Candidate Profile: Brendan Kelly

Brendan Kelly announces run for Congress

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly says he will run for the Democratic nomination for Congress in 2018.
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St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly says he will run for the Democratic nomination for Congress in 2018.

Name: Brendan Kelly

Office seeking: U.S. Representative — 12th District

Party: Democratic

Age: 42

City of residence: Swansea

Campaign website: https://brendan4southernil.com

Why are you running and why should people vote for you? Everyone knows we’re more and more divided, and Southern Illinois has suffered for it. While people on the coasts thrive, our jobs, communities, and values have been abandoned and forgotten. Leaders in both parties have lost sight of what works for folks here at home—and our elected representatives just follow their lead. Consumed by ugly rhetoric and the flood of money in our political system, our leaders have stopped listening to us. They’ve stopped fighting for us. We need new leadership in both parties. And here in Southern Illinois, we need a leader who fights for us, not for the powerful few. I’ve been to every county in the 12th Congressional District again and again and again. So, I know Southern Illinoisans aren’t looking for someone with all the answers or someone who will tell them what they want to hear. They’re looking for someone who will listen and work their butt off to help them with what they care about – like raising wages, rebuilding our roads and bridges, making healthcare more affordable, and restoring faith in our democratic system. When the time comes, I want my boys to choose to raise their families here, but first we have work to do. I’m running for Congress because we have to save our home. We have to save Southern Illinois.

Were the steel tariffs the right approach in fighting foreign steel dumping? Why or why not? If not, what should have been done? We should all agree that cheating by China is a problem. It’s a problem for workers here in Southern Illinois, and it’s a real threat to our national security. The tariffs were a shotgun approach to the problem when we needed a sniper. Confronting China must be done, and narrow specific steel tariffs were appropriate, but instead of just focusing on them we picked fights with our allies. We need to make deeper changes to the way we negotiate and the way we enforce trade laws if we are going to have stable trade that benefits Southern Illinois. For 20 years trade agreements have been about helping the Bank of America instead of the people of America. The way those in power view trade now is undemocratic and disconnected from the people they’re supposed to serve. When China cheats, these violations can go on for years. By the time there is any real enforcement an industry has been put out of business, people are out of work, and communities have been torn apart. We need trade that confronts violators immediately rather than allowing bad conduct to fester to the point that a full blown trade war threatens our entire economy.

What should be put in place or done to ensure fair trade agreements and long-term stability for everyone in your district? Members of Congress are supposed to speak for the people they represent. Instead, Congress has been derelict in its duty, allowing a few people at the top to drive and direct our trade policy for the last 20 or 30 years. Our current representative is a part of the problem — he voted to approve “Fast-Track,” handing decision-making authority over to the executive instead of doing the hard work of oversight and negotiation that the people of Southern Illinois need. We need trade policy that is fair, and not just free — trade policy that doesn’t pit our farmers against our steelworkers, but allows for everyone to have a fair slice of the world economy. That can be done, but not in a scattershot, one-off way. It won’t be done by attacking our allies, and it won’t be done by engaging in an all-encompassing trade war. The only way that it will be done is if Congress actually does what it is supposed to do: listen to the folks in our district, develop trade policy from the bottom up, make the tough calls and take the tough votes that will best serve Southern Illinois, not big donors. It will be hard work, but hard work is something Congress hasn’t done in a long time.

Would you term limit yourself? If so, how many terms? Public service is called “service” for a reason. It’s not supposed to be about serving powerful donors while feeding from the public trough for 35 years. Public service is about making a difference, helping your fellow Southern Illinoisans, and then stepping aside to let the next generation lead. We need to put a limit on the amount of time that legislators are allowed to stay in office, because good public policy shouldn’t be built around personalities or party leaders. Instead, it should be focused on people. This is not something that can be done simply by one person limiting themselves. Congress must come together and pass a law for everyone. I don’t think there is a magic number (although three sounds good to me) but I’d work with anyone from to get something passed. Along with getting the money out of politics and ending gerrymandering, some term limits would restore our faith in democracy. I know the people want term limits because I’ve heard them say it at every town hall I’ve held. It’s time to listen to them.

The issues surrounding public housing in East St. Louis continue, even though the federal government returned it to local control. Was the federal government giving up control the right move? What needs to be done in order to help East St. Louis public housing? In no area of Southern Illinois can a full-time, minimum-wage worker afford a modest two-bedroom rental home at local rates. Public housing remains the only option for thousands of Southern Illinoisans. Public housing developments in Southern Illinois have been mismanaged for decades, and they now face billions of dollars in maintenance. Damaged roofs, broken windows, lead and mold hazards harmful to public health, poor design that attracts instead of deters crime, and general neglect means public housing can be a weight that pulls people down instead of giving them a hand up. Parts of East Saint Louis public housing — some built before WWII — have the highest rates of violent crime in the country. That impacts safety throughout the region. Instead of addressing the issue, HUD is walking away. Let’s be real: they’re not handing control over to any local authority. They’ve given up. They’ve abandoned East St. Louis, Cairo and all points in between — and our current representative is going right along with that. As State’s Attorney, I asked Mike Bost for help. I took him to East St. Louis. I wrote him a letter asking for help with HUD. I received no answer. We need partnerships at the local, state, and federal level backed by funding to renew public housing in East St. Louis in order to create jobs, reduce poverty, and make us all safer. However, that requires strong leadership and commitment, which we simply don’t have in this district now.

Has enough been done to address the ongoing opioid epidemic? If not, what else should be done? As a prosecutor, the opioid crisis has been devastating to witness and heartbreaking to fight. Last year, I became the first State’s Attorney in Illinois to take the drug companies to court for their role in this struggle. Across the nation, more people are killed now by opioids than by car accidents. Let’s be clear—we are not winning this struggle. There are three ways we can take on the crisis: We need to ensure access to affordable physical and mental health care is available to every American. Repeated attempts to gut health care by my opponent reduces access to treatment for thousands of Southern Illinois families. We need to secure our borders. Opioids like heroin and fentanyl flood into Southern Illinois from Mexico and China through various points of entry, including our airports and seaports, but the ugly divide in Washington prevents action. Above all, we must stop those who feed the opioid crisis: Big Pharma. Our corrupt Congress still fails to make Big Pharma change its ways—this includes my opponent, who has taken tens of thousands of dollars from Big Pharma, and votes their way. We must elect leaders to Congress who have the courage to say NO to the big money and Big Pharma, because both are destroying lives in Southern Illinois.

Was eliminating a fine for not having health insurance as required in the Affordable Care Act the right thing to do? Why or why not? What parts of the ACA should be changed? Every person in Southern Illinois DESERVES affordable health care. The reality is that many working people are dealing with the consequences and agonizing choices that come with rising premiums, out-of-control costs, and huge health care bills. This struggle was only made worse by attacks on our healthcare. Our healthcare has was never been perfect, but attempting to eliminate it has only made things more expensive for everyone. My opponent has repeatedly sided with party leaders in attempts to rip healthcare away from thousands of Southern Illinoisans. He has voted 14 times to take away protections for people with pre-existing conditions. He also voted for an “age tax” on older Americans who are already struggling to afford their health care. Mike Bost’s votes have left us paying more for health care while he pushed deals that hurt seniors and the 5.6 million people in Illinois living with pre-existing conditions. We are also being crushed by the rising cost of prescriptions in Southern Illinois. We need to stop price gouging and hold Big Pharma accountable. We can’t bring down costs though if leaders in Washington continue to sabotage our health care.

Gun violence is a problem. What can and should be done to stop it? As a prosecutor, I’ve had more experience than I ever wanted dealing with the issue of gun violence. I know that the Second Amendment exists because you have to be able to protect yourself from the very real evil that is in the world. If you live 30 minutes away from DuQuoin, and you’re out there by yourself and it’s just you and your family, it’ll be 30-35 minutes before a police officer can get anywhere near you. If someone’s trying to hurt your family or someone’s trying to take your property, you have the right to defend to yourself. As a prosecutor I also make my decisions based on evidence. I know there are proven evidence-based steps we can take to reduce the effect of gun violence in our country, steps that both sides can agree on and should be taken as soon as possible. In some communities, it is the cycle of poverty, violence and trauma that feeds gun violence. Trauma informed education, trauma informed services, and updating our criminal justice system can all help to reduce it. In communities across Southern Illinois, a better background check system would ensure that guns stay out of the hands of the mentally ill and those convicted of crimes like domestic violence. When I became State’s Attorney, we found so many cases where people had come into the court system, had been diagnosed with some kind of mental illness, but the state had no computer record in their background check system. In the age of Amazon and Google and vast efficient computer systems, there’s no excuse for not having a better background check system.