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Political novice takes on Schakowsky in safe district

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky has served north suburban 9th Congressional District since 1999.

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky has served the north suburban 9th Congressional District since 1999.

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Updated: February 16, 2012 3:10PM

In the 2010 general election, liberal Democrat Rep. Jan Schakowsky was opposed for re-election by a real scrapper on the right, Joel Pollak, as well as by a mild-mannered Green Party candidate, Simon Ribeiro.

Political handicappers thought Pollak, who did his best to paint Schakowsky as soft on Israel, might give her a run for her money. But Schakowsky won decisively, doubling Pollak’s vote and, of course, leaving Ribeiro in the dust.

The lesson: Schakowsky, who has served the North Side and north suburban 9th District in Congress since 1999 — after a decade in the Illinois House — enjoys about as safe a seat as a seat can be.

This time around, Pollak is gone. He is not running in the GOP primary. But Ribeiro is back, this time taking on Schakowsky in the Democratic primary.

Nobody is predicting an upset.

In her 13 years in Washington, Schakowsky, 67, has built a record as one of the most progressive members of Congress, to the point of giving a certain more moderate Democrat, President Barack Obama, occasional grief. She has consistently urged Obama to stand more firm in negotiations with Republicans on Capitol Hill, and she was among the last Democrats to sign on to the president’s landmark Affordable Care Act — because she wanted stronger pro-choice abortion provisions. She is a leader in the House on women’s issues.

Ultimately, Schakowsky says, she voted for the health-care reform package, though it fell short of what she had fought for, because compromise was necessary to achieve a greater good. Unfortunately, she says, Republicans have thrown out the spirit of compromise.

“That’s our business, to compromise,” Schakowsky said, in a meeting with members of the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. “That’s what we do.”

Battle lines are being drawn in Washington, she said, because the nation is “at a real crossroads” when it comes to “values and the soul of the country.” Democrats and Republicans, she said, hold fundamentally different views on the role of government, whom government should serve, and issues such as the growing income gap.

Ribeiro, 30, is a Catholic high school teacher and a former public school substitute teacher, jobs in which he says he has seen first-hand the consequences of our nation’s misplaced priorities — spending far too much on wars abroad and the “war on drugs,” rather than, for example, on education.

He would oppose bombing Iran, if it came to that, to stop it from building a nuclear bomb. And he would decriminalize marijuana.

When asked whether the administrations of either President George W. Bush or Obama have pursued any policies that might be unconstitutional, Ribeiro singled out the Patriot Act, enacted under Bush and reauthorized under Obama. He said it gives the government far too much power to probe American citizens’ private records and communications. Ribeiro also said he’s troubled that Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the military to indefinitely detain terror suspects, including American citizens arrested in the United States, without charge.

Schakowsky, though an Obama loyalist in Washington, has been a consistent critic of both Bush and Obama on civil liberty and human rights issues. The United States, she said, needs “a national conversation” on the proper use of drone attacks and private military contractors, such as the company formerly known as Blackwater. Those sorts of arms-reach tactics, she said, could be the troubling “future of warfare.”

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