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Congress, District 6

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The questions

All candidates were invited to respond to questionnaires, although not all chose to participate. Click on a candidate's name to see the unedited response to each question.

Biographical information & experience
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Leslie Coolidge
Political party: Democratic
Birthdate: 6/4/1959
Occupation: Retired CPA
Marital status: Divorced
Spouse:

Education:

B.A. in Government, Harvard University, cum laude in general studies, 1981
M.S. in Accounting, New York University, 1983 -- received award as top student

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

Board of Trustees, Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Vice Chair, Board of Directors, International Crane Foundation
World Wildlife Fund's National Council

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

No

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

None

Campaign information
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Coolidge

Campaign headquarters: 15 E. Northwest Highway, Palatine, IL 60067
Website: coolidgeforcongress.com
Campaign manager: Sean Tenner
Campaign budget: $800,000
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
A number of individuals have contributed $5,000 to my campaign including Joanna Sturm, Tom Liebman, Paul Liebman, Penny Pritzker, Steve Wilcox and Deborah Lahey.

I have also received $5,000 from the Carpenters' Legislative Improvement Committee.

What are your top three priorities for the nation?
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(#1) In this economy, we simply need more good-paying, secure jobs. My number one priority is job creation, as it should be for every member of Congress. I just have a different philosophy than our current Representative on how to accomplish that growth. I believe that government spending in a slow economy actually contributes to the creation of jobs in the private sector by putting more money into the hands of people who spend it, thereby encouraging businesses to hire and expand.

There are several steps Congress can take to spur job growth. Most immediately, Congress should promote investment in infrastructure, such as repairs to deteriorating bridges, roads and schools, that private industry cannot provide on its own. I would also propose giving businesses incentives to create jobs, such as generous tax credits for the salaries of first-year employees.

For us to have a strong economy in the long term we need to be encouraging the creation of new businesses and industries that would bring new jobs to this country. After all, the United States has been the source of the "next big thing" for at least the last fifty years and we must continue to reward innovation and invention. We should be building the economy of the future through investment in initiatives such as those related to high speed rail and clean energy as well as continuing to support the basic research necessary to create the industries of the future. Investments in our transportation infrastructure are particularly important to the long-term economic success of the critical hub which the Chicagoland area represents.

We must also insure we have a highly-educated and creative work force capable of excelling at the jobs available today as well as those of the future. Community colleges, in particular, can help with this task. Students will benefit greatly if community colleges expand their focus on programs which provide the advanced skills necessary for success in today's workplace. Many technical jobs in the United States are actually going unfilled because of a lack of qualified workers. A recent College of DuPage newsletter features their job-training programs in fields such as advanced manufacturing, commercial trucking and other industries with labor shortages. These are exactly the types of initiatives we need to have more of in order to put America back to work.

(#2) We need to focus on preserving Social Security and Medicare far into the future, for the long-term health of our economy and for the good of the American people. Many members of the Baby Boom generation -- turning 65 now at a pace of about 10,000 per day -- will not have employer-provided pensions or retiree health insurance programs to draw on like their parents did. That means both Social Security and Medicare will need careful monitoring and adjusting to make sure they remain on a stable basis to help more seniors.

For example, the plan to "reform" Medicare and make it into a voucher program, contained in the Ryan budgets of 2011 and 2012, is supposed to reassure us that the benefits of older people are safe because the changes won't apply to people over 55. But I agree with the older gentleman who got up at one of Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh's town hall meetings to critique him for voting for the voucher program (a plan also supported by my opponent). He said: "I know the Medicare changes won't apply to me. But I worry about my kids and grandkids. Shouldn't they be protected in old age, just like I was?"

After practicing as a CPA for 28 years, I am confident that I can help provide Congress with an understanding of what we could do to adjust the financial underpinnings of these successful programs that keep millions of seniors from falling into poverty or having to buy expensive private insurance plans from companies that won't want to cover them. We must carefully examine the projections and assumptions on which Social Security and Medicare are currently based before doing anything that could undermine the safety net that these programs represent. As an example, the Ryan budget promises to save $700 billion in insurance reimbursements to private insurers who provide Medicare coverage ("Medicare Advantage"), as well as implement provisions to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse by hospitals. I agree that this is a good start toward making Medicare viable far into the future. That's why a similar cost cutting provision, generating the same $700 billion in cost savings, was already included in the President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Adjustments to current programs, like raising the maximum income subject to Social Security tax or policing and eliminating the problem of Medicare fraud, would help preserve them, eliminating the need for radical "reforms" that will destroy these programs as we know them.

(#3) We need to shift the focus of Congress to practical solutions in order to create the conditions for our future success rather than reversing our achievements in areas such as women's and voting rights. I hear from people all the time who wonder why Congress spends so much time advancing partisan viewpoints and so little time addressing the problems that actually impede the success of ordinary people. We must shift the focus away from government interference into issues such as women's health care decisions. A generation of women has grown up taking for granted that they would be able to control their own bodies and achieve success in the workplace just as men do. The current Congress and the incumbent in the 6th District, Peter Roskam, convey through their votes that banning abortions even in the case of rape and incest, making contraception harder to obtain, and defunding Planned Parenthood are their top priorities. Congress has also failed to enact efforts to bolster equal pay for women, weakened the Violence Against Women Act, and the House has voted for the Ryan budget and its Medicare voucher program, which would impact women most, since they are the largest group of seniors. Just imagine being frail, elderly and fighting with your insurance company. Shouldn't Congress prevent that from happening?

Current efforts at restricting voting rights are another example of a misguided focus. The sentiment of the current Congress is captured in an amendment to a spending bill (HR 5326, passed in May) which prohibits the Justice Department from "the use of funds to bring any action against any State for implementation of a State law requiring voter identification." Rep. Roskam voted for the amendment and it passed, along with the bill. My priority is to support women's rights and voting rights -- not roll them back.

What are your specific priorities for your congressional district?
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My top priorities, as outlined in the previous question, are growing the economy in the 6th Congressional District, strengthening Social Security and Medicare for 6th District residents who depend on these programs, and moving forward -- not backwards -- on women's rights and voting rights. These are priorities for both our district and our nation.

One of my other core issues is environmental protection. This is particularly important in our district, which features open, natural spaces that must be preserved. Unfortunately, our environment, including clean air and clean water, is under assault as never before by Congress. Our children and grandchildren deserve to grow up in an environment that will not poison them and with a climate that is conducive to health. Congress seems bent on rolling back the environmental laws that were put in place to solve a very real problem we faced in the 20th Century: the unwillingness of polluting businesses to take into account the external costs of their actions when it came to the harm they were doing to the environment. With their attempts to gut the EPA and allow polluting businesses free rein to do anything they please, Congressional leaders have shown a disdain for anything that would protect the 6th District's natural resources from exploitation.

I will protect the 6th District's natural resources and work with businesses to create innovative solutions to environmental challenges.

Many Republican members of Congress have signed the Grover Norquist pledge to not support any tax increase of any kind at any time. Have you, or would you, sign this pledge? Why or why not?
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No, I will not sign such a pledge. We must not tie our hands with pledges of any kind; we are sent to Congress to legislate solutions to the problems the country faces and shouldn't start that process with any option already off the table. Not raising taxes, while an extremely worthy goal and something I applaud personally, cannot be a goal of government policy, in itself. I believe that to focus on taxes alone unnecessarily limits the ability of legislators to respond in rational ways to the problems we face. A case in point was the fight that was engendered last year by an attempt to eliminate the accelerated depreciation deduction that business owners could take for corporate jets. We're talking about cutting Medicare and Social Security but we can't reduce a tax deduction for multi-million dollar planes because some in Congress took a pledge not to raise taxes, ever? That is contrary to the best impulses of the American spirit.

Fortunately, this pledge has been exposed as the sham it is. Many Republicans in the House saw absolutely nothing wrong with letting the payroll tax extension for working people die at the end of 2011. What would have been the result if they had gotten their way? Yes, a tax increase on working people.

Which sitting Supreme Court justice do you admire most and why? Which current justice do you think has been the greatest disappointment and why?
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The current Supreme Court justice I admire most is Justice Breyer. He is a pragmatist who bases his opinions on the facts and the law; not on ideology. He has stated that he uses six interpretation tools: text, history, tradition, precedent, the purpose of a statute, and the consequences of competing interpretations. His approaches are thoughtful and his writing clear and compelling. I strongly agree with his dissent in the Citizens United case.

I applaud Chief Justice John Roberts for his vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act, despite the enormous pressure exerted upon him to vote the other way. Though I certainly don't agree with him on every vote, in this case he worked to uphold the dignity and reputation of the court.

I believe Justice Antonin Scalia has been the greatest disappointment on the current Court. While he has a keen intellect, he has politicized the court too much and lets his conservative ideology cloud his judgment on legal issues.

Is there a problem of a growing income and wealth gap in the United States? If so, what's to be done about it?
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Yes, there is a growing gap between the richest and poorest Americans. In fact, 2010 Census data showed that while the income of the wealthiest 5% of Americans (earning over $180,000 per year) rose, the income of families earning $50,000 or less fell. A larger concern is that nearly 50 million people in this country are now living below the poverty line ($24,343 for a family of four), which is unconscionable in a country as rich as ours.

We need to make sure that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of our tax burden. And a majority of them seem actually willing to do so. A Quinnipiac study taken just after last year's debt ceiling debacle showed that 64% of those earning $250,000 or more thought they should pay more in taxes. Low taxes on the wealthiest families, which are minor in relation to their total earnings, have only widened the income gap.

The opportunity gap in America is also real. We need to insure that all children have a chance at a quality education by making the funding of education a higher priority for the federal government. While I believe that educational policies should be set at the state and local level, I believe the federal government can contribute significantly to improving opportunities for all students. I believe we should focus on three areas: 1) funding improvements in early childhood education, including resisting Republican proposals for huge cuts to Head Start, and supporting elementary education to give all children a relatively equal start in life, 2) encouraging community colleges to focus on high-tech and other career-oriented education to prepare students for new, well-paying careers and 3) instituting a civilian "G.I. Bill" that would help anyone who served their country, not just in the military, to pay for education post-high school. I wouldn't be where I am today without the original G.I. Bill that sent my dad to college and, of course, without the good public education I received. There was no opportunity gap in my family, but there certainly could have been.

Is global warming real? What, if anything, should be done about it?
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Yes, climate change is real and it is man-made, according to the vast majority of climate scientists, and it is getting worse. The U.S., along with China and other big polluters, should be leading partners in global agreements to reduce greenhouse gases. There are also several viable solutions that Congress can help implement which will go a long way toward solving this problem. The most realistic solution is the market-based one almost implemented by Congress a few years ago: cap and trade. This has the great advantage of giving industry incentives to reduce overall emissions, which is a big step in the right direction since industrial emissions are a greater source of greenhouse gases than cars.

Deforestation is another leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions and we should support REDD, the UN's effort to reduce global deforestation. This program offers financial incentives for developing countries to refrain from cutting forests.

Congress should provide more help to support companies pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels. For example, wind power can allow us to reduce our dependence on electricity generated by fossil fuels. Unfortunately, Congressional inaction on extending the wind production tax credit (PTC), which expires at the end of this year, could harm the wind energy industry. 75,000 jobs could be lost nationwide if Congress does not extend the wind PTC. We should immediately extend this tax credit.

We should also consider how to better support a vibrant high-tech biofuels industry. These "green" subsidies, far from being simply handed out to already profitable and powerful companies like those in fossil fuel industries, instead promote our energy independence, protect our environment and create jobs.

In addition, the U.S. government can also promote green alternatives, like Smart Cars and solar energy, by providing tax and other incentives to encourage consumers to buy them. I would also support the effort to bring a high-tech battery facility to Illinois to help jump start that industry.

I support the President's recent move to require automobiles to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 -- essentially doubling fuel efficiency. I appreciate the fact that this agreement was reached through the collaborative efforts of the administration, the state of California, automakers and environmentalists; proving the progress that can be made when elected officials bring all sides together.

President Obama, working with other nations, has pushed economic sanctions to compel Iran to cease work on a nuclear bomb. Critics say the sanctions are working too slowly and a military strike by the U.S or Israel is necessary. What should be done?
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I support the President and his international partners in their efforts to make the sanctions both comprehensive and effective. Going to war with Iran over development of a nuclear weapon will only harden their resolve to fight us and our friends in the region. And further instability in the region does no one any good. I believe that international economic sanctions are our best tool to discourage the Iranian government from developing more sophisticated weapons. War should always be our last resort, not our first.

Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for cutting military spending. Democrats have defended spending cuts as necessary to balancing the federal budget, while insisting they are committed to a strong military. What's your view?
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I am committed to a strong military and I strongly support funding for our troops and our veterans. However, with the reduction of American military involvement in the Middle East and, soon, Afghanistan, we should be able to save a great deal of money that was previously spent on military contractors. This money is sorely needed to help get our budget in balance while continuing to support necessary domestic programs and get our economy moving again. In addition, the Republican Congress has repeatedly voted over the past two years to give the military more money and weapons systems than they have requested. I believe that the military should decide what they need to protect our nation's interests, not let arms manufacturers dictate our expenditures. Aren't we trying to reduce the deficit?

How would you reform the financial time bomb of Medicare? Should there be a defined contribution (where the government decides what it will pay) or a defined benefit (where the government guarantees a level of coverage)?
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The biggest issue with preserving Medicare is getting costs under control. If we don't, the present program is unsustainable. That does not mean we need to end Medicare as we know it by promising senior citizens vouchers to pay for private insurance. It is not a given that the government is the worst possible provider of health coverage for seniors, despite the rhetoric we often hear. According to The New York Times, studies have shown that Medicare has done a better job of slowing cost increases for health care than private insurance has, while improving the lives and health of seniors.

One of the challenges in dealing with Medicare is that the cost of health care is higher in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. Tremendous efficiencies can be built into the health care system with an across-the-board mandate for conversion to electronic record-keeping, for instance. Another example is prescription pricing. When the Medicare drug benefit was implemented, the federal government was specifically prohibited from negotiating the price of prescriptions. Medicaid faces no such restrictions. If Medicare could also negotiate drug prices as Medicaid does, it is estimated that the cost of Medicare would drop by at least $112 billion over 10 years.

We should also work to stop the widespread fraud in the system. The GAO estimates that $48 billion of Medicare reimbursements went to "improper payments" in 2010, amounting to 10 percent of the total Medicare payout in the year. In addition, we should reward patients and physicians who choose treatments based on "comparative effectiveness," which would minimize the need for government to pay for high-cost but low-effectiveness measures.

Congress needs to work on putting all of these reforms in place, and more, in order to avoid charging seniors at least $6,000 more out of their pockets for the same (or worse) coverage, as outlined in the Ryan budget. I am 100% against turning the Medicare program into a voucher system.

On the issue of abortion, the two major political parties take very different stands. The Democratic platform supports a woman's right to seek a "safe and legal" abortion, regardless of her ability to pay. The Republican platform states that the "unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed." The Republican platform does not address whether exceptions should be made to a ban on abortions, such rape or incest. Where, if anywhere, do you part company with your party's platform on abortion?
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I am 100% pro-choice and agree with the Democratic platform on this issue. I believe abortions should be safe, legal and rare. My opponent would like to ban all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. He co-sponsored a bill in 2007 (Right to Life Act, HR 618) to extend the protections of the 14th Amendment from the moment of conception, essentially a complete ban on abortion or contraception of any kind. In 2011, he co-sponsored a bill (HR 3) that would have redefined rape as "forcible rape," and prevented many women subjected to rape from obtaining help through Medicaid or health savings accounts. In addition, he would overturn, in the name of religious freedom, provisions of the Affordable Care Act that require employers to offer coverage for contraceptives. It is ironic that Republican advocates of small government change their minds when it comes to interfering in women's health care decisions. In that case, they would take those decisions away from women and their families and give them to big, intrusive government.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, supports civil gay marriage, but adds that churches should be allowed to administer marriage as a sacrament as they see fit, "without government interference." The Republican Party platform calls for a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman." Where do you stand?
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Marriage should be defined by the state only on a civil basis and, I believe, be available to anyone who wants to declare a lasting bond and enjoy the legal protections of marriage. Churches, on the other hand, should have unlimited discretion about who may be given their religious sanctification of marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act, that defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman, should be overturned. The government should not discriminate against people in terms of marriage rights.

On the issue of Social Security, the Republican Party platform proposes making no changes in the system for "any current or near-retiree" but envisions allowing younger workers to choose personal investment accounts as "supplements." The Democratic platform pledges to "find a solution" and warns of subjecting a retiree's benefits to the "whims of the stock market." What should be done?
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People are going to need Social Security more than ever in the future because fewer will have traditional pensions and many have had their savings reduced by the financial crisis. According to the Simpson-Bowles Commission, we can make Social Security secure for another fifty to seventy-five years by making some seemingly small but important changes.

I can help provide Congress with an understanding of what we might need to do to adjust the financial underpinnings of this successful program that keeps millions of seniors from falling into poverty. We must carefully examine the projections and assumptions on which Social Security is currently based so that we do not do anything that could undermine the safety net that the program represents. I believe Social Security can be made solvent for many years in the future by adjusting certain aspects of it, such as raising the maximum earnings subject to Social Security taxes, currently $110,100.

I fundamentally oppose any privatization of Social Security, which is what the Republican plan really is. I agree with the Democratic Party platform in that we should not subject Social Security to the whims of the stock market. Imagine what would have happened during the financial meltdown of 2008 if Social Security payments were subject to the volatility of the stock market.

Do you support "right-to-work" laws, now in effect in 23 states and promoted in the Republican Party platform, that limit the extent to which labor unions can require membership and the paying of union dues as a condition of employment? Or do you agree with the Democratic Party platform that such laws are "attacks" on the right of workers to organize?
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I do not support so-called "right to work" laws because they undermine the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively. My father was a teacher and union member, and his involvement in collective bargaining efforts left a lasting impression on me of the power that employees have if they can speak with one voice to their employers. In fact, under current laws, workers in unionized shops can opt out of membership, although their union still has to fight for their rights and resolve their grievances. In effect, "right to work" is the right to earn whatever wages your employer wants to pay, with no one protecting you against dangerous or onerous working conditions.

What further federal legal restrictions should be imposed on guns of any kind?
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I support a federal ban on assault weapons and on high-capacity magazines. We simply have too much gun violence at the hands of criminal and mentally-ill shooters to allow such efficient killing systems to remain on our streets and in our homes. I am, however, a strong advocate of second amendment rights, particularly when it comes to hunting.

The Republican Party platform calls for a mandatory requirement that employers verify the legal status of their employees and rejects any amnesty for illegal immigrants. The Democratic Party platform calls for reforming the American immigration system to bring "undocumented immigrants out of the shadows" and requires them to "get right with the law, learn English, and pay taxes in order to get on a path to earn citizenship." Which approach do you favor? Most specifically, what should be done?
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I prefer the Democratic approach. We are a nation of immigrants -- it is one of the great sources of our strength and resiliency. However, throughout our history, some people have wanted to shut the door on immigrants who they viewed as not being sufficiently "like us." We should start a discussion of the immigration problem by acknowledging that people are going to be drawn to the promise of America and will attempt to come here whether we want them to or not. That is part of the reason we need to develop a comprehensive immigration reform policy.

One of the overlooked factors in the immigration debate is the recent slowdown in illegal immigration. Given the heated rhetoric around the issue, it is tempting to just look at "what is broken" rather than "what has worked". According to figures released by Pew Hispanic Center in 2011, the size of the illegal-immigrant population peaked in 2007, with about 58 percent of it of Mexican origin. Since 2008, that population has shrunk by roughly 200,000 a year. I believe this resulted from a combination of stricter enforcement of current immigration laws -- plus a weaker US economy. Our experience during this timeframe merits further study by Congress.

We need to focus on finding a path to legal status for hardworking people with jobs who are already here. Most would prefer to be paying taxes and buying homes, contributing to our society and helping our economy. Unfortunately, there is not a realistic path to legal status for many of the workers in our economy. I think we can get a better handle on immigration by bringing illegal immigrants out of the shadows with a reasonable path to legal residency. I believe we should also address the "brain drain" issue. Many talented immigrants come to the U.S. to study in fields such as science and technology then leave after they receive their education. Our immigration policy should be revised to encourage these leaders to stay in the U.S. and contribute to our economy and our quest for innovation. Additionally, we should address the fact that many immigrants prefer to send remittances, and eventually return, to their home countries rather than attempt to become citizens.

I support development of a new visa system which allows individuals specifically needed by U.S. employers to enter the country without "cheating the system" -- along the lines of the H-2A agricultural visa program. We should also ease the green card process that currently allows only about 5,000 low-skilled workers to enter the path to citizenship every year. There are more than a million waiting for their applications to be approved. Hard-working immigrants who sincerely want to be American citizens or legal residents should be given the opportunity to achieve the American dream.

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The district
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