What do you want your candidates for U.S. Representative to be talking about as they compete for your vote?
That's the question WBEZ and the Daily Herald have been asking residents of Illinois' 6th Congressional district via email, social media and by setting up tables at libraries and community centers.
It’s part of a pilot project we’re doing to invite you – our audience – to drive our coverage of this important race, which is again expected to be a close one.
We heard from nearly 350 people in the 6th Congressional District (and we're still listening). We tallied your concerns and questions to see what issues came up the most. From that, we wrote the Citizen's Agenda below, which will drive our coverage of this race through the November general election.
First up: We sent your most frequent questions to Jeanne Ives and Gordon "Jay" Kinzler, who are competing for the Republican nomination in next week’s primary. We also sent them to incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, though he won't be up for reelection until the fall, when he’ll face whichever GOP candidate wins on Tuesday.
We'll continue pressing the candidates on the issues you care about, so let us know: Are these answers satisfying? Do you have follow-up questions? Is there anything else you'd like to know from us or the candidates?
Here are your candidates’ responses to questions on our Citizen's Agenda for Illinois' 6th Congressional District. Responses were edited for length and style, but not sentiment. And fill out our survey if you'd like to hear more from us after the primary.
On climate change
More than any other topic in our survey, 6th District voters wanted to know about your approach to the world’s changing climate.
What specific plan or plans do you support to address climate change?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): I don’t dispute that the climate is changing. But we need smart solutions that deal in reality. Not crazy “deals” premised on the irrational idea that the world is ending.
The reason so many don’t heed climate alarmism is because when the policies attached to those warnings are rolled out it becomes clear that progressivism is the priority – not the environment.
Sober-minded cost-benefit analyses of proposed policies are often lost in the avalanche of rhetoric. Having a clean environment should be our focus. America has made great strides since the 1970s to clean-up our environment. I support those efforts.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): The climate is always changing. It has changed throughout the history of our planet. Global warming is seen in other planets in our solar system and is related to causes other than human activity. However, it is important that we are good stewards of our planet and keep it clean and healthy so that all future generations will be able to enjoy our earth. It is imperative that Congress keep our land, water and air as clean as possible. Congress should protect our environment, support the search for renewable energy sources and improve our current planet-friendly renewable energy sources.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): As a scientist and entrepreneur, I have spent my career working to address the climate crisis. I ran for public office to combat the climate crisis and in Congress, and I’m proud to serve on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and work every day to pass meaningful climate legislation. First and foremost, we must lower our greenhouse gas emissions and remove 100ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere. Ultimately, I would like to see a regulatory environment that prices CO2 and provides direct economic incentives for CO2 reduction.
How would you act to prevent the worst damage of climate change without upending the economy and costing jobs?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): It’s time to stop offering the American people the false choice of inaction or economy-crushing regulation when it comes to climate change. The good thing about market forces is that they respond to demand. There is great demand for a clean environment and there is tremendous effort invested in technologies that work toward that end. The business owners I have met with also work extremely hard on ensuring their operations use energy in the most efficient way, because wasting energy costs money. That, too, should be our focus.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): My policies will help the economy. New jobs will be created as we continue to develop renewable sources of energy. New jobs will also be created as we look for ways to make our current energy sources cleaner and more environmentally friendly to use. As an example, when I was president of the Park District in Glen Ellyn, we rehabilitated our community center in the center of town. By using common sense solutions, we can save taxpayers money, provide good paying jobs for local economies, and at the same time protect our environment.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): During my career I’ve rejected the notion that we have to pick between a better environment or creating jobs. I know we can have both, because that’s what I’ve spent my career doing. In my prior work before Congress, I had a profitable business that was good for the environment and our economy. That’s why I believe the transition to a low-carbon, clean energy economy requires a commitment to research. In Congress, I introduced the Clean Industrial Technology Act (CITA) to unleash innovation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources and make American companies more competitive in the global economy.
On the cost of healthcare
The rising cost of healthcare was a concern shared by many 6th District voters. Aaron from Wheaton shared that he'd like more choice in his insurance options. Melanie from Inverness wrote that she finds "premiums and out-of-pocket [costs] very high and difficult to manage." Stewart from Campton Township shared his concerns about the effects of insurance costs on small businesses.
Taking these examples into account: How do you plan to make health insurance more accessible and affordable?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): Health insurance is more accessible when it’s more affordable. The number one reason people cite for going uninsured is cost. My focus will be on reducing the cost of insurance, not through subsidies, which can vary from year to year, but through market competition, which will reduce premiums for everyone. Our insurance markets have become less competitive: at the start of Obamacare, there were 17 insurers offering plans in our state’s exchange. Now there are only three. I support giving individuals greater choice in insurance plans, including choices like short-term and association health plans, which can be much more affordable.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): As a medical doctor and surgeon, I have an authentic understanding of the healthcare system in the United States. Doctors should have an active role in determining the future of healthcare. Doctors should be able to advocate for their patients regarding the medical care they receive. There needs to be more choice and personalized care, and less bureaucracy. We need to emphasize prevention of disease. There needs to be more insurance companies so there is more competition which will lower premiums which will help individuals and small businesses better afford healthcare.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): We must insist on true, universal health care. Not just the kind where anyone can go to the emergency room, but where everyone, regardless of employment or wealth, has access to full preventative health care services — check-ups, screenings, and all the other early-detection measures that reduce the need for higher-cost, later-stage interventions. This means building on the successes of the [Affordable Care Act] and implementing reforms that inject competition in the market to lower costs and deliver care to everyone. Restoring the individual mandate, guaranteeing coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and expanding the ACA will be critically important for the health and economics of 6th District families.
Voters like Sam G. from Hinsdale are struggling with the unpredictable and rising costs of medication. Sam said his generic prescriptions recently went from $10.00 per month to $120.00 per month.
What will you do to help lower the cost of prescription drugs?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): The drug supply chain is very complex, and, like the rest of American health care, it lacks transparency. There are often middlemen involved, like insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and this makes it difficult for patients to know the true cost of their drugs. I support reducing the role of these middlemen and requiring transparent pricing. Pharmacists should never be “gagged” if they have information about lower prices. I also support changes at the FDA that would make drug trials more efficient and faster (and less costly, because these costs get passed on to patients).
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): Cost of prescription drugs needs to be brought down, particularly generic medications. Americans need to get medications at market world rates. I would propose and pass legislation that encourages research and cost effectiveness of the development of new drugs, encourages production of generic medications here in the U.S., and stops market manipulation by companies who buy generic companies then reduce production of generics to be able to artificially hike the price that results in higher generic costs.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): The cost of prescription drugs is a topic I hear often about from constituents. We need to lower the cost of prescription drugs. To lower costs, we must start by lowering prescription drug prices by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. I was proud to cosponsor and vote to pass HR 3 that would allow Medicare to leverage the large purchasing power of the federal government to secure lower prices, cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors, and use those savings to reinvest in critical health programs like Medicare. These lower, negotiated drug prices would be available for the private insurance market to use to keep prices low for Americans with private health insurance.
On working with the other party
Also high on the list of concerns is whether you’re able to work effectively with someone who holds views that oppose your own.
Bruce Mabee from Downers Grove asked for you to give a specific example of a time you worked to compromise with someone you disagree with in a political or professional setting. If you have an example from your work in policy or public life, please share that example.
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): As a state legislator, I was in the minority. So in order to get any of my bills passed out of the [Illinois House], I worked with politicians on both sides of the aisle on issues of common interest. I worked with Democrats to pass bills on college board reform and a Health Insurance Network Adequacy Bill.
In general, we need to pay less attention to personality and more attention to policy. Politicians should not have fans. They are merely a means to policy ends.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): As a physician and transplant surgeon, I have compassion and sensibility for others. It’s part of my nature. I am a unifier and look for common ground we can work together on for our constituents. I have a track record of being the only Republican on a local government board with 6 Democrats. We accomplished a lot, worked together and lowered the property tax by over 33% during a two-year period. They elected me to be the Park District President because we were able to find common ground that we could agree on for the good of our constituents.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): Throughout my time in science and business I worked with colleagues toward a common goal without knowing their political views. I will gladly work with any legislator who’s willing to approach problems with a commitment to science, data, and facts. Good ideas can come from anyone, but we have to operate from a shared commitment to the truth and facts. An example from my work in Congress is introducing the bipartisan, bicameral Promoting Grid Storage Act of 2019, which would boost research and development of cutting-edge technologies to increase energy storage capabilities for America’s electric grid and enable the expanded use of clean energy.
On the cost of education
Many of your constituents we heard from are worried about the cost of higher education. Owen from West Chicago explained: "I have been paying off my student loans for the past sixteen years and will only have them forgiven next year assuming that the [Public Service Loan Forgiveness] program will still exist." Current students like Advaith Kumar and Jerry Buck also asked about education affordability.
What plan or plans do you support that will address the cost of higher education?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): Many Americans struggle with the crushing cost of college and student loans. It was a mistake to nationalize the student loan industry; student debt has ballooned and the cost of college has continued to skyrocket. Only about one-third of Americans have college degrees and asking the other two-thirds to pay taxes to cover this cost is deeply regressive and unfair. Instead, colleges should receive less federal funding, and they should be held accountable for what they do receive. This funding is going to enrich university endowments, but there’s little market evaluation of what a degree is worth.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): The cost of tuition for college has gone up much greater than the rate of inflation. Due to market factors universities and colleges found that they could raise their rates higher to the students, because the loans were able to pay for those inflated rates. If Congress persists in wanting to fund higher education with loan availability for students then they need to do more oversight of the quality of education and the return on investment. Rates that the universities and colleges charge students need to be reined in and costs of instruction need to be reevaluated and reduced.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): When it comes to higher education, the burden of student loan debt is crippling and can deter many from even considering college. With one child in high school and one in middle school, I’m acutely aware of the costs of higher education and how it affects families. There is a lot we need to do to make higher education affordable. In Congress, I introduced the Pell Grant Sustainability Act, which would make sure that Federal resources for college students keep up with current costs by indexing Pell Grants to inflation.
Others expressed concern about being able to afford education before college as well. Meagan G. from Carol Stream wrote: “We are paying almost as much as our rent to have ONE child in daycare. We are hoping to have another baby this year but have no idea how we will afford childcare. We both work and want to keep it that way. Neither of us wants to quit to watch the kids and neither of us makes enough money to be a single income home."
What will you do to ensure your constituents can afford child care?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): There are many state and federal programs designed to help with the cost of child care but they clearly aren’t working to serve everyone well. I support reforming those programs to ensure accountability and efficiency. I also support the doubling of the Child Tax Credit (in the tax reform of 2017, which will sunset in 2025). We should extend this and other provisions that offer working families more resources.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): With the improving economy wages are naturally going up. We also need to reduce the tax burden of working people. This will allow residents to better afford housing and child care.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): Our most fundamental responsibility as a nation is to provide for our children, regardless of race, religion, economic status or zip code. We are at our best when every child has equal access to opportunity. The cost of child care is a crushing burden for too many families in our community. That is why I am a proud cosponsor of HR 1364, Child Care for Working Act. This early learning and child care bill would ensure affordable, quality child care for working middle class families.
On taxes for Illinoisans
We heard from many people like Rabih Dahdouh from Wheaton, who are concerned about a "mass exodus of residents" from Illinois due, in part, to high taxes.
What can you do to ease the tax burden on Illinoisans so residents and businesses don't flee the state?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): As a state legislator, I stood up to both parties on unbalanced budgets, tax hikes and crony bailouts. I know every dime government spends comes out of your pocket. I opposed additional mandates on local governments that drive up taxes. I will do the same at the federal level.
As a Congresswoman, I would oppose more regulations, mandates, programs that fail repeatedly to invigorate our free market system, such as EX-IM Bank reauthorization, which sent U.S. taxpayer dollars to subsidize foreign state-owned companies.
If the national economy is stronger overall, the state’s economy will benefit.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): We need to lower taxes. I am opposed to any new taxes in Illinois or the U.S. I am opposed to the graduated state income tax. Increased taxes are what is driving productive people and job-creating businesses to leave our state. This must be reversed.
One change I would make in the U.S. tax code is to increase the deduction for those paying state and property taxes (The SALT taxes). I would also encourage states with high state income and property taxes to reduce them. I would oppose any new taxes. I would support lowering taxes.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): We need to ease the tax burden on Illinois families and help homeowners. That’s why when I ran for Congress, I made a pledge to my constituents to repeal the disastrous state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap implemented in the 2017 Republican Tax Bill. The law disproportionately hurts Illinoisans by imposing a new cap on the SALT deduction at $10,000. I introduced HR 1757 and supported the Restoring Tax Fairness for State and Localities bill, which would lift the SALT cap deduction for 2020 and 2021 to help homeowners get the tax relief they need.
On the growing national debt and deficit
Other constituents want to know what you plan to do to decrease the national debt and the national deficit. Bruce Wolfe from Downers Grove wrote that "budget deficits are recklessly imprudent and burden our grandchildren with the task of paying for our financial sins."
If elected, how would you tackle the growing national debt and national deficit?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): The federal government spends $6 million a minute, each minute, every day of the year. This costs each American family over $23,000 a year. It’s the responsibility of Congress to fix the problem. That said we cannot just go in and make huge cuts to programs people depend on.
I support the Penny Plan, which simply requires the federal government to reduce the budget by one penny for every dollar it spends annually over a period of five years. Budget caps and a growing economy will go a long way in getting our debt under control.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): Our President has fostered a robust economy by lowering taxes and reducing regulations. The unemployment rate has plummeted. The current legislature is controlled by Democrat -Socialists who are more concerned with endless trumped up investigations rather than strengthening our economy and doing the peoples’ work. They need to be replaced in the next election. Our overgrown government needs to be reduced as it has become one of the biggest impediments to job creation. We need a balanced budget, reduced spending and [to] fight government corruption.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): It’s important to distinguish between irresponsible spending that simply increases the debt and investment that creates a return. I’ve advocated for an infrastructure plan that would provide jobs and create value – an investment in our country. Education is another area in which spending is actually an investment. However, instead of investing in our country, the Trump Administration and its GOP enablers chose to blow up the deficit by providing a massive tax cut for the ultra-wealthy, and we have been left to deal with it.
On Social Security
Voters like Carlos Perez from Carol Stream asked about Social Security. Perez wrote: "My parents will be retiring soon, my wife and I would like to retire at an appropriate age, my children would like to retire too."
What plan or plans do you support to keep Social Security solvent and to prevent benefits from being cut in the future?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): Social Security is insolvent. It must be reformed. Our seniors deserve and earned these benefits, we will ensure they will receive the benefits promised. As our runaway debt continues to grow exponentially, however, we must make our retirement systems sustainable in our modern economy for future generations.
In Illinois, the State Universities Retirement System has a defined contribution plan that should be considered to replace Social Security for new workers. The stock market is generating double-digit returns, it’s criminal to have employer and employee money going to Social Security which returns only 1% after 44 years.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): First eliminate corruption by weeding out people who aren’t entitled to receive benefits. Recently in Chicago one of the police commanders was cashing in on his deceased mother’s Social Security checks for decades. We need better enforcement of the rules of who’s eligible for Social Security. Don’t allow government bureaucrats and elected officials to take money out of Social Security’s funds to use for other government programs. Look at ways to get better returns on investment of money in the Social Security trust fund. Streamline the Social Security bureaucracy and make it more efficient.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): Social Security and Medicare are the foundation of economic security for American families. I oppose efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare, as well as efforts to undercut the financial stability of these programs like deficit-busting tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. I am dedicated to doing more than just fighting back against these attacks, I am a cosponsor of the Social Security 2100 Act that would improve benefits while ensuring Social Security remains finally strong throughout the century. I have also supported legislation to expand benefits under Medicare to include hearing, dental and vision care.
In our survey, a lot of people listed immigration reform as an important topic. Dave Trotter from Wheaton asked about border wall funding while others asked about your stance on so-called sanctuary cities.
What piece of the immigration system do you believe needs to be addressed most urgently? How would you address it and what impact would that have on the 6th District?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): Our immigration system is broken. We must keep people safe and enforce the rule of law. Border security is first. I will approach border security with solutions that make sense for each stretch of the border – if a border wall doesn’t make sense for particular expanses of land, then look at the technical solutions available including monitoring those who overstay their VISAs.
This approach leads to an immigration system that Americans can have confidence in. Then we can then talk about next steps for immigration reform. Immigrants should enter legally and we should welcome them and their contributions to society.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): We are paying a huge price for illegal immigrants that have come to our country. However, it is not possible to send them all back. I will support finding a path for citizenship for those in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, but this must be coupled with more definitive immigration legislation that will prevent the influx of future Illegal immigrants. This should include funding of an effective southern barrier, investment in enforcement, recruitment of state/local agencies for assistance and end the special status of sanctuary cities. There should be immediate deportation of all law-breaking felons who are here illegally.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): Reforming our immigration system is critical not just for every sector of our economy but also to uphold the human rights of people around the world. For DACA recipients, America is the only home they’ve ever known; I was proud to vote for HR 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, to make the DACA program permanent and give Dreamers a path to citizenship. I also strongly oppose the Trump administration’s cruel separation of children from their parents at our Southern border. I was proud to vote for the emergency funding bill and the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in CBP Custody Act.
On increasing voter turnout
This last question came from Paul from Wheaton, though we heard from many concerned with the accessibility of voting.
What is your stance on making Election Day a holiday or on a weekend to encourage higher voter turnout?
Jeanne Ives (Republican running in March 17 primary): The majority of states require employers to give workers time off to vote on Election Day already. In Illinois, we have extended early voting well beyond two weeks prior to Election Day. Voters can vote at home — anytime — by using the Vote By Mail program.
Americans share the fundamental notion that our voice in government is in our vote. That means our vote should count. Voter integrity is of great importance and an area we should continue to monitor and work on.
But changing the day of the election won’t ensure greater representation.
Gordon "Jay" Kinzler (Republican running in March 17 primary): Having voting day on a weekend may make it more convenient to vote if you could only vote on election day. There are many opportunities to vote now including voting by mail and voting at the county building weeks before the election. You can also vote for two weeks prior to the election at many early voting sites which include two weekends, early morning prior to work and evening hours.
Sean Casten (Democrat, up for reelection in November): The American democratic experiment depends first and foremost on our faith that our vote counts and that every vote counts equally. It is imperative that we strengthen the integrity of our elections by making voting, registering to vote, and getting to the polls as easy as possible. I do support making election day a holiday because we need to make it easier — not harder — for people to vote. I cosponsored and voted for HR 1, the “For the People Act,” which contained such a provision.
About the Citizen's Agenda: WBEZ's Government and Politics Team has teamed up with the Daily Herald to cover the race for Illinois' 6th District U.S. Representative, with voters at the center. We're reaching out to residents and asking: What do you want your candidates to be talking about as they compete for your vote? These answers will shape what we report on in this district through November. This is a new way of covering a race for us, which is why we're piloting it in Illinois' 6th Congressional District for now. We're optimistic this will help us do more useful and impactful journalism and that there will be opportunity to expand this process in the future. Have ideas and thoughts to share? Let us know.