Chelsea Laliberte Barnes: 2022 candidate for Illinois House 51st District
Office sought: Illinois House 51st District
Occupation: Licensed Social Worker & Business Owner
Previous offices held: N/A
Q: How well did the Illinois government respond to the COVID-19 crisis? What do you think should be done differently?
I am grateful for IDPH's speed in handling COVID-19 with no roadmap. Our leaders made decisions based on science and communicated clearly, which has led to reductions in hospitalizations and deaths. New job markets arose, and health workers and lawmakers moved their fields to telehealth. However, the General Assembly must now address the fallout. Businesses and families still suffer from the shutdown, and children navigate anxiety and depression. Women left careers because it was a struggle to work full-time without reliable childcare. Teachers and nurses feel exhausted and unappreciated. Fatal overdoses, homelessness, domestic violence, child abuse, and health issues are also up. From leading a social services agency during the pandemic, it is clear our priority must continue to be death prevention and hardship prevention. Complex tasks are part of this job. A proactive, broad strategy for socioeconomic sustainability is crucial, and I am best prepared to help organize these efforts.
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?
As a social worker, I receive annual training in ethical practices. As State Rep, I would lead from these core concepts, such as a commitment to service, social justice, upholding dignity and worth of people, human relationships, and integrity.
I was encouraged to see the passage of SB539, which changed the lobbying, campaign finance, and conflict of-interest rules. We must maintain transparency to ensure people and groups feel educated about newly established regulations. Through bipartisan consensus building, we can fast-track new ethical standards. I support independent oversight by giving the Office of the Legislative Inspector General more control over the investigations and reporting. Requiring them to report to the Legislative Ethics Commission leaves opportunities for nepotism and favors. I will advocate for stricter oversight around the use of public offices and funds, increased campaign finance transparency, and disclosing sources that fund lobbyists and their activities.
Q: What should the state do to address the still-growing problems with its key pension programs?
Public workers deserve what they have been promised and the dignity of an enjoyable retirement. Due to past administrations' actions, distrust around pensions has permeated the working class. We spend more on pensions than public education, and Wirepoints, an independent research group, gave District 51 communities a D- grade on handling local pensions. They also said, "Illinois residents have quadrupled their annual contributions to Illinois' 650 police and firefighter funds since 2003, yet the debts they are on the hook for have more than tripled during that same time."
We need short- and long-term solutions without diminishing public retirement benefits. The state must provide fully funded, fixed benefits for new employees and make payouts for current beneficiaries more sustainable. We need to keep paying our bills and drive down debt. I also support extending a buyout option for public schools, universities, and state employees. Let's let the data drive what we do.
Q: Describe at least two circumstances in which you have shown or would show a willingness to act independently of the direction or demands of party leadership.
I am proud of my record as a bipartisan consensus builder and organizer. After losing my brother to a drug overdose, my family started Live4Lali, a nonprofit aiding thousands annually who struggle with substance use. Leaders from both parties did not believe people would care. To de-stigmatize, we checked our biases and political beliefs. Cultural change does not work in echo chambers. Decision-makers, experts, and impacted advocates must work together, e.g., unanimously voting to remove co-pays for naloxone, the overdose reversal drug. Co-founding Lake County Opioid Initiative with then-Republican leaders required collaboration to reduce overdoses and link people to care vs. jail. One party could not have done that. I co wrote a federal law with former Republican Rep. Bob Dold to expand healthcare, which would not have happened without Democratic Rep. Clark (Mass), and many state laws with Democratic State Senator Melinda Bush and Republican Lake County States Attorney Mike Nerheim.
Q: What should lawmakers be doing to stem out-migration from Illinois?
I am concerned about high taxes and other factors contributing to out-migration. A recent University of Minnesota study suggests older adults retired to sunnier states by 50% over the past few years, and Asian/Pacific Islanders, college-educated individuals, and higher-income earners are mainly leaving for new jobs. To stem the tide, we must bring thriving industries -- like tech, solar, and packaging -- to Illinois and offer fair wages and benefits to working families. Researchers found that Midwestern states will soon see an in migration due to unstable coastal climate change. We need to plan for that. The increasing population will require new housing, daily service providers, social services, cars, and new transit routes. We must strengthen current systems by focusing on local economic development and considering the impact of the Chicago Bears coming to the suburbs. I will bring people together to develop strategies for my district while helping secure the state's economic future.
Q: Do you believe climate change is caused by human activity? What steps should government be taking to address the issue?
Yes, our planet is warming quickly and would have naturally cooled if not for human activities. Illinois must act boldly by following science and reducing the number of fossil fuels emissions. District 51 residents value environmental stewardship but don't know where to start in their own lives. We have to educate folks by promoting carbon footprint calculators and suggestions for how each person/household can make a difference. We can offer tax breaks for buying a hybrid/electric car and eco-friendly home appliances. We can stop using plastic bags in retail stores.
Instead of patchworking our way through, let's pass a sensible, bipartisan package. Let's reward organizations operating with the least possible impact on the planet. We can adopt a Greenhouse Gas Cap and-Trade Program where a share of the proceeds go to disadvantaged communities while building on the Climate Equity and Justice Act (CEJA). Half measures will not save our planet, and we don't have a moment to lose.
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 you offer voters?
Illinoisans need transparency about the Graduated Income Tax, its impact on their lives, and how taxing categories compare. Political rhetoric has dominated public tax dialogues, creating confusion, frustration, and distrust. A nonpartisan, evidence-based economic analysis of the risks and benefits of various options for public consumption is sorely needed. I will work with the Legislative Revenue Committees to develop an approach that works for our present unique challenges. A hybrid tax model may be the realistic path, and I will work with economists, tax experts, families, business owners, and lawmakers to determine how we can best move forward.
I come from a working family and am now raising my own. Laypeople are not accountants and require digestible information. Other voters and I want to feel hopeful their leaders are working to put Illinois on a better economic track. I am known for asking tough questions and taking action, which is what I'll do to address this challenge.