4th Congressional District Democratic nominee: Jesus “Chuy” Garcia

By Sun-Times Editorial Board

The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking the 4th Congressional District seat a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their district and the country. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia 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? 

Garcia: The specific causes I will focus on are comprehensive immigration reform and resolving the DACA immigrants status, passage of a transportation and infrastructure bill, and preserving the ACA and particularly Medicaid funding.

Please list three highly specific needs of your district that you would make priorities.

Garcia: First, we need to address our immigration system and end the uncertainty for our immigrants and businesses. We should be clear that we are a nation of immigrants. Immigration is the lifeblood of this country and has been the engine of growth and productivity for more than a century. Trump’s draconian and heartless immigration policies are (literally) tearing families apart, and hurting our communities and our economy.

We must not stop welcoming immigrants and refugees to this country and we need to encourage immigrants already here to stay and continue contributing to our growth. We should pass legislation recognizing the immigrants already here positively contributing and grant them permanent status and a pathway to citizenship. We should also continue to enthusiastically accept migrants and refugees from all over the world with their families and establish a proper vetting system. We should not turn our backs on refugees, which goes against
much of our history and values. It should be unacceptable that we also have not secured the status of the 800,000 Dreamers by incorporating DACA into regular legislation; this will be a priority mine in Congress. At a time when important domestic programs are being starved of funds, we must also fight against the multi-billion dollar boondoggle of a wall

The district’s 230,000 foreign born residents are our greatest strength, but Trump’s draconian immigration policies are tearing families apart, and hurting our communities and our economy. One of my top priorities will be to achieve Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). We need to immediately find a solution for the 800,000 young Dreamers who did nothing wrong and grew up with the U.S. as the only country they know.

A second priority of mine will be to improve our education system. Latinos are disproportionately young and although we make up only 17% of the overall population nationwide, 25% of students in public schools are Latino. We need to make sure our public school system remains strong with secure funding that doesn’t discriminate against poor, minority communities. We also need to eliminate the schools to prison pipeline and ensure that minorities aren’t disproportionately suspended and expelled.

We need to make college more affordable. The average student takes on over $30,000 in debt to get a B.A. from a four-year college or university. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), many low-income and minority students have unmet financial need, even at lower-cost community colleges.

I support Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s College For All Act. This legislation would make public colleges and universities tuition free for working families, as is already done in many other industrialized countries. We should get corporations to contribute more in support of our public education system both K-12 and higher education as it is an essential pipeline for skilled workers in the future. We should also consider a tax on Wall Street speculators to pay for expanded college and training programs.

We also need to reduce interest rates for current borrowers. Americans currently have more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, with 70% of college seniors graduating with debt. The government actually profits off of these graduates, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the government will make $66 billion from student loans issued between 2007 and 2012. Lowering interest rates will allow recent college grads to have more money to start a business or buy a house, and I support Rep. Courtney’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act to allow current borrowers a chance to refinance to a lower rate.

My third priority would be to boost infrastructure funding and especially public transit. Such funding is essential for urban economic development and to ensure minorities have access to jobs and services. Residents in my District need the infrastructure and transportation improvements to both bring jobs into these communities and allow residents to access good paying jobs throughout the region.

Transportation is critically important to the country and to industry. The Federal government was instrumental in creating and funding the national railroad system, the interstate highway system and integrating/expanding the transit systems throughout the country. I support a substantial federal infrastructure program based on federal funding and not privatization of the ownership of transportation assets. Funding this should come from finally increasing the gasoline tax as well as taxes on vehicle-miles-traveled as we move away from gasoline powered transportation.

Finally, I think it is important for me to be an advocate for the more than 3 million Puerto Ricans that lack a voice in Congress. Many Puerto Ricans have had to flee from the island to Chicago because of debt crippling the island and the devastation of Hurricane Maria. I believe we need to forgive some of Puerto Rico’s debt, give aid to rebuild the island from the damages of Hurricane Maria and then invest long term in the economic development of the island.

Bipartisanship is virtually non-existent in the House. What would you do about that?

Garcia: I see my role in building public support for proposals which is essential in getting legislation approved in a divided Congress. This is how I saw my role as a County Commissioner where we had to work with both Democrat and Republican officials on the Board. I have a history of building coalitions and working across the aisle to get stuff done. For example, this bipartisanship approach resulted in passage of cash bail reform, which is my most significant accomplishment in my recent term on the Cook County Board and resulted in a nearly 40% reduction in the jail population at Cook County Jail.

Are you convinced that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in support of the candidacy of Donald Trump? Please explain.

Garcia: I am convinced that the Russians made a substantial and concerted effort to support Donald Trump and undermine the legitimacy of the Clinton campaign. They successfully exploited weaknesses in and aspects of social media and online media to spread false stories and undermine public confidence in news and the candidates. While we do not know the full breadth of their effort, it further undermines confidence in critical public institutions and, unfortunately, is further enhanced by the language and approach of President Trump.

Do you support the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller? Please explain.

Garcia: In the United States, no person should be above the law. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a reputation of integrity and professionalism and has my full support to complete a full and impartial investigation on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the extent to which any US citizens, including the Trump campaign, cooperated or coordinated with the Russians. Our Democracy depends on a series of checks and balances and it is important that the FBI operate independent of political considerations and with the full support of Congress.

If President Trump were to fire Mueller, directly or indirectly, what should Congress do?

Garcia: Congress would have an obligation to find out the reasons Mueller was fired and if it was an attempt by the President to obstruct the investigation. That is the critical issue.

If Trump were to pardon his former campaign aide Paul Manafort, what should Congress do?

Garcia: I do not think there is much Congress could do as the President has broad authority to issue pardons. Congress should, as part of its oversight responsibilities, determine if such a pardon were part of an effort by the President to block the investigations of Robert Mueller.

Which three actions taken so far by the Trump administration do you most strongly support?

Garcia: 1. Trump’s August decision to fire Stephen Bannon. Bannon’s white
nationalistic views are a danger to this country and should have no place in any White House.

2. I also support President Trump’s decision to allow a team of Afghani teen girls to enter the United States to compete in an international engineering competition. The U.S. has always been a beacon of freedom and hope in welcoming immigrants. The Trump Travel Ban is not who we are as a people, and I support his common sense exemption to this harmful policy. Unfortunately, such exemptions are rare exceptions for this administration.

3. Finally, I support the President’s action maintaining sanctions on Russia for interfering with the US Presidential election and poisoning people in Britain, even though he has undermined those sanctions with his support for President Putin and his opposition to the Mueller investigation.

Which three actions taken by the Trump administration do you most strongly disagree with?

Garcia: 1. The Trump administration’s immigration policies from his cruel and shortsighted decision to repeal DACA, which protects more than 800,000 young Dreamers to his border policies including his virtual blanket rejection of any refugees from Central and South America and finally to his inhumane separation of children at the border. Related to this, I strongly oppose the travel ban discriminating against Muslims and also limiting all immigration into the United States.

2. The Trump/Republican tax reform bill that will borrow $1.5 trillion dollars
to give handouts to the wealthy. Over time, this tax bill will raise taxes on low income workers. This bill also repealed the ACA individual mandate, which will increase healthcare premiums by about 10% and cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance. Finally, the tax bill imposes new taxes on companies operating in Puerto Rico, which will harm an island already crippled with debt and the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

3. The rollback of consumer and public protection regulations in three critical areas: Consumer financial protection, regulation of for-profit and charter schools, and the programs to address climate change and pesticide regulation.

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?

Garcia: I believe that the retreat on climate change, environmental protection and public health is a disservice to our children and grandchildren. The administration is wrong in thinking that short term protection of pollution and older technologies will help the country grow. We need to address the real problems posed by Climate Change by promoting new technologies and new approaches as is being done in most of the world. The Trump strategy of looking backward for solutions will not serve this country well and will not adequately address the climate and health problems we face now and in the future.

To what extent is climate change a man-made phenomenon? How serious is the threat to our children’s future? What should be done?

Garcia: Climate Change is a real phenomenon that has been exacerbated and accelerated by human activities including our uncontrolled emissions of vast quantities of carbon dioxide and other global warming chemicals into the atmosphere. We can minimize further damage to the environment by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases as was proposed in the Obama Clean Energy plan and with support for alternative energy sources, more efficient houses and cars, etc. In order to achieve this, we need to invest in our infrastructure, encourage research and development with both public and private funds, and incentivize the implementation of new technologies. We must invest in our education and training systems so everyone can understand and participate in the changes.

What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence?

Garcia: Reasonable gun controls on the sale and ownership of guns is clearly within the bounds of the Constitution. Such controls include a unified federal background check system for gun sales and limits on certain kinds of rifles which are not designed for sport use. The 2nd Amendment guarantees rights for sport uses and militias such as the national guard, so that proper constraints on sale and ownership and types of guns will not compromise either our constitutional rights or our safety. The plethora of guns in this country is clearly contributing to the escalating level of violence. Other countries, such as Australia and the EU properly constrain gun ownership and have lowered gun shootings and gun-related deaths.

Is the media the “enemy of the people”? Please explain.

Garcia: The media is not the enemy and is an essential part of a democracy. A free and vibrant press is essential to getting factual information into public debate. President Trump attacks the media because he does not want any criticism. Without a free press we would not be able to sustain our democracy.

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?

Garcia: As I discussed in the answers to other questions, I did not support the tax bill as it gave most of the tax breaks to the wealthy, did not provide any guarantees that the corporate largesse would predominantly go to investment and worker wages, and dramatically increased the deficit, which will be used to further undermine basic responsibilities of government including education, transportation, health care, safety, fair markets etc. It was a bad bill and should be fundamentally revised to provide more benefits to low and middle income workers, and have the wealthy be responsible for paying a greater share of their income to support the whole society. The tax bill should also be structured so we have the money to dramatically invest in our infrastructure, our education system, healthcare and more affordable housing.

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?

Garcia: America’s growing wealth gap is the fundamental challenge of our time. Numerous studies implicate increases in economic inequality with social problems and social unrest. We need to create a system that makes everyone a part of the economy and society in general. Democracy itself is weakened when the wealthiest Americans are able to effectively buy control of our political system.

This was evident in the Republican Tax Reform Bill recently passed that gives trillions in tax handouts to the corporations and the wealthiest Americans without requiring them to invest in in schools, transportation, institutions and infrastructure, or hiring and training American workers. The Bill will expand deficits and create a climate for cutting basic services and safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. We need to get back to government creating the environment where people and businesses have the tools and opportunities to succeed. We need a fair system, a good public education system, a safe and modern transportation system for people and goods and affordable health care for all citizens so that companies and individuals can succeed without fear of devastating illness. Republican members spoke openly during the process about how they had to pass the bill for their donors. As a first step, I believe we need to make it easier for workers to form unions, increase and index the minimum wage and reverse the Citizens United decision that allow Corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political influence.

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?

Garcia: Given the clear evidence of Russian attacks around our election and their continuing efforts to undermine public information, I do not see the benefit of inviting President Putin to the White House and give him a major platform and legitimacy to continue his attacks on this country.

How would you assess and grade the Trump administration’s efforts to recalibrate our nation’s relationships with Korea, NATO and Russia?

Garcia: The Trump administration has isolated the US from its democratic allies which is not “recalibrating” the relationship. While Trump has made some potential progress with North Korea we will not know if the results will be much different from the achievements of the past 3 presidents. The efforts with NATO seem to have just created uncertainty and not the basis for “modernizing” the relationship with the two biggest economies in the world. Finally, Russia continues to attempt to destabilize and undermine the US, so it is difficult to see what Trump’s approach has gained.

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?

Garcia: America is a nation of immigrants and the travel ban goes against our values and who we are as a people. We should judge individuals by their individual merits; banning people from visiting simply because of the country they were born in is wrong. It’s also very harmful to our economy. Universities and companies are losing out in a competition for global talent. Large conferences and other meetings are being moved to other countries where all potential participants are welcome to attend. Foreign tourism in the U.S generates $250 billion a year in business. The efforts to impose a travel ban are costing the U.S. millions of visitors and leading to a drastic loss of jobs in the tourism sector.

What three major reforms should be made to United States immigration policy?

Garcia: 1. We should pass legislation recognizing the immigrants already
here and positively contributing to grant them permanent status and a pathway to citizenship.

2. We should also continue to enthusiastically accept migrants and refugees from all over the world with their families and establish a proper vetting system. (3) It should be unacceptable that we have not secured the status of the Dreamers through incorporating DACA into regular legislation.

Do you support or oppose the family-based immigration policy sometimes called “chain migration”? Please explain.

Garcia: I support family-based immigration policy because it encourages families to commit themselves to building this country because more of their family is with them. Immigration is necessary to continue growing the economy and bringing new talent and ideas here. Trump’s hypocritical opposition to such immigration policies (since he used them for his wife’s family) are really a cover for his discriminatory and racist policies.

What would you do, as a member of Congress, to improve race relations in the United States?

Garcia: Based on my experience as an immigrant from Mexico and as a person of color living in the United States, I believe that I, along with other black and Latino legislators, have much to offer in Congress to make sure that Congress never forgets race relations issues. I was born in Durango, Mexico. My father worked as a bracero in California, Kansas and Texas until my family moved to Chicago when I was 10. . When your history is that you risk leaving all you know for a better life, fear and hardship is something you take in stride. We must never allow fear and oppression to catch fire and guide our nation.

That experience pushed me to try and be a leader on immigration reform — whether it be understanding the plight of dreamers and immigrants stranded at our borders or fighting against this multi-billion dollar boondoggle of a wall. I am committed to keeping the rights of women — one half of our country’s population — front and center, keeping our nation safe from terror and fighting for jobs and fairness as well as managing our nation’s purse strings with common sense.

What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent?

Garcia: The critical difference is my experience and track record working in communities as both an organizer and as a legislator. At Enlace we successfully built a large coalition to push city to build the first high school in the community in nearly 100 years.

At the County we pushed through a ban on housing discrimination based on use of vouchers by low income families, veterans, the disabled and others. We put an end to Cook County’s cooperation with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. The measure became the first of its kind in the nation and more than 250 localities followed. We also raised the minimum wage and mandated that County employers provide paid sick leave. Finally, we worked with other elected officials at the County to successfully change the cash bond system and decreased the detainees at the County Jail by 40%.

No one congressperson does it all. Coalition building is in my bones. Leadership is a team sport and if elected to Congress, I will work hard and use my experience to move this country forward.

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