As you head into the home stretch of this campaign, you should follow the example of Cheri Bustos, the democratic candidate for Congress in Illinois's 17th district. Bustos has opened a clear lead over her incumbent Republican opponent by standing with the district's Sensata workers whose jobs are being outsourced by Bain Capital to China.
This past Saturday, I spoke with Cheri Bustos on Take Action News about Sensata and the importance of U.S. manufacturing. (My interview with Cheri is 20.5 minutes into the second hour of the show podcast, which you can download here.)
Bustos is a thoughtful, caring citizen whose professional experience would put most Representatives in Congress to shame. She served as a city council member for East Moline, worked as a nonprofit hospital executive, and previously spent 17 years as an investigative reporter at the local Quad City Times. I'm a little biased on this. Still, it would be nice to see more journalists representing Americans in Congress. After all, reporters see the consequences of corruption and bad policy up close. And, they've already got an appreciation for transparency and serving the greater good.
Nothing is more impressive about Cheri Bustos, however, than her active and unwavering solidarity with the Sensata workers who call the 17th district home. Bain Capital bought Sensata, a car sensor manufacturer, a few years ago, and recently decided to move the Freeport, IL factory to China. Sensata's 170 workers, many of whom have worked at the factory for decades, have been forced to endure the humiliating task of training their Chinese replacements, even as they wave their livelihoods and pensions good-bye.
Last week Cheri stood with the workers in a visit to their "Bainport" encampment and spoke passionately to me about their struggle. She noted the Sensata plant is, "in a part of our district with the highest unemployment rate in the state, and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation... and then these families are having to face training their Chinese replacements."
There's not much any politician can do now to help the Sensata workers save their jobs. Only Bain capitol could help with that. And, Mitt Romney's company refuses. Still, there is much the rest of us can do to help prevent other American workers from losing their jobs to China. Bustos, for example, supports the Bring Jobs Home Act, which would revoke tax breaks for companies like Bain that ship jobs overseas -- and reward companies that invest in jobs at home.
Bustos' opponent, on the other hand -- Republican Congressman Bobby Schilling, has refused to support creating financial incentives to keep jobs in the United States. In fact, when Tom Gaulrapp, a decades-long Sensata worker, and several other Sensata workers asked Representative Schilling about this issue at town hall meeting, Schilling had them kicked out rather than answer their question.
Schilling's refusal to look Sensata workers in the eye shouldn't come as much of a surprise. After all, the Tea Party Republican wants to cut the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, a program that retrains workers whose jobs are outsourced overseas.
As a result of Sensata, the outsourcing jobs to China has become a "defining issue" in Illinois 17th Congressional district race. Polls show it has also become a winning issue for Bustos. According to the most recent polling, Bustos now leads Bobby Schilling by 4 points.
In late August, before Bustos put Sensata front and center in her campaign, Schilling had a double-digit lead.
Mr. President, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain from following the lead of Cheri Bustos. In the Hofstra town hall debate last week, you referred indirectly to Bain Capital's reputation as a "pioneer in outsourcing." You told Governor Romney, "You're the last person who would get tough on China." Now Mr. President, it's time to go even further. Because the fact is, Governor Romney is still making money from the shipping of jobs to China. Thanks to his equity in Bain, Mitt Romney got a huge tax break from transferring his stock in Sensata to a charitable foundation in 2011. And yet, Mr. Romney refuses to meet with the Sensata workers, hear their complaints, or even address the issue of outsourcing.
President Obama, Sensata is a potent one-two punch. It's a chance for you to show your commitment to American manufacturing and hit Mitt Romney for being a job-outsourcing tax cheat. Sometime before election day, take your campaign to Freeport, Illinois; meet with the Sensata workers, promote the Bring Home Jobs act, and hammer Mitt Romney's Bain Capital. Their business model, while successful for Bain executives, has often been a disaster for American workers.
Take Action, Mr. President. Give Cheri Bustos a call if you need guidance. But don't let election day come and go without emphatically and clearly reminding all voters that keeping jobs in the United States matters.
Follow David Shuster on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidshuster