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Running for: U.S. House of Representatives, Illinois’ 1st District
Political/civic background: University of Chicago Law School; Legislative Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance; UChicago Law ACLU Chapter
Occupation: Third-year law student at the University of Chicago; Founder of Addiction 2 Action Jacket Change
Education: Undergrad: University of Minnesota—Bachelor of Science in Microbiology Chemistry; minor in African American Studies.
Graduate: University of Chicago Law School, JD Candidate 2020
Campaign website: sarahgad2020.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their districts and the country. Sarah Gad submitted the following responses:
Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or other paid or volunteer work to improve your community.
I currently represent indigent South Side youth and young adults charged with delinquency and crime pro bono both through the UChicago Mandel Legal Aid Clinic and the Criminal & Juvenile Justice Project.
In 2018, I founded A2A (addiction2action.org), a nonprofit that focuses on expanding access to substance abuse disorder treatment in correctional facilities and disadvantaged communities.
I run an annual mobile coat drive called Jacket Change (chicagocoats.org) for the Chicago homeless. Every year starting in autumn, Jacket Change begins collecting winter coats and warm winter clothing from members of the community and distributes them directly to the Chicago homeless.
Jacket Change has collected and distributed over 3,000 winter coats in the last 5 years.
In March 2019, I was the recipient of the University of Chicago Humanitarian Award for my pro bono legal work, community activism, and service contributions to the Hyde Park and South Side communities.
In May of 2019, I joined the Legislative Affairs team at the Drug Policy Alliance. At the DPA, I participated in congressional hearings and briefings on a weekly basis on topics ranging from environmental justice to reparations, and helped draft legislation pertaining to harm reduction, legalizing marijuana, restoring Pell Grant access in correctional facilities, and expanding access to medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine and naltrexone to correctional facilities.
I have volunteered with the Chicago Community Bond Fund, a campaign that is dedicated to ending pretrial detention and money bail, since 2015.
This past November, my campaign hosted a mixer for recently incarcerated constituents and local businesses, through which we helped employ 27 recently incarcerated constituents on the spot; we also hosted two know-your-rights informational sessions in November and December, an expungement clinic in December, and will be hosting a second job fair/expungement clinic on January 18th.
What are your views on the decision by the U.S. House to impeach President Donald Trump? Has the impeachment process been fair or not? How so? If, in your view, the president should not have been impeached, would you have supported censure? Please explain.
I strongly believe that the U.S. House’s decision to impeach President Trump was appropriate and necessary. The Articles of Impeachment exist specifically to protect the integrity of our democracy, safeguard against abuse of authority and sanction conduct that harms national interests. President Trump solicited foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election; this is an incontestable abuse of power that both undermined the integrity of the electoral process and endangered national security. The Articles of Impeachment were designed to hold presidents to account for this type of behavior. The principle that no one, not even the president, is above the law is what distinguishes our government from authoritarian regimes around the world. If the U.S. House had not undertaken impeachment of President Trump for his actions, it would have set a dangerous precedent where future presidents believe they can act with complete impunity and prioritize their own interests over the national interest. Thus, impeaching President Trump was both fair and necessary to uphold the integrity of our democratic institutions.
The impeachment process was also fair. The Constitution does not provide any specific protection to the president in an impeachment proceeding because impeachment is essentially an evidence-gathering process; the House’s role is simply to determine if there is enough evidence to try the president in the Senate. Impeachment does not impact the president’s life or liberty, which is when our constitutional notions of due process are applicable. Thus, the objections by Republican members of Congress and the President over the fairness of the impeachment process are unfounded.
How would you reduce the federal budget deficit, which now stands at about $1 trillion for 2020? What changes, if any, to the U.S. tax code do you support and why?
Congress has frequently sought to have working class Americans bear the burden of reducing our deficit, while the richest segments of our country do not have to share equally in this responsibility. The best way to balance the budget is to generate revenue from a variety of changes to our tax scheme. In particular, tax policies that only benefit the very wealthy should be eliminated. Capital gains and dividends should be taxed as regular income. A progressive estate tax on inherited wealth and an annual tax on extreme wealth should also be established. Finally, corporations should be required to pay their fair share of taxes by eliminating some corporate tax breaks and change corporate tax policies to render offshore tax havens obsolete. It makes little sense to have America’s largest and most profitable corporations paying lower tax rates than middle class families.
In addition to increasing revenue through changes to our tax policy, our budget deficit would greatly benefit from reducing wasteful spending. For instance, while defense is certainly one of the most important federal expenditures, our current defense spending does not yield benefits that are proportionate to the level of spending. The Pentagon needlessly consumes nearly half of the federal government’s discretionary spending, and much of this is spent on outdated or unnecessary programs. I propose cutting wasteful Pentagon spending to alleviate the budget deficit. As the U.S. spends more money on its military than the next ten countries combined, we could significantly reduce our military expenditures without compromising the power or strength of our military.
Drug war programs also consume a disproportionate amount of our budget, despite overwhelming evidence that they are ineffective or even counterproductive. I would propose deauthorizing drug war programs, eliminating subsidies to local law enforcement agencies drug enforcement activities, and reducing the federal prison population. Eliminating Byrne/JAG and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), our two most expensive subsidy programs, would save taxpayers hundreds of millions each year and also reduce the prison population. Federal prisons are operating at 139% capacity, and roughly 50% of prisoners are detained for low-level drug crimes.
Reducing the federal prison population by half over the next decade would save over $30 billion without compromising public safety.
What changes would you like to see made to our nation’s healthcare system? Would you shore up the Affordable Care Act or work to repeal it in full? What’s your view on Medicare for All? And what should be done, if anything, to bring down the cost of prescription drugs?
Healthcare should be treated as a basic right as opposed to a commodity. I support the concept behind Medicare for All, but I do not believe that it is feasible in the manner in which it is being proposed. In particular, it does not take into account what Medicare actually is and why many physicians do not accept Medicare. Medicare is essentially government scraps, and unless we are able to compensate physicians at comparable rates, Medicare for All would drive many doctors towards cash-only concierge services and hospitals towards bankruptcy. Such a system may actually thwart Medicare for All’s ultimate goal of improving healthcare accessibility.
While current proposals for Medicare for All need to iron out some wrinkles, I support its goal of providing all Americans universal, affordable coverage. To that end, I would like to see an advancement towards a single-payer healthcare system, but in the meantime, I would support a public option to stabilize the market and allow small businesses to compete. The move towards a single-payer system must take place in concert with measures taken to improve efficiency in healthcare, such as increasing the capacity of primary care physicians, emphasizing preventative healthcare by rewarding patients for taking active steps to prevent chronic disease, moving away from discrete provider units towards more holistic integrated care networks, bundling expenses as opposed to billing for redundant services, and raising the pleading threshold for medical malpractice so doctors can focus their time and energy on patient care. A more efficient healthcare system would reduce the burden on the government in implementing a single-payer system
Finally, the accessibility of healthcare and the efficiency of our system requires a reduction in the cost of prescription drugs. Right now, the price of pharmaceuticals tends to reflect their novelty, not quality. To bring down the cost of prescription drugs, we should be actively negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies to ensure that prices reflect value and innovation. I would also support the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act to allow the purchase of prescription drugs and other pharmaceuticals from other industrialized countries, imposing an annual cap on prescription spending, and providing prescription assistance to low-income and single-parent households.
The Trump administration is awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court as to whether it can end the DACA program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Do you support or oppose DACA and why? Should a path to citizenship be created for the so-called DREAMers? Please explain.
I support DACA in its entirety. As the daughter of first-generation Sudanese/ Egyptian immigrants, this is an issue I feel strongly about. DACA recipients are young people who ended up in the U.S. under circumstances beyond their control. Many have no familial or even lingual connections to their nation of origin. They attend our schools, support their families, buy homes, build careers, and start families here, and contribute to their communities and to the economy. Data has consistently shown that DACA has not only improved the lives of undocumented young people and their families, but has also positively affected the economy more generally, which benefits the nation as a whole.
Terminating the DACA program serves no legitimate government interest. Contrary to the Trump Administration’s claims that DACA recipients are “hardened criminals” and a “threat” to public safety, the arrest rate among DACA recipients is actually far lower than for the average U.S. citizen. DACA recipients have earned the right to citizenship by virtue of having a continuous physical presence for almost the entirety of their lives and their positive contributions to society. Quasi-legal status is insufficient; these individuals deserve to feel secure in their existence and should be granted permanent legal status.
What are the three most important issues in your district on which the federal government can and should act?
Mental illness/substance abuse
These three issues are inextricably intertwined and cannot be discussed in isolation.
Addressing financial inequality at the congressional level can and should happen through various means. Ameliorating collateral consequences of criminal records (Congress has the constitutional authority mitigate records based discrimination considering the impact that it has on interstate commerce) and enforcing race-neutral standards for law-enforcement would both help address the South Side unemployment crisis and reduce financial inequality. Reparations—especially when combined with measures to reduce black unemployment and combat discriminatory practices in the home-ownership market—would better enable communities of color to build their own stable economic base, social wealth, and equity, and rectify the overall economic imbalances resulting from slavery and Jim Crow.
The South Side gun violence epidemic is a manifestation of extreme poverty, residential segregation, and trauma. In addition to reducing black unemployment and financial inequality, outlawing record-based discrimination would have the tangential benefit of reducing gun violence and violent crime. By allowing people to leave the system and rebuild their life without a multitude of onerous impediments, they are far less likely to return to violent crime and/or recidivate. A RAND Corporation study found that expanding access to higher education alone in correctional facilities increases employability upon re-entry and, in turn, reduces recidivism and violent crime by up to 44%.
Expanding access to mental health treatment is necessary to help address both the South Side gun violence crisis and Chicago mental health crisis. Mental health treatment should be available to all who need it, whenever they need it, and how often they need it. When one person gets shot, literally hundreds are affected. Entire neighborhoods are traumatized, but many trauma victims already struggle to pay rent or a mortgage, and mental health treatment a luxury they cannot afford. Untreated mental illness has turned the Cook County Jail into the largest mental health provider in the country. Treatment for mental illness is far more effective, cost-effective, and humane than criminalization. Mental health crisis calls and opioid overdoses have overwhelmed 1 st District suburban law enforcement agency and fire department, turning police officers and firefighters into quasi-emergency medical technicians. In fact, overdoses and mental health crises are the most common reason for fire department calls in the Cook and Will County suburbs. Of the many ways to expand access to mental health treatment, three stand out: (1) increase federal funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant and other treatment programs. Treatment should include mental health services, as well as services for sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and child abuse—which all can exacerbate addictive behavior or contribute to mental health crises. (2) Provide people in need of treatment with vouchers redeemable for treatment services through the program of their choice. The Bush Administration established a model program, Access to Recovery, which provides block grants to states for distributing vouchers for those who need treatment. (3) Repeal provisions of the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000) that require physicians to obtain an X-license in order to treat patients who suffer from opioid dependency.
What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent(s)?
The biggest difference between myself and my opponent, Mr. Rush, is our philosophy of leadership. I believe that a U.S. Representative’s job is to echo the voices of his or her constituents, be a constant advocate who acts on pressing issues, and retains a level of attachment to the people that they serve. Mr. Rush has maintained very little presence in the 1st district throughout his tenure, and not only skips out on critical hearings, but on critical votes as well. In my view, complacency in leadership is unacceptable, particularly at a time when we are faced with apocalyptic challenges like financial inequality, extreme poverty, an unemployment crisis in the South Side, climate change, a humanitarian crisis at our southern border, a drug war that is killing people at alarming rates, healthcare injustice, and unparalleled levels of gun violence. In my view, voting on bills is the bare minimum; an effective leader is someone who shows up and is committed to acting on pressing issues and being a voice for their constituents 100% of the time
The biggest differences between myself and my opponent, Mr. Robert Emmons Jr. is experience. These constituents felt that Bobby Rush is out of touch and that Robert Emmons Jr. does not relate to the needs of the district and lacks the requisite level of experience to be representing our needs in Congress. My nominating constituents felt that I was best suited for this position because of my level of civic engagement, ties to the community, and legal and legislative advocacy work and experience, and more importantly, because I have lived through many of the key issues plaguing my district and constituents—among them being criminalization, homelessness, extreme poverty, unemployment, sexual abuse, and lack of healthcare—and can credibly advocate for them. My experience living through these issues—and watching the people in my community suffer through them on a daily basis—is what compelled me to go to law school and fight for change. I can appreciate that these issues are imminent and cannot wait to be addressed, which is why my campaign has also elected to try and tackle many of them through the campaign process itself—for instance, by hosting job fairs and expungement clinics in lieu of plain meet greets and mixers.
What action should Congress take, if any, to reduce gun violence?
Supporting common-sense gun legislation is necessary for any politician who claims to care about the lives of the American people. However, the etiology of gun violence varies widely based on geography and demographics involved Accordingly, addressing the nationwide gun violence epidemic warrants a holistic approach that focuses on more than just restricting access to firearms:
(a) Law enforcement. We must take measures to demilitarize law enforcement, including ending the Pentagon’s Cops for Weapons giveaway, restricting the use of paramilitary police tactics by federal law enforcement agencies, prohibiting the military from undermining Posse Comitatus by training or otherwise assisting civilian police, and stopping the use of violent SWAT raids to serve drug warrants. We should also abolish the doctrine of qualified immunity and ensure that law enforcement officers are held accountable when they abuse their authority or use excessive force, and require local law enforcement agencies receiving federal money to ramp up de-escalation training to prevent incidences of deadly force.
(b) Gun safety legislation We must pass common-sense gun safety legislation that requires universal background checks, mental health assessments, and closes the gun show loophole. We should fully reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, implement a buyback program to remove assault weapons from the streets, and pass comprehensive campaign finance law legislation to curb quid pro quo lobbying by corporate interest groups like the NRA.
(c) Criminal justice reform/ending income inequality: We must shift the focus of our penal system from punishment to rehabilitation: restore Pell Grant access to incarcerated students, invest in vocational training, trade, and workforce training in correctional facilities, and seal or expunge most criminal records once a person has been discharged from their sentence and/or paid their debt to society.
Allowing people who have been incarcerated to rebuild their life without a series of structural barriers and impediments would increase employment rates among recently incarcerated individuals, and inevitably reduce recidivism and violent crime rates.
(d) Mental health. For reasons outlined in Question #6, expanding access to mental health treatment is necessary to help address the gun violence epidemic both in the South Side and around the country.
Is climate change real? Is it significantly man-made? Is it a threat to humankind? What if anything should Congress and the federal government do about it?
Science tells us that our client is changing and that we are, by and large, responsible. Data tells us that climate change poses an existential threat to humankind and that we don’t have much time. Climate change is a key issue for the 1st Congressional District, which ranks among the top two in the state for toxic air pollution—to such an extent that a child in the South Side is 8X more likely to die of asthma than anywhere else in the state. In Illinois, the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are cars, trucks, Amazon deliveries, and Uber rides. Congress should take immediate steps to reduce emissions by increasing funding for mass transit, including minivans, trucks, and SUVs under the Gas Guzzlers Tax, lowering speed limits on major interstate highways, increasing fuel efficiency performance and renewable fuels for military planes, ships, and land vehicles, and pushing drivers through infrastructure development and community incentives to use electric vehicles.
Congress should pass comprehensive climate change legislation such as the Green New Deal or a similar package that invests in renewable energy and modernized infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. Congress should also take steps to reduce agricultural emissions by banning new factory farms and refusing to expand existing ones, diversifying farms and prioritizing small-scale livestock, and rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement—both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reassert the United States’ leadership in the global fight against climate change. Finally, Congress should enact campaign-finance reforms that equitably share responsibilities and influence among individual citizens with “special interests.”
What should Congress do to ensure the solvency of Social Security and Medicare?
To maintain solvency for years to come, Congress should lift the Social Security payroll tax cap and apply gradually increasing payroll taxes for incomes above a certain threshold (i.e. $400,000). This would secure benefits for every eligible American for at least the next 50 years, lift millions of seniors out of poverty, and raise the minimum benefits paid to low-income workers so all Americans can retire with dignity and security.
Extending Medicare solvency should ideally be attained through reducing wasteful spending and strengthening and clarifying provisions of the ACA. Medicare already has cost-saving mechanisms already built in, but seniors do not consciously take advantage of them because they are unaware that they exist. Rewarding patients for taking necessary steps to prevent or control disease, incentivizing patients to enroll in integrated care networks / accountable care organizations, and bundling medical services as opposed to making redundant payments for overlapping care would lower the fiscal burden of the program and extend solvency.
What should Congress do to address the student loan crisis? Would you use the word “crisis”?
The student loan crisis is both a financial and public health crisis. There are currently 44 million student loan borrowers in this country who owe a total of $1.6 trillion—an amount that exceeds car loans and credit card debt.
Studies have shown that mountainous student loan debt hampers the economy by preventing recent graduates from buying homes, cars, paying credit card debt, starting businesses and families, and participating in the flow of commerce. Studies have also shown that many of those struggling to repay crushing student debt are also experiencing serious mental health problems, depression, extreme anxiety, and even suicide.
Addressing the student loan crisis needs to be a priority. Congress should assemble a Congressional Commission on student loan remediation to determine reasonable, broadly acceptable, long-term strategies that Congress could support and enact. The most ideal solution at the congressional level would be to cancel federal student loan debt entirely. Though this approach carries the highest price tag, it would provide the most meaningful relief among borrows and would have the greatest impact on the national GDP.
Another ideal solution would be to implement income-based student debt relief or loan forgiveness up to a set dollar amount for all borrowers, but at minimum, Congress should forgive debt held by former Pell Grant recipients and for former borrowers whose income is less than $100,000 per year.
What should our nation’s relationship be with Russia?
The relationship between the U.S. and Russia is important, given the two countries have shared interests in nuclear security, regional security, countering terrorism and violet extremism. But, despite our diplomatic relations, Putin continuously exploits American flexibility while working to undermine American interests at every turn. We should maintain diplomatic and trade relations, but our broad goal moving forward should be to resist and deter Russian efforts to undermine the post–Cold War security order in Europe and elsewhere. To do this, we should champion a robust transatlantic approach toward Russia that leverages the combined economic, military, and political resources of the U.S., as well as its European allies and partners. We should also remain amenable to pragmatic security and economic cooperation with Russia in the event that they arise.
What’s your view on the use of tariffs in international commerce? Has President Trump imposed tariffs properly and effectively? Please explain.
Tariffs imposed by the United States are nothing more than a tax increase on American consumers and businesses. The U.S. needs free and fair trade, but imposing tariffs to get there is not the right approach in my view. Although we cannot ignore China’s unfair trade practices and policies, tariffs put the burden squarely on the backs of American consumers and businesses while alienating some of our most loyal global allies. Tariffs are increasing the cost of commonly used products and materials and at the same time undermining the competitiveness of U.S. companies. Millions of U.S. jobs depend on our ability to trade with other countries, and Illinois is among the states hit hardest by the ongoing trade war. Retaliatory tariffs imposed by the EU and China on U.S. exports will make American-made goods more expensive, resulting in lost sales and ultimately lost jobs here at home. This is the wrong approach, and it threatens to derail our nation's recent economic resurgence.
Does the United States have a responsibility to promote democracy in other countries? Please explain.
Given its founding principles and very identity, the U.S. has a large stake in advancing its core value of liberty. Compared to citizens of non-democratic counties, citizens of democracies enjoy greater individual freedoms, political stability, protection from governmental violence or oppression, improved quality of life, and lower rates of famine, starvation, morbidity and mortality, and greater international peace. Democracies are less likely to go to war with the U.S., more likely to become our allies, less likely to require asylum, and also more likely to adopt market economies. Thus, by promoting democracy, the U.S. will benefit by promoting national interests and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with other nations around the world.
What should Congress do to limit the proliferation of nuclear arms?
Congress should remain in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, fulfil our already long-standing commitments to nuclear weapon reductions and elimination, and work to improve diplomatic relationships with other nations to reduce the risk that nuclear weapons will be used against us.
Please list all relatives on public or campaign payrolls and their jobs on those payrolls.
I do not have any relatives on my campaign payroll.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain. Jane Addams (1860-1935).
I draw inspiration from Jane because she was a champion of social justice in the face of insurmountable odds. Jane started out studying medicine, but her own illness derailed her plans and forced her to choose a new path. She would go on to become a trailblazer of reform in the realm of social justice, public health, equality, criminal justice, and world peace. She was instrumental in the establishment of a juvenile justice system separate from adults, the formation of the ACLU, and the NAACP. She was a strong advocate for justice for immigrants, African Americans, and minority groups, women’s rights, and the environment, and earned the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in helping the homeless and inner-city poor. She chose to forgo traditional norms of marriage and motherhood in favor of social reform, and paved the way for women like myself to follow suit.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
Orange is the New Black. This show does an impeccable job depicting the dehumanizing and destructive impact of our current system of justice, and the humanity of people who get caught up in this system. It dispels the fallacy that people who are incarcerated are “bad people,” and underscores that many of us who end up in the system arrive there because of the larger system of fate and circumstance. We are normal people who made mistakes or poor decisions— often in positions of desperation or in the throes of disease—got caught, paid our debt, but society refuses to let go of it. In a very real sense, these mistakes turn into life sentences; we end up becoming defined by them, and life becomes infinitely harder for us. The show also highlights the many ways in which our current system defies the notion of justice; how it ruthlessly targets people of color, sets people up to fail, recklessly deprives people of their liberty, and sometimes even life, and imposes endless lifelong challenges to the pursuit of happiness.