Illinois Senate 8th District Democratic candidate: Ram Villivalam

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Ram Villivalam is endorsed in the Illinois Senate 8th District Democratic primary on March 20. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

On Feb. 6, Ram Villivalam appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic seat in the Illinois State Senate 8th district in the March 2018 primary:

My name is Ram Villivalam and I am running for state senator in the 8th state senate district of Illinois. My background is advocating to protect home care for seniors, people with disabilities, childcare for working families, medicaid for those in need, and also a living wage for those that are working with our most vulnerable. Prior to that I was working at the federal level to sign folks up for the Affordable Care Act and put on job fairs.

I was born and raised on the Northwest Side of Chicago. My parents are originally from India, they came here with $8 in their pocket, and they worked minimum wage jobs, put themselves through school and ended with 25 years of successful careers in public service. And that’s part of my background and why I’m running.

As I go out and talk to people in the 8th State Senate district I hear time and time again, Springfield is a mess, we need a change. And the issues that they’re talking to me about is the need to reform our tax system to lower taxes on middle class families, the ened to increase the minimum wage so that people trying to take care of their families and provide food on their table have an opportunity to do that. Reducing gun violence in our communities. If I have to get a license from the DMV to prove that I’m a safe driver, a nail technician has to get a license as well, so should a gun dealer. And I also think that we need to focus on investing in clean energy and working to end discrimination based on race, gender and folks in the LGBTQ community.


The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Illinois State Senate a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Ram Villivalam submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:

QUESTION: Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.

ANSWER: I am running because I believe we need a new generation of elected officials in our government, we need more diversity in who is making the decisions that impact our communities, and we need someone who will actually lead on the challenging issues we face. As a Senator I will lead on fighting for working families, and my main priorities to do this will be:

Pass a $15/hour minimum wage

Pass a progressive income tax and close corporate loopholes

Stand up for labor unions against the attacks from both the Rauner and Trump administrations.


Ram Villivalam

Running for:Illinois State Senate 8th district

Political/civic background:Board of Director, Gun Violence Prevention PAC (GPAC) (2014-present)

President & Board of Director, Indo-American Democratic Organization (IADO) (2012-present)

Legislative Coordinator, SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana (2015-2017)

Outreach Director, U.S. Congressman Brad Schneider (2013-2014)

Occupation: Public Policy Advocate

Education: BA, Political Science, George Washington University

Campaign website: ramforsenate.com


QUESTION: Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.

ANSWER:Increased opportunity and economic growth, which includes a living wage for working families, leveraging resources for small businesses to grow, and the creation of a regional economic development plan that brings cohesiveness as well as collaboration to the 21 city of Chicago neighborhoods and the five suburban municipalities that make up the 8th State Senate District.

Healthcare and more specifically, the prioritization of Medicaid funding as it would ensure proper care is being provided to residents in the numerous nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals in the 8th State Senate District.

Education and services for children and families that recognizes the need to invest in our local public schools while also providing resources to meet the needs of our incredibly diverse community, especially as it relates to the linguistic and cultural standpoints.

TOPIC: Pension debt

QUESTION: In 2017, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability ballooned to at least $130 billion. Do you support re-amortizing this debt? Please explain your answer. And what is your position on a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability of the pension debt?

ANSWER:First, I am opposed to any reductions in pension benefits. Stabilizing the pension funds simply cannot be done on the backs of teachers, nurses, state employees that have been promised a level of benefits that they deserve. Second, we must change the way that we collect revenue – as mentioned a few times above, we need to aggressively pursue real and progressive revenue streams, and we must have laws in place with strong requirements for the state and the city to make required pension payments. I am open to re-amortizing the debt (i.e. changing the “ramp”) for the state pension system, leveling out the state pension payments over a longer period of time. But the most obvious answer is that we need more revenue – through progressive tax structures – to make these payments.

I am opposed to a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability of the pension debt.

TOPIC: Minimum wage

QUESTION: Cook County and Chicago are on their way to paying a $13 hourly minimum wage. Many suburbs in the county, however, have opted out of the wage increase. Should Illinois raise its minimum wage from $8.25 an hour? Please explain. And if you favor an increase in the state minimum wage, what should it be?

ANSWER: I strongly support a $15/hour minimum wage at the state (and federal) level, and I played a key role in helping to secure the votes for his passage in the General Assembly this past year. We must continue to pressure the General Assembly and the Governor to pass and sign such a bill, and this will be one of my top priorities as a Senator.

TOPIC: Marijuana

QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.

ANSWER: I support the legalization and regulation of marijuana; not only does it make sense from a fiscal perspective (we need the money!), but it makes sense from a policy perspective as well. The “war on drugs” has simply not worked, and it is sending thousands of men and women to prison for no substantively good reason. Further, we now have examples from numerous other states showing that taxing and regulating recreational marijuana is doable as good fiscal and policy sense.

TOPIC: Casinos

QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.

ANSWER: I do support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. Similarly, I support racinos in Illinois. Illinois must be open to all revenue streams to continue to crawl our way out of the fiscal disaster that the State is in. All of that said, if and when more casinos or racinos are built in Illinois, I strongly believe that they should be created and staffed with union jobs as well as have a comprehensive plan to address for any adverse effects to the local economy and communities.

TOPIC: Property tax freeze

QUESTION: A property tax freeze in Illinois has been proposed frequently since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office. What’s your position? If you favor a freeze, how many years should it last? Should the freeze exclude property tax increases to service the debt, make pension payments or cover the cost of public safety? Again, please explain.

ANSWER: I do not support a property tax freeze at the state level. I believe that property tax freezes mandated at the state level are bad public policy and take local control away from counties and municipalities. We must give elected officials at the local level the ability to do the jobs that they are elected to do.

TOPIC: School funding

QUESTION: A revised school funding formula was approved this year by the Legislature and the governor, but a bipartisan commission has concluded that billions more dollars are needed to achieve sufficient and equitable funding. Should Illinois spend more on schools, and where would the money come from?

ANSWER: Illinois absolutely needs to spend more on schools. We have a constitutional mandate that the state has the “primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.” And the State of Illinois is not coming anywhere close to meeting this responsibility. We must find new ways to raise revenue, including through a progressive income tax, closing corporate loopholes, and implementing a “Lasalle Street tax” i.e. a tax on financial transactions.


CHECK OUT THE CANDIDATES IN THE SUN-TIMES 2018 ILLINOIS PRIMARY VOTING GUIDE


TOPIC: Opioids

QUESTION: How can the Legislature best address the problem of opioid abuse and addiction? Please cite specific laws you have supported or would support.

ANSWER: We must treat opioid abuse like the public health crisis that it is. I support HB1, which after passing in 2015 was vetoed by the governor, and then the General Assembly overrode the Governor’s veto. I also support the Governor’s opioid task force. We must continue to find ways to treat addiction as a disease, rather than a crime, and we must be willing to commit sufficient funding to the fight.

TOPIC: Guns

QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes, I support a state ban on gun silencers. Gun silencers exist for one main reason: to “silence” the sound of a gunshot. I fail to see a good reason to silence the sound of a gunshot that outweighs the many bad reasons one would want to silence a gunshot.

QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes, all gun dealers in Illinois should be licensed by the state. I strong support SB 1657 and have supported efforts to move this legislation forward through my role as a Board of Director for G-PAC. Illinois should be taking all steps necessary to address our gun violence epidemic, and that should include taking further steps to hold gun dealers accountable and stop the flow of illegal guns in the state. If nail technicians and dog groomers have to get licenses, then gun dealers should be held to the same standard.

QUESTION: Should family members be empowered to petition courts for the temporary removal of guns from emotionally or mentally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others? Please explain.

ANSWER: Yes, family members should be empowered to petition courts for the temporary removal of guns from emotionally or mentally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others. While we need to be very careful that we do not create a stigma around mental illness, we should be empowering family members to be able to intervene when individuals may be a danger to themselves or others.

TOPIC: Medicaid

QUESTION: What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? Do you support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Should the state continue on a path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? Should everyone be permitted to buy into Medicaid?

ANSWER: Medicaid is an essential part of making sure that all people have access to affordable health care. We absolutely should continue the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. While Medicaid is a costly program and a huge component of the state budget, Illinois has actually done very well to keep costs low. Illinois’s Medicaid program has one of the lowest costs per person in the entire country.

I believe that managed care can and should play a role in the Medicaid program, but there must be substantial transparency and accountability of managed care organizations (MCOs), and we must make sure that MCOs do not limit access to necessary care or equipment.

While I am open to a “public option” for Medicaid, I believe that the state needs to go further and move towards a single-payer health care system.

TOPIC: College student exodus

QUESTION: Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students in the country. What would you do to encourage the best and brightest young people in Illinois to attend college here at home? Does Illinois have too many state universities, as some have argued?

ANSWER: I do not believe that Illinois has too many state universities. We need to start funding our university system adequately. The last three years have been devastating to the state’s higher education system, and it has made the “exodus” of college students even worse. Further, we must change how students pay for college. I support moving towards free in-state tuition for all Illinois residents at public universities.

TOPIC: Gov. Rauner

QUESTION: Please list three of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you agree. Also please list three of the governor’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you disagree.

ANSWER: Agree: Signing HB40. Signing HB40 was a significant and important step to protecting existing access to reproductive healthcare for women and ensuring all women have access to such care, regardless of income.

Criminal Justice reform – I agree with the governor’s goal to substantially reduce the State’s prison population. I would like to make clear, however, that Governor Rauner has not enacted many of the recommendations from his criminal justice reform commission, and consequently I do not agree with the tactics he has chosen to achieve this goal.

The creation of the Opioid Prevention and Intervention Task Force – The opioid crisis is a serious public health crisis, and we must take all steps we can to properly address this across the state.

Disagree: Attacks on labor unions – Governor Rauner has made it clear that he has one primary goal – destroying the labor movement in Illinois. And not only do I fundamentally disagree with this as a goal, I will aggressively fight to make sure that he is not successful.

Attacks on child care – One of Governor Rauner drastically cut eligibility for the state’s child care program, which allows low-income families to afford child care while working or going to school. While eligibility was eventually (mostly) restored, the program has simply not recovered and tens of thousands of families have been forced out of child care.

Attacks on the seniors – From his utter disregard for veterans when faced with legionnaires disease, to his efforts to destroy the Community Care Program, which provides home care for seniors, Governor Rauner has done everything he can to hurt our most vulnerable. I have helped lead the fight against these attacks, and will continue to do so as a Senator.


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