MOLINE, Ill. — Illinois voters will head to the polls for the 2022 midterm elections on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
For the first time in a decade, Rep. Cheri Bustos will not be on the ballot for Illinois' 17th congressional district. Instead, either Esther Joy King (R) or Eric Sorensen (D) will be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
News 8 sat down with both candidates, to discuss their most important policy points and why they believe you should vote for them. Below, we have each candidate's complete, unedited interview. You can also view the full version of both interviews on our Youtube page.
Please note, the above video is a shorter version of their answers that has been edited down for time.
We begin with Esther Joy King, whose last name comes first alphabetically.
Esther Joy King
SHELBY KLUVER: If you become Congresswoman Esther Joy King, what are the three, four or five most important topics you'll be thinking of - day one walking into Congress?
ESTHER JOY KING: Well, a big reason I'm running is to work for a strong economy and safe communities.
So my background, how I ended up running here in this race in the first place, my parents were Christian missionaries growing up. So they demonstrated to me every single day of our lives as kids, Esther, this is what service looks like. If there's something wrong in the world, jump in, make a difference, do whatever you can, to help people.
And that led me to join the United States military as a JAG officer in the army. And those same values are emphasized in military service: duty, standing up when leadership is needed.
And so when I'm out talking with people, Democrats, Independents, Republicans, we all sense that our country is off track right now. And so this one-party control in Washington DC that's costing families - this year it's costing us an extra $6,000, with no end in sight right now, that's why I'm running.
To help bring accountability. We need the cost of living to be lower so we can afford, whether it's filling our gas tanks or our grocery carts right now. So the number one priority for me is helping to work towards a strong economy.
And then talking with moms, especially in families across the district here in Illinois, with the Safety Act coming into enforcement on January 1, people are really worried about the increase in crime. And so working towards safe communities, and I'm honored to have the support and endorsement of police officers, and working with law enforcement to help create safe communities for families as a top priority.
And then thirdly, I'd also say it's an honor to work with our agricultural community here in western Central and Northern Illinois, because ag is our number one industry in Illinois. And so to be endorsed and supported by the Illinois Farm Bureau activator, and to work with the ag industry is top priority, because the first bill that's coming up in 2023 is the Farm Bill. And so to fight for a strong farm bill for our industry, in our communities here across our state is really top priority for me.
KLUVER: And what does a strong Farm Bill look like to you?
KING: Yeah, so that's everything from helping make sure that we have a strong crop insurance program, to helping bring down the cost of inputs for farmers. Right now talking with farmers, whether it's the cost of diesel, or fertilizer, all these inputs that are skyrocketing right now.
Farming, of course, is at the front end of our food supply chain. So if you can predict and foresee if costs for farmers that produce our food are skyrocketing right now, what's coming long term? Our food prices are already high and there's no end in sight or capacity to bring them down right now. So really working to help bring down the cost of food to make sure that families can afford to survive and to thrive.
The fact that in the United States of America, right now, we're at a point where families are really worried about even just paying basic necessities like we're headed into winter and cost of energy is up over 17%. So heating homes is going to be at issue this this coming winter. And that's not right.
And it is directly caused by the one-party control, Biden administration, Pelosi passing these bills with astronomical spending that's heating up our economy and, and making every dollar that we get in our paycheck worth less because of inflation. And so bringing accountability and to rein in that wasteful government spending is really important, as we look towards building solutions for our community here in the Quad Cities and across the Illinois 17th.
KLUVER: When we talk about inflation and the economy, what specific policies would you like to enact or work on that can help economic growth here in the 17th district?
KING: So there's a lot that come to mind.
First of all, prioritizing American energy independence, I believe is really important. Energy is at the front end, just like our food supply chain. Energy goes into everything we purchase, whether it's transportation or us getting to work every day. Helping bring down the cost of gasoline by prioritizing American energy independence is top priority.
And then when I sit down with business owners right now, some of their struggles.
I just recently sat down with a roundtable in Rockford, Illinois and one of the business owners who participated was a beer distributor. And she said, Esther right now we barely get workers, we don't have the people we need to load the beer on the trucks, so when the truck drivers arrive in the morning, the trucks aren't ready to go. So nobody's getting their beer right now.
So working on the workforce issues, so that there's people to - there's so much opportunity all around. So how do we help enable people to be prepared and to get access to the jobs that are needed, that are available, and just having the right training and getting people on board to solve some workforce issues that business owners are dealing with. We're still we're still dealing with supply chain issues from the shutdown that we had in during COVID. And businesses are still struggling with getting supplies.
So working hands-on with the solution-driven community and being a partner in that effort, I believe is the role that I'll be able to play. When I'm in Congress, helping bring people together to solve this issue, to help get our economy back on track, is top priority for me.
KLUVER: Another one of your top priorities is manufacturing as well as the small businesses, whether it be Peoria or Rockford or the Quad Cities. What's one specific policy that you believe could help small businesses here in the 17th District?
KING: You're so right, that manufacturing is a critical lifeblood of our community. We have such strong companies that manufacture across Western Illinois that provide good paying jobs, union labor jobs here in our district, which is great. And I think we need to help bring more back.
We saw again, in the time of COVID, we saw firsthand what a irresponsible China can cause in the United States of America, they released a virus that ended up killing millions of Americans. But we also saw, from a personal protective equipment that was not manufactured in the United States of America, that we were at risk from a national security perspective, because of the offshoring that's happened in the manufacturing industry.
And so working to hold China accountable, and to bring manufacturing back to the United States of America, particularly from a national security perspective, I believe is very important.
We have the Rock Island Arsenal right here in the Quad Cities. They are the crown jewel, they bring in over a billion dollars into our economy here in this community. And so working on defense manufacturing and bringing their suppliers close by, to bring jobs here. And we have a strong economy up in the the aerospace industry in Rockford, the northern part of the district.
So really highlighting and shining a light on what we what resources we already have, and then bringing in - particularly reshoring supplies that have been manufactured in China historically. Let's bring those back to the United States to help improve our national security. Because of what we learnt the lessons that we've learned during the COVID lockdowns.
KLUVER: I want to move on to education and ask what you view is the biggest challenge to education in the 17th district?
KING: Well, I just read an article this morning about how poorly Illinois performs on the education front. And that really breaks my heart because I consider education to be one of the most... It's a great equalizer for people.
I experienced that myself. I was born-- my family was homeless when I was born. So for the first three years of our lives, my mom and dad, my dad had found a broken down school bus that he built bunk beds in for me and my brothers and sisters. And so to come from that, and to now, just short 36 years later be running for United States Congress. The enabler for me was my high-quality education.
My mom and dad emphasized, Esther make sure you love learning make sure you learn-- when you read a book, devour it and learn everything you can from it. Make sure you have a strong understanding of arithmetic and, and those foundational educational skills that, even though we came from nothing, mom and dad still prioritized, helped me arrive to this point in my life to be able to join the military and become a lawyer as a JAG officer, Judge Advocate General in the military.
I have arrived here and been gifted the privileges I have in life, because of the educational opportunities I received. So I understand very intimately firsthand how important that education is.
And I believe again, to talk about the lessons we learned during COVID. We saw how important it is to put parents in the driver's seat for their children's education. And for moms and dads to play a big role. And when I talk with teachers, they're all for it. They're like we need parents involved and we need parents as allies to come create great educational opportunities for kids.
So helping prioritize parents capacity to influence and be a part of children's education, I believe is a very important concern to improve the standards and the quality of education that kids receive, to be able to access opportunity.
KLUVER: Knowing that you are pro-Second Amendment, what is the role that you believe Congress should play? Or could play when it comes to fighting the epidemic of school shootings?
KING: We think of Uvalde that just happened in Texas or here in Illinois with Highland Park-- or one that's very personal to me was the Tulsa shooting. There was a shooting at a hospital that was around the corner from my brother and sister-in-law's home. And so my nephew was actually at the park across the street from the hospital when that shooting happened. So I had just a small glimpse of the anxiety, the horror that parents have gone through in some of these events.
And we do absolutely need to help support our schools so that we protect our most vulnerable. That is ultimately one of the government's I believe, most important roles in our society is to protect the most vulnerable among us.
And so to support our law enforcement, to make sure that we are giving them the training and the tools that they have to respond to these horrific situations, I believe is top priority. Helping different layers of law enforcement, federal, state and local law enforcement coordinate up and down the chain to be able to effectively respond, I believe, is top concern.
And then on the front end, making sure we're helping provide resources for mental health concerns and to help prevent some of the incidents. Also, enforcing the laws that are already on the books. There are so many laws that are already in place, that if they were enforced, they could help prevent these incidences. But we're not supporting the law enforcement to be able to enforce them with the resources they need. So supporting law enforcement to me is a starting point to help create solutions.
And so I'm really proud to be endorsed by the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police. We just announced it this week. And 34,000 police officers across Illinois came together to support my campaign and their executive board. The President shared with me like, "I got 30 people to unanimously support you. That's never happened before!" So it's really an honor to stand with law enforcement in this election.
KLUVER: You are very publicly pro-life. And I'm curious if you get to Congress, what would you be willing to vote for? How far would you be willing to vote when it comes to things like a national abortion ban?
KING: Well, the Supreme Court decision returned this very important personal decision back to the states. And I believe closer to us, the people. So our voice matters in this conversation. And we are going to come together and an ongoing process to really work through where the state laws are.
Here in Illinois we have some of the most extreme abortion laws in the country. Right now, under J.B. Pritzker - which these extreme laws are celebrated by my opponent - we have abortion up to and during birth, paid for by taxpayers, without parents involved for minors. Those aren't our values. And that's not who we are.
And so this is going to be an ongoing conversation that we have. And when I'm in Congress, I do pledge to help make adoption easier and help support women's health efforts so that on the front end women have the support they need. There's so much that can be done at the federal level to support this ongoing conversation, to help make sure that we're prioritizing women.
KLUVER: So knowing that this decision is kicked back to the states, if you are in Congress, would you do anything or make any votes that would enact more national bans?
KING: Well, I believe we've seen with the Dobbs decision, that it has been returned to the States. From a constitutional perspective - understanding the law as an attorney - that the states... it's now been returned to the states as a states' rights issue. So this really important and personal conversation I believe is going to continue at the state level.
Lessons Learned From 2020
KLUVER: Two years ago, you came so close. Just 4% of the vote separated you and Cheri Bustos. What's different this time around?
KING: Well what a journey it's been! The 2020 election was truly the honor of a lifetime because I got to be part of a grassroots movement. There's a hunger in our part of the state for better representation. Just the dynamics of this state, people feel left behind quite a bit on our part on the western side of the state. That's what I've learned in being part of this campaign.
And so to stand up and to work hard to get to know the communities and to go to pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners, and knock on doors and ask people what matters to you... that has been-- it's just been this incredible momentum that's built around our campaign because we are here to ask people what they want. Not to tell people, "This is what's important, you should care about it." But I'm here to listen and ask people, "What matters to you?"
So you asked what's different between 2020 and 2022. We did go through a redistricting process. And the process is controlled 100% by Democrats here in Illinois. So they, with my almost-victory in 2020, they did gerrymander the district to try and make it a secure Democrat seat. But the people of Illinois, they've underestimated us. And we know that we deserve a better voice.
So we're already back, we've overcome that disadvantage that they've tried to give the campaign. And we're already neck and neck with so much excitement and momentum around the campaign.
What we're doing for the next 34 days from now until the election is just meeting as many people as possible. I know when I'm talking about bringing accountability to Washington, D.C. and creating a strong economy, and a safe nation, and an accountable government and a future that's free-- that's based on freedom. Those ideas resonate.
And so 10 times out of 10, when we're talking with voters, they're so excited to be a part of this, because they know we deserve better than the one-party control that Washington has right now. That's hurting every single Illinoisan and costing us more than-- it's an extra $6,000 a year, this year, for basic necessities. And so we want better than what we're getting.
So when I get to talk with voters and meet them and find out what they care about, they're so excited to be a part of this campaign and what it will mean to bring better representation for our community.
KLUVER: Wrapping up - and I'm asking this question to your opponent as well - let's say election night does not go in your favor. Will you support your opponent and this democratic process?
KING: Yes. There's nothing more important than a secure election and an election that we can trust.
When talking with people, we want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. And so we're working hard to work with lawyers and work with poll watchers, and election judges to make sure we have the safest most secure election possible. So that not just myself, but every single voter that votes, knows that the outcome is trustworthy. That is the foundation of our democracy.
So not only will I support the outcome of the election, I'm working to make sure that it is the most trustworthy election possible.
And if anyone wants to get involved, they can go to estherforcongress.com. We'd love to have them be part of the campaign! We need all the volunteers we can get. And we'd love to have you be a part and you can go to estherforcongress.com to get involved.
This truly has been the honor of a lifetime to meet the people that I've met. To receive the support is humbling. Just some of the very best people I've ever met in the course of my life have been because of this process here in our communities. And I would say a huge thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you for trusting me to be a voice for you a champion for you in Washington D.C. It will be my honor to speak on behalf of the Illinois 17th congressional district when I'm in Congress. And I thank you for trusting me with your vote, and I can't wait to get to work to bring better representation to our community.
KLUVER: Let's say you win on election night. When you walk into Congress, what are the three most important topics at the top of your mind?
SORENSEN: Yeah, one of the things that we've got to work for most-- it's the supply chain, it's the cost of food. It's the fact that inflation is affecting everyone. Doesn't matter what street you live on, what zip code you have, we're all having to struggle today. It's what are we going to be able to do in the next Congress to bring about the solutions to the problem?
I think one of those things certainly is prescription drugs.
I was talking to a gentleman in Knoxville just this past weekend. And he goes, "Eric, I'm voting for you. Because, you know, I can't afford my insulin," He goes, "I can only afford every other one." And I'm like, oh my gosh, that's wrong. It's wrong that he can't afford it. He needs help.
And that's where Congress can help - to bring the prices down. Prescription drugs need to come down, and then it will ease the burden on so many other things. So that's first and foremost.
I do believe that the next Congress is going to be voting on whether or not a woman has a right to choose. Or, are we going to allow the federal government to make health care decisions? And these are very important issues that we have on the table.
And then thirdly, I really believe with the farm bill that's coming up, we've got to make sure that our farmers are taken care of. And I hope to be at the table for the next farm bill.
KLUVER: You have said publicly that 'rising costs' are your most important issues. What specific policy would you want to fight for to help bring costs down in the 17th District?
SORENSEN: I think number one, it is the cost of prescription drugs.
I had a gentleman up in Rockford early on in the campaign. And he came up to me, he goes, "Eric, I need your help." I said, "What do you need help with?" You know, I'm open and honest, right? How can I help you? And he goes, "I pay more for my drugs at CVS every month than I pay for my rent."
And Shelby, it was then that I realized that I don't have an answer to him. I don't know how I'm going to help him. But you know what, I'm going to remember his face. His name is Steve. I know he lives on the east side of Rockford. And I'm going to work as hard as I can, because I know that he's not alone - that there are other people in this district that need the help - and I'm going to be working for them.
KLUVER: You are a very publicly pro-choice and have spoken out against the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. What can you do in Congress to - as you put it - help increase access to health care?
SORENSEN: Well, first of all, we need to make sure that an extreme judiciary isn't the legislative body in our government. And that's clearly what we have seen this year with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. We need to make sure that our legislative body is creating the legislation that is going to codify healthcare rights like Roe into law, so that they can't be touched.
We've seen from the Supreme Court what's next - we should know what's next. They're gonna come after my ability to get married to my spouse, Shawn. And who's going to vote for that? We need to make sure that the people that we elect have the people that are going to go and fight for us. And that is essential here.
You know, a lot of people throw around that this is the most important election in our lifetime. Well, this one might be! We don't know. But it's certainly a reason that we can't sit it out. We have to vote for what's going to be best for us today, but also understand that whether it's 5, 10, 20 years from now, when our kids or our grandkids, look back and say what did you do in 2022, when those rights started being taken away? We need to be able to tell our kids and our grandkids, I voted. I made my voice count.
KLUVER: What do you view is the most important issue facing education in the 17th district?
SORENSEN: As far as education, we need to make sure that our teachers are cared for. That they have everything that they need in the classroom. And I'm glad to have been endorsed by the teachers union because I will fight for schools.
I've talked with 50,000 students in my career. And while I was on the subject of weather safety, I understand that our kids need to learn.
Looking back through the pandemic, you know, we have to understand that it was a big problem that our students were home. It put a burden on moms and dads. But also it meant that our kids couldn't learn.
We need to make sure that if the next pandemic happens, that for instance, we're looking at science - we're exchanging the air rate in school classrooms. What would happen if we could exchange the air rate eight times an hour? It would mean that kids wouldn't get a cold. What if kids don't spread the flu? If kids feel well, they learn.
We need to do the things in schools to make sure that kids succeed. And kids need to be able to be given the opportunity to succeed no matter where they grow up, what their zip code is. You know whether you're living over in East Moline, Rock Island, Rockford, or in Bloomington-Normal, we need to make sure that the kids here can succeed.
KLUVER: Top of mind for a lot of families when it comes to schools is the tragic topic of school shootings. What do you believe Congress could or should do to help curb this epidemic?
SORENSEN: We need to understand that gun violence is happening too frequently. We have to do something. We need to make sure that the people that want to do harm can't get their hands on an automatic weapon or a semi-automatic weapon.
And this is personal to me. I was on the air on the breaking news desk when NIU-- when the mass shooting happened there. And many students were killed.
Congress must do something. I think most of the people in our communities would say doing nothing is no longer an option. We need to make sure that our schools are safe.
And the root of the matter today is there are parents in my neighborhood - when their kids are going to John Deere Middle School right up the road here - and they've told me that they're worried. Moms and dads have a different thought process when they drop their kids off for school-- when the kids are getting on the bus. Because they don't know if their school is going to be next. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
But here's the thing is, I support the Second Amendment. I support people's rights to be able to have and own a gun. But we need to do something to separate the people that are lawful and the people that are not lawful. And Congress does have the ability to act on that.
KLUVER: Any specific policies in mind?
SORENSEN: We need to look at an assault weapons ban, certainly. We need to look at how people so quickly are able to get guns at gun shows. They're able to get the ammunition. We have to look at situations like what happened in Uvalde - how that young man was able to get that weapon so quickly. And then also look at the response in a situation like that. Because clearly, I think about those kids a lot.
I will remember where I was when I heard that Uvalde happened. I will remember where I was when I heard that Sandy Hook was shot up. And we've got to remember those. We cannot let those times of tragedy just go back into history. Because if we don't do anything, then it's on us, the next time it happens here.
KLUVER: I want to turn to climate change. You have claimed that there's no one in congress who would have your climate science background. What does that mean for voters?
SORENSEN: Well, Shelby that's a great question because when I was considering this run for congress, you know the first thing I did? Google search "meteorologists in congress." There hasn't been one since 1976. It's been 50 years since we've had meteorologists in congress.
But it's more than that. It's making sure that-- it was understanding this complex issue at the bottom of the ocean of the atmosphere, but then explaining it such that people understood it, and they could remember it.
And that's what we need in congress. We need someone to be able to take something that is incredibly difficult to understand, but to make it make sense. I had a lady at the grocery store a couple of months ago, and she said, "Eric, I miss how you used to tell us how the weather works," and we shared a chuckle. But then as she was walking away she goes, "Now I can't wait for you to explain how Congress works."
So then I thought to myself, what does that mean? It means that she wants to communicator. She wants somebody to explain to her how it works or how it doesn't work. And it should come from somebody that doesn't have a political background. Who doesn't have political motives. It should come from somebody that is already known and already trusted in the community.
KLUVER: So would you support a Green New Deal?
SORENSEN: Well, first of all, we have to understand that there isn't a silver bullet to solving this. A green New Deal is not cost-effective - just throwing trillions of dollars at it, when we don't know a lot of the solutions... I don't believe that that's the right thing to do, from my scientific point of view.
But what I do believe, is instead of a silver bullet, we have silver buckshot today. There are pieces of this that have hit the bullseye. That's why we need someone that's rooted in science to be able to go and say, alright, these pieces work, let's go and work on these today. And then, in a year from now, let's go reanalyze it to see what works.
KLUVER: What's an example of a piece that you believe is working?
SORENSEN: A piece I think that that's working, or we need more work on, is we need to rethink our electric grid.
Right now, our electric grid will not sustain all of us changing over to electric vehicles. It's not possible. We can't all just drive electric vehicles today. We have to be able to move the power from where the wind turbines are to where it's calm. We have to move the power from where it's sunny to where it's cloudy. And right now, we can't do that.
So if we're going to meet the demands, 10, 20 years down the road, we need to make sure that we're making that investment. And that's what Congress will be able to do. It's a continuation of the steps that we've made - not doing a green new deal where it's all of the steps at once because that's not possible.
KLUVER: This district narrowly went to the Democrat incumbent two years ago. How are you adjusting things to keep this district blue in 2022?
SORENSEN: I'm thinking about this in a different approach because I'm somebody that didn't have a political background. Political wasn't in my blood until I made the decision to run. And that was because, yeah, I do believe that Congresswoman Bustos did our communities well. She served us well.
And I know that not just because of what I feel, but what I've heard from people in communities, whether it was a big city like Peoria, or a small town. It didn't matter. She worked for everyone. She was able to work across the party divide.
And I believe right now as our politics are working to try to make us hate one another, that we need somebody that doesn't have a background in politics, to be able to say, let's follow the data, let's follow values. Because when we're able to talk about our values, whether it's a Democrat or Republican, we all share the values of making sure that we can live and play in a safe place. Or that we're doing the best that we can for the environment for the future. Or that we're solving the crisis of high food costs. We need to get rid of the politics.
And so for me, it's making sure that we're working together to solve our problems, as opposed to making sure as a Democrat, I'm getting Democratic votes. No, no, I'm getting Republican votes and Independent votes and Democratic votes.
KLUVER: Wrapping up, and I asked the same question to your opponent as well, let's say election night does not go in your favor. Will you support your opponent and this democratic process?
SORENSEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. We need to make sure that whomever receives the most votes come November 8, or when they're counted, that we champion around that next person; to make sure that our voices remain steadfast, that we're still speaking about our beliefs, that we make sure that the next Congress person is fighting for us.
Because in the end, the next representative will be in charge of representing our voice, representing our future. And we need to make sure that whomever that person is, is trusted, and that we hold them to account.
And if I shouldn't be so lucky, to be the next Congress person for the city here that I put down roots or my hometown of Rockford, no one will ever question who I work for because I work for the people and I will always do that.
(Volunteers) can go to ericforillinois.com. And being part of the process is important. We've had so many people that have never been part of a political process. So if having their weatherman now running for Congress is kind of instigating people to take part? It's wonderful all around.
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