Congressional candidates answer constituents’ questions

Quinn Riordan

On Thursday, Oct. 3, The League of Women Voters hosted a forum for the 3rd Congressional District candidates: Democrat Marie Newman and Republican Mike Fricilone. The forum was held on Zoom and the candidates were asked questions that were submitted by the public. Moderator Ann Lee asked the questions and controlled the time during the event. The following quotes were transcribed from a recording of the Zoom event. 


How would you make sure that every American has adequate healthcare coverage?


Newman: “We should, in these hard times, prop up the ACA [Affordable Care Act] [to] make sure that everybody is covered as much as they can while we migrate over to another path.The only way we are going to bring costs down and preserve our care is Medicare for All.”


Fricilone: “Medicare for All is not the answer. What I think we ought to do is keep the good parts of Obamacare but make sure that we guarantee our unions can still have the insurance they want and have.”


The U.S. has the worst death rate of any nation in the world from COVID-19. How should the federal government have handled the pandemic? And what can it do now going forward? 


Newman: “We know now that the President knew as early as December that in fact, this was very gravely serious, and he knew it was deadly. We’ve lost 205,000 souls because there is no federal cohesive strategy. And there still isn’t any. So the critical pieces are making sure that we get testing for all Americans, that we get this vaccine ready by the first quarter as soon as possible. And make sure that everyone wears a mask. We know that there’s not one scientist or expert that has said anything differently.”


Fricilone: “First, I don’t want to minimize any death. But you know, last year when we had the normal flu, we lost 65,000 to 85,000 people. Number one. And if you look at the death rates right now, more than 40% of the deaths occurred in nursing homes. And those were propagated by the fact that the governors in those states that had those high rates decided that that’s where they should put people that were sick. I think we had a plan; any plan can always be better. And in hindsight, 2020, I think the President did the right thing by stopping people coming in from China. I think the plan is working. And I think we’ll be back to normal next year this time.”


What is your stance on unions? And how would you protect workers rights, including the right to collective bargaining, wages, pensions and ending workplace discrimination?


Newman: “I have the good fortune of being endorsed by the AFL-CIO [American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations] and pretty much every union that there is in the Chicago area. I am proud to have all of those solid endorsements. I’m from a union family. So I know the importance of unions. And I believe in collective bargaining and the right to organize and all of those things that are under threat right now, under this administration. Unions brought us an eight hour day, five day workweek goods, good, solid working conditions [and] we need to continue to protect and promote unions. My plan is to bring education about unions back into our schools, bring vocational schools back, make sure people have trades training, and work with our community colleges to make sure that in fact, we have apprenticeships.”


Fricilone: “I support unions as well. Always been a supporter. What I’m most concerned about is the unions losing their health care. One of the things in Medicare for All is, it’s for all. And so everyone would be on the same plan. And it certainly wouldn’t be as good as the union plans. That’s why the Chicago FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] has endorsed me. So I’m just concerned about the health care for our patients that did not have to be put into Medicare for all systems.”


COVID-19 has left many in the 3rd district unemployed. What policy steps should Congress take in the next year to create as many jobs and as much prosperity as possible?


Newman: “So I just got a briefing on this early this week from the Congress. And the bill that is in question is actually $2.2 trillion. So what’s critical about that bill and what is important to note is that it is a robust bill that covers cities, counties and states. What everybody forgets is that there’s lots of employees in cities, counties and states, and they do two things: they add money back into the economy, and they serve and provide services to folks in those places. So it is critical that we get that funding back in place, critical that we support small businesses, and critical that we extend unemployment insurance so that we get the economy moving again and take care of people that need the services.”


Fricilone: “Well, the first thing I think that has to happen is that we have to look at the CARES Act, that money is going out right now. I know that Congress is working on a new CARES Act right now. And I think it’s critical to those two things: unemployment insurance and the PPE [personal protective equipment]. So that we can keep workers in their jobs, even if things aren’t really happening yet. And that it is critical for Congress to pass that. A bill went out that said $2.2 million; the problem solvers came up with a $1.5 million mutant bill, but we’re going to get this passed, and hopefully before the election, so we can get money to those people and so those companies can hold on until things kick back into place.”


How will you end congressional gridlock? What methods would you support to work with both parties in Congress?


Newman: “I think I’ll do what I always do: talk to both sides and hear both sides. And I have done that, in fact, when I advocated for healthcare rights and economic rights at the state level, as well as the federal level, I talked to both sides and tried to hear everybody’s issue and fit. Dick Durbin has a saying; he said, ‘The best thing you can do in Congress or in the Senate is to walk down the hall and have a conversation and come back and figure out how you can work together.’ And I think it’s as simple as that. I don’t think we need branded caucuses that actually have never passed a bill, the Problem Solvers [caucus] have never passed a bill. So the reality is, let’s just do it the old fashioned way and talk, work hard and make sure we’re representing our districts in the nation.”


Fricilone: “Well, the first thing I would do is join the same caucus that Congressman [Dan] Lipinski was in: the Problem Solvers caucus. They’re the ones that just came up, made up of both Democrats and Republicans, right now. In the Problem Solvers caucus, they’re trying to work together to move things forward. I think the more people that join that caucus, the better we will be. One of the big problems in Congress right now is that the congressmen don’t make the decisions; the two leaders do. And when the two leaders decide something’s moving or not, both in the Senate and in Congress, nothing moves. We’ve got to give the power back to the individual congressman. And that’s what the Problem Solvers caucus is trying to do.”


How will you handle the issue of women’s reproductive rights including access to abortion and coverage of contraceptives by insurance companies? 


Newman: “I trust women, and they should have domain over their own bodies. And clearly, contraceptives and reproductive care are healthcare, and healthcare is reproductive care. So we should cover that with any insurance policy.” 


Fricilone: “I am a Catholic. And so I feel that every woman and man has a choice to make and once they make the choice to create life, I believe that life should have the same chance we all have. [However] I am not 100 percent against contraceptives”


The U.S. is on track to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, do you agree with this action, do you think that the U.S. should participate with international partners?


Newman: “Well, obviously, I believe in science. I believe that we are in a climate crisis, every scientist has said so, so I believe in science. I think that we desperately need to be with our international partners and be part of the Paris Climate accords. But secondly, when I think of the climate crisis, I think we need to invest in our transportation systems and our infrastructure systems. And I also think about good paying union jobs because that will provide us with those large infrastructure projects that will make our world healthier but also really bolster our economy. The Green New Deal, as we all know, is just a resolution. It was a commitment to address this crisis. There is nothing; it is not a plan, obviously not a plan. And it is not a law, a resolution is just an agreement to address a critical problem. And I believe that we should address [climate change] with renewables and investments and transportation and infrastructure.”


Fricilone: “Well it’s funny, everybody that was in the Paris Climate Agreement, there’s only one nation where carbon emissions actually went down, like they all agreed to. And that was the U.S.; it went down the most. I think it’s certainly good to be in an international organization. But if the group isn’t going to follow their own rules, then there really is not a lot of point of being involved with them. And in regards to climate change, the climate is always changing. I think that we really need to look at what we’re going to do. And many of the things that have been proposed, like in the Green New Deal, just don’t make sense. They’re not realistic. We need to get back to the forms of energy, like nuclear energy, which is totally pollution free, instead of pushing new energies [from which] we’re not even sure that we could generate the energy we need.”


Do you support gun control legislation such as a ban on assault weapons or universal background checks? Or some other measures? 


Newman: “I do believe in the Second Amendment; responsible gun owners should be able to keep their guns. As the former spokesperson for Moms Demand Action of Illinois, I’ve been in the gun safety space for probably 20 years now. I’ve worked with law enforcement and with volunteers and advocates around this issue, and I do believe in universal background checks. I think also that reinstalling the Assault Weapons Ban is very smart. It worked before; it should work again. Lastly, I would say that we should consider red flag laws [gun control laws that permit police or family members to petition a court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves]. I think that would start to curb violence dramatically.”


Fricilone: “No, my concern is it’s a slippery slope. As we start banning one thing, then we start banning the next thing. And before you know it, we’ve banned all of the guns. And I don’t think that is fair to those people that are responsible. I think what we need to do is have national legislation that creates penalties for people that have illegal guns; we need to take away guns from the criminals. If we get a criminal that has a gun, even if he hasn’t committed a crime, and it’s an illegal gun, he needs to go to jail, the gun needs to go away and he’s off the street. But it’s not fair to the responsible gun owner to say there’s only certain guns that you can own.”


Do you believe there is systemic racism in the criminal justice system? If so, what measures would you support to read the system of these biases? If not, can you point to some examples of progress on this issue that we’ve made?


Newman: “Racism is a huge problem in our country. It is part of every minute of every day of every hour, and it must be addressed. We need to create equity in our educational systems. We need to reform. We need to reform the criminal justice system and relook at our sentencing. We need to look at restorative justice. We need to look at our healthcare systems to create equity. So people have opportunities and our financial systems create equity. We are never going to get rid of racism until we actually talk about it and address it. And we’ve done that exactly on my campaign: to talk about solutions on the ground, and that’s the only way we’re going to move forward with this is to actually talk about the problem and solve it together.”


Fricilone: “I grew up in the ‘70s. And so I understand what systemic racism was. And it was back then. And that’s why we had the Affirmative Action plans and things like that. I think the problem with racism now is that everybody wants to label people. I don’t know why we have to label people with BLM and all these different scenarios. Here’s the deal: you’re a good person, or you’re a bad person. In the police, we have some bad people in every walk of life. If we look at the statistics, last year, we had nine black people shot by officers in the United States, we had 7,400 black people shot by other black people. We’re not protecting those neighborhoods, and giving those people a chance. So in regards to racism, I think we just got to stop calling everybody by a racist remark and just get back to calling everyone by their name.”


If elected, what would be your highest priority?


Newman: “Well, they’re tangled together: it is ending this pandemic in a safe way following science and working with all partners at every level of government, and then simultaneously rebuilding the economy through investing in infrastructure and transportation and bringing jobs to everyone. We must work on those together. And then I would say that we need health care for all. So I think the first thing we can do out of the gate is make sure we get a Relief Act passed right. The next Relief Act will be very important. But we also have to rebuild the economy with big investment around improved infrastructure and transportation.” 


Fricilone: “There’s no doubt we have to end the pandemic. And as soon as the vaccine comes out, hopefully sometime at the end of this year, we need to just have an orderly fashion to get that distributed. We do need to rebuild the economy; the current administration did it once, [and] I think they could do it again. We do need to get the PPE money. The key should be the PPE money and also the unemployment insurance. We need to get that going right now so that we can keep those peoples solid until the economy starts coming back.” 


Editor’s note: The above quotes have not been fact-checked and therefore may be inaccurate.