Eric Esshaki
Eric Esshaki

Find all of our Election 2020 coverage and other candidate interviews here. More interviews will be added as the election draws closer. Click here to read our conversation with Esshaki’s opponent, Congresswoman Haley Stevens. 

Republican newcomer in the 11th district talks to the JN about his priorities.

Eric Esshaki is running for election to the U.S. House in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District against incumbent Haley Stevens. Esshaki, a Chaldean, is a first-generation American with a background in nursing. He earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. He worked at a New York law firm for a few years before returning home to Birmingham in 2018, where he lives with his wife, Heather, and two boys, Elon and Eric.

He told the JN he was spurred to run for office when he “saw how our Congress is broken. We have politicians who care more about advancing their own political career than they do about talking about policies that will actually make the lives of Michiganders and Americans better.”

Esshaki recently sat down with the JN for an interview on Zoom. Highlights of that interview are below (edited for clarity and length).

Top Priorities

Number one, we have to focus on the economy, and relatedly, the issues with COVID, and how we continue to re-open our economy and keep it open in a safe way. Also, healthcare is extremely important. We need to ensure that people have access to high-quality affordable healthcare, which is something that’s lacking, and something that’s hurting our economy, both in terms of government expenditures and what it’s doing to people’s wages. We haven’t seen wage increases because we’re paying a lot more for premiums on the back end of our checks.

The third issue is immigration. Our immigration system is broken, and we need to sit down and have an adult conversation about how we fix it so that it works for the American economy and for the American people.

Healthcare

The reality is, the Affordable Care Act is not working, it hasn’t done anything to control costs. In fact, we’re seeing costs continue to rise year after year, over the past 10 years. So it needs to be fixed. We need to have a healthcare policy focused on actually bringing those costs down, and there’s a handful of ways to do it. One is to have more free-market principles involved in health care, more competition based on cost.

One way we can do this, and one of the things that I’m pleased to see the Trump administration focusing on, is transparency. We’re not going to have competition on the cost if we don’t know what the costs are upfront. Another aspect of this is allowing patients to have more choice. I think we need to get back to risk-based premium settings so that people can choose the plan that works for them. If we get costs down, we’ll substantially improve, not just access, but the quality of care we’re providing.

COVID-19

There was a lack of leadership at all levels of government when it came to dealing with COVID. Flattening the curve was the priority. We reacted. We shut the economy down in order to accomplish that goal. The problem is, we didn’t have a plan for reopening our economy and doing so in a way that was safe. Instead we continue to react, and our reactions were too much and too little at the same time.

We knew early on from testing data that about 20% of the population is at very high risk from the virus and the other 80% is at relatively minor risk, if any at all. Yet we shut down 100% of our economy when we knew only about 20% were at high risk. At the same time, we did far too little to protect the 20% who were vulnerable. In fact, our leadership here at the state level with Governor Whitmer’s policies were a huge failure because they actually made the situation worse for that 20% by pushing folks who were positive for the coronavirus back to nursing homes.

What we need to do now is focus on how we keep our economy going, and how we continue to open things up safely. This requires that we protect that 20% of folks who are vulnerable while the rest of us practice common sense: hand washing, social distancing, and mask wearing where appropriate.

Immigration

I disagree with the Trump administration’s immigration policies as they relate to refugees. One of the current issues is that 500,000 Christians are displaced throughout the Middle East through no fault of their own and largely because of Obama’s failed foreign policy and the ability for ISIS to gain a foothold there. The Trump administration can allow up to 100,000 refugees in a year, but right now that’s limited to only 30,000.

I think we need to be mindful that we have half a million displaced Christians who are suffering, really living as second-class people. There’s a distinction between folks who want to live a better life, economically speaking, and folks who are suffering legitimate persecution because they’re religious minorities. And particularly right now, we see that occurring in the Middle East when it comes to Christians.

At a high level, and I’m very pro-immigration, I think we need to make legal immigration easier. At the same time, I think we need to make illegal immigration harder. And that requires us to ensure we’re securing our border as first steps to doing that. You’ll essentially eliminate two issues if you secure the border and make it easier for folks who want to come here and be productive members of our society.

Antisemitism

I think we have to start from a place where we treat everybody with dignity and respect. That’s important. But there are other steps we have to take as a government as well, particularly when it comes to the boycott movement that we’re seeing on college campuses. We should ensure that federal contracts and federal funding do not go to institutions that promote that sort of racist culture in any way. I think the Jewish and Chaldean communities are aligned with shared values.

Racial Justice

This goes back to making sure we treat everybody with dignity and respect. We have to be careful that we don’t always focus on the negative because there’s so much positive here. The reality is, no matter who you are, where you come from, what your background looks like, you may have obstacles. But part of the American dream is the fact that you can overcome these obstacles.

When it comes to specific issues with policing, I think we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice and actually doing what a lot of these folks are claiming they don’t want done, when we say there’s a couple of bad apples in law enforcement, so all law enforcement must be that way. The reality is, there are bad people in any group. It’s wrong to label any group based on the actions of a few, and it’s the same when it comes to police officers. The notion that we should be defunding police when we are facing civil unrest across this country, largely by folks who are using race as a pretext to advance a political agenda, that’s just wrong.

Partisanship

This is about fixing government and solving problems, and that means that we have to put politics aside. Not every issue should be a partisan issue. In fact, the vast majority of issues aren’t, and they require the application of common sense and logic and substantive debate on policy to find policies that are going to work, that are going to improve people’s lives. I want to focus on those policies in this campaign.

My allegiance is to the voters of my district, and Michigan and to the Constitution. When the Republican Party is doing things I agree with, then I’ll agree with that. And when they’re not, then I won’t. If we’re not willing to engage in a dialogue with folks who have different ideas, we’re never going to get to an opportunity to improve those ideas and ultimately improve the policies that stand for those ideas.

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