Rockford, Illinois, immigration lawyer Sara Dady is running in the Democratic primary to unseat Republican Adam Kinzinger ( 16th District ), who has held the seat since 2012. Kinzinger previously represented the 11th Congressional District for one term before re-districting changed district boundaries in Illinois. Her primary challengers are Amy Briel. Neill Mohammad and Beth Vercolio-Osmund.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?
Sara Dady: In November 2016, I watched an election of division over unity, intolerance over common decency and personal gain over public service. I was raised to be a good citizen, which means we take responsibility for our country and community. When you see a problem you have an obligation to fix the problem. I felt a calling to run for Congress because I believe in a country that is inclusive, takes a leadership role in the world and supports its citizenry. I also want to make sure everyone has economic opportunity and the ability to succeed. That is not what I saw during the last election or what I have seen coming out of Congress.
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?
SD: Representation, to me, means you have to be accessible and accountable to the people you are representing. Adam Kinzinger has been my representative for the last five years and I have set eyes on him exactly twice and that has only been in the last nine month. He has not held a real town hall and, by that, I mean taking questions directly from his constituents and not through a moderator, and he is not responsive to constituents concerns.
Over the years, I have called his office on various issues and his staff can never tell me where he stands or how he is going to vote on anything. If I am lucky, three to four weeks later, I get a form letter in the mail thanking me for calling his office but not addressing the issue I was calling about.
How can you represent people if you do not know who they are or what their concerns are? The House of Representatives has two years terms because it was intended to be the body that is closest to the people which means you have to spend time in your district talking to people and that goes to accountability. Our elected officials cannot be held accountable if we never see them.
I plan on holding regular town halls and really listening to my constituents concerns.
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?
SD: I do not care for labels. I believe that government has a role to play in improving people's lives including single-payer universal healthcare. Some people say that makes me more of a centrist while others say that makes me a progressive. At the end of the day what I say is that makes me a Democrat. Republicans do not believe the government has a role to play in improving people's daily lives and Democrats do and that is where we differ.
WCT: What are the three or four most important issues facing the country and how would you address those issues if elected?
SD: There is only ever one issue and that is the economy. Unless people have economic security they do not have the resources to engage in our democracy. If we are fearful of losing our jobs, are worried about paying the rent, cannot afford childcare, if we miss one paycheck we will be out on the streets and/or are one major medical bill away from filing for bankruptcy we cannot even thing about who is running for office or when elections are taking place.
What underpins economic issues are healthcare, public education and jobs. Every issue relates back to economic security.
WCT: What grade level should civics be introduced and built upon in subsequent years?
SD: Good citizenship should start at the earliest possible age and that includes being informed, knowing how to make decisions and the ability to relate to other people. I am a a third-generation 4-H'er. It is a huge program that teaches children leadership and good citizenship and it is/was fundamental in how I view the world. I learned good citizenship from my parents and it was reinforced by my parents and then I took civics in high school but I think everyone should have a fundamental understanding of what our constitution is, how our government is set up and the role that citizens play in self-governance at the earliest age possible in elementary school.
I question whether our president understands the basic principles of democracy and the importance of checks and balances in our government. When we have a president who does not support a free press, understand the role of Congress or an independent judiciary that is concerning to me.
WCT: Have you had any interactions with the LGBTQ community? If so, what were they?
SD: Yes and I think everyone has even if they do not know it. I have dear friends who do not identify as heterosexual. As an immigration attorney I have had many clients who have sough asylum here based on their sexual orientation because they were at risk of persecution in their home country. I had clients in 2013 who could actually petition for their same-sex wife or husband and have their same-sex marriage legally recognized.
One of my good friends from college ( who is a lesbian ) who later became my roommate when we lived in the Twin Cities had a wedding ceremony in 2005 but it was not legally recognized by Minnesota until 2013. My husband and I went back to Minnesota to celebrate the legality of their marriage. It was so moving to see people's love legitimized by law. You cannot put a price on that.
WCT: What do you see are the most important issues or obstacles facing the LGBTQ community and how would you address them?
SD: There are similar obstacles with any marginalized group. They want to live in society and be accepted regardless of what they look like, where they are from, how much money they do or do not have or who they love. It has been a fight to convince people that these marginalized groups of people belong in society and that their rights should be recognized. Sexual orientation and gender identity are immutable characteristics and that is something that should not be punished or marginalized. It has been a long fight to receive some basic respect and dignity under the law.
WCT: If elected, will you co-sponsor the Equality Act?
SD: Absolutely. We have a responsibility as a country to make sure everyone is treated equally under the law.
WCT: What is your opinion on the SCOTUS Masterpiece Cakeshop case?
SD: It is a tough legal question because they are balancing first amendment rights of expression "allegedly" with non-discrimination based on immutable characteristics. I think the simplest answer would be passing the Equality Act. If we put sexual orientation and gender identity in as protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 it would solve a lot of these legal issues. I do not see this any differently than a hotel being able to refuse to rent a room to a Black couple.
We always have to weigh in favor of treating everyone equally under the law and not discriminating against them because of something they cannot change about themselves so I side with the gay couple. I also think this was an extraordinarily bad business decision on the part of the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop to refuse to serve gay and lesbian couples.
WCT: Where do you stand on transgender people in the military including providing full medical services for those troops?
SD: I think that anyone, including transgender people, who wants to serve this country should be allowed to enlist and receive full medical services.
WCT: Will you join the LGBT Equality Caucus? What other caucuses are you looking to join?
SD: Yes. When we see divisions and walls, both literal and figurate, being thrown up we have to step up our game and get engaged if we want to preserve what rights we have managed to receive under law and keep pushing for full acceptance for every marginalized group.
I am very interested in advancing women in leadership roles and the voices of other minorities so I would be open to joining those caucuses.
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?
SD: This is a personal issue for me. In 2004 my mom died unexpectedly from an aneurysm. Before she died she told me her doctors wanted her to get an MRI because we have a family history of aneurysms. She called up a hospital in Rockford and they told her they did not know how much it would cost but it would be in the thousands of dollars because she was uninsured so she never got it done. I firmly believe my mom would be alive today if she had access to medical care when she needed it. No one in the U.S. should ever lose a loved one because they do not have access to medical care.
I think the ACA was a good start toward universal healthcare but it was never intended by President Obama to be the final answer. We have to keep pushing for a single-payer system, expanding Medicare downward in age eligibility and Medicare upward in income coverage so more people who cannot afford private insurance can get medical coverage.
I have eight employees and my law partner and I made a commitment to provide healthcare to them. Employees are the most important asset in any business. We started off paying 50 percent of their premiums but those premiums go up every year. We realized pretty quickly if we did not increase the employer part of our premium payments the annual raises we gave them would be eaten up by their healthcare premiums or cost them more money. We increased what we paid out over time and now we are up to 75 percent. That is not sustainable for any employer, especially small businesses. The healthcare system we have is bad for business and is hindering economic growth. There are employees who would love to go out and start a business, and small businesses account for two out of three new jobs, but a lot of people are still unwilling to risk losing their employer-sponsored healthcare to start a business and that is not good for our economy.
Single-payer would be much more efficient on many levels. It would be cheaper and stimulate the growth of small businesses like mine including being able to hire more employees and invest in the business. The amount we pay in healthcare premiums would give us one or two new positions to staff.
WCT: What is your position on immigration writ large and DACA and the Dreamers more specifically?
SD: Our immigration is completely dysfunctional and has been for decades. It does not do what it was intended to do or what we need it to do. We do not have a real worker visa programs. When our economy grows there is a demand for both low and high skilled workers that American's cannot fill because the immigrant and American workforce compliments itself not competes with each other. For example in agriculture there is not enough visas to allow them to come and work so be default what we have done is say if you get yourself across the border you will be able to get a job, fall in love, get married, have kids, buy a house all while living in the shadows all without the ability to apply for legal status. That happened in the 1990s and is why we have 11 million undocumented people with 800,000 young people who have grown up here with no way to apply for legal status.
President Obama said we cannot deport 11 million people in any reasonable time without a huge cost so we are going to prioritize. The people who pose no danger to the U.S. and do not have a serious criminal record who have grown up here and are in school or who have graduated or have served in the military are at the bottom of our list and that is what DACA is. Until Congress acts and passes the Dream Act they get a work permit that is renewable every two years. DACA was never intended to replace congressional action. It was a call for congressional action and in the five years since President Obama created this program Congress has failed to act. When DACA started everyone in my office cried when that very first DACA work permit arrived in the mail for a client who was an American in every way, shape and form. That piece of plastic was confirmation that they belonged in the community.
There are similarities with immigrations and LGBTQ rights. The death of DOMA and legalization of same-sex marriage and the acknowledgment that you belong. So for President Trump to terminate DACA which has benefitted the economy without any assurance they would pass the Dream Act was irresponsible and detrimental to the country.
Illinois has 32,000 DACAs and they contribute about $2.3 billion to in GDP for this state. They are taxpayers who are working and have families and now we are going to take away their work authorization and start removal proceedings that last anywhere between five to seven years, so they are not going anywhere, in an already backlogged immigration-court system. It makes no sense on a moral or economic level.
WCT: Where do you stand on the ERA and women's reproductive choice? What about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?
SD: I campaigned for the ERA in 1992 when I was in college in Iowa and it is still a controversial questions whether or not we should put in writing that women are equal to men. I am honored to have the endorsement of Winnebago County Citizens for Choice. I have been a monthly contributor to Planned Parenthood since 1998. I believe women should have complete control over their own reproductive needs including the contraception mandate in the ACA.
I think it is really good we are now paying attention to the pervasive culture of sexual harassment. This is a product of women not being viewed as equals to men. Passing the ERA would help and I am also pleased at the number of women who are stepping up to run for political office and engaged in the political process at every level including campaigning and voting for candidates that believe everyone should be treated with respect and dignity.
WCT: Are there any elected officials that speak to you due to the way they do their jobs?
SD: I have been a long-time admirer of former Sen. Tom Harkin ( D-Iowa ). What struck me about him was he made a commitment to fighting for people with disabilities. He had a brother who was deaf and he talked about that personally and made sure there was an interpreter with him wherever he spoke because he understood the importance of putting your actions where your beliefs are. Another one is former immigration attorney Rep. Zoe Lofgren ( D-California ) because she has never hesitated to speak up for the most vulnerable in our community.
WCT: If elected, how will your previous work and volunteer efforts inform how you do your job?
SD: I have volunteered in my community from high school to today. I am president of the board of the neighborhood network which is committed to supporting and growing neighborhood associations. I believe when neighbors know each other it makes for a safer and stronger community, city, state and country. As a lawyer, I advocate for my clients. My jobs is to hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable and make sure they follow their own rules to give my clients a fair chance to apply for legal status in the U.S. so that means I have to know my clients and what their interests are and advocate for those interest. That is also what a representative does. At the same time, we have to balance larger concerns about what kind of country we want to be and make sure we are adhering to basic democratic principles and that is good citizenship. I am not going to do anything differently than what I have been doing my entire life.
For more information, visit www.saradadyforcongress.com/.