Raja Krishnamoorthi’s resume is undeniably impressive. He has degrees in engineering and law from Princeton and Harvard Universities, respectively. He’s also worked alongside President Barack Obama—before he was President. In 2004, Krishnamoorthi worked alongside the U.S. Senate hopeful as a senior advisor. In 2008, he advised Obama during his presidential campaign.
But after a two-year stint as Deputy Treasurer of Illinois, Krishnamoorthi resigned and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Illinois State Comptroller. Now, he’s a contender in one of the most hotly contested races of this primary season. He’s fighting for the Democratic nomination for the 8th District, against Tammy Duckworth. His hope is to oust Tea Partier Joe Walsh, but he’s lagging behind Duckworth in the polls, most notably in name recognition. Chicago Tonight spoke with Krishnamoorthi to see what’s going through his mind as the primaries approach. And don’t forget to watch Krishnamoorthi alongside Duckworth for a special candidate forum on March 7, 2012, on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm. Excerpts:
1) What are the main issues in your district?
The major issues are unemployment, housing crisis, infrastructure needs and mass transit needs.
2) How are your fundraising efforts going -- you're currently leading?
I think we are going to have the resources necessary to spread our message. I think the fact that we’ve raised more money is a sign that we resonate with people. How do we get the economy working again, how do we guarantee we restore prosperity to American families here? I think when people hear more about my experience as the president of a technology company – I think the reason people are very supportive is that when they hear more about my experience – my professional and public sector experience, running a small business and on the front lines, and the more they hear about my comprehensive economic plan that we have on our website, the more they want to support me whether it be through votes or donating to our campaign. And I think that’s the main message. They’ve donated to me, knowing full well what their options are. They appreciate the fact I’ve been careful with their money and that I'll be the best rep for this district.
3) Is it true that many of your donations come from Political Action Committees?
We have relatively small contributions from PACs compared to my opponent. The one thing that’s true about my donors is that they’ve never given to politicians before. They’ve largely donated to charities, not political causes. I think they do this because they see me as the very best candidate at this moment and they see me as the No. 1 candidate to deal with the economic challenge before us.
4) If you win the primary, what’s your strategy against Joe Walsh?
I think the question before voters in a general election will be who is best prepared to deal with the pressing economic challenges facing middle and working class families. Congressman Walsh has a record, and time and time again he’s voted against the best interest of our constituents. Whether it was voting to shut down the government when Planned Parenthood was facing cuts, cutting funding to EPA, and most glaringly, not promoting a jobs bill or taking any action on the American jobs bill that will help resuscitate our economy. When we stack his record against his rhetoric, and compare it to mine and my experience, they will choose me as the next representative of the district.
5) In the Daily Herald, you were quoted as saying: “Everything gets livelier with Joe Walsh around.” Explain.
I think that Congressman Walsh is very interested in media attention for whatever he does. All of his sentences end in an exclamation point. And Congressman Walsh is very interested in manufacturing crises to attract media attention and, on the other hand, the constituents in this district are looking for solutions to their real problems.
6) How do you feel about the Tea Party extremist, as he is called?
He is willing to hold us hostage to an ideological and cultural agenda, like what happened in spring 2011 with the budget. He threatened to shut down the government unless Planned Parenthood was defunded by the federal government. I happen to be strongly pro-choice, and I am a supporter of Planned Parenthood. I know people on the other side of this issue who were appalled with the linking of our federal government to the abortion issue. These are apple and oranges and should not be linked especially when peoples' livelihoods are at stake. The operation of the federal government is something I believe is a very serious matter and should not be ever disrupted based on these petty politics.
7) More than 20,000 of your neighbors have lost their lobs since the recession began, how do you plan on remedying that?
Here are five major points:
- I think it’s crucial that we extend and enlarge the payroll tax cut that’s due to expire this month, and this will enable middle class families to have the income to buy stuff that small businesses sell.
- We have to extend and maintain unemployment benefits which are, again, due to expire. This is crucial as even people look for their next job they can continue to take care of families and participate in the economy.
- We have to invest in public infrastructure. Upwards of 40 percent of skilled tradesmen and women are unemployed. We should be putting them back to work to by repairing the crumbling roads, bridges and facilities in our district.
- We have to address the housing crisis. We have to do whatever it takes to keep people in their homes, whether it is refinancing or providing principal reductions so they can afford their homes.
- We have to jump-start small businesses, with greater access to capital and leveling the playing field versus larger corporate competitors that enjoy tax loopholes and expenditures, which small businesses don’t enjoy. More federal dollars for research and development for small business.
8) You are currently president of Sivanathan Laboratories in Bolingbrook. You also served as a special assistant Attorney General under Lisa Madigan and you were deputy treasurer for Illinois – how does this experience make you a better Democratic candidate than Tammy Duckworth?
A lot of my experiences were in economic development. I was on the board of Illinois Housing Development Authority, and we financed the construction of low- and moderate-income housing. When I was at the Attorney General’s office, one of my prime main focuses was focusing on the transparency of government contracting. When I was at the treasurer’s office, I headed the state's $1 billion low interest loan program to help small business, and I headed the $75 million technology venture capital fund, which provided hundreds of good paying jobs in Illinois. I’m better prepared to deal with the economic challenges we have.
9) In a recent poll, voters in the 8th District said Tammy Duckworth has a better chance at beating Joe Walsh than you. Do you agree with this poll?
I think that the only poll that’s going to count is on Election Day. I think the reason voters will select me is on the No. 1 issue of how we get the economy going again. I’m the candidate who is best prepared for that challenge and can go toe to toe with Joe Walsh and his Tea Party colleagues. Our agenda is not job killing, it is job creating. There is nobody better positioned to make that statement or to stand up for our party on economic and business decisions than a small businessman. Therefore, I think voters will come to select me for that reason.
10) What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
Hardworking, honest, and loyal.
This interview has been condensed and edited.