On Feb. 14, Susan Malter appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the Democratic nomination to the Illinois House of Representatives in the 59th District:
My name is Susan Malter. I’m an attorney. I live in Lincolnshire with my husband and two teenage children. I went to the University of Michigan for college and New Trier for high school and Loyola for law school.
My first job out of law school was with the Cook County State’s Attorney office. I left there because I wanted to help people. I was in criminal appeals. I felt like I was getting to people too late and I started working at the Chicago Public Schools. Connecting children, parents and having teachers, parents and the kids identifying needs that the kids had and that the parents had and representing the kids from doing well in school. And it seemed to me that if people had all the services that they needed, they wouldn’t end up in the situations that I saw in the presentence investigations in the state’s attorney office.
So, that’s my background and most recently as an attorney, I became more active again because of the Muslim ban and the DACA situation. January 27, I think that’s the date of the Muslim ban, when that first started, and attorneys went to the airport I was part of that group and it was really eye-opening. Finding out, maybe most people know that no one has rights before they enter the United States but the kind of profiling and problems that we’re having were really disturbing to me, and I’m concerned about the president of the United States and the way that he’s handling everything.
And what I see in my state legislature, in my representatives, is some weakness. And a lack of integrity. And when I send someone down and when I vote I would like someone, I would like to trust that when they’re making a choice, when they are deciding how to vote that they’re caring about the voters and not trying to please special interests and they’re not trying to please leadership of the party and that they’re really interested in what’s best for Illinois, and I know that’s what will be important to me.
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. Susan Malter 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: 1) Education. Illinois schools must be excellent throughout the public system.
(a) Evaluations. The legislature needs to close a loophole left in the 2010 education reform. The law mandated teacher evaluations but failed to insist on impartial evaluators. The mandate in its current condition offers little to improve our schools. (It is like our toothless water-quality law that mandates notice within 24 hours of a violation but defines “violation” so that notice will not in fact be required until the completion of a testing period that can take months or even years.). Mandators can circumvent the training:
There is an expectation in the Illinois School Code of the honesty and integrity of all individuals who take the assessments who are certificated or soon to be certificated in Illinois. When an individual is found to have violated a condition of testing with the intent of falsifying his or her identity or unfairly affecting his or her performance in the current or a future test administration, the violation shall be taken as evidence that the individual is not of good character as required by Section 21-1 of the School Code [105 ILCS 5/21-1]. This means that violating any condition of testing would result in loss of qualification as an evaluator and/or educational certification in Illinois. Evaluators will be required to validate their identity and that that they understand and comply with the rules for assessment security each time they take a training program or assessment. –Illinois Performance Evaluation Growth Through Learning FAQ April 12 2012
That does not even touch on impartiality. We need to identify which teachers fail to provide education at the premium level. Underperforming teachers must move to positions that meet their skillsets and receive training until they demonstrate excellence.
(b) Student Athletes.We should do more than pass our athletes through the Illinois university system; collegiate athletes generate revenue for the universities, for coaches’ salaries, for television networks, and for products being sold. I would support legislation that provides full scholarships that begin after eligibility or after the termination of the athlete’s professional career—whichever comes later. Division One athletics, when running concurrent with an academic scholarship, renders the scholarship (and education) meaningless for most players.
(c) Grading. The use of grades for the benefit of the school instead of for the benefit of the students’ education must be addressed. Where jobs and school ratings can be affected by the grades received by students, teachers and administrators are pressured to skew results in a certain manner that does not put students first.
Schools get dumbed down to achieve external goals like improved school rankings and other measures that, again, do not put the individual students first. In the Chicago Public Schools, there is a history of transferring out students whose grades or attendance will affect the performance metrics. There is also a history of moving students through the system (“social promotion”) so that the expense of needed services can be minimized.
2) Prison Profiteers. Illinois’ legislature should banish prison profiteers from our economic and penal landscape. When businesses or corporations profit from an increase in the number of prisoners in Illinois, lobbyists push to incarcerate people regardless of the benefit to the state or the community. They also push for arbitrary rules that benefit only those companies. An example is the company Securus that will collect a fee for providing an unnecessary video service that replaces in-person visits with loved ones in Illinois prisons.
3) Job Creation. Illinois should review and discontinue contracts with companies that are overcharging the state for work that would employ more residents for less money. The truth about privatizing the agencies that traditionally did government work is that privatization costs the government much more and delivers much less. While it must be true in a perfect world that private companies would create efficiencies, our imperfect world is populated with private companies whose duties are not to benefit the people of the State of Illinois but, instead, to deliver results to shareholders or profit-seekers without regard to taxpayers.
Legislative District: 59th Representative District
- Founding Member Chicago Legal Responders Network
- Shift Leader for Travelers Assistance Project at O’Hare Airport during the Muslim Ban
- Co-Developer of the Travelers Assistance Project Hotline at O’Hare
- Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), active member
- Volunteer Legal Assistance for DACA renewal applications
- Hosted Arab/Muslim/Jewish Roundtable
- Hosted meet-the-candidate events for Dan Seals, Brad Schneider, Jennifer Zordani, and others
- Delegate to the Illinois Democratic Convention of 2004
- Member, Tenth Dems Steering Committee (2004)
- Precinct Committeeman (2004)
- Girl Scout leader (Daisy through Girl Scouts)
- Deputy Voter Registrar
- Past board member of SOS Children’s Villages
- Past board member of SHALVA
- Chicago Community Trust Young Leadership Group/Young Leaders Fund
- Here and Now Board, McCall Family Foundation (formerly the Birkelund Foundation)
- Wrap-Around training instructor for Cook County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)
- Founded and directed a nonprofit that served Chicago families in inner-city schools
- Former member of the Grand Boulevard Federation on behalf of Profamily
- Past board member of the Green Tie Committee for the Green Tie Ball
- Coordinated Community Outreach for Shira Piven’s production of Born Guilty
- Past board member of the Theater Building
- Avoca School (Wilmette, District 37) community work group on Student Self-Esteem (1987)
- University of Michigan member of the Free South Africa Coordinating Committee or FSAAC University of Michigan member of the Latin American Solidarity Committee (LASC)
Education: University of Michigan – Double Major (1) Comparative Cultural History: China, Russia and the United States; and (2) English. (1986)
Loyola University of Chicago School of Law (1991)
Coursera University of Michigan “Model Thinking” completed and invited to participate as a mentor and editor for the course text.
Coursera University of Michigan “Python” Capstone Series of 5 courses
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: (1) My district needs to believe that I am working for them, and that all of our elected leaders answer to the people and not to the parties or to lobbyists and donors. People in my district believe that their voices are not heard. Their cynicism is so deep that many did not want to share their concerns. “I used to be a Democrat,” and “I used to be a Republican,” were the most common statements I heard while walking door-to-door.
There is a feeling that the elected representatives in Springfield do not want to fix any problem. They just like their careers as politicians.
Changing the voter maps can change this. Term limits for leaders can also change this. It will require education and persuasion (instead of a legal battle) with leaders to bring about the reforms that we need. I look forward to conversations with the speaker about this matter. Knocking on doors of Democrats, I found that many people were cynical about whether Democrats in Illinois believed in democracy. I am optimistic and ready to work with leadership to change bring trust, transparency, and voter participation back into the process.
(2) Build high a quality rail or other mass transit system to replace the proposed Route 53 extension.
The extension of Route 53 is bad for the environment and for the well-being of the Mundelein residents who enjoy the habitat that they share with wildlife.
(3) FICA taxes hurt the working people of my district. It disproportionately affects workers as a regressive tax that caps at a number higher than what most workers earn. A removal of sales taxes and an increase in the flat income tax will benefit the people of my district.
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: I believe that we must shift the way that we raise revenue in Illinois. We need to increase the flat income tax to a higher rate while decreasing or reducing sales tax and other regressive tax structures. Such changes will allow us to pay down the debt from pension liabilities.
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: Minimum wage should be at least $15. Putting more money in the hands of working people leads to a thriving economy.
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: I am an investor in a medical marijuana company. I would not be participating in votes related to this matter.
QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWER: I do not support gambling in Illinois, but I would like to see more data. I believe that local gambling hurts middle-class and working class people. At one time, gaming was touted as a solution to our economic problems. It does not seem to have worked. I would be interested to see detailed data on what was expected and why Illinois has not succeeded in generating needed revenue from it.
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 believe that property taxes should be lower, and income taxes should be higher.
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, Illinois should spend more on schools. The more that we spend on schools, the less we need to spend on prisons. We need to get rid of privatized services in the schools and in the prisons. Because the private companies are taking a profit, there is waste. If the Illinois government was the administrator, and if all of the workers were Illinois employees, there would be a huge savings. Nothing would be taken off the top for the profiteers.
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: Although I would be conflicted out of this discussion, I understand that there is research in support of medical marijuana to help people who suffer from opioid addiction. I am sure that there are best practices with respect to government intervention in drug addiction matters. I would like to see the research.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, there is no reason for Illinois to support or encourage the sale of silencers.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, all gun dealers in Illinois should be licensed. We need to ensure that anyone who purchases a gun in Illinois has undergone a federal background check.
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 so empowered. We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Everyone and anyone who recognizes a danger to the community should be allowed to alert the community. There are mandated reporters in other cases of known risks. While Illinois should not jump to mandated reporters, it makes sense to allow for a petition.
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: Yes, everyone should be permitted to buy into Medicaid. We will not benefit from individual bankruptcies caused by the inability of people in Illinois to pay for medical care.
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: We need to make our institutions welcoming to the top scholars in the country. Brilliance attracts brilliance.
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 Governor Bruce Rauner’s extension of the medical marijuana program.
I agree with Rauner’s decision to sign House Bill 40. Laws that criminalize abortion do not stop abortions. Instead, they heap convictions and state expenses on top of illegal and unregulated black market abortions.
I agree with Rauner’s willingness to denounce Donald Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville.
I disagree with Rauner’s decision not to lead but to blame the legislature for his failure to lead.
Gov. Bruce Rauner ignores the data and pushes limits on medical malpractice litigation without concern for how it will affect people who are injured by doctors and by other workers at hospitals and medical facilities. Hospitals, nursing homes and all medical facilities should be required to report to patients or their estates any injury or illness that may have been caused by errors made at the facilities. Doctors and patients will ultimately benefit from policies and regulations that result in evidence-based guidelines for doctors.
Money and time is wasted, because patients have to file a lawsuit just to find out whether or not a medical facility or doctor may have made an error. If these entities were required to report errors when they occurred, the suits that seem frivolous would be avoided. Medical providers do not openly and freely share when a preventable mistake has been made. Because of this, patients and their families have to hire attorneys just to get the information they need to know not to file a lawsuit. Such wasteful lawsuits that cost the insurance companies money would not have to be brought if standard practice was that the providers were forthcoming.
What we need is liability reform. Tom Baker’s book, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2007 sets forth a detailed and thoughtful plan for how ease the burdens of insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, and patients.
I disagree with Gov. Rauner’s veto of legislation that would have enabled Chicago to fund two municipal pension funds nearing insolvency. The money was to come only from city residents, so Rauner’s action was not about saving money for the state. Instead it was about holding the city hostage at least for the short-term. In this matter, it is not that I am happy about the overall pension situation given our financial status. Instead, it is the use of legislation and people’s lives that seemed not to matter to the Governor whose veto would only forestall the law—thus wasting time and money in order to appear to be interested in saving time and money.