With the March 20 primary less than a month away Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs) and challenger Marie Newman met Wednesday for their only open public debate in a race that has drawn national attention. Before a sometimes boisterous crowd of 568 people at Moraine Valley Community College the two Democrats clashed most sharply over social issues. 

Throughout the campaign Newman, a former marketing executive from La Grange, has said that Lipinski, who is one of only a handful of anti-abortion Democrats in the House of Representatives, is too conservative and out of step with the views of voters in the 3rd Congressional District. Some Newman supporters had a banner saying that Lipinski is a DINO, or Democrat in Name Only.  

At the forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters, Lipinski, a seven-term congressman, struck back portraying himself as a rare bipartisan problem solver in Washington and saying that Newman’s views were unrealistic and out of touch with the reality of Congress. 

“I’m there to stand up against the status quo by bringing people together to solve problems,” said Lipinski in his opening statement of the 55-minute forum. “Some Washington insiders don’t like this, but I’m not backing down. I’m going to continue to fight to deliver for the 3rd District.”

The 3rd Congressional District stretches from the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago southwest to near Joliet and includes the southern portion of Brookfield.

Newman called for the passage of a “clean” Dream Act, legislation that would legalize the status of those brought to the United States as children by immigrants who are in the United States illegally. She said she wanted a bill not paired with other conditions such as tougher immigration restrictions or a border wall.

Lipinski said he has been part of a bipartisan group in Congress working to craft a bill that would extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order and that Newman’s approach would not pass in the current Congress.

“We’re not going to pass a clean Dream Act,” Lipinski said. “A lot of the things that Ms. Newman talks about she claims is going to magically happen. What we need to do is sit down and work out some compromise. Compromise has become a dirty word in Washington. The Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus is a major problem. Having a Tea Party of the Left that makes promises about all these things that can happen magically, it’s not going to work. They’re fantasies. We need to be willing to sit down and work together.”

Lipinski and Newman clashed most sharply on social issues. Newman said that Lipinski was hostile to women and gay rights and criticized him for a being a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a bill that would prohibit the federal government from taking “discriminatory action” against anyone who acts in accordance with their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman or that sexual relations should be confined to marriage.

“He is anti-LGBTQ,” said Newman saying that freedom of religion is already protected under the Constitution. 

“We don’t need further religious freedom,” Newman said. “We have religious freedom. We have freedom to do what we want with our religion or not have religion so that’s an unnecessary law. His freedom of religion law that he so loves is really meant to discriminate.”

Lipinski said it was necessary to protect those acting in accordance with their religious beliefs.

“Religious freedom is under attack,” Lipinski said. “When the Little Sisters of the Poor have to provide contraception that is a problem.”

Lipinski said that he is against bigotry.

“Bigotry is wrong,” Lipinski said. “Every individual should be treated with dignity. I think it is important to have laws to protect from discrimination members of the LGBTQ community. I voted 10 years ago to add sexual orientation to federal hate crimes laws. I voted to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military.”

Lipinski, who has previously opposed gay marriage, said that it is now the law of the land and that he supports that.

Newman said that the decision whether to have an abortion or not should be up to a woman and her family and she charged that Lipinski is hostile to women.

“I trust women and I trust families to do what they need in accordance to what their beliefs are,” Newman said.

Lipinski said that he has supported equal rights for women although he didn’t directly answer a question about whether he supports the proposed Equal Rights Amendment that has languished for decades.

“I’ve stood up for women in the workplace, helped pass the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, I am a co-sponsor of the paycheck fairness act so that any employer cannot pay women less than they pay men, I am co-sponsor of the pregnant worker fairness act,” Lipinski said. “I think it is very important that we stand up for the rights of women.”

Lipinski said that the federal government’s growing debt needs to be addressed. He voted against the tax cut law that passed Congress late last year.

“I was one of the brave 38 that voted for a budget a few years ago based on the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission,” Lipinski said. “We need to do that. We need to have the courage to make the tough choices and there’s going to have to be cuts and yes we’re going to have to raise taxes.”

Newman said that the growing debt could be addressed by better enforcement of existing tax laws and enacting a new financial transactions tax.

Newman called for single payer health insurance.

“I believe health care is a right,” Newman said. “I believe that Medicare for All is a good way to go and I think we can make it better and I’d love to be the worker bee on that makes it better.”

Lipinski, who voted against the Affordable Care Act when it was passed in 2010, said that he is working on legislation that would bring down health insurance premiums.

Both candidates said that they favored stricter gun control laws. 

“I believe strongly that responsible gun owners should continue to own their guns, and as many guns as they would like and use them responsibly,” Newman said. “However, there are some folks, domestic abusers, criminals, terrorists, and those that have mental illness that should not have guns.”

After the debate Lipinski said that he was a little frustrated that so little time was devoted to economic issues.

“It’s tough to get 13 years of work into one-minute spurts,” Lipinski said. “I don’t think we focused enough on the priorities of the people of the district, middle class jobs we talked a little about but didn’t get that much into. Tough to get into details about I’ve done, what she says that she will do. I didn’t hear much from her whatsoever about any details about anything and many of the statements that she made, unfortunately I didn’t really have time to come back, were simply false, statements about my record. That was disappointing, but I know that’s the way these things go.”