Values, party division debated in 48th House race
Lombard Trustee Peter Breen says voters have lost confidence in the ability of Republicans in Springfield to competently manage state government and serve taxpayers instead of special interests.
If he unseats incumbent state Rep. Sandy Pihos in the March 18 GOP primary and goes on to win the November general election, he said, "my job would be to help reestablish those two confidences."
"We've got a safe Republican district so your representative should be somebody who is able to step out and take leadership, both in the district and across the state, in pushing that (Republican) set of principles and advocating for it and trying to draw more people to it," he said.
Breen is hoping to be that representative in the 48th House District, which covers all or parts of Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Lombard, Villa Park, Oakbrook Terrace and Downers Grove. He is challenging Pihos, a Glen Ellyn resident who is serving her sixth term as state representative.
Pihos said she isn't sure a lack of trust has cost the party seats in recent years.
"I think there's a myriad of circumstances that go into an election, that can actually undo an election," she said, pointing to candidates who have won because they have more money and Democrats with criminal records who have been re-elected.
She acknowledged, however, that Republicans have let their varying philosophies create tension within the party.
"We just have to learn to be more supportive of one another," she said. "We can't let our differences divide us if we really want to take over in this state."
Pihos said while she supports her Republican team in Springfield -- even if she doesn't agree with all its members -- she works to be a representative for everyone.
"I serve Republicans and Democrats alike in my district," she said. "I don't feel in doing that I ever lose the values that I take along with me. I just have to learn what the values are on the other side and I have to learn to work with them."
Representatives in the minority party, Pihos said, have to network, collaborate and build trust with other representatives to get things done. She said she has done that, and provided leadership in many ways, from serving on various committees to stopping certain bills from moving forward.
Pihos said one of her proudest moments was helping get the Smoke Free Illinois bill passed, which she worked on with Democrat and former state representative Karen Yarbrough.
"That was her bill, but it was the right thing to do, and those are the kinds of places that we need to work together," she said.
Breen said he would take a different approach when reaching across the aisle.
"I've been successful so far by laying out a clear position and laying out sound reasons for that position, to the point where Republicans, Democrats and independents in Lombard will come to me and say, 'Even when we disagree with you, we like you because we understand that you're earnest and you have a reason for what you're doing,'" he said.
"When we're able to establish our positions clearly we're able to then come together. That's where you can figure out where your negotiating space is," he said.
During his time as acting village president in Lombard, Breen said he imposed a line-by-line review of the budget that resulted in $500,000 in spending being cut.
"We were able to find that money. I think the same can be done in Springfield," he said.
Other accomplishments Breen highlighted from his time on the village board included eliminating vehicle stickers and freezing property taxes for the first time in 20 years.
"In my mind, Republicans should be trusted to be able to get the best deal for the taxpayers," he said. "That's something we used to have as a Republican Party. That was our brand ... and that's something we've got to get back to."
But Pihos said moving forward in Springfield is completely different from working together with a few board members at the local level.
"In a community the size of Lombard, it's wonderful that we can have those kinds of collaborations," she said. "I think when you're working with 177 General Assembly members who are very diverse in their thinking, who come from parts of the state with a variety of needs, who come from different parties ... I think it becomes very challenging to make that happen."
Pihos said the Republicans have not been allowed to be key players in the budget process for years.
"Even when we've been allowed to have input we know that the budget is always smoke and mirrors," she said. "I have not voted for the last 10 budgets because of that."
Breen maintains Republicans need to reflect more on what it means to be Republican.
"We, certainly, as Republicans, should pull together around a couple of core principle issues," he said. "We don't know what we stand for anymore and we could make some gains on that front."