While no Republican contender has yet come forward, Democratic U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, of Illinois' 3rd District, continues to gain challengers from his own party.
The latest candidate to announce his intention to run is Mateusz "Mat" Tomkowiak, an academic with an eye toward health policy, who wants to be the first openly LGBT federal elected official in Illinois' history. He will be joining Lipinski and marketing consultant Marie Newman, who announced her candidacy in April, in the March 2018 primary.
Being the first federal LGBT elected official from Illinois would be a significant step for the LGBT community, Tomkowiak told Windy City Times. He believes LGBT members of Congress are important in demonstrating that LGBT people are "capable of representing constituents in the same way that non-LGBT people are."
He also believes it would be a valuable step for the 3rd District, which comprises parts of Chicago's Southwest Side and the West and Southwest suburbs. Having lived there for most of the last two decades, he said it's a "warm and welcoming place," and believes an LGBT representative can help change the perception that the district is less progressive than its North Side counterparts.
"If we could be the part of Chicago that holds up the torch of power and equality and progressiveness," the 3rd District could be a place where young people, especially millennialswho, data indicate, tend to be more progressive than older generations and are also leaving Illinois in rising numberschoose to live and start their families, Tomkowiak said.
The case for single-payer healthcare
Tomkowiak emigrated from Poland with his family when he was 9, settling in Chicago's Archer Heights neighborhood, part of the 3rd District. He has left the district only twice since then, to pursue higher education. He received his bachelor's degree in development sociology and international relations from Cornell University in 2007, a master's degree in political science from University of Chicago in 2009, and he is pursuing his Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University.
One of the key issues in his platform is healthcare, a topic that has been important to him ever since his brother was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder soon after starting college. In seeking care for his brother, Tomkowiak saw "the worst" of the U.S. healthcare system. At that time, prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, private insurers refused to cover Tomkowiak's brother, labeling the disorder a pre-existing condition, said Tomkowiak. The result was mounting bills and psychological stress on his family, an experience that "lit this fire in me," leading him to study health policy in his academic work.
"Everything from gun control to the environment to civil rights is a health policy," said Tomkowiak. He noted, for example, that research shows that states that legalized same-sex marriage saw reduced incidence levels of teen suicide. He also cited studies indicating that people are more receptive to learning about climate change when it is framed as a public health issue.
For Tomkowiak, the road to a stronger American healthcare system is a single-payer model. Medicaid, Medicare and the Department of Veterans Affairs are all models for single-payer care in the United States that are "beloved" by Americans, he said. He added that each of those programs has lower per-person costs than private health insurance programs, "even though each of those programs takes care of much sicker populations."
Countries with single-payer healthcare systems have lower costs and better patient outcomes than the U.S., he added, so there is an economic and moral case to be made for single-payer healthcare.
But how would his case fare in a divided House of Representatives?
"We can point to public opinion" to start, he said, citing statistics showing that 80 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents support a "Medicare-for-all" healthcare system. The argument for single-payer "is persuasive," said Tomkowiak. If elected, he believes he can articulate that argument on the House floor and "push legislators toward my side" of the issue.
Bucking the establishment
Healthcare is one of several progressive positions for which Tomkowiak advocatesothers include free public college tuition, expanded funding for Planned Parenthood, passage of the Equality Act and a $60 billion "Clean Energy Challenge"as part of a revitalized Democratic Party. In his opinion, the party is too beholden to wealth, and Democratic representatives aren't "clued in to what the lives of everyday people are."
At the same time the party is nominating wealthy candidates and raising historically large sums of campaign money, "our party is in its lowest position of influence in more than a hundred years," he said. "When our messengers are rich … they don't carry the message as well as they should." As an immigrant who comes from an economically disadvantaged background, he believes he can carry the party's message.
Furthermore, the current generation of youth is more likely to vote for third-party candidates than previous generations, said Tomkowiak. Part of the reason for this, he said, is "really old" Democratic leadership, members of Congress and politicians. Young people "aren't seeing the Democratic Party as the political vehicle for their goals," he said. At 32 years old, Tomkowiak wants to represent this younger faction of voters.
Although he believes the country needs a publicly funded electoral system, he acknowledged that down the line he will need funding from his supporters. In the meantime, his campaign will be "people-driven," relying primarily on volunteers, he said.
He added, "Money isn't going to persuade people in Mount Greenwood to vote for a Democrat. … They need someone who actually they trust and who actually lived around them and who's actually knocked on their doors and talked."
Tomkowiak's official campaign website is Mat2018.com .