DOWNERS GROVE, IL — Like many Democrats, U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, who is running for his third term in the newly redrawn Illinois 6th Congressional District, is hoping his defense of abortion rights will mobilize voters, especially women, to the polls.
“I do not agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to take this right away from 167 million women,” Casten stated. “Abortion is not a state’s rights issue. It is a women’s rights issue. I am 100% pro-choice without exception, and I will fight for legislation that federally protects reproductive rights … Congress can fix this on the federal level by restoring that right to individuals.”
Casten soundly defeated Chicagoan Charles Hughes and first-term Congresswoman Marie Newman in an incumbent vs. incumbent Democratic primary in June. The new IL-06 includes 41 percent of the old IL-03, yet Casten won 68.1 percent of the vote to Newman’s 28.8 percent. The victory was bittersweet with the heartbreaking loss of Casten’s 17-year-old daughter, Gwen, who died days before the Democratic primary in her sleep of a sudden cardiac arrhythmia.
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The Downers Grove Democrat has out raised his Republican opponent, Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau. During the third quarter, Casten pulled in $1.3 million into his campaign coffers, compared to Pekau’s haul of $657,117. Casten recently made a six-figure digital ad buy on Hulu, Facebook and Google, highlighting Pekau’s “extreme anti-choice stance on reproductive rights.”
Casten’s office hosted a roundtable event Oct. 21 featuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at Advocate Aurora Good Samaritan Hospital involving local healthcare leaders and representatives from Planned Parenthood of Illinois, the ACLU of Illinois and other advocacy groups. Pelosi told attendees that the nation is in an urgent fight when it comes to women’s reproductive rights, and that many other rights facing women will be on the ballot in the upcoming midterm election. She also endorsed Casten in the upcoming Nov. 8 election.
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Pekau, is on the record as being pro-life, telling The Center Square, “I was adopted seven years before Roe v. Wade, and the most loving act of my life was a 15-year-old girl carrying me to term and giving me up for adoption.” Pekau accused Casten of “falsely portraying his stance on abortion in campaign ads,” in which he’s cast as opposing exceptions to save a mothers’ life, or for rape or incest.”
Casten has also harped on Pekau for accepting an award from the far-right group Awake Illinois, for his stance against mask mandates and vaccines. The grassroots conservative advocacy group sent Casten a “cease and desist letter” threatening a defamation lawsuit, accusing Casten of “unlawfully exploiting the mission of Awake Illinois.”
The two candidates took opposing sides when the Downers Grove Public Library announced a drag queen bingo event aimed toward teens in grades 7 through 12. Casten blamed Pekau and Awake Illinois for creating “an unsafe environment” that forced the program to be cancelled, when the library claimed it received dozens of threats, including a call to bring weapons to the program.
Pekau denounced the drag queen bingo program as “adult entertainment” aimed toward children, and an “inappropriate use of taxpayer funds.”
“I join parents across the district in denouncing this event, just as I would denounce a library introducing kids to straight sex by holding a burlesque show,” Pekau said.
In 2018, Casten famously toppled six-term Republican Peter Roskum, becoming the first Democratic congressman to represent the old IL-06 before the remap, that encompassed DuPage County. Casten is running for his third term in the U.S. House.
He’s a climate scientist who’s worked to pass clean energy legislation to reduce the federal government’s carbon footprint, expand access to electric vehicles, and invest in clean energy technology. Casten has also voted to lower costs for families, such as prescription drugs and child care costs, introduced legislation to address the gun violence epidemic, and fought to protect a woman’s right to choose.
Following is Casten’s candidate survey for the June 28, primary with two additional questions on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and candidates’ thoughts on the 2020 presidential election results.
What county do you live in?
City or town of residence
U.S. House of Representatives for the 6th Congressional District
Sean Casten has represented Illinois’ 6th Congressional District since 2019. In Congress, Sean has used his real-world experience to pass legislation to reduce the federal government’s carbon footprint, expand access to electric vehicles, and invest in clean energy technology. In addition to his climate work, Sean has voted to lower costs for families like prescription drugs and child care costs, introduced legislation to address the gun violence epidemic, and fought to protect a woman’s right to choose. After starting his career working as a scientist, Sean co-founded and led his own business, which focused on recycling wasted energy and converting energy facilities to cleaner, more economic uses. He has also served as the president and CEO of a clean energy company, which used energy recycling technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sean has advocated for clean energy policies and has authored articles on clean energy technology, energy policy, and energy regulation. Sean holds a B.A. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from Middlebury College and Masters of Engineering Management and an M.S. in Biochemical Engineering from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.
Member of Congress for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District
Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?
Previous public office, appointive or elective?
U.S. House of Representatives for Illinois 6th Congressional District (2019 – Present)
Why are you seeking this office?
It is my great privilege to serve the 6th District in Congress. I am running for office to combat the climate crisis, protect a woman’s right to choose, and lower costs for families – like prescription drugs and child care.
Throughout my time in Congress, I’ve fought tirelessly to pass legislation, signed into law by President Biden, to lower the carbon footprint of the federal government and position Illinois to lead in clean energy innovation. We passed legislation through the House to lower costs for families – from child care to prescription drugs. And, I was proud to co-sponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act to codify Roe. into law.
I’m proud of the support we’ve given to our constituents, whether that’s getting a passport expedited or getting their IRS check processed or helping families with missing tax returns. I’m proud to have held over 50 town halls, because my constituents are my bosses and it’s my job to be accountable and accessible to the people I represent.
Please complete this statement: The single most pressing issue facing my constituents is ___, and this is what I intend to do about it.
I have dedicated my entire life to combatting the greatest crisis our planet faces—climate change. Whether it was as a scientist working in a lab to create sustainable fuel, as an entrepreneur helping companies transition to renewable energy, or as a Member of Congress, climate change has been, and always will be, my top issue.
From 2010 to 2020, Illinois experienced 48 extreme weather events, costing up to $50 billion in damages. This damage has been caused in part from the climate crisis, but also due to the poor quality of our infrastructure. Moreover, we are seeing a huge restructuring of our financial system, caused both by the economic losses from a changing climate and the flood of money away from energy extractive regions to energy consumers.
I have written and passed legislation to better quantify the risks of climate change to our financial system, to fund R&D programs in the hard-to-decarbonize industries and energy storage sector and to accelerate the deployment of cleaner, cheaper technologies that still provide us with all the useful energy our economy requires.
I have also dedicated much of my public time to explain to the public why climate change is both an existential threat while also addressing climate change is a massive economic opportunity – because the sooner we realize that green energy is cheaper energy, the sooner we can create a more stable future for our children.
What are the major differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
I ran for this office in 2018 on the premise that there’s an awful lot more that unites us than divides us. The overwhelming majority of us trust science. The majority of us think markets are extremely powerful tools to harness ingenuity, but they require a functioning, ethical, and competent government to make sure everybody gets a fair chance. The majority of us think that democracy is worth defending. The majority of us think women should have full autonomy over their health care, and that all Americans should have access to affordable healthcare.
Most importantly, the overwhelming majority of us know that we are only as good as the world we leave to our children.
We need voices that continue to remind us of what we have in common. To remind us of our common humanity. Not to back away and abandon our values, but to have the confidence and the integrity to lean in, remind and if necessary persuade people that those are shared values.
In Congress, I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished, like passing legislation, signed into law by President Biden, to lower the carbon footprint of the federal government. We passed legislation through the House to lower costs for families- like child care and prescription drugs.
I’m proud to have done over 50 town halls on issues ranging from impeachment to housing, to climate change. Because one of my greatest responsibilities is to be accountable to the people I represent, and town halls offer a unique and necessary opportunity for two-way conversation. I’m proud of the support we’ve given to our constituents, whether that’s getting a passport expedited or getting their IRS check processed. Or helping a veteran who had lost his Purple Heart and get his medal back. I’m really proud that we were able to do that, and that I was able to share that moment with him before he passed.
But, what I’m most proud of is having earned the voters’ trust. Ethics matters. Being transparent and available matters. Confronting hard issues, in the public square matters. I have centered those principles in my public service.
If you are challenging an incumbent, how would you perform differently if elected?
N/A, I am the incumbent
What other issues do you intend to address during your campaign?
My top three priorities are combatting the climate crisis, protecting a woman’s right to choose, and lowering costs for families – like prescription drugs and child care. But, there is a plethora of issues I am working to address in Congress, like flooding, housing, health care, education, gun control, and many more. You can find full list of issues I’m focused on at Sean Casten for Congress.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish while in office. From passing legislation—signed into law by President Biden—to lower the carbon footprint of the federal government, address sexual assault on college campuses, and invest in clean energy. On top of that, I’m proud to have held over 50 town halls, returned $3M in funds to taxpayers, help folks get expedited passports and IRS refunds processed. You can learn more about what I’ve accomplished at castenforcongress.com/accomplishments/
What was your first paying job, and what did you learn from it?
The first time I remember getting paid for the work I did was when I learned that there was a scrap metal yard near my house that would pay for aluminum and tin by the pound. I was probably 12 – 13 years old, having lunch with my dad at a pizza restaurant in town and noticed that all the cans of soda were made of aluminum and tin and were being thrown away. (This was before the 5 cent per can recycling laws were passed.) My dad told me I should come back with a trash can and ask the owner if he’d consider separating them out for me.
I remember being embarrassed to ask the question, but I did, and he said yes. And then I would come down once a week to pick up the cans he’d pulled for me and take them over to the scrapyard to earn a few extra dollars. I got to know the guy who ran the yard, and he gave me a tour of their facility, including the molten slabs of aluminum that they produced from my cans to resell – it was a neat, and very visual understanding of the circular economy. I doubt I earned more than $100 for my efforts that summer, but the idea that you can turn other people’s waste into money and improve the environment has stuck with me ever since.
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My thesis advisor in grad school, Lee Lynd had Watson & Crick’s famous paper where they discovered the double helix taped to his office wall. That wasn’t surprising for a biochemist studying bacterial fermentation systems, but when I asked him why he posted it he said it was to remind himself how to be a good writer and teacher. And specifically, that if you want to convince people of things, sometimes it is better not to tell them what you know, but give them just enough information to draw that conclusion on their own. The paper itself is very short, and follows the typical (admittedly boring) scientific format: Abstract, Hypothesis, Methods and Materials, Results, Conclusion. But it closes with that enigmatic sentence: “it has not escaped our attention that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.”
This was a paper about X-ray crystallography and specific chemical base pairs – but it has gone down in history as the paper that taught the world how DNA replicates. Not because they ever explained that mechanism but because everyone who read the article felt that they came to that conclusion on their own, based on a few words that presented scientific fact, then trusted the audience to make the logical conclusion. There are layers of wisdom there about how to teach, persuade – and ultimately, how to lead.
Is there anything else you would like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
I believe my values are reflected in my actions; since I became passionate about climate action, my life’s work has focused on reducing carbon emissions to protect vulnerable populations who will bear the brunt of climate change. While combating the climate crisis is my top priority, stopping inhumane and greedy policies of the Trump administration and GOP Congress was my first act in Congress. Once I arrived in Washington, I worked to protect the citizens of the Sixth District and the US from destructive environmental policy, cruel attacks on healthcare, and egregious tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthy.
In my second term, working with the Biden administration, I’ve been hard at work to ensure that I deliver for my district.
I successfully led my colleagues in sending a letter to leadership urging them to expand Medicare coverage to include hearing aides. I’ve done everything in my power to draw attention to the current crisis our democracy faces in the wake of the January 6th attack on our Capitol. And, I’ve held over 300 town halls, roundtables, and meetings to make sure folks in the district have ample opportunity to talk directly to their Representative, and help make real change! I’m also incredibly proud to have delivered over $3 million back into the pockets of my constituents through casework and helping them fight through government bureaucracy with federal agencies.
Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade? And do you support the Illinois Reproductive Health Act?
I do not agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to take this right away from 167 million women. Abortion is not a state’s rights issue. It is a women’s rights issue. I am 100% pro-choice without exception, and I will fight for legislation that federally protects reproductive rights.
Congress can fix this on the federal level by restoring that right to individuals. I was proud to co-sponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act and the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act to do just that. It is shameful that the Senate has so far refused to even bring this bill to a vote. But so long as 50 Senators think it is more important to protect the filibuster than to protect women’s rights they will pace progress.
Do you think the 2020 presidential election results are fair and legitimate? Why or why not?
The 2020 election was the freest, fairest election we have ever known. COVID protocols led many states to introduce long-overdue incentives to make it easier for every American to vote. Expanded mail-in voting, more drop boxes, longer early vote hours. All these contributed to record turn out. And while I am still amazed this needs to be said: Joe Biden won the majority of votes in a free and fair election.
Which is not to say we cannot improve.
In Congress, I’m proud to have led the fight to pass bills to expand voter access like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I believe we need to pass legislation to:
– Permit federal courts to halt questionable voting practice while they are reviewed.
– Provide the Attorney General with the authority to request federal observers be present anywhere in the country where discriminatory voting practices pose a serious threat.
– Require reasonable public notice for voting changes.
The remapped IL-06 includes all or sections of the suburban Cook Count communities of Alsip, Chicago Ridge, Palos Heights, Worth, Crestwood, Oak Forest, Oak Lawn, Tinley Park, Orland Park, Orland Hills, Palos Hills, Palos Heights, Hickory Hills, Justice, and extending into the Chicago neighborhoods of Clearing, Beverly and Mount Greenwood; and in DuPage, Downers Grove, Oak Brook, Oak Brook Terrace, Lisle, Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Lombard, Elmhurst, Darien, Hinsdale and Willow Springs.
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