On Feb. 8, Alexandra Eidenberg appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the Democratic nomination in the Illinois House of Representatives in the 17th District:
I’m Alexandra Eidenberg and I’m looking forward to being a fighter for us. I grew up in a family of hard workers. My dad’s in construction. My mom’s a teacher and I’ve always been taught that as hard as we work is as much as we can make happen. And so I started a business. I was in the corporate world first and I found myself not making a living wage and ultimately left there. Took a risk and started a business. I’m a small business owner. I own an insurance practice called the Insurance People where I specialize in health insurance. I understand the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act, and health care is extremely important to me.
I also run a nonprofit organization called We Will which stands for Women Empowering Women in Local Legislation. And we’ve been around for about five years now and we have close to 7,000 members, and I’ve had the opportunity to work in Springfield with our legislators, passing various pieces of legislation.
So three things: One, health care. I really want to make sure that everyone has access to health care. We either need to make the Affordable Care Act work and make sure that it actually is affordable or look at creative ways to expand Medicaid, and I’m looking forward to making sure everyone has access to affordable health care.
Two, I really want to focus on gun violence prevention. I want to make sure that all families can make sure that their kids are safe at school and on our playgrounds.
And then No. 3, education. You know, I want to make sure that education is well funded. But, really specifically, make sure that children with special needs have the access that they are really in desperate need of. And you know, I think that all of our children really need ample funding, but I want to make sure that all the kiddos, no matter what’s going on with them, have that access.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates running for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives in the 17th District a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Alexandra Eidenberg submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
TOPIC: Top priorities
QUESTION: Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
ANSWER: I am focused on making Illinois the place to live, grow and thrive. My key initiatives include Family Leave, educational reform, moving to 100% clean energy and making sure, we all have access to healthcare.
I have spent years in Springfield working with leaders like Senator Toi Hutchinson and Assistant Majority Leader and Representative Mary Flowers to pass Family Leave. Both Senator Hutchinson and Representative Flowers have endorsed my campaign because they know with me in the legislature we can move forward with supporting everyday families and women’s rights together.
As a mom of four children, I am focused on the paramount need to save our nation and world from climate change. At this time, we cannot rely on our federal government to protect our resources and move us to clean energy. We have to make environmentally sound decisions, and we have thousands of kids counting on us so that they have a future worth living. I look forward to creating sustainable unionized jobs outside of the coal and natural gas industry moving us to clean energy jobs. We need to have tax incentives for both families and businesses for “going green” such as tax credits for hybrid cars and solar panels.
I own an insurance agency called The Insurance people where I specialize in health insurance. I work tirelessly trying to secure people health insurance so they can feel confident and comfortable in their benefits. Our current administration has destroyed the Affordable Care Act. I look forward to working towards making it work, and this means more options, better pricing, and the networks we know and respect. If we cannot make it work, I look forward to participating in Medicaid expansion ensuring that all people in Illinois have access to healthcare.
Legislative District: State Representative 17th
Political/civic background: I run an organization called We Will, formerly Mom+Baby, which helps women and children get involved in the legislative process. We have over 7000 members and have become a staple in Springfield fighting for the rights of women and children. I have helped pass various pieces of legislation including; Pregnancy Accommodation by testifying in committee hearings; helped write and pass Pro Vaccination; helped remove tampon taxes. My organization and I have worked on various equal pay initiatives, family leave, the Equal Rights Amendment, marijuana regulation and taxation and the removal of diaper and wipes taxes. We have several coalitions that I have built including Moms for Marijuana, which has been very successful.
I have worked on Democratic campaigns my entire life. In recent years, I have worked on Alderman John Arena, Representative Rob Martwick, Chuy Garcia and Bernie Sanders campaigns.
I was on the board of the Small Business Advocacy Council where I helped pass crowdfunding and LLC fee lowering legislation.
I regularly volunteer in my community and for organizations that support everyday people. Most recently, I had the pleasure of teaming up with Illinois Action for Children, a large Head Start Program, and donating thousands of articles of clothing to support all the children in their school to have a change of clothing. I worked alongside community leader, Stephanie Walters from South Holland, to collect and donate the clothing.
Occupation: President & Co-Founder, The Insurance People; Founder, We Will
Education: BA, Marketing Communications from Columbia College, Chicago
MAM, Masters of Arts Management, Small Business Entrepreneurship from Columbia College, Chicago
Campaign website: www.alexandraforillinois.org
TOPIC: Top district needs
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: On the campaign trail, I spend hours going door to door and phone banking. What I hear from my constituents is that they are pressed by increases in property taxes, desperately want to make sure there is access to healthcare, and they want equity for their children. As the next State Representative of the 17th District, I look forward to being the voice of my district—an independent progressive voice.
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: The pension crisis is breaking us. We are in desperate need of more revenue to fix the problem. I do support re-amortizing the debt. If we can get a better rate, of course, we should move forward to save money. We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our hardest working citizens. I do not support changing the pensions for current workers. Our state made a gross error and neglected to fund their share of the pensions while the workers continued to pay and contribute. We cannot pull back on our pension promises to current workers. I oppose a constitutional amendment to change current employee pensions. Moving forward a hybrid of defined benefit and defined contribution plans is necessary, and I will work with union leaders and my colleagues to reach an agreement that works for everyone.
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 support raising the minimum wage to $15+. As a small business owner, I recognize that by treating my staff well my company thrives. Our most significant assets are our workers, and we have to treat them with respect and pay them dignified wages.
My town, Wilmette, did not take on the Cook County Ordinance to raise the minimum wage. I was at the crucial meeting where the decision was made and continue to be disappointed with the vote not to treat our workers well. It is embarrassing that in an affluent community we cannot vote to pay fair wages and have had the pleasure of working with key leaders in Wilmette to create a movement to go forward and implement higher wages and paid sick leave.
My business, The Insurance People, is also in the District, in Skokie. My employee, Melissa Moreno, and I, both testified in Skokie in front of the trustees where we were able to accept and pass the ordinance to pay fair wages. I had the pleasure of speaking and fighting side by side with leaders like Jan Schakowsky and Daniel Biss to raise the minimum wage and paid sick days.
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: I support the taxation and regulation of recreational marijuana. My organization, We Will, has one of the largest coalitions, Moms for Marijuana, of women fighting for legalization here in Illinois. Our state is in desperate need of revenue, and we need creative ways like taxing marijuana to get out of our debt crisis.
Bookmark the Sun-Times 2018 Illinois Primary Voting Guide
QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago? What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWER: I do not support additional casinos in Illinois nor do I recommend casinos being open 24 hours. It is critical that we support our workers and curtail gambling compulsions. Casinos and racinos do not bring more revenue from our wealthiest, but rather from our most challenged citizens. We need to broaden our revenue base, but not from the bottom. It needs to come from the top.
TOPIC: Property tax freeze
QUESTION: A property tax freeze in Illinois has frequently been proposed 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. Right now, our state is in desperate need of revenue and freezing any taxes will only hurt our already volatile situation. Our property tax dollars drive our education system, and I will not be rolling back on access to education, fighting for equity in our school systems. We must make sure that our public resources remain and are well funded.
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:We must invest in our children. Doing so supports our communities and future. I will always fight for educational equity and equality for all students. Right now, our education funding formula is heavily based on property taxes, which creates extreme inequity. Our wealthiest communities have more resources, while our poorest communities barely have any. In our most challenged areas, property taxes are aggressively high to make up for the lack of funds. We cannot keep taxing our lowest earners at such high levels. It is not working. We need to change the formula so that there is equity for all our children. We do not have full-day kindergarten for all the kids in Illinois. There is much work to be done. I support progressive taxes with more revenue and the taxation of marijuana to create more resources.
TOPIC: Opioid abuse
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: I fully support the regulation and taxation of marijuana that has proven to influence the opioid epidemic. When marijuana is available for medical and recreational usage, opioid usage and abuse decreases. I have had the pleasure of working with Representative Lou Lang and Senator Don Harmon on medical marijuana legislation and Representative Kelly Cassidy and Senator Heather Steans on recreational marijuana legislation. Here in Illinois, we have passed and are looking to expand medicinal usage, and I look forward to fighting for that effort along with my strong coalition, Moms for Marijuana.
We have to tackle opioid addiction from the prescribing side and work with our doctors to prevent addiction. I have worked with Senator Melinda Bush to enforce and hold doctors accountable for providing opioid prescriptions.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, we need to ban silencers. Silencers are exclusively used to hide weapon use and are unnecessary. We need to ban them immediately.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, we need to have all gun dealers licensed by the state and held accountable for their sales. Illinois needs to limit these licenses and hold the sellers accountable.
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, we need to empower families to protect one another. Often it is family and friends that witness instability, and when our friends and family are not well, we need the tools to protect them and our communities. Allowing a family member to petition the courts for gun removal is a simple way to give families a tool to protect their loved one, themselves, and our communities.
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: I support Medicaid expansion. Medicaid is our most viable option to broaden access to healthcare. MCOs are definitely the future of healthcare. As an insurance agent who specializes in healthcare, I have seen the good and bad from the Affordable Care Act. While fabulous that there are no waiting periods or pre-existing condition clauses, deductibles are high, the networks are small, and it is a misnomer because it is unaffordable. If we invest in Medicaid and move to MCO models across the state, we can ensure healthcare access for everyone, some at no additional cost and others at a graduated buy-in rate.
Our federal administration rolled back on CHIP, Medicaid for kids, and this rollback is devastating for the program. Without the federal funds, it is not possible to insure all the children currently enrolled on CHIP for the entire year. Just like CHIP, Medicaid needs resources from both the federal and state government. If people have access to Medicaid and are not paying these insanely high Affordable Care Act rates, there will be room to leverage fees or taxes to afford Medicaid on the state level.
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: Our state colleges are more expensive than out of state colleges, they lack specialties, and are underfunded. Before the budget impasse, higher education was already struggling but the lack of a budget for over 2 ½ years put it over the edge. Our state universities once flourished and thrived but now are struggling to keep their doors open with their lack of enrollment and resources. I do not want to see any of our universities or colleges close, but until we redirect revenue into education, we are not going to be able to make our colleges and universities competitive. I support revenue going to education.
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.
Agree: Governor Rauner signed and passed (SB687) the lowering of LLC fees. I had the pleasure of working on this bill with the Small Business Advocacy Council, where I am a prior board member, and Senator Carol Sente. Lower LLC fees allow small businesses to start and renew allowing for business growth and job creation.
Governor Rauner signed and passed (HB40) enhancing and supporting a woman’s right to choose. My organization and I fought hard for this bill alongside Representative Sara Feigenholtz, who has endorsed my campaign, and Senator Heather Steans. We phone banked, rallied, and showed up in Springfield to make HB40 law.
Governor Rauner signed and passed (SB1) allowing for public schools to thrive and be open for our kids. Although I did not agree with the additional private school vouchers that the final variation of this bill included, it was pertinent for downstate schools and Chicago Public Schools to have the funding from this bill to move forward. This crucial education-funding component changed the formula and supported some of our schools with the least resources. I look forward to helping remove the private school vouchers once in the legislature. While SB1 was getting negotiated I had the pleasure of working with dozens of legislators including Representative Ann Williams, who has endorsed my campaign, and Representative Lou Lang who opened his doors so my organization, We Will, as a hub to phone-banking and fight for educational equity.
Disagree: Governor Rauner vetoed the No Salary History Bill, an equal pay initiative that supports women and minorities. My organization, We Will, and I worked hard to make this happen in the past legislative session. I worked side by side on this bill with Representative Anna Moeller, who has endorsed my campaign, and organizations like Women Employed and the Shriver Center. Governor Rauner has been disappointing at best when it comes to equal pay initiatives.
Governor Rauner allowed our state to go without a budget for over 2 ½ years causing devastation to our communities, schools, kids, public resources and more. His disappointing lack of leadership was felt throughout the state and especially in our poorest communities. Instead of helping the people of Illinois, he seemed purposeful in hurting us.
Governor Rauner is spending his time, financial resources and controlling the Republican Party to destroy unions. His win on “Right to Work” during veto session was not acceptable. We must protect our hardest working citizens and preserve our union state. I was in Springfield when the bill shook out and watching allies on both sides of the aisle fail our unions was devastating. Unionizing allows for the opportunity to access good wages, essential benefits, and job security. I will fight long and hard to keep Illinois unions strong. I look forward to collaborating with union leaders and advocates, and strong legislative supporters like Representative Rob Martwick who has endorsed my campaign.