On Jan. 30, Ryan Huffman appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic seat in the 6th Congressional District of Illinois in the March 2018 primary:
My name’s Ryan Huffman. I grew up in the northwest suburbs. I grew up in Elgin, I live in Palatine currently. I’m a data analyst. My background is in public policy, I have a journalism degree from Northwestern but a masters in public policy from the University of Chicago. I interned at the White House under President Obama. I also spent time working on his campaign so I do have some good political background as well as just policy expertise. And yeah, that’s my background.
So, I’m very passionate about campaign finance reform. One of the things we learned in my masters in public policy program is that a lot of the issues that have been plaguing us for decades, they actually have pretty easy solutions we just don’t implement them because the people in power have conflicts of interest that are preventing them from being able to actually address the causes of the problems that we see. So I want to get money out of politics. Especially big money. Dark money out of politics and move to a public financing of elections.
Well, we’ve got to fix this tax bill that Peter Roskam helped write and it’s really disadvantaging our district. We in the 6th District take 17 times as much in terms of state and local property tax deductions than the average district nationally and those are the people who are going to be paying for this giveaway to corporations and billionaires. So we’ve got to fix that code. Fully repeal that code and the changes that were in that bill. At the very least we need to get the deductions back for state and local property tax deductions.
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. Ryan Huffman 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: It’s hard to pick just one cause, because I want to go to Washington and create solutions for each of the underlying issues causing widespread injustice across so many parts of our society. I will be a champion for legislation to combat climate change, reform our student loan system, strengthen our unions, and transition to a single payer health system. But first and foremost, I want to work on getting money out of politics.
As long as money continues to play such an outsized role in our political system, we will continue to see policies skewed heavily in favor of corporations and billionaires. We must do all we can to overturn Citizens United, which allows corporations to pour unlimited money into campaigns. I also support legislation that would mandate all campaign spending comes from public funds, leveling the playing field so that those with the most money don’t also have the biggest voice in our political system.
I’ve pledged to accept no donations from corporations or special interests during this campaign or during my time in Washington, so my constituents will always know I’m looking out only for their interests. That’s the bare minimum we should expect from all our elected leaders.
District running for: 6th Congressional district (Illinois)
Political/civic background: I interned on the Online Organizing team in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, and was a White House intern at the Council on Environmental Quality in 2009. I worked at a political direct mail firm in 2010 that consulted for Democratic candidates across the country. I also researched the alternative-fuel vehicle market with the Department of Energy and Argonne National Laboratories from 2014 to 2016. I earned my master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Chicago in 2015, graduating with Honors and a Certificate in Political Campaigns.
Occupation: Data Analyst
Education: Bachelor of Science in Journalism – Northwestern University (2008)
Master of Public Policy – University of Chicago (2015)
Graduated with Honors and a Certificate in Political Campaigns
Campaign website: huffmanforcongress.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: Restore the state and local tax deductions, and the mortgage interest deduction, to our tax code. Half of all tax filers in the 6th District rely on these critical deductions, which will be gutted by the new tax bill written by Peter Roskam and the GOP. Restoring these important deductions will be one of my top priorities in Washington.
Transition to a single payer health system. Thousands of 6th District residents currently live without health insurance, and those who do have coverage face ever-rising premiums. These problems will only get worse now that the GOP removed the critical individual mandate that held the ACA markets together. Without the mandate, the youngest and healthiest people will opt out of health insurance, driving up costs for the rest of us (since the same overall costs are being distributed among fewer people). It is long past time for our country to move to a universal health care model, similar to those utilized by almost all other industrialized nations. In so doing, we will permanently protect the right of all 6th District residents to have access to health care coverage they need.
Invest more federal money in the 6th District’s public schools. This would serve two critical functions for the residents of the 6th District. First, it would elevate the quality of education received by the district’s children, because all students and teachers would be given the resources they need to succeed. Second, it would put less of the burden for funding public schools on the backs of those paying property taxes, which are absurdly high in the 6th District. Lower property taxes and better public schools – that’s what I’ll be fighting for in Washington on behalf of the 6th District.
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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: Unfortunately, advancing progressive reforms will be difficult as long as the GOP holds Congress. There is strong public support for most of the reforms I’m advocating for, but the current leadership of the Republican party in Congress has proven completely indifferent to the will of the people. Their eager passage of a tax bill that has a 25% national approval rating proves beyond any doubt that they cater to their wealthy donors only. That makes cooperation terribly challenging, but it doesn’t mean I won’t try. Wherever I see an opportunity to make life better for the people of the 6th District, I will work to enact that policy regardless of which party proposes it. I will work tirelessly to find common ground with my Republican colleagues, but I will not cave to their demands either. I will support whatever is best for the people of my district, period.
TOPIC: President Donald Trump
QUESTION: What do you make of President Trump?
ANSWER: Donald Trump is the most dangerous man ever to hold the presidency. He uses the power entrusted to him only to settle scores and enrich himself. As long as he is in office, continuing his daily war on our democratic institutions, our democracy is in peril. Even worse, his temperamental tweets and cavalier attitude about nuclear weapons endanger not just our democracy, but our very existence. He must be removed from office immediately, and I will move to impeach him the minute I am sworn into office.
QUESTION: Which three actions by the Trump administration do you support the most? Which three do you oppose the most?
ANSWER: There are no actions of the Trump administration I support. I do not say that lightly, but truthfully this administration has proven to be even worse than I imagined it could be. Even apart from the constant abuses of power, his policy positions have been disastrous. It is difficult to narrow the list of actions I oppose down to just three (net neutrality and the tax bill receive honorable mentions), but these are the things that I oppose most strongly:
I strongly oppose the Trump administration’s racist, fear-mongering Muslim ban. It is inexcusable that we should prohibit people from traveling to the United States just because they come from countries that are majority-Muslim. The haste with which the policy was rolled out ripped families apart, and even amidst the ongoing legal challenges, the ban is creating unimaginable hardship and uncertainty in our Muslim communities. This ban is a direct affront to our American values.
I strongly oppose the Trump administration’s short-sighted decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and Trump has placed the U.S. firmly at the back of the pack in the fight against it. The move was clearly driven entirely by a will to undo the accomplishments of President Obama, rather than any strategic plan. With the fate of the world literally in the balance, that is far too flimsy of an excuse to make such a reactionary move.
I strongly oppose the Trump administration’s cruel decision to end DACA and use 800,000 Americans as political bargaining chips. The “Dreamers” came to America as children, and are now important members of our communities and our economy. It is inexcusable that Trump is threatening to send them back to countries they barely know simply because their parents didn’t fill out the proper paperwork years ago. As with the Muslim ban, this decision flies in the face of everything America stands for.
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: Mueller has my full support, and he has given every indication that he is conducting a thorough, unbiased investigation into both Russia’s interference in our election and the misdeeds of the Trump campaign. Enough information has been made public to know for certain that the campaign acted recklessly and illegally to collude with Russia in order to win the election. This attack by a foreign power on our election needs to be dealt with harshly, and any American who helped perpetrate the attack must face the consequences of their actions as well.
QUESTION: What should Congress do to reduce the threat of terrorism at home, either from ISIS or from others?
ANSWER: There are two ways I would combat the threat of terrorism here in the U.S. The first is to implement much stricter gun control regulations that make it more difficult for dangerous people to get their hands on dangerous weapons. The second piece is to invest more in public education, mental health services, and job-creating infrastructure repairs. Studies have shown that the vast majority of domestic terrorists in the U.S. are radicalized after they arrive here. By giving all those living in America the tools they need to succeed in our economy, we ensure that fewer people are angry and desperate enough to be susceptible to the radicalizing influence of ISIS.
TOPIC: Guns and violence
QUESTION: What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence in the United States?
ANSWER: We need many new regulations to both make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on dangerous weapons, and to make those dangerous weapons less capable of inflicting such severe damage. The single step I would start with is to mandate universal background checks, closing loopholes that allow the sale of weapons to people who are likely to endanger others – like those with a record of domestic abuse.
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: I wholeheartedly support outlawing the sale and use of bump stocks, because they make it easier for mass murderers to inflict more damage in a shorter period of time. I also support banning the sale of guns to the mentally ill and those on no-fly lists, and banning large magazines and silencers. There must be no let-up in our demand for stricter gun laws until tragedies like the one in Las Vegas last October are a thing of the past.
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: Your editorial board is spot-on in its assessment. The free market is badly broken in this country, funneling unprecedented amounts of wealth into the hands of those who already have more than they could hope to spend in ten lifetimes. It is both economically wasteful and morally outrageous, and the new GOP tax bill will make matters exponentially worse. Instead of a massive giveaway to corporations, any tax reform should pour money into the hands of the lower and middle classes. Let consumers decide which products and services are worthy of our money, which will force corporations to compete for our business. That’s the way the free market is supposed to work.
In general, we need to focus less on making it so fantastic to be rich, and more on making it easier for the lower and middle classes to climb the economic ladder. If people have food, shelter, health care, and education, they have the tools they need to become productive members of society. This will reinvigorate the shrinking middle class and small business community, which are the backbone of our economy. It’s also just the right thing to do.
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 strongly oppose the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Doing so only inflames a tense region and significantly lessens the likelihood of a two-state solution. Without a two-state solution, there can be no lasting peace in the Middle East.
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: North Korea is an incredibly tricky problem, and I remain hopeful that we can persuade them to turn away from their nuclear program by applying strong international diplomatic pressure. If those efforts ultimately fail, we may have no choice but to choose a military option. I would not choose that option unless it becomes clear that it is the only way to stop North Korea from achieving full nuclear armament. If they are permitted to complete their nuclear program, not only does it put us and our allies in immediate danger, it also sends the message to other bad actors that they can build a nuclear program and get away with it. We cannot allow that to happen. Certainly any military solution must only be undertaken with the support of the international community, particularly North Korea’s neighbors in Asia.
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: I have rarely been so disgusted with the actions of any administration than I was when the current administration deployed this Muslim ban. It is a disgrace to the ideals of our nation.
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: Ours is a country founded by immigrants, and I take great pride that we have built a nation that so many still flock to. We should continue to embrace and welcome all who wish to be a part of our American society.
QUESTION: Should the “wall” between the United States and Mexico be built? What might it accomplish?
ANSWER: All it would accomplish is to waste billions of dollars and alienate one of our closest allies. I am strongly opposed to building such a wall.
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 repeal of the individual mandate absolutely threatens the viability of the ACA, which I suspect was the intention of the Republicans who snuck it into the tax bill. Without the mandate in place, the healthiest people will opt out of the individual markets. That will raise premiums for everyone who stays in the risk pool, and leaves millions more uninsured. Those who opt out of the market are leaving themselves vulnerable as well. Even if they believe themselves to be healthy enough that they won’t need to utilize the health system, there is no way to predict when an accident or disease could strike. We need to immediately restore this mandate to stop premiums in the individual markets from spiraling out of control.
TOPIC: The opponent(s)
QUESTION: What is your biggest difference with your opponent(s)?
ANSWER: Apart from being the youngest candidate in this race, the biggest difference between my opponents and myself is my commitment to fight tirelessly for progressive reform. If last year’s election taught us anything, it’s that it’s not enough to just be against Trump. We, as Democrats, have to be for something. I’m for addressing not only the everyday problems of my constituents, but also the underlying causes of those problems. I want to reform our broken campaign finance system that gives corporations and billionaires an outsized voice in our democracy. I want to reform our healthcare system, so every single American has affordable coverage, guaranteed by the government. I want to reform our gun laws, so that we prevent dangerous people from getting their hands on dangerous weapons. I want to reform our student loan system, our energy system, and much, much more.
Like so many millennials, I have struggled mightily to launch my career and my life in this era of vast economic inequality. My generation is in danger of becoming a lost generation, crippled by debt we were told to take on in the name of getting a better education; hamstrung by an economy that offers few opportunities for advancement; and jaded by the political leaders who aren’t just ignoring our problems, they’re actively pushing legislation that will make our lives harder. If I’m elected to Congress, I’ll bring a unique perspective on the challenges faced by people too often overlooked by our leaders in Washington. That perspective, combined with my policy expertise and Capitol Hill experience, ensures that I will be a strong and effective representative for the people of the 6th District.