Democratic candidate for Illinois Senate (20th district)
Responses to our questions
Why do you think it has been so difficult for Springfield to get a balanced budget passed and signed?
I would imagine that reaching agreement on a budget is always difficult, but at a time when we are faced with increasing costs, the largest being the unfunded pension liability (creating a huge expense that other states are not faced with when balancing their budgets) and decreasing revenues it has become more difficult than usual. Like just about everyone else I have become frustrated by the seemingly never-ending conflict that was exacerbated by two seemingly immovable objects.
On one side the is the too powerful Speaker of the House (Speaker Michael Madigan) who has coalesced power to a degree that is virtually unrivaled in the history of our country (and which is based largely upon what I see as the most destructive force in politics today, the ability for special interests on all sides to control the political process through unrestricted campaign funding). On the other side a Governor that had campaigned on a promise of a seriously flawed "Turnaround Agenda" badly overplayed his hand, alienating both sides of the aisle and has little to show by way of actual accomplishments. Governor Rauner had attempted to hold the budget hostage unless packaged with his legislative wish-list.
The costs of the delay were disastrous, with increased borrowing costs, flirting with junk bond status, high late fees to vendors, and most importantly the lack of funding to social service agencies. By the middle of 2017 over 70% of the social service agencies in IL had not been paid that year, which threatened what is probably the cardinal function of humane government, which is to provide services to those that are in need. More social service agencies were forced to close every day that the standoff continued, and those agencies were providing absolutely vital services to the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, to our senior citizens and recent immigrants, amongst others. Many of these agencies have been forever lost as a result since they cannot just magically recreate themselves once funds are available.
The problem had reached an absolutely critical juncture and the Governor had no choice but to essentially give in as he was perceived as the one that was trying to add extraneous issues to what should have been solely a budget negotiation. The delay on the Governor's part to even make a proposal, and similarly the later delays by Senator Cullerton in forwarding the school funding veto to the Governor were both inexcusable. One has to hope that the very negative consequences from this fiasco will spur all parties to reach agreement more quickly in the future. However, since the underlying problems still exist and are going to get worse, reaching budget agreements is going to be very difficult for many years to come.
Do you believe the state budget can be balanced going forward without new sources of revenue?
Illinois could probably limp along for a few more years without additional sources of revenue, but to do so would be a monumental error that threatens our very ability to provide government in the future. Illinois is at a crucial juncture in its history. The anchor around our neck is the unfunded pension debt. I want to stress that this is not the fault of the employees of the State of Illinois. While predecessors were probably too generous in many of the contracts that they negotiated with the public service unions (but we should not be mad at them as representing their members is their function, and we certainly should not be mad at the worker's that served our state). We made a deal, and they have every right to rely on it. The full blame goes to the Governors that negotiated these contracts and the legislators that simply failed to fund it.
No state has funded their pension systems to a lesser degree than IL, where our state pensions are on average only about 39% funded. The state estimates the unfunded debt at about 135 billion dollars and Moody's (who may still place us on junk bond status) estimated it at closer to 250 billion. If we take a figure in the middle, that is about $40,000 that is owed by every working person in IL. The scariest part is that the amount we are required to pay towards the pension liability for the state increases substantially each year (it was placed on a ramp back in 1994 with the consent of Gov. Edgar and the democratic legislature, and that ramp has only gotten steeper due to a multitude of reasons). Last year the required payment was about 9 billion dollars, which was about 25% of our own state source general revenue. In a little less than ten years the required payment will double, meaning that at current revenue levels the pension obligation will by itself eat up 50% of our revenues. That leaves absolutely inadequate amounts for all of the other functions that government is supposed to provide (education, social services, the environment, infrastructure, etc.)
I call this problem Inter-Generational theft. By not adequately addressing these pensions for so long we have effectively stolen from our children. As it stands now, they will be burdened by high taxes and will get the benefit of only minimal levels of government services. As a result, I feel that the only honest solution to this problem is to make funding the pension a first priority. To be clear, I want the State of IL to pay MORE than is required each year into the pension funds. As a result I favor cutting expenses where we can, and raising additional revenue (see below). I would also INSIST that these additional funds be paid annually into the pension funds themselves so that we will not have mortgaged the future of our children and our state to such a shameful extent.
What new sources, if any, would you support? Please be specific.
Progressive Income Tax: Please see my answer to the next question below for the details of my proposal. Services Tax: According to US News and World Report the average state in the US levies a tax on 56 types of services whereas IL taxes only 17 types of services. The service tax is at the rate of 6.25% which is the state sales tax rate. As a result, IL is leaving a potentially large amount of revenue on the table. In today's service based economy, taxing just goods is becoming less and less important, and it has become regressive. There have been recent proposals in Springfield to extend it to other sectors of the economy such as storage spaces, pest control, landscaping, and some types of personal care, etc, but it has been defeated so far. I will work to not only pass these services taxes, but to extend them to others area of the economy as well. For example, I would even support a tax on legal fees. However, I would be willing to consider taxing services at a lower rate.
Pension Tax: IL is one of only three states that have an income tax, but then completely exclude all retirement benefits. This started in 1984 and it is costly. There is no tax on social security, 401k's, or distributions from IRA's, for example. I would support an income tax on these amounts so long as it is just a tax on amounts that exceed $75,000 per year. That way the people who have relied on receiving these funds tax-free at retirement will not be affected so long as their pensions (plus social security) are relatively modest. But people that are receiving large annual pensions (such as $200,000 per year which is not uncommon in IL) will pay income tax on just the amounts that exceed the $75,000 threshold. I have read that such a tax could raise approximately 1.5 billion per year for IL. I would agree to this tax only on the condition that it be specifically earmarked to be paid directly to the state pension funds, so that we can decrease the pension ramp that will be so painful for our state and our children in the near future.
Do you support a constitutional amendment favoring a graduated income tax? Please explain.
IL levies a flat income tax at a current rate of 4.95%. Our flat rate tax is an anachronism in today's world. We are one of only seven states that do this. I believe that our society overwhelmingly agrees with the idea that the very wealthy should pay taxes at a higher rate than those people who are not as wealthy. I believe that progressive taxation is just, and as an aside I want to point out that until the recent change in federal tax law that has capped the deductibility of state income taxes paid, our flat rate tax was actually a regressive one (since the wealthy got a larger federal deduction and were therefore actually paying a lower effective state tax rate)!
The proposal that I would propose would be to keep tax rates where they are right now for people making less than $500,000 per year. Above that amount the rate would increase to 7%, and then it would increase further to 8.5% for incomes over one million dollars. This proposal would hopefully result in about an additional two billion dollars for the state, which again I would want to go straight to the pension funds until they are adequately funded.
The major problem, of course, is that our state constitution requires the flat tax rate. In order to amend the constitution to allow the progressive income tax it must first pass in the State Legislature, and then be submitted to the electorate for their approval at an election. I will work tirelessly to get it passed in Springfield and then at the ballot box. I pledge to be its strongest advocate in the Senate. The other Senators will probably tire of my efforts on its behalf, but I must do this as I believe that addressing the debt in this way is absolutely crucial in order to protect our state. It will undoubtedly be a struggle as the Koch Brothers and their ilk will certainly mobilize against it. However, I am convinced that if we can get it out of Springfield the voters will approve it overwhelmingly.
Please list five areas where you would cut spending.
This is more difficult than some believe, because unfortunately there is no line item in the budget that just says "corruption", "insider deals", or "waste"! With that said there are many areas where we need to make changes that would help to reduce costs:
- Consolidate governmental units: IL has far and away more governments than any other state, with over 6.000 separate governmental entities, all of which get to levy taxes. The governments are often overlapping geographically and can be duplicative in services provided. In many areas our real estate tax bills reflect taxing from more than ten separate entities. It is obviously inefficient and expensive. There has been movement in this area in recent years in the face of much lobbying against it from local government trade groups, but it has to be accelerated. Two obvious places are the elimination of the archaic township governments, and consolidating elementary school districts and high school districts.
- Health Care: Moving to a managed care system for Medicaid services. Much money can be saved by diverting people to a primary physician so that expensive emergency rooms won't be the unnecessary entry point for care for so many. The managed care providers can bid flat rates for all the people they serve, as opposed to billing on a fee per service basis. They will then have incentive to encourage wellness practices as well. Projects like Community Care need to be expanded to keep the elderly out of nursing homes until they are needed.
- Legalize Marijuana and Crime Reform: Beyond the obvious revenue benefits of taxing pot, the savings from not prosecuting the crime would be substantial. We can also save a lot of resources by moving people from the expensive jail system into diversion programs. I am a big fan of Sheriff Dart's viewpoint that many people are being incarcerated simply because we don't have the mental health facilities for them. Providing services for these people would be humane as well as cheaper. I would also favor a system to grant very early parole for people currently incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes if they are found not to be a danger.
- Outsource Real Estate Management: Experienced third party management companies should be hired to make better use of our real estate, including the possible rental or sale of parts not being used, and to manage the maintenance of the buildings.
- Addressing Bills Promptly: The interest we had to pay due to the non-payment of bills during the budget standoff was shocking, around two million dollars a day. We could also save a lot of money in the future by being more aggressive in addressing infrastructure problems now. When our highways are not properly repaired it makes the future repairs many times more expensive.
Since the Illinois Supreme Court's 2015 decision tossing bipartisan pension reform, what can and should the legislature do to control pension costs, if anything?
As I have made clear above I view the state pension problem as being one that is so serious that it threatens our continued ability to provide government. It was a shame that our state lost a couple of years by not trying to meet this problem head-on, and instead trying to enact SB1. The Supreme Court got the issue completely right in their decision in In Re Pension Reform Litigation, 2015 IL 118585, where they invalidated that statute as being unconstitutional. The state constitution provides that a state pension is a contract and that "the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired". We may not like that it says that, and it certainly seems incongruous that benefits can be increased and still be protected, but they can never be decreased. But until we amend the constitution in that regard it is absolutely unconstitutional to change the pension deal that was given to prior employees. Once they agree to start working under those terms they are protected.
There are two ways that the pension deals are created: by the Governor and by the Legislature. The Governor bears the lion share of the responsibility as it is their administration that negotiates contracts with the public service unions. Once the contract is executed it is binding, and it is up to the Legislature to fund it. Due to the proven negative effects of outside money and influence in politics the Governor can sometimes be influenced into providing contractual terms that benefit both the unions and the Governor (in terms of assisting with reelection), but are not fair deals to the people of IL. This has to stop. My proposal in this regard is to enact legislation that would provide that any future public service union contracts require approval by the legislature. This will provide a useful check and balance and bring the issue into the light of day. This has been enacted in some other states, and is sorely needed here.
I mentioned above that the Legislature also creates part of our pension problem in that essentially every year a new pension bill is quietly passed that either enhances pension benefits or makes minor, often technical, changes in administration. Some of the changes that have been made are embarrassing. One example was in 2001 when two newly elected legislators (one is still serving) that had both been policeman sponsored legislation that passed that allowed them to count their time in Springfield both toward their legislative and police pensions. Amazing! This kind of thing must stop. I note that my opponent in this primary is the Co- Chair of the Senate Committee on State and Pension Fund Investment, and when there used to be a Subcommittee on Pension Benefit Enhancements she served as its Chairman (instead of on the Committee for Pension Reform). She also voted for SB1 even though she emailed her constituents to state that she believed it was unconstitutional!
Should all new state workers be moved into defined contribution plans?
Absolutely, and some progress was made towards that with the enactment of Tier III this session, which got very little attention with the budget issues stealing all the thunder. It created a combination of a defined benefit and a defined contribution program, but it was optional for new employees. Much more has to be done. The reason that we must move to a defined contribution plan is that we cannot afford the market risk of a defined benefit plan. Just as is done in the private world, we need to let our state employees invest their funds themselves. It also allows portability.
The last five years have been a good example of why it is important to the state. Our workers have been receiving a 3% COLA that is compounded annually, while in comparison social security benefits (which the great majority of our state workers do not receive) increased by more than 1% only in one year. To be fair, there have been other years where the COLA did not work out well for our workers. But the point is that when we get hit with a down market (loss of pension funds) plus pay a COLA above the cost of living increases, it creates a tension on the pension system that the state cannot handle. We need more predictability, which in turn will ease the fears of analysts and the business community.
What should the governor do to control pension costs during union contract talks? What would you do?
Far and away the most important thing that he has to do is negotiate better. By that I really mean that our prior contracts have sometimes seemed to assume that the future will never come. Generous pension benefits are given in exchange for very small and short term salary relief. That way IL can spend more in the short term and let a future leader worry about the repercussions. The "Edgar Ramp" — with its artificially low payments for the first ten year, and the two pension "holidays" declared by Governor Blagojevich are a couple of examples. Of course, with this problem having finally come into the fore this should not happen any longer.
Some of the things that need to be done to control pension costs include the following:
- The liability for the pension cost needs to be shifted to the agency that incurred them; for example a Professor's pension needs to be paid by that state university, as this will encourage more reasonable frugality;
- End of career raises need to be greatly curtailed — this has been a very popular way to give employees a very lucrative parting gift;
- Limitations need to be built into the system to make early retirement followed by a second job with a second pension far less lucrative: and
- The special pension enhancements being doled out to insiders discussed in the prior paragraph must stop. The good news is that with Tier III many of the above advancements are starting to be made.
Illinois lost more residents than any other state in 2016 and the trend appears to be holding for 2017. What is the No. 1 reason, in your opinion, for the exodus?
There is a trend and it is a big concern. People are always going to leave a state for various reasons. Besides elderly moving to the Sun Belt, the rural portions of the state have been seeing a very consistent exodus for probably a generation. The population of Chicago is still doing well as young people and some businesses continue to flock here. Metropolitan Chicago and the entire rest of the state are not doing so well.
The question is why we continue to have a net migration out of the state. I think that the primary answer is fear. The perception is part of the problem. The perception is that IL is corrupt, dysfunctional, and crime-infested, that we have high taxes, and that our debt is going to bring us to bankruptcy or many years of pain. Some of this is true, but not all of it. A Gallup poll in 2015 found that only 25% of IL citizens have confidence in their government, which was the lowest in the nation by a large margin. IL is consistently ranked by outsiders as one of the least liked states in the nation and ranks near the bottom of the list in terms of climate for business.
Examining these fears individually:
Corruption: Our history unfortunately speaks for itself. Four of the last nine governors were jailed. People have the perception that you have to "pay to play" in order to get the assistance a new business might need. That dissuades a lot of people. I believe just as "Only Nixon Can go to China", that Illinois is in a unique position to address the issue of political corruption by enacting sweeping campaign finance reform that limits special interest control in our state and local elections and sets a model for the country.
Crime: It is unfortunate that fear-mongers, all the way up to our President, like to use Chicago as some sort of national Boogy-Man when it comes to crime. Chicago has significant crime issues on-par with many other big cities. We must pursue solutions to further bring down gun violence. But that said, I have had out-of-state friends ask if it is safe to drive to Rosemont! Crime is a real problem, but the attempt to paint our great City and State as some sort of dystopian landscape are unfair and inaccurate and more should be done by everyone, to correct that false image.
High Taxes: Illinois ranks as 29th best in terms of overall taxation. Not great, but not awful, but absolutely essential to pull us out of this mess. Stability in tax rates would be a big part of the solution to this problem of perception.
Public Debt: This is the single greatest challenge that we face and contrary to the thoughts of many, bankruptcy is not an option for a state. We are going to have to work our way up out of this one and it will be painful. But It must be done.
What should Illinois do — via tax policy, spending or other policy means — to keep residents from leaving?
The main thing that IL should do to keep residents from leaving is to address the above fears and to provide stability. Campaign finance reform is a big part of the solution. When knocking on doors to meet people in the district it is always so disheartening to find out how many people really have given up on any hope for honest government. They are convinced that all politicians (a term that means you are engaged in the affairs of the public, but has since become a dirty word) are dishonest, that they are in it to feed at the political trough. With many of them there is nothing you can say to change their minds. However, if we can elect more candidates such as myself that have sworn off campaign contributions from all special interests, then people will gradually begin to trust in the honesty of their government once again (or sadly, possibly for the first time).
The other main part of the solution is to be honest with people about the magnitude of the debt problem and then provide a solution that gives certainty and stability. I have been dismayed that many of the candidates for office still do not want to stress the magnitude of the problem. They feel that such truth never got anyone elected. But when I talk to the many people that tell me that they are intending to leave the state sooner or later, they understand that the problems are very real and many are worried that we are not going to be able to pull ourselves out of it. Some people tell me that they might not be averse to some service cuts or new taxes if they just had any confidence that the additional revenue was going to solve the long-term problem, i.e. to fund the pension debt. They might mention the lottery and how it did not do a lot for the education system. I really understand this fear. This is why we are going to have to be crystal clear in explaining the problem, and that additional funds are going to be paid directly to the pension debt, and that once this problem is satisfactorily addressed that taxes can then be reduced. It is painful in the short term, but I believe that the people of IL will agree to do it so long as they know that it will solve the problem.
What should Illinois do to promote job creation?
IL has so much to offer to the job creators as it is now. Our location and transportation are a big plus. The beauty of Lake Michigan and the excitement of Chicago with its arts and varied neighborhoods are very attractive, particularly to the younger residents. Many people want to come here, but the business community has their fears. The potential businesses want: (1) for us to address our ongoing fiscal problems, primarily the debt (so they don't get socked with this all at once some day); (2) to provide more stability for the business environment (for example not changing tax rates so often); (3) for us to finally grow up and shed our reputation for corruption. I have addressed solutions to all of these above.
Another change that business would like to see concerns workman's compensation laws. IL recently ranked as the fourth most expensive state for businesses to acquire compensation insurance. Some have argued about the reasons for this, but it seems clear that a big part of it is our standard for causation where recovery is allowed if the plaintiff can simply show that the injury may have been caused by the workplace. I would support changing that.
As to the efficacy of utilizing tax incentives to attract business, I am not in favor of this at all (with the possible exception of a huge employer like Amazon, but even then it has to be tied to real benchmarks for gains to the State). IL is already losing a large part of its potential corporate income tax revenue in special incentives as it is. I believe that this also feeds into the general perception that a new business simply cannot get a fair deal here (the same as their competitor would be getting) unless they have inside connections (for which they have to "pay to play") to get them the same treatment. It leads to an apparently corrupt system that makes the honest business not even want to try.
Lastly, I do think that our government needs to work better with business and industry. One example of this is that with their assistance we need to make sure that our community colleges and workforce development providers are helping students gain the type of skills that are in demand. The legislature should also do more to obtain the opinions of experts outside of government to foster better programs.
Did you support the education funding reform bill that the governor signed in 2017?
While far from perfect I would have voted for that bill. While I wasn't thrilled with the Tax Credit Scholarships (see below) I want to make it clear that when it is time to vote I will be a pragmatist. Legislation is created by a compromise of competing ideas and interests. If a bill has a lot more good in it than what I view as bad (and as long there is nothing immoral or unconstitutional in it), and I don't think that there is a real chance to further improve it, I am going to vote for it. The most immediate benefit of the bill was that the schools could open on time.
However, certainly the best two things about the bill were: (1) the state was finally picking up a bigger tab for education so that we could decrease our reliance on real estate taxes for educational funding, which had previously resulted in shocking differences in educational funding depending on the wealth of a community; and (2) that the state was finally making a substantial contribution to the Chicago Public Schools pension fund. This remedied a longstanding inequity (that went back to a deal made long ago when the first Mayor Daley wanted home rule powers) where state revenues were paying into pension funds for educators everywhere but Chicago. Another benefit for the CPS was the ability to raise additional tax revenue to help address its own unfunded pension problem. The statewide funding split was also more equitable in my view in that the poorer districts (particularly downstate and Chicago) received a larger share of the funds.
What, if anything, should the legislature do to help Chicago Public Schools?
The last school funding bill went a long way towards doing what the State should do to solve the CPS problems. It will not solve them all, since just like with our State, the City of Chicago had woefully underfunded their pensions as well creating a huge fiscal problem for CPS. Therefore, the first thing that the legislature should do for CPS is to continue funding schools in the general manner that they just did in the most recent funding bill. I will strongly support the continuation of more funding from the state and less from property taxes.
I am against the concept of tenure in our schools, as I believe that if a teacher is not performing well that it can have a chilling effect on our children. All it takes is one math teacher who is no longer engaged for some reason, and many children in that class will get left behind and never be able to catch up. I do not think that the charter school program should be expanded at this time. While there are many excellent ones, the failing ones need to be closed down, as do the failing public schools. Providing a first rate education to ALL of our children is absolutely essential to our continued progress, as it benefits all of us when talents that might not otherwise be nurtured are given the encouragement and tools to flourish. In fact, I believe that giving every child an equal chance at success is morally necessary in a free-market system .
Teachers are of course the foundation of our education system and they must be supported in every way that helps them produce graduates that have the skills to contribute in our modern technological economy. We are not getting the job done right now. Compared to the rest of the world US students are not faring very impressively and their math skills are particularly poor. Reading and math skills are paramount and non-negotiable, but other scientific and technological skills must be honed as well. In the last few years many new state laws have passed concerning teacher licensing and accreditation, and for the most part these laws have loosened the requirements for licensing. I feel strongly that this is the wrong direction for us to be traveling.
I am instead for increased licensing requirements and more rigorous education in general for future teachers. (However, I am not talking about new requirements that would eliminate present teachers). I want teachers to possess an education and an expertise that will make them the envy of our society, so that all parents and students will respect them and take education seriously. I am also for less spending on sports and extracurricular activities as I believe that we need to make it more clear to our children that the purpose of school is education.
Do you support opportunity scholarships included in the funding reform bill? Or will you try, if elected, to eliminate that program?
I am not at all opposed to these scholarships in principle. By that I mean that I do not believe that education should only be supplied by the public schools. I think that the fact private schools exist is a good thing because the competition is good for the public schools, and it often provides the religious or other component that is important to some people. Since the scholarships are to be awarded based upon need it seems like a worthy purpose to me.
However, if I were drafting the bill I would not have included it at this time for two reasons. The first is that given the dire financial situation that the CPS currently finds itself in, it is not the best time to be diverting potential resources away from it. The second is that I am not convinced that the tax credits were not more generous than they needed to be. I wonder given the many alumni from private schools that would love to support education at their school for the needy, if the tax credits could have been less generous (possibly 50 cents on the dollar) and therefore they would have been able to supply more scholarships. In summary, I would not work to eliminate the program though I would be very interested to see if it can be improved, and I will work to make sure that it is truly funding education for the less wealthy.
Should Illinois do more to regulate campaign fundraising? If so, what?
We will never have honest government, that being a government that has no motivation other than to provide fairly and justly for our people, until we take the money out of politics. We all know this, and yet nothing gets done. We know that obscene amounts of money are now contributed to candidates by all sorts of special interests: corporations, PAC's (political action committees) trade associations, political parties, unions, as well as some individuals. It cannot be more obvious that these special interests are not motivated by public charity, but that instead they expect things in return. They expect a big return on that investment, and they have found that political donations are a very wise investment. At the very least they receive access to our leaders that the rest of us don't have, but they are after much more. They want legislation and special favors that directly benefit them, and which are to the disadvantage of their competitors or the public at large.
MY PERSONAL (AND COMPLETELY UNIQUE) SOLUTION IS TO SET THE FOLLOWING STANDARDS FOR MY CAMPAIGN:
- I will talk no money from any entity of any type. Only people can contribute to my campaign. To be absolutely clear I will not take a single dollar from a business, a corporation, a trade association, a political party, a union, a political party, or any other type of entity. It doesn't matter if it is the Red Cross, I will refund it. It is not right for me to pick and choose the entities that I think are "good ones" as the point is that no one except people should have influence over our government.
- I will accept contributions from people (in fact I really need some) but they must be LESS THAN $1,000 from that person in any one calendar year. Even though my opponent may well have ten or twenty times as much to spend on their campaign than I will have, I would not allow myself to run any other way. We need to take a stand so that we will all know that at least this State Senator is not beholden to anyone except the good people of the 20th District. If I am elected, I will advocate for campaign finance reform. I don't have the space to go into all the details here but in part I support a matching program where the State would match small individual contributions (no more than $100 per contribution), in a one to one match, so long as the candidate agreed not to accept large contibutions. I would also push for heightened disclosure requirements on advertising being paid for by third parties. Such supposedly "uncoordinated" spending is of course very common, and there are no financial limits on it since the Citizens United decision. With such disclosure being made more prominent, it is my hope that the average voter will soon learn to disregard such ads.
What help, if any, are you receiving from your party and its leaders, including staff help, advice, legal assistance, money and resources? Be specific.
Absolutely none! How is that for specific? Since I am not only not an incumbent, but I am possibly going to be the only person challenging an incumbent for state senate this year (out of 39 elections) in a primary, I was slightly amused by this question. There are very good reasons that almost no one challenges an incumbent as their advantages are so very substantial. To name but a few:
- The huge amounts of money contributed to them by the party or their PAC's such as the Democratic Senate Victory Fund (the last time my opponent was challenged (ten years ago) they gave her $500,000 and that was back when that was real money!;
- The unspoken code in the legislature that none of them are to support a challenger to an incumbent;
- that the election is in the middle of the winter thereby making it very hard for candidates to meet as many people as they would like to mount a grassroots campaign; and
- This is one of my favorites — A challenger to an incumbent is not allowed to purchase the best voting lists that are provided by the Democratic Party until they first request it and get turned down for free access. You have to wait thirty days before you receive a letter informing you that there is an incumbent so you have to buy them on your own. While you and the party both know that they are not going to give them to you, you are not allowed to buy them for this thirty day period thereby slowing down your efforts. But I want to make it really clear that I am not complaining (except about the winter). Nothing good in life comes easy!
If you are an incumbent, give an example of a time you worked across the aisle on an important issue.
If you are an incumbent, give at least one example of a time you did not vote with your party on a significant issue.
Do you support term limits? If so, will you commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying your colleagues on behalf of a constitutional change?
I do support term limits in general. I have heard pretty strong arguments for and against them that I do not need to go into here as most are familiar with them. It is very telling that it usually seems that it is the party out of power that wants them and the party in power goes silent on the issue. As I said, I would support them, and I think a term limit of ten years in either house is reasonable, and we could possibly allow additional service of up to six years in the other chamber after a term out of office. Whatever the limits we can ultimately agree on, it's a solution worth addressing in a state where government has functioned so poorly.
While I favor term limits, I do caution that they are likely not a silver bullet that will address the real problem in modern politics, which is the corrosive effects of special interest money. Some have hypothesized that term limits would do little except cause a rotation amongst a group of the same politicians that are supported by the same special interests. For example, Michael and Lisa Madigan could take turns getting elected and being the Speaker of the House. How does that help anything? If we are ever going to get serious about honest government the solution in my mind lies first and foremost with the removal of special interest financing. In terms of supporting a constitutional amendment I am more concerned with fighting for the progressive income tax and independent redistricting.
Do you support changes to the redistricting process? If so, will you commit to sponsoring legislation and/or lobbying your colleagues on behalf of a constitutional change?
I am 100% in favor of a system of independent districting such as was proposed by the Independent Maps coalition that managed to get over half a million signatures in support of the citizen backed constitutional initiative. Having gotten about 2,100 signatures to get on the ballot in this election (and about 1,500 personally) I am in awe of the type of work that they did for this very important cause. While they ultimately failed, the reason that they had to do it at all was that the legislature has not been willing to put it on the ballot themselves. I will fight hard to do so.
The negative effects of gerrymandering are crystal clear. The party in power draws district lines so that they stay in power. The result is what we have now, which is a legislature where very few candidates ever face challenges to their election, even from the other party. Such protection for incumbents breeds a harmful complacency.
Tell us a little about your family.
I have a wonderful wife, Missy Goldberg, who works as a consultant, and we have lived in Old Irving Park for the last 13 years. I am very proud of my daughter Emma, who attended public schools in Chicago, and is now studying political science and social justice at DePaul University. Socially, my wife and I are not a lot of fun. We tend to work hard, and go to bed pretty early. Part of the reason we don't get out that much is due to our beloved but incredibly spoiled dog named Pokey. Knowing how nervous he gets whenever we leave the house, my wife just cannot enjoy herself. We love him, but he has ruined my life. I grew up in KY, and lived there until I came here for college and am still very close to my very large extended family on both sides.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
While in college I played bad guitar in a rock band. Our claim to fleeting fame was that we once opened for The Ramones. What a thrill, but suffice to say that of the two bands playing that night the Rock Hall of Fame inducted the right one.