Mark Walker: 2022 candidate for Illinois House District 53
Office sought: Illinois House District 53
City: Arlington Heights
Occupation: Retired corporate executive; state representative
Previous offices held: Current state representative District 53
Q: What needs to be done structurally to make the legislature more effective? What is your position on term limits in general and for legislative leaders specifically?
A: There are structural and cultural changes to implement to improve the legislature. Structurally, I believe the minority party members of committees should have more authority to shape the agenda of committees. Members of either party should get public credit for their ideas that end up in bills. Culturally, legislators often do work together across the aisle but then campaign by attacking the other side. We need to show we can and do work together.
I believe leadership should have term limits and voted to change the House rules to implement them. No one will be able to build an empire in the House again. I'm open to term limits for other members but don't think they're needed at this time. Over 50% of members have served fewer than five years in office. Plus, if the legislature is too inexperienced, lobbyists start to run the show more than they already do.
Q: Federal assistance has enabled the state to make important advances toward improving its budget. What will you do to ensure these advances continue when the federal aid is gone?
A: Many believe we produced a balanced budget and a surplus primarily because of the federal aid we received, but that's not the case. Our increased revenue comes from many areas including a faster-than expected, demand-side recovery, high employment at higher average wages, and fiscally responsible budgeting prior to the pandemic. Essentially, we budgeted for a worse financial hit and eventually had stronger revenue than expected. The federal aid did allow us to pay down long-term debts early, dedicate $500 million more in pension payments than was required, and commit $350 million more in funding for our schools, saving taxpayers millions. With strong budgeting, we produced three balanced budgets prior to receiving federal funds and have received 6 credit upgrades, the first in decades. Our pensions reforms started in 2010 and we're more than halfway there. That position wasn't achieved overnight, and by capitalizing on our momentum, we can continue forward with strong budgets.
Q: To what extent are you happy or unhappy with the evidence-based model for education funding now in place in Illinois? How would you define "adequate" state funding for Illinois schools and what will you do to promote that?
A: The evidence-based model is working well because it dedicates funding based on actual student need. We need to boost funding, but we're making good progress.
Adequacy means better student success, preparing students for their careers, and lowering property taxes. We know our students struggled during the pandemic as we balanced fighting COVID while continuing instruction and we must address those concerns. We also must prepare students for their careers whether that involves college or not. I passed legislation expanding vocational education programs throughout the state, which includes both traditional trades, and now nurses, coding, and many other good-quality, high paying jobs.
Adequate funding for our public schools also needs to be reflected in lower property taxes. I passed legislation mandating more transparency from taxing bodies to disclose their reserves before they ask taxpayers for more. I also passed protections to ensure we're no longer taxed to the max locally.
Q: Do you believe elections in Illinois are free and fair? What changes, if any, are needed regarding election security and voter access?
A: Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy. While other states have been eliminating voting rights, I'm proud to have enhanced access to the ballot, increased election security, made it easier to audit elections both electronically and on paper, and made it easier to exercise the right to vote. Illinois has strong elections, evidenced by no credible accounts of widespread voter fraud in our state.
While our voting processes are safe and fair, we need to increase the ability for people to run. We should lower the threshold to get on the ballot, encourage third party candidates to run, and be less picky about our petition process. There must be standards, but they shouldn't be subject to the whims of partisan lawyers. The issue of fair maps is also critical. I'm in favor of establishing objective metrics that have shown to increase the fairness of our districts.
Q: How well has Illinois responded to Supreme Court indications that it considers abortion, gay marriage and other social issues to be state, not federal, responsibilities? What if anything needs to be done in these areas and what would you do to make your vision come to pass?
A: The decision by the Supreme Court sending abortion rights back to the states was ridiculous, as was Justice Thomas' indication to do the same for long-standing rights like access to birth control, same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, environmental protections, and others. People don't want to live in a country where they have rights in one state but lose those rights if they cross a border.
While I disagree that these rights that apply to every American should be up to the states, this is our new
reality. Elected officials must protect the general welfare of our citizens. I'm proud that Illinois passed, and I co-sponsored, the Reproductive Health Act for this exact reason. Now, we must consider similar legislation protecting marriage rights, access to contraceptives, in vitro fertilization, and too many others. Illinois remains one of the most attractive states in the nation because we welcome everyone and have many opportunities for growth and success.