All four Democratic candidates running for the U.S. House that represents Austin met in what could be their final meeting before next month’s primary.
The forum, hosted Thursday night by the South Austin Neighborhood Association (SANA), touched on a number of topics, ranging from healthcare to community partnerships. Republican Craig Cameron was also invited but did not attend.
SANA President Cassandra Norman began by asking each candidate what bill they would submit to Congress if elected this year.
Davis, who’s held the seat since 1997, said he would push for the Family First Transition Act (H.R.4980), which would support child welfare programs in the state and help children remain with their families.
“Oftentimes, when we ask children what can be done to help them, they will say if you can help my parents, you will also help me,” Davis said.
He also mentioned previous bills he had sponsored, including a new market tax credit bill to redevelop communities in the 7th District and the Second Chance Act, which assists ex-offenders transition back into society after being released from prison.
Clark, a teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School who challenged Davis in the 2018 primary, said most of all the major issues in the district are connected and he hopes to tackle as many as possible if elected.
“I think it’s important that we invest in educating our communities because we haven’t had leaders that have done that,” Clark said. “We’ve had leaders that have sat back and accepted low voter turnout and accepted the lack of voter education in many of our communities.”
Clark also hopes to push for the federal legalization of cannabis, allocating federal funds back into communities – like Chicago’s West Side – that were targeted by the War on Drugs.
Schanbacher, a human rights activist and attorney, said she would support a bill to increase funding for SNAP benefits and improve infrastructure throughout the district.
“One in seven people in Chicago are chronically without enough to eat,” Schanbacher said. “We can be doing better, and also every dollar put into SNAP stimulates the economy. So in order to pass a bill, we’re going to have to get the Republicans on board.”
Schanbacher also discussed the need for new infrastructure like high-speed rail, which could open up additional jobs in construction, engineering and maintenance.
Collins, a gun violence activist and healthcare advocate, said she would create the first national database for police shootings, which could have a great economic impact on the district.
“Right now, the city of Chicago, we’re spending millions in tax paying dollars towards wrongful death lawsuits [involving] the CPD,” Collins said. “It’s a drain on our funds, and we can’t change what we can’t measure.”
Collins added she would push for an improved version of the “Medicare for All” bill and put together a healthcare and life-expectancy task force to bring federal funding back to communities that need it.
As a military veteran suffering from PTSD, Clark said he also supports improved healthcare legislation.
“We have students with asthma because of the pollution they inhale on a daily basis. I’ve seen how I would have to pay $3,000 or $6,000 for medication if I didn’t have the military covering it,” Clark said. “I see how our communities struggle because our mental health facilities in the 7th District continue to close.”
Schanbacher supports Medicare for those who want it and hopes to extend the Obamacare mandate that covers preexisting conditions and support those with mental health issues.
“There are millions of people who can’t afford private insurance, and they don’t qualify for Medicaid. My brother was a person who was unable to be insured prior to Obama taking away the preexisting conditions,“ Schanbacher said. “We need to make the public health option very strong so that we can decrease how much our private health insurance costs.”
Davis said he has been an advocate for a national health plan before being elected to Congress in the late 1990s and mentioned his work creating health centers across the district and in Austin.
“I’ve worked in public health for the last 40 years,” Davis said. “I ran around the country with Quentin Young and other advocates for a national health plan 30 years ago, and we finally got to the point where lots of folks are talking about Medicare for All.”
Quentin Young was a health care advocate and civil rights activist who was known for supporting a single-payer health care system.
The four candidates also were asked about Austin partner organizations they work with now and how they would incorporate them into their work if elected.
Schanbacher talked about her work with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and how she volunteered as a lobbyist for the nonprofit on the state and federal level to protect SNAP benefits.
Clark said he has collaborated with the Institute for Nonviolence, the Westside Health Authority’s Good Neighbor Campaign, By The Hand Club and state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford.
Davis jokingly said he has worked, in some shape or form, with all of the Austin organizations and talked about working with Jacqueline Reed to start Westside Health Authority.
Before their closing remarks, candidates were asked to compliment each other on their best qualities, with the three challengers giving Davis short praise for his work in the 7th District and Davis recognizing the efforts of everyone else.
“There are a lot of people who would like to do things, but they just don’t have the courage to do it,” Davis said. “I think all three of them have demonstrated that they have courage, spirit, determination. They know who they are and why they are doing what it is that they are doing, and if you can’t like that, I don’t know what it is that you like about people.”
Early voting starts at select sites on March 2, and the polls throughout the district will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 17. For more information, click here.