Democratic 14th Congressional District candidates square off at forum

Democratic Party candidates in the 14th Congressional District primary race talked climate change, health care, education and a multitude of other topics at a candidates forum last week at the Amalgamated UAW Local 145’s Union Hall in Montgomery.

The Democratic Women of Kendall County organized the forum, which featured candidates Matt Brolley, Victor Swanson, Lauren Underwood, Jim Walz and George Weber.

The candidates will compete in the March 20 Democratic Party primary election, and the winner will face incumbent Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, in the November 2018 general election.

Brolley, the village president of Montgomery, said he’s running partly as a result of the November election of President Donald Trump. Brolley, whose wife’s family is from Mexico, said he has faced questions from his children about Trump.

“When my daughter asks why Donald Trump wants to build a wall so she can’t visit her grandma, that really hits home, and that hurts,” Brolley said.

Swanson, a teacher from Batavia, said he’s “not running for myself.” He said he’s running for his elderly father with Parkinson’s disease who uses Social Security and Medicare; his mother, who is a small-business owner; his sister, who has a pre-existing condition, diabetes; his son, who he said couldn’t understand how the Republicans went from Abraham Lincoln to Donald Trump; for his daughter, who he said deserves to be paid the same as his son for the exact same work; and for his students.

Underwood, a public health nurse from Naperville, said she’s running because of Hultgren’s vote on health care. She said she has a pre-existing heart condition. Hultgren voted in favor of the Paul Ryan-backed American Health Care Act in May; the measure failed to pass Congress.

“I felt betrayed, and I think he needs to be held accountable for that action,” Underwood said of Hultgren’s vote.

Walz, a Gurnee resident who ran against Hultgren in 2016 but lost, said he’s a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, and said he wants the U.S. to wean itself off of fossil fuels. He said he would file legislation to provide incentives for wind, solar, geothermal and other energies. He said he also wants to get “money out of politics” and voiced opposition to the Citizens United decision. He also criticized congressional Republicans’ attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“The fact that anybody would vote to take away health care from the most vulnerable among us, while also giving tax breaks to the rich, I found it immoral and disgusting,” Walz said.

Weber, a chemical engineer from Lakewood, said he wants “prosperity for the middle class.”

Each candidate received a question specifically for them during the forum.

Brolley was asked about his residency outside of the 14th Congressional District. Brolley lives in Montgomery, but over the boundary in the 11th Congressional District. He said his house was in the 14th District before the 2011 redistricting.

Brolley stressed that he grew up in Boulder Hill and has lived in the area for most of his life.

“I was not dropped in this district; I moved here when I was 3,” he said.

Swanson was asked whether he would have time to campaign and raise money since he has a full-time teaching job and a family.

Swanson said he was told when he was exploring his candidacy that he wouldn’t be able to do it because, “I have a real job.”

“We don’t have real representation if we only have independently wealthy people who can go around and campaign, or people who have jobs where they can take time off to go and campaign,” he said. “Every single person up here [on stage] has a real job. And just because I have to be someplace from 7:30 to 3:30 every day Monday through Friday shouldn’t be held against me.”

Underwood was asked about her experience working for the Barack Obama administration as a staffer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., and whether she felt it would help or hurt her.

Underwood said she considered her work to be “public service.” She was a senior adviser who worked on matters such as the Zika virus and the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.

“I believe that public service is a higher calling,” she said. “And I think the voters in the 14th [District] will respect that. I lived in Washington, I worked in Washington on behalf of communities all across our country.”

Walz was asked whether he would be able to win against Hultgren, since he lost the race in 2016. Walz received 41 percent of the vote to Hultgren’s 59 percent.

Walz said he has a better campaign organization this time around.

Weber was asked about his proposal for vocational training to help the middle class, and how he would implement and fund it.

Weber said the reason Trump won was because he focused on jobs. Weber said there are “6 million unfilled jobs in this country right now,” including plumbers, electricians and welders. But he said there needs to be more investment in vocational training.

“Education is one thing we have to fund better in this country – not only vocational, but college also,” he said.

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