Tom Rooney: Candidate profile
Name: Tom Rooney
City: Rolling Meadows
Office sought: State senator, 27th District
Family: My wife, Sue, and I have four sons between us: Chris, a computer engineer in Chicago; Brian, a systems engineer in Los Angeles; Adam, a Harper College graduate who is a business major at the University of Illinois; and Christopher, a computer engineering major at the University of Illinois. This past April, we also gained a daughter-in-law, Crystal, who is a graphic designer.
Occupation: High school teacher
Education: B.A. in History from Loyola University and a masters of Public Administration degree from Northern Illinois University. In 2004, I returned to NIU to study graduate-level economics and serve as an instructor in undergraduate economics.
Civic involvement: From 1986 to 1992, I served in the Marine Corps Reserve, initially as a field radio operator and then as an intelligence specialist. I have served on the Rolling Meadows Veterans Monument Committee, Library Board and Historical Society. During summer breaks, I get to travel the country teaching fellow teachers how to teach economics to high school students. I am also an active parishioner and lector at St. Colette Church.
Elected offices held: In 2000, I was appointed to a vacant seat on the Rolling Meadows City Council. I won a full aldermanic term in 2001 and ran unopposed for a second term in 2005. In 2009, I demonstrated my belief in term limits by keeping my pledge to only serve two terms. I was elected mayor of Rolling Meadows in 2011 and again ran unopposed for a second term in 2015. I was sworn in as state senator for the 27th District in September 2016 to fulfill the remaining two years of Senator Matt Murphy's term after his retirement.
Questions & Answers
Q. Would you vote to approve a graduated income tax? If so, what qualifiers would you impose and where would you set the brackets? What would the top tax rate be?
I strongly oppose a graduated income tax. Graduated income taxes allow politicians to pick us apart tax bracket by tax bracket. Opening the Constitution is an invitation for the people in Springfield to raise the tax rates that we pay with a lot less political pain for themselves. I don't have any idea how people get to say a tax that taxes people at different rates is a fair tax. Illinois has a fair income tax right now; in economics, it's called a proportional tax -- everybody being charged the same percentage. I have a bill that would allow a tax break that's more significant for the lower levels of income. It wouldn't require a constitutional amendment and it would lower the tax rate for lower income families. If the Democrats were serious about lower rates for lower incomes, I offered a way to do it. The powers that be wouldn't even give my bill a hearing.
Q. How big a problem is the level of property taxation in Illinois? If you view it as a problem, what should be done about it?
The number one complaint I hear from residents as I knock doors in the neighborhoods is about property taxes. Most recently, I spoke with a couple who are moving out of Illinois this month. They admitted that they are able to afford the property taxes, but as the husband put it, "Why should I, when the government here is so corrupt?" So, it's not only about the level of taxes, it's about people's perceptions of what they're paying for. Even reasonable proposals to pause the growth in property taxes don't stand a chance under the legislature's current leadership. Controlling unfunded mandates and funding education more equitably at the state level could relieve local tax pressures and provide taxpayers a break.
Q. What is your evaluation of Gov. Rauner's job performance? Please specify what you view as its highs and lows.
The governor's job performance has been mixed. On the one hand, he has been blocked at nearly every turn by the iron-fisted control of the Democrats who control Springfield. On the other hand, the governor has not done enough to make his case to the people of Illinois nor to try and find areas of agreement with the legislature. The high point of his administration was finally signing a fully-funded budget without a tax increase. While some might call the budget impasse or the state's credit rating the low point, those were due to the fighting between the governor and the speaker, so they don't correctly belong in the governor's lap alone. But I do feel there was room for some compromise, especially in the Senate, last year concerning reforms and a balanced budget.
Q. What is your evaluation of Speaker Michael Madigan's job performance? If you voted for him for speaker in the last legislative session, please explain your vote.
When I was a 17-year-old page in the Illinois House back in 1985, the speaker of the House was Mike Madigan. The Speaker's job performance has been poor. He's a masterful politician, to be sure, but his policies have put Illinois in a terrible position. Again, not much blame belongs in any one person's lap alone, but the single person most responsible for the debt and stagnation of Illinois over the past decades is Speaker Madigan. He either proposed or acquiesced to every major wrong turn in the path that Illinois has taken. No governor, Republican or Democrat, bears as much of the responsibility as he does.
Q. Should there be term limits for legislative leaders? If so, what would you do to make that happen? What other systemic changes should be made to strengthen the voice of individual legislators, limit the control of legislative leaders, encourage bipartisanship?
I am a strong supporter of full term limits; in fact, I filed SJRCA 20 which would have done just that. Unfortunately, the Democrat leaders in the Senate would not allow the legislation to be heard for debate.
The quarter-step called leadership term limits is acceptable but nowhere near enough. There's not enough space here to counter the usual litany of half-baked arguments against term limits, but they're all arguments that serve the politicians interests. When politicians argue against term limits we should always remember anybody arguing in their own interest should be looked at with an especially critical eye. And I'd like to point out that incumbents who are against term limits are bad enough, but candidates who have presold out against term limits are unfathomable to me.
Another way to encourage bi-partisanship would be fully supporting redistricting reform. I added my name as a co-sponsor to this year's efforts -- and more importantly, before I was in the Senate I added my signature on petitions and added my money as a donor to both the 2014 and 2016 efforts to bring this much-needed reform to our state. Any politician who says they support redistricting reform should be asked if they actually participated in previous efforts as well. If not, it's just talk.
Q. How concerned should we be about Illinois' population loss? What needs to be done to reverse the trend?
We should be deeply concerned about Illinois population loss, and we should understand it correctly. The number of people leaving the state is worrying, but it's further compounded by the drop in the number of people coming into the state. It's really the double-whammy of these two forces that is our real problem. The most important thing we can do to fix both sides of the problem is to rebuild Illinois' political reputation and stop making ourselves the butt of political jokes all around the nation. This state has so many wonderful things to offer that if we just stop driving people away, they'll want to come here and to stay.
Our residents want property tax relief. In many cases across this state, the property tax on a person's home is like making two mortgage payments every month. We can't expect people, who can earn the same income elsewhere, to stick around waiting for it to get better. Companies are going to go where the resources to be successful are. The greatest resource of this state is its people; as they leave, so will businesses.
Q. Please provide one example that demonstrates your independence from your party.
The Gun Dealer Licensing bill was a very contested issue in the legislature and my own party. The violence in Chicago is of great concern to people in this district, and we want to give our law enforcement community all the tools they need to protect our kids from gun violence. I felt that this bill did not infringe anyone's to right own or purchase a firearm but did, however, allow the state police to help curb bad actors in the gun dealer industry. I continue to be a supporter of our Second Amendment rights and will continue to protect our hunting and fishing industry. But when the people of this district support reasonable measures, I will stand with them.
Q. What other issues are important to you as a candidate for this office?
Redistricting reform ("fair maps") are a very important issue to me. Pension reform is a very important issue to me. And as always, the proper application of economics to real problems has been my biggest driving issue ever since my earliest days as a local official.
In addition, here a few questions meant to provide more personal insight into you as a person:
Q. What's the hardest decision you ever had to make?
The hardest decision I ever had to make was whether or not to request special permission to be exempted from my Marine unit's orders to active duty during Desert Storm. In my small unit of 11, two of us had children who were infants. We were told that we had the option to make a request higher up the chain to not be activated with the rest of the unit. My wife and I had a number of long discussions about what to do. I chose not to make the request; I packed up and went with my unit to Camp Lejeune. But the stakes of the decision (on both sides) made it the hardest decision I ever had to make.
Q. Who is your hero?
As a social studies guy, I have numerous historical heroes. But my number one choice for hero will always be my dad. He was born in rural Iowa during the Great Depression as the youngest of five, and his father died when my dad was a baby. His young life was that of textbook rural poverty. He joined the Army essentially because it was his only real choice. When I was born, he was a pigment mixer in a chemical factory, and when my little brother was born he started to go night school to become an accountant. He got his first accounting job when I was in kindergarten, and by the time I graduated from college, he had become second-in-command of the company. To have risen so far from rural poverty, and to have been such a wonderful dad never having known his own dad at all -- that's my hero. Both of my offices and my Senate desk have mementos of my dad to always remind me of his example.
Q. Each amendment in the Bill of Rights is important, but which one of those 10 is most precious to you?
The First Amendment is the most precious to me. The free exercise of religion and freedom of speech are indispensable pillars of American society.
Q. What lesson of youth has been most important to you as an adult?
The sportsmanship you show during the season matters much more and lasts far longer than the wins and losses.
Q. Think back to a time you failed at something. What did you learn from it?
On Sunday years ago at church, the children were called up to the altar, and my little younger son was stuck behind all the other bigger kids. The deacon noticed, and he helped my son. Years later, the children were called up, and I noticed a little boy who was in the same situation as my son those years before. I debated with myself as to whether I should do something, and I finally resolved to help. But after taking two steps, the boy ran back down the aisle to his family, clearly upset. I literally felt sick at having failed to help. So when we got home, I sat my boys down in the living room and explained to them that I had failed and why I felt so terrible about it. I resolved to be more ready to help when I can and, I hope, taught a life lesson to my sons through candidly discussing that failure.