Illinois' new 16th Congressional District will include parts of Rockford, DeKalb, and the LaSalle area. The old 16th is represented by Republican Don Manzullo of Egan, but last Spring he lost the primary to Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Manteno. Kinzinger was elected in 2010 to represent a neighboring district, the 11th.
In 2011, state Democrats who drew the new Congressional boundaries placed Kinzinger's home in the heavily Democratic 2nd. That gave Kinzinger two choices: He could challenge incumbent Democrat Jesse Jackson, Jr. and face certain defeat, or he could challenge Manzullo in the primary.
Kinzinger's victory against Manzullo last March left him with no challenger until May, when local Democratic leaders chose Wanda Rohl as their Congressional candidate.
Rohl, a social worker from Ottawa, has never held elected office. She has worked in radio and managed a restaurant. Nine years ago she was riding an ATV when it flipped and crushed her spine. She lost the ability to use both legs. Rohl says she had private insurance but it wasn't enough, so she went on Medicare and Medicaid. The state Department of Human Services paid for her rehabilitation. After her recovery, with the aid of Pell Grants, she earned a Master's Degree in Social Work. This experience informs her views about safety net programs and their vulnerability to budget cuts:
“Had it not been for the social safety net, my family would’ve starved and I would’ve died. I understand that we make a promise to the citizens of this country, that we will stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. And I do believe, because I was taught by my parents, that we are our brother’s keeper. Because there but for the grace of God go I.”
But most experts insist cuts are needed throughout the federal budget. The Congressional Budget Office puts the current deficit at $1.1 trillion. Rohl says Congress could reduce the deficit 70 percent by cutting "bloat and pork." The rest of the shortfall, she says, would be made up from increased revenue.
For his part, Kinzinger says he prefers a balanced approach. He says the nation can't cut its way out of the fiscal crisis. But, in an interview with WNIJ, he didn't offer specifics about increasing revenue. He did, however, warn of the battle ahead:
“We have to have grownup, adult conversations with the American people about how Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable at the current growth rate. And what are we going to do for younger generations in order to preserve these for current seniors and those in or nearing retirement? Those are serious conversations that have to happen, and the longer we go without having those conversations, the more drastic the cuts are going to end up being.”
Kinzinger has voted for Paul Ryan’s budget plan, one part of which would turn Medicare into a voucher program, or what Kinzinger calls a “premium support network”:
“It allows you to stay on the current Medicare system, or you could have insurance compete for your business. It’s going to be a Medicare-administered plan with minimum benefits that are equivalent to Medicare, and you can take better than that, or you could take even below it if you want. But you’re guaranteed the support for basically the current Medicare, what it provides for you.”
Another economic issue in the 16th is preserving and expanding manufacturing. Both candidates are focused on high-paying jobs that require specialized training. For Rohl, education is paramount. She points to a school near her hometown, called the Indian Valley Vocational Center. It serves high school students in eleven districts:
“They got hands-on training. And having people understand what skills are needed is important. So if we can give tax incentives to employers to make sure that people going out of school – high school, community college, college -- actually have the skills needed, that’s a wonderful thing. So I’d be happy to give them tax breaks to do that.”
Rohl also says she wants the federal government, especially the military, to buy more of its supplies from American companies. She says she would support increasing tariffs to, as she puts it, “bring jobs home.”
For Kinzinger, growth in manufacturing depends on lower taxes and fewer regulations:
“We’ve got to create good products that are priced within the market compared to other countries. And right now, you have the highest corporate tax rate in the free world. You have regulations being imposed on these companies that are requiring them to hire a lot of people just to comply with regulations. Which adds to cost.”
Kinzinger is correct when he says the U.S. has the world’s highest corporate tax rate (39.2%), when you combine federal and state levies. But loopholes and special deals effectively lower that rate to 29.2%, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center.
On social issues, the candidates are mostly in line with their parties. Rohl supports abortion rights. Kinzinger opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and where the mother's life is in danger. Regarding gay marriage, Rohl says people should marry whomever they love. Asked if she would vote to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, she said yes. Kinzinger supports DOMA, but opposes a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He adds issues such as marriage and abortion are best handled at the state level.