SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Republican Esther Joy King, an Army attorney who recently moved to East Moline from Chicago, joined Capitol Connection to discuss her campaign to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D) for her seat in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District.
Below is the unedited transcript of King’s interview on Capitol Connection:
Mark Maxwell: Esther Joy King joins me now from the Quad Cities. Esther, that’s a district that President Trump won pretty handily in 2016. And that’s actually a big reason why Democrats elevated Congresswoman Bustos. They saw her as a Democrat who can appeal across the aisle and connect with pro-Trump Republicans with a Democratic message. I wonder, do you think you have that same quality? Can you appeal to Democrats on the other side of the aisle and convince Democratic voters to come vote for you?
Esther Joy King: Mark, I have loved getting to meet so many people here in this congressional district. And yes, when I talk with people, when I knock on doors, I have a great experience with both Democrats and Republicans, because what I find we have in common is we want a government that works for us. We want people that will listen to us that will hear our needs and represent who we are, our values in Washington, DC. And my opponent has stopped doing that. Right now, she’s 100% of the time voting with Nancy Pelosi, and with Ilhan Omar and AOC 94% of the time. So Cheri Bustos is doing a better job representing California and New York than she is representing us right here in Western Illinois. And I’m going to change that. .
Maxwell: You say she represents California and New York, but her campaign recently says you’re just new to the district, that you’ve just moved there in recent years. I think the most recent record of you voting in that district was just last year, in 2019, not even the last congressional race. How do you think you know the district better than she does?
King: Mark, I have come to this part of Illinois through the Rock Island arsenal. So serving in the military brought me here. And really quickly, when you join this community, when you get to know people, you realize that we need better representation. And with everything happening in our country, I had to ask myself, if not me, then who? And I have values in common with this community that I am so proud to stand up for, and to represent.
Maxwell: Your campaign website says you support efforts to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals and those who would commit acts of mass violence. I wonder how that works? Isn’t that part of the challenge? Because how do you predict who would commit an act of mass violence someday? And harder yet, how do you take the guns out of the hands of that person before they commit that act?
King: Mark, right now, we are seeing so much upheaval around supporting law enforcement. And I believe this starts with making sure we support our law enforcement, making sure they have the resources that they need to hold criminals accountable. Right now, on the books, there are already federal laws to address gun control that aren’t even being enforced. So what we need to do is make sure that we are bringing a common sense approach and empowering law enforcement to help keep our communities safe.
Maxwell: What does that look like? You say you support efforts to keep guns out of the hands, now you’re saying you support law enforcement. Those sound to my ear like two different things. Am I am I hearing you correctly?
King: Well, Mark, when you think about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, who’s going to do that for us? It’s going to be law enforcement. So I believe it’s really important that we make sure our law enforcement have the resources that they need to do their job to keep our communities safe.
Maxwell: Would one of those resources be some of these armed militias we’ve seen recently? Or how do you think police officers should approach that issue as we’ve seen more people on their own sort of take to the streets to try and enter the fray?
King: Well, that… Mark, the question, uh… We, in supporting law enforcement, it is important that we maintain peace. It’s, this is such a complex issue of making sure that people are able to use their voice while enforcing and maintaining law and order because it’s what our country is founded on, Mark. The Constitution, the freedom that we have, not just to express our point of view and express what we believe in, but also to exist together with others peaceably. And so again, back to the bottom line, making sure we have safe communities.
Maxwell: Why do you think those militias are taking to the streets? And are they helping or hurting?
King: They’re not helping. I do think it’s important that we have the right to use our voice, have the right to express, but while respecting other people’s rights as well. And it’s not necessary to take to the streets as armed militia.
Maxwell: A lot of Americans are watching to see how Congress can restore that sense of justice. We had Congresswoman Bustos on back in June to ask her what kind of police reform measures she might support. Here’s what she said: “We want to have a law that says there will be no more chokeholds, there will be no more no-knock warrants, that there will be training of police officers and de-escalation of police officers in understanding the communities where we all live.” What do you hear when you hear her say that? Is there anywhere where you disagree with her on those ideas?
King: Well, Mark, what I think is actually important is looking at what happened in Congress. So there were, in… There were two bills and… addressing police reform and criminal justice reform. And those bills got held up because of political game playing. We had a bill that was introduced by Senator Tim Scott that was such a great reform addressing so many of the points. And even for example, addressing no-knock warrants, and it didn’t get through. Why? Because Nancy Pelosi and Cheri Bustos, my opponent, they were playing political games. They were unwilling to the come to the table, Mark.
Maxwell: Well, they passed the Justice in Policing Act.
King: I understand that. But that was not something that was agreeable to both sides. We could have had 70% agreement and gotten criminal justice reform.
Maxwell: Republicans did not agree on no-knock warrants, though. And I think that was… and they also did not agree on ending qualified immunity. Where do you come down on those issues?
King: Mark, qualified immunity is important for police officers to be able to do their job. We could have had an agreement, we could have moved forward. And yet the political game playing got us nowhere. We ended up with no reform when we could have had something progressing and making a difference. We could have made a difference. And yet the political games of my opponent prevented any reform. And I think, Mark, to bottom line it, out of that legislative battle that happened with no reform, what ended up coming out of it is the the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police has now endorsed me.
Maxwell: Okay, and on no-knock warrants, where do you stand?
King: Um, I think that’s a continuing conversation I need to learn on.
Maxwell: Okay. You said also on a separate issue, “Our farmers need federal support when appropriate, but not federal interference.” That struck me. What does that look like? How has the federal government interfered with our farmers? Are you referring to the President’s tariffs? And if so, what would you do to stop them?
King: Mark, supporting our agricultural community, our farmers, is so critical for this congressional district. I get to sit down with farmers all the time and hear from them what their needs or concerns are. And yes, what they want is open markets to be able to do hard work, to harvest. Harvest is happening right now. And their, their harvest, their product needs to be able to get to the world. We are the congressional district right here in the Illinois 17th. We feed the world and it’s so critical that the federal government support that capacity without interfering with it.
Maxwell: Do you agree with President Trump that the Supreme Court should terminate the Affordable Care Act?
King: Mark, the Affordable Care Act is like a birthday cake that has fallen on the floor. There are some good parts of it. But we need to rebake and start anew with a good plan that will actually solve the healthcare cost crisis for families. Mark, I talk with families so often, who can’t afford health insurance. Just the other day a father with two kids — so father, mother and two kids, their family — their health care cost has gone up by four times. They are now paying $27,000 a year to just have a health care plan for the four of them. And they can’t afford it, Mark. And so it is absolutely a problem that we need to solve. And yes, I do think we need to actually get a solution because it is true that the Affordable Health Care Act is not working right now.
Maxwell: When you say yes, I think we need a solution, does that also mean yes, you support the Trump administration’s lawsuit to strike down the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic?
King: Mark, I think we need a better health care plan.
Maxwell: But I don’t hear a direct answer to that question. Do you support the lawsuit that’s winding its way to the Supreme Court right now?
King: And Mark in in, in theory, Yes, I do. We aren’t working to take away people’s health care insurance. We are working to bring a better plan that will actually allow affordable quality health care insurance. That’s what’s important for families. The fact that there’s fear mongering happening, saying, oh, we’re gonna take away health insurance. That’s a political game, Mark. That’s not true.
Maxwell: Well, those are independent studies from people that say 20 million people would in the immediate aftermath lose their access to their health insurance plan. And that’s the speak nothing of the people who are losing their jobs or going through unemployment right now who might have been severed from their health insurance plan. Those are not political games or spin. Those are independent studies that have been done. Congressional Budget Office has looked at similar issues of what it would mean and all the churn that would happen. People would lose their health insurance immediately.
King: I understand that, Mark. And what we need to do is make sure we have a plan that is going to replace it.
Maxwell: What are the ingredients in that cake? What would be different?
King: Yeah. We need competitiveness to be able to purchase health insurance across state lines. I think a good idea that is being talked about is having the federal government give grants to states so that states are able to implement markets for people to buy health insurance. So competitiveness, transparency, making sure that we as consumers… there’s nothing more personal than our healthcare choices. We need to be able to be empowered to make those choices between us and our doctor. That’s something that we can absolutely improve on in the ideas, the plans that are coming, the new policies. So certainly competitiveness, transparency in pricing, making sure we’re solving the surprise billing crisis that’s upon us. My sister just recently had a health concern and she went to the hospital and then afterwards got a surprise $12,000 bill and she called me and was like, Esther, I don’t know what I’m going to do. So I know that is happening. And it’s personal for each and every person that it happens to. The ACA is not working for people, and we have to replace it with a better option.
Maxwell: You mentioned personal healthcare choices. President Trump promised to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe vs. Wade. And when he was asked about that question recently, what might judge Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court mean for the future of Roe vs. Wade, he said that it could be possible. Maybe they get at it a different way. I’m paraphrasing the president here. But he said perhaps they leave it up to the states to allow individual states to decide. There are members of Congress who have said if that happens, they want to codify Roe versus Wade and make it the law of the land, passing that law through Congress. If that vote comes before you, as a member of Congress, to make Roe versus Wade the law of the land, how do you vote?
King: That’s, that’s a complex issue, Mark, and I have a lot to learn on what the effects would be. I don’t actually believe that it’s going to be a question that comes before Congress, even with Amy Coney Barrett, who is not allowed to state anything about how she would vote.
Maxwell: She signed her name in 2006 to a newspaper ad that called abortion barbaric. And even in cases that lead to in vitro fertilization, that that was something that she did not support in those cases. So she has made her views clear before.
King: I understand.
Maxwell: And yet you don’t think that there’s any likelihood that a decision about abortion could come before the Congress.
King: Potentially. However, I don’t believe that they’re, even with Amy Coney Barrett being on the Supreme Court as our new appointee, I don’t believe there are the votes for Roe v Wade to come up.
Maxwell: Okay, that said, do the people of the district deserve to know how you would vote if that was to come up?
King: Mark, I have made very clear and it’s very important to me that everyone know that I’m on unapologetically pro life.
Maxwell: So it seems that would be an easier answer, then. If that vote were to come up to make Roe versus Wade, the law of the land. You seemed unsure how you would vote there.
King: Mark, again to pontificate on something in the future that’s hypothetical, that’s a long, confusing topic that I don’t know the answer to right now. But right now, today, I can tell you I’m on unapologetically pro-life. And those values that are so important to me will guide me in that question.
Maxwell: All right. Also this: I think this is your first time running for public office. Correct me if I’m wrong, a political newcomer, but not your first time in government. I noticed on your resume, you worked for Governor Rauner for a short stint. That was back in his early days, but didn’t last too long. What happened there? Why’d you leave? How’d you like it?
King: Yeah. Well, what I loved, Mark, about working for the state of Illinois as Director of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology is I got to be around business owners. I got to be around entrepreneurs and it was my job to help grow and promote the business community of Illinois, which is actually exactly what I’m excited to be doing as Representative. Our business owners need help right now, Mark. We absolutely need support during this time of pandemic. For example, there’s a section of the Illinois 17th that has been rolled back, and business owners are like, “We can’t shut down again, Esther. We’re not going to make it through. And so getting them support is actually really critical, Mark, and what we’ve seen from Congress, whose job it is to help pass a stimulus package… I mean, talk about some political game playing. What Nancy Pelosi is doing right now in her left hand lieutenant Cheri Bustos, my opponent, she is preventing support coming directly to these businesses that are desperate that need help right now. And that’s what’s important. And that’s what this is about, is bringing better representation to the Illinois 17th Congressional District.
Maxwell: You were there in that job with the state for in just a little over a year. Why’d you leave?
King: It was a decision that was, came from the, the administration. We did not agree on the methodology and some of the values that were being placed and we split ways.
Maxwell: How would you grade Governor Rauner’s time in office?
King: That’s not relevant to this election. What is important is Cheri Bustos’ time in an office. She has been in office for eight years. During her time in office, she’s only authored three bills, three bills renaming three post offices. That’s all we’ve gotten in eight years. Come on, now. We deserve better than that.
Maxwell: All right, Esther joy King joining us from the Quad Cities there in Rock Island. Thank you for joining us.
King: Thank you so much, Mark.