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‘A little competition don’t hurt’

Local congressmen face challenges from the left in March primary

With the Illinois primary election only about six months away, there has already been a high level of activity at the start of this political season.

Bill Thoman, the chairman of the Will County Democrats, said there appeared to be more happening this year than in previous cycles. Residents will cast their votes in multiple competitive races from the local to the national level next year.

“I have faith that Democrats, come March 17, will make the best choice for candidate,” Thoman said.

Thoman said the local party will stay “largely neutral” for the primary races, allowing all candidates to publicize their campaigns and events through the party. However, the local Democratic Party is in the process of drafting a policy that would allow candidates to request an endorsement from the party, Thoman said –
although it might not be implemented in time for the 2020 election.

Still, competitive primary races can yield ideological splits within the party, which Thoman called “growing pains.”

The most prominent examples involve two Will County area Democratic congressmen who are facing primary challenges, largely from the left.

Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, will run against Rachel Ventura, a Will County Board member who is challenging him in the 11th District.

Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs, has three primary challengers for his seat in the 3rd District, including Abe Matthew and Rush Darwish from Chicago. Marie Newman, a La Grange businesswoman, is the most prominent challenger and narrowly lost to Lipinski in the 2018 primary.

For both Newman and Ventura, their campaigns largely stem from a frustration with their current representative for, in their view, not truly representing constituents.

While the challenges could serve as evidence of a leftward movement in the Democratic Party overall, Newman at least said the reason for her run is simple. She argued that the way she thinks about it, any representative who is out of touch with constituents should be challenged.

“You should be asking every single candidate, ‘Are you in alignment with your district?’ ” Newman said.

Lipinski, for his part, has framed Newman as extreme and said she’s an ideologue who is running a “tea party of the left” campaign.

“She has never focused on how she might serve the people of IL3, but has only parroted the talking points of radicals,” Lipinski said in a statement.

Ventura shared similar sentiments. She said she decided to challenge Foster after he refused to support more progressive measures, including a Medicare for All single-payer health insurance system.

Ventura argued that in the current health care system, even insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” still might not be affordable for some families. She said that once efforts to persuade Foster to support more progressive policies appeared to fail, she looked around for someone to challenge him in the primary.

After a few associates suggested she run herself, she decided to do just that.

“People want our government to work for everyone, and right now, it’s not,” Ventura said.

Suzanna Ibarra, the chairman of the Will County Progressives, said Newman and Ventura are “strong women who are strong in their convictions and their ideals.” The local progressive group recently voted to endorse both candidates. Ibarra said that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders earned 52% of the Will County vote against the more moderate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary.

Although voters will make the ultimate decision March 17, both challengers already are on the trail making their cases.

During a recent canvassing session in Bolingbrook, Ventura was straightforward with residents about her views. Her campaign shirt listed progressive policy priorities such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and closing the wealth gap.

While the reaction from residents ranged from enthusiasm to politely declining to sign her petition because they were Republicans, Ventura was able to convince a few who appeared unsure.

One resident in attendance asked her if Foster was himself a Democrat. She said that Foster was, but then explained why she was challenging him: “I like Bill, but a little competition don’t hurt.”