PRIMARY 2018 QUESTIONNAIRES: 104th Illinois House District Democrats

PRIMARY 2018 QUESTIONNAIRES: 104th Illinois House District Democrats

The 104th Illinois House District includes parts of Champaign and Vermilion counties, stretching from the northern edge of Champaign County to the southern edge of Vermilion County and from the western edge of Champaign to the Indiana state line on the east. Included within its borders are the outlying areas of Champaign, Urbana and Savoy and all of Catlin, Danville, Fairmount, Fithian, Georgetown, Gifford, Oakwood, Rantoul, Ridge Farm, Royal, Sidell, Thomasboro, Tilton and Westville, among others. A map from the Illinois State Board of Elections is below:

* * * * *

Cindy Cunningham, Royal

1. What in your opinion is the primary problem with Illinois state government at this time, and as one legislator out of 177, what do you think you can do to help solve it?

I think the primary problem with Illinois state government is hyper-partisanship. Hyper-partisanship has led to a lack of compromise and almost complete deadlock in the last two years at the state level. I think the example and leadership of Rep. Steve Andersson, R-Geneva, demonstrates that one legislator can indeed make a difference. When he wore a purple tie to demonstrate that Democrats and Republicans can and should work together for the best interests of the state and then led a bipartisan coalition of legislators who had decided to end the budget impasse this past summer, he proved that one person matters. I am not running to prove that any particular ideology is right, but to improve conditions for the people of the 104th House District, regardless of which party they belong to.

2. Do you support term limits on all elected officials in Illinois, including legislators? If so, what would you consider a reasonable limit?

We have term limits. Every two years, voters have the opportunity to decide whether or not to retain their current state representative. All offices have elections at regular intervals to determine whether to retain elected officials. When people talk about term limits, what they often mean is that they wish to limit the terms of other people's elected officials because incumbents are almost always re-elected. But as much as other people's representatives, etc., may annoy us, other local districts choose their officials based upon their own beliefs, which may differ from our own. Regardless of our differences of opinion, they still have a right to those beliefs, and people from outside the districts have no right to interfere in those elections. If an elected official is doing an excellent job, voters should have the right to retain them. If they're not doing an excellent job, they should exercise their right to remove them from office. All term limits do is prevent otherwise excellent public servants from being retained by their constituents. We already have a mechanism to retire those we feel are not meeting our needs.

3. Do you favor a change in the way that legislative boundaries are determined? If so, what do you think is a fair way to draw maps?

I do favor changing the way legislative boundaries are determined. Politicians' drive to choose their voters instead of voters choosing politicians is part of the reason Illinois is so hyper-partisan. Our gerrymandered districts, drawn to capture voters of one party in one district, have served to further polarize our politics. Our politicians don't worry about general elections anymore; they worry about the primaries. And our debates are around the most hyper-partisan issues, further polarizing our population. We need fairly drawn maps in order to make elections more competitive and less driven by the fringes. I'm in favor of a solution that would include the use of an algorithm to draw districts based upon population and compactness rather than political party.

4. Do you have an idea how the state's unfunded-pension-liability problem can be eased, or should the state merely continue to cover pension costs as it has in recent years?

The Illinois Constitution is clear and the Illinois Supreme Court has consistently affirmed that our state workers' pensions cannot be diminished in any way. Further, our state made a contract with our workers that in return for the labor and services they provide for the state, the state will reimburse them according to their contracts and/or terms of employment. These contract terms include pensions. We should not renege on our agreements. That being said, Illinois has a long history of delaying payments to our pension funds that has led to this unfunded liability. Our workers paid their costs, all along. And all across Illinois, employers who now offer lesser, Tier Two-type pensions are experiencing high employee turnover, which is also costing the state money in recruitment and training costs and a huge loss in the ability to grow employees into seasoned veterans in their fields who will, in turn, train new employees. Tier Two pensions are not proving to be a solution, either. So it is up to our state government to figure out how to make good on our promises, which we can't do with pension ramps and postponed payments. I believe the solution lies in reforming our income-tax structure and developing new funding streams so that our pension-payment obligations can be made on time.

5. Do you favor continuing Illinois' flat income tax, or would you favor a progressive tax?

I favor a progressive income tax. My middle-class friends and neighbors cannot take any more taxes — health insurance and medical costs are eating up every extra cent that they have. However, those who make more money pay proportionately less than we do. We need a progressive income tax. We also need to change some unfair tax advantages that the wealthy have over our middle class, which is leading to such a disproportionate amount of our state's wealth and resources remaining with just a few families, while our state and everyone else struggles.

6. Would you support the legalization of marijuana in Illinois?

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Further, prohibition of marijuana has created many lucrative opportunities for criminals. It's time to legalize, regulate and tax the sale of marijuana. Illinois has the luxury of not being the first state to do so and the experience of other states should help us in developing regulations. For example, we know that in Colorado, children have been hospitalized after unknowingly consuming THC when it comes in the form of gummy bears or brownies and is left out by parents, which we can prevent if we have the right laws. Illinois' regulations should incorporate the lessons learned by the states which have legalized marijuana before us.

7. Are there state programs, departments or institutions that you would like to eliminate or seriously downsize in order to save money?

I think our waste problems aren't in the size of our government agencies. We have one of the smallest state workforces in the country. Our workforce is so small, we are not able to efficiently operate, as our state employees are busy putting out fires. Rather, our waste problems are a result of our inefficiencies and our lack of planning.

I am very concerned by Illinois' push to enroll all Medicaid recipients into managed-care organizations. The rollout has been fast without much planning and has resulted in $7 billion that the Department of Healthcare and Family Services cannot account for. I would work to stop the process immediately before any more money is lost and take a more measured, careful approach to transitioning to managed care.

I would push to focus spending on care for senior citizens on home- and community-based services as the first response to illness and disability and use institutional care as a last resort. Growing our home- and community-based services will enable seniors around the state to remain in their homes, where they want to be, rather than in institutions, which are much more costly, until the point they are no longer able to remain safely at home.

There is a lot of waste in the state's Medicaid program, mostly in the area of obtaining federal matching funds. We should correct the systemic issues that are preventing Illinois from obtaining all available matching funds.

As a state representative, I would initially push for these changes.

8. What kind of criminal-justice reforms do you think the state needs to make to save money and reduce corrections costs?

To save money in corrections, we have to work to prevent recidivism.We have some big issues in our criminal-justice system that are driving up our costs. First, we are focused on punishment and less on decreasing recidivism. New legislation has brought vocational training into our corrections system, allowing prisoners to develop skills and obtain the necessary licenses so they can practice a trade when they are released. Programs like this should be available across the state. Second, we need to keep our youth from entering the criminal-justice system and direct them toward programs that prevent future criminal behavior. School-resource-officer programs enable a healthy relationship between kids and law enforcement who are then able to interact and mentor our youth positively and intervene pre-emptively when needed. Vermilion County's Peer Court is successfully working with kids outside of the criminal-justice system, enabling them to pay for their crimes and develop habits that prevent them from becoming criminals. This model should be replicated throughout Illinois. Third, our deteriorating mental-health safety net is driving people who are mentally ill into our correctional centers, which are ill-equipped to serve them. We need to invest in day-treatment programs that will enable people who are mentally ill to be encouraged to take their medications as instructed by their physicians, complete treatment programs and engage productively with society, and keep them from entering our jails and prisons.

9. Now that the state's school-funding formula has been rewritten, what other changes are needed in Illinois education, including higher education?

While the funding formula has been re-written, it calls for an additional $250 million this coming fiscal year with no clear idea from where that money will come. So it's not good enough to have a new formula. We need to make sure that this increase is funded, because our ZIP codes should not determine the quality of our education, as they have in the past, which has contributed to the demise of our local economies. Higher education has been starved of funding over the last three years, threatening the closure of several of our colleges and universities. While funding needs to be restored to pre-budget-impasse levels, we did learn some lessons. In Westville, we have kids graduating from high school and getting an associate degree simultaneously because of a creative agreement between Danville Area Community College and Westville High School. So we need to incorporate and encourage the cost-savings opportunities that low funding levels have necessitated while simultaneously fixing Illinois' revenue issues.

10. Would you support an increase in Illinois' minimum wage?

Yes.

11. What makes you a better candidate than your primary opponent?

I am a better candidate because I have been working on the issues that face our state for well over 15 years as a volunteer advocate on senior issues at the state level. During the course of my advocacy work, I've developed skills in forming consensus with people of all parties and beliefs from every part of the state as we work together to provide care for fragile seniors. In the course of that work, I've been involved in advocacy issues for almost all other issues that touch this one, particularly state funding. I've met and discussed state policy with lawmakers, lobbyists, advocates and providers, all in the pursuit of what's best for Illinois and its citizens. I've worked on bills and met with people across Illinois on issues affecting the state. There is no better experience outside of actually serving in the General Assembly.

Additionally, I am a businesswoman who has owned my own business for the last 10 years, helping others start and operate their own businesses. I have the skills and insight necessary to work on our economic issues.

Also, my husband and I are farmers. We bought our own land, we didn't inherit any, and my husband farms the land himself. I am in touch with the needs of agriculture.

I have an array of experience in business, agriculture, human services, public service, government and education that will enable me to step quickly into the role of state representative.

12. Would you be willing to buck your party's leadership to vote for issues that you believe would benefit your district?

Absolutely. I am running to improve conditions for the people of the 104th District and will be focused on that, not politics.

* * * * *

Frank McCullough, Danville

No answers received.