On Feb. 8, Pete Dagher appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Illinois House of Representatives in the 17th District:
My name is Peter Dagher and my background is extensive in the federal level. I’ve worked for both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton in the White House. I’ve also served as the deputy political director of the Democratic National Committee and also the U.S. Department of Transportation. I served as a special assistant and I’ve worked all over the world, including: India, Philippines and 42 of the 50 states here in America.
My top priorities, first and foremost, would be a financial reporting for Illinois. We need to get modern, get with the times and do something that Ohio has done. If you go to Ohiocheckbook.com, you’ll see what the future is doing. They’re very wise that they get data-driven decision-making based on financial reports. Instead of hiding things, you can see it. And you don’t need to be a forensic accountant to see where that spending is going. Next, I would want accountability here in Illinois for where we are spending our money and what we are getting for our programs. If things work, let’s continue to fund it. If things are not working, we need to review that.
Next, I’d have a new law here in Illinois that would ban lawmakers from profiting from their financial mismanagement as well as this property-tax appeal business. If you have a side business handling that, that should end. As well as the vendor assistance programs where their friends are making money by delayed payments in Illinois. That’s got to end, and, last thing, we need an economic plan here in Illinois to attract business so we can reduce our tax burden per person. I’d like to see an economic plan that is encompassing not just with the city, but all over the state. Attract new business. We have a lot to offer country but we have to get our finances in order in order to attract and retain business.
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. Pete Dagher 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: My top priorities will be:
- Ensuring everyone in Illinois has access to affordable healthcare.
- Deploying the principals of President Obama’s Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 to make our revenues and spending searchable, digital, reliable, accountable, and transparent – just as the state of Ohio and every Federal Agency has done.
- Lowering our property taxes and legislating so that our assessments are fair, not arbitrary.
- Funding education and holding all school districts accountable with the goal of every child in Illinois receiving an education as good or better as a child in my own district receives.
- Ending the highly destructive process of gerrymandering.
- Eliminating Township governments.
- Lowering college tuition costs for Illinois residents.
- Consolidating several school districts.
- Returning control of school districts to elected school boards.
- Removing corruption, patronage, and waste from our state, county, township, and municipal governments.
- Protecting the civil rights of citizens and immigrants.
- Lowering crime rates.
- Lowering energy costs to attract business, jobs, and people.
- Creating a government climate favorable for renewable energy businesses.
- Protecting our environment.
- Attracting investments, business, jobs, and people to Illinois.
- Banning bump stocks, enforcing existing gun laws, and closing loopholes in gun legislation.
- Ensuring that the care of every special needs child is paid for.
- Working with every legislator, regardless of political party, to improve Illinois government for its people.
- Improving our credit rating, paying our vendors on time, and making Illinois a place to stay and grow.
Legislative District: State Representative – 17th
Political/civic background: Served as an intern for US Senator Paul Simon. Worked for President Clinton during the eight years of his Presidency. Started and managed Barack Obama’s national campaign headquarters. Served in the White House as Director of Special Projects, and at the US Department of Transportation focusing on infrastructure and intermodal systems to improve economic output. Acted as the Deputy Political Director of the Democratic National Committee focusing on fair elections and voter registration.
Occupation: Business consultant representing American-owned businesses in foreign markets. Political consultant for candidates in India and the Philippines.
Education: Old Orchard Junior High School, Niles North High School, the University of Illinois, undergraduate, MBA from George Mason University, Virginia.
Campaign website: www.PeterDagher.com
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.
- Reducing property taxes while ensuring they are assessed in a fair and transparent manner.
- Expanding affordable healthcare while including mental health and special needs coverage.
- Managing our state budget so that we live within our means, attracting new businesses, and advancing our healthcare and education programs as well as other social services.
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: Yes, the debt should be re-amortized simply to reduce the interest payment Illinois already pays due to years of financial mismanagement, patronage, corruption, and accounting tricks. In order to retain and attract new business and people to our state, we must get our financial house in order.
I am all for reducing the pension debt – by actually paying it. I am against an amendment that is really nothing more than an accounting trick which would not hold up in a court of law. Stealing teachers’ deferred payments is not the way forward.
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 favor a graduated increase in the state minimum wage with a goal of $13 per hour for employees of large corporations, with small business owners given tax breaks to offset a higher minimum wage so that their true costs are not increased. Small business is the economic engine of Illinois. We should support small businesses and listen to their owners – not burden them.
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes. Colorado has shown that doing so can bring in revenue while reducing state spending on court, jail and hospital costs. It creates jobs, and legalizing it has shown no increase in the number of users.
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: Yes and yes. However, the latest expansion of gambling in Illinois revealed that the market for gambling may have hit its limit – each new casino seems to be cannibalizing customers from other nearby casinos. Unfortunately, additional licenses may not confer a state-wide benefit, but rather a local one. That said, increased tourism in the state could provide a boost to all of these operations, and that would also be helpful to the state.
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 will lower our property taxes. I favor a complete audit and accounting of our arbitrary and unfair property tax assessment system. As a State Representative, I will ensure that revenue from property taxes will go into accountable, worthy programs – not pockets.
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: Absolutely – Illinois should spend more on schools. But before that happens, we need to get our house in order. Presently, there is no oversight or accountability as to where our education dollars are going or what we are getting in return. How much money did convicted criminal and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett take? And the bribes – that steered how many tens of millions of tax payer dollars in no-bid contracts to her friends?
Shouldn’t we hold people and programs accountable before we commit to giving this corrupt funding system billions more in tax dollars? Shouldn’t each and every school board have accountable, elected members? Shouldn’t every child have a chance?
If a child goes to New Trier or Stevenson High Schools – chances are they are going to receive a quality education. If they are growing up in a poor neighborhood with inadequate school oversight and funding, they will have a tougher road to travel. The Illinois system is arbitrary, not accountable, and not transparent. Let us fix that immediately, THEN see where our education dollars should be spent.
100% of my education – from Kindergarten through completing my MBA, is from public schools. I fully support the public system and want to provide additional resources. At the same time, we need to eliminate waste, state-wide, so that we can afford to do so.
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 will focus on prevention, treatment, and response. Our entire healthcare system is profit-driven. The Legislature can revoke state-issued licenses of “pill mill” doctors and instruct the Attorney General to pursue additional pharmaceutical companies that falsified the negative and addictive effects of opioids.
We should work with the federal government and United States Postal Service to stop the growing crisis of opioid deliveries from other countries.
Education can go a long way in focusing on better prescribing and distribution methods. Reporting and data collection can be used to evaluate what is working and at what cost.
The legislature must understand why opioids were prescribed so aggressively, why drug test data was falsified, and the actual process of opioid addiction works. Prevention costs far less than treating addiction.
Moreover, we should make widespread treatment available for all addicts and family members dealing with this crisis. We must improve our response to overdoses with additional training and deployment of anti-overdose drugs like Naloxone .
As for legislation, I support Illinois PA-99-0480 which addresses the deployment of Naloxone, along with education for first-responders and reporting by coroners to help us deal with and understand the opioid issues we are facing.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes. Sound suppressors are illegal in a handful of states – Illinois being one of them. Silencers have no purpose in the general, legal ownership and use of these weapons.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes. The state has the power to provide uniform regulation of the industry and to liaise with the FBI and other agencies to assure that licenses are issued only to qualified, law-abiding merchants.
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 are often in the best position to notice mental / emotional disturbances. Clearly, we would want safeguards to make sure that such power is not abused, but providing for an emergency intervention / removal for a short period, prior to a full court examination of the evidence is reasonable and may save lives.
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: Every person in the United States of America should have access to affordable, quality healthcare. Pre-existing conditions as well as mental health coverage should be part of this. The only way to sustain any government program is to ensure that there will be adequate funding, transparent spending, and a report system that shows what we are getting for our tax dollars. I will bring Illinois into the modern age by updating our state system to be compliant with President Obama’s DATA Act of 2014, similar to the system Ohio has deployed with financial success.
Presently, Medicaid is the closest we have to a single payer system. As such, it provides better economics than virtually any private system can. Still, it should be seen as a stop-gap until we are able to provide something better – a program that is allowed to negotiate aggressively with the drug companies and service providers. That said, I fully support Medicaid and would like to see the program expanded, with availability to every resident of the State of Illinois. Alternatively, once the state is on a more stable financial footing, I would endorse our own version of a public healthcare 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 will lower tuition costs for Illinois residents. Illinois residents have already paid to build our university system. Charging them more than other states do – and even what other countries do, is not acceptable. I was able to work full-time at Dominicks and graduate from the University of Illinois without debt, but it was a definite struggle at times. Education should be affordable to our residents.
That said, Illinois has poor accountability and unacceptable oversight on how its education dollars are spent. Many schools, such as Chicago State University with a graduation rate of just 11%, are not run well.
To attract Illinoisans to our state university system, we will lower the cost of education, give admission preference to Illinois residents over non-residents, audit all spending, and ensure fiscal responsibility so that teachers and administrative personnel stay instead of fleeing to states where their pensions are not in jeopardy.
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.
- I agree with his emphasis on updating cyber-security and modernizing technology in state government. I am well-versed in the importance of each.
- I like that he signed off on expungements and job training for non-violent offenders who have remained crime-free.
- I agree with his decision to consolidate governments and taxing bodies within Illinois.
- I disagree with his vetoing school budget reform and then taking credit for legislation that passed over his veto.
- I find it intolerable that he has refused to pass a budget for two years which then allowed interest payments to grow so high, that our state became borderline insolvent.
- I oppose that he stated he would “shake up” Springfield, but instead slashed social programs and provided $100,000+ jobs for his political hacks.