Representative Jan Schakowsky talks 20 years of congressional politics

    “I think it’s pretty clear that the Republicans and Donald Trump cannot govern,” Jan Schakowsky said candidly to about 20 members of the Northwestern University Political Union.

    The longtime U.S. Representative, whose district includes the northwest side of Chicago, Evanston and many other North Shore suburbs, spoke with students on Jan. 25.

    “It was nice to see Congresswoman Schakowsky, since she’s Evanston’s representative,” said Weinberg senior Max Rowe, co-president of NUPU. “[It] gives Northwestern students and Evanston residents some access to politics going on at the national level.”

    This March will mark 20 years since Schakowsky won her first Democratic primary and went on to win the election for the ninth congressional district seat in 1998. Since then, she has developed a reputation as a champion of liberal causes, serving as a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus as well as chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues from 2009-11. She is popular with her constituents — having won each of her 10 congressional elections so overwhelmingly — that she ceded some of the more heavily Democratic parts of her district to other districts during re-mapping in 2010 so that those elections could be more competitive for Democrats.

    “I didn’t need to win by 75 percent,” Schakowsky said with a sly smile. “Two-to-one is good enough!"

    Schakowsky's political roots, she explained, formed in local organizing efforts. As a young woman in 1970, she teamed up with a few other moms in her neighborhood to form National Consumers United, a small advocacy group fighting for expiration labels on food in grocery stores. Schakowsky and her fellow advocates called newspapers, conducted store inspections and even bought a share in Jewel-Osco, the supermarket chain, so they could attend shareholders’ meetings.

    Their work was more subversive – and eventually more effective – than they had initially anticipated.

    “One of the grocery chains would call our husbands at work and would say, ‘Do you know what your wife is doing while you’re at work?’” Schakowsky said.

    When asked about the upcoming Democratic primary for the race for Illinois governor, Schakowsky said that she “liked Daniel [Biss] a lot,” but would not be endorsing in the primary. She feels her paramount obligation in the governor’s race is to focus on defeating Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner in November. She additionally noted that the race’s projected spending total, which is predicted to break U.S. records for gubernatorial election spending, has “gotten completely out of hand.”

    “[Campaign finance] is a crazy, jerry-rigged kind of system – we have to go right at it,” Schakowsky said. invoking the controversial Citizens United case and its aftermath. “We have to limit the ability of people to self-fund, of corporations to play in the political arena in the way that they do.”

    When asked about her thoughts on the recent resolution to keep the government open pending negotiation over protections for DACA recipients as well as border wall funding in February, Schakowsky stressed the importance of negotiating on behalf of DACA recipients. While she voted no on the continuing and said she disagreed with the messaging from Congressional Democrats implying that they had reached an acceptable solution to the impasse, she understands that the consequences of a continued shutdown would be “pretty devastating” to many Americans.

    Looking back on her 20-year history in Congress, Schakowsky said she viewed the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 as a turning point for the way in which compromise is valued, particularly in the House.

    “[Republicans] were fierce, and they elected people for whom ‘compromise' was a dirty word,” Schakowsky said. “Until that time, the definition of the job was, you fight like hell for your position, but at the end of the day, you compromise and you have a product that comes out. This was not their view. Their view was, ‘I came to Washington to shrink government, not to compromise.”

    Despite her frustration over the inability to reach compromise in the House, Schakowsky said she remains confident about the future. “The mobilization that we’re seeing now is bigger than the Tea Party ever was,” Schakowsky said, “so that gives me a lot of hope for the future.”


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