Extended Interview: Erika Weaver runs for Congress


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Democrat Erika Weaver, a public defender from Mattoon, joined Capitol Connection to discuss her campaign against Republican Mary Miller as they face off to determine who will replace outgoing U.S. Rep. John Shimkus in Illinois’ 15th Congressional District.

Below is the unedited transcript of Weaver’s interview on Capitol Connection:

Mark Maxwell: It’s a big map, the biggest district on the map in Illinois, but the people of the district are often scattered few and far between. It’s the most sparsely populated district in Illinois. You said “We’re losing jobs. We’re losing companies.” I wonder if you’re alluding to part of that out migration there. What do you think is driving people out of state?

Erika Weaver: Good morning, and thank you for having me. I believe that a lot of the reasons that people are leaving, specifically our district, is because our district houses the majority of poverty impacted areas. We do have a lot of blue collar jobs that are closing. A lot of our factories are closing from my district, my county here, with LSC, all the way down to Massac county where we had Honeywell. And so those are the largest employment opportunities for the majority of people here. And that’s why they’re leaving because those jobs are no longer available.

Maxwell: Even during this pandemic, even during this time of so much economic uncertainty, one of the biggest things people look for, voters look for, according to the polls we’ve seen is health care. I want to know a little bit more about your plan your vision of what health care should look like. You told WJPF in July, “People want to have health care that is not connected to their jobs.” I wonder what that looks like. And I wonder why you think that. Don’t most people who have health insurance from their employer want to keep it?

Weaver: Those who do. But as you know, right now, with an economic downturn, we have people who don’t have a lot of jobs. Right? So for the majority of our district, we have 35,000 people who are relying on the ACA. And with the impact of Covid, now there are, we have more people who are unemployed. So they don’t have health care coverage. And so not only do we need to protect the ACA, we need to expand it with something better that will give coverage. And my plan is to get federal dollars to provide for medical mobile units so that those units can get out to people, because as you described, our district is extremely large. But we don’t have a lot of those, you know, hospitals and medical facilities. And we can’t fund them either. But we can definitely take care of medical mobile units so we can get that that treatment to people.

Maxwell: And often hard for people to sometimes see a specialist. That can take hours driving round trip. What is your plan, though, for healthcare on the larger scale? Is it ‘Medicare for all’ or bust? Are you in a position where you can settle on a public option? What would you like to see Congress do?

Weaver: Well, I would just like to see Congress make some definitive action, right? We just need a mechanism that will provide health care to all Americans. I’m not a ‘Medicare for all, or bust’ because we just can’t do that. We can’t have either one extreme or the other. But we have to be able to have those conversations. I’m definitely willing to engage in conversations that will expand health care coverage to every person in this country.

Maxwell: Many voters in the 15th who are getting to know you and understand your positions may already know about your your resume. You work as a public defender and matters of the law, I imagine, are rather important to you. You called for a prohibition on police serving warrants without first knocking at the door. Police officers and sheriffs that we’ve spoken to say that would put their officers in harm’s way.

Weaver: It’ll put them in harm’s way?

Maxwell: It could, because a no-knock warrant is something they have to get a judge to sign off on, they have to show that they fear there is some dangerous element involved, whether that’s a firearm they believe might be in the home. The purpose for that no-knock warrant, officers tell us, is because they think that they need to have the element of surprise. Do you worry that taking that away from them might tie police officers hands?

Weaver: I believe that all of the aspects of our law enforcement jobs, it includes danger, right? There are risks involved, but they’re also risks for the American citizens who are on the receiving end of that. And so we’ve seen too many instances where a no-knock warrant has resulted in very disturbing consequences. And so the consideration is not to put law enforcement in more danger, but to also just be considerate of their lives and the lives of the people who are on the other side of that door. And there are other ways that we can do that. I would never want to put law enforcement in more danger. I work with law enforcement every day.

Maxwell: Your campaign website also says you “support reclassifying criminal offenses and turning misdemeanor charges that do not threaten public safety into non jailable infractions or decriminalize them entirely.” Would that include retail theft?

Weaver: Would that include retail theft, in terms of non jailable offenses?

Maxwell: Or decriminalizing them entirely?

Weaver: Well, misdemeanor… We remember, even traffic offenses are misdemeanors. And so, but how we move forward in that process, yes, we could we classify that, even with retail theft, especially with dollar amounts. And if you look at those thefts, they are classified based on the dollar amount that was alleged to have been stolen, or lost.

Maxwell: Your campaign site also says you support issuing citations or tickets essentially, rather than arrest for low level crimes. How do you respond to Republicans who might argue that that kind of a soft on crime approach could invite exploitation? How do you know that softening penalties won’t embolden hardened criminals?

Weaver: Well, we don’t know. But we don’t know that what we have is currently working either, because the idea is that we want to rehabilitate people. And I don’t know that what we’re doing is is rehabilitating them. Right? We know that recidivism rates are extremely high. We know that we still have a high rate of very violent offenses. And so my response to anyone who says, ‘Well, we don’t know if that will further embolden people to do or commit wrong acts,’ We haven’t stopped that thus far. And we’ve had a criminal system in place for a significant amount of time. So I think when you realize that something isn’t working, you decide to do something different.

Maxwell: This is a district that John Shimkus has represented for a very long time. I think it’s been a deep red district, one that’s supported President Trump. How is it going as you’re out there trying to connect with voters and sell a Democratic message? How do you do that? We do see some districts in Illinois, for example, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos won a district that President Trump won by 16 or 17 points. It can be done. How do you do it? What’s the message? And how is that going for you so far?

Weaver: Well, the first thing is I’m not selling a Democratic message. I am talking to people where they are. I am a person. I’m a mom. I’m a public defender. I’m a school board member, and I talk to everyone in this district, the way that I do every day. These are people that I work with, that I live with. I cheer for their children on teams, and they want the same things that I want. They want to put food on their table, clothes on their back, they want their home to be safe, they want to be able to provide for themselves and their families. And that’s the conversation that I have with them. What is it that you want and how do we get there? So I’m not pushing a Democratic message. I am talking about what we can do for the people of this district, and how I can advocate for that.

Maxwell: Very interesting to hear that. How do you think the district should remember Congressman Shimkus?

Weaver: Well, that would be up to up to the district. I think he… I have listened to him talk. There are times when he has definitely been very neutral. He’s operated in a way that he’s wanted to, you know, communicate across party aisles, but I can define how people will remember his time in office.

Maxwell: Before we let you go, what’s the biggest distinction, from your view, between you and your opponent? I noticed that she seems to think she’s running against socialism. That’s that’s a big part of her message. What’s the biggest distinction between you and Mary Miller?

Weaver: Well, I don’t know that there’s just one distinction. But I know that what makes me different and why I stand out is one, I have the credentials and the experience to do this job day one. We know that whoever takes over for Representative Shimkus will be a freshman member of Congress. And so who is best prepared to do that job as soon as they get there? And I would argue that that is me. I also have an understanding of what people in this district are living with every day, especially with this impact of COVID. I have experienced poverty here. I understand what it takes to transition out of that. My opponent doesn’t have that. I have extensive experience with education as a teacher, definitely as a student, as a mom, as a board member, as a faculty member in higher education. So my approach to education and the issues that our country is facing right now particularly our district is vast and different. So those are the things. But I’m not a socialist. So I can’t say what she’s running against. But I’m running for the people of this district. And I’m hoping that we have filled out the census and we can save this district. And that’s, that’s probably the most significant difference is that I believe that I am the best prepared person to do the job.”

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