Peter Breen: Candidate profile, Illinois House, 48th District
In the race for Illinois House from District 48, Terra Costa Howard, a one-term incumbent Democrat from Glen Ellyn, is facing a rematch with Republican Peter Breen of Lombard, whom she ousted from this House seat in 2018.
Breen, an attorney, served two terms as the state representative from 2015-2019, including as Republican Floor Leader from 2017-2019. He is vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit, national public interest law firm. He is a former Lombard village trustee from 2011 to 2014, stepping in as Lombard's acting village president in 2012-13.
To explore his campaign website, visit votebreen.com.
The 48th District includes Glen Ellyn, Lombard and parts of Wheaton and Lisle.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates a series of questions. Here are Breen's responses.
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: I called for Madigan to resign after it was disclosed earlier this year that his chief lobbyist, Mike McClain, protected a Madigan operative for covering up the rape of a child in Champaign.
That was the latest in a string of sexual misconduct by high-level operatives in the Madigan machine.
McClain personally backed Terra Costa Howard in the 2018 election cycle, and according to November 2019 reporting, he ran a "secret project" to fund the campaigns of his preferred House Democrats during the critical closing weeks of the 2018 cycle.
Costa Howard did nothing about her supporter McClain's rape cover-up, or about any of the other sexual misconduct. She stuck with the Madigan machine through it all. And she's still taking his money and the support of his machine. No one who knows Illinois politics was surprised by the corrupt conduct detailed in the ComEd prosecution.
Madigan has run state government as a pay-to-play scheme for decades. Every Republican in the legislature has demanded he step down, but the Democrats have lashed themselves to his mast. They deserve to go down with his ship. Some would say "they stayed loyal." I'd say, "they stayed bought."
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: We should start with term limits. Whether it's Mike Madigan or disgraced legislators like Louis Arroyo, Martin Sandoval, or Terry Link (and many others), term limits would likely have prevented their crimes.
Term limits ensure we have a part-time citizen legislature, as our Illinois Constitution calls for. With term limits, the Illinois General Assembly becomes less appealing for those who are corrupt coming in, and a short period of service hopefully ushers out those who are corruptible before they can "break bad."
Either way, with a brief time in office, you have to get your work done quickly, because you'll soon be back in private life. As to the myriad other ethics proposals out there, and we should take an "all-of-the-above" approach.
Sadly, there is also a great need for reform for personal ethics as well, with regard to personal behavior. Every manner of bad behavior is tolerated and covered up in Springfield, leaving far too many victims in its wake. I've been willing to sponsor this kind of legislation and will continue. I will sponsor, support vocally, and vote for any real reform bill that gets filed.
Q: What should the General Assembly do to improve the state's unemployment benefits system?
A: Our technology is so far out of date in Illinois that we couldn't even distribute federal money to Illinois residents.
Adding to the problem of a website that couldn't handle the traffic were phones not being answered within the agency itself. With so many state employees at home on account of the virus, it's beyond imagination how there could not have been more support for millions of state residents who were suddenly in great need.
Technology can be upgraded quickly. Why this hasn't been done in so many years is inexcusable.
I'm certain I'd be told it was a financial issue. The high cost of human involvement (state jobs) is many times more costly than technology upgrades. And when it came to humans; they weren't at work. Many state Reps and state Senators couldn't reach anyone in the agency to get any answers for constituents or for themselves. Residents couldn't get through and didn't receive any calls back if they somehow did get an opportunity to leave a message. This is by far the easiest fixable question on this entire survey. The philosophy of state government has to change drastically. Illinoisans pay a great deal of money for service. They deserve to get some.
Q: Should Illinois use a non-partisam process to redraw legislative districts?
A: The companion to term limits is Fair Maps. I drafted a Fair Maps Amendment citizen initiative that presented a legally rock-solid way to upend the corrupt system of partisan mapping in Illinois.
Unfortunately, every few years, you see cynical attempts by electorally vulnerable Democrats to file fair maps amendments, knowing full well these efforts will never see the light of day.
We saw it in 2016 when then-Rep. Jack Franks was allowed to bring his amendment to the House Floor (where it garnered 105 votes), with the understanding that the Senate would not take it up.
And we saw Ms. Costa Howard do the same thing this year, filing another dead-on-arrival amendment just two months before the deadline.
The media, private industry, and good-government groups should coalesce behind a citizen initiative that meets the requirements of the Illinois Constitution, to avoid the partisan logjam in the General Assembly. My Fair Maps Amendment is one way to do that, but any system would be better than the current one.
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: I stand firmly against the graduated income tax hike. We're in recovery mode. Consumers and small businesses will be a huge part of that. Taking more money away from them isn't the way to encourage growth.
But Terra Costa Howard, after promising the people of this district she'd oppose the graduated tax hike, turned around and voted for it. There is almost NO savings for anyone with this proposal. In my experience in the General Assembly, I saw up close the amount of wasteful spending and poor fiscal policy in our state. Budgets passed always exceeded anticipated income, and even income numbers were artificially inflated as part of an obscene effort to call these budgets "balanced."
In a state with an insatiable appetite for spending, feeding more taxpayer dollars is not the solution. There are numerous programs which are simply routinely re-appropriated, without careful assessment of effectiveness or necessity. Before anyone asks an Illinois taxpayer for a single penny more, there should be a full accounting of all of the money this state already raises through every tax and fee we already levy.
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: In my two terms in the General Assembly, I shepherded 32 bills into law as Chief House Sponsor -- more than any other second-term legislator, Republican or Democrat. That's required me to work across the aisle on a regular basis, on a variety of issues and areas of law.
I stood against my party on some significant issues, as well. One of the biggest was opposing an unbalanced budget that spent $39.7 billion, at least $1.2 billion more than we had funds available. I'm serious about fiscal reform and responsibility, and our state constitution requires a balanced budget. The Democrat majority refused to even consider a spending bill that lived within our means, and the people of Illinois suffered, and continue to suffer, the consequences of that action with more and more debt. As well, when the governor from my party broke his promise to Illinoisans not to spend precious taxpayer dollars on elective abortions, I opposed him, directly and publicly, not with a press release issued from my basement but with a full downtown media conference that you saw on the evening news. While I'm still a Republican, folks in our area appreciate my strong Independent streak.
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 would you have done differently, if anything? If nothing, please say so.
A: The rating for Pritzker has to be "Incomplete," since we are still midway through the pandemic. Next year we'll know the impact of the governor's orders on the physical, mental, and economic health of our residents versus those of neighboring states.
The legislature hid in the basement and shirked its duty to lead, to what should be its eternal shame: having one man run Illinois unilaterally for half a year violates our system of checks and balances.
Going forward, we need a full review of the high infections and deaths in long-term-care facilities -- we don't know whether this was due to the governor's actions, or some other cause.
DuPage should never have been "zoned" with Cook County for phasing openings. And it was wrong to ban small family retailers from in-person sales of their products, while large retailers could sell those same products.
Pritzker botched unemployment insurance, leaving the jobless with no one to answer the phone, trying to navigate a broken website, and suffering the indignity of their personal identification details put on the internet. Thousands of government employees across Illinois were at home who would have been glad to handle unemployment phone lines.
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 last thing our state government needs is yet another special reason to tax residents. Our state may have been the most ill-prepared state in the country with literally no emergency fund and unpaid bills and liabilities that are beyond comparison.
Given we are still dealing with the pandemic and our businesses are still severely restricted in many cases, we can't even assess the economic cost of the pandemic. As businesses come on line in the recovery, we should do everything we possibly can to provide incentives for growth and productivity.
Our best chance at economic recovery is more people working and paying taxes and companies maximizing their productivity and sales. This legislature has been content in normal times to pass out of balance budgets that spend billions more than available. Every other state is prioritizing and figuring out how to deal with reduced revenue, pandemic or not. The General Assembly needs to do the same. There's already a huge tax increase on the ballot, with a new discussion on taxing retirement income. It's time for responsible fiscal policy that doesn't conclude that every revenue issue is solved by socking it to Illinois taxpayers.
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: Yes, of course. You can't serve two masters: a legislator is supposed to be dedicated to the service of the people, not special interest groups. Legislators should be banned from lobbying for the longest time allowed under the Constitution. Whether that's 10 years, or 5 years, or 2 years, I'm for it.
Q: What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A: Stop ignoring the pension problem is the immediate answer. We've let this wound fester for decades. Pension holidays had become the norm. Lower than anticipated returns on investments made it even worse. And budgets that were cheered, when every sane person knew they were wildly out of balance.
The only answer to our hundreds of billions in unfunded pension liabilities is to reform the structure of the systems, before they go bankrupt. Reform is possible: Arizona has achieved it, as have numerous other states. Once you reform, then you have to maintain the discipline to pay the bills when they come due.
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: Two domestic terrorists recently tried to blow up the Lombard Police Department. Just a few weeks ago, three Cook County residents with guns broke into homes in Wheaton and Lombard, seeking to rape and murder sleeping residents. I stand firmly for public safety and in support our police officers who face incredible danger, especially in the current environment.
As for systemic racism, the primary solution is providing a world-class education to all children, no matter their family income or ZIP code. Imagine the impact of a full generation of highly educated, career-ready young people ready to enter the workforce and public life on systemic racism.
Unlike those who want to condemn poor children to terrible schools in Chicago and elsewhere, I've taken the tough votes to get those kids the resources they need. On other policing issues, Illinois is already a leader on reforms: Back in 2015, we banned chokeholds like the one that killed George Floyd this year, along with regulating body cameras, in a bipartisan measure that I supported.
Q: Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A: Obviously, human activities impact the climate. I was proud to support the Future Energy Jobs Act, which made Illinois a national leader in clean energy, brought renewable energy spending that was out of state back to Illinois, and created numerous jobs in clean energy technologies.
We should be constantly looking for ways to improve our clean energy profile, while maintaining two critical factors: (1.) keep energy prices down for the sake of our residents and our business community who need low-cost electricity and (2.) maintain sources of energy that are rock-solid reliable during bad weather, from polar vortexes to heat waves, so we avoid the blackouts being suffered today by folks in California and Germany.
Sometimes the sun doesn't shine and wind turbines don't turn, so you need other technologies to keep the lights on.