On Jan. 4, Robert Rafael Reyes appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Illinois House of Representatives in the 24th District:
My name is Robert Reyes and I’m running for state representative of the 24th District. My political background, I started in politics at a very young age. When I was 20 years old, I went to Los Angeles, California, to help Antonio Villaraigosa become elected. Got trained by the United Farm Workers out there about the progressive people-powered movement. Then I traveled to Washington D.C., where I served in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and Congressman Gutierrez’s office. Then I came back here to Chicago and I was in the U.S. Senate in Senator Durbin’s office. In 2012, I ran for state representative for the first time and I’ve been involved in various non-for-profits. In particular Increase the Peace, helping with youth in the inner cities.
The specific cause will be to bring about a new generation of leadership. We need new leaders with new ideas to move our state forward. People are sick and tired of politicians representing their pockets and their interests before our working families. For far too long, we’ve seen representatives keep increasing our taxes and detouring long-term problems. And at the same time, there’s a culture of corruption here in Illinois that has nearly bankrupted our state and my opponent is part and parcel to it. The Sun-Times article, the Sun-Times recently highlighted an article where she interfered on behalf of her husband to make sure he kept his $150,000 job while he was collecting two pensions. Then she had the audacity to sue the state to make sure that she got paid and that all the politicians got paid as well while at the same time universities were closing. Health clinics were closing and basically the entire state was bankrupt. So it’s time for change, and that is going to be my biggest cause. Is to create a new generation of leadership and new leaders in Springfield.
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. Reyes 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: It is time for a new generation of leadership because Springfield has failed us. We need new representatives who will bring new ideas, new initiatives and a new vision to move our state forward.
Education will be my top priority.
Universal pre-K is something I will fight for because I believe our children’s education should begin at the age of 3 so that when they reach kindergarten they are prepared to learn, and studies have shown that this helps reduce the “achievement gap”. This is most important in low income communities because often parents either do not have a college education or English is their second language and/or they are immigrants. You can just imagine how difficult it is for them to help their children with homework. And also, this reduces educational costs in the long term.
After school programs; they are crucial because if you would like our youth to be involved in extra-curricular activities as opposed to on the streets, you have to offer them hope. You have to offer something else besides going home and doing who knows what because our working parents are at the workplace. What are our children doing from 3-6 PM, when so many parents must be at work? If we want to stop the violence in our inner cities, then after school programs are a critical component. In our public education system, they are cutting funding for music, arts and sports programs and I would like to see it restored through after school programs.
Building bridges from our high schools to our Universities; we need to have universities present at our high schools. The local high schools in our district has the military recruiting there. I was fortunate enough to attend a private high school where at lunch a variety of universities would be recruiting and calling us by name to register for college tours, ACT prep courses and financial aid. We need to have this in our public schools and this takes leadership by an active and engaged State Representative to invite universities to recruit in our local high schools.
Vocational Education; Our youth must know that there are other options besides the traditional four-year university education system. There are great careers such as electricians, plumbers, HVAC, carpenters, beauticians and other similar jobs that pay beyond a living wage that require a vocational education and/or certification. We need to have these options available to our high school students.
Also, one of the largest problems in our state is the culture of corruption that costs billions of dollars annually. These misspent funds could be used for education, infrastructure or tax relief. It is the elephant in the room that we must address to move our state forward.
Robert Rafael Reyes
Legislative District: 24th district, State Representative
Political/civic background: Worked on Antonio Villaraigosa’s Mayoral Campaign in Los Angeles. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute D.C. Alumni – placed in Congressman Gutierrez office and in the office of Sen. Richard Durbin.
This past summer I volunteered with #IncreasethePeace to help organize events to reduce violence in little village and inspire new leaders to take ownership of their community.
I am also the tee ball coach for my son’s team in the Berwyn Park District.
Occupation: Vice President of Realty of Chicago
Education: University of Illinois at Chicago, Bachelor’s in Urban Planning and Policy
Campaign website: http://www.RobertReyes.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: Educational improvement mentioned above.
To address crime in our community, it must start with a quality education and after school programs. Youth unemployment is also a major issue that is directly related to crime in the community.
I will put forth initiatives and innovative ideas to create jobs in our community. We want to partner with businesses in “Earn to learn” programs. We will also propose tax credits for small businesses who hire new employees.
Aside from my top priorities I would say Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) funding for one as many of the residents in my district ride Metra, CTA and PACE to get to work which reduces congestion on our roads and also some rely on the RTA system as their primary means of transportation. Also funding for aging infrastructure in my district such as roads, overpasses and viaducts. Also economic development such as making better use of state owned land and making sure no state laws or regulations get in the way of economically beneficial and sustainable developments.
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 financial situation is serious enough that I think we cannot rule anything out. Re-amortizing the debt may be necessary, it will mean higher payments for the state long term but having lower payments in the short term will allow us to provide services such as public education and programs that help our state’s most vulnerable citizens.
I think there should be a constitutional amendment allowing for a progressive graduated income tax, I think that will give us more options as far as sources of revenue for the pension debt and just general fiscal health for state government.
Bookmark the Sun-Times 2018 Illinois Primary Voting Guide
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 absolutely believe the minimum wage should be raised in Illinois and I support the efforts that Chicago and Cook County have done to this effect. I do think that the minimum wage in Illinois should gradually raised to $15 an hour over time. I think there should be some type of exemptions for restaurants, small businesses and where the cost of living is lower such as downstate.
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: I would like to further investigate the outcomes of legalizing marijuana. I understand the momentum towards legalization, and I do see the potential benefits for our criminal justice system and economically, but I think it requires our careful evaluation before we move forward.
QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWER: I support a casino in Chicago, but I would like to see at least 30% of the revenue go to the schools. As far as casinos elsewhere in Illinois I would evaluate each proposal on a case by case basis. As far as gambling at race courses that is something I am open to as well but I would have to evaluate the details of such a plan.
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 support the four-year property tax freeze that Illinois House Democrats proposed in June. Any revenue from exclusions should be prioritized to fund public safety and education.
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: Yes, absolutely we should be spending more money on our schools because the students are our future. The State of Illinois has one of the largest disparities of state funding nationally based on property values due to our over reliance on property taxes to fund our public schools. There are some children in which we invest about $13,000 in and we have other children that we invest over $22,00 in annually. Which child do you think has better educational outcomes? That is why it is critically important that we reduce the investment gap in our children’s future so that they may all have the same equal opportunity of a quality education.
We can achieve savings by eliminating waste in state government, there are bloated bureaucracies across our state government that are inefficient that we must reform. We need to do efficiency audits for every single state department and eliminate waste and consolidate where we can. There many opportunities for interdepartmental cooperation that have been missed. Also, we have more taxing bodies in the State of Illinois than any other state and if we eliminate some of them such as township governments in Cook County that would create the possibility for the savings to instead be steered towards our public education system. We can also end no bid contracts which would result in major savings for the taxpayers. We can also lease state land to companies for advertising and use that revenue for schools. We also support a casino in Chicago in which 30% of the revenue go to the schools.
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: This is why after school programs are of such paramount importance, please see education segment above. We need to address the abuse of OTC medication, and the push on NARCIN in hospitals.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, silencers serve no purpose for self-defense or hunting.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, we license all kinds of businesses in Illinois from barber shops to Lenders so it is only common sense that we do the same for gun dealerships.
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. It is a difficult balancing act where on one hand we need to protect citizens’ rights under the second amendment but on the other hand we need to look out for public safety. Many of the mass shootings in recent years have been committed by people who are emotionally and mentally disturbed and part of that is a mental health issue and not just a gun control issue. I do think there should be some kind of provision for the courts to remove guns from disturbed individuals, but I am open to bipartisan ideas about how to best implement it.
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 fully support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. I think efforts towards managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries like what Cook County has done with County Care because it both saves taxpayer money and provides the medical care that our most vulnerable citizens desperately need.
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: This is most unfortunate, and part of the solution is what I talked about above with my education plan to facilitate partnerships so that state universities will recruit at public high schools. A big part of the problem is that state universities really suffered when we had nearly two years without a state budget. Despite all the negativity out there Illinois is a great state to go to college and start a career. Millennials want to live in metropolitan areas that offer diverse career options, have racial and ethnic diversity, and offer an urban lifestyle that includes amenities like public transportation and walkable communities and we have that in the city of Chicago and in many inner suburbs like you find in my district.
I don’t think Illinois has too many state universities, the problem is waste and bureaucracy in our university system. I think it is sad when college students can’t get the resources they need due to lack of proper funding when at the exact same time it appears top university administrators are making more money than ever. I think an audit should be done to see where we can cut administrative salaries and bloated and redundant departments. We also need to rethink things like lavish residences for university Chancellors and Presidents, for instance at my alma mater the University of Illinois at Chicago while facing its own problems like many other state universities and as students were suffering financially a million dollars was spent to renovate the university Chancellor’s official residence.
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: I agree with Governor Rauner’s efforts to bring the second Amazon headquarters to Illinois, I think that is a bipartisan effort we can all agree on.
I think there is some common ground with Governor Rauner on Medicaid reform as he did support the contract for County Care in Cook County.
I think there is also potential to work with Governor Rauner on issues involving political corruption in our state, I am open to reforms and to streamline government to make it more efficient. For example, there are 1,200 taxing bodies in the Chicagoland area alone and I would support the consolidation of them.
However, I strongly disagree with Governor Rauner on many of his other policies. I think he has cut services to too many programs that our most vulnerable citizens need, one example is how he cut funding for Autism programs. I also felt that he could have done much more to work out a compromise with Democrats over the state budget issue, after two years he needs to own up to some of the blame for our problems, the problems this has caused our state university system is one example of the consequences of his lack of leadership. Third I do not like how he attacks Chicago as a way to divide the state for his political gain.