Diane Pappas: Candidate profile, Illinois House 45th District
Incumbent Democratic Diane Pappas of Itasca faces a challenge from Republican Seth Lewis, a Bartlett insurance agent, in the Illinois House 45th District.
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: The issue of ethics in government is much larger than one single person. We have seen ethics allegations at the local, state, and federal levels on both sides of the aisle, and focusing on one person distracts from and undermines the larger issues at hand.
I'm focused on the very real issues at hand -- increasing transparency in the lobbying field and cracking down on bad actors that use loopholes in the law to avoid disclosing who they are lobbying for. And, of course, anyone found guilty of any crime should be punished to the fullest extent, and any politician found guilty of a felony related to their job should have their pension taken away.
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 grew up in a Communist-run country, worked my way through some of the best schools in the country, and built a successful legal career where I negotiated contentious corporate contracts -- and where I was often the only or one of few women in the room.
I have never been afraid to speak my mind and defend what I believe in.
Since taking office last January, I've listened to my constituents and their needs and desires, and several of the bills I've introduced are a direct result of those conversations. The opinions of the people I represent mean far more to me than any party official's opinion.
Notably, I listened when my constituents told me they can't afford to pay more in taxes and fees -- and this was even before COVID-19 changed the entire direction of the economy.
That's why I broke with party leadership and most others in my party to oppose the gas tax increase, increased fees on various vehicle plate fees, and a slew of other taxes that include a new tax on auto trade-ins and higher taxes on home sales.
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 would you have done differently, if anything? If nothing, please say so.
A: I am grateful that our governor has chosen to listen to the advice of public health experts, scientists, doctors, and epidemiologists when making these very difficult decisions.
I can appreciate that none of his decisions -- whether I've agreed with them or not -- have been easy, and that every possible solution and decision came with very real pros and cons.
I think it's clear when looking at Illinois' data as compared to other states that didn't rely on the science that we likely avoided an even greater crisis by focusing on medical science-based decision making rather than making the "easy" political decisions.
As we continue to collect data and gain greater knowledge on the virus in general, I would hope that the legislature may play a role in the decisions being made that impact our communities.
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 have to take care of families and provide services to ensure that families can stay afloat. I do not support raising taxes on middle-class families; they cannot afford to pay any more.
The budget challenges created by the pandemic will be staggering for all levels of government and there will be no easy solutions. It's more important than ever before that our state reevaluates priorities, which must include investments in health care, measures to keep children and their teachers safe at school, resources for our health care workers and emergency responders, and assistance for those facing layoffs, evictions, foreclosures, and other extreme and unforeseen financial hardship.
And, of course, we still have our pre-COVID priorities, like funding for domestic violence shelters and home care services for seniors. Lastly, it's time for the federal government to step up and provide all states with financial relief and resources.
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: The families I speak to every day are desperate for relief, and it's clear that the current system isn't working for the middle-class families I represent. I supported putting the constitutional amendment to the voters because I believe they deserve the opportunity to accept or reject a graduated tax structure, which is similar to the federal tax structure.
To ease concerns I heard from families worried that a graduated tax plan could raise their taxes, I also supported a rate structure that guarantees that 97% of taxpayers see lower tax rates or no change at all.
Q: Do you support any type of tax on retirement benefits?
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: Illinois should prohibit all elected officials at every level of government from paid lobbying, as well as unpaid lobbying on behalf of anyone other than their constituents. The prohibition should be for a reasonable period of time in light of the length of the elected official's term.
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: We need to increase transparency in the lobbying field and crack down on bad actors that use loopholes in the law to avoid disclosing who they are lobbying for. And, of course, anyone found guilty of any crime should be punished to the fullest extent and any politician found guilty of a felony related to their job should have their pension taken away.
Q: What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
A: While the state's future revenue outlook remains in limbo as we still grasp the full picture of the severity of the COVID-19 impact, we have to continue to find ways to pay down the backlog, meet the pension obligation and fund vital services.
We will need to honestly evaluate our spending priorities and determine what we as a state choose to make a priority -- services for senior citizens and higher education and job training programs to put people back to work. We will need to make smart, but difficult, decisions about where to invest our limited resources to put Illinois on track in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis.
Prior to COVID-19, I supported legislation to consolidate the hundreds of downstate (non-Chicago) police and fire pension funds to cut administrative costs and yield a greater return on investment. I supported and will continue to support budgets that pay the state's full pension payment to ensure that we are not kicking the can and burdening future generations with additional debt.
Q: Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should state government be taking to address the issue?
A: I think the fact that the climate is changing is irrefutable, regardless of the cause, and those changes are detrimental to Illinoisans in economically measurable ways, whether it's flooded farmland or basements, invasive species migrating and impacting our local ecosystems, or extreme cold or heat that drives up the cost of utilities.
We need to do whatever we can to slow down climate change in order to limit economic losses and preserve our natural resources for the benefit of future generations.
A big part of that is investing in clean, renewable energy, which also means the creation of new good-paying jobs.
I'm a co-sponsor of the Clean Energy Jobs Act to invest in renewable energy and create green jobs throughout our state.
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: The deaths of George Floyd and so many other people of color are unacceptable, wrong, immoral, and not a reflection of who we strive to be as a society.
Like many Americans, over the last several months I have tried to listen to experiences of others and to educate myself on our country's and state's history of racism, race relations, and discriminatory policies and practices.
I thought I had a strong understanding of the civil rights movement and our country's long struggle for equality, but I am learning so much, including the heartbreaking past of Cairo and other Illinois communities.
Racism knows no borders, and our own state's history and struggle is something we should take the time to learn about so we can learn from our past mistakes. I won't pretend to have all of the solutions, but I am committed to working with all stakeholders, keeping an open mind and an open ear, and working with my colleagues to do better for all Illinoisans, because no one should feel unsafe in our state and no one should feel discriminated against or unfairly targeted because of the color of their skin.
I am confident that meaningful and productive reform measures will arise from these discussions.