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.
Democrat Terra Costa Howard is challenging incumbent Republican Peter Breen in the 48th district general election. Howard submitted the following answers to our questionnaire.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Public education is the cornerstone of our communities.
When my daughters were young, I volunteered a lot in their classrooms. So I got a firsthand view of the impact that exceptional schools can have on children’s lives. That experience inspired me to run for Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education. I wound up serving two full terms, including two years as Board President.
My years on the school board taught me how much our schools depend on the State of Illinois to meet the needs of our children and our teachers – and how badly our state government is doing when it comes to meeting its responsibilities to us and our children.
When we fund our schools, we’re making an investment in the future that helps everyone in Illinois, because those kids grow up to be our employees (or, sometimes, our bosses.) That early investment in education yields decades of enormous returns – in shared prosperity, in an expanded tax base, and in greater opportunities for everyone.
Illinois is a great state, filled with smart, hard-working, innovative people who have built thousands of strong, prosperous businesses. So why can’t we figure out a State budget that will make it possible to pay our bills and invest in our people?
When I get to Springfield, I will stand up for fiscal responsibility instead of sitting on the sidelines while our leaders kick the can down the road and destroy our state’s credit rating.
People in our district have some tough questions they’d like to ask our State leaders about tax fairness, bonds and borrowing and pension funding. You deserve real answers – and real solutions.
I’ll work hard in Springfield to develop and pass new, collaborative tax plans that won’t pile unfair burdens on the backs of our working families.
All across our nation, state governments pass budgets every year that keep taxes fair and reasonable while funding priorities – education, health care, and public safety. Illinois can do it, too.
Women’s Rights and Reproductive Health
My opponent is dangerously extreme in his opposition to women’s rights, including our right to make our own decisions about our reproductive health. He wants to criminalize abortion, even for survivors of rape and incest.
As our state representative, Peter Breen voted against requiring health insurance plans to cover birth control. He also fought to shut down a Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora – even though more than 4,500 women in DuPage County go to that clinic to get birth control and other health services every year. I think it’s wrong to deny low-income women access to healthcare and violate their right to make their own decisions about birth control.
He also has consistently voted against laws that would help Illinois women achieve fair treatment in the workplace. Breen voted against a bill aimed at closing the pay gap between men and women in Illinois, and he actually called it “the stupidest bill we’ve considered.” He also voted against the Equal Rights Amendment, which simply states that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
We need leaders in Springfield who will listen to women and respect our voices – instead of turning their backs and trying to deny us a seat at the table.
I’m proud to be endorsed by Illinois NOW. As your next representative, I’ll be a strong, independent voice for women and families in our communities, and will fight any attempts to restrict women’s choices about our own healthcare and our own lives.
Who is Terra Costa Howard?
Her legislative district: 48th State Representative Her political/civic background: Two terms, Glen Ellyn School Board of Education, District 41, including two years as Board President Member, Glen Ellyn Plan Commission (since 2015) Member, PTA, Benjamin Franklin Elementary School Volunteer, Glen Ellyn Junior Women’s Club Girl Scout Leader Her occupation: Attorney and small business owner Her education: JD, DePaul University College of Law, BA, Political Science/Speech Communications, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana Campaign website: http://tchfor48.com/ Twitter: @TCHfor48
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.
1) When I go door-to-door in my district, I hear most often about the need to keep our schools strong and while easing the high property tax burden on DuPage County homeowners. The budget bill that was signed into law this summer provides $350 million in additional state dollars for public education. That’s a good start on a statewide basis, but we need to do more. The state needs to start paying its fair share of funding our public schools, instead of expecting local homeowners to bear the brunt of these costs. Families should not have to choose between good schools and reasonable tax bills when they’re deciding where to live and bring up their children.
2) The opioid crisis continues to cause devastation to families in DuPage County and throughout the suburbs. DuPage has already developed a number of innovative programs to combat the crisis, but I think we should take a close look at anti-opioid efforts in other areas that we could use as a model here. One of our greatest needs is for expanded mental health treatment and addiction prevention services. Mental health funding was impacted greatly by the budget impasse; although the budget signed into law earlier this year takes steps to restore mental health and addiction treatment funding, we need to address the damage that was done during the two long years that Illinois went without a budget. We need to make the investment up front to get people the help they need, require insurance companies to cover mental health and addiction as they would any other physical illness, and work to build dialogue that eliminates the stigma of mental illness and addiction.
3) When I knock on doors and talk to district voters, I hear again and again from parents who are worried about keeping children safe from gun violence in our schools. People in our district want a representative who will stand up to the gun lobby and who will pass commonsense laws that will protect us and provide necessary tools for law enforcement to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent? *
Howard: My opponent is an extremist who puts his own personal and partisan agenda ahead of the needs and priorities of the people who live in this district. His votes reflect that agenda, particularly his budget votes.
The people who live in this district believe that our daughters and our sons should have equal opportunities in this world. We believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. We believe that every woman has the right to make her own decisions about her health care – and that includes reproductive health – without government interference. We deserve leaders in Springfield who share our values.
My priorities as State Representative will be passing a responsible, balanced budget so the state can pay its bills; creating a business-friendly environment, especially for small businesses in our community; boosting our excellent public schools so that every child has the opportunity to learn and succeed; passing meaningful tax relief for the middle class; protecting accessible, affordable healthcare, and promoting safe communities.
To achieve these goals, I will work alongside my colleagues in Springfield on both sides of the aisle. I’m a trained mediator, so I know how to build an agreement that all parties can live with.
Again and again, my opponent has put his partisan beliefs and the priorities of his wealthy donors ahead of doing the right thing for our district.
I will always represent my district with independence, and I will fight for my community and the people who live here.
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?
Howard: In DuPage County, the population has been pretty stable over the past 10 years. There are many good reasons that people want to live in our communities – good schools, safe streets, great healthcare, and plenty of amenities, like great park districts, that add so much to our quality of life. Illinois can retain population – and even grow – if our state government makes thoughtful, forward-looking investments in the things that matter most. It’s especially important to fund our state universities, so we can attract the best and brightest from across the world. We also have to find better ways to encourage the businesses that are already here to grow and expand.
Our stable population in DuPage tells me that people are very happy to live in Illinois when the local economy is thriving and local governments meet residents’ needs. I think we need to look at the communities in our state that are losing population and figure out what’s happening that’s driving people away – and then we need to work together to fix those problems, once and for all.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Howard: Our state’s pension mess was created over DECADES by legislators on both sides of the aisle. Moving forward, we need to make sure that pension payments are made on time and in full. We need to bring all parties together at the table and come up with a thoughtful, responsible, bipartisan plan to put our pension funds on a solid fiscal foundation. We need to make sure that the state fulfills its constitutional obligations to public employees who have counted on their modest pensions to fund their retirements – and we need to pass laws with real teeth in them to make sure that irresponsible legislators can never make a mess like this again.
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?
Howard: I am a proud graduate of the University of Illinois, and I have been terribly concerned by the state’s failure to provide reliable, sufficient funding to our university systems. We need to commit to funding our state universities at a level that enables them to attract the best talent, both faculty and students. Students will not commit to spending four years at one of our state universities if they’re worried that our state government will fail to make good on its responsibilities, resulting in faculty cutbacks or soaring tuition. When the state invests in higher education, we are investing in the future of our state. We cannot prosper if our brightest young people feel that they have to leave Illinois to pursue education opportunity.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Howard: I am ready and motivated to fight for commonsense gun laws, and I’m not afraid to stand up to the powerful gun lobby and politicians to protect our children.
- A ban on high capacity magazines.
- Requiring statewide licensing of gun dealers.
- Closing the gun show loophole.
- Raising the age to purchase assault weapons.
- Prohibiting “bump stock” and other trigger modifications like the ones used in Las Vegas to turn firearms into fully automatic weapons.
I believe families want our leaders in Springfield to take action against gun violence. Peter Breen’s 93% rating from the NRA says everything we need to know about him and his leadership on common sense gun safety.
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? *
Howard: Illinois should absolutely pass a “fair scheduling” law. As a small business owner, I understand that employers need some flexibility in staffing. But we can’t expect people to put their lives completely on hold so they can be at their manager’s beck and call. We need to make it easier for people who have young children or other family obligations to hold down jobs. We also need to make it possible for people to go to school while they’re working. I think we need to work with Illinois employers to come up with fair scheduling laws that protect workers while still making it possible for retailers to conduct business.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Howard: I will want to hear from my constituents before deciding how to vote on this issue, because I know it’s a hot-button question to many people that needs to be fully worked through with law enforcement. If the people of my district support the idea, I am open to legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana, but only with the appropriate safeguards in place to prevent abuse, ensure enforcement, and prevent impaired driving.
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?
Howard: When we talk about improving health care in Illinois, we need to talk about mental health and substance abuse, especially opioid abuse. Specifically, we need to recognize and address the mental health component to opioid abuse and working with health care providers to find alternatives to opioids for pain relief. These are huge issues in DuPage County. Last year, we lost 72 people to opioid abuse – more than double the number of opioid deaths reported just four years ago. If it weren’t for DuPage County’s Narcan program, which provides first responders with a lifesaving drug that can immediately reverse opioid poisoning, the number of opioid-related deaths would have been twice as high.
I believe that we all have a moral duty to provide help to people who are in trouble, and we all benefit when people who were suffering are able to manage their problems and become productive members of society.
Yet, in this face of this crisis, my opponent supported Bruce Rauner’s budget impasse, which wreaked havoc on Illinois’ human services safety net and halted critical funding for addiction treatment. A survey last year found that 46% of Illinois human services agencies had reduced the number of clients served – and one-quarter had closed programs – due to lack of State funding. That doesn’t include agencies that were forced to closed their doors completely – and didn’t have anybody left to answer the survey.
If you’ve ever had someone in your family who was struggling with mental health or substance abuse, as I have, – or if you’ve ever confronted these issues yourself – you know how incredibly painful they are. Frankly, if you choose to shut down funding to these types of programs to score cheap political points, I don’t know how you look at yourself in the mirror every morning.
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? *
Howard: I strongly support the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), which will provide new jobs in our communities while helping to clean up our environment, and I believe we need to build on FEJA to do even more to create clean jobs and clean energy. Illinois has the capacity to become a leader in the new green energy economy, and I think we need to invest now to create new jobs and provide training for the future workforce.
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?
Howard: We need to start this conversation from the basic principle that health care is right, not a privilege. It is simply wrong that our healthcare system makes it so difficult for so many people to access the care that they and their families desperately need.
As an attorney and court-appointed guardian ad litem for children and vulnerable adults, I’ve worked to help clients whose lives have been devastated by the failures of our healthcare system. I’ve seen what happens to families when an aging parent needs nursing home care and the costs consume the family’s assets, leaving nothing remaining for that patient’s spouse.
Just recently, a child I represent needed an evaluation, and the family couldn’t find a hospital that would accept Medicaid. It was so difficult for them. Even though we finally found a provider, the only hospital that would accept the child was so far from the family’s home, creating an additional burden for a family that was already dealing with a crisis.
It is important to make sure that our Medicaid rates are set fairly – low enough that taxpayers are not overburdened, but reasonable enough to keep providers from leaving the system. So we need to bring all stakeholders to the table to make sure that the system is working appropriately. We also need to commit to passing a budget each year that will fund the state’s health programs so that patients have timely access to care and providers get paid on a reasonable schedule.
I think that managed care may provide some opportunities to reduce Medicaid costs while still providing excellent care to people in the program, but we need to avoid creating incentives that will enrich HMOs while reducing access or quality of care for vulnerable people here in Illinois.
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? *
Howard: Either we believe the justice system is about rehabilitation or we don’t. As someone who has worked in the criminal justice system, I have witnessed firsthand how good programs help individuals when they are released and are on their way to becoming productive members of our communities. These programs play an important role in reducing recidivism and ensuring that inmates are equipped to live productive lives after incarceration. Unfortunately, the underfunding at the Department of Corrections is another consequence of Bruce Rauner’s two-year budget impasse. This is yet another reason that I remain committed to passing responsible, balanced budgets on time, every single year.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Howard: Changes to our criminal justice system must be made in partnership with legislators, stakeholders, law enforcement and victims’ advocates. I believe that these are sensitive, complex issues that will require all parties at the table to determine an evidence-based course of action that protects public safety, honors the rights of victims, reduces recidivism, and uses our resources most wisely.
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.