The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees 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 and their districts.
Democrat James Leslie, who opposes Republican Keith Wheeler in the 50th district, submitted the following responses:
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Leslie: Stabilizing our state finances for the long term. Mike Frerichs and Susanna Mendoza are going to get sick of me. Both of those individuals work in state offices that are closest to the money. So they know where the problems are. Both of them have already made recommendations for successfully introduced legislation that fixed problems. That’s something we should continue as the next General Assembly.
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.
Leslie: Three concerns that are highly specific to the 50th District are financial troubles at SD308, the closing of Dial and Caterpillar, and the opening of a drug rehab center in Campton Hills.
Who is James Leslie?
He’s running for: Illinois House of Representatives, 50th District
His political/civic background:
- First time candidate
- Knights of Columbus
- Former executive Naperville IAFF L4302
- Former executive Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team
His occupation: Firefighter/Paramedic
His education: Bachelors of Fire Science. Columbia Southern.
Campaign website: jamesgleslie.com
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Leslie: The most important difference between myself and Keith Wheeler is where we will be sitting when decisions are being made. Illinois is a blue state and this upcoming election is likely to make it more blue. With a couple of his actions and votes Keith has burned any bridges he had with the democrats to the ground. House leadership will likely idle him on most issues. I on the other hand will be in the room when caucus is called. Where would you want to be standing if you want to positively effect change? In the room or waiting outside?
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?
Leslie: Other than the obvious? I was down in Dallas this past spring. I didn’t hear one Texan legislator say how bad Texas is. It drives me nuts when I hear our legislators talk about how bad Illinois is. We should be our states biggest cheerleaders. Instead our leadership insults us all the time. Say it often enough and people start to believe you. Make no mistake we are still the Capitol of the Midwest. If things go bad for us, Wisconsin isn’t ready to pick up the slack.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Leslie: A couple of things we can do. First, we should adopt the funding language that appears in Article 7 across all of the applicable articles. The other thing we should do is adopt the funding schedule recommended by Ralph Martire and the CTBA. That funding schedule is flat and becomes more affordable over time, which is my preference. I don’t like balloon payments hanging over my head.
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?
Leslie: Because it’s cheaper. New York made tuition free for everyone making less than $110,000 a year. That’s an aggressive recruitment of the younger generation. What I’d want to know from the Commission of Government Forecasting and Accountability is does it work? Does investing in education now make financial sense for the state in the immediate future? My instinct is ‘yes’ but I want to see how fast the return on investment is.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Leslie: We know who the bad actors are. Certain sellers have their merchandise show up at crime scenes in short order. As far as I’m concerned that’s aiding and abetting. They should be prosecuted as such. If law enforcement doesn’t have the statutes necessary to prosecute them we can write them with their assistance.
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?
Leslie: I’m somewhere in the middle on “fair scheduling” laws. My fear is that our law would be too broad and would require to many fixes to get right. My preference is that these types of workplace issues be resolved by collective bargaining agreements and I would push people in that direction. CBA’s cover wages, benefits, and in this case working conditions. Collective bargaining agreements in my view are the most effective way to resolve workplace issues and are certainly more efficient than statewide laws.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Leslie: Yes. The revenue that the state will generate justifies a ‘yes’ vote. But not only that–it’s a new market for a variety of industries that will all have to be Illinois based. Agriculture. Banking. Insurance. Trucking. Packaging. Transportation. Logistics. Advertising. Tourism. Real estate. The list goes on. All of the laws and regulations that cover those industries will need to be reviewed and updated to make room for cannabis. Moreover, all of those industries will need new employees to pace demand of that new market.
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?
Leslie: This is a field I have personal experience in. As part of my duties as a Firefighter/Paramedic I participate in a program called “Confront the Elephant” at Neuqua Valley High School. Prior to this program, Neuqua had a rash of heroine deaths. So many that they made a documentary about it. To their credit, the counselors at Neuqua approached the senior class and in the most honest of conversations asked them what kind of program they would have found effective. The seniors responded with grassroots type of mentality. No national speakers in the auditorium. No power points. They wanted to see real people from the community in small settings simply telling their stories. So that’s what Neuqua Valley did. This program has yielded real results. Dropping Neuqua down from crisis to problem. District 204 hasn’t fully embraced this program yet. I think it should be required. Every school district should be required to have the students build an anti-drug grassroots program. There’s no cost to it. Just your time and committment.
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?
Leslie: One of my better friends marched on Baghdad, marched on Fallujah, and marched on Ramadi. He was door to door fighting in all of those arenas. The thought of not having to put boots on the ground to press our national interests appeals to me. I do agree with the objectives of the Act. If possible I’d like to accelerate the timelines outlined in the Act.
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?
Leslie: Also another area I have some experience. Primary care providers avoid Medicaid Managed Care like the plague. Because it pays so poorly and usually late. Not enough primary care providers causes long waits for routine health ailments. Those patients don’t wait for care and find themselves at the Emergency Room…The most expensive healthcare possible. While Medicaid will never pay like insurance we are miss spending those dollars. A few states have implemented a redirect system where if a person shows up at Emergency Room with a non-emergent ailment, they send them to a more appropriate provider. Those dollars we save on the emergency care can be budgeted for primary care making that consumer more attractive to the primary care provider. Having a state budget on time also takes some pressure off of those systems.
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?
Leslie: If the auditor general is making note–it’s a legitimate concern. Almost every question like this is budgetary in nature. We can’t have years without budgets ever again. It causes too much disruption. What should the legislature do? Our jobs. As required by the Constitution.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Leslie: I discussed this issue with law enforcement specifically Kane County Sheriff Candidate Ron Hain. Violent and Sex offenders should absolutely serve out their sentences.
Keeping someone imprisoned is insanely expensive. If someone is imprisoned for a non-violent offense, keeping them there for a long time at high cost just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Sentencing and parole guideline should be reviewed as part of the annual audits of our judicial systems.
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.