On Jan. 10, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic seat in the 4th Congressional district of Illinois in the March 2018 primary:
Jesus Garcia, Cook County Commissioner for the 7th district, the district in the greater Southwest Side of the city of Chicago. Candidate for Congress in the 4th Congressional district. My priorities would be to fix our broken immigration system in this county. There are some immediate urgencies to address the status of over 800,000 young people known as the DACA class of young people who had protection under President Obama’s executive order that was rescinded by President Trump. Their status needs to be addressed through legislation urgently. Second issue would be addressing the plight of 200,000 or so people who came here from El Salvador as refugees fleeing war, fleeing other conflicts, fleeing violence in that country, that also has been suspended, the status, known as temporary protective status. And finally, comprehensive immigration reform. This is Congress’s one of the biggest irresponsibilities, they have failed to address this, it needs to be addressed. As an immigrant, as a resident of the 4th District since I came from Mexico 52 years ago, as a seasoned legislator, I can hit the ground running in Washington to address these issues.
Two other areas that are important for the 4th District is that of improving the education system. Especially public education for residents of the district. Ensuring that minority students, Latino, African-Americans and others do not suffer from discrimination in either elementary or high school and then addressing the need for access to college without the crushing debt that so many college seniors are experiencing today. So making college affordable and making it free for those who qualify for it is another urgent task. And finally, we have not addressed infrastructure for transit, for other infrastructure needs that we have. An infrastructure bill can help bring much needed economic development to the 4th District to create jobs, to provide people with educational and training opportunities to have good jobs and make the district a sound one and one that competes in the 21st Century economy.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Congress a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: As a member of the House from Illinois, please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
ANSWER: The specific causes I will focus on are comprehensive immigration reform, resolving the status of DACA recipients, passage of a transportation and infrastructure bill, preserving the ACA – particularly Medicaid – and expanding it to true Medicare for All.
Jesus “Chuy” Garcia
District running for: 4th Congressional district (Illinois)
Political/civic background: Cook County Commissioner, 2010 – Present (Chairman of Business & Economic Development Committee, Criminal Justice Committee and Social Innovation Commission at Cook County Government); Illinois State Senator, 1st District, 1993 – 1998; Chicago Alderman, 22nd Ward, 1986 – 1993; Committeeman, 22nd Ward,1984-2000.
Former Board Member, Woods Fund Chicago; Former Board Member, The Center on Leadership Innovation (TCLI).
Founding Executive Director of Enlace Chicago
Founding Chairman of the Board for Latino Policy Forum
Occupation: Cook County Commissioner, 7th District
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in urban planning from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Campaign website: chuyforcongress.com
QUESTION: Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.
ANSWER: We need to address our immigration system and end the uncertainty for our immigrants and businesses. We should be clear that we are a nation that has welcomed immigrants; my district alone has 230,000 foreign born residents. Immigration is the lifeblood of this country and has been the engine of growth and productivity for more than a century. Trump’s draconian immigration policies are tearing families apart, and hurting our communities and our economy.
We must not stop welcoming immigrants and refugees to this country and we need to encourage immigrants already here to stay and continue contributing to our growth. We should pass legislation recognizing the immigrants already here and positively contributing and grant them permanent status and a pathway to citizenship. We should also continue to enthusiastically accept migrants and refugees from all over the world with their families and establish a proper vetting system. It is unaccepatble that we have not secured the status of the 800,000 Dreamers through incorporating DACA into legislation. It will be my priority to do this in Congress. At a time when important domestic programs are being starved of funds, we must also fight against the multibillion dollar boondoggle of a wall.
A second priority of mine will be to improve our education system. Latinos are disproportionately young and although we make up only 17% of the overall population nationwide, 25% of students in public schools are Latino. We need to make sure our public school system remains strong with secure funding that doesn’t discriminate against poor, minority communities. We also need to eliminate the schools to prison pipeline and ensure that minorities aren’t disproportionately suspended or expelled.
We need to make college more affordable. The average student takes on over $30,000 in debt to get a B.A. from a four-year college or university. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), many low-income and minority students have unmet financial need, even at lower-cost community colleges.
I support Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s College For All Act. This legislation would make public colleges and universities tuition free for working families, as is already done in many other industrialized countries. We should get corporations to contribute more in support of our public education system both K-12 and higher education as it is an essential pipeline for skilled workers in the future. We should also consider a tax on Wall Street speculators to pay for expanded college and training programs.
We also need to reduce interest rates for current borrowers. Americans currently have more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, with 70% of college seniors graduating with debt. The government actually profits off of these graduates. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the government will make $66 billion from student loans issued between 2007 and 2012. Lowering interest rates will allow recent college grads to have more money to start a business or buy a house, and I support Rep. Courtney’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act to allow current borrowers a chance to refinance to a lower rate.
My third priority would be to boost infrastructure funding, especially public transit. Such funding is essential for urban economic development and to ensure minorities have access to jobs and services. Residents in my District need the infrastructure and transportation improvements to both bring jobs into these communities and allow residents to access good paying jobs throughout the region.
Transportation is critically important to the country and to industry. The Federal government was instrumental in creating and funding the national railroad system, the interstate highway system and integrating/expanding the transit systems throughout the country. I support a substantial federal infrastructure program based on federal funding and not privatization of the ownership of transportation assets. Funding could come from increasing the gasoline tax, as well as taxes on vehicle-miles-traveled as we move away from gasoline-powered transportation.
An additional priority given the large Puerto Rican community in my District will be to advocate for and support the rebuilding of Puerto Rico. I think it is important for me to be an advocate for the more than 3 million Puerto Ricans that lack a voice in Congress. Many Puerto Ricans have had to flee from the island to Chicago because of debt crippling the island and the devastation of Hurricane Maria. I believe we need to forgive some of Puerto Rico’s debt, give aid to rebuild the island and then invest long term in the economic development of the island.
RELATED ARTICLES: Jesus “Chuy” Garcia
QUESTION: If you are running as a Democrat, what is your best idea for getting any initiative you may propose advanced if the House continues to be controlled by the GOP after the 2018 elections?
ANSWER: As a senator in Springfield during the 1990s, I worked with Republicans to pass legislation when they controlled both chambers, such as the Language Assistance Act, which required hospitals to set interpreter policies for non-English and ASL speakers. I have a history of building coalitions and working across the aisle to get stuff done. I also see my role as using the office to build public support for proposals. This is the approach I take on the County Board, where I have to work with several elected officials – Republicans included – to build consensus. My most significant accomplishment in my recent term on the Cook County Board is reforming the Cash Bail system with Toni Preckwinkle and key criminal justice stakeholders. During my time on board, the jail population at Cook County Jail has gone down nearly 40%.
TOPIC: President Donald Trump
QUESTION: What do you make of President Trump?
ANSWER: I believe that Trump’s rhetoric is inappropriate and damaging, especially coming from the President of the United States. While in office, he has attacked the appearance of women, said that white supremacist groups include good people, said a female Senator would do “anything” for donations, and implied that Puerto Ricans are lazy and shouldn’t be given the same aid that Texas, Florida and other mainland states received to recover from natural disasters. He has constantly spewed hateful rhetoric against minority communities. I do not believe that Trump’s rhetoric is appropriate for the highest office in the land.
QUESTION: Which three actions by the Trump administration do you support the most? Which three do you oppose the most?
ANSWER: I fully support Trump’s August decision to fire Stephen Bannon. Bannon’s white nationalistic views are a danger to this country and have no place in any White House. I also support President Trump’s decision to allow a team of Afghani teen girls to enter the Unites States to compete in an international engineering competition. The U.S. has always been a beacon of freedom and hope in welcoming immigrants. The Trump Travel Ban is not who we are as a people, and I support his common sense exemption to this harmful policy. Finally, I support the President’s action maintaining sanctions on Russia for interfering with the US Presidential election.
I strongly oppose The Trump administration’s cruel and shortsighted decision to repeal DACA, which protects more than 800,000 young Dreamers. Related to this, I strongly oppose the travel ban discriminating against Muslims and also limiting all immigration into the United States. I oppose the Trump/Republican tax reform bill that will borrow $1.5 trillion dollars to give handouts to the wealthy. Over time, this tax bill will raise taxes on low-income workers. This bill also repealed the ACA individual mandate, which will increase healthcare premiums by about 10% and cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance. Finally, the tax bill imposes new taxes on companies operating in Puerto Rico, which will harm an island already crippled with debt and the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
QUESTION: What is your view of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Does Mueller have your support?
ANSWER: In the United States, no person should be above the law. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a reputation of integrity and professionalism and has my full support to complete a full and impartial investigation on possible collusion. Our Democracy depends on a series of checks and balances.
QUESTION: What should Congress do to reduce the threat of terrorism at home, either from ISIS or from others
ANSWER: Our priorities for public safety are to continue our efforts to track terrorist activity in the US and around the world. We should increase our efforts to attack discrimination and integrate immigrants and others into our education and employment systems.
We must understand that a growing number of attacks are from white supremacist and right-wing extremist groups. The Center for Investigative Reporting has found that between 2008 and 2016, the U.S. had nearly twice as many terrorist incidents by right-wing extremists than from Islamist extremists. It’s important that our law enforcement not overlook and ignore the growing threat of domestic terrorism from these groups.
TOPIC: Guns and violence
QUESTION: What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence in the United States?
ANSWER: Reasonable gun controls on the sale and ownership of guns is clearly within the bounds of the Constitution. Such controls include a unified federal background check system for gun sales and limits on certain kinds of rifles that are not designed for sport use. I would champion Congresswoman Robin Kelly’s efforts to curb gun violence.
QUESTION: Do you favor a law banning the sale and use of “bump stocks” that increase the firing speed of semi-automatic weapons? Why? Do you favor any further legal limits on guns of any kind? Or, conversely, what gun restrictions should be done away with?
ANSWER: The 2nd Amendment guarantees rights for sport uses and militias, such as the National Guard. Constraints on the sale and ownership of certain types of guns will not compromise our constitutional rights or our safety. The plethora of guns in this country clearly contributes to the escalating level of violence. Other countries, such as Australia and the EU properly constrain gun ownership and have lowered gun shootings and gun-related deaths.
TOPIC: America’s growing wealth gap
QUESTION: As an editorial board, our core criticism of the tax overhaul legislation supported by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate 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 it does not look to us like the “silent hand” of the market is functioning properly, rewarding merit fairly. We are troubled that the top 1 percent of Americans own 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth and the bottom 90 percent own just 22.8 percent of the wealth. Tell us how we are right or wrong about this. Does the growing income and wealth gap trouble you?
ANSWER: America’s growing wealth gap is the fundamental challenge of our time. Numerous studies implicate increases in economic inequality with social problems and social unrest. We need to create a system that makes everyone a part of the economy and society in general. The tax bill attacks Democracy itself when the wealthiest Americans are able to effectively buy control of our political system. Some Republican members spoke openly during the process about how they had to pass the bill for their donors.
The tax overhaul gives trillions in tax handouts to the corporations and the wealthiest Americans. It does not require them to invest in America, hire and train American workers, invest in schools, transportation, or American institutions and infrastructure. The bill will expand deficits and create a climate for cutting basic services and safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. We need to ensure government creates the environment for people and businesses to have the tools and opportunities to succeed. We need a fair system, a good public education system, a safe and modern transportation system for people and goods and affordable health care for all. As a first step, I believe we need to make it easier for workers to form unions, increase and index the minimum wage and reverse the Citizens United decision that allows Corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political influence in the name of “free speech.”
TOPIC: International affairs
QUESTION: Do you support the Trump administration’s decision to move the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? How will this help or hinder efforts to secure a lasting peace between Israel and its Middle East neighbors?
ANSWER: I, along with most of the civilized world, disagree with the Trump administration’s decision to unilaterally move the embassy to Jerusalem. This should be a topic of negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians – not an outside imposition. It will hinder peace efforts by solidifying the view of the US as solely a supporter of Israel. It will anger the Palestinians and our allies in the Middle East. Finally, it does nothing to improve the stability, safety and economic well-being of the Palestinian people, which is essential to any future solution.
QUESTION: Is military action by the United States a plausible response to the nuclear weapons threat posed by North Korea? How might a U.S. military response play out for South Korea, Japan and China? What alternative do you support?
ANSWER: I do not believe that a direct attack on North Korea would be in our interests. We need to continue with current and expanded economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts to both isolate North Korea and reassure them that we will not invade them. Our current military forces in the region clearly enable us to address any provocative act by North Korea.
QUESTION: The Supreme Court has ruled that the third version of the Trump administration’s travel ban on eight countries with predominantly Muslim populations can go into effect while legal challenges against the ban continue. What is your position on this travel ban?
ANSWER: America is a nation of immigrants and the travel ban goes against our values and who we are as a people. We should judge individuals by their individual merits. Banning people from visiting simply because of the country they were born in is wrong. The ban is also very harmful to our economy. Universities and companies are losing out in a competition for global talent. Large conferences and other meetings are being moved to other countries where all potential participants are welcome to attend. Foreign tourism in the U.S. generates $250 billion a year in business. The efforts to impose a travel ban are costing the U.S. millions of visitors and leading to a drastic loss of jobs in the tourism sector.
QUESTION: Has the United States in the last decade been accepting too many immigrants, and does this pose a threat to the American way of life?
ANSWER: Immigration is the lifeblood of this country and has been the engine of growth and productivity for more than a century. We must not stop welcoming immigrants and refugees to this country. We also need to encourage immigrants already here to stay and continue contributing to our growth. We should pass legislation recognizing the immigrants – who are already here and positively contributing to society – and grant them permanent status and a pathway to citizenship. We should also continue to enthusiastically accept migrants and refugees from all over the world with their families and establish a proper vetting system. It should be unaccepatble that we have not secured the status of the Dreeamers through incorporating DACA into regular legislation. This will be one of my top priorities in Congress.
QUESTION: Should the “wall” between the United States and Mexico be built? What might it accomplish?
ANSWER: Building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico will cost billions. The Department of Homeland Security estimated it would cost $21.6 billion to build. The Democratic staff of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee have issued a report showing it could cost nearly $70 billion to build and $150 million a year to maintain. At a time when many critical domestic programs are severely underfunded, I do not believe a wall is a good use of tax dollars.
TOPIC: Affordable Care Act
QUESTION: The tax reform plan created by Republican majorities in the House and Senate would eliminate the Obamacare “individual mandate” that most Americans must have health insurance or pay a fine. Does this threaten the viability of the Affordable Care Act? What more on this, if anything, should be done?
ANSWER: The Republican tax reform bill, passed without a single Democratic vote, drastically undermines our healthcare system. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that eliminating the individual mandate in the tax reform bill will increase premiums by about 10% and mean the loss of health insurance for 4 million Americans this upcoming year, and 13 million Americans by 2027. I support the Affordable Care Act and will work hard to improve it and support its implementation. However, it is not acceptable that in the wealthiest country in the world we still have 29 milllion people uninsured. That is a terrible drain on the country, our economy, individual businesses, and individual people. I support moves toward universal coverage such as Medicare for all. Leaving more people uninsured or underinsured in a two tier system is unacceptable.
TOPIC: The opponent(s)
QUESTION: What is your biggest difference with your opponent(s)?
ANSWER: The critical difference is my experience and track record working in communities as both an organizer and as a legislator. At Enlace we successfully built a large coalition to force the city to build the first high school in the community in nearly 100 years.
At the County, we passed a ban on discrimination for housing voucher recipients such as lowincome families, veterans, the disabled and others. We put an end to Cook County’s cooperation with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. The measure became the first of its kind in the nation and more than 250 localities followed. We also passed a $15 minimum wage ordinance and the requirement that County employers provide paid sick leave. Finally, we worked with other elected officials at the County to successfully change the cash bond system and decrease the detainees at the County Jail by 40%.
No one congressperson does it all. Coalition building is in my bones. Leadership is a team sport and if elected to Congress, I will work hard and use my experience to move this country forward.