After handily defeating his primary opponent in March, Democrat Brendan Kelly is gearing up for a heated 12th Congressional District race against incumbent Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro).
Kelly sat down with the Republic-Times on Monday to weigh in on a number of issues ranging from trade to infrastructure.
In January, the Commerce Department imposed tariffs on Canadian newsprint when North Pacific Paper Co., a United States paper mill, complained that Canadian newsprint mills dominate the market and hurt its business.
Most U.S. newspapers are printed on Canadian newsprint. With the tariffs, news organizations could see their second largest expense — printing costs — increase as much as 32 percent.
The Commerce Department and International Trade Commission are investigating whether to keep the tariffs in place and will make a decision over the summer.
While the current St. Clair County state’s attorney had not heard of the tariffs, Kelly shared his belief that southern Illinois residents feel removed from the equation when it comes to trade policies in the country.
“What we’re seeing globally with Brexit and the election of (President Donald Trump) is reflective of the frustration many people in the heartland have with trade policies supported by both parties. These have hurt places like southern Illinois in which people feel very disconnected from the decision-making,” Kelly explained.
Elaborating, Kelly said reforming America’s trade policies will require accountability from Congress.
“Congress should not take this fast-track approach which allows them to avoid responsibility and accountability to their constituents,” he said. “We have to do the hard work of reforming trade to make sure it improves people’s lives and not hurts communities.”
Kelly used the example of farmers, saying they need reliable access to foreign markets, but added that countries such as China should see consequences for cheating when trading steel and aluminum.
Trump initially desired to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Canada, Mexico and the European Union but is postponing making a decision for another month.
On the topic of gun control, Kelly said he advocates for the Second Amendment and understands the need for citizens to protect themselves from danger.
“I do not agree with those who are trying to appeal the Second Amendment. I think that’s just wrong,” he shared.
Instead, Kelly said he wishes to see the criminal background system reformed with better communication to prevent weapons from getting in the hands of criminals, domestic abusers and those with serious mental health issues.
“If you are a person who should not have (a gun), then there is no excuse … why we can’t have these systems talking to each other,” he said, referring to the courts, mental health institutions and records systems.
Kelly cited violence in East St. Louis as an example of why the country needs reforms rather than gun control.
“That type of gun violence revolves around a lot of repeated trauma and the cycle of violence — tit for tat, that type of violence. We need to reorient our education system and our criminal justice system to focus on stopping that cycle of trauma,” Kelly said.
Another important issue Kelly discussed revolves around infrastructure. Recently, Trump unveiled a proposal he said would spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments. The proposal calls for releasing $200 billion in federal funds for state projects.
Asked whether he agrees with Trump on the funding level, Kelly said it imposes too heavy a burden on states and communities in need of infrastructure improvements.
“On infrastructure, I think that is something that I could work with the president on … The problem with the approach that is being taken now is that it’s too dependent on shifting the burden to state and local communities … An infrastructure deal requires a real investment of hard dollars from the federal government,” he expressed. “So if the president is willing to do that, I think there’s a lot of potential there.”
Regarding infrastructure, Kelly said that if elected he would also work with the Four-County Highway Coalition to move the project forward to build a four-lane highway from Murphysboro to St. Louis.
“The economic development you have between I-255 going all the way down to Carbondale — all of the communities all along there stand to benefit from that,” he said.