Marci Suelzer: Candidate profile, Illinois House 52nd District
Democrat Marci Suelzer of Island Lake is running against Republican Martin McLaughlin, Barrington Hills village president, in the race for Illinois House from the 52nd District, a seat now held by Republican David McSweeney of Barrington Hills. Also on the ballot is Green Party candidate Alia Sarfraz of South Barrington.
The district takes in parts of Algonquin, Barrington, Barrington Hills, Carpentersville, Cary, East Dundee, Fox River Grove, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Island Lake, Lake Barrington, Lake in the Hills, North Barrington, Oakwood Hills, Port Barrington, Prairie Grove, South Barrington, Tower Lakes, Trout Valley, Wauconda.
Q. Should Speaker Madigan resign from his leadership positions? If he does not resign, will you support him for a new term as House speaker?
A. Elected office carries the responsibility to behave in a trustworthy, transparent, and accountable manner to serve your constituents. Any politician found to have violated that trust must be held accountable without regard to their office, tenure, or party affiliation. As an attorney and a strong believer in the rule of law, I refuse to rush to judgment or buy into "trial by media." I don't have all the facts and will not comment in advance of knowledge. During my campaign, I will focus on the concerns that impact this district: Rebounding from this global pandemic and an economic nightmare. Those are issues I would rather focus on before considering who would be speaker.
Ethics reform must be addressed in a strong, bipartisan manner to enact real change in how Springfield operates. I will work tirelessly to pass legislation imposing strict fines and penalties on politicians who abuse the public trust, forcing them to pay back the money misappropriated from taxpayers. I will seek legislation to strip pensions from politicians who are convicted of felonies and to end corruption schemes that enrich politicians and lobbyists while doing nothing to help our communities safe.
Q. What is the biggest challenge facing your district and how do you propose tackling it in the legislature?
A. Fully recovering from the impact of this pandemic is a top concern. The state faced increased needs for emergency spending, while seeing revenue decline or evaporate, leading to a staggering budget shortfall. The enormity of this shortfall cannot be ignored. But, it cannot be addressed at the expense of the middle class and small businesses.
As a business executive, I know there are only two ways to balance a budget: increase revenue and/or decrease spending. It will be a test of our character to ensure that trimming spending and increasing revenue provides the greatest benefit to all Illinoisans. We cannot neglect our ongoing priorities: providing the police with the resources they require; funding domestic violence shelters; working to make health care more affordable and protecting those with preexisting conditions; funding breast cancer screenings; overseeing long-term care facilities; and, providing incentives to rebuild the main streets of Illinois.
I'll work with all stakeholders on ways to safely reduce spending. I'll support laws that aid small business and create jobs. And, I'll work to ensure strong, ongoing oversight to protect families, seniors, and small businesses.
Q. The graduated income tax is designed with the intent to reduce taxes for 97 percent of Illinoisans. Do you believe that will happen? Why or why not? What assurances can be given to voters?
A. Since entering this race, I have heard from many middle-class residents who make it clear that current tax system is not working. Illinois taxpayers need and deserve tax relief. The proposed graduated income tax amendment is now in the hands of the voters -- which is exactly where it should be. In the weeks to come, I will be continuing to listen to the people of the district about their concerns regarding the tax system. Regardless of the outcome of the vote on the Fair Tax amendment, tax relief needs to happen to reduce the overall tax burden on Illinois taxpayers. I will use my tax background and my experience to drive tax reform legislation forward in Springfield. I will oppose any tax increases on hardworking lower-income and middle-class taxpayers.
Q. ComEd officials have acknowledged in an agreement with the federal government that it funneled money through contractors to friends and colleagues of Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan. What do you think should happen as a result of this. Specifically, how should potential legislation impacting ComEd be handled next session?
A. Recent developments over the past months have helped shine a light on how lobbyists operate, beyond just ComEd's practices. This includes red-light camera schemes where lobbyists and insiders have actually cut deals with local officials to get kickbacks on every single ticket. We need to work on reforms that will change the way lobbyists and insiders operate in Springfield. We need a systemic change, not just pointing the finger at individuals. A few changes I would support would be setting up a universal lobbyist registration system, prohibiting all elected officials from also lobbying while in office and expanding disclosure of elected officials' economic interests.
In regards to ComEd, they should not be allowed to benefit from their underhanded business dealings. The state legislature will have to dig deep into upcoming bills that deal with ComEd and determine if they are working in the interest of people in our community or increasingly benefiting ComEd. We must make sure the votes we cast in Springfield are representative of the morals, values and trust of our communities and tax payers, not special interest groups or businesses.
Q. How would you rate the governor's handling of the COVID-19 crisis? Does the legislature need to have more input and influence in establishing rules and policies related to stemming the spread of the disease? What you have done differently, if anything? If nothing, please say so.
A. I am proud of how our governor and state legislators from both sides of the aisle stepped up to provide emergency relief for Illinoisans feeling the physical, financial, and emotional impact of the pandemic. They acted wisely, using the best-available scientific information as a guide. This task was exponentially more difficult due to the appalling failure of federal leadership. There has been no credible guidance on safely reopening, trustworthy information sources have been muzzled, and any oversight of appropriated funds has been gutted. Despite federal incompetence, Illinoisans working together have provided expanded tele-health services, emergency housing funds, grants for small businesses -- to name just a few.
This isn't to say that the response has been perfect. Indeed, there is room for improvement in oversight and allocation of funds -- as there is in any response in a time of crisis. Fast moving events require rapid, decisive action to protect public safety. Seeking input from the legislature could delay lifesaving actions. Now, it should fall to the legislature to develop a framework for effective cross-agency responses to drive the most rapid recovery possible.
Q. Describe at least two circumstances in which you have shown or would show a willingness and capacity to act independently of the direction or demands of party leadership.
A. I will always exercise my independent judgment to represent the interests of all the residents in my district. Throughout my business career, I have challenged what I believed were ill-advised decisions, sometimes at the cost of career advancement. I strongly believe that principles and ethics are far more valuable than currying favor from any group or individual.
Having never held office before, I will lean on my experience as a business executive, mental health professional and Illinois taxpayer over any party affiliation. I believe elected officials should make decisions in accordance with the beliefs, values and morals of the community they represent. That is why I am ready and willing to fight for real property tax relief that will lessen the tax burden felt by so many in my community, especially the burden placed on local and small businesses. I am also willing and ready to fight against the corruption we have seen plaguing Springfield for years and will work for real reforms to how the system operates.
Q. Regardless of whether the federal government provides assistance, what is the impact of the pandemic on the state's economic outlook and what immediate and long-term actions should be taken to address it? Would you support increasing taxes to pay for COVID-19 response or to make up for lost revenue related to COVID-19?
A. We are seeing complete mismanagement from Washington. President Trump and allies like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuse to take COVID-19 and its fiscal impact on the states seriously -- even suggesting that states go bankrupt to avoid offering assistance. At a time when the federal government should be taking bold action, this refusal to lead is unacceptable. There are only two ways to balance a budget: increase revenue or reduce spending. In order to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic, Illinois must do both.
I firmly believe there are ways to raise revenue that do not penalize working and middle-class Illinoisans or damage small businesses. For example, numerous tax breaks given to large corporations -- mostly headquartered out-of-state -- must be re-examined due to the current fiscal situation. There are expenses that can and should be trimmed or eliminated. However, the best solutions will be obtained only if every stakeholder is involved and all stakeholders are willing to make concessions as we thoroughly go line-by-line through the budget to prioritize essential services like lifesaving breast cancer screenings, senior care, and health care.
Q. Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
A. Absolutist thinking leads to unproductive polarization and contributes to the economic quagmire we are in. While I strongly oppose a tax on retirement income, I believe that all stakeholders have a right to be heard and the merits of each proposal carefully debated.
Q. Should Illinois prohibit lawmakers from lobbying other levels of government? Should lawmakers be prohibited from becoming lobbyists after their term in office? For how long?
A. I would be in favor of legislation that would restrict lawmakers from being paid to lobby other levels of government. As for prohibiting lawmakers from becoming lobbyists, I believe we need strict limitations and longer waiting periods after a lawmaker leaves office before they can become lobbyists.
Q. What are the most important components that should be included in legislative ethics reform? What will you do to help them come to pass?
A. Transparency and accountability are the foundation of ethics reform. Strict oversight is required to ensure that penalties for ethical breaches are addressed swiftly and forcefully. There will always be bad actors looking to exploit a flawed system for their own personal gain. That is why well-thought out, thorough reforms are needed and why people are rightly suspicious of politicians who offer easy, quick solutions.
We must work together in a bipartisan fashion to craft and implement laws to reform how lobbyists, elected officials and state employees are governed. We should enact tougher fines for politicians who abuse the public trust; strip pensions from politicians who are convicted of felonies relating to their elected position; end corruption like red-light camera schemes that have only enriched politicians and insiders while doing nothing to keep our communities safe; and set up a universal lobbyist registration system.
Transparency also requires greater disclosure of the sources of the lawmaker's income. I believe both sides of the aisle have strong proposals and adopting comprehensive ethics reform should be a high priority.
Q. What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A. The current situation with Illinois pension programs has been decades in the making, by both sides of the aisle, with elected officials continually finding stopgap measures that simply "kick the can down the road." While there is no quick and easy fix, I support bringing stakeholders in to talk about solutions that puts the pension funds on a path to solvency and reduces our unfunded liability.
Q. Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A. Human activity dramatically accelerates climate change. Climate change affects District 52 by flooding, insufficient precipitation and lower air quality. Reoccurring, severe flooding on the Fox River hurts homeowners, as well as businesses that rely on boat traffic or access to the lake. Blue-green algae poses an increasing health threat on many lakes. Warmer winters mean less snow cover which is essential to protect the top soil and replenish the water table. Higher temperatures lower air quality, which increases health risks for elderly and those with respiratory conditions.
Not only has the current federal administration failed to recognize these dangers, it has aggressively gutted environmental protections and oversight. This makes it more crucial for Illinois to take strong and decisive action. The good news is that protecting the environment can also provide jobs and revenue. Clean energy creates jobs and will attract investment from national and global companies. We need to move forward with many of the provisions in the Clean Energy Jobs Act. However, we need to ensure that the procurement of energy capacity provisions do not provide an additional windfall to ComEd.
Q. Protesters have massed in the streets in Chicago and other cities across Illinois for greater social justice and changes in the funding and responsibilities for police. How significant a role does systemic racism play in limiting equal opportunity in Illinois? To the degree that it exists, what should be done about it? What, if any, changes should be made in funding and duties of police?
A. Confronting and eliminating systemic racism is one of the greatest challenges facing our country today. Systemic racism limits opportunities for people of color, contributing to anger that fuels many protests. Protesting is protected by the 1st Amendment: Looting and mayhem are not and those individuals should face criminal and civil sanctions. The vast majority of police officers are committed to protecting and serving all residents with integrity. They make wise decisions when faced with dangerous and intense situations -- situations that would paralyze most of us. But every organization has individuals who violate ethical obligations and must be held accountable.
Admitting reform is needed is not a condemnation. It is an opportunity to boost the good that the police do. I will listen carefully to all stakeholders to find solutions that can defuse the tension and move toward dismantling the structures that perpetuate racism. Two proven strategies to do this are (1) increasing the number of social workers/licensed counselors on every police force and (2) providing Crisis Intervention Training for all officers. I will fight hard for funding and implementation of these reforms.