An Interview With Rachel Ventura, Bill Foster's Congressional Opponent
Who Is Rachel Ventura?
Born and raised in the city of Joliet, Rachel Ventura has made it a priority to give back and try to make her community a better place. She graduated from Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mathematics.
Rachel is an unintimidated working-class mother of twin girls and Business Director of Legendary Games. Her life experiences volunteering, in the private sector, and in government (she is currently Will County Board Member in District 9) have prepared her for this moment. Proudly progressive, Rachel Ventura hopes to take her message of affordable healthcare, combating climate change, union and living wage jobs, going after industries profiting off of the suffering of others, and protecting the most vulnerable all the way to Congress.
Guzman: Good afternoon Rachel and thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. In 2017 you had a strong showing for Joliet City Council At-Large as a first-time candidate finishing 6th out of 15 candidates, and the following year you were elected to the Will County Board District 9. You received the most votes in the 3-person race in which two are elected. You now have your sights set on Illinois’ 11th Congressional District. What motivated you to run for Congress?
Ventura: I have been frustrated with some of the failings of America. We see people that are having a hard time getting access to affordable healthcare. We are seeing Climate change knocking on the door. We are seeing our youth commit suicide, homicides, gun violence, and overdosing on opioids. A lot of this is brought by frustrations by our broken system and shows that we have a society that is not healthy. I approached Bill Foster in January of this year to ask him to sign on to the Medicare for All bill knowing that is a popular bill amongst people here and across the country and what we can do to help our district out. I was frustrated with his responses and worked with Our Revolution to rally his offices in May. It was shortly after that time that there wasn’t much movement. After several years of other people focusing on healthcare as well, I began to look at what this race meant. More than anything the fact he is a scientist and is not leading the charge on climate justice, on innovations to make our entire region greener. That really was a tipping point for me.
Guzman: It was January of this year when you began having your doubts about the leadership in the 11th Congressional District and early summer when you seriously considered challenging Congressman Bill Foster?
Ventura: Yes, after meeting with him and having an assumption of where he stood on the issues I went back and looked at some of the issues that he had voted on. I was very disappointed to see he voted against Americans with Disabilities. There was bill that was brought forth that said businesses did not have to come to compliance unless they had been sued by an American with a disability as opposed to the way it was written that if they were not in compliance they would be forced to come to compliance. These laws have been on the books for 30 years and last year the republicans changed them. He was one of 12 democrats who voted for that bill. That was a big shocker to me that he would put businesses over people. Another disappointment, is after we paid the banks for their bail-out he rescinded some of the Dodd-Frank restrictions. That was the whole reason that we had the bubble and the problems with the housing. He sits on the Financial Committee so to see once again him not putting people above Wall-Street when Wall-Street had already hurt millions of Americans. That was unconscionable to me. Those are some of the disagreements I have besides Medicare for All and Climate Change. As for climate change I am a supporter of the Green New Deal. During the Great Depression FDR proposed the New Deal and it was to put Americans back to work. It allowed us to invest in our infrastructure, rebuild our communities, and our cities. It allowed us vast expansion in technology and innovation. This is our Great Depression. This is our World War 2.. We need a Green New Deal that will tackle it that same way FDR tackled it back then. Research and development, investing in businesses, having zero carbon emissions, having union and living wage jobs for everybody, not just privileged individuals, not just the wealthy few, but all of Americans can come have a job fixing our problems caused by climate change. It starts with having zero emissions of carbon. We have to transition to electric cars. We have to get off of fossil fuels and begin repairing the damage that we have done. With only 12 years before things are catastrophic, we need a strong leader who is willing to be urgent in this matter, and I don’t believe Bill Foster is that person.
Guzman: What do you feel we can do about the gun violence in Aurora and Joliet?
Ventura: I think a lot of what we are seeing with the suicides, gun violence, shootings in schools, the opioid epidemic is a lot people are beyond stressed out. They are hurt, they are suffering. They don’t have the coping-skills they need, the support network that they need. This is a bigger symptom of a crumbling society. We can band-aid the fixes here and there but until we actually start going after the root problem and treating these issues as public health crisis’s we are not going to see change that we want to see. By elevating people, investing in communities, and jobs putting people first we have a chance to change the feeling and mentality in America,that everyone is valued.
Guzman: The Illinois 11th Congressional District covers Aurora, Montgomery, Bolingbrook, Burr Ridge, Shorewood, parts of Naperville, Plainfield, and your home city of Joliet. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the 11th Congressional District?
Ventura: We have a lot of strengths. We are a diverse community in different backgrounds, cultures, income, economics, and we have a lot of good resources here. From agriculture to innovative businesses, universities and education. Some of the weaknesses though is with those things come responsibilities, like transportation. How do we connect individuals to public transportation? How do we fight the congestion of the truck traffic that is coming in? How do we provide living wage jobs when more and more businesses are going online and turning to warehouses? They have hard working conditions and sometimes temp workers who are not being paid very well. These are the weaknesses that we have to tackle and find better solutions for. We have to put the person first. We have to invest in small businesses which is why Medicare for All speaks not just to an individual. When a small business can’t open its doors because it can’t afford healthcare for its workers we lose out as a society, whether an awesome new restaurant, or a much- needed manufacturing company because they can’t afford to the provide high costs of healthcare.
Guzman: If elected to the United States Congress what are going to be your top priorities?
Ventura: The Green New Deal has to be the first priority. We have to start addressing climate justice. When I say climate-justice I mean for it everybody, not just the wealthy few at the top, but everyone is being affected. We are all in this together. We need to make sure we are taking care of one another. The Green New Deal is about infrastructure, jobs, emissions, cleaning up pollutants, and then I would say Medicare for All is my second priority. They are both equally important and investing in people telling them they are valued. Healthcare is a human right. We have the money for it now. We are wasting so much money on having insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies profit off of the suffering of others, and enough is enough.
Guzman: How do you feel the State of Illinois is moving under the direction of new Governor JB Pritzker and as a congresswoman how can we bridge the divide between Federal and State to not only help the 11th Congressional District but all of Illinois?
Ventura: I have been very pleased with JB Pritzker’s actions. He has worked quickly and swiftly this year to pass $15 an hour minimum wage, to legalize and decriminalize marijuana. He continues to support investing in people, like the capital bill that was signed. Here in Will County a lot of projects were funded. That to me is progress, and I’m excited to see our Governor is trying to get progressive income tax passed so we have a way to pay for these very important changes. I think transportation is going to be a thing of the future. From high speed rail to other innovations. We have such a diversity here. We have the waterway, we have rail, we have autos and its things like that the Federal Government can help, strengthen and invest in like FDR did with the New Deal, making sure we have funding for those projects.
Guzman: Route 53 on the southside of Joliet has become a very busy road with all of the warehouse development in recent years. Is there a way to alleviate the traffic so that families and workers alike can have a safer road to travel on?
Ventura: The truck traffic that we are seeing is unprecedented here in Will County with 63% of all of the nation’s truck traffic coming through our county. It’s that much, that’s what the Freight Mobility Study showed for Will County. With that much traffic coming through here we need an alternative besides putting it on our roadways. I think getting back to rail is the way to do that especially since we have the inland port here that can lift containers off of those tracks. I think that is the way for the future and I will keep an open mind about innovations that may come about.
Guzman: What makes you uniquely qualified and prepared to take on the challenges of the Illinois 11th Congressional District?
Ventura: I am willing to listen to the voters and be their voice. I think that is the only preparation that you need. Education can go a long way but at the end of the day our country is supposed to be a democracy. We elect our representatives to be our voice. I feel that whether you are on the right side or left side of the aisle there are too many politicians that have forgotten the voters have a voice. I’m prepared to knock on doors, meet people at their home, and ask them what is the America that they are proud of and how can we get back to that.
Guzman: You are a big advocate for the Green New Deal. Aurora and the City of Joliet are making continued efforts in revitalizing their downtowns. How can the Green New Deal help not only each city revitalize but the entire 11th Congressional District?
Ventura: When Obama was in office, we gave credits to become energy efficient and there are different things cities can take advantage of to revitalize. Here in Joliet they started replacing some of the lighting with LED lighting and the Federal Government had grants to pay for some of that. I think creating projects within the Green New Deal that allow downtowns and neighborhoods to reinvest in new technologies that cut emissions like charging stations, lighting, this is what we need to expect for the future but also our economic development as a whole. For example, we are still building houses as if we have no problems with climate change. Our new construction does not include plans for zero emissions, solar panels built in, wind turbines for farms, it does not have these things in the plan. For our water consumption we need to limit it, so that we conserve our water better. There are so many aspects of construction that we could be changing today that would not only help fight climate change but we could be the leader as the second and third largest cities. I feel this is an opportunity for us to lead Illinois in being a greener state.
Guzman: What are your goals if elected Congresswoman and what are you most passionate about?
Ventura: I am most passionate bringing decency back to our country. We see this in so many ways whether through legislation or overall messaging coming out of the White House right now. The hate and systematic racism, treating workers like they are disposable, locking children in cages, these are all messages that hurt us long term for generations to come. I’m most passionate about changing that messaging back to treating each other with respect. We can get back to investing in our communities, and working together. My goals are Medicare for All, Green New Deal, and making sure we are helping one another. Two other things I would like to see Comprehensive Immigration Reform with a pathway to citizenship and we have to protect DACA, the Dreamers. I would also like to see all For-Profit Prisons gone in our country. I think it’s the same problems we are seeing with healthcare. When an entity makes money off the suffering of others that is inhumane and we need to get away from practices like that wherever they exist. We need to send a loud message that this is not okay. We will not treat anyone this way because it’s just wrong. I do believe we need to close detention camps at the border and we have to have a different policy how we are going to deal with asylum seekers and refuges. Even though we may be only seeing three countries right now coming to our borders as climate change increases, we are going to see a lot more than three countries. When the southern states become unbearably hot and they move north, when the oceans rise and people move in from the coast lines, Illinois is primed for overpopulation. We have a lot of agriculture that we provide food. How do we feed people if we build up that land? How do we support people moving in? Immigration is going to be very different in next 10-20 years.
Guzman: In your current tenure as Will County Board Member District 9 what have you advocated for and accomplished?
Ventura: The two that I am most proud of is I was able to get the District of Fairmont, an underserved area in Will County, water security for the future. They were having issues with some of their infrastructure. They did not the money to repair it and are also on the shallow wells. As our water levels drop, they were going to be one of the first communities to run out of water. I took this upon myself to hit the ground on my first day at the County Board and find out what can I do to fix this problem. I worked with community leaders like Delinda Herod, the county, local governments City of Lockport, Lockport township, and City of Joliet. We were able to use our community block grant money to help repair some of the meters and infrastructure needed for them to get to on Joliet’s water. This is something we are in the process of finalizing the inter-government agreement. Once Will County has finalized it and Joliet has turned on the water, we will turn the system over to Joliet and 800 families in the Fairmont area will have water. Joliet is currently doing their water study to make sure they can secure water for the future. I made sure those 800 families would be taken care off. The other thing I am really proud of is last month we passed the greenest region compact. This is a framework put together by the Mayors Caucuses in Chicago that talked about different actions, steps, and goals that we can take at the local level to be more green. To protect the sustainability of our local areas. Everything from open land, protecting agriculture, mobility, energy, waste, and leadership. There are 10 categories and this framework allows Will County to create a long-term plan of what we want to do to make us sustainable. To me its the mini version of the Green New Deal and we are only the second county in the state to pass that.
Guzman: Why should the constituents of Illinois 11th Congressional District vote for you in the primary against Congressman Bill Foster?
Ventura: I will be a voice for what matters in America. Right now, we are seeing a class war. We are seeing the struggle between the have and have nots. There is not enough representation for the have nots right now. Especially when our political system has been bought and paid for by the wealthy few. I will not have a Super Pac support me; I will not be taking any corporate PAC money. I will be funded by small dollar donations because I believe in we the people, not we the dollar.