Terra Costa Howard: 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.
Costa Howard, an attorney, small business owner and adjunct professor and intern supervisor at College of DuPage, was elected to the legislature in 2018. She previously served two terms on the Glen Ellyn School District 41 board, including two years as board president.
To explore her campaign website, visit TCHfor48.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 Costa Howard'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 have publicly called for state Rep. Michael J. Madigan to resign as Speaker of the House and Chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
The sworn statements in the U.S. Attorney's agreement with ComEd detail a yearslong scheme of payoffs and bribery involving many of Speaker Madigan's closest allies.
Even if he was not directly involved in this scheme, these accusations clearly demonstrate that the Speaker's leadership has failed.
Speaker Madigan has a duty to recognize that these allegations have cast a deep shadow on the reputation of our House. He must take action now to avoid inflicting further damage on the members of the House and the Democratic Party.
Speaker Madigan has not been charged with any crime, and he -- like all of us -- is entitled to the presumption of innocence and due process. But the corruption and unethical behavior that have been revealed by this investigation make it impossible for Rep. Madigan to continue in his leadership roles. I hope he will do the honorable thing and step down.
If he chooses to ignore the calls for him to resign his leadership positions, I will not support him for a new term for House speaker.
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 strongly support any actions that will make our government more ethical and accountable.
I was a sponsor of SB 1639, and I am very glad it passed.
I also will support HB 4558, which would allow the legislative inspector general to open investigations and issue subpoenas without approval from lawmakers on the Legislative Ethics Commission. Under that bill, the inspector general's findings of wrongdoing could be released to the public.
But as the investigations of these past months have shown, having strong ethics laws on the books is not enough. We have to elect ethical men and women who will abide by those laws, and who will insist that those around them behave ethically as well.
Q: What should the General Assembly do to improve the state's unemployment benefits system?
A: Every day, I hear from constituents about the mess at the Illinois Department of Employment Services.
It is absolutely unacceptable that people who have lost their jobs in this pandemic have been put through the wringer while they try to apply for the unemployment insurance they need and deserve.
I have been doing everything I can to help my constituents find their way through this bureaucratic nightmare, and I will be advocating for legislative hearings on this mess when we get back to Springfield.
Q: Should Illinois use a non-partisam process to redraw legislative districts?
A: In a democracy, voters are supposed to have the power to choose their elected officials. But in Illinois, as in many other states, politicians have the power to handpick their voters by carving up districts with prefabricated Democratic or Republican majorities.
As the primary House sponsor for the Fair Maps Amendment, I advocated strongly to end gerrymandering by empowering an independent commission to draw Illinois' legislative district maps.
But people need to understand that drawing fair districts isn't as simple as slicing the state into a bunch of equal-sized squares.
Fair redistricting focuses on the people and communities in each district.
So in addition to making sure each district contains roughly the same number of people, we need to make sure Illinois' new districts have reasonable boundaries and that minority communities have a fair voice in choosing their lawmakers.
Although the pandemic interrupted our session and made it impossible for us to put the Fair Maps Amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot, we can still reform the way we draw our legislative maps and strengthen people's faith in our state government.
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 supported putting the graduated income tax on the ballot. The state of Illinois' structural deficit has been building over decades.
Historically, we have had one of the lowest state income tax rates in the nation, which has forced overreliance on other revenue sources -- most problematically, the property tax, which has been used to make up the gap between state education funding and the actual cost of providing excellent public schools.
As a result, the property tax burden in communities like ours can be overwhelming for homeowners. The graduated income tax will increase state revenues by asking people in the highest income brackets to pay more, and it will keep taxes flat -- or even reduce the income tax burden -- for 97% of Illinois taxpayers.
I don't think low-income hourly workers should pay the same percentage of their wages in income tax that billionaires do. I understand that nobody wants to pay more in taxes, but the governor's graduated tax plan will generate additional revenue to fund our schools, and it will help us to put Illinois on a path toward real fiscal sustainability.
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 think my decision to stand up and call for Speaker Madigan's resignation shows that I am independent and guided by my constituents and my conscience.
It wasn't easy, and I had to face a great deal of opposition and even anger from some of my peers.
And despite what my opponent may say, I have had to pay a real financial price for my decision to oppose Madigan's continuing leadership. There are a number of organizations and individuals that have chosen not to support my campaign because of my decision.
But at the end of the day, the most important thing is being able to look at my daughters and remind them what it means to do what's right.
I made another tough decision when I voted against increasing Illinois' minimum wage.
I know some Democrats were disappointed by my decision, but the increase will place a real burden on village governments, park districts, and public schools that rely on large numbers of hourly and seasonal workers.
Although I think those workers deserve better pay, I feared that increasing their wages would mean hiking property taxes. My constituents are already paying too much in property taxes, so I had to vote no on the bill.
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: I would give Gov. Pritzker a solid A-minus. I was very proud that Illinois took fast, effective action to stop the spread of the virus back in March, and I think the governor was wise to build out emergency facilities to make sure we did not overwhelm our hospitals.
I also thought he was absolutely right to call out Trump for his repeated failures to support the states and provide the help we needed.
Gov. Pritzker also deserves respect for his unwavering focus on the scientific facts, despite political heat. I'm very disappointed that so many Republicans, including my opponent, are treating COVID-19 as a partisan issue.
I only hope we can join together and avoid another deadly surge this fall. In retrospect, I wish he had done more to include the General Assembly in the decision-making process.
But as I look at the rest of the country, it seems clear Gov. Pritzker's leadership saved thousands of lives. People need to understand that a public health success is invisible. If you take aggressive action and then you don't have people dying on the streets, it doesn't mean you overreacted. It means you did the right thing, at the right time -- and it worked.
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 am hoping and praying that President Biden will lead a national effort to help every state recover financially from this disaster.
Like every other state in this nation, Illinois is going to need help, and our need is going to extend beyond this fiscal year. At this point, it's hard to say what our greatest needs will be, or how we will put our financial house back in order.
This is an unprecedented situation, and it's still far from clear what the ultimate impacts will be, on our economy and on public health. But the bottom line is, this is a national disaster, and it will require a national solution.
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 do not think it is appropriate for lawmakers to work as lobbyists, at any level. It raises way too many conflicts of interest.
Constituents shouldn't have to worry that their representatives are putting their clients' interests ahead of the communities they serve. I also agree that we should put an end to the revolving door that allows legislators to become lobbyists the day after they leave office.
This does raise the question of what the most appropriate waiting period should be. Perhaps there should be different waiting periods, depending on whether the legislator intends to work for a corporate client or a nonprofit advocacy group.
Q: What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A: I have declined to take a state pension, because our small business is providing our retirement funds. But obviously, this problem cannot be solved by one legislator turning down a pension.
Our state's pension mess was created over DECADES by legislators on both sides of the aisle.
Moving forward, we need to make sure that pension payments are made on time and in full. We need to bring all parties together at the table and come up with a thoughtful, responsible, bipartisan plan to put our pension funds on a solid fiscal foundation.
We need to make sure that the state fulfills its constitutional obligations to public employees who have counted on their modest pensions to fund their retirements -- and we need to pass laws with real teeth in them to make sure that irresponsible legislators can never make a mess like this again.
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: Clearly, the Illinois Legislature needs to take a closer look at law enforcement policies and practices throughout our state.
That will require all parties to listen to each other without defensiveness or posturing. In the weeks that have passed since George Floyd's death, I have hosted a series of virtual conversations on race in the suburbs.
For a conversation focused on law enforcement, I invited police officials, activists, and other community members to come in, share their thoughts, and hear from people on all sides of these issues. I thought it was important for officers to hear about the experiences of Black residents who have been singled out, again and again, for baseless and unconstitutional stops and searches.
I also thought it was important for community members to hear our law enforcement leaders talk about their efforts to address systemic racism in policing and criminal justice.
While it's clear that we have a long way to go, I was encouraged by the participants' candor and their willingness to listen to each other. Together, I think we can find better ways to protect our communities and assure that everyone's rights are respected.
Q: Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A: I don't think any reasonable person can doubt that human activity is driving global warming, and I am terrified that we are fast reaching the point of no return.
It is absolutely crucial for government at every level to take steps to reduce emissions and shift to clean energy.
That's why I support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), which will expand electric and gas efficiency programs, promote electric vehicles, and make Illinois' power sources 100% carbon-free by 2030 and 100% renewable by 2050.
It also will save consumers money and create thousands of good new jobs, while improving the way we regulate our utility companies.