Kam Buckner, Illinois House 26th District Democratic candidate profile

His top priorities include school funding, pensions and environmental justice.

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Kam Buckner, 2020 Illinois House 26th District Democratic primary election candidate, incumbent.

Kam Buckner, Illinois House 26th District Democratic primary candidate and incumbent.

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Candidate profile

Kam Buckner

Running for:State Representative - 26th District

Political/civic background: I have spent the entirety of my professional career in government, politics, academia, the non profit world and civic/community engagement. I spent 6 years as a staffer in the U.S. Senate for Senator Durbin and 3 years as a staffer to the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu. I have consulted for and advised numerous national, federal, state & local campaigns.

In 2017 I was appointed to the Board of Trustees of Chicago State University where I served as the Board Secretary until my appointment to the General Assembly in 2019.

I’ve served on the Board of Directors of the Southside YMCA, the Chicago Fire Foundation and the Illinois Advisory Board of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

I am a member of the Business Leadership Council, Economic Club of Chicago and the Executives Club of Chicago.

Occupation: Non-Profit Executive/Attorney/Professor

Education: Morgan Park High School - 2003; University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign - B.A., Political Science 2007; DePaul University College of Law - J.D., 2012

Campaign website: kambuckner.com

Facebook: facebook.com/RepKamBuckner/

Twitter: @RepKamBuckner

Instagram: @repkam_buckner

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The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates 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 and their districts. Kam Buckner submitted the following responses:

Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community. 

In October 2019 I filed HB 3917 which fully implements the Evidence Based Funding model for Chicago Public Schools; Directing the district to spend resources according to which schools have students with the greatest need.

My bill, HB 3584 passed both houses with bi-partisan support. It amends the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act and protects crime victims who give statements to Victim Impact Panels and Parole Boards by making their statements confidential and privileged. Governor Pritzker signed it into law in August.

My bill HB 3437 was signed into law this summer. It creates the Developmental Disabilities Awareness Fund as a special fund in the State treasury for those who would like to be official guardians for adults with developmental disabilities, but can not afford the fees associated with the designation.

Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised. 

ENVIRONMENTAL - As a co-sponsor of the Clean Energy Jobs Act it is important to me that we are able to create green jobs as well as protect from the harms of climate change. These threats are evident every day throughout the district from the rising lake levels and shore erosion that affects Streeterville, Hyde Park and South Shore to the torrential rains that result in flooded basements in Woodlawn, South Chicago and Washington Park.

TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE - The state needs a comprehensive Transportation Investment Program that ensures the most critical needs are funded first and that the states limited resources are spent effectively. It needs to be based not on gimmicks but on the reliable transportation user fees that voters have set aside with the lockbox amendment. This program should have an annual pay-as-you-go element as well as a regular bonding program. It needs to be based on the long-range transportation plans already prepared by the state and its metropolitan areas that clearly spells out goals to ensure we are addressing our real priorities.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS - I have a large number of senior’s in my district who are both on fixed incomes and are under the care of a doctor, requiring them to be on medication. I am committed to find ways to prevent price gouging. There are many people in the district who are having to choose between groceries and medicine. We have to go after generic manufacturers who have adopted the prices of buying the rights to a drug for the sole purposes of exponentially raising the prices. We can take a page out of the books of Maryland when it comes to price gouging and California and Oregon when it comes to price transparency.

What are your other top legislative priorities? 

SCHOOL FUNDING - The way we fund schools has to change. Our current system creates a situation where school districts like New Trier spend $30k per pupil, while CPS spends $4k.

PENSIONS -We have huge unfunded pension obligations and more in healthcare obligations. We have to pay people what they have earned. A pension is a promise. However, there needs to be real negotiations to reduce expenditures. We need to look at retirement ages, contribution increases, shrinking of administrative costs, better budgeting, better investment performance. The State, unions, citizens and financial institutions must all be at the table.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE- We have to find ways to be creative, clean and sustainable. None of us should have to worry about the air we breathe or the water we drink, but unless we aggressively address and dismantle the status quo that will become our new normal.

What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain. 

The state’s current Income Tax structure is outdated and hurts the middle class, small businesses, prohibits economic growth and creates unfair disadvantages in school funding. Illinois must adopt a progressive Income Tax.

Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills that tops $6 billion. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education? 

Illinois needs to begin new practices such as Budgeting for Outcomes and Zero-Based budgeting, especially for discretionary spending. Our debt should pay for our future; Our future should not have to pay for our debt. We need performance evaluation measures put into place.

We also need a thorough analysis of the State’s economic health and we need to be able to look at real numbers. Accrual based accounting must be implemented, because right now we do not even know how much money the State needs to operate year over year.

We must eliminate wasteful spending and redundancies. We should consider selling capital bonds and State assets where it makes sense (lottery, tollway, James R. Thompson Center and other real estate).

We need strategic performance based capital and infrastructure investments instead of the nickel and diming that we have engaged in that ends up costing us more.

If we decide to raise taxes like we did on the motor fuel tax, we need to index it for inflation so that we don’t have to keep going back to taxpayers for increases and so that our resources remain aligned with our needs.

We have to make it attractive for those who hold our debt to refinance it at lower rates.

Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is? 

No. Across my District, from South to North, I have heard loud and clear from my constituents who are retirees that they are extremely opposed to this. Whether its folks with Social Security benefits or retired government workers or those who have been top level earners, many of them are on a fixed-incomes and rely on the fact that their retirement income is not taxed to survive.

There are many more ways to address revenue issues in the state, this is why the passing of the Fair Tax is important. We also need to consider looking a tax incentives for businesses and analyze if they are actually helping the State’s bottom line before we look at taxing retirement incomes of any kind.

What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools? 

We have to invest in and improve training, evaluation and development for teachers and principals to use creative methods to address the specific difficulties that our students face. This training can help to close the achievement gaps that exist.

We have to also direct more money to early childhood education to give our students a head start in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

We should draft and pass legislation that will improve access to arts education; It is important to have cross-curricular opportunities and educate the entire child.

I was the House sponsor of HB 2075 that makes the compulsory school age 5 years old. The Sun Times editorial board was a proponent of this effort. I believe that early investment and engagement gives our students a leg up.

We also need to be more aggressive in using data. The information that Districts collect should be targeted and used to support student progress and the data analysis should be used to paint a picture of the student’s path and highlight the student’s needs.

Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois? 

First, we have to be real, intentional and purposeful about mass shootings and gun violence. We have to stop being reactionary.

We should explore legislation that bans assault weapons and high capacity magazines as well as gun enhancement mechanisms that allow legal guns to operate like illegal ones.

We also have to address gun violence as a public-health issue. This requires a holistic approach. We must pass legislation that invests in prevention and spurs job growth and economic development. Last session I introduced HB 1643, also known as the “Safe Zone Act.” This legislation directly addresses communities that have been ravaged by gun violence and despair. In many of these communities, there is high unemployment and poverty fueled by incarceration and other barriers to employment after release. The Safe Zone Act creates aggressive and tailored approaches to address these outcomes.

Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain. 

Oppose. I believe that the most important tenet of democracy is choice and I think the electorate should be given the opportunity to chose their representation. I also think that if we had term limits we would create a vacuum in representative institutional knowledge, which would give lobbyist, consultants and interest groups much more power to peddle influence and control information and decisions in the Capitol.

Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done? 

I think the idea of Independently drawn maps and an independent commission is attractive in theory or conceptually to many, but there are practical implications that also have to be honestly addressed. A few of them are the creation of a new unit of government and the cost that is associated with it. Another is removing decision making authority away from elected officials to someone who does not have the same electoral accountability.

Gerrymandering has at times created majority-minority districts that have spearheaded an increase in minority participation in the General Assembly, but it has also at times created instances that has resulted in diluted power. In these instances it has been a question of representation over influence.

We should have members from each party and independent groups like the BGA all come up with proposals for how we deal with maps post 2020.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done? 

The worse part about being a part of any industry. or career is that you very quickly get to see and understand the ugly underbelly of it. While there have been many unacceptable things revealed this year, I still believe that politics does not inherently corrupt people, but people can corrupt politics.

I voted for SB 1639, but I do not think it would have stopped any of the situations that hit headlines this year. We have to do more to ensure that ethics is not just a campaign to change the barriers that exist, but to change the overall culture.

When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything? 

One of the first measured I filed after being sworn into the General Assembly was HB 2736, also known as the “Right to Know Act.”

It provides that an operator of a commercial website or online service that collects personally identifiable information through the Internet about individual customers residing in Illinois who use or visit its commercial website or online service shall notify those customers of certain specified information pertaining to its personal information sharing practices. We should pass HB 2736.

The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students? 

First, we have to address how serious the problem is. The only other state in the nation that is losing more college freshman to other locales than Illinois is New Jersey.

Secondly, we can never again be in a situation where we don’t have a budget. I was on the Board of one of the State universities during the budget impasse and therefore witnessed first hand how detrimental it was for higher education across the state. We did ourselves a huge disservice. Having a stable and predictable budget is paramount to keeping Illinois students in Illinois. This provides resources to deal with the maintenance and capital backlog, to make sure that facilities are up to par with schools in other states. It also gives us the ability to provide funding to help alleviate the financial burden on students.

Fourth, we should begin to develop relationships between our school districts/students and our universities as early as possible. Illinois has great universities, but many of our high school students don’t even know what exists right in their own backyard

Thirdly, the General Assembly can look at measures similar to the Aim High Program. We should create incentives specifically tailored to keep more students in state; This should include some mix of tuition waiver/cuts, scholarships and grants.

Lastly, there has to be a better effort to ensure students in Illinois that when they complete their degree at one of our universities there will be gainful employment waiting for them on the other side. This is why its important that we attract business to the state and especially businesses in industries where new jobs are trending.

What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment? 

My top environmental priority is re-imagining how the State approaches energy policy. We have to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy development, Electric and solar vehicles and energy storage. By doing this we can create jobs and attract investment from the private sector into Illinois. A focus on renewable energy like wind, solar and electric, will also create new-age capital investments and can transform our transportation infrastructure. We have a real chance to lead in this sector and we must do so in short order.

Not only will this give us hope for the future, but it will slow the deleterious effects of climate change that we are seeing every day. With Lake Michigan as the eastern border of my district, this is something that genuinely concerns me and that I worry about every day.

What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain. 

Harold Washington. My earliest memory as a human being was attending the Mayors wake. I wasn’t quite 3 years old, but I remember it as if I were deep into my adulthood. As a kid growing up, my family would stories about Mayor Washington and what he meant to this city. They gushed about him in poetic ways and it was common to see pictures of him on walls in kitchens and basements in my family’s homes. As I got older and became a student of history, I learned more about him and the things he endured as well as tough times he lead Chicago through. The coalitions he built, his ability to balance competing constituencies and interests and his mastery of triangulation are things that I think any public servant can learn from. I know have the pleasure and the privilege to serve in the seat that he was once held and I remind myself every day of the great responsibility that comes with that.

What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why? 

Good Times. It was about a Black family in Chicago’s housing projects in the 1970s that dealt with the traditional tumult of inner-city life, violence, poverty, security, etc., but the creators of the show did a masterful job of showing that there were more things that made them similar to the traditional families you see on television than things that made them different. Theres a subtle sense of connectivity and symmetry inherent in the way they were able to tell the story of the Evans family. It will never get old to me.

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