Democratic state Rep. Michelle Mussman of Schaumburg and Republican challenger John Lawson of Schaumburg have differing approaches and priorities when it comes to representing House District 56 in the Northwest suburbs.
Job creation and fixing the state's budget rank high with both candidates. But they each argue that their own life and professional experience make them better suited to finding solutions.
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Mussman said her strength lies in holding the office for two years, which has given her an insight into what her constituents want done -- families looking for work, seniors struggling to find financial stability and parents of special needs children fighting to ensure a long-term future for them that may or may not include independent living.
Mussman said she considers public pension reform the biggest way to get the state's finances back on track. She liked the concept of the governor's bipartisan working group, and she said she's looking forward to a solution that doesn't have a negative impact on local communities.
"My constituents didn't cause that problem and shouldn't be responsible for solving it," she said.
Lawson said working with people for 27 years as a Roselle police officer and for eight as Schaumburg Township assessor give him a much better idea of what concerns people, and causes them pain.
He vowed to retire from both of those jobs if elected, to give his legislative office his full attention.
Lawson said one of his own sons is special needs and that he's no stranger to the concerns and priorities of that community.
Lawson pledged to become a leader on the issue of pension reform, given his insight as someone who earns a police pension.
He added that he would lead by example in refusing a legislative pension and turning down the one he's already earning as assessor.
"I have sat down with the unions and the retirees," Lawson said. "Everyone is on the same page and is willing to pay more."
In exchange, Lawson said, pension-earners want a guarantee that this issue will never recur and that whatever plan they agree to won't be touched in the future.
He added that current retirees' plans must already be considered untouchable and that only the pension plans of current workers -- of whom he is one -- can be tweaked.
Both candidates also debated the best approach to job creation and the closely related topic of education.
Lawson said the corporate tax needs to be repealed to make it easier for small business owners to thrive. Equally, he said, legislators need to make it easier for families to afford college by expanding education tax credits.
Mussman said she's already signed onto a bill to repeal the corporate tax. She agreed there is a strong relationship between the state of the economy and education, adding that more training needs to be made available for even high school graduates in Illinois to qualify for some manufacturing jobs that are already available but lacking sufficiently skilled candidates.
Mussman's record of independence from House Speaker Michael Madigan was also contested by the two candidates.
Lawson accused her of voting with Madigan a majority of the time and representing the interests of "Chicago Democrats." But Mussman retorted that her record demonstrates her independence from Madigan on key votes. Further, she said, her early push to cut legislators' pay by 10 percent put her as much at odds with career politicians as Lawson claims he would be.
The 56th District includes Schaumburg and portions of Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Hanover Park, Roselle and Bloomingdale.
• To see the newly drawn legislative and congressional districts, visit gis.elections.il.gov/map_viewer/default.aspx.