50th House candidates disagree on Madigan's influence over Springfield politics, term limits

  • Democrat James Leslie, left, and GOP incumbent Keith Wheeler, right, are candidates for House District 50

    Democrat James Leslie, left, and GOP incumbent Keith Wheeler, right, are candidates for House District 50

Updated 9/29/2018 5:37 PM

In most statehouse races, candidates' top concerns often are rising property taxes and the state's fiscal woes.

House Speaker Mike Madigan's real or perceived influence over what gets done in Springfield is a close third. The race for the 50th House District is no different.


Madigan has the power to derail a bill from being reviewed, much less passed, says incumbent Republican state Rep. Keith Wheeler.

"We need a better balance (of power) in Springfield than we have right now," said Wheeler, 51, of Oswego, who faces newcomer James Leslie in November. "The process is unnecessarily hard. (It) needs to be reformed. In Speaker Madigan's Springfield, pressure rules and public policy is only considered if it supports a political endgame of maintaining and expanding power."

Wheeler supports term limits for legislative leaders through House rules or by changing state law.

Leslie, 41, an Aurora Democrat and firefighter/paramedic, says it's laughable to suggest Madigan wields that much power over other lawmakers.

"You're telling me all of those senators and representatives, and governors were just innocent bystanders? Or is it people that haven't accomplished anything are looking to blame someone?" he said.

Leslie said he would vote for Madigan to continue on as speaker if there is no other, better candidate. He doesn't support term limits for Madigan or House leaders.

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"Term limits for legislative leaders makes me nervous because, in that scenario, it's the lobbyists who become the knowledge brokers and they don't face election," he said.

Both candidates view property taxes as the biggest concern for taxpayers and believe the solution is fixing education funding.

"When you're talking about property tax, what you're really talking about is your school district," said Leslie who supports funding schools the way municipalities are financed. "The model is already there. Let's take a look at it ... use the municipal taxation model for school districts."

Wheeler voted for switching to evidence-based funding for education, which provides school districts with $350 million more in funding each year and redistributes state funds more equitably. He wants to know how well school districts are handling that new money.

"Since more than two-thirds of property tax bills pay for local education, a better balance of funding for schools is a critical step," said Wheeler, who added he supports providing mandate relief for schools since many costs are driven by lawmakers without appropriate funding to pay for those mandates.

The 50th District includes parts of Aurora, Batavia, Campton Hills, Elburn, Geneva, Oswego, and St. Charles.

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