6th Congressional District Democratic nominee: Sean Casten
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
Democrat Sean Casten is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the 6th Congressional District race.
On Sept. 20, Democrat Sean Casten appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. Watch the video above to find out why he’s running for the 6th Congressional District seat in Illinois in the 2018 general election.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking the 6th Congressional District seat a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their district and the country. Sean Casten 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?
Casten: I have dedicated my career to fighting climate change and, more specifically, to building projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I would continue this focus, were I to be elected to Congress. Climate change is the existential threat of our time and we need more representatives who are willing to make it a top priority. Once elected, I look forward to working to make green business the business of America, as well as working on some more immediate solutions to climate change.
At the same time, we find ourselves at a period in history when the fabric of our electoral system, norms of democracy and public trust in government is being eroded by a President who doesn’t respect the office and a Congressman, in Peter Roskam, who will not hold him accountable for his actions. In this environment, the absolute priority of the incoming Congress must be to restore transparency and accountability to our electoral system. This requires protecting and completing the Mueller investigation as well as acting on any evidence it provides about Trump campaign or Trump administration culpability in the manipulation of our election process.
Please list three highly specific needs of your district that you would make priorities.
Casten: First, we have to defend and expand access to health care. The recent tax bill’s inclusion of language to remove the individual mandate will lead to an estimated 13 million Americans losing their health insurance. Peter Roskam voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without replacement, and voted for the Republican health care bill that would have caused 30,000 people in his district to lose health insurance, gut pre-existing conditions and impose an age tax on older Americans allowing insurance companies to charge them 5 times more. While that vote failed, his vote to repeal the individual mandate will cost 27,000 people their insurance. Restoring the individual mandate and expanding the ACA to include true universal healthcare will be critically important for the health and financial security of families in the district, and nationwide.
Second, the Republican tax bill authored in large part by Roskam and signed by President Trump last year has served to exacerbate income inequality in our country, which is a threat to our nation’s future. Virtually all economists agree that the tax bill is massively regressive, with the bulk of the tax cuts flowing to corporations and the ultra-wealthy at the expense of the middle class. Its provision to cap the state and local tax (SALT) deduction at $10,000 annually will hurt many residents of the 6th District, whose property taxes alone often exceed that amount. And its resulting $2 trillion in additional federal debt could make Social Security and Medicare targets for Republican budget cuts. For all these reasons and more, I will work to repeal it.
Third, in a district with a high college attendance rate, the increasingly high cost of a post-secondary education and resulting student loan debt has created a huge burden. Tuition costs have steadily grown at a far faster rate than the economy as a whole, squeezing the middle class. And the Trump Administration, with Roskam’s support, has undermined efforts to provide debt relief to students and families. In Congress, I would support legislation allowing those with student loan debt to refinance at current interest rates and reversing changes to the bankruptcy code in 2005 that make it impossible for insolvent Americans to discharge their student loan debt. I will also support permanently indexing the Pell Grant program to the annual inflation rate of college tuition.
Who is Sean Casten?
He is running for: Illinois 6th Congressional District
His political/civic Background: None
His occupation: Former CEO of Recycled Energy Development
- B.A. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Middlebury College
- Masters of Engineering Management and a M.S. in Biochemical Engineering from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth
His campaign website: castenforcongress.com
Recent news: Sean Casten
Bipartisanship is virtually non-existent in the House. What would you do about that?
Casten: Like most Americans, I have watched with dismay as the Republican leadership under Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have driven straight party-line votes and refused to consider bills unless a majority of Republican members support them. Among other things, this has made passing comprehensive immigration reform impossible.
As a successful CEO, I have often worked with disparate groups to achieve common goals. I did not take my marching orders — and never will — from some “party.” I have successfully advocated for clean energy policies on both sides of the aisle, and found common cause with groups as diverse as the American Wind Association and Chevron.
Our politicians in Washington, guided by partisanship and ideology, have failed to work in good faith to meet the common challenges facing our country. Peter Roskam is a prime example of the problem, voting 96 percent of the time with his party leaders and 94 percent with President Trump. I am eager to go to Congress to work with colleagues from both parties on issues of common concern, starting with addressing our environmental challenges while making the U.S. the green energy business and jobs leader in the world.
However, I believe there is much to be said for Norman Orenstein (and before him, David Roberts’) theory of “asymmetric polarization”. Bill Clinton moved to the center on welfare reform. Barack Obama adopted a Republican healthcare plan. Both moves were met not with cheers of bipartisanship but rather by a Republican party that ran farther to the right. As we sit here today, the Violence Against Women Act, which was first passed in 1994 and is up for renewal on September 30 has 136 sponsors and not a single Republican. Peter Roskam has voted against the bill. Bipartisanship is important, but values are even more important and I do not plan on compromising the latter for the former.
Are you convinced that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in support of the candidacy of Donald Trump? Please explain.
Casten: We cannot ignore strong and plentiful evidence that the Russian government intervened in the election of 2016. Our law enforcement and national security agencies are unanimous in this regard. We know unambiguously that: (a) Russians reached out to senior members of the Trump team to offer help to sway the election in their favor; (b) senior members of the Trump team agreed to meet with the Russians after that request, and; (c) Russians engaged in active measures through Facebook and other social media outlets to discredit Hillary Clinton and boost Trump’s electoral success. It is imperative that the Mueller investigation into this matter be allowed to continue to its conclusion without obstruction from the White House or interference by Congress.
While the actions taken by the Russians were partisan in their intent, I don’t view this as a partisan issue. I would be equally concerned if they had done so on behalf of a Democratic candidate — or one from any party. Our electoral process is sacrosanct and must be protected from sabotage by any actor, foreign or domestic.
Do you support the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller? Please explain.
Casten: Special Counsel Mueller has my unconditional support precisely because the stakes for our democracy are so high. It is predicated on the trust of the American people that their vote matters and will be counted. If this trust is damaged, American democracy is at risk. We need to protect the investigators who are doing very necessary work for our democracy from politically-motivated firing or preemptive pardons for their targets. Mueller must be allowed to complete his investigation fully and anyone who attempts to obstruct or undermine that investigation must be held to account.
If President Trump were to fire Mueller, directly or indirectly, what should Congress do?
Casten: The Constitution requires Congress to act as a check-and-balance on the Executive. Such an action by the President to obstruct justice should result in the immediate commencement of impeachment proceedings in the House.
If Trump were to pardon his former campaign aide Paul Manafort, what should Congress do?
Casten: Under the presidential pardon power granted in the Constitution, such an act would not constitute a violation of law. However, like so much of the Trump administration, this would constitute a gross violation of norms that our founders, in their wisdom, may never have contemplated. A pardon of Manafort would – sadly – be rather unsurprising, given the pardons that have already occurred of Joe Arpaio and the Hammond brothers. These are not the pardons of a President focused on rule of law, but one testing to see how far he can go before Congress asserts their power as a check and balance. This is no less true for the numerous recent scandals, from trying to raise postage rates out of spite to Jeff Bezos or blocking the conversion of an FBI office into a hotel across the street from his hotel in Washington.
I am quite frankly embarrassed and ashamed that the current Congress has abandoned that role, and expect President Trump to continue to exert greater executive privilege; like any bully, he will continue to seek more power until those around him fight back. And there are a host of tools from the use of the bully pulpit to investigative hearings to legislative reforms that this Congress should pursue when they decide they’re willing to put country first.
Which three actions taken so far by the Trump administration do you most strongly support?
Casten: The Trump administration has been an unmitigated disaster for US prestige in the world, for tolerance and equality of opportunity in our own borders and for the fabric of democracy. Donald Trump appears to be incapable of seeing any problem except through a personal lens, and the resulting cheapening of our political discourse will be difficult – and will take a long time – to repair.
On the policy front, the only action Trump has taken that I agree with was the approval of lethal arm sales to Ukraine. Russia has a vested interest in destabilizing the post-WWII order and while I generally agreed with President Obama on domestic policy, I would have preferred him to take a more muscular approach to our relationships with Russia. Trump has in general been far too accommodating of Russia’s interests, but on the specific issue of making sure that lethal weapons are in place on Russia’s near-border to Europe, I agree with President Trump.
Beyond the policy realm, I give President Trump credit – although indirectly – for mobilizing a wave of civic engagement in the United States. From the Women’s March to the March for Science to the #metoo movement, the response of overwhelming numbers of citizens to Trump’s excesses reaffirm my faith in the overall moral decency of the American people. Not just in their willingness to stand up, but in their willingness to meet hate with love, to counter horrible misogyny and racism with massive non-violent protests and to showcase our better angels. I would of course prefer that Trump hadn’t acted to trigger that response, but give him some small credit for releasing the righteous decency of the American spirit.
Which three actions taken by the Trump administration do you most strongly disagree with?
Casten: 1. His willful attack on the post-WWII order has destabilized global peace and made it very difficult for this or future generations to be seen as an honest broker of democratic values on the world stage. From pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord to abandoning the Iran Nuclear deal to questioning the value of NATO, President Trump has sent a signal to the rest of the world that a treaty signed by a US President is not fully-backed by the U.S. government. His actions are ceding US leadership in the world, creating a vacuum that far-less well-intentioned countries are all too happy to fill. It will take decades to repair that damage.
2. Domestically, he is using his bully pulpit to tell those who are suffering that their challenges are not self-imposed, but rather the work of some “other” that only he can fix. It is frightening and dangerous. It is also not going to end until he is out of office since it is so wrapped up in his own personality. His vindictive narcissism makes him unable to view any criticism of his administration through any lens other than an attack on him. Most leaders, when faced with criticism of their organization look first to see if the criticism is legitimate and then figure out how to respond. Trump’s instinct, by contrast is first to attack the source of the criticism. “Fake news”, “good people on both sides”, “it could be someone lying in their bed that weighs 400 pounds”. These are all the defense mechanisms of a very small man, but they all serve to activate and radicalize his base in ways that will also be very difficult to correct after he is gone.
3. Working to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which failed in the Congress, and then subsequently working to actively sabotage it by repealing the individual mandate, failing to market the choices available to families through the insurance exchanges, and taking additional actions such as approving “junk” insurance plans that can exclude those with pre-existing conditions.
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?
Casten: We talk about climate change in all the wrong ways. CO2 is the only pollutant that costs money to release (since you can’t release CO2 without buying, and burning fossil fuel). That means that it is also the only pollutant that saves money to reduce. I know this from experience. Companies I led built over 80 power plants, all of which were at least twice as fuel efficient as the US power grid, all of which slashed CO2 emissions and all of which saved our customers money, creating and protecting US jobs. We can also see this nationally, where the rise of renewable energy has caused many parts of the power grid to struggle to accommodate negative power prices. If we had politicians who understood this, we would be treating global warming as an opportunity for economic growth AND the environmental challenge of our generation. Instead, we have too many politicians who either don’t understand this (or worse) find it more politically useful to engage in zero-sum political fights than to embrace the win/win.
The bottom line is that I categorically reject the proposition that curbing climate change stands in opposition to business growth. The only businesses that are hurt when we lower CO2 emissions are those businesses who’s profit depends on extracting fossil fuel from the ground. But there are far more jobs in the US that depend on converting fossil fuel into higher quality energy and materials than there are that depend on resource extraction; there are more people employed as bakers in the United States than there are employed as coal miners. As such, Trump’s policies are both economically and environmentally short-sighted.
The silver lining though is that there is ultimately little that the President can do to stop economic forces. Coal-fired power generation is losing an economic war to natural gas and renewables. The Trump administration’s repeal of Obama-era incentives will slow the pace of that transition, but it will not lead to a recovery of the dirty fuel industry. One need only take a cursory look at investment trends in the energy sector to see how markets are responding. So while I would like to see an immediate return to – and acceleration of – Obama’s initiatives, I expect that we will continue to see investments in clean energy technology.
To what extent is climate change a man-made phenomenon? How serious is the threat to our children’s future? What should be done?
Casten: While there are non man-made contributors to CO2 emissions, the actual changes we are seeing in the climate today are 100% man-made. Svante Arrhenius first developed the theory that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels would warm the planet in 1896. His experiments can be replicated by any middle school science project and are incontrovertible. The subsequent exponential ramp in atmospheric CO2 concentrations have led to exponential increases in temperature exactly as predicted by his theory. 50% of all the CO2 we have ever emitted as a species has been released since 1980. We are, not surprisingly, now setting new “warmest year ever recorded” marks every year. So let us be very clear: to claim that climate change is not man-made is to be willfully ignorant. Politicians who use such language to block action are directly and personally responsible for putting our children’s lives at risk. My opponent is in this camp, having referred to climate change as “junk science” and served as a rubber-stamp for the Trump Administration’s actions to roll back environmental protections.
If we do nothing, the results on our children’s future is catastrophic; the earth will be fine, but it may not be habitable by our species. This is especially true if we hit some – not too far away – tipping points that have the potential to accelerate the rate of warming; I am particularly nervous about the melting of arctic permafrost that will lead to “burps” of frozen methane – a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
But here’s the good news. As noted previously, it saves us money to reduce CO2. Every time we install a more efficient lightbulb, or build a more efficient power plant, or drive a more fuel efficient car we end up with lower CO2 and more money in our pocket. And we have barely tapped the potential for improvement. Japan and Denmark both use half of the fossil fuel as we do per dollar of GDP. Thomas Edison’s first power plant at the Pearl Street Station in Manhattan was commissioned in 1884 and recovered it’s waste heat, making it twice as fuel efficient as today’s US power grid. We have massive opportunities to grow our economy and protect our environment. We simply lack the political will to make the regulatory reforms necessary to deploy those more efficient technologies at the rate we need to in order to avert climate catastrophe. But I know we can do it with the right leaders.
What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence?
Casten: If we define gun violence as deaths from guns, then we have to look to suicide prevention as the largest cause of gun death. For those subset of gun crimes – and only for this subset – the best predictor is mental health, and it is important for us to make sure that those who suffer from mental health and are prone to suicidal tendencies to not have access to firearms. However, we need to be careful to also recognize that people who suffer from mental health disorders are NOT proportionally more likely to commit gun crimes against others.
If we define gun crimes instead as homicides, then we need to address the fact that we have more guns per capita in the United States (0.90 guns for every man, woman and child) than any other country. Yemen is #2 at 0.53. We do not have a second amendment issue. We have a too-many-guns issue. We know how to address this: we need background checks. We need no-fly-no-buy rules. We need an assault weapons ban (because there is no reason why someone whose job does not require them to quickly kill large numbers of people should have access to a weapon designed for that purpose.) Ultimately, I think the best thing we can do on that front is to require all gun owners to license, register and insure their firearms in the same way we do for our cars. This would put the onus of responsibility on gun owners and I believe would do wonders to block the flow of illegally-transferred guns from Indiana into Chicago, which has been shown to be the substantial cause of Chicago’s gun crime epidemic.
Finally, if we define gun crime as mass-shootings – a small number of total gun deaths, but a significant contributor to the fear of gun crime in suburban districts like mine – then we need to to address domestic violence. The only thing that has been shown to be statistically predictive than one will be a mass-shooter is that you are a white male between 14 – 45 years old with a history of domestic violence. Individuals with such histories should not be able to own guns, period. Individuals under restraining orders for domestic violence should also have their gun ownership rights suspended until a court has found them innocent.
I should note that my opponent is on the wrong side of every one of these issues. He has failed to oppose assault weapons bans. In 2015, he wrote a letter to the ATF suggesting that there was a “sporting interest” in people having access to armor-piercing, so-called “cop killer” bullets. He has failed to sign onto the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization (set to expire on September 30) which would provide resources to police departments to limit guns to people with domestic violence records. And his consistent efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act will increase the number of Americans with unmet mental health challenges.
Is the media the “enemy of the people”? Please explain.
Casten: No — and it’s harmful for the President to say so. Freedom of the press is one of the first and most important rights granted under our Constitution. It is usually among the first things that repressive, autocratic governments take away. The irony is that President Trump’s unfair and destructive description of the press as the “enemy of the people” is largely because of its reporting on possible collusion between members of his team and the government of Russia — a government that truly is an enemy of our democratic system and that denies its own people the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
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?
Casten: As stated previously, I opposed the Republican tax bill for the very reason outlined in your question: 83 percent of its benefits have accrued to the large corporations and the very wealthiest Americans. According to the American Prospect magazine, only 9 percent of those corporate tax cuts have been passed along to their workers; instead, they’ve gone primarily to increased dividends and stock buybacks. Meanwhile, real wages since the tax cut passed have fallen. This is why I believe the tax bill, which was authored in large part by my opponent in this election, should be repealed and replaced.
I absolutely support tax reform that induces businesses to invest and create jobs, but those reforms work best through targeted incentives associated with capital investment and job creation – not simply by reducing corporate tax rates across-the-board. Moreover, such targeted tax cuts would cost nowhere near the $2 trillion that Roskam’s tax bill has added to our federal deficit, which Republicans in Congress now cite as an excuse to cut Social Security and Medicare. Any future tax cuts should be targeted to those who really need them, such as working families, small businesses and students struggling to pay off their debts.
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?
Casten: In addition to repealing and reworking the regressive tax bill of last year, we should focus on helping more Americans to reap the benefits of our nation’s economic growth.
Our economy used to create jobs across the range of education levels, but we increasingly only create very high- and very-low skilled jobs. Automation, globalization and the revolutions in communications and logistics have hollowed out the middle. These trends cannot be reversed for existing industries, but we can and should be taking steps to encourage the creation of new industries that will replace those medium skilled jobs that we have lost. After all, this is how we’ve historically kept one step ahead of the proverbial robots. Ever since the invention of the cotton gin, we’ve innovated entirely new industries, from electricity to the automobile to semiconductors. But we’ve done that by (a) working to ensure that all Americans have access to a quality education and (b) making sure that our country is the most attractive place for the best and brightest from around the globe to deploy their talents.
But that will take time, and in the meantime we need to address widening wealth inequality. Many have noted the low unemployment rate as a sign that the economy is doing well, but this cannot be fully understood without also factoring in the lack of wage inflation. Historically, tightening labor markets have led to a rise in wages, and yet we have not seen that in recent years. This is in part due to shifts in employment opportunities – as those in middle skill jobs have seen their jobs disappeared, they have moved into under-employment situations, working more hours for less. But it is also due to a relative rise in the political strength of capital vs. labor. The rise of the “gig economy” is implicitly a shift from a world where employers were expected to provide benefits and stability to their employees to a world in which employees are expected to cover those risks on their own. The attack on labor unions – most recently in the Janus decision – will exacerbate these trends.
Finally, we need to ensure that older Americans can retire with dignity and security. This means protecting Social Security and Medicare from cuts or privatization schemes. It also means providing new ways and new incentives for Americans to save for their retirement. I look forward to working in Congress on behalf of these important goals.
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?
Casten: No. The President should not invite Putin to the White House until the Mueller investigation is complete and we have a clearer picture of his government’s involvement in meddling in our elections, which appears to be continuing as we approach the midterm elections in November of this year.
How would you assess and grade the Trump administration’s efforts to recalibrate our nation’s relationships with Korea, NATO and Russia?
Casten: While I am not averse to our country talking with its enemies, I believe the President’s meeting with Kim Jong Un of North Korea was ill-advised and premature. That meeting provided Kim with exactly what he wanted, which was parity and legitimacy in the eyes of his people and the world. Before providing him with such a prize, President Trump should have required negotiations at a lower level that provided real progress and compromise. Instead, he came away from the meeting with a very short and general statement with no tangible actions. He further capitulated to the North Koreans by postponing our annual military exercises with South Korea without getting anything in return — and without informing South Korea, Japan or our own Defense Department.
Meanwhile, the President’s rejection of NATO is a terrible mistake and is doing Putin’s work for him. NATO is a critical part of the structure that has kept the peace in Europe for more than 70 years since World War II. It involves many of our closest democratic allies, who share our commitment to western values and ideals. They are much more deserving of our friendship and support than are autocrats like Putin, whom Trump seems to favor. Those NATO nations came to our defense in the aftermath of 9/11. Many of them have joined us as partners in our military and intelligence operations. It is in our own self-interest to keep that partnership alive.
Finally, President Trump’s obeisance towards President Putin is difficult to defend — particularly as Putin continues his attempts to undermine our democracy through meddling in our elections. The fact that Trump fully accepted Putin’s claim of innocence over the findings of our entire national security establishment was a shameful performance. Fortunately, other members of his administration have tightened economic sanctions on Russia in response to its antagonistic actions. sLet’s hope that these cooler heads prevail over the President’s inclinations.
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?
Casten: I opposed the Trump Administration’s initial travel ban, which was struck down by the courts. And I continue to oppose the current ban, which was wrongly upheld by the Supreme Court. That decision indicated that the President’s words in proposing and establishing the ban don’t matter. But I disagree. This ban was clearly directed at Muslim visitors, which is a violation of everything that America stands for. It sent a terrible message to the world, which is that our actions don’t match our words about religious freedom and tolerance. This was not a matter of national security, as visitors to our country already are vetted very thoroughly. It was a political statement by President Trump and his supporters in Congress to their electoral base. But his actions in this case undermine basic American values and principles. In so doing, they make our country less secure.
What three major reforms should be made to United States immigration policy?
Casten: First, we must restore the DACA program, which protects the immigration status of 700,000 residents who came to this country as children and have known no other home. The vast majority of these young people are students, entrepreneurs or even serving in our military. It is inexcusable that the President is holding them hostage to build his wall. (Better still would be to protect the Dreamers through a Congressionally-authorized Dream Act, which Peter Roskam voted against.)
Second, we need comprehensive immigration reform that will enable the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our country to come out of the shadows. We should require that such individuals without criminal records pay any fines or taxes they owe, learn English and go to the back of the line. Since most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. overstayed their visas rather than illegally crossing our borders, we should upgrade our technology for tracking those who violate their visa conditions.
Third, I would reform the current immigration quotas based on country of origin, which have favored some countries over others and, historically, have discriminated against would-be immigrants from certain parts of the world. We should provide equal opportunity for immigrants who want to come to this country, just as we strive to provide equal opportunity for those who were born and grew up here.
For a more fulsome view of my immigration policy, see here: https://castenforcongress.com/blog/issue/immigration-reform/
Do you support or oppose the family-based immigration policy sometimes called “chain migration”? Please explain.
Casten: “Chain migration” is a horrible term. The US has long maintained a preference for family reunification in our immigration policy and we should continue to do so. First because it is the morally right thing to do, and second because it is in our interest for immigrants to feel safe, welcome and able to contribute to our country; being separated from your family stands in direct opposition to our self-interest as a nation.
What would you do, as a member of Congress, to improve race relations in the United States?
Casten: The single best thing I can do to improve race relations as a member of Congress is to lead by example, and model the behavior we’d like others to see. In the narrowest sense, this means hiring a diverse staff and embracing tolerance. But in a policy sense, it means recognizing that much, if not all of the racial inequity of our country is a direct result of historic policy choices. Martin Luther King Jr. hit the nail on the head when he noted that it is a “cruel jest” to tell a bootless man to lift himself up by his own bootstraps.
At the end of the civil war, we promised 40 acres and a mule to those African Americans who fought for their country. Not only did we fail to deliver, we then provided significant land and wealth to white Americans through the Homestead Act. In the 20th century, we adopted zoning and housing policies that depressed the value of properties and wealth in African American communities. To this day, we over-prosecute and over-incarcerate the black and brown community for low-level drug crimes that are often written off in the white community as youthful indiscretions.
This shouldn’t be controversial, but is conveniently overlooked by everyone who blames the chronic poverty and broken homes in minority communities on innate defects of character.
Many of those laws (especially as relate to zoning) are not federally jurisdictional, but I would support decriminalization of marijuana and an elimination of “3 strikes” rules to reduce incarceration rates for all Americans. It is also critically important that we enforce voting rights laws that have been used to disenfranchise minority communities.
More generally, I will always consider laws surrounding racial justice from a vantage point of correcting past sins rather than glossing over the uglier parts of our history.
What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent?
Casten: One word: independence. My opponent is a career politician who has spent the last 20 years in elected office in Springfield and Washington. In Congress, he votes with his party leadership 96 percent of the time. Since Donald Trump’s election, he has voted with him 94 percent of the time. Rather than serving as a check-and-balance on this President, he has been a rubber stamp. Particularly on the question of the Trump team’s possible collusion with Russia, Roskam has failed to break with his party — refusing to support legislation that would protect the Mueller investigation. Meanwhile, as a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, Roskam helped to author the regressive and budget-busting 2017 tax bill, which Trump has cited as his greatest accomplishment as President — even though it added $2 trillion to the deficit.
To add insult to injury, Roskam refuses to meet with his own constituents, conceding that he has held just one town meeting more than ten years ago. And in this campaign, Roskam has refused to debate me in an open forum within the Sixth District, turning down every invitation to do so. He seems to believe that representing the people of his district doesn’t require that he meet openly and publicly with him.
I have a very different view of what a representative should be. As a scientist and entrepreneur, I am guided by facts — not partisanship or ideology. As a CEO, I was responsible and accountable for many disparate constituencies — from my board of directors and investors to the hundreds of workers I employed and the thousands of workers who depended on my company to provide affordable and reliable energy. I thought for myself and didn’t take direction from a “party.” I would bring those same skills and experiences to the U.S. House of Representatives.
I have pledged to hold a minimum of four town meetings each year throughout the Sixth District, because I believe a critical part of a Congressman’s job is to be open and accessible. I don’t fear points of view that disagree with my own; in fact, I welcome them. It’s only by hearing all sides of an argument that a leader can make the right decisions. And I don’t think you should need to make an appointment to let your Representative know how you feel.
Most of all, I want to represent ALL the people of the Sixth District, regardless of party or ideology. We are all Americans and we all deserve to be heard and our beliefs and concerns to be acknowledged. For 12 years, we’ve been confronted by Peter Roskam’s closed-door and close-minded approach to representing this district. It’s time to open up that door and let the people of our district in.
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.