Candidates debate issues in Illinois House races
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
For more than 90 minutes, candidates in the 20th and 50th Illinois House districts answered questions about how to improve the state’s economy, create jobs, address pensions, deal with O’Hare Airport jet noise and flooding in a debate on Oct. 22 in Des Plaines.
Incumbent Republican Michael McAuliffe and Democratic challenger Mo Khan are vying for the seat in the 20th District, while incumbent Democrat Martin Moylan and Republican challenger Mel Thillens are competing in the 50th District.
Although they were not part of the debate, time was set aside before the event for 5-minute speeches by incumbent Democrat John D’Amico and Republican challenger Greg Bedell, who are squaring off against each other in the 15th Illinois House District.
Bedell, an attorney, said that he wants to concentrate on job creation, education and ending cronyism. He said that Illinois is second to last in job creation and that businesses are leaving. Bedell said that a big priority is "making sure that the legislature returns the tax rate to what the law requires."
"Second, we have to stop corporate cronyism," Bedell said. "The big guys don’t need help. The guys on Waukegan, Milwaukee, Harlem and Dempster need help. Those are my clients, and those are the people I want to help.
"It costs $500 for a filling fee to start a new business. In Indiana it’s $39 bucks. There is a lot of red tape, and that’s not helping small business."
Bedell said that he also wants to work on education issues and that he supports charter schools.
Bedell said after the meeting that the election is about the budget and the state’s financial problems but that it also is about "the people, the policies and the politicians who can’t get it together."
"We have to change cronyism, the corporate welfare and the backroom deals because they have resulted in bad debt and nothing left for us," Bedell said.
D’Amico said that he grew up in the 15th District and that "I didn’t just move here recently." He said that by being involved in his community, schools and neighborhood events, he knows what his constituents’ concerns are.
"I’ve been able to work and bring back money for schools, libraries and parks, and when you wind up investing in schools, libraries and parks, it increases the property values and makes our communities good places to live," D’Amico said.
D’Amico also said that he was proud of his work on bills relating to transportation such as the no texting-and-driving bill, banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving and graduated driver’s licenses, which he said helped to reduce the death rate in the state.
D’Amico said after the meeting that he is running a positive campaign and that he was impressed with the support that he was getting from going door-to-door and meeting constituents. He said that he has not decided whether he would support making the state income tax increase permanent.
During the debate portion of the evening, the candidates had 2 minutes to make introductory speeches and then a minute and half to answer questions.
McAuliffe said that he is running for re-election because he wants to make sure that seniors are living comfortably, that police and fire departments have the resources that they need, and that "it’s about education, health care, jobs, economic development and prosperity."
"I did not vote for the income tax increase, and I certainly won’t vote for the permanent one," McAuliffe said. "The state budget is $35 billion, and it needs to live within its means."
Khan, who has an accounting background and who worked on the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Alexi Giannoulias, said that he wants to be a legislator who helps prepare students to have the skills that they need to thrive in an economy that is transforming.
"Long ago I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong with Illinois by what can’t be fixed by what is right with Illinois," Khan said. "The fiscal mismanagement has jeopardized the future of this state, and it’s time we turned the page on the politics, the policies and politicians of the past that have failed us because doing the same and expecting different results is not an effective strategy."
Moylan, who was an alderman and the mayor of Des Plaines before he became a state representative, said that he did not raise taxes in the municipality and that he voted against Michael Madigan’s bills on numerous occasions. He said that he is proud of bills regarding hazing prevention and also providing rights to people who own mobile homes.
Thillens, who is the owner of an armored car company, said that he is running for office because the state is going in the wrong direction.
"Job creation is not here, and we have the worst credit rating," Thillens said. "Things are going in the wrong way but they don’t have to be.
‘We used to lead this nation. We are in the center of the country. We have great transportation, great agriculture, a great City of Chicago, great suburbs. There is no need for us to be falling behind because of the leadership in Springfield.
The candidates were asked what the most pressing issue the state is facing."
"We have a proliferation of low-wage, part-time jobs at every corner," Khan said. "That’s not what we need to do . . . We need to focus on creating businesses right here in Illinois.
"Every sector of our economy is becoming tech based. We need to prepare our students to thrive in a tech-based economy. Developing digital technology skills can no longer take a back seat. We need to make sure that the skills that our students are developing in our public education system are the ones that allow them to be competitive and they become entrepreneurs in our economy to create jobs and have more people employed in high-paying jobs, and that way we can solve our jobs crisis."
McAuliffe said that the pension obligation issue is the most important. "The pension obligations that we owe to the retirees are bankrupting our state," he said. "Whether you are a pensioner or not, that is draining our resources from other critical needs for the state. If we don’t get our fiscal house in order, our bonding is costing way too much money and we’re paying too much in interest, we have to fix this pension problem."
Everyone except Thillens supported increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour. McAuliffe said that he supported a bill on the issue earlier this year because a lot of young adults who are raising children can’t live on the current wage and because many seniors are getting back into the work force because their retirement savings are not enough.
Khan said that he supports increasing the minimum wage.
"What I don’t support is the rhetoric," Khan said. "We have a lot of people who say that raising the minimum wage will get people out of poverty. Will increasing the wage and getting them from $16,000 to $18,000 do that? Did we really increase their quality of life? I don’t think so.
"I think the conversation needs to move to how we get people to have higher skills sets, and they have better opportunities and are more competitive so they can get higher wages in the transforming economy."
Thillens said that the minimum wage issue has been politicized and that if the Democrats wanted to raise it they would have done it a long time ago. "The federal government should come in and decide what the minimum wage should be, because the last thing we need to do right now is to put businesses out of our state," he said.
"We can’t afford to do that right now, and we need to grow this economy so that we are not talking about people on a minimum wage who are trying to raise their family but people who are in a thriving, growing economy who are making the most that they can possibly make when everything is going west," Thillens said.
When it comes to making the tax increase permanent, as Governor Pat Quinn wants to do, Khan said that he is in favor of rolling it back incrementally and using his accounting background to find savings.
Moylan said that he supports a bill that would roll back the tax hike. Thillens said that he does not support making the increase permanent.
With the exception of McAuliffe, all the candidates said that they are pro-choice and that they support marriage equality.
"I opposed marriage equality, and I am pro-life except for the life of the mother," McAuliffe said.
"Representative McAuliffe is against marriage equality, he stood in the way of civil unions, and he said that he is pro-life and that he is also against medical marijuana," Khan said. "These are social issues and the positions that he takes when we talk about making Illinois a business-friendly environment. I can’t figure out how those positions are friendly to women business owners or business owners in the LGBT community or a highway to highly skilled employees in either one of those communities."
The candidates also said they support Second Amendment rights but also gun laws that include background checks and other precautions.
The candidates also discussed which programs to cut and where the savings could be found.
"A lot of it will depend on the money we have left after a decision is made on the pension bill in the courts," McAuliffe said. "However, I think that there is a lot of awful spending in the governor’s office with the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, there’s money unaccounted for. That’s $50 million that could have gone into schools, help senior citizens and people with disabilities."
Khan said that there is a lot of wasteful spending. "We are living in an economy where 40 percent of our college graduates in the last 2 years are working jobs that don’t require a degree," he said. "We are living in an economy where people have an unbelievable amount of student debt and are working part-time jobs to pay for it. What we need is to prioritize our spending on community colleges and rebuilding the job-training programs that allow people to have the skills necessary to be competitive in the future."
Thillens said that the budget for the next year has been "booby trapped" and that it will "blow up" after the election. "This is symptomatic of the spending by guys like Marty Moylan and Michael Madigan to keep their jobs and their power to keep control of our pocket book," he said.
The candidates also discussed the increase in jet noise since a new runway opened at O’Hare International Airport last October.
"The newest runway was supposed to be used for temporary and emergency flights only," Moylan said. "Many years ago all the towns, Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, all dropped their obligations to the airport. When the new configurations started, many people have started hearing the airplane noise and are suffering."
Moylan said that he has worked on expediting soundproofing of homes by writing letters to members of Congress.
"I hear that people are suffering under the new airplane noise and they are upset and their quality of life has changed and not for the better, and one of the people we can thank for that is Marty Moylan," Thillens said. "Back when we were talking about airport expansion 10 years ago, he was the biggest cheerleader for airport expansion at the time."
McAuliffe said that he was "hoodwinked" after supporting the airport expansion bill. He said that he plans to try to get the Federal Aviation Administration to hold hearings in every town that is being affected by the noise, to conduct an environmental study and to accelerate soundproofing.
"We are talking about noise pollution, and it is a serious issue, but we are also talking about an environmental pollution," Khan said. "We have people in Edison Park who have jet fuel film in their pools and soot on their windowsills.
"State legislators need to work as a constituency that has a much broader voice. State legislators need to work with the federal legislators. We need to work with the agencies and mandate the ‘Fly Quiet’ program."
The candidates also answered questions on how to address flooding in the suburbs.
McAuliffe said that he is working with municipalities on building larger water detention ponds and working with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to help those communities obtain loans and grants for flood relief.
Moylan said that flooding occurs for many other reasons than the Des Plaines River overflowing. He said that municipalities need to look at their sewer systems and other options.