Democratic candidate for Illinois House, 17th District: Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz

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Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, Illinois House 17th District Democratic primary candidate. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

On Feb. 8, Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the Illinois House of Representatives in the 17th District:

My name is Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz. I’m the granddaughter of Chinese immigrants whose legacy inspired me to do human rights and social justice work. As an attorney, I’ve fought and won to protect victims of child sex trafficking and forced marriage and I recently served as the director of a nonprofit legal aid clinic called the Highland Park Highwood Legal Aid Clinic. I also have a masters degree in international human rights law, and I’ve published on gender war crimes, and most important to me, I’m also the mother of three boys who have graduated from or attended Glenview public schools. I’ve always taught my children to live their values and I’ve stepped up to lead and fight for the things that matter to me my whole life.

I think that extreme rhetoric from politicians have made government the enemy of the good and that has been used as a pretext to strip funding for important programs that often serve the most vulnerable in our communities. I would fight for policies that advance the public good and fight to protect the fundamental human rights of everyone and I will fight to everyone’s fundamental right to a good paying job, affordable health care and a high quality education.

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. Gong-Gershowitz 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: Running for office was never something I had planned for myself, but in the wake of extreme politicians like Donald Trump and Bruce Rauner and their reckless agendas that undermine my core values, I felt compelled to stand up and make a difference in the political arena for the first time. My number one priority will always be to represent the concerns of the people I represent. I’m frustrated with the gridlock in Springfield and the politicians who put the needs of special interest groups before the needs of middleclass families. As State Representative, I’ll work to protect the values of our community that have come under attack by these extreme politicians.

Politicians in Washington have taken drastic steps to pass a tax reform plan that only helps large corporations and the wealthiest earners, all at the long-term expense of middle-class families. We need to do better in Illinois to make sure millionaires and billionaires like Bruce Rauner are paying their fair share. A progressive income tax would provide the revenue needed to invest in education and job creation by making the ultra-rich pay more while providing tax relief to middle-class families.

Walking door to door, I hear from people who want to make sure that their families will have access to affordable health care and they fear what might happen to them and their children under Donald Trump and his extreme allies. On the state level, I’ll fight to protect access to high quality health care by supporting laws to mandate insurance coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions and to make the insurance rate review process more transparent, allowing the state to certify that rates are fair and reasonable.

Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz

Legislative District: 17

Political/civic background: First-time candidate. Former Director of Immigration Law Practice at Highland Park-Highwood Legal Aid Clinic; Immigration Advocacy and Social Justice Committee, Temple Jeremiah; Former Glenview Education Foundation Board Member; National Immigrant Justice Center Leadership Council; Former Heartland Alliance Board of Directors; Illinois Unaccompanied Children’s Task Force Founding Member, Former Co-chair.

Occupation: Attorney

Education: Master of Law; International Human Rights Law, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Juris Doctor; Loyola University Chicago School of Law B.A.; Journalism Indiana University

Campaign website:

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: As a mother of three boys who all have attended our local public schools, I value the strong community schools that we have in our district and I appreciate the need to invest in education. I’ll work to ensure that our locals schools are being funded at an adequate level from the state in an effort to reduce the dependency on local property taxes.

Our community is filled with small and medium sized businesses that help grow our local economy and improve the overall quality of life, but they’re often tied down by burdensome fees and restrictions that make it difficult for them to profit. I support plans to expand tax credits to small businesses and lowering the start-up cost that LLC and businesses pay to the state when they open.

With a large Jewish population within the district and as a member of Temple Jeremiah, I’m committed to working with Jewish leaders to address the issues that concern families in the area to promote a strong U.S. and Israel relationship and oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement against Israel.

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: As the daughter of a retired college employee, I have seen firsthand how my parents depend on the pension that my Dad receives. I fully support preserving the retirement benefits that people have spent their entire lives earning. Middle-class families plan their lives around the expectation that their benefits will be available to them when they retire. That is why it’s critical for all stakeholders, including the organizations that represent middle-class families, are brought together in the process when discussing pension reform proposals. I would need to review the specifics of any pension plan to ensure it makes fiscal sense for our state and for middle-class families.

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 fully support raising the minimum wage at the state level. Unfortunately, the Cook County measure pitted communities against each other and forced municipalities to compete with each other. This resulted in many municipalities in the northern suburbs opting out of the increase. A statewide increase, whether that’s $13 or another amount, puts all communities on a level playing field and will help to ensure that no one working full time will be forced into poverty.


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

ANSWER: Any proposal to legalize marijuana would need to include set plans for addressing public safety concerns including impaired drivers and keeping drugs out of the hands of minors.

Bookmark the Sun-Times 2018 Illinois Primary Voting Guide

TOPIC: Casinos

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

ANSWER: I support a reasonable expansion of casinos in Illinois. My focus on gaming expansion would be to ensure that the state uses the new revenue to invest in our local schools and expand access to affordable health care.

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: Property taxes continue to be one of the top issues that I hear about as I walk door to door in the district. Our current tax system is broken as our schools and local governments rely heavily on local property taxes to provide services and fund education. I support cutting property taxes to give middle-class families relief by expanding exemptions for homeowners and senior citizens while making sure millionaires and billionaires are paying their fair share.

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: As the mother of three, I have been actively involved in our local schools and I understand the importance of providing our children with the tools and resources they need in the classroom to succeed. I support investing more money into our schools by requiring millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes to provide additional revenue to Illinois schools.

QUESTION: 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: First, we need to make sure our state budget includes funding for social service agencies that provide addiction services and drug rehabilitation programs to those in need. Governor Rauner’s budget crisis forced addiction and mental health centers to reduce services and turn away patients who were seeking lifesaving treatment options.

It’s also necessary to work with medical providers and experts to improve the prescription monitoring programs that limit the over prescription of opioids. Making sure that doctors and parents are aware of their treatment options for disorders before prescribing high dosage opioids to children can reduce their risk of substance abuse in the future. Increasing education about the dangers of opioids to both parents and children also need to be a part of the discussion.


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

ANSWER: Yes. We should not allow gun accessories to be on the market legally that only make it easier for criminals to use firearms in disguise.

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

ANSWER: Yes. Most businesses in Illinois are required to be licensed by state law and gun dealers should be held to the same standards to prevent deadly weapons from ending up in the hands of dangerous criminals. Additionally, I support requiring universal background checks for the purchase of firearms and banning assault weapons.

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 often know when an individual can be at risk of hurting themselves or others and empowering them to act in these situations can prevent gun violence and save lives.

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: Access to quality health care should be available to all individuals regardless of their economic status. While Donald Trump and Bruce Rauner are more interested in padding the pockets of insurance companies through privatization and increased premium costs, I support providing a public option for

Medicaid. A public option on the state level will not only give individuals another option in the insurance marketplace but also provide protections to Illinoisans if politicians in Washington are successful in their attempts to repeal current health care laws.

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: The most important thing we can do to keep young people here in Illinois is to fully fund our colleges and universities at the adequate levels they need to thrive. The uncertainty that came with Bruce Rauner’s nearly two-year budget impasse forced students to look out of state for more reliable education options. Making sure our institutions of higher learning have the resources they need to provide quality education and competitive job training programs will help to keep more students here in Illinois.

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: While I do not approve of most of the governor’s principles and the extreme policies he has pushed forward during his time in office, I will be open to working with anyone, Democrat or Republican, who want to work in good faith to help move our state forward. While these decisions only came in reaction to immense political pressure, I support the governor’s decision to sign House Bill 40 to protect women’s access to reproductive health care as well as his approval of Senate Bill 31, prohibiting law enforcement from detaining individuals solely based on their immigration status.

The governor has focused much of his time in office waging a war against unions and middle-class workers and pushing efforts to make Illinois a right-to-work state. I am a supporter of organized labor; I support workers’ rights to collectively bargain and to fight for fair wages and safe working conditions, and I disagree with the governor’s approach to dismantle unions in Illinois.

For his first two years as governor, Governor Rauner refused to work with legislators to negotiate a balanced budget. His unwillingness to work in good faith on the state budget left social service agencies, state universities and critical state services deprived of the funding they needed to provide care to our state’s most vulnerable. The devastating impact of Rauner’s budget crisis has created a financial strain on the state that will take years to repair.

While Donald Trump and his right-wing allies have made it their priority to repeal the current health care laws and strip coverage for millions of Americans, Governor Rauner applauded Trump’s plans even though it would negatively impact the lives of millions of Illinoisans. On behalf of the majority of

Illinoisans who disapprove of Trump’s reckless plans, I would have hoped our own governor would stand up for the people he represents.

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