Democrat Jim Caffrey faces Republican Deanne Marie Mazzochi in the 47th Illinois House district 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.
Caffrey submitted the following answers to our questionnaire.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
1) Select a new Speaker of the House
2) End gerrymandering through a bi-partisan, independent commission to
create a fairer, more competitive legislative map.
3) Getting the state’s fiscal house in order by prioritizing the payment of
overdue bills and solving our pension crisis
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) Stop the usage of Ethylene Oxide (EtO) at the Sterigenics plant in
Willowbrook. While Willowbrook is outside my district, the cancer-causing
gas released by the utilization of EtO impacts much of District 47 including
Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, and Westmont.
2) A permanent “Fly Quiet” program that properly balances the impact of
overnight flights from O’Hare
3) Resolving the expansion of I-294 in a manner that doesn’t unfairly impact
Hinsdale and other areas in the southern part of District 47
Who is Jim Caffrey?
His legislative District: State Representative District 47
His political/civic background
I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1987 and then worked in national politics off and on for roughly 10 years including positions on Mike Dukakis’ 1988 and Paul Tsongas’ 1992 presidential campaigns. During that same 10-year time period I served two years in the Peace Corps and earned an MBA from Boston University. I worked in business for 20 years, with the last 14 years at Clorox. I resigned my post to enter this race for State Representative.
My family moved to Elmhurst in 2006. I have been very involved in many community organizations including volunteer work as a PTA Secretary at Churchville Middle School, a board member of Elmhurst Youth Baseball, and as a Democratic Precinct Committeeman.
Resigned from Clorox as Customer Team Manager to run for office
University of Michigan, AB Political Science 1987 (American College in Paris, Winter Semester 1986)
Boston University, MBA, 1995
Campaign website: www.jimcaffrey.org
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Caffrey: I am the moderate candidate who understands the needs and concerns of the district and is better prepared to work across the aisle.
Today, public opinion is divided. As a State Representative you have to work for, and respect, everybody in your community including the ones who don’t agree with you, didn’t vote for you, and may never vote for you. If I’m chosen to go to Springfield, I understand that fundamental responsibility and will honor it in a way that my opponent’s public comments shows she does not. Yes, I’m a Democrat, but ‘ve shown my independence from my party by calling for a new Speaker of the House and running a campaign without any financial support from the Democratic Party of Illinois. I’m prepared to listen to and work with anyone who wants to make a better Illinois for future generations.
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?
Caffrey: People are leaving Illinois because of the state’s financial problem and the fear that nothing can be done to fix it because of the dysfunction in Springfield. Reversing this decline starts with elected officials taking steps to reestablish trust between themselves and the voters.
The campaign priorities I listed in question one are designed, in part, to reestablish this trust. Working on government reforms (selecting a new Speaker of the House and ending gerrymandering) along with developing concrete plans to improve our financial situation (pay back our overdue bills and solve our pension crisis) can restore confidence, make Illinois a more desirable place to live, and reverse the pattern we’re now seeing.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
1) Reduce our unfunded liability. I believe that we should re-amortize our pension debt. Illinois would pay a level amount year-over-year and rid ourselves of the “Edgar Ramp” which will absorb over a third of our budget by 2045 if nothing changes. This plan requires slightly higher funding in the near term but will save billions over the longer term compared to the current payment schedule. Over time, the pension payments would shrink as a portion of the overall budget providing more flexibility to the state. To ensure this plan succeeds, annual pension funding needs to be paid in full each year – no more pension holidays.
2) Create a sound retirement system for the future. All options should be on the table including traditional pensions, 401K-style plans, and Social Security. The solution should be one that is stable and secure for retirees, and sustainable and affordable for state government.
3) Update GARS (General Assembly Retirement System). Illinois should phase out the current GARS pension plan and replace it with a defined contribution plan (i.e. 401K-style plan). Elected officials in Illinois should not run for office for the pension plan. A 401K-style plan during the years that a person is an elected official should be sufficient. I will not accept a pension under the current GARS system.
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?
Caffrey: The relatively high cost of attending a public university in Illinois and the lack of confidence in the state’s ability to support higher education are driving Illinois residents to universities outside the state.
The best way to attract Illinois students to attend college in state is to have a healthy economy and a strong and reliable investment in higher education. We also need innovative thinking in the way we operate our public universities so that we can maximize the educational output in each location and save money.
Specifically, Illinois should consolidate its nine university boards into one board to streamline programs and costs. Let’s allow different schools to drive their own unique areas of expertise. Some have already carved out niches and those should be strengthened. New York, California, and Wisconsin are examples of states that have highly effective public university systems with only one to two boards managing all of the state’s public universities.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Caffrey: I support the Gun Dealer Licensing Act and urge the governor to sign it. This bill provides a reasonable method to reduce the amount of illegal gun purchases. It will require criminal background checks for gun store employees, basic store security measures, and employee training. This bill is not about the right to bear arms, the types of guns, or an impact to conceal-and-carry. It is a simple measure that has the ability to reduce gun violence with impacting anybody’s 2nd Amendment rights.
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?
Caffrey: Just as states led the way in creating the system of fair labor laws in the early 20th century, states are now being challenged to adapt those laws to the new economy. “Fair scheduling” is a reasonable attempt to provide protections in a world of ever changing technology and worker requirements.
I believe that any law we pass needs to extend beyond retail and fast food business classifications to include reasonable exemptions for small businesses, agricultural operations, domestic work, in-home healthcare, and other types of work where on-demand scheduling is a practical requirement. We should also look at some of the issues that arose with workers in San Francisco and Seattle to see if we can benefit from their experiences to craft a bill that is useful to both workers and businesses.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Caffrey: I support legalizing marijuana in a tightly regulated fashion. The criminalization of marijuana has disproportionately impacted people of color, created high levels of violence and corruption, and has failed to reduce access. Legalization will promote a safer product, reduce crime rates, and allow police to focus on more important issues. We should closely examine what has worked and not worked in other states that have already legalized marijuana in order to improve our legislation. Some additional tax revenue will also be raised in the process, but that is secondary to the other benefits noted here.
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?
Caffrey: There is no one solution to the opioid challenge we face here in Illinois. The state needs to attack this crisis from many different angles including the prioritization of treatment over jail, improved prevention education, prescription guidelines, and proper health care coverage.
Here are two specific recommendations regarding the jail system where the legislature could have an impact in reducing overdoses and deaths from opioids.
1) If an addict is on prescribed medicine for his addiction – like Suboxone – and gets incarcerated, allow him to receive his medicine in jail. Some jails will not allow Suboxone because it is considered a narcotic. Denying life-saving medicine not only does not help to reduce the death rate, but can contribute to it.
2) When people are released from jail, begin the probation immediately upon release. The parole process can sometimes be delayed for as long as two weeks after an inmate has been released. This pause can lead to relapses from a lack of oversight during that time period.
I would also like to examine the results from a program in Lake County to see if it is something we can expand statewide. The program is called a “A Way Out.” This effort allows people with substance abuse issues to get assistance from the Sheriff’s office, or participating police stations, without getting in trouble with the law. The stations connect individuals to inpatient or outpatient treatment centers. Any narcotics turned in during the process are entered into evidence for disposal and no charges are filed.
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?
Caffrey: I generally agree with the objectives and substance of FEJA and believe it is off to a promising start. FEJA’s objectives include enhancing Illinois’ position as a leader in clean energy, stimulating job creation, and preserving Illinois’ low energy rates. So far over 60 solar developers have moved into Illinois and have either set up shop or are in the process of getting people in place. There is a big push to get engineers, surveyors, project managers, electricians, and many more players hired. In fact, the joint solar parties are already working on what is being dubbed FEJA 2.0 to bolster the current legislation, so we can ensure the market doesn’t get too hot right off the bat resulting in a boon-bust cycle.
Passing FEJA required some compromises including additional funding to keep open two nuclear power plants in Clinton and Cordova. While this bailout may have been necessary to get the legislation through, we need to be careful going forward about providing even more funding to maintain non-renewable energy production.
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?
Caffrey: The first thing the state needs to do to ensure the long-term viability of Medicaid is pay back our overdue bills so that hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities that count on Medicaid are not wondering if they will stay in business. There are many examples where facilities are closing because the state has not paid its bills including the Pleasant Hill Village nursing home in Girard, IL. The state needs to create a short-term plan (between 3-5 years) to repay all old debt and make those payments the highest priority in the budget process.
Illinois also needs to ensure that health plans with contracts to serve Medicaid clients have networks of providers across the state and that they meet quality standard. People in rural and downstate areas have seen a reduction in the number of health plans which has reduced the access to care. Illinois is also struggling to maintain good care in nursing homes where staffing levels are lower than most states driven, at least in part, by lower reimbursement rates. I would suggest an audit of all of these plans by an independent entity that looks at quality and cost.
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?
Caffrey: Underfunding is unfortunately a recurring theme of problems facing the state of Illinois. In terms of prisons specifically, a serious sustained effort at comprehensive criminal justice reform could produce tremendous benefits. If we can find ways to safely reduce the prison population (see question 14), we can refocus some of those savings into expanded education, mental and emotional health care treatment, and job training. These programs will increase the chances of success for reintegration and help improve the current recidivism trends in Illinois.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Caffrey: Adjusting parole standards should be included as part of a review of our criminal justice system in the state of Illinois. It has been 40 years since we made significant changes to our parole practices; in 1978 Illinois switched from discretionary to mandatory parole. The objectives of the change, to increase public safety and the reduction of repeat offenses, were admirable and data at the time seemed to support the new direction. More recent data, however, indicates that prisoners in the discretionary parole system are significantly less likely to commit new crimes or return to prison after release. Discretionary parole may help the state save money without being stuck in a situation where we are simply furloughing people again because we don’t have room to house them or can’t afford to keep them incarcerated.
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.