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Article posted: 2/1/2014 8:00 AM

77th House Democratic candidates debate 'reform' credentials

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Kathleen Willis says she first ran for the 77th state House seat in 2012 against longtime representative Angelo "Skip" Saviano because "I thought the 77th needed a change; we had a representative I felt had lost touch."

But her Democratic primary challenger, Antonio "Tony" Favela of Melrose Park, claims the first-term incumbent isn't the outsider she claims to be.

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The two are facing off in the March 18 Democratic primary to see who advances to the November general election. No Republican has filed for the seat in the district that covers all or parts of Addison, Bellwood, Bensenville, Franklin Park, Maywood, Melrose Park, Northlake, Stone Park and Wood Dale.

During a Daily Herald endorsement interview, Favela said Willis "came in as the reform candidate but has been part of the establishment from the beginning."

"She's part of that bad governance," Favela said. "I think the 77th can do better."

Willis, of Addison, defended her record of independence, citing votes for the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway expansion and the pension-slashing Senate Bill 1.

Willis also touted her record of bipartisanship, pointing to a bill she sponsored to ban electronic cigarette sales to minors and an anti-crime bill outlawing the sale of body armor to violent felons.

"I'm not going to deny that I have the support of the Illinois Democrats, but they don't control me," Willis said. "I value my independence."

Favela said he would not have voted for the pension reform bill "simply because I don't believe it will pass constitutional muster." Favela said he would have preferred a bill authored by Senate President John Cullerton.

Earlier this week, some of the largest public labor unions in Illinois filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

"You need to bring the unions to the table," Favela said. "We wouldn't have been in limbo on whether it was constitutional."

Willis, who joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers choosing not to accept a pension upon being sworn in, said she would have liked to see "more protection" or a "grandfather clause" as part of the bill.

"While it's saving money, I would have liked to see the savings come sooner than later," Willis said. "We're going to get substantial savings at the beginning, but not as much. I'd like to see it more front end-loaded."

Both candidates also addressed a proposal announced Thursday by House Speaker Michael Madigan to cut Illinois' corporate income tax rate in half from 7 percent to 3.5 percent.

"If we do the corporate tax rate, which I support, we need to make sure we have accountability with any tax breaks we do," said Willis, who added that she supported the "sunsetting" of the temporary income tax hike due to expire in 2015. "We had a lot of these corporations put their hands out and threaten to move when they really had no intention," she said.

"I'm not opposed to lowering taxes, but I think we need to do more if we're going to do that," Favela said. "Two-thirds of corporations don't pay any taxes at all. We need to close corporate loopholes for those that don't pay any at all. Let's focus on the small- and medium-sized businesses, so there truly can be job creation."

Before her election as state representative, Willis served as coordinator of access services at the Elmhurst College Library and served three terms on the Addison Elementary District 4 school board. Favela is a recent law school graduate who served on the zoning board in Melrose Park.

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