Laura Ellman: Candidate profile
Name: Laura Ellman
Office sought: Illinois State Senate 21st District
Family: My husband, Pete Ellman, is a musician and co-owns a local music store. We have two kids, Barrett and Lizzie, who are both in high school. Occupation: Senior Independent Assessor at Argonne National Laboratory
Education: Grinnell College (1987, Mathematics)
University of Iowa Master's in Applied Statistics (1990)
Civic involvement: Precinct Committeeman, Lisle Township (2018)
Naperville Fair Housing Commission (July 2014-present)
Elected offices held: None
Questions & Answers
Would you vote to approve a graduated income tax? If so, what qualifiers would you impose and where would you set the brackets? What would the top tax rate be?
Yes, though I am against any tax increase for the middle class and working families. Our current tax is regressive and holds our middle class and our state back, as it decreases the disposable income for working and middle class families who drive our economy. In fact, while we are 27th in the country in terms of total tax burden, the tax burden on middle and low income Illinoisans is massive. For the middle class, Illinois has the third highest tax burden in the country. But for the top 1%, the income tax is lower than all but 16 other states. In addition, the regressive tax was not designed to keep up with increasing income inequality and contributes to structural deficits. A graduated tax would help balance the budget and cut taxes for the middle class. Some reports have shown that a progressive tax would bring in $2 billion in revenue while providing tax relief to working and middle class families. Illinois is one of just eight states that impose the same flat rate on the income of all earners. We need to change this to move forward.
How big a problem is the level of property taxation in Illinois? If you view it as a problem, what should be done about it?
Property taxation in Illinois is definitely a problem. Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the country. This issue cannot be solved without addressing our fiscal crisis, which requires bipartisan collaboration and involves reforming our entire tax system and working to address our structural debt and deficit problems.
A lot of the focus has been on proposed property tax freezes or requiring school boards to cut their budgets, neither of which will get us back on track fiscally.
The majority of property taxes are used to support local public schools, but school boards especially in our district have no choice but to rely on them, as the state has failed to fully fund our state's public school system and make required payments into our pension systems. This creates a huge issue for young people, the middle class, and seniors.
We need our state to pay its bills and address the unfunded liabilities, interest payments, backlogs, and debts hanging over our heads. We must also strengthen legislation to ensure that the state cannot ignore its obligations; we have only worsened our fiscal crisis with the additional money spent on late payments, interest payments, and the costly budget crisis, and that practice needs to end.
What is your evaluation of Gov. Rauner's job performance? Please specify what you view as its highs and lows.
I think Governor Rauner has done a poor job particularly around issues of fiscal responsibility and education. The budget crisis was devastating to students and state universities, people waiting on health care, and our ballooning fiscal crisis. Gov. Rauner was incredibly short-sighted in continuing the impasse, and our job growth plummeted as a result, hamstringing us further. The Governor failed to propose and pass a budget for multiple years, which is unacceptable. The resulting backlogs of bills, waitlists for services, and erosion of our state universities and infrastructure is a massive issue. Gov. Rauner is also not an ally to our public schools, as he vetoed school funding (SB1) and an increase in minimum teacher pay.
However, Governor Rauner has signed some key pieces of legislation around common sense gun reform, addressing the opioid crisis, and protecting women's rights.
What is your evaluation of Speaker Michael Madigan's (President John Cullerton's) job performance? If you voted for him for speaker (president) in the last legislative session, please explain your vote.
I have not worked with either Speaker Madigan or President Cullerton, as this is my first time running for office. I do believe that new voices must be heard, and I am running because we haven't seen solutions coming out of Springfield on the issues that are most concerning to everyday Illinoisans, like our fiscal and pension crisis and our public education and state universities. We need to do more bipartisan work and make sure the voices of constituents are heard louder than lobbyists, special interests, or one or two key leaders. There have been too many important bills passed by the Senate that haven't left committee in the House. In addition, more must be done to address the toxic culture in Springfield, especially regarding sexual harassment against women.
Should there be term limits for legislative leaders? If so, what would you do to make that happen? What other systemic changes should be made to strengthen the voice of individual legislators, limit the control of legislative leaders, encourage bipartisanship?
I believe in term limits for legislative leaders to allow new voices to be heard. Term limits for leadership roles will help keep politicians focused on solving problems and serving the public instead of accumulating and holding on to power. We must keep people from being able to single-handedly block common sense reforms and problem solving. I also believe in freezing legislators' pay, curbing lobbyist influence like restrictions on gifts, and limiting special interest contributions. I would support and sponsor legislation like this to limit the control of leadership, allow individual legislators to be heard, and allow for more bipartisanship. I also support campaign finance reform to allow the voices of everyday Illinoisans to be heard over special interests, lobbyists and corporations. Fair and clean elections would increased the number of candidates able to run for office, decrease the influence of big money and special interests, and allow for more bipartisan reforms and more legislation to directly serve the public interest.
How concerned should we be about Illinois' population loss? What needs to be done to reverse the trend?
We should be incredibly concerned. The main reason people are leaving Illinois is financial uncertainty due to the budget impasse, unfunded pension liabilities, and severe debt. The uncertainty about our future is hampering investments in our state, creating fear for residents, especially as we've seen no action from Springfield. Job growth has slowed as well, as employers wary of the future aren't investing or expanding in Illinois. All of this has also hurt our young people, who are leaving the state for more affordable, quality universities and economic opportunity. We need independent voices who can work across the aisle to create a clear, level-headed, concrete plan to address the uncertainty and clean up our fiscal mess. This includes spending and tax reforms, as well as investing in infrastructure and education. We also must get our economy and our tax base growing again by strengthening our middle class, reducing the tax burden on lower income and middle-class families, and making state universities more competitive. This will drive demand and propel growth, increase revenue and help residents, young people, and businesses stay in Illinois. Lastly, we need to grow good-paying jobs. We have a highly skilled and highly educated workforce with diverse, hard working communities and vibrant cities with diverse economies. We can foster entrepreneurship, support small business, and incentivize growth in industries like clean energy, and make universities a hub for research and technology jobs.
Please provide one example that demonstrates your independence from your party.
One example of this is my reform agenda. I strongly support Fair Maps, term limits for legislative leaders, and pay freezes for legislators. These are issues that voters on all sides agree but that might not be popular with insiders in either party. I also will work hard to support campaign finance reforms to ensure the voices of everyday people are heard over special interests or corporations, and I will never vote for a progressive income tax that increases taxes for the middle class.
What other issues are important to you as a candidate for this office?
In addition to my priorities of cleaning up our fiscal mess and reforming Springfield, another priority is investing our young people and ensuring strong public schools. While the new Evidence-Based Funding system helps address inequality in our public schools statewide, we've got to ensure that school funding is increased significantly and that the state delivers funding to schools consistently. Two school districts in our neighborhoods are seriously underfunded, with West Chicago 33 at 59% adequacy and Indian Prairie 204 at 79% adequacy. Our schools build community and neighborhoods and help our young people build a future. In addition, all our students should have access to quality, affordable higher education right here. Illinois residents are going to college elsewhere because we are not providing enough educational and economic opportunity. With recent tuition hikes and cuts to faculty and programs, our universities are not attracting young people. We must reinvest in our state universities and in MAP grants. This will help bring more young people here and stop the "brain drain" to other states, while creating a hub of research, innovation, and technology jobs centered around our universities. We must also invest in our state's healthcare and infrastructure as well as programs and services that improve quality of life in Illinois, which draws young people and business investment. Other issues important to me are common sense gun reform, protecting women's rights and protecting marginalized communities, protecting our environment, and improved access to affordable, timely healthcare.
In addition, here a few questions meant to provide more personal insight into you as a person:
What's the hardest decision you ever had to make?
Earlier this year, a family member needed urgent mental health care, and we - other members of my family and I - had to choose what to do to help her, with limited information, limited time, and very little sleep. The options we had available to us were difficult to navigate, and we couldn't tell which sources of information were reliable. We did our best at the time, but I still am not sure if it was best for this person I love. People all over the state have to make tough choices about healthcare during high-stress situations, and figuring out what the choices and costs are are far more difficult than they should be.
Who is your hero?
I am not one for heroes, but I think it would have to be my grandfather, Poppy Lyons. He came to Chicago for more opportunity from coal country in Pennsylvania, and he worked as a bartender in the city for decades. He was a handyman, always building things. He was creative too, 'photoshopping' pictures of the family and printing Christmas cards of them atop giant presents or with their faces as Christmas ornaments… But this was when printing photos was chemical, not digital. But even more important, he was a quiet and reliable force of goodness in my life and for everyone in our extended family. He asked tough questions but never doubted your ability to be even better than you thought. He also taught me to "make yourself useful." He taught me that when you see something broken, you fix it. Not only did I learn from him to "measure twice, cut once" and take on all kinds of repairs and projects around the house, I learned what it means to be actively good.
Each amendment in the Bill of Rights is important, but which one of those 10 is most precious to you?
The First Amendment, which ensures freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to petition a government, is critical. These rights, and our ongoing struggle and dialogue about how to exercise and protect these rights, are what define us most as a country. We have witnessed many recent threats to freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and even freedom of assembly from the White House. However, the Tenth Amendment is most precious to me right now because it reminds us how much power state and local governments and individuals have. There is so much the state legislature can make decisions about that Congress cannot. It reminds us that the government is for the people and by the people. The power is ours. Concerns I had about President Trump's lack of respect for the First Amendment is part of what drove me to get more engaged in local politics and run for office in Illinois, but the Tenth Amendment is what makes it possible--and imperative--for people to get more involved in local politics and fight for the things that impact their own communities.
What lesson of youth has been most important to you as an adult?
I grew up in the 1970s, and my folks grew up in the 1950s. When I think of the lessons I was taught as a young girl--to not make waves, to suffer quietly and gracefully, to not be bossy--I'm glad I've unlearned these lessons and found my voice. I've had to, to be a good parent, a good worker, and a good citizen, and to be able to speak up and make change. For me, the lessons from girlhood that are most important were ones I shed as I became an adult. Growing up, I never considered that I would ever run for office, but I'm honored to be making waves as the first Democrat on the ballot in ten years. So many people are suffering, from the budget impasse to healthcare backlogs, and I am not going to be quiet. I am resolved to fight to improve economic opportunity for women and protect women's rights as a result of these lessons learned and unlearned as well. I am ready to lead so we can solve problems and build an Illinois we can be proud of. and I have worked to instill lessons to my own daughter so that she is empowered to stand up for what she believes. We need to teach all of our kids to speak up, lead, and solve problems.
Think back to a time you failed at something. What did you learn from it?
I've made many mistakes and had relatively difficult times in my life - of my own doing - but I don't think of those as failures. The worst feelings of failure have been when I promised things I could not deliver, and I learned to commit honestly and follow through as a result. It's taught me to be reliable and to fight hard for what's important, because if you make excuses not to act, you disappoint yourself and those who were counting on you.