Michelle Mussman: Candidate profile, Illinois House 56th District
Incumbent Democrat Michelle Mussman of Schaumburg faces a challenge from Republican Scott Kegarise, the Schaumburg Township highway commissioner, in the race for Illinois House from the 56th District.
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. The General Assembly needs to continue to examine and reform state ethics policy, to be on a constant path of improvement, intent on protecting our citizens from those who do not have their best interest at heart. These problems go beyond one person, who at the time of this writing, has not been formally charged. There should be tough fines on politicians that force them to pay back money they've received inappropriately from taxpayers, pensions stripped from politicians convicted of felonies, and an end to the corrupt red-light camera schemes that have enriched politicians and lobbyists.
Without knowing who the candidates for Speaker may be, I will say that I will be looking for someone who will prioritize making health care more affordable, protecting women's rights, advocating for middle and low income earners as our economy emerges from the pandemic, and someone who will be thoughtful about the needs of minorities and communities of color, especially during the re-redistricting process.
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. At the end of the day, the voting switch belongs to me and I have to be able to face the residents who elected me and be able to explain why I felt any vote I took represented their best interests. A good representative does their homework both at home and in Springfield to understand the complex pros and cons of any issue and how their community may be impacted.
In the last few years I was proud to stand with my fellow female legislators to demand an end to the budget impasse and the harm it was causing our communities, as well as, the state budget, while others were committed to continuing the stalemate. I also stood with fellow legislators to demand bills regarding access to women's health care be called, even though the topic is divisive and many wanted to put it aside for yet another year.
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. In hindsight, there will always be things all bodies of government will wish they had done differently. This was an extremely challenging situation as the health care experts struggled to learn about this new disease and directions from the experts changed almost daily, undermining the ability of anyone in decision making positions to be perceived as credible, the governor and state prioritized saving the lives of its residents above all else. They relied on science and made daily public updates to try to be as transparent as possible. He attempted to put out guidelines early, so residents and businesses could plan, and stand by his team's decisions. The General Assembly should put partisanship aside and listen to scientists and health experts, to guide our work with the governor, to create informed policy changes going forward. I take the social distancing and mask wearing very seriously.
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. I think the full impact of the pandemic on the budget is unknown. Certainly, we will need to continue going through the budget line by line, to reaffirm our need or spending in every category, most especially taking into consideration what we have learned about our community's need for affordable and accessible health care, child care, education, higher education and job training, affordable and safe housing, and the historical imbalance in how those things are spread to communities of color. I do not support raising taxes on middle and low income earners and feel the federal government should step up to more proactively address the financial problems being experienced uniquely in each state due to this crisis.
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 people in my district have made it clear to me they do not feel our current tax system is working. They feel overburdened and stretched too thin and still see needs not being well enough addressed by Illinois. We need to find a less regressive way to meet the financial needs of the state and its residents, especially as we hope to emerge from the crisis.
The rate I voted to support will guarantee 97% of taxpayers will pay the same, or even just a little less, while only those making more than $250,000 per year will see any increase. The taxpayers will get the final say on whether or not they think this is a good policy change for their state.
Q. Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
A. I do not support a tax on retirement benefits.
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. I support a prohibition on lawmakers lobbying other units of government. There are too many overlapping interests at stake. I think there should be changes to statute, such as the creation of a Universal Lobbyist Registration, to make it clearer when insiders and special interests are seeking to influence policy or units of local government.
I would also toughen restrictions on legislators becoming lobbyists as they exit office and increase the wait time for them to do so.
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. I would start with the topics being considered by the Bipartisan Ethics Commission, before the pandemic interrupted their meeting schedule:
• Tougher fines on politicians who abuse the public trust and forcing them to pay back the money they've received from taxpayers.
• Stripping pensions from politicians convicted of felonies.
• Ending corrupt red-light camera schemes that have enriched politicians and lobbyists while doing nothing to keep our communities safe.
• Universal lobbyist registration and tougher restrictions on how lobbyists can seek to influence government.
There will always be bad actors choosing to exploit systems for their own benefit. The legislature will never pass one set of rules and be able to consider their work complete. I join other elected officials, journalists, and the public in the ongoing battle to seek out wrongdoers and change policy to stop them, while also ensuring due process is protected.
Q. What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A. We first have to acknowledge how we got here. The state failed to make sufficient contributions to the pension for decades, and this underfunding crisis was further exacerbated by a historic recession severely reducing investment returns within the system. There is no easy, quick fix to this situation. I have been proud to support budgets that made the statutorily required payments, and we must continue to do so, while working in a bipartisan fashion to find ways to put the pension funds on the path to solvency and reduce our unfunded liability. All stakeholders need to be engaged at the table and any changes need to be fair to both taxpayers and to public sector employees.
Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A. Yes, I believe climate change is influenced by human activity. I am proud to be a member of the House Green Caucus and to support strong legislation such as the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which brings together business and labor groups, to create tens of thousands of green jobs, while working toward an ambitious goal of 100% renewable energy. State efforts are extremely important, but we truly need leadership by the federal government, guided by science, to enact large-scale, long-term, meaningful environmental impact.
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. First and foremost, we elected officials and citizens of Illinois need to acknowledge that the killings of black men and women and other discriminatory policies and practices across our country are happening and are unacceptable. People base their understanding and reactions on their personal experiences and many communities are impacted dramatically differently, making it hard for some to honestly appreciate the depth and breadth of these long simmering problems. This is a historic opportunity for us to step outside of our personal comfort zone to intentionally consider the perspectives of others.
Our legislature has long been discussing many of these ideas, including body cameras, training, public recording, and accountability. Now is the time to listen with a more open mind to those directly impacted, to empower them to have ownership over crafting informed policies and best practices for the benefit of all residents and those who serve them.