PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday February 19th, 2016, 5:13pm

Schneider, Rotering Court Small Business Community, Discuss National Topics In Waukegan

Democrats vying for the 10th congressional district seat participated in a candidate meet-and-greet Friday with members of the small business community. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the event, hosted by the Small Business Advocacy Council in Waukegan.

Democratic candidates vying to represent Illinois' 10th congressional district discussed issues important to the small business community during a Friday morning meet-and-greet event in Waukegan.

The Democratic primary race in the North Shore district pits former Congressman Brad Schneider against Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. The two are competing to go up against incumbent Republican Bob Dold in the general election.

At Friday's event, hosted by the Small Business Advocacy Council and partner groups at the Bonnie Brook Golf Course, the Democratic candidates answered questions on topics ranging from the Affordable Care Act to proposed online sales tax legislation.

Schneider touted his work in Congress on small business issues, noting in part that he served on the U.S. House's Small Business Committee and introduced legislation to help startups.

"I come from a small business background," he said. "I understand how small businesses work, why they work ... I'm proud of the work I did as a consultant, but I'm more proud of the work I did in Congress fighting for the small businesses ... I was your voice in Congress. My goal is to get back and to be your voice again."

Schneider lost the 10th district seat to Dold in November 2014. In 2012, Schneider defeated Dold, unseating the then-freshman incumbent.

Rotering served as a Highland Park council member from 2009 to 2011, when she was elected as the city's mayor. Rotering highlighted her work to assist Highland Park businesses in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

"To me, it was very important to really focus on helping our business community regain its footing," she said.

Both Rotering and Schneider spoke to the importance of expanding access to capital for small businesses. And both candidates said they would push for the proposed Marketplace Fairness Act, which is an online sales tax bill initially introduced in Congress back in 2013. The legislation calls for online retailers to adhere to individual state tax laws.

"When I'm elected to Congress, the Marketplace Fairness Act will be a priority," Schneider said. "Small business, as it was when I was there before, will continue to be a priority."

The Marketplace Fairness Act is meant to level the playing field for online businesses and brick-and-mortar stores.

"We need to even out that opportunity for our Main Street to compete along with what's going on in the Internet," Rotering said in remarks after the event. "I firmly support it."

The Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature health reform law, was another issue raised at the event.

"Health care costs are killing small businesses," SBAC's co-CEO Elliot Richardson said during Q & A with Schneider, adding that the health reform law "has not made it better for small business owners."

Schneider said he would protect the ACA from attacks and would work to improve it.

"I support ACA. I will defend ACA, but I'll also defend small businesses to make sure it doesn't put them out of business," Schneider said. "We need to move to a place where we have comprehensive, broad-based risk pools that (don't) put the burden on small businesses ... We also need to continue work to bring down the cost of insurance in general."

While Rotering applauded the fact that nearly 18 million people have obtained health insurance through the ACA, she too acknowledged that the law has room for improvement.

"We do need to work on making this a more competitive situation within the products that are available to people, and we do need to work on expanding the risk pool so that we don't have these spikes and these variances in terms of the products that are available," she said. "There's a very real need to address that aspect of the ACA, and then there's also the very real need to address the rising health care costs."

Candidates were asked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but neither Schneider nor Rotering took a position on the controversial trade deal.

Schneider said he is currently studying the TPP, paying particular attention to its provisions concerning the environment, labor and intellectual property protections and enforcement of currency manipulation.

He said those are among the issues that should be at U.S. "standards or above, not a race to the bottom."

"It has to be something that protects our core competitive advantages as a nation and makes sure that we can compete," he said. "That's how I'm evaluating the deal."

Rotering spoke generally about the same TPP issues as well as its potential impact on prescription drug access. 

"We need to not be going to the bottom, we need to be rising up," she said. "We certainly don't need to be the sheriff of the world, but we have strong values that we as a partner in something like this need to absolutely prioritize and continue to support."

FBI-Apple Fight, Supreme Court Vacancy

An audience member later asked Rotering to comment on the controversy surrounding the FBI's push to force Apple to help the agency unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino killers.

Asked whether she thinks it would be an overreach for the FBI to force Apple to crack the phone, Rotering replied, "I do."

"I think it's important to both protect security, but to also know that there are opportunities for gaining that information elsewhere," she added. "So in terms of the dark web and terrorists and knowing when and where you can make those inroads and the public-private work that needs to occur, of course the security of our nation has to be paramount, but it again comes back to the balance. We have to have that balance in terms of ... not only on the civil liberties side, but also on the potential for hacking and what other security risks are you now opening up because of this situation."

Schneider was asked about the issue in an interview with Progress Illinois.

"We're a country of smart people with a solid foundation based on the Constitution. There's no reason we can't balance protecting our security and protecting our civil liberties. And that's a philosophy I carry to every decision we make," he said. "The decision by the FBI wanting to get into this specific phone, I'll leave it to them to work out with Apple and the technology companies."

The candidates also sounded off on the epic political fight over filling the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy after Justice Antonin Scalia's unexpected death last Saturday. Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), are arguing that the next person elected president in November should appoint Scalia's successor.

"It's really a pity that this debate has become political. It has no place in the political conversation," Rotering told Progress Illinois. "It needs to be recognized that the Constitution gives the president the responsibility of appointing a replacement to the Supreme Court, and it's incumbent upon the Senate to then consider that appointment. The end."

Schneider added: "I think you see the Republican obstructionism in its rawest form here. Within an hour of the announcement of Scalia's death, Mitch McConnell announces he's not gonna allow a vote in the Senate. We don't elect our president for three years, we elect him for four years. Not only is it his prerogative to appoint a Supreme Court justice, it's his responsibility and duty. And so, the president can and must do that, and the Senate has to have a hearing, and they'll vote based on the qualifications of the candidate. But I have no doubt that the president's gonna nominate someone who is more than qualified, and I think this is a debate [where] we are clearly on the right side of history and the right side of the Constitution."

10th District Hopefuls Gear Up For Primary Election 

With less than a month to go before the March 15 primary, the Democratic candidates weighed in on the 10th district race. 

"Momentum continues to build," Schneider said of his campaign. "Volunteers just continue to come in the door wanting to work to make sure we win this race. We've added five field organizers, so we're all over the district every day now, which is fantastic. And everywhere we go, we're hearing the same message. People saying they want to see an economy that's working for everybody, not just the fortunate few. And they want to make sure their kids have access to quality education, quality jobs when they graduate. In Washington, they're seeing the same gridlock, so there's a lot of frustration. So, clearly a message of they want me to go back to Washington and continue the work I started two years ago."

Rotering said her message is also resonating on the campaign trail.

"The campaign's going great. We are really in a competitive race at this point," she said. "People are appreciating my message of courageous leadership, the ability to get things done, and the fact that I bring seven years of elected experience to the conversation."

Throughout the campaign, Rotering has sought to draw a contrast with Schneider on some specific issues, including the Iran nuclear weapons deal and gun control. Rotering supports the Iran deal, while Schneider opposes it

On the gun issue, Rotering is hammering the point that Highland Park approved an outright ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in 2013. She wants to see such a policy enacted at the federal level.

Schneider supports reinstating the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. He has stopped short of calling for a ban on assault weapons purchased legally before enactment of such a law, telling the Daily Herald last month, "Going into people's homes and taking away their guns for too many people is a non-starter."

Speaking about Schneider's position on the assault weapons issue, Rotering said, "To me, that doesn't get the job done. That's leaving a lot of dangerous weapons on the table and isn't really addressing the true need for gun violence reduction."

Schneider supports various gun safety measures. As congressman, Schneider worked on gun violence prevention efforts and cosponsored bills that sought to expand gun background checks, strengthen gun violence prevention laws and provide communities with mental health crisis intervention services.

Both Rotering and Schneider are expected to participate in a candidates' forum this Sunday hosted by the League of Women Voters of Lake County. The event, which starts at 1:30 p.m., will be held at the Round Lake Beach Cultural and Civic Center, located in Round Lake Beach at 2007 N. Civic Center Way.

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