Duckworth Campaigns In Champaign, Talks Police Shootings, Flooding, Refugees

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) campaigns for U.S. Senate at Cafe Kopi in Champaign on Tuesday.

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) campaigns for U.S. Senate at Cafe Kopi in Champaign on Tuesday.

Hannah Meisel/Illinois Public Media

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth played to her strengths at a campaign stop in Champaign Tuesday. 

The Democrat, a disabled Iraq War veteran, garnered applause from a crowd at Cafe Kopi when talking about welcoming Syrian refugees from the perspective of her military background. Voters who came for her informal meet and greet asked Duckworth about tax reform and education policy. But despite police killings in Chicago and elsewhere dominating the headlines this week, race relations didn't come up once in the over-half hour of Q&A.

The Congresswoman at first sidestepped WILL's ask for a response to her Democratic primary opponent, Andrea Zopp, who said earlier this month that Duckworth didn't have enough experience advocating for the African American community.

"You know, I think she has to say whatever she has to say," Duckworth said after the event.

But when asked, the Congresswoman did weigh in on this weekend's shooting death of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier in Chicago.

"There are people, black and brown people, who when they call the police for help, they can't be sure that they're going to get the help that they need. And that is wrong."

Duckworth says she'd push for reform to gun and drug crime sentences, both of which disproportionately affect African Americans. The Democrat says she's making criminal justice reform a priority, pointing out that her plan for changes to the system came before candidate Zopp's.

Another population the Congresswoman says she'd try to help as a senator is Syrian refugees. It's been over a month since the terrorist attacks on Paris and the shooting in San Bernardino, California, sparked intense debate over how to handle refugees from both Syria and Iraq. 

Duckworth says she's angry about how her opponent for U.S. Senate, Republican Senator Mark Kirk, has characterized her position on refugees.

Kirk's campaign has run ads saying the Congresswoman's openness to accepting refugees puts Americans at risk. 

Duckworth said the ads are "fearmongering."

"Remember that the Syrian refugees are victims," she said. "These are women and children and victims of torture. They're running away and fleeing ISIL, these horrible butchers. And for us to shut our doors as a nation to people who are victims of butchery goes against the very grain of what our nation is."

Duckworth also says from a national security perspective, shutting U.S. borders to refugees would actually be helping the Islamic State group to accomplish its goal of alienating disenfranchized Muslim refugees.

The Congresswoman served in the U.S. Army, losing both of her legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2004.

The Democrat was passing through storm-ravaged central and southern Illinois a day after major flooding in some areas of the state.

Duckworth touted her work on federal TIGER grant money, which is targeted toward infrastructure improvement. She says move investment in public works can help prevent flooding in Illinois, in addition to making federal emergency money more available after flooding occurs.

Story source: WILL