Martha Paschke: Candidate profile, Illinois House District 65
Democrat Martha Paschke of Geneva and Republican Dan Ugaste of Geneva are vying for the Illinois House District 65 in the Nov. 3 general election.
Ugaste, a lawyer who specializes in workers' compensation defense, was first elected to the district in 2018.
Paschke is a patient intake coordinator at a psychology practice seeking her first elected office.
House District 65 includes all of Pingree Grove and portions of Batavia, St. Charles, Geneva, South Elgin, Elgin, Hampshire and Huntley.
Q: Should Speaker Madigan resign from his leadership positions? If he does not resign, will you support him for a new term as House speaker?
A: For too long in Illinois the actions of greedy individuals have compromised the fairness of our business dealings, the integrity of our government, and the faith that ordinary people have in our elected officials.
This story is not new, only the current players. I consider myself an ethical person, and I am heartened to know that I have earned the trust of people within my community. That will not change when I am elected as Representative.
I believe that we need to more closely examine the ties between money and politics, and specifically how people move between roles as elected officials and lobbyists. My focus at this moment is to continue to listen to the concerns of the people I hope to represent before I can even begin to consider who should serve as Speaker.
I fully support stripping politicians convicted of crimes of their taxpayer-funded pensions and enacting tougher fines on politicians who abuse the public trust.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how do you propose tackling it in the legislature?
A: Talking to voters each day about the issues that are important to them, it is undeniable that our biggest challenge right now is combating the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring families and small businesses have the resources they need.
This pandemic has exposed a number of underlying issues that we have known need to be addressed and brought them to the forefront: the need to protect essential and front line workers and ensure workplace safety; the health care disparities in Black and Brown communities; the critical role that our schools play in the lives of working families; the necessity of bolstering our struggling small businesses rather than giving corporate bailouts; and the demand for access to critical mental health services.
Tackling all of these issues will be a priority as we address the economic fallout of this pandemic, but people need to come first.
To that end, I will fight for workplace safety measures to allow workers to return to their jobs.
I will fight to ensure equitable access to quality, affordable health care and to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
I will work to make sure that small businesses are considered and prioritized for relief.
Q: The graduated income tax is designed with the intent to reduce taxes for 97 percent of Illinoisans. Do you believe that will happen? Why or why not? What assurances can be given to voters?
A: The graduated tax system, similar to the federal tax structure, has been designed to do just that. According to the CTBA, 2.8% of Illinoisans filed taxes reporting an income of greater than $250k, the level at which they would see an increase from 4.95% to 7.75%.
That leaves 97% of Illinoisans seeing their income tax remaining flat or dropping slightly. This would make our taxing structure more fair by leveling the overall tax burden between those earning the least and those earning the most.
Currently, those in the bottom 20% are paying 14.7% of their wealth in state and local taxes each year, whereas the top 1% are only paying 7.4%.
This is why many other states and the federal government utilize a graduated tax structure. We know from evidence that the fears of those who oppose the graduated tax do not end up playing out, in fact the opposite is actually found in those states.
Wealthy people do not leave, tax brackets do not get shifted, taxes do not get raised further, and it does not harm business.
The amendment is ultimately in the hands of taxpayers, and regardless of its success, it will be my top priority as a legislator to bring real tax relief to middle-class families.
Q: ComEd officials have acknowledged in an agreement with the federal government that it funneled money through contractors to friends and colleagues of Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan. What do you think should happen as a result of this. Specifically, how should potential legislation impacting ComEd be handled next session?
A: There is no doubt that we need to bring real change to the disturbing practices that have been revealed in Illinois' lobbying practices, but the issues at hand here are larger than just ComEd or any one person. We must bring real reform to the system at hand, and not play partisan games that get nothing done.
We need greater transparency and regulation on lobbyist activities at all levels of government, and like all legislation, future bills that work to address unethical lobbying practices should be done thoroughly and in a bipartisan manner, with the ultimate end goal being that votes are cast in the interest of the taxpayers and the people you are elected to represent.
That is why I am also committed to fighting for tougher fines on politicians who abuse the public trust, stripping pensions from politicians convicted of felonies and ending corrupt insider deals that have enriched politicians and lobbyists at our expense.
Q: Describe at least two circumstances in which you have shown or would show a willingness and capacity to act independently of the direction or demands of party leadership.
A: I have not held elected office previously, but one of the things I am proudest of is the trust I have earned from all whom I have worked with and collaborated with through both my employment and volunteerism. I have demonstrated through the large number of small individual donations to my campaign that I have the support and trust of many who know that I have what it takes to stand up for what is right.
My campaign team and supporters include educators, nurses, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, community volunteers, and other ordinary citizens tired of business as usual in Springfield. I am a mom and a former educator with experience working in both women's and mental health.
These professional experiences, along with my deep ties to my community -- not my party ties -- shape who I am and my legislative priorities.
As I speak with voters every day, the residents in my district express to me their desire for quality education, meaningful property tax relief, and elected officials who represent their values. I will fight hard for these and other issues, not because of what party leadership tells me to do, but because these are the issues that are important to my community.
Q: How would you rate the governor's handling of the COVID-19 crisis? Does the legislature need to have more input and influence in establishing rules and policies related to stemming the spread of the disease? What you have done differently, if anything? If nothing, please say so.
A: The number of lives lost as a result of this virus has been truly heartbreaking, and we owe so much to the people who continue to work on the front lines of this pandemic every day.
The governor made decisions guided by experts and based in science, and for that reason I would highly rate his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as the federal government failed to adequately support states' efforts. He acted swiftly to protect the greatest number of Illinoisans possible and, as a result, Illinois consistently ranked among the states with the lowest rates of infection.
Gov. Pritzker fought for the people of Illinois at the national level, even as the President threw up roadblocks every step of the way and left states on their own. Republican lawmakers called on the governor to reconvene the legislature, and while I think they were pushing for that at a time where it was still unsafe to do so, I agree that representatives know their constituencies best and should have a voice in the decisions being made.
It would be my hope moving forward that the legislature would be an active participant in the decisions being made on behalf of our communities.
Q: Regardless of whether the federal government provides assistance, what is the impact of the pandemic on the state's economic outlook and what immediate and long-term actions should be taken to address it? Would you support increasing taxes to pay for COVID-19 response or to make up for lost revenue related to COVID-19?
A: The budget challenges created by this crisis are significant, but asking middle-class families to pay more in taxes as a result is just wrong. Families in Illinois and in my community are also struggling and we cannot ask them to pay more.
There's no getting around the fact that these budget challenges will require difficult decisions and an honest reevaluation of our spending priorities. We must prioritize essential services, programs, and organizations.
Our health care system and first responders are essential to our family's safety and health. Our nonprofits and social service organizations have proven to be a lifeline for so many.
We need to support small businesses and displaced workers who are simply trying to get by day-to-day. And keeping our children safe and healthy has become even more of a priority as our schools are grappling with educating our children in new and creative ways in a less-than-ideal scenario.
None of this is easy work, and will require all members of the legislature working together to identify priorities and review line-by-line spending to invest in these priorities.
Q: Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
A: I do not support a tax on retirement income.
Q: Should Illinois prohibit lawmakers from lobbying other levels of government? Should lawmakers be prohibited from becoming lobbyists after their term in office? For how long?
A: The General Assembly recently formed the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, which was a positive first step in bringing about change and restoring ethics and integrity to government, but I also believe there is no quick or simple solution to reform.
As the commission had done before the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to continue having thorough and bipartisan discussions on lobbying reform that includes input from legislators, but also from citizens across the state.
I support universal lobbyist registration, banning lawmakers from lobbying other levels of government, and tougher restrictions on how lobbyists can seek to influence government. I would also support a cooling-off period for legislators before they can become lobbyists.
Q: What are the most important components that should be included in legislative ethics reform? What will you do to help them come to pass?
A: There will always be bad actors who want to exploit the system, which causes the public's lack of trust in politicians. This is why we need real, effective reform of our laws governing elected officials, lobbyists, and state employees. Real reform needs to happen through bipartisan and transparent conversations that take the best suggestions from legislators, newspaper editorials, and citizens across the state.
I'll work to implement tougher fines on politicians who abuse the public trust, force them to pay back the money they've received from taxpayers, strip pensions from politicians convicted of felonies, and end corrupt insider deals that have enriched politicians and lobbyists at our expense.
Q: What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A: Our state's retirement funds are in their current state for several reasons, and plenty of decision-makers on both sides of the aisle are to blame for kicking the can down the road. When lawmakers passed pension reform legislation several years ago without a consensus from all stakeholders, it was ultimately challenged in court, deemed unconstitutional and didn't do anything to solve the problem at hand. We must learn from the mistakes of the past.
As a state representative, I'll support budgets that make full pension payments a top priority to meet our obligations, which is the first step to fixing the pension problem. Any additional reform-focused pension legislation must be negotiated with all stakeholders at the table, fully thought out, and carefully crafted to be constitutional and avoid the legal challenges that previous reform bills were met with. There is no quick fix to this issue, but I am eager to work across the aisle to find long-term and effective solutions.
Q: Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A: The science on this is undeniable. Humans are causing and accelerating climate change at an alarming rate and we need to be prioritizing actions to address it. I would propose funding for research and development of clean energy technology, incentives to encourage sustainability in existing industries and businesses in Illinois, and investments in renewable energy and green jobs.
I'd also like to see the solar energy tax credits renew after 2021 rather than have them go away completely.
Q: Protesters have massed in the streets in Chicago and other cities across Illinois for greater social justice and changes in the funding and responsibilities for police. How significant a role does systemic racism play in limiting equal opportunity in Illinois? To the degree that it exists, what should be done about it? What, if any, changes should be made in funding and duties of police?
A: The effects of systemic racism are far-reaching and continue to affect the lives of families in our community. From discriminatory housing policies to mass incarceration to workplace discrimination and wage disparities. I recognize that there is still much work to be done and am committed to righting the wrongs of our past.
I held a community conversation via Facebook Live with Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain and community advocate Marcus Banner. We talked about what police reform might look like locally.
Mo Iqbal of the Kane County Board has drafted a bipartisan resolution in conjunction with Sheriff Hain and Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon to call for more police accountability, minimization of force, and use of body cameras.
This shows that when we work together we can find consensus among the various stakeholders, from citizens to law enforcement to elected officials, that change is not only needed, but possible.
These productive conversations underscore the need to listen, challenge our own perspectives, and work together for meaningful solutions.