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Lipinski takes on liberal newcomer, again

Updated: March 6, 2012 1:24PM

Two years ago, a proudly lefty immigration advocate, Jorge Mujica, ran for Congress in the Democratic primary against incumbent Dan Lipinski.

Mujica had little money and no party backing. He espoused liberal views that were out of step in the culturally moderate-to-conservative 3rd District where Democrats once crossed party lines in droves to vote for Ronald Reagan. And he was not blessed with one of the most recognized names in Chicago politics — Lipinski.

Mujica was trounced.

Two years later, history looks likely to repeat itself. Mujica is not running against Lipinski again, but he is the chief advisor to the Chicago Police officer, Farah Baqai, who is. Mujica, in fact, sat at the table with Baqai when she and Lipinski met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board. Baqai, like Mujica, is an outspoken progressive on social issues, especially with respect to abortion rights, though her emphasis in the campaign has been on the need to create jobs.

Baqai, 45, who lives in Chicago’s Mt. Greenwood neighborhood, does have a personal story that should resonate in the 3rd District, a place of many second- and third-generation Americans who put great stock in hard work and no grousing. She immigrated from Pakistan to the United States in 1989, became a citizen in 1998 and — after a divorce — raised children as a single mother. She has worked as a Chicago police officer for nine years. Along the way, she picked up master’s degrees from Governors State University and Loyola Law School.

Baqai calls for greater federal spending on local infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges, as a way to create jobs, but she offers no real specifics. If the big banks won’t lend money to small businesses, she said, she would “go to the credit unions, go to the small banks” and “work with like-mind people and see what we can do.”

Lipinski’s passion, since first being elected to Congress in 2004 to take his father Bill’s place, is on bringing back American manufacturing and improve the nation’s transportation system. He favors a “robust surface transportation bill to repair and expand our streets, highways, bridges and rail and transit systems,” which will create jobs and make the national more internationally competitive. “We have a golden opportunity to both put people back to work and address the congestion and delays that cost our country more than $100 billion annually,” he writes in his Sun-Times questionnaire.

Lipinski, 46, whose top campaign contributors are skilled trade unions, says it’s a fallacy that the United States simply can’t compete in manufacturing against low-wage, minimal-regulation countries such as China. What is required, he says, is a national manufacturing strategy, overseen by a high-profile board.

“Look at Germany,” Lipinski wrote in an op-ed in the Sun-Times last December. “Like America, it’s a high-wage country. But unlike the United States, it runs a trade surplus.”

Baqai, when meeting with the Sun-Times, made much of Lipinski’s failure to vote in favor of President Obama’s health care reform bill in 2010 — the only Illinois Democrat to do so. Lipinski broke ranks with his party for a number of reasons, most notably the bill’s provisions allowing insurance coverage for abortions.

Lipinski, however, later voted against a Republican measure to repeal the health care package, though he says he still favors “serious” changes.

Will Lipinski’s strong anti-abortion stance hurt him with voters in the 3rd District? It never has. And while the district’s new borders exclude parts of heavily Catholic and anti-abortion communities such as Mt. Greenwood and Berwyn, it retains much of its previous demographic makeup and character.

“People are in the middle,” Lipinski said, referring to residents of his district, “but tend to think government should not be paying for abortion.”

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