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Illinois 16th District Congressman Adam Kinzinger and his opponent in the next election, Democrat Dani Brzozowski, both talked with the Shaw Media Editorial Board via video conference to address the important issues in the next election.
Both candidates expressed worry over issues such as social unrest, where they split on how to handle police reform.
Kinzinger came out against any sort of defunding of the police, advocating instead for a greater use of body cameras and making sure the right people are getting recruited to become police officers.
“There’s a lot of agencies that don’t have [body cameras] because they’re expensive,” Kinzinger said. “Police say the cameras are better for them because in many cases they get accused and people can see the body cam footage. I think if we talk about doing stuff like that, that’s essential.”
Brzozowski said banning choke holds and ending qualified immunity, which prevents officers from being named in civil suits for their actions as long as they don’t violate reasonable constitutional rights, would prevent officers from being held above the law.
“We put officers in a position where a bad apple might perceive it to mean they’re above the law and we’ve seen the criminal justice process for officers and others fail,” Brzozowski said.
She said police officers shouldn’t be overly relied upon as arbiters of peace in domestic violence situations or situations involving mental health and addiction. Instead, Brzozowski would rather see more resources in the community that allow law enforcement to do their jobs more effectively.
“We know that not all cops are bad cops, but we know there is a disproportionate effect on black communities and that points to a fracture in how police are trained or resourced,” Brzozowski said.
Kinzinger said the major issue with social discourse in America right now is that people are afraid to have conversations.
He said African Americans struggle to talk about what it’s like to be targeted by the police and some struggle to talk about other things, like being a Republican.
“We have to be able to talk about this again,” Kinzinger said. “There’s a fear that paralyzes this country when it comes to race issues.”
Kinzinger said he backed South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s police reform bill, which was blocked by Democrats for not going far enough. It failed to eliminate the use of no-knock raids and end qualified immunity as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act aims to do. Scott’s legislation, the JUSTICE Act, aimed to eliminate the use of choke holds and provide grants for additional police training.
Ending qualified immunity, Kinzinger said, would mean police officers could be sued for anything by anybody, and that officers already don’t get qualified immunity if they violate someone's civil rights.
Both candidates advocated for wearing masks in a public space.
“Sadly, when all this started, I said to myself and a few other people that I’m afraid mask wearing is going to become partisan,” Kinzinger said. “Unfortunately, I was clairvoyant in that. If you’re outside and you’re running and you aren’t around anyone, you don’t have to wear a mask and you shouldn’t be shamed. If you’re inside and around people, you need to wear a mask.”
Kinzinger said it wasn’t about protecting himself, but about protecting other people.
“It seems to work and it’s not inconvenient,” Kinzinger said. “When I was in Iraq, I wore a mask a lot of the time because of the dust.”
Brzozowski said masks are necessary, that it’s known that they work and it’s known that following all the guidelines and social distancing works.
“We don’t know who we’re encountering or who might be immunocompromised,” Brzozowski said. “It’s morally wrong not to protect people at risk.”
Kinzinger said he thinks the federal government has done a pretty good job handling COVID-19, although if they were able to go back in time they’d be able to do a better job. He called for more efficient testing and contact tracing.
“A lot of people don’t like the federal government knowing where they are and following them around,” Kinzinger said, demonstrating the difficulties that have been had in getting people to submit to testing and contact tracing.
Brzozowski said if she had to give the federal government a grade on its handling of the pandemic, she’d give it a D.
“I think the news coming out of the [Donald] Trump administration after the Woodward interviews has been disturbing,” Brzozowski said. “The fact that he recognized and downplayed the threat to the American people is concerning. There have been far too few protections in place for working families across the country.”
Brzozowski said the pandemic has ravaged communities such as her own, where people are losing jobs and in turn, health care.
She also said that too much is being asked of teachers and the mistakes made now could affect people for decades to come.
“That will include the struggle to receive health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions,” Brzozowski said.
Kinzinger said one good sign is that there is already talk of a vaccine, which could arrive in record time.
“We’re still working on a vaccine for AIDS,” Kinzinger said. “Sometimes it takes decades to get one for a virus. If we can get one by the end of this year or the beginning of next year, that's great.”
He isn’t happy that states had to fight with each other for personal protective equipment and he said the federal government should have done a better job coordinating it. He also said America shouldn’t have been so reliant on China to supply PPE.
Brzozowski said that in conversations with voters, she has heard either heartbreaking stories about how families have been affected or of how businesses have had to shut down; the other side she hears is an eagerness to reopen the economy.
“It’s not difficult to recognize those two things,” Brzozowski said. “The threat is real and serious. We have to extraordinarily, thoughtfully make sure we’re reopening the economy. Our lives are so closely attached that it is required that we thoughtfully reopen."
Kinzinger said he is in favor of mail-in voting, but there is concern that there will be a situation like what happened during New York’s last election, where ballots either weren’t postmarked or were postmarked after the election dates. He said he worries about that in a presidential election that could end up just as contentious as George Bush vs. Al Gore in 2000.
“I had a conversation with the county clerks in the district and they said they aren’t concerned, so I’m not concerned,” Kinzinger said. “They can confirm signatures and they’re safe and secure.”
Kinzinger said he’s critical of President Donald Trump for casting doubt on the election.
“If you start undermining the vote, or claim there’s fraud, some day people are going to lash out because they want to be heard,” Kinzinger said.
Brzozowski said it’s unfortunate to see the Post Office crisis occur at the same a lot of voter access legislation passed because the more people can vote, the better representation districts have.
“I think Illinois has done a great job of expanding access to vote-by-mail,” Brzozowski said. “I have spoken with so many county clerks and election authorities about the safety of voting by mail. Voter fraud rarely happens and under the circumstances with the pandemic raging, schools starting and rates still rising in communities throughout the 16th district, it’s critical we get voting by mail and voting as early as possible to mitigate risk.”
Kinzinger said he believes health care will naturally become more affordable and better over time because of technology, citing phone apps as an example.
“If you wear glasses, you can go on an app and do an eye test and get your glasses,” Kinzinger said. “It’s driven the cost of a visit to the eye doctor down.”
He said an app that can point out if a user has hypertension or is showing signs of Type 2 diabetes would help prevent those diseases.
He also advocated for insurance between jobs to be portable.
Brzozowski was asked about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and said that she was raised understanding that the money paid by taxes helps create a safety net.
“For so many families, the Affordable Care Act has been just that,” Brzozowski said. “Prior to that, more than 60,000 people in our district didn’t have insurance. That number dropped to between 35,000 and 36,000. That’s 25,000 people who have insurance now.”
Brzozowski said the pandemic has caused an extraordinary loss in health care and there should be some kind of safety net to catch those whom the system has failed.
“We are looking at many, many more people, hundreds of thousands, that will have a pre-existing condition that we didn’t before,” Brzozowski said. “It’s important we protect them.”
Brzozowski said farmers are being failed.
“Bankruptcy rates are sky high, a result of policies that lift up big corporate farms and a lack of action related to the climate crisis,” Brzozowski said. “We have this narrative that farmers won’t talk about the climate crisis but they’ve felt it before the rest of us. Farming is hard work. I want to lift up small family farmers, the kind you all know.”
Brzozowski advocated for moving towards more sustainable agriculture practices and providing resources so farmers can meet those standards.
Kinzinger said trade is the number one topic of importance for farmers at the federal level and cites ethanol as a solution to some of their woes.
“I’m disappointed in this administration’s ethanol response,” Kinzinger said. “I don’t think it’s the president. I think there are people in the administration more interested in oil. Ethanol is going to be huge. That’s the linchpin keeping this together.”
Kinzinger expects tensions with China to continue, but he thinks the free market is solving some of the imbalances on its own, although he admits a government response is needed in some way.
“I’ve advocated for the Trans Pacific Partnership, which gives us free trade and open-trade allies all around China,” Kinzinger said.
This, Kinzinger said, would help American companies find new markets and have friendlier relationships that bring allies into the trade battle against China.
He called on Brazil to stand with the U.S. to refuse to sell its excess resources to China, forcing China to change its behavior.
Kinzinger advocated for the preservation of nuclear power plants, which he said have been priced out of the market.
“Understanding the role green energy plays is essential, but don’t distort it so nuclear production goes out the window, because that’s not productive,” Kinzinger said.
Nuclear energy is one area where the candidates both held aligning views. Brzozowski said nuclear energy is clean energy and Illinois has 90 reactors in the state, and more resources need to be provided for nuclear energy.
Brzozowski said the climate crisis isn’t a problem exclusive to coastal regions; the 16th district has seen four 100-year floods in the past 15 years.
“We have a real chance here to demonstrate how we address the climate crisis in rural America,” Brzozowski said. “I’m for things like corporate carbon taxation, holding corporations accountable for their emissions. I am for lifting up family farmers and making sure they have the resources to combat the climate crisis.I’m for re-entering the Paris Climate Accord, demonstrating to our global allies how committed we are to fighting the climate crisis.”
Kinzinger said innovation from the private sector should be relied upon because heavy handed government intervention would be a step backward.
Kinzinger and Brzozowski both denounced QAnon, with Kinzinger being the first sitting Republican congressman to do so.
“I would never push to expel them from the house because if somebody wants to elect a QAnon supporter, they can, but for the party that’s where we have a choice,” Kinzinger said. “If (Georgia 14th District Republican candidate) Marjorie Taylor Greene comes out and disavows QAnon, okay, alright. But if she comes out and starts spouting QAnon garbage and it’s garbage? And it’s designed to destroy the country that you love no matter if you’re on the right or left? Then I don’t think she should be sitting on any committee, much less any committee with any importance.”
Kinzinger called on the Republican party to hold strong against QAnon.
“I will definitely not just disagree but fight hard against things that say that the federal government is actually run by a group of satanist pedophiles because that undermines the entire belief in the federal government and the idea of representative democracy,” Kinzinger said. “If I’m out here as a show and it’s actually the satanist pedophiles that are running it, that can actually incentivize violence to the government and I don’t think that’s protected speech just like I don’t think burning buildings down in the middle of big cities is protected first amendment speech. I’ll be outspoken about that. If you look at the not real life Twitter, evidently I’m scared that they’re getting close.”
Brzozowski said QAnon makes her nervous because it’s rooted in white supremacy.
“We know they’re on the watch list for domestic terrorism and white supremacy is the motivating force behind domestic terrorism,” Brzozowski said. “We know these Reddit groups and posts for QAnon have been insidious efforts here, not just to conspiracy theorize but to cause real harm.”
Kinzinger said he remembers when QAnon first came on his radar.
“The very first Q drop said that Hillary was going to jail and the Mueller investigation was actually a ruse by Donald Trump so that he could investigate the Democrats and if you go down the line none of this stuff has ever come true, so I think showing that to people is the most important,” Kinzinger said.
Brzozowski said she sees people inside her own social network who will come to her and say "Hey, look at this! It makes so much sense!"
“These are reasonable people who are somewhat politically engaged,” Brzozowski said. “Q is so well-equipped to prey upon our worst fears, and they build these opportunities to engage in solutions.”
Brzozowski said social media giants should be regulated in order to ensure their roles are productive, and companies like Facebook shouldn’t continue to allow these ideologies to persist.