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Illinois House 17th District Democratic nominee: Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz

Video by Rich Hein

Democrat Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz is the Sun-Times’ endorsed candidate in the 17th district Illinois House race. Gong-Gershowitz is running against Republican Peter Lee in the general election.

The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois.

She submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:


Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.

Gong-Gershowitz: As the granddaughter of Chinese immigrants who faced discrimination and deportation under the Chinese Exclusion Acts, I am outraged by the Trump Administration’s extreme agenda that is designed to demonize and dehumanize immigrant families who arrive at our border seeking protection. Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy” of separating children from their parents runs contrary to every American value that I have fought to defend my entire career as a human rights attorney. Since my early years as a litigator at Winston and Strawn, I have used the tools at my disposal to challenge the status quo. I have won cases to protect children from sex trafficking and worked to expand protections for unaccompanied immigrant children who are navigating the complex immigration system alone. As State Representative, I will be a strong voice for policies that support the diversity and welcoming spirit that make Illinois a state where families choose to live, work and thrive together.

Women’s rights have been a cornerstone of my legal career, and I will support policies that empower women to have full agency in all facets of our lives – personal, professional and political. I will defend a woman’s right to choose, demand equal pay and work to restore funding for life-saving breast cancer screenings and other critical health services for women. In addition, I will make addressing the toxic culture of harassment and intimidation a priority in my first term.

Gun violence is an epidemic in our communities and no one is immune, including my family. This issue is deeply personal to me, as I lost my first cousin and her two children to gun violence that I believe could have been prevented by stricter gun laws and violence prevention measures. I will fight for common sense gun safety legislation in Illinois to reduce gun violence and save lives.


Who is Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz?

Her legislative District: House D17

Her political/civic background: I am a first time candidate and life-long social justice advocate and community volunteer. I’ve served as a pro bono attorney for the National Immigrant Justice Center, founding member and co-chair of the Illinois Unaccompanied Children’s Task Force, Board Member of the Glenview Education Foundation and Social Justice Committee member at Temple Jeremiah.

His occupation: Attorney

His education: B.A. Indiana University, J.D. Loyola University Chicago School of Law, L.L.M – IHR Northwestern University School of Law

Campaign website: JenGGforRep.com

Twitter: @JenGGforRep


Please list three concerns that are highly specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to some local issue that must be changed.

Gong-Gershowitz:

(1) I oppose the holding track in Glenview that is part of the Amtrak Hiawatha proposal. Concerns raised by residents as well as local, federal and state officials focus on the negative environmental impacts, including noise, air and traffic congestion caused by increased train traffic as well as a new switch and universal crossover for Metra’s Milwaukee District North tracks that are in a predominantly residential neighborhood. Additionally, the proposed holding track would park trains near the West Lake Avenue at-grade crossing requiring modifications at an already congested access road for Glenbrook South High School. As State Representative, I would work collaboratively to protect our environment in Illinois from proposals, like this one, that are being driven by outside interests without regard to local impact.

(2) Keeping our families safe from gun violence is a top priority for people in my community. Many students, including my own children who attend Glenview public schools, participated in the National School Walkout on March 14. I support common sense gun safety legislation to combat the epidemic of gun violence, including comprehensive background checks, gun dealer licensing and gun store employee training. Despite the perception of our district as a safe one, we still experience tragic shootings at an unacceptable rate.

(3) Funding for early childhood education and jobs programs, especially in underserved areas of my district such as Evanston’s 5th Ward, are needed to level the playing field and ensure that the ladders to success are available to everyone. Much of our community enjoys a certain level of economic success, but there is stark inequality that needs to be addressed via education and jobs programs—30% of kids in Glenview District 34, for example, qualify for free and reduced lunch. These kids and their parents deserve representation as well.


SUN-TIMES 2018 ILLINOIS VOTING GUIDE


What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?

Gong-Gershowitz: I have a clear record of public service throughout my 20-year career as a human rights attorney and explicitly state my position on issues that are important to our community, such as women’s rights, gun safety, healthcare, protecting our environment and Dreamers. My opponent supports an arbitrary property tax cap but without proper funding for public education at the state level, his proposal would cripple our public schools which are the main reason people move into our District. He also talks about “runaway spending” on his website – my opponent has offered no meaningful solution to balancing the state’s budget except to ignore our obligations to our teachers, firefighters and other public employees and Illinoisans who rely on critical human services.

Illinois is now the sixth-most populated state, down from No. 5, after 33,703 people moved out between July 2016 and July 2017. What must the Legislature do to make Illinois a more desirable place to live?

Gong-Gershowitz: The biggest priority should be stabilizing our education system, as I discuss below. Illinois’ disproportionately high property taxes are the result of the state’s failure to fund education at the state level, leaving local residents to pick up the tab. By shifting the funding for education to a more equitable system in which a higher percentage of education dollars come from the general revenue fund, rather than local property taxes, we will encourage home ownership and business growth. However, we must not put an arbitrary cap on local property taxes without an ironclad guarantee for state funding to make up the gap. We also must pass a budget every year to prevent the chaos and calamity that we have experienced under the Rauner administration.

In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?

Gong-Gershowitz: Illinois’ pension liability isn’t a problem that can be solved with one single “magic bullet” solution. First, the legislature should take another look at the terms behind the Edgar ramp. It assumes the need for 100% funding, whereas other pension funds considered to be well-funded fall within the 80-90% range. Second, our state needs to streamline government operations by eliminating redundant departments like Central Management Services. Finally, Illinois must enact a graduated income tax, similar to our neighboring states, to address our state’s revenue problem.

From 2000 to 2016, the number of Illinois residents who enrolled as college freshmen outside the state increased by 73% (20,507 to 35,445). Why are so many more Illinois residents going to college elsewhere? What should be done to encourage more of them to go to school here?

Gong-Gershowitz: The 2-year budget impasse and lack of funding for higher education under Governor Rauner has caused uncertainty for students in Illinois around MAP grants and even which colleges and majors may continue to operate or be available. As a result, students have chosen to accept offers of financial assistance to attend colleges in other states and stay there, raising families and starting businesses out-of-state. By stabilizing our higher education system, we will create an environment in which more students opt to remain in Illinois.

What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?

Gong-Gershowitz: The Illinois legislature should act swiftly to ensure every person who acquires a firearm in Illinois has a complete background check, regardless of the point of purchase. In addition, I support an assault weapons ban that would keep dangerous weapons of war off our streets. The Lethal Violence Order of Protection Act, which was signed into law in July, was an important step forward in the ongoing battle to reduce gun violence in Illinois. For this law to be effective in saving lives, we must ensure that law enforcement has the training and resources necessary to implement it and that citizens have access to this tool without hiring an expensive attorney.

On-demand scheduling software now helps large retail companies determine how many staff members they will need on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. The downside is that employees may not receive their work schedules until the last minute. Oregon and a number of cities have responded by adopting “fair scheduling” laws. Would it be appropriate for the Illinois Legislature to pass a “fair scheduling” law? Please explain. What would such a law look like?

Gong-Gershowitz: I support a fair scheduling law to ensure that workers, especially working parents, can plan their lives with some degree of certainty. Finding childcare, securing transportation, and other hurdles that workers face become that much more difficult with little or no advance notice. In addition, many people juggle multiple jobs that makes this position even more difficult. This would necessarily involve requiring employers to post job schedules in advance for full- and part-time employees.

Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.

Gong-Gershowitz: I would consider legalizing recreational marijuana with appropriate plans for addressing public safety including impaired drivers and safeguards to keep drugs out of the hands of minors provided that the funds generated are used to bolster public schools, ease Illinois’ pension liability, and shore up our state’s ailing finances. The state of Illinois already regulates and taxes alcohol, tobacco, and other products more dangerous to societal and individual health. The current status quo creates a black market in which criminal enterprises are enriched, tax dollars are squandered, and a generation of young men live in prison. Other states that have implemented similar policies have seen tax revenue windfalls, which Illinois badly needs.

Opioid overdoses and fatalities continue to rise in number. In Illinois in 2017, there were 13,395 opioid overdoses, including 2,110 deaths. What should the Legislature do, if anything, about this?

Gong-Gershowitz: Like much of America, Illinois is suffering from an opioid epidemic that has claimed far too many lives already. The legislature should take an active role in combating this problem, with a focus on substance abuse and mental health treatment. Stricter penalties don’t deter an addict and our prisons do a woeful job of rehabilitating inmates, so the focus must be on the education and healthcare side. Cracking down on pill mills and unscrupulous doctors are a key component in preventing addiction before it occurs. Doctors should be encouraged to consider all non-opioid treatments before determining that it is the best course of action, and pharmacies should accept return of unused prescription drugs.

The Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2016, is generating job growth in renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Do you agree or disagree with the objectives and substance of the Act? What more — or less — should be done?

Gong-Gershowitz: I support the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) and am committed to policies that build on Illinois’ clean energy economy, including: successful implementation of the updated Renewable Portfolio Standard, modernization of Illinois’ electricity distribution grid and investments in new technologies to increase the usefulness of clean energy as an economically-viable resource. We must continue to monitor and improve our state’s long-term environmental health. In addition to FEJA’s positive environmental impact, I also support its creation of jobs through energy efficiency projects and the long-term boost to our state’s green energy economy.

What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? What is your view on managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries?

Gong-Gershowitz: Illinois needs to be sure that money being allocated to MCOs is being used efficiently and correctly to provide the best quality of care to our residents. Billions of taxpayer dollars are inadequately monitored, which needs to change immediately. We need to be cautious that this ostensible cost-saving mechanism doesn’t enrich MCOs and their executives at the expense of vulnerable Illinoisans. We can do so by implementing more stringent protections for taxpayers and stricter parameters for MCOs.

Underfunding at the Department of Corrections has led to troubling findings by the auditor general that many inmates don’t receive services or opportunities for work while incarcerated. Is this a legitimate concern? What should the Legislature do?

Gong-Gershowitz: The current conditions at IDOC are a very legitimate concern. The overwhelming majority of inmates will be released to the public. Denying these individuals addiction services, mental health care, education, and jobs training only perpetuates the cycle of crime and poverty in Illinois, and serves to make our community less safe. Our corrections facilities need to provide genuine rehabilitation and the lack of services in these facilities is a major impediment to that.

Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?

Gong-Gershowitz:I support parole in cases where an individual is not considered to be a threat to society. Many sentences, particularly drug sentences, are unnecessarily draconian and stretch decades beyond what they should. Given the significant racial inequities in the justice system, these sentences fall disproportionately on people of color. Nonviolent and drug offenders should be a primary focus of such a program.

Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.

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