuela were only added to the ban as a fig-leaf after the courts struck down previous versions of the ban that targeted only Muslim countries. I disagree with this travel ban and the negative and discriminatory stereotypes it reinforces.
What three major reforms should be made to United States immigration policy?
Hanson: Immigration is perhaps the most divisive issue in American politics today. Congress must finally pass comprehensive immigration reform. It should be rooted in preserving the dignity of all migrants while reestablishing respect for the American border, and it should pursue consistency and continuity in U.S. immigration laws.
Reforming United States immigration policy must first involve a complete assessment and realignment of the immigration laws that are currently in place. Too many of our federal immigration laws are inconsistent. For example, we provide federal funding for sanctuary cities yet also enforce a brutal “zero tolerance” policy at the border that separates small children from their parents. Further, the inconsistency with which we apply our immigration policies are unfair to people who try to come to our country through the legal channels and complying with our laws. This kind of inconsistency signals that our nation has significant internal conflict regarding our strategic priorities and values with respect to immigration. I believe we can all agree that our nation’s laws and borders should be respected; at the same time, it is incumbent on our elected officials to preserve empathy and dignity in our treatment of those who seek out the United States for a better life. The Administration’s decision to separate small children from their migrant parents was shameful, and it was not reflective of the American values I know.
Second, Congressional leaders must revisit and renew their discussions with the President about creating a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and other migrants who came to the United States as children. These individuals have known no other country than the United States, and they have been positive and contributing members of American communities. The United States should honor our past by signaling to the world that we will always welcome and embrace individuals who are willing to work hard, obey our laws, and contribute to the American way of life.
Third, the United States has to explore the creation of positive partnerships with Mexico and Central American countries that ebbs the flow of illegal immigration to the United States. This Administration recently engaged Mexico in a series of positive and productive bilateral meetings aimed at reviving and improving our trade agreements. I think it should also be possible for this Administration to work with Mexico and Central American countries to establish a legal framework that will cultivate respect for and awareness of United States immigration laws, as well as a plan whereby the United States can have a positive impact on the lives of people and families who live in dangerous and impoverished conditions in these countries. The United States stands to benefit from such investments, as the dangerous migratory patterns that convey desperate migrants towards the United States become less appealing and less necessary. Our mutual goal shared by the entirety of the Americas should be to help people safely remain in their home countries with an eye towards supporting better quality of life and becoming vibrant partners in trade.
Do you support or oppose the family-based immigration policy sometimes called “chain migration”? Please explain.
Hanson: This is a polarizing topic within the larger (and very polarizing) issue of immigration, enflamed in part because the word “chain” is an unclear descriptor and “migration” conjures images of transient groups of people. I believe a less dramatic and more easily-understood description for this topic is “family-based immigration.”
So we’re all on the same page: family-based immigration, otherwise called “chain migration,” is the immigration process by which U.S. citizens or legal residents may sponsor their foreign relatives for green cards. There are two categories of immigrants under family-based immigration: “immediate relatives,” and “preference categories.” The category the sponsored immigrant falls into depends on their relationship to the American sponsor, and the category plays a major role in how long the review process will take. Under either category, a citizen or permanent legal resident of the United States is trying to petition the government to allow a close relative to immigrate here.
I love my own family and would want to spend my life with them. So, I support families being together, and I have no opposition to a sound legal process that permits families to reunite in the United States. To be clear, I support a legal process that gives our government the ability to know and control who is coming across our borders. However, I have learned that some potential family-based immigrants can wait longer than twenty years for a visa. I do not think it should take nearly that long to give a family a decision as to whether they will be able to carry on a life together on United States soil.
I support the legal channels that allow for family-based immigration and would work to improve the process for everyone’s benefit.
What would you do, as a member of Congress, to improve race relations in the United States?
Hanson: As a former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney practicing civil rights law, I have gained a unique perspective on this important issue. As an Assistant State’s Attorney, I defended many members of law enforcement. I have also met with many young African American men while they were incarcerated at Cook County Jail or in state prisons. I have had many frank and personal conversations with both groups, and I can’t adequately relate just how much I learned from these conversations. Primarily, I learned that improving race relations starts with a commitment by everyone to listen. We all need to understand where each other is coming from when it comes to race relations and improving our civil rights for underserved people. These conversations aren’t easy, but this is the way to heal any relationship, and I believe this is where we begin.
The Third District is incredibly diverse. It includes strong African American neighborhoods like Back of the Yards, as well as neighborhoods with deep family roots in our police force, like Beverly. If elected, my local Congressional offices will prioritize reaching out to communities just like these to continue bringing people together to listen, learn, and close the gaps that exist between us as neighbors in this District. Also, if I am elected, I will be very intentionally staffing my office with diverse, talented, and driven people from as many different parts of this district as possible. I guarantee that both my offices in Washington and in the District will be nothing like the myopic echo-chambers you find in nearly every other Congressional office on the Hill.
What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent.
Hanson: The biggest difference between Dan Lipinski and me is that I have the energy, conviction, and passion to give this district back its voice in Congress. As an Assistant State’s Attorney and in private practice, I’ve earned a reputation for being a fierce and fair advocate, devoted to always doing what is right. I work incredibly hard – something I learned from my parents – and I don’t settle for mediocrity.
I know what it takes to speak up strongly and persuasively. I believe that for both our District and our country, having a strong advocate in Congress matters now more than ever. And I have never seen Dan Lipinski representing our District in this way.
Make no mistake: a district like ours needs to have a strong and leading voice in Congress. The Third District isn’t just any old place. We live in the genuine crossroads of America, and much of the country’s interests and priorities are reflected within the communities that make up our District. Think about everything that we have to offer right here: the crucial transit infrastructure our nation’s manufacturers rely on to move products across the country and families use every day; geographic and economic proximity to one of our nation’s top three cities; an international entry point for the country; amazing hospitals, schools, and community organizations; both urban and rural communities; and diversity of languages and nationalities. Our district is home to teachers, doctors, police officers, lawyers, electricians, physicists, firefighters, mechanics, engineers… you name it, it’s here.
We simply have far too much potential to accept being as underrepresented as we have been. And we simply have too much at stake in the issues our nation is facing to accept anything less than real leadership and advocacy. It’s time for this District to take its place among the leading Congressional Districts in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bottom line: Congressman Lipinski has served this District unremarkably and with very little energy for the past 13 years, and with hardly any laws to his credit. The Lipinski name has held onto this seat with a vice-grip for the past 35 years, and a lot has changed. It’s now time for someone new to speak for this incredible District. I am asking voters for the opportunity and honor to represent them and my hometown in Congress, and to write the name Justin Hanson on their ballot this November.
It needs to be said that there is another candidate for this seat. He is a man who openly hates people you and I know because of the color of their skin, how they pray, or who they love. His name is Art Jones, and he is an avowed member of the American Nazi Party, Holocaust denier, white supremacist, homophobe, and bigot, and he is the Republican candidate who will have his name printed on the ballot for this seat. He duped many voters into supporting him in the primary. Even if you won’t vote for me, I implore you to not vote for Art Jones, and to tell five people who are voting in this District not to vote for him.
So far in this race, I am the only candidate for this seat who has worked tirelessly to ensure voters know the horrible things he stands for. I feel that is the most significant difference between Dan Lipinski and me. Even if I was as convinced of victory as Dan Lipinski believes himself to be in this race, I would still be out in our communities every day, pounding the pavement, making sure that as many voters as possible know what Jones stands for and that he receives as few votes as possible. My small and scrappy campaign is the only one making that effort – because I’ll be damned if my hometown is going to let a Nazi candidate lose by default just because of the other guy’s name recognition. The nation will be watching how we respond in this election. I am asking Third District voters to make a strong vote, and write in Justin Hanson for Illinois’ Third Congressional District.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.