Michelle Darbro: Candidate profile, Illinois House District 20
In the race for Illinois House from District 20, Democrat Michelle Darbro of Norwood Park is challenging Republican incumbent Brad Stephens of Rosemont.
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. With the prevalence of corruption in Springfield, it is clear that the issue is bigger than any one person. We need to change the way that business as usual works in Springfield, and I will fight for that regardless of what anyone, including Mike Madigan, Brad Stephens, or any other politician thinks. Any person that is convicted of a crime must be held accountable, and that includes Mike Madigan. Things in Springfield clearly need to change, and I will push all of my colleagues to join me in working toward that goal.
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. It is clear that we need major changes to how things in Springfield work. To accomplish this, we must take a look at every possible reform, including the way that lobbying works. I am open to having a discussion regarding if lawmakers can become lobbyists and the best way to make sure that the voter's interests are being put at the forefront, not special interest and political insiders.
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. Legislative ethics reform is essential to making Springfield start to work for middle-class families and will be one of my top priorities as state representative. While I am open to looking at many ways to protect taxpayers from corrupt politicians, some proposals that I will be pushing for will be to increase fines on corrupt politicians so they have to repay taxpayers for every cent they steal and strip pensions from any politician convicted of a felony.
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. It is important to acknowledge that those on the front lines, the first responders, doctors, nurses, and other essential workers, have put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe, regardless of politics. Unfortunately, extreme Washington politicians have failed to live up to these everyday heroes and have put partisan politics over the well-being of the country, and many have suffered because of it. Despite having little support from Washington, Illinois has done a much better job, and has let science guide the response to this pandemic. However, much more must be done to provide relief to those who have been hit hardest by this pandemic, such as displaced workers and small businesses. As we move forward, ensuring that there are adequate resources to support those who need it most will be essential.
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 and the economic impact it has had on Illinois is unprecedented. It is clear that there will have to be many tough decisions made over the next few years in order to start to rebuild our economy and our state. The first step will be to go over the budget line-by-line and identify critical services to direct additional resources toward while cutting unnecessary spending. We must ensure that we are spending taxpayer dollars as wisely as possible, which has not always been the case in Springfield. Many residents need relief now and making sure that we are doing everything we can to directly help them will be my top priority while going over the budget.
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. High taxes have been a burden for middle-class families for far too long, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing an economic downturn, we need to get them relief now more than ever. Property taxes in particular are a major issue for many in my district, and is an issue that must be addressed as the hardship it causes the middle-class is unsustainable. As the voters decide if the graduated income tax is part of the solution, we must be proactive and explore all options in order to reduce taxes.
Q. Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
A. I do not support any taxes on retirement benefits.
Q. What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A. Due to the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must be prepared to make tough decisions regarding financial spending over the next few years. There will be many vital services that need as many resources as possible, and finding ways to direct funds to them will be essential. While doing this, however, we must ensure that we are paying our pension obligations on time. Part of the reason our pension system is in this state is due to Springfield politicians not making tough decisions and ignoring the issue for decades. We must end this practice and pay our debts, making sure that pension debt does not get worse due to continued negligence. Pension reform must be made with a consensus by all stakeholders. The last attempt at pension reform was doomed to fail due to the lack of agreement between all parties. As we work toward finding solutions to the pension program, it is important to acknowledge that we must keep our promises to workers, while also taking into account the financial challenges that our state is facing.
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. Voters in my district want a representative who will go to Springfield and do what's best for our neighborhoods, regardless of what career politicians or insider lobbyists think. For too long, Springfield has ignored the needs of the middle-class. I want to go to Springfield and stand up for working families by fighting for policies such as restoring vocational and technical educations in schools and ending the corrupt red-light camera schemes that have allowed politicians to get rich off taxpayer dollars.
Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A. I believe that climate change is caused by human activity. Expanding renewable energy production will be my top environmental priority, and as environmental issues present themselves, such as the recent ethylene oxide emission issue, I will work to address them.
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. Racism does exist in our state and it unquestionably should be condemned. No one should be discriminated against due to their race, and we must work to make sure that equal opportunity is present in our communities. As we talk about police reform, it is important to acknowledge the critical work that our law enforcement officers do on a daily basis. As a firefighter, I know that the job that our police do to keep our communities safe is absolutely essential. Police reform must not go in a direction that hinders our officers but instead works to support their work and help keep them and our neighborhoods safe. I look forward to working with all parties to discuss ways to improve the safety of our communities.