A bad situation made worse here? House Dist. 83 candidates talk COVID response
The rising tax burden, unemployment, health care and other issues affecting Aurora-area residents have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, said the two candidates vying for the state House District 83 seat.
Incumbent Barbara Hernandez, an Aurora Democrat, said she speaks daily with individuals, business owners and organizations to connect them with resources and help alleviate the pressure they're feeling amid the global pandemic. Still, Republican challenger Donald Walter, also of Aurora, said the situation has been made worse by the state's inconsistent guidance and "unequal restrictions" placed on various entities, such as small businesses compared to big box stores.
A sales associate with the Augustine Institute, Walter said he believes there is a "pent-up need and desire" for a conservative voice to help balance the Democratic power in Springfield. If elected, he aims to curb the out-migration of Illinois residents, encourage homegrown family businesses, fight for tax relief and support immigration policies that facilitate citizenship.
Hernandez, who is completing a four-year term on the Kane County Board, said she has been fighting for her diverse constituency in Aurora, North Aurora and Montgomery since being appointed to the state legislature in March 2019. She previously served as chief of staff for her predecessor, Linda Chapa LaVia, who stepped down after being named director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs.
If elected to another term, Hernandez said she intends to support ethics reform bills, increase health care access and work to allocate much-needed resources to her community.
She also wants to tackle funding and staffing issues at the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which she said has been the subject of hundreds of calls from constituents who lost their jobs and have encountered problems with the unemployment system since the pandemic hit.
"The residents of the 83rd District and overall in the state of Illinois have been suffering because of this," Hernandez said. "We need to make sure we learn our mistakes and be prepared for later on."
The COVID-19 crisis exposed many of the state's ongoing problems "to an even greater degree," Walter said. He expressed disappointment over Gov. J.B. Pritzker's initial response, calling it tepid and then too cautious, and said the administration waited too long to divide Illinois into separate public health regions.
He also criticized the state's handling of coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, saying there was a monthslong delay before those issues were addressed.
State lawmakers should have been more involved in those decisions from the start, Walter said. Moving forward, he said, any future relief funding should first be awarded to individuals and small businesses to "grow economic activity from the bottom up, not the top down."
Hernandez said the COVID-19 crisis was entirely unexpected, halting the General Assembly's progress on important legislation and leading to higher-than-anticipated expenditures. With the pandemic far from over, she said, businesses have to settle into a "new normal," resources have to be allocated to families in need, and the state will need to continue using medical science to guide decisions.