A Campaign About People and Policies

This campaign was about people and policies for an economy that works for everyone, education that prepares our children for the jobs of today and tomorrow, and a healthcare system that is both affordable and accessible for our residents. 

Despite coming up short in votes during this election, the message we delivered resonated with voters across the 33 counties of the 15th District. Party loyalty and money remain stubborn forces in American politics. 

If we’re ever to dig out of the morass that our district finds itself within, we must see beyond party.

We must work to be rid of big money in our political system as it is as corrosive as it is deafening.

I urge all elected officials to make themselves as accessible to their constituents as possible. Being afraid to show up and answer the tough questions isn’t an excuse when you’ve been hired to do the job that the public is paying you to do.

We have to have tough conversations and be able to hear from those that feel they have profound disagreements with us. How can we live in a country where hearing something you don’t agree with prompts you to make threats of violence?

Our country must start working together.

That means we’re all part of the solution which is a sustaining force in our lives. 


Social Security Fairness Act

When we work in America, we make a contract with Social Security and Medicare that earns us benefits throughout our lives and into our retirement.

It is critical that we protect and strengthen these programs for all Americans. Some professions, public sector jobs, and the military in some states and throughout America are treated differently, leading to a breach of that contract.

If you or your spouse pay into Social Security and Medicare, you should be able to receive those spousal benefits regardless of where you’ve worked. Teachers and their spouses in Illinois, however, are getting screwed because of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO). 

Under the WEP and GPO, workers who have paid into Social Security and Medicare have their spousal benefits dramatically cut, sometimes eliminating their Medicare coverage late in life when their spouse passes away. We must protect these spousal benefits for all Americans because these are earned benefits. It’s the right thing to do.

I would support the Social Security Fairness Act of 2017, which has broad bipartisan support. It’s one of the areas where my opponent and I are in agreement.

Unfortunately for our teachers and spouses, this bill has been sitting in the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security since March of 2017. It is not even listed on the Subcommittee’s website as a bill introduced in the 115th Congress, so the GOP is not serious about solving this problem.

That is why we need a Congress that will move this legislation forward instead of letting it die in a subcommittee for over a year and a half.

I will push for this reform as your representative and voice in Washington.

Tired of Falling Behind

Our nation’s political system is broken. Both parties have been unable to address the big issues successfully for decades. This has deepened polarization, helping to eliminate common ground approaches that combine the best of our American style of democracy. 

Currently, the GOP has control over both the White House and Congress and cannot even pass immigration reform, infrastructure, healthcare, and so much more despite having criticized the Democratic approaches for a decade.

The only issue that seems to unite the GOP is being in opposition to the Democratic Party, especially when it occupies the White House.

The GOP has become unable to do anything but pass massive tax cuts without paying for it. Our grandchildren will be footing the bill. Not exactly fiscal conservatism. And, before the trade war, GDP growth was predicted to decrease annually after these tax cuts, not increase growth. Does that make common sense?

The Democratic Party has its own issues. It has never resolved the divisions exposed during the 2016 presidential election, not recognizing it as yet another false binary choice. During the Great Recession, the Democratic Party chose to tackle healthcare instead of tackling immigration and addressing long term infrastructure issues. 

Like all major reforms, healthcare wasn’t perfect. Far from it. Then, there was no legislative way to fix it without Congressional partners looking out for the best interests of the American people. Does that match up with our common values?

Due to the extreme polarization of our political parties, we now sit with even larger and worsening problems than we did in 2008:

  • Trillion dollar deficits for the foreseeable future. 
  • Higher healthcare costs for Americans. 
  • Crumbling infrastructure issues that have real costs for Americans. 
  • A broken and worsening immigration system.
  • A self-created border crisis that has been made worse by bureaucratic decisions. 
  • A self-created trade war that is increasing costs and prices for American farmers, businesses, and consumers. 

It seems clear that the American economy will get worse on our current trajectory, not better:

  • Making deficits rise faster. 
  • Making wages more stagnant, even decreasing more than they already have over the last year. 
  • Decreasing out of pocket money faster as prices continue to increase. 
  • Increasing unemployment. 
  • Increasing local, state, and federal budget concerns further. 
  • Forcing cuts to vital services which will decrease more revenue to local businesses and economies. 

Do we see the issue with our current trajectory?

We need a new direction as a country. That starts with a new direction politically.

Instead of electing career politicians who rely on big dollar donors and offer rubber stamps and excuses, we should be focusing on what will build an economy, rebuild our infrastructure, and deliver education that provides for a better future. 

I’m tired of falling behind. Aren’t you?

That’s why I decided to run against a 21-year incumbent who I saw as being out of touch with the hardworking people of the 15th District. They deserve someone that will listen to their experiences and concerns and act upon them in Congress.

That’s what I will do as your representative and why I am fighting to earn your support and your vote this November.

Separating Families: Broken Immigration

Separating children from their parents is not just a tragedy, it’s traumatizing. That isn’t just a belief, it’s backed up by research of millions of children. Sometimes, it is absolutely necessary to remove a child from an abusive or violent parent in order to protect the child. That’s not what is happening here.

When I examine what’s happening on our southern border, I’m concerned about many issues.

The top priority should be protecting these children from harm, especially harm created by the decisions made by our government. That includes the trauma created by our decision to separate them from their parents. 

If Mary and Joseph came across our Southern Border, we would have torn Jesus from their arms. Does that sound like an American value?

I’m also concerned about our broken immigration systems, as many Americans are. This has been a problem for decades and something that both parties have failed to address.

Many people aren’t aware that the majority of illegal immigration is not from border crossings but from visa overstays. Our current system isn’t able to track those visa overstays.

Does it make sense to focus all of the attention on the border, especially when we’re traumatizing children in order for some politicians to get their way?

And, finally, we have serious economic and budgetary issues in our country. Throughout our history, an influx of immigrants have become part of the rich fabric of our great nation, enriching it with their work ethic, their families, and their culture. No other country on earth assimilates immigrants better. Why should we stop now?

Many factories and industries aren’t able to fill the positions they have available. We need new workers to fill these jobs.

We should be welcoming hard working people into our country because they will be paying taxes, paying into Social Security and Medicare which helps to keep these vital programs secure for the next generations, and contributing to our communities.

Do we need to let just anyone into our country? No. 

But, we need to fix our broken immigration system so that people can come here legally, so that those seeking asylum can do so safely, and that we can grow as a nation and provide for hardworking Americans that have spent a lifetime working hard for their own families and communities.

Doing nothing has led us to where a few politicians decided it was better to traumatize children than to solve our broken immigration system problem. 

I’d say there is plenty of common ground, common sense, and common values on this issue.

  • Who wants to harm children?
  • Who wants to continue doing the same thing, which is nothing, and expecting the problem to simply go away?
  • Who wants to ask future generations to answer for our mistakes?

I certainly don’t, and I don’t believe most people do either.

Let’s come together and solve our nation’s problems.

People Over Party.

“Are you for the party or the people? Both parties have wrecked IL. It’s “structure” is currently in a “state of disrepair” (has been for decades). With an estimated $8B deficit and growing, over 35k net loss of people—how will you standup to the Madigan’s and Edgar’s of IL? You won’t! They will not support your re-election…you’ll be ostracized.”

First, I agree that there are serious problems in Illinois caused by both sides of the aisle, especially when it comes to downstate.

Second, I’m running in a federal race to represent the 15th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, not the State Legislature.

There are great Democratic candidates running for State House and State Senate races throughout downstate. I would urge you to find yours and listen to what they have to say because they want to listen to what you have to say.

“IL can’t even climb out of the cellar in this historic economy?”

About “this historic economy.” It is historic, but not in the right way for the vast majority of people. And, that’s not just about Illinois. Wages have been stagnant for decades, in some industries wages have actually been decreasing. Many 70-80 year olds are working 6 or 7 days a week to help foot the bill for two or three generations. These working class people have been left behind by the economy, especially in rural America and rural Illinois.

“We sold our land in S.IL a few years ago—we were going to build our “dream” home; dumped the plans to retire in IL from the military—why bring our $ and entrepreneur ideas to a state with the top tax burden?”

If you want to examine the real drivers of our high tax environment in Illinois, look no further than our regressive flat income tax. This places all the burdens on working people and true small businesses. It also lands the burden of paying for education, infrastructure, and local government on property taxes. This is why the economic environment is so hostile to both workers and especially to business.

It will only get worse when the economy slows, and it will—tax receipts will decrease and state handouts will uptick.”

Calling assistance to families “handouts” is an easy way to not appreciate the real needs as well as the real economic benefits of this assistance. Under our current system, working while poor is punished. We should be incentivizing work instead. If you have any health condition within your family, these issues are compounded greatly.

The reality about monetary, healthcare, shelter, and food assistance is that all of these go directly into our local economies. When we cut these resources, we’re robbing our small businesses of much needed revenue. And, without eliminating the disincentives and punishments for getting back to work, the bridge to self-reliance is non-existent. We can work on this from both a state and a federal level.

“Why would an IL politician be concerned with people staying or leaving IL? Politicians do well in IL, get that state “gravy-train” (golden parachute) retirement plan to the tune of $72k off the backs of workers. For what? Nation leading deficits, taxes, state gov criminality, etc. When outflow outpaces inflow, maybe people will learn?”

When you examine downstate politics, the Republicans have one mantra. “Madigan.” That’s all they run on mostly, adding in one or two social issues that divide and separate as opposed to build and boost our local economies. I know that the People are exhausted by that boring, tired playbook.

Republicans have also ran nearly every county board, city council, state house, and state senate district for decades. What do the People have to show for it? Mass exodus.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but doing the same thing and expecting a different result . . . there’s a phrase about that, isn’t there?

  • I’m focused like a laser on changing the conversation.
  • Moving beyond this blame game.
  • Finding common ground, using common sense, and utilizing common values to move our district forward.
  • That is why I’m showing up, standing up, and speaking out everywhere I go. 

The People deserve to be heard, they deserve to be believed, and they deserve someone to stand up and fight for them everyday, both in D.C., in Springfield, and in their communities.

  • I’m open to solutions while sharing the innovative solutions I know have worked and that will work here.
  • We’re working together with anyone that is willing and open to do so.
  • Most people are too.

Fiscal Failure Under Shimkus-GOP

Yes, our 21-year incumbent representative in Congress, John Shimkus, did vote for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have allowed the federal government to raid the Social Security trust fund in order to balance the budget.

The bill was masked as a balanced budget amendment, often popular among budget hawks. This is ironic considering this Republican Congress has racked trillion dollar annual deficits for each year of the next decade. And, they’ve achieved this in less than a year and a half in control of both the Legislative and Executive Branches.

Here’s the play-by-play. 

We’ve seen this playlist time and time again with a GOP-controlled government.

Out of control spending, tax breaks without any benefits for workers and the economy, and ultimately the American people will get hit when the bill comes due.

It’s about time we throw them out and get back to work.

Failure is not an option because our communities are on the line.

Waterways, Economy, and Mental Health

These are questions I was asked recently on the campaign trail.

Q: “Hillary Clinton said she wanted to invest $30 billion in the Coal Belt for clean up efforts and to restore the water quality in the Ohio Valley watershed.  What do you think about that idea?”

$30 billion isn’t going to do much if there aren’t standards applied throughout the region. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is likely to give up its responsibility on managing the river, which is a huge concern for me as this would leave the care of this vital resource to individual states. We need to provide stability and support to the Commission, be actively working with community members, officials, organizations, and businesses, and promoting this publicly to reverse this decision. 

Q: “What do you see as (the) greatest opportunity for economic development? What other opportunities do you see for economic development for (the) region?  What specifically would you do to help (southeastern Illinois) recover economically? What future do you believe the Progressive movement and the Democratic Party has in the United States has without the Coal Belt?”

After the deregulation of the coal industry in Illinois, we can’t compete with other states. Automation, bad business practices, and lack of union coal jobs all play a part in the decimation of coal in Illinois. However, under President Obama, coal production rose to 10% below 1970 numbers. Coal jobs did not correlate with the increase in production. Layoffs have been occurring not only in Illinois but in Western Kentucky as well. We need new industries.

Coal is vital for energy production as well as steel production. The technology has greatly improved, and America does it better than anywhere else. I wrote on this subject last November, https://gaither4il.com/coal-steel/.

Small energy companies as well as family farms don’t have a level playing field with their larger competitors.

The regulation and fee schemes are designed to squeeze them out of the market, and actually support bad behavior by the biggest companies. We have to correct those problems in order to keep more money and jobs in our communities.

Solar and wind farms are great industries that can create investment and job creation opportunities.

However, it’s not near enough to combat the job losses and unemployment numbers.

With all of our farmland, we should be growing hemp as we did during WW II.

25,000 products are made from hemp. We should be making these products here,  exporting these to other states and around the world, and become a new economic center in the Midwest. Currently, hemp oils are being sold in Illinois made from hemp grown in Kentucky and Massachusetts. It also combines with products we have here, like honey.

Another opportunity is to create new tourist destinations to drive money back into Southern Illinois.

Art communities have been very successful at creating linkages between farm and town, giving the square a facelift, providing artists housing, work, and a place to sell their work. Combined with our National Forests, State Parks, lakes, and more, these can create circuits for summer camping groups. Also, opening up the empty storefronts in our town centers can give property owners access to potential investors.

Q: “Mental health is a huge problem in rural areas.  The southeastern counties (are) no exception.  What, specifically, would you do to address rural mental health issues in those counties in Congress?”

This is a major priority of mine. I was recently the only Democratic candidate at a forum in Highland. The Republicans were all running for state representative and state senate seats. All of them wanted to cut the budget but were all for increasing access to mental health treatment. It didn’t make any sense to me how they could do both while cutting taxes, and I said as much.

There are a series of issues that we have to address here.

Providers and Access

There aren’t enough counselors, therapists, or social workers to meet the needs. Wait times are too long. If someone needs to see a psychiatrist, the wait times multiply quickly if a psychiatrist even is in the county.  Some counseling centers have the ‘Doctor in a Box’ option, but this simply doesn’t replace having the face-to-face interaction.

States are poaching our health professionals by offering free housing during the days and nights while they work there. The pay is better in these other states.

We have to be able to better compete as a region with pay, benefits, and housing. If we’re going to keep our brightest here, we need to pay them for their dedication. This will help bring specialists and other professionals to downstate Illinois.

High Costs, Health Insurance, Universal Healthcare

The high cost of healthcare in Illinois is part of the reason why we can’t better compete for the best and brightest, helping to stop the brain drain. There are a number of reasons for this.

The backlog of Medicaid payments is a serious concern for community healthcare and hospitals. As a state, we have to make healthcare a priority, especially for low income, people living with disabilities, seniors, veterans, and the chronically ill.

The current system is a broken bureaucracy that punishes work, creates undue amounts of paperwork for both clients and the state, and doesn’t serve the best interests of taxpayers or those who need these services. We have to fix this system, either by the state (which seems unlikely) or with federal guidelines and oversight. When states are unable to manage their Medicaid programs or unable to care for their citizens that these programs are funded to protect, Congress has a role to play.

We’re still not negotiating prescription drug prices. We’re still not dropping state borders allowing insurance providers to go national. We’re still not protecting people from high deductibles and high premiums, both in the individual marketplace and from employer-based plans. The fee for service model is broken, and it is time for a new approach. We can do something about each of those issues on a bipartisan basis because there is broad bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, we can work to pass a public option where there are minimal choices for people. Universal healthcare won’t be a slam dunk before the 2020 election and will be difficult to get over the finish line afterwards. We have to fight to make healthcare more affordable and more accessible every day until we achieve that goal.

Education Pipeline

The way we help increase the number of in demand healthcare professionals is by increasing the size of programs that educate them. We have great colleges and universities throughout downstate Illinois that have counseling, social work, and other degrees focused on graduating professionals. Many of these programs have limited cohort sizes at any given time due to accreditation constraints, which are vital to maintain.

We must provide additional grants and scholarships for students as well as more funding for the programs themselves in order to increase the size of these departments, increasing the size of graduating classes. Linking grants and scholarships to staying in the region is useful in keeping that talent from fleeing the state.