Joyce Mason: Candidate profile, Illinois House District 61
In the race for Illinois House from District 61, incumbent Democrat Joyce Mason of Gurnee is facing a challenge from Antioch Republican Dan Yost.
District 61 includes Antioch, Winthrop Harbor, Beach Park, Gurnee and Zion, among other towns in the northeast corner of the state.
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. If at any time anyone in our government is proven guilty of abusing the public trust, they must be held accountable -- without exception. And I have called on my fellow legislators to stand with me to enact the strongest ethical reforms so we can all get back to fully focusing on the important work that we have been entrusted with by our constituents.
I will vote for a House speaker who puts the needs of Illinois residents first. The individual I vote for must be committed to addressing the concerns I hear from residents in our district, including rising health care costs, systemic racism, property taxes, environmental protection, domestic violence and the need for more high-paying jobs in our local economy.
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 strongly believe we should prohibit lawmakers from lobbying other levels of government. We also need to significantly increase the amount of time a former lawmaker must wait before becoming a lobbyist and implement a statewide lobbyist registration database. These steps have to be part of a larger ethics reform package that addresses the root causes of the corruption that continues to harm our state.
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 ran for office to give the people of our communities a voice in Springfield after their needs went unrecognized and unmet for so long. The trust people placed in me means so much, which is why I've worked hard to be true to that promise.
From the beginning, I've backed efforts to change the system. I'm working across the aisle to prohibit legislators from working as lobbyists on the side, I've voted to crack down on red-light camera schemes that enrich insiders at our expense, and I sponsored legislation that created an Ethics Reform Task Force to lead the effort for significant change.
We know Springfield needs to change, and that change has to be bigger than the petty partisan games that have failed our families again and again. This has to be about changing the way the system works for our families. That's why I have asked the Ethics Reform Task Force to draw from the best suggestions legislators, newspaper editorials, and citizens from across the state are sharing, and provide us a package of real reforms that will get things done.
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 Illinois, more than 8,000 Illinoisans have died from COVID-19, some of whom were doctors, nurses, first responders or other essential workers. We can never repay them for their sacrifices, but we can honor their lifesaving work by doing everything in our power to slow the spread of this virus.
From the start of this pandemic, I have watched Gov. Pritzker do exactly that. With the lives of so many Illinoisans on the line, our state's response has to be carefully calculated and founded in science.
Throughout this crisis, Gov. Pritzker has set politics aside and led our state through an unprecedented public health and economic crisis to the best of his ability.
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. We're currently living through one of the most unprecedented moments of our lifetime. In a span of just six months, thousands of Illinoisans have died and hundreds of thousands have fallen ill due to COVID-19, and more than 1 million residents of our state have lost their jobs.
While we don't yet understand the entire impact this outbreak will have on our state's finances, I strongly believe we must prioritize fiscal responsibility while also looking out for the needs of middle and working-class families who have been hit hardest by this crisis.
One thing I know for certain -- raising taxes on those hardworking households in an effort to address our state's budget shortfalls is absolutely not the answer. Prior to this crisis, I voted to responsibly pay down more than $1 billion in unpaid state bills. We did that by carefully examining our state spending and shifting our expenditures in a way that didn't require cuts to critical social services.
I am committed to continuing to enact common-sense reforms that rein in our spending while continuing to provide lifesaving programs to our most vulnerable residents, without increasing the tax burden on middle and working-class residents.
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. Middle and working-class families in my community are struggling. They know our current system is broken and places too much burden on them. The graduated income tax proposals I supported would result in lower income taxes for 97% of residents. I voted to put the graduated income tax proposal on the ballot because I believe our residents have the right to choose a new, fairer tax system that will reduce the financial burden on the vast majority of Illinoisans.
Q. Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
A. NO. I do not support any type of tax on retirement benefits.
Q. What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A. Our current pension crisis is the result of decades of mismanagement on both sides of the aisle, and it will not be easily resolved with simple solutions. One of the first steps we have to take is to begin making our full pension payments. I have fought for that throughout my time in office, and I will continue to diligently advocate for it until our state is consistently meeting pension obligations. Figuring out long term solutions will require hard, bipartisan work from legislators, and I am committed to putting in the work to come up with real solutions to this issue.
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 always put the needs of my community ahead of my party's platform. One example is my vote on Senate Bill 1939, legislation that doubled the tax on gasoline. While I was urged by members of my party to vote in favor of this measure, my constituents and businesses asked me to oppose the bill because of the increased burden it would place on them.
On this vote, and every vote I take, I am proud to have voted in a way that represents the concerns of the residents in my district and not the asks of my party. Another example of my commitment to acting independently is my chief sponsorship of Senate Bill 2026, a measure that would strengthen protections for individuals with preexisting conditions by shifting a small amount of authority away from the executive branch.
Gov. Pritzker was quick to let me know that he, a member of my party, was strongly opposed to this measure. Even so, I knew that quality health care was a top priority for my constituents. Despite knowing the governor's reservations, I am proud to have carried this bill in the House and helped ensure its passage in both chambers.
Once the proposal reached the governor's desk, SB2026 became Gov. Pritzker's first-ever veto.
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 firmly believe that climate change is caused by human activity and that our state government must take bold action to address it. The next big step we need to take in responding to this environmental crisis is passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act. I'm proud to be a co-sponsor of this measure, and it's critical that we enact this legislation as soon as possible.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act will put Illinois on the path to a stronger, greener economy by creating thousands of jobs in renewable energy, lowering our utility bills and reducing pollution.
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. We must end the killings of innocent Black men and women. We must also recognize that the injustices we see today are the result of a broken system that has failed people of color for far too long. It's past time for us to fully address all forms of racism. That includes condemning explicit acts of racism, but also intentionally changing policies on health care, housing, criminal justice and the environment to address the racial disparities that exist.
These are inequalities that have been created and reinforced for centuries. If we are to fix them, each of us must commit to doing what is right. Protesting injustice is every American's constitutional right. However, looting, arson, and violence against law enforcement are unequivocally not OK, not protected under the Constitution, and certainly don't contribute to the critical work that must be done to address the systemic failures that have lead us here.
It's clear that we need to enact common-sense reforms, but defunding or dismantling police departments is not the answer. Moving forward, we need dialogue, honesty, and compassion. We must come together with open minds and hearts to finally fix what is broken in our communities.