Green Party challenger knocks Lipinski's health care vote

Riversider says congressman put religious values before Americans' well-being

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By BOB SKOLNIK

Longtime peace activist and Riverside resident Laurel Lambert Schmidt is challenging Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs) in the November election. Lambert Schmidt is running for Congress in the 3rd District as the candidate of the Green Party.

Lambert Schmidt, 61, who is making her first run for political office, told the Landmark that she is running so that voters have what she calls a progressive alternative to Lipinski. Mike Bendas, a Republican from Bridgeport, is the Republican candidate challenging Lipinski this fall.

"The public conversation has been dominated by the right wing as of late, and I wanted to have a voice for the concerns of people or what I consider liberal or progressive ideas or causes," Lambert Schmidt said.

Lambert Schmidt sent out a press release last week slamming Lipinski for voting against the health care reform bill in the House of Representatives. Lipinski was one of 34 Democrats in the House to vote no. He was the only Illinois Democrat to vote against the bill, which passed the House by a margin of seven votes and became law last week, when the bill was signed by President Barack Obama.

One reason that the pro-life Lipinski voted against the bill is that he felt that the bill did not sufficiently restrict federal funding for abortion.

In a more than 1,000 word written statement posted on his Web site, Lipinski explained his reasons for voting against the bill. He said that the bill did not do enough to reduce soaring medical costs and said that he was against the bill's cuts in funding for Medicare. He also pointed to the abortion issue.

"[T]his bill changes current federal policy and provides funding for abortion," Lipinski wrote. "This is not acceptable."

Supporters of the bill claim that that the bill continued current federal policy of prohibiting using federal funds to pay for abortions.

Lambert Schmidt criticized Lipinski for his vote.

"Dan Lipinski has put his personal religious values before the well-being of millions of Americans who just might be able to get health care coverage when before they could not," Lambert Schmidt said.

Lipinski's vote against the health care bill has provided a welcome boost for her campaign, Lambert Schmidt says.

"People are seeking me out even though I lack the money and publicity to really get my name out very much so far," Lambert Schmidt said.

Lambert Schmidt claims that Lipinski is too conservative for his district, which covers much of the Southwest Side of Chicago and many near west suburbs, including all of Riverside and Brookfield and the eastern half of North Riverside.

"He has not been someone who has espoused liberal or progressive values as a representative of this district," Lambert Schmidt said. "I think I do and could represent this district well."

Lambert Schmidt is the founder and chairwoman of the local peace group, Near West Citizens for Peace and Justice. She was a vocal opponent of the Iraq war and often protested outside Lipinski's local offices and often tried to meet with Lipinski.

She says that Lipinski met with her only once, and she sees this campaign as a way to continue a dialogue and debate with Lipinski. She has also worked on environmental issues.

Dan Lipinski was first elected to Congress in 2004 succeeding his father, former Congressman William O. Lipinski who announced after the 2004 primary that he would not seek reelection.

In 2006 and 2008 Lipinski rather easily fought off strong challenges in the Democrat primary and cruised to easy wins in the November general election in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

In February, Lipinski won the Democratic primary with 77.89 percent of the vote defeating a little-known challenger.

Lambert Schmidt, who describes herself as a recovering Democrat, supported primary challengers to Lipinski in 2006 and 2008 as well as Jerome Pohlen, the Green Party candidate against Lipinski in 2008. Both Lambert Schmidt and Bendas were unopposed in their respective primaries in February.

"We need to have principled opposition to Lipinski that stays on message," Lambert Schmidt said. "He's not doing the job that I would hope a Democrat would do in this area."

Bendas, who did not support the health care bill that is now law, says that his major issues are the size of the federal deficit and the need for job creation. He says that those two issues are related. He also says that the nation needs a smaller government.

Bendas is a graduate of West Point and served for eight years on active duty and 22 years in the Army Reserve before retiring as a colonel.

He says that he is strongly opposed to nepotism and that more and more people are upset with the status quo in both Cook County and Washington.

"I'm finding that there is increasing interest among both independents and conservative Democrats in voting for a change," Bendas said.

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