Lauren Underwood is running in the Democratic primary against six other candidatesDaniel Roldan-Johnson, George Weber, Victor Swanson, John Hosta, Matthew Brolley and Jim Walz (who ran in the 2016 general election against incumbent Rep. Randy Hultgren).
She is a registered nurse, and was a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under then-President Obama.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?
Lauren Underwood: Representation matters. I am a 31-year-old Black woman from Naperville but I bring the sum total of my life experiences to this run for Congress. I decided to run last spring because Randy Hultgren only held one public event in 2017 (a town hall in St. Charles) around the time of the ACA vote and told everyone he would not vote on the GOP version of ACA repeal that included removing coverage for people with preexisting conditions.
Like many Americans, I have a pre-existing heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia. This means I have a rapid heartbeat but it is well controlled and I am fine but it is one of those diagnoses that would make it incredibly difficult and cost prohibitive for me to get insurance coverage if that version of the ACA repeal passed. When Hutlgren made that promise I took him at his word and then he turned around and voted for the very bill he said he would not vote for at that town hall. I was angry because he did not have the integrity to present his intentions to the community clearly and honestly so that is why I decided to run.
WCT: You were one of the people featured in a recent Time Magazine article on women running for political office around the country. How did you become one of the featured women and how did that make you feel?
LU: I am so honored to be included in what they call one of The Avengers which are the women who marched in last year's Women's March and then launched political campaigns at all levels of government across the country. I got connected with the Time reporter through one of the women. My portion of the article discusses how when I launched my campaign we had a variety of women volunteers approach us and one woman in particular, Anne Stava-Murray, is an activist in Naperville and stay-at-home mom and she is just dynamic.
She launched an activist group and came to my campaign wanting to help but I told her she should really run for office herself. At first, Anne was not sure, but she went home and thought about it and then decided to launch her campaign for Illinois state house district 81 against David Olsen. Then, she encouraged her activist group co-leader Val Montgomery to run for office so now Val is running for Illinois state house district 41 against Grant Wehrli. What Time Magazine did was cover the domino effect that is happening around my campaign. We also have two other women who joined our campaign as volunteers who have now launched campaigns of their own: Mimi Cowan who is running for Will County Board in District 11 and Janice Hightower [a Black lesbian] who is running for Kendall County Board in District 1. [Editor's note: Hightower has since withdrawn.] They are all running unopposed on the Democratic side and if they are elected will be such wonderful leaders to enact change locally. There is an unprecedented number of women running for office at all levels and it is pretty groundbreaking and exciting to get that kind of coverage.
I knew I was going to be in the article but I thought it would be about 100 words. I had no idea I would be a part of a cover story and be included among so many dynamic women across the country. It was so unexpected and such an honor. I think it speaks to this moment in time where women are stepping forward and leading. It is not just a one off thing but a movement in response to Trump and what is going on across the country. I am so grateful for the opportunity to talk about our race, women's leadership and the impact of women in elected office in all communities, including suburban Chicago.
WCT: How would you approach the job differently than what the incumbent has done in the past? If elected, will you hold regular town halls in the district?
LU: I believe that accessibility and accountability are critical. It will be an honor to be their voice in Washington and as such I will have a full constituent services program that includes many town halls and office hours in the district.
I am not going to vote on the basis of my personal beliefs and religious ideology which is what Hultgren does. I will be eager to talk with the community, understand their viewpoints and then vote on their behalf.
WCT: There are six other candidates. What makes you stand out among them?
LU: I am running against six middle-aged men. I am different in experience, qualifications and pretty much every demographic measure as my opponents. I am the only one with federal experience , including working on Capitol Hill, and that goes back my days as a college intern working for then Sen. Obama. I am ready to go to Washington and be their representative on day one. We have a President who is not fit for the job and does not have the temperament to be effective for the American people. Experience and qualifications matter and I am ready to get to work for the people of the 14th district.
WCT: Where do you fall on the spectrum politically? Would you say you are more of a centrist or to the far left or somewhere in between?
LU: I am a Democrat.
WCT: What are the most important issues facing the country and how would you address those issues if elected?
LU: For too long, we have seen no movement on a range of non-partisan economic security issues that predominantly affect women. This includes equal pay, paid family and sick leave, affordable child care services and unrestricted access to reproductive health services. We need representatives who are willing to put their political capital on the line to fight for these issues, not merely talk about them. I also would like to see some smart investment in job creation, including infrastructure and access to capital for small businesses to grow.
I believe that every child deserves a high-quality public education. Hultgren, year after year, introduces a bill called the "Healthy Relationships Act," which defines a healthy relationship as a consensual intimate relationship between a male and female husband and wife. This bill seeks to withhold funding from public schools if they do not teach a very narrow, religious-based abstinence-only sex education curriculum. We need to be giving our kids the tools and knowledge they need to live healthy lives and we need to be inclusive of all.
Additionally, we should be making it easier for students to afford college by increasing our investment in higher education institutions. I support increased funding for Pell grants, availability of affordable subsidized student loans and the continuance of the public service loan forgiveness program. Higher education should not be a privilege for a certain class of people.
Climate change presents both an existential threat to life on earth and also one of our most pressing national security issues. The impact of climate refugees, fights for basic resources like food and water caused by these events and the increased numbers of public health emergencies and disasters, will pose real, destabilizing challenges. We have a responsibility to act in an effort to curb these threats. I support expanded investment in and deployment of renewable energy projects, investment in public transportation projects and a fully funded and appropriately staffed EPA.
WCT: What grade level should civics be introduced and built upon in subsequent years?
LU: First grade is not too early to start and every year they are in school new and more complex concepts should be introduced to the students. They are never going to learn it if we do not proactively talk about communities and power structures and that they have a voice to influence what happens even in their own neighborhoods.
WCT: Have you had any interactions with the LGBTQ community? If so, what are they?
LU: When I worked for the federal government I helped implement the 1557 provision of the ACA which says you cannot discriminate against LGBTQ people. I think is really timely because the Trump Administration is working to role those provisions back. This is discrimination and unacceptable.
Two of the seven county leaders in the two counties that encompass our district are members of the LGBTQ community. They have brought additional diversity of experience, thoughts and perspectives which are important to have. I am grateful for them championing us, teaching us and creating an environment where additional people want to and have joined our movement.
WCT: What do you see are the most important issues or obstacles facing the LGBTQ community and how would you address them?
LU: We know that there is still institutionalized discrimination against LGBTQ folks in a number of different settings and we need to work to counteract that. More than half of the states still discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity and that needs to be fixed. I think we need to prevent legislation that allows religious exemption from laws guaranteeing fundamental civil and legal rights and oppose efforts to introduce a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
WCT: If elected, will you co-sponsor the Equality Act?
WCT: What is your opinion on the SCOTUS Masterpiece Cakeshop case?
LU: For profit companies, like bakeries, should not be allowed to discriminate against people at all. Businesses do not practice religion.
WCT: Where do you stand on transgender people in the military including providing full medical services for those troops?
LU: We should end discrimination in the military for anyone who wants to serve. I believe the military should provide full medical benefits to all service members regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
WCT: Will you join the LGBT Equality Caucus? What other caucuses are you looking to join?
LU: Yes. I have not thought about the other caucuses I would join.
WCT: Do you support strengthening the ACA with our current system in place or moving to a publicly funded system (Medicare for All) that eliminates private insurance companies?
LU: I believe that healthcare is a human right and it is at the core of my nursing practice and drove my work at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Thanks to the ACA, we saw a historic drop in the uninsured rate, which means millions of families no longer have to worry about being one bad diagnosis away from bankruptcy. My priority is to ensure that all Americans maintain their coverage and that we continue to work to expand coverage to those who cannot currently access or afford it.
The ACA is not perfect and I support policies that will improve the law. This includes stabilizing the health insurance marketplaces by providing a long-term commitment to cost-sharing reductions and an incentive for all Americans to maintain insurance coverage. I also want properly funded risk pools so that more insurers will offer plans on the marketplace. The ACA should be helping more middle-class families afford coverage by expanding eligibility for tax credits and cost-sharing reductions as well as reigning in the soaring cost of prescription drugs and investing in comprehensive mental health coverage.
WCT: What is your position on immigration writ large and DACA and the Dreamers more specifically?
LU: I stand firmly with the Dreamers and believe that we need a clean Dream Act now. President Trump and Congressional Republicans threatening these 800,000 young people with deportation from the only country they have known is not only cruel, it is bad for our economy.
Immigrants have been vital to the cultural fabric and economic success of America since our nation's founding. I strongly condemn the hurtful and divisive rhetoric that has become commonplace under the Trump administration. Simple, structural barriers such as Trump's proposed border wall, will not solve this complex, multi-faceted problem. We must take immediate action to pass comprehensive immigration reform that provides guidance on legal immigration and a pathway to citizenship.
WCT: Where do you stand on the ERA and women's reproductive choice? What about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?
LU: I support women's rights to the full range of reproductive health services, without restrictions. This includes access to safe, legal and affordable abortions.
I also support the ERA to guarantee women full constitutional equality. These protections are critical, even in 2018.
As we have seen in the numbers of courageous individuals stepping forward and sharing their stories of survival through sexual harassment, assault and abuse in this #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, we need all the tools available to protect our rights. I strongly support the individuals stepping forward and stand ready to assist with legislative solutions to prevent future crimes.
WCT: Are there any elected officials that speak to you due to the way they do their jobs?
LU: I admire Seth Moulton's transparency via his Medium page where he communicates directly with constituents about timely congressional votes and explains his decisions regarding support or opposition. I value transparency, accessibility and accountability, and have blog features on our website, Facebook page and on Medium.
WCT: If elected, how will your previous work and volunteer efforts inform how you do your job?
LU: As a nurse, I was trained to promote, advocate for and protect the rights, health and safety of my patients. As a member of Congress, that commitment will continue. I will also work tirelessly to boost their economic security and ensure families across the 14th district are safe and secure.
For more information, visit www.underwoodforcongress.com/ .