Brad Stephens: Candidate profile, Illinois House District 20
In the race for Illinois House from District 20, Republican incumbent Brad Stephens of Rosemont is facing a challenge from Democrat Michelle Darbro of Norwood Park.
The 20th District includes Rosemont and parts of Schiller Park, Harwood Heights, Norridge and Niles.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates to respond to a series of questions.
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. Yes. Speaker Madigan should resign from the House of Representatives and his position as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. I will not support him for Speaker.
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 strong, comprehensive ethics reform. Yes, lawmakers should be prohibited from lobbying other levels of government. I was a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would have done just that as well as increased the penalties for those found in violation of the law (HB 3947).
I also co-sponsored a bill that would have strengthened the ethics act for Illinois legislators, and increased penalties for those found guilty of bribery and other breaches of the public trust (HB361).
We also must end the revolving door of state office holders and senior staff from lobbying as well as provide tougher penalties for violations. Unfortunately ethics reform has constantly stalled or been diluted and then paraded as achievement by Speaker Madigan.
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. In addition to the issues raised in the previous answer, I believe we need true redistricting reform. Removing the legislature from the mapping process will provide competitive districts and that is the best method of ensuring politicians are responsive to their communities. We also must acknowledge that years of ethics reform have been stonewalled by Mike Madigan, but also sharing blame are those legislators who have supported and continue to support him. I hope that in light of the recent allegations against ComEd and those in Madigan's inner circle, we can finally come together and enact meaningful change.
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 it a C. I was initially very supportive of the governor's response to COVID-19 and applauded him for moving decisively in an incredibly uncertain and unprecedented time. That said, as time went on I was frustrated with some inconsistencies in the reopening plan which created confusion and uncertainty over our path forward. Additionally, the lack of organization and responsiveness from IDES has been unacceptable. Our district has been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic due to the high number of restaurant, hospitality, and gig economy workers.
In late March I held a teletownhall for our residents with staff from IDES to help provide information on unemployment assistance and other services. Five months later my offices still receive calls and emails daily from constituents who are unable to get their deserved benefits or even a response from IDES. This is wholly unacceptable.
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 COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our economy and the state's fiscal situation. Unfortunately, Illinois' financial woes predate the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts. We need to get people back to work in order to restore state funding streams. We must ensure businesses have the tools they need to reopen, can grow and recover from this pandemic so they can re-employ workers and pay higher wages so our residents can support their families.
I am one of the few legislators who has a track record of directly bringing jobs and businesses to a community. This experience will be more vital now than ever. Further, the state must look hard at areas where our budget can find efficiencies and remove waste while still maintaining essential services to the taxpayers. Speaker Madigan has continually kicked the can on important state funding issues for years. I do not believe we should be looking at increasing taxes on our already overtaxed working families and seniors.
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. If the proposal is approved by the voters this November, I will fight vigorously against any attempts to raise taxes on the middle class or our seniors. I am disappointed that proposed safeguards to ensure these groups would not be subject to higher taxes by future General Assemblies were rejected. If the proposal is passed, the legislature must enact these safeguards to protect our already overtaxed middle class and seniors. Families and businesses are struggling now more than ever due to the pandemic, we need policies to reinvigorate the economy and create jobs more than higher taxes.
Q. Do you 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. Illinois' history of fiscal mismanagement and underfunding pensions has left us and our children with a great burden. Getting it under control and ensuring those who have earned their benefits actually receive their benefits will take a comprehensive approach. Unfortunately, Illinois financial woes predate the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts. If we want a comprehensive plan to restore Illinois fiscal condition, we must start with removing the constant over the years -- Mike Madigan. Lawmakers must enact policies that help our economy grow, increase wages, and help stabilize our finances. We also need a legitimate and legal solution to help future generations with our massive unfunded pension liability and tragic fiscal situation. At the end of the day we need real leadership in Springfield to see us through this mess. In Rosemont we have our pensions funded at 92%, a plan for job growth and revenue -- that's the type of leadership Illinois needs and what I bring to Springfield.
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. This spring I broke with my party on the election omnibus bill that among other things, expanded vote-by-mail in Illinois (SB 1863). Additionally, as a card carrying carpenter and proud union supporter, I am adamantly against right-to-work laws that some in my party have tried to advance. I have a long track record of working for the best interests of my constituents regardless of partisan political pressure. As state representative for the 20th district for the past year, I have continued to work for the betterment of my constituents across the district. Party leadership has its place in determining broad goals, but whenever there is conflict between those goals and serving my constituents, I will always side with the people.
Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A. Human activity has taken its toll on the climate. Every action has a reaction and some people take our environment for granted. Clean air and water must be a priority for government leaders at every level. But, as the state considers energy legislation it is critically important that we ensure electricity rates remain low for families and businesses in this district.
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. Systemic racism and social injustice cannot be swept under the carpet as if they never existed. By opening dialogue with underrepresented groups, government can work toward meaningful change to eliminate racism and to guarantee justice for all. At the same time, I oppose efforts to defund our police. One of the basic tenets of a democracy is to ensure the safety of its citizens. That safety must rest in the hands of our law enforcement professionals.
We should be increasing funding and resources for our law enforcement so they can safely and effectively protect our communities, including funding for additional training and thorough mental health support. While there are bad actors in every profession, we elected officials should be focused on bringing people together to foster understanding and address the issues that have been the impetus to the protests and the concerns and well-being of our law enforcement.