Stephens vs. Darbro forum tackles corruption, ‘Fair Tax’
by BRIAN NADIG
Government corruption, the pandemic, the "Fair Tax" amendment and abortion were among the issues discussed at a virtual Sept. 28 forum with state Representative Brad Stephens (R-20) and his Democratic challenger Michelle Darbro in the Nov. 3 general election.
Stephens, who is the mayor of Rosemont, was appointed to the seat in 2019 after former state Representative Michael McAuliffe retired.
The League of Women Voters of Park Ridge hosted the form.
As much as $3 million is expected to be spent on the race on mailers and other ads, with Darbro critical of Stephens for allowing family members to have village jobs or contracts and Stephens charging that Darbro would be beholden to House Speaker Michael Madigan because he’s responsible for financing her campaign. "Obviously this is going to be a costly election," Stephens said at the forum.
Stephens called on Madigan to resign as part of the ongoing ComEd corruption probe. "I do believe there is sufficient evidence the speaker should step down," Stephens said. "These are some pretty severe allegations."
Stephens added that in the past Madigan has been "very swift" to get House members from "both sides of the aisle" to resign due to wrongdoing.
Darbro, a Chicago firefighter and paramedic who lives in Norwood Park, said that the investigation should first play out. "These are severe allegations and I believe if he is found guilty or proven to have committed any crime, he should step down, just as any politician who has committed a crime should step down," Darbro said.
Darbro said that too often politicians are looking to "sweeten the pot for themselves" and that the implementation of term limits would help address corruption problems and give voters more control over the legislature.
Darbro added that she decided to run for the seat because "we need regular, hard-working people down in Springfield" who take a "customer service" approach when dealing with their constituents.
Stephens, who has worked as a carpenter, said that his experience as mayor for 13 years makes him a good fit to address the economic problems facing the state. He said that he oversees a $200 million annual village budget and has played an active role in recruiting businesses to Rosemont. He said that the village’s Fashion Outlet Mall serves as an economic catalyst for not only Rosemont but the region and the state.
As for the pandemic’s impact on the economy and education, Stephens said, "It’s about learning to live with the virus … doing the little things (and) get businesses opening." He added, "There’s not going to be one quick fix in Illinois."
"Illinois was in bad shape even before this pandemic," Darbro said. "It’s a bipartisan issue to get our state back on track (and) what our state needs is federal help."
On the Fair Tax, Darbro said that there should be safeguards written into the legislation to protect the middle-class from paying a higher tax rate and to make sure the wealthy cannot take advantage of potential loopholes. "We are one of a handful of states that have a flat tax," she said.
Stephens echoed some of Darbro’s concerns. "I will fight vehemently to make sure it doesn’t go beyond that top 3 percent," Stephens said. "I do know there are no safeguards in that legislation to do that."
Proponents of the amendment have said that the proposed graduated tax would only increase the rate on the state’s top 3-percent of income earners.
On abortion, Stephens said that he opposes it except in cases of rape, incest and life safety. Darbro said that she is pro-choice, believing it is a decision best left to a woman and her doctor.
Both candidates said that when they are in Springfield for legislative sessions they would not be collecting a paycheck for their other job. Stephens said that his mayoral paycheck is being docked appropriately, and Darbro said that she would be on "an unpaid leave of absence" from her firefighter position when in Springfield.
In his closing remarks, Stephens said, "I offer an independent voice for the district, (and) I will not hesitate to use my independence in walking across that aisle." He said that he upset the Republican caucus when he supported an expansion of vote by mail.
"I’m a first responder. I am accustomed to helping people and that’s what I want to do in Springfield," Darbro said. "I’m just a regular middle-class person like everybody else here."