Mark Walker: Candidate profile
Name: Mark Walker
City: Arlington Heights
Office sought: State representative, 53rd District
Family: Wife, Joan; one son.
Occupation: Retired business executive and entrepreneur with a long career in financial services, community development and quality consulting.
Education: BA and MA in Anthropology (culture change), from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
Civic involvement: Former board member and treasurer for Journeys-The Road Home, serving homeless individuals and families; recipient of the Abner Mikva award for political courage; Bronze Star recipient; veteran's advocate; previously a coach, volunteer and park district foundation board member.
Elected offices held: Served as state representative 2009-2011. Areas of focus included budget reform, procurement reform and supporting small business.
Questions & Answers
Q. 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, I would vote for a graduated income tax. But it's way too early to have a detailed discussion of potential tax brackets until we get the ability, through a constitutional amendment, to lower taxes for the vast majority of residents, while paying down government debt.
The marginal rate of any top bracket in a graduated income tax, does not tell you how much you will actually pay in taxes. Quoting the highest proposed marginal tax rate will mislead voters. What counts is the effective tax rate, i.e., what we actually pay. Every single taxpayer in any graduated tax system actually pays less on their total income, usually significantly less, than the rate quoted for the highest bracket.
When the time comes, I would only support a tax structure that reduces effective tax rates for at least 90 percent of taxpayers in Illinois, while producing enough money so that we can better fund local school districts to reduce local property taxes. If the proposed structure does that, I will vote for it.
Q. 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 taxes are the top issue that residents of our district bring up when I'm out knocking on doors. Property taxes are set locally, so it's important to build discipline and accountability by local units of government. Once we get a graduated income tax, the state can impact property taxes by better funding local school districts, which can take some burden off property taxes.
Q. What is your evaluation of Gov. Rauner's job performance? Please specify what you view as its highs and lows.
I had high hopes for Gov. Rauner because he came from the world of finance as I did. Unfortunately, he tried to apply the management processes (used by) his type of venture capitalist, which is "Do it my way or else", and "All or nothing" to negotiating government policies. He could have probably passed nearly half his turnaround agenda had he been seriously willing to compromise. He continually pulled votes off of bipartisan deals made in the legislature, while demanding further unrelated concessions. Rauner has thus been a failure on his own overall agenda. On the positive side, Governor Rauner encouraged revamping how we fund local school districts, and supported improvements to criminal justice system, both of which are high priorities for us all.
Q. What is your evaluation of Speaker Michael Madigan's job performance?
Madigan is a focused, detail-oriented, demanding operations manager -- no more difficult than many senior executives I have dealt with in large corporations. His overall limitation might be his focus on periodic political victory, more than on long-term needs of the state. However, that is almost universal among all party leaders in Springfield. The real question voters ask me is whether I'll be controlled by Madigan. The answer is no. When I was in the state legislature 2009-2011, I voted against Speaker Madigan on contentious bills, more even than Tom Cross, the House Republican Leader. I won the Abner Mikva Award for Political Courage partly because of that independence. I always voted for the needs of my constituents, and the needs of the state. Speaker Madigan, Gov. Rauner and now Leader Durkin exercise most power over representatives who desire careers in politics. I made my career elsewhere, have no great ambitions at this point other than to serve the public, and therefore Madigan has little leverage over me.
Q. 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?
Yes, I think there should be term limits on legislative leaders and I would vote in favor of this. I don't believe the entire problem is systemic. The problem is in the individual character of the people we elect. It's always been a mystery to me watching individuals who were elected by their own constituents, cede that power to leaders of both parties. The power should come from the voters, not the leaders, and not from the money that big funders control.
Q. How concerned should we be about Illinois' population loss? What needs to be done to reverse the trend?
When I talk to people at their front doors who are considering leaving the state, they all mention property taxes. These are way too high, and they are set primarily by local government entities including school boards. The solution is to restructure our overall tax system in Illinois. With a graduated income tax we can properly fund education with additional state funds, and school boards won't have to continue raising their share of property taxes.
We also have to rebuild people's pride in Illinois. I am tired of politicians bad-mouthing Illinois to get ahead. Yes, we have problems, as does every state. But Illinois has many qualities that make it a desirable place to live, work and play. We need to build on our strengths while confronting our difficulties so that people come to Illinois and stay here.
We must invest in higher education so we can provide business an educated workforce and opportunities for our children; invest in startups and small companies, which are the true "job creators"; and ensure that the state works for all Illinoisans to restore the trust of our citizens.
Q. Please provide one example that demonstrates your independence from your party.
I have a voting record from my term as a state representative that shows I voted my conscience and my district, often over Speaker Madigan. More recently, I was an early supporter of Fritz Kaegi taking over as Cook County Assessor from Joe Berrios in this year's primary.
Q. What other issues are important to you as a candidate for this office?
My overriding issue -- which some may consider boring -- is how to do a long-term fiscal plan for the state and establish a statutory basis requiring legislators and executives to follow the steps of the long-term plan. When I left the legislature in 2011, we had the rough outline of a 18-year plan, but it wasn't fully executed. We could have been eight years into solving the fiscal problems of Illinois right now had it been followed. Leaders must have the discipline to think and act for the long term, not just for the next election. Voters need to make this a priority in choosing their candidates.
In addition, here a few questions meant to provide more personal insight into you as a person:
Q. What's the hardest decision you ever had to make?
I can tell you that the best decision I ever made -- under difficult circumstances -- was giving up drinking 22 years ago. I've been sober ever since, and have stayed involved in helping people struggling with alcohol abuse and addictions.
Q. Who is your hero?
I have a lot of heroes for different reasons. Ulysses S Grant is one, because he persevered and took horrible losses in order to save the Union. I consider Nelson Mandela a hero because he kept a vision of freedom and individual dignity alive through years of suffering, and he ended up winning for his people. And Dwight Eisenhower, because he rightly attacked the military-industrial complex, after having won a war.
Q. Each amendment in the Bill of Rights is important, but which one of those 10 is most precious to you?
They're all important. None is precious above all others. Certainly none is "sanctified," as I've heard the NRA say of the Second Amendment. I've always cherished and defended, to the best of my ability, the entire Constitution of the United States. At different times different amendments have come under attack. Right now I'm most concerned about Freedom of the Press, which is under direct attack; Freedom of Speech, which has somehow been perverted into political campaign dollars paid by corporations and mega donors, and Freedom of Assembly with the ability to petition your government, which to me describe the functions of a government employee union. All are currently under attack and we should defend them, if we want to defend the Bill of Rights.
Q. What lesson of youth has been most important to you as an adult?
My service in the military. It taught me about persevering through adversity. It taught me about building a team. And it taught me about fighting for a higher good. When I returned from Vietnam my mother asked me, "Why on Earth did you do that?" (I had volunteered). I spontaneously said, "To defend the Bill of Rights." And I meant it.
Q. Think back to a time you failed at something. What did you learn from it?
One of the small companies I founded eventually failed. I came to realize that while I had exactly the right idea, I didn't take the time to build the right infrastructure and processes for it to work. Thinking right isn't automatically doing right. That seems to be a problem in government as well.