Election 2018 candidate: Sean Casten, 6th Congressional District

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Shaw Media sent questionnaires to statewide and Congressional candidates throughout the area ahead of the fall election.

Those questionnaires from each candidate who responded, as well as video of candidate interviews with our Editorial Board, are featured on our Election Central website to help readers make informed decisions when they cast their votes.

Name: Sean Casten

Age: 46

Town of residence: Downers Grove

Office sought: 6th Congressional District representative

Party: Democrat

Website: castenforcongress.com


1. What are the key differences between you and your opponent?

I am not a politician by training. I am a builder. I have spent my entire career identifying challenges, reviewing the facts relating to those challenges and building organizations to address them. I have a demonstrated passion for and commitment to addressing climate change, but have addressed that within the context of applying the laws of thermodynamics, creating a business plan, hiring a team, raising the money necessary to fulfill that vision, and doing all that within the constraints of state, local and federal energy and environmental policy. My personal passions, from the environment to diversity, are inherently Democratic – but my track record of business success is more traditionally Republican.

I believe passionately in the power of markets, and have benefited from the opportunities our country provides to those who take entrepreneurial risks. I believe passionately in the importance of the United States taking a muscular position on the world stage, leading with our values but fighting to preserve and extend the post-WWII order. I believe passionately that government is best when it stays out of our private lives. Those views all used to find comfort in the center left and center right, but have been abandoned by the modern Republican party. My opponent, who votes with Donald Trump 94% of the time and with his party leadership 97% of the time is emblematic of all that we have lost in our government.

We need to elect people who have a proven history of identifying big problems and mobilizing to address them. We need people who have proven an ability to lead large groups of people with disparate interests. We need people who instinctively look for win/win solutions. My career has demonstrated all three skills and I hope to bring them to Washington to focus on the problems we face as a nation.

2. The amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted on federal returns was capped this year at $10,000.  Illinoisans pay some of the highest property taxes in the country and recently were hit with a state income tax hike to boot. How will you work to protect residents from double-taxation?

This is arguably one of the most important ways my opponent has failed to represent his constituents. As a senior member and Subcommittee Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he had significant influence over the very tax bill that has hit so many 6th District residents so hard. In fact, he claims to be its “architect.” If so, his constituents were the corporations and wealthiest one percent of Americans who reaped 83 percent of his tax bill’s benefits -- not the working families who inhabit the district he was elected to represent. Many of them will be double-taxed because of the $10,000 cap on deductions for the state and local (property) taxes they pay. It should also be noted that as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Roskam voted to completely eliminated the SALT deduction, saying that he would fight “vociferously” if the Senate tried to restore that elimination. That is wrong for the district and wrong for the country, but we can at least take some cold comfort in his inability to carry through on his promises.

To understand how radical this elimination is, one need only recognize that the SALT deduction has been in every version of our federal tax code going back to its inception. Our founding fathers even acknowledged it’s importance because they recognized that power is granted from localities to the federal government, not vice versa. As De Tocqueville wrote of New England towns, they “did not receive their powers from the central authority, but, on the contrary, they gave up a portion of their independence to the state.” If elected, I will commit to restoring the full SALT deduction.

3. Do you believe any additional federal gun control measures are warranted? If so, what? If not, why not?

I do. The level of gun violence in this country is not normal, nor is it acceptable. I believe that we need to: (a) eliminate access to any firearms that are designed solely to quickly kill large numbers of people for anyone who is not a member of the military; (b) digitize the records at the ATF to allow for time-efficient background checks (and then mandate those background checks for all new gun purchases); (c) repeal the Dickey Amendment that precludes the federal Center for Disease Controls from studying the causes of gun violence, and; (d) prohibit anyone from owning a gun who has a history of domestic violence.

Beyond that, we need to build a culture of accountability. Even if we took 100 million guns off the streets tomorrow, the U.S. would still have more guns per capita than any country in the world. Locally, the source of much of the gun violence is our proximity to Indiana and Wisconsin, which account for 40% of the guns used in crimes in Chicago. We may be able to fix this with harsher laws - but I’d rather see us regulate guns the way we regulate cars: require any gun owner to have a license, registration and proof of insurance, and hold them personally liable for any crimes committed with a gun licensed in their name. That one law would dramatically change the incentives that so-called “straw buyers” have to transfer black-market guns, without in any way limiting the rights of responsible gun owners.

4. What is your opinion on the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election? Would you vote to impeach President Trump?

Special Counsel Mueller has my unconditional support precisely because the stakes for our democracy are so high. Our government’s authority is predicated on the trust of the American people that their vote matters and will be counted. If this trust is damaged, American democracy is at risk. We need to protect the investigators who are doing very necessary work for our democracy from politically-motivated firing or preemptive pardons for their targets. Mueller must be allowed to complete his investigation fully and anyone who attempts to obstruct or undermine that investigation must be held to account.

The Constitution requires Congress to act as a check-and-balance on the Executive. Congress is obligated to check, and if necessary punish any gross abuse of presidential power. The ultimate punishment is, of course, impeachment, and Congress' effectiveness as a check depends on their willingness to use all tools available. That said, I would be politically reluctant to use that tool unless we had some confidence that the Senate would achieve the 2/3rds majority required to remove the President. Even in the case of egregious abuses of power, an impeachment without removal effectively innoculates the President against further charges and so must be used with caution. But there are a host of tools -- from the use of the bully pulpit, to investigative hearings, to legislative reforms -- one could imagine that require nothing more than a Congress willing to put the country first.

5. Do you agree with the Trump administration's approach to immigration policy? What is the proper way to enforce America's immigration laws?

Absolutely not. I support comprehensive immigration reform that protects our borders while recognizing that we are a nation of immigrants. We need to secure our borders by working with local law enforcement along the border and with cross-border allies. I oppose the building of a wasteful and ineffective border wall that cannot stop the bulk of undocumented immigrants who come legally and overstay their visas. I support DACA/Dream Act legislation to protect immigrants brought here as children and am appalled by our treatment of "Dreamers" by the Trump administration. We cannot send hard-working young people to countries they have never known. I support comprehensive immigration reform based on the employment needs of the U.S. economy, moral and humanitarian concerns, and family reunification. This comprehensive reform must be brought to the floor as soon as possible; people's lives hang in the balance. For more details on my immigration policies, see here: https://castenforcongress.com/blog/issue/immigration-reform/

6. What is your position on abortion? Should it be a matter of federal law, or should states be free to regulate it as they see fit?

For me, it is a fundamental matter of freedom. Every woman must have the right to make their own healthcare and reproductive decisions in consultation with their doctor; those decisions should not be dictated by politicians - whether they sit in Congress or in state capitols. This is also a case where facts need to trump ideology. One in four American women will have an abortion before she turns 45. This is true for Republicans and Democrats, Catholics and non-Catholics, people in red-states and blue states and does not vary with access to comprehensive women’s health clinics that perform abortions. Therefore, from a purely epidemiological perspective, it can be said with certainty that reducing access to abortion does not reduce the incidence of abortion - it simply increases the risks of the procedure to the women who make that choice. The only thing that has been shown to reduce the incidence of abortion is access to contraception and women’s health services. So while I can certainly respect people who oppose abortion on moral grounds, if the goal is reducing the number of abortions performed in this country, the facts clearly show that we should double down on investments in sex education and contraception rather than putting women’s health at risk by trying to make abortion illegal.

7. What role should the federal government play in America's healthcare system? Should the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) be repealed?

We have to defend and expand access to healthcare, and I believe the federal government plays an important part in this process. We should do this for moral reasons, but we should also do it for economic reasons: every single country that has universal health care has better health outcomes and spends less per capita on health care. This makes sense; after all, it’s much cheaper to get regular check-ups and preventative screenings than it is to check into the emergency room when health crises emerge. The ACA was not true universal health care, but it was a significant step in the right direction.

The recent tax bill’s inclusion of language to remove the individual mandate will lead to an estimated 13 million Americans losing their health insurance. I do not believe the ACA should be repealed, unlike my opponent. Peter Roskam voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without a replacement, which would have caused 30,000 of his own constituents to lose their health insurance. While that vote failed, his tax bill repealing the individual mandate will cost perhaps half that number their insurance. Restoring the individual mandate and expanding the ACA to include true universal healthcare will be critically important for the health and financial security of families in the district and nationwide.

For more details on my healthcare policy ideas, please see: https://castenforcongress.com/blog/issue/health-care/

8. What is your stance on international trade? Do you agree with the tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration in the name of national security?

U.S. trade policy at its best should serve two purposes. One, it should never allow companies to sell goods and services in the United States who fail to provide labor, safety and environmental protections that we insist on for our own domestic companies. Failure to meet this goal simply off-shores practices that we find unacceptable and creates opportunities for “regulatory arbitrage,” where those companies can compete on price against U.S. companies simply because they lack those safeguards. Two, it should be used as an arm of our foreign policy, creating an economic sphere-of-influence in the world that gives countries who might otherwise be hostile to U.S. interests an economic interest in our success. I do not believe the Trump tariffs meet either of those goals. His tariffs are making enemies out of allies and are hurting manufacturers right here in America. We need a sensible and intelligent trade policy in this era of globalization and time of domestic tension as we struggle to adjust to a new global economy. While those two paramount goals are sometimes in conflict, there is no reason to abandon both as the Trump tariffs have done.

9. What’s your assessment of the job the federal government does in caring for military veterans? How can services be improved? 

We have a moral obligation to ensure proper care for our veterans who put their lives on the line to defend our freedom. We must both protect the VA’s long-term viability and ensure that other, non-VA hospitals are available as necessary to supplement any deficiencies or gaps within the VA’s care. Services must be protected from privatization by for-profit entities to ensure that we continue to provide the best possible care for our veterans, both because privatization without competition does not create value, and also because our veterans are necessarily exposed to risks that are often related to classified information that should not be shared within the broader healthcare industry. It is morally right and militarily appropriate that we treat our veterans with the dignity and privacy they have earned.

• Is there an important issue in the federal government that has not received adequate attention? How would you solve it?

I would love to see us create a national balance sheet. So much of our fiscal conversation in the United States would fail a first-year MBA finance class for the simple reason that we talk about expense independent of investment. A business owner or a prospective home buyer instinctively differentiates between debt that is borrowed to invest in an asset and debt that is borrowed to pay for operating expenses or vacations. A business considering a sale of an asset will always factor in the value of that asset on their books before determining whether the price is acceptable. And yet we do neither in our federal books. We speak of the US debt in a vacuum, without ever asking what the value is of the assets we are borrowing against, nor differentiating between money that is borrowed to invest in infrastructure versus that which is borrowed to fund tax cuts. We sell off government assets (like Chicago parking meters) without asking whether the value received exceeds the value we previously held. Simply mandating that the General Accounting Office prepare and maintain a National Balance Sheet (as countries like the United Kingdom have already done) would elevate our national financial conversation and substantially help us shift our spending in favor of activities that generate long-term growth.