Olson: Insights after candidate conversations

Democratic candidate Lauren Underwood and Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren spoke with the Northwest Herald Editorial Board Wednesday at the newspaper's office in Crystal Lake.
Democratic candidate Lauren Underwood and Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren spoke with the Northwest Herald Editorial Board Wednesday at the newspaper's office in Crystal Lake.

People view Congress with cynicism.

A decade’s worth of monthly polls from Gallup list 39 percent as the high-water mark for public approval of the job Congress is doing. The norm for 2018 is approval in the teens, with 75 percent to 80 percent of people saying they disapprove.

They say people tend to hate Congress but like their representative. The representatives and candidates I have met so far this year have been, almost without exception, impressive people with remarkable personal stories.

As a member of the editorial board at Shaw Media, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several members of Congress and challengers seeking to unseat them, with plans to interview more in the coming weeks. Newspapers will be making endorsements in some congressional races as part of their election coverage this year.

In general, the candidates have been sincere when they talk about issues for which they have passion and guarded on topics they’d prefer not to go into detail on.

They have almost never been at a loss for words, even when they are not really saying much.

In the end, your representative in Congress is a public servant, whose job ultimately depends on the approval of you and the other 711,000 or so people in their district. In Illinois, districts can include more than a dozen counties – the 15th Congressional District includes more than 30 – and representatives often are in Washington, D.C., four days a week.  

As a result, it’s pretty common for challengers to accuse an incumbent of being out of touch with the district and point out that they’re not around. While some actually do lose touch with their district – and those are the ones who eventually are voted out – sometimes they’re absent because they’re serving in Congress.

A few other things I’ve gathered in talks with candidates so far:

• It’s been 17 years since we invaded Afghanistan, and the U.S. probably will have a military presence there for years to come. An entire generation has grown up with America at war abroad, and the prevailing attitude seems to be that we must remain there until there’s no threat that terrorists could seek refuge there, or that it’s clear the government can support and defend itself – and how can that ever be proved? This is a disappointment. Thanking veterans for their service is not enough – our country has become too accepting of war as a default state of affairs.

• Don’t look to the federal government to solve local or even state problems, at least not unless there’s a major disaster or public health crisis. All candidates I’ve spoken with seem to agree that having people who can’t access affordable health care is such a crisis – but the solutions they offer depend on the party to which they belong.

• Even members of Congress seem to be fed up with the level of partisanship and division in the country and in Washington. Still, they tend to vote with their party almost all the time.

• The question of who will be the next speaker of the House is not settled. Republicans say Democrats certainly will install Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.

The Dems I’ve asked about it, including 11th District Rep. Bill Foster of Naperville and 14th District candidate Lauren Underwood, have been noncommittal.

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger said he likes Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California among the Republican possibilities, while Underwood’s opponent, Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren, said he thinks Republicans might choose someone no one is talking about now.

What other new developments will we be talking about after the election on Nov. 6? Voters like us are going to have a lot to say about that.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle, a Shaw Media publication. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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