Meg Loughran Cappel
Running for: State Senate--49th District
Political party affiliation: Democrat
Political/civic background: Joliet Township High School School Board--elected 2017
Member of: Joliet Township High School Foundation Board
Joliet Township Discipline Committee
Illinois Association of School Board Delegate
Shorewood Chamber of Commerce
Choir Parents Association of Joliet West High School
Occupation: special education teacher
Education: Bachelors in Special Education from Illinois Benedictine College (now Benedictine University)--1995
Masters in Leadership from Lewis University--2017
Campaign website: megforillinois.com/
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Illinois Senate a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. Meg Loughran Cappel submitted the following responses:
The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered the finances of Illinois. The state is staring at a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in this fiscal year. What should be done? Please be specific.
We can’t keep placing the burden of Illinois’s financial shortcomings on the backs of working families like mine. If passed, the Fair Tax will give a tax break to 97% of families while allowing us to provide revenue for our unfunded mandates. Additionally, Illinois needs to follow through on the restructuring of our education funding formula in order to alleviate the burden of property taxes on working families, and we need to refinance our pension obligations in order to ensure that workers that have paid into our state pension plan are given the pensions they have been promised.
What grade — “A” to “F” — would you give Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Please explain. What, if anything, should he have done differently?
A-. In the absence of a clear pandemic response plan from our federal government, Governor Pritzker has been forced to take matters into his own hands under imperfect circumstances. Illinois has maintained a low positivity rate, been able to secure loans for small businesses, and given authority to local governments with regards to their approach to pandemic regulations. I don’t give him a perfect grade though because he has not been perfect. The original Restore Illinois Health Regions were unfair to places like the 49th District—which were unnecessarily looped in with Cook County—and I felt that not labeling churches an “essential service” off the get-go was also a mistake; however, to Governor Pritzker’s credit, he has remained attentive to constituents’ concerns throughout the pandemic and made adjustments to his plan on a rolling basis, including restructuring the Restore Illinois Health Regions and opening up churches.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, legislatures in some states have taken up the issue of police reform. Should Illinois do the same? If so, what would that look like?
As a special education teacher, I am held to the highest ethical standard in my profession. Any slip-up inside or outside the classroom can cost me my job, and I knew that I would be held to a high level of accountability when I decided to become an educator at a public school. Our communities and our police can both agree that our public servants should be held to a higher standard, so I am open to criminal justice reform if it yields more transparency and accountability. Simply put: if taxpayers are footing the bill for your salary, you should be held to a high ethical standard and be held responsible for unethical behavior.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
I would have to see the specific legislation in order to properly address this question; however, I am not sold on ALL law enforcement officers wearing body cameras because equipping every single law enforcement agent with a body camera would be a costly venture that state and local government can’t afford right now. If such legislation is passed and local units of government are forced to comply and foot the bill instead of the state, it poses the risk of putting smaller police departments in a financial bind. While I am all for transparency and accountability with regard to our public servants, we also have to be realistic. It may be viable for some police departments to require their officers to wear body cameras, but we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to such a multilayered issue.
Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme of bribery, ghost jobs and favoritism in subcontracting by ComEd to influence the actions of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Who’s to blame? What ethics reforms should follow? Should Madigan resign?
Our 5th amendment guarantees everyone in the United States the right to a fair and speedy trial and declares them innocent until proven guilty. The investigation is still ongoing, but if the allegations against Speaker Madigan are true, he should resign. As far as ethics reforms go, Illinois needs term limits on legislative leadership positions and tougher policy on ethics violations. As I stated before, I am held to the highest ethical standard as a special education teacher, and I believe that all public servants should be held to the highest level of transparency and accountability.
Meg Loughran Cappel submitted the following responses before the March primary:
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.
Over the last two years, I have been involved in coaching cheer through a partnership with the YMCA and Joliet Public School District 86, parent/faculty organizations such as Joliet West Choir Parents Organization, the Joliet Township High School Foundation Board, and have been on the Joliet Township High School Board for District 204. In addition, I am a member of the JTHS Discipline committee and an IASB School Board delegate.
As a member of the School Board, our team has governed over policies that have: 1.) brought the redesigning and construction of the Joliet West Entrance for greater security for our staff and students, 2.) given oversight to the implementation of the Pathways Program, which focuses on special education students and/or students with social emotion difficulties, 3.) hired a new superintendent of schools through a rigorous search process and 4.) participated in contract negotiations utilizing interest based bargaining procedures.
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.
There is always a need to keep infrastructure up to date by maintaining our roads and bridges. In addition, it is important to focus on ways to lower property taxes while maintaining resources for education. This includes keeping higher education affordable and competitive for local families.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
1.) Continued improvement of educational policies, through evidence based funding, developmentally appropriate curriculum, increased mental health, and other stakeholder input
2.) Continued improvement of financial pressures/budgets for working families by lowering taxes and providing more access to healthcare and job creation
3.) Continued improvement of healthcare/mental health care by lowering the cost of prescription drugs, eliminating insurance barriers and creating greater access for families.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
Governor Pritzker’s Fair tax will help to alleviate some of the financial burdens for working families, as 97% of Illinoisans will see some sort of tax break. Only the top 3% will see an increase. With a 3.2-billion-dollar deficit and other under-funded mandates, this is necessary to get Illinois in a better fiscal position first, without having to cut much needed programs such as education and healthcare.
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?
As a teacher, it is vital to fund education from birth to higher education and to also fund pensions--- a guarantee by our Illinois Constitution. There are no easy solutions to these financial issues. However, the Fair Tax and Evidence Based Funding are starting points to get Illinois back into fiscal shape. Taking a look at combining administrative costs is another method that can lead to better funding of our pensions and core services.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
Wealthy people (top 3%) are already going to pay higher income taxes if the graduated income tax (Fair Tax) passes. If wealthy retirement incomes are taxed that would be another added tax which would affect our senior citizens. There would have to be a balance with respect to the fair tax and taxing retirement incomes.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Evidence Based funding is a good start to equitably fund school districts because it allows for more resources in all public schools. In addition, teachers are leaving the field at an alarming rate and half of all new teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years. We need to ask ourselves at a state level why this is occurring? Then, look to remedy these issues by increasing practical teacher training during college, increasing teacher mentorships for new teachers, developing better administrative leadership, all while addressing the social emotional difficulties that are increasing with students in our schools. There is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to these problems, and the legislature is going to have to work with all stakeholders to develop a long term solution to improve public education.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
This is another problem that does not have a single solution, as it involves issues such as mental health and the desensitization of violence in our culture. The best way to help is to have practical gun safety measures such as background checks for mental health, plus increase accessibility to mental health care.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
On average most legislative terms appear to be approximately 6-8 years, so it does not seem to be a real concern. However, I do support term limits for leadership positions since they dictate the legislative agenda.
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?
Gerrymandering has long been an issue in the United States. It will take a supreme court decision to limit gerrymandering, as no one party can claim innocence on the matter.
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 Lobbyist Registration Act gives guidelines for registering with the State and monitors for accountability which is always a good measure. Every elected official should be held to the highest standard and if the US attorney office finds corruption then it should be dealt with appropriately. I would like to explore what other measures can be taken to prevent corruption and I look forward to recommendations made by the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying.
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?
There have been some laws put in place in Illinois that require companies to notify the attorney general and individuals who have been affected by a data breach. To take this a step further, there should be legislation in place that penalizes companies who sell data which ultimately ends up in identity theft. This would force companies to protect individual data plus deter companies from selling it.
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?
Higher education in Illinois has not been adequately funded for almost 20 years. This has put the weight of costs on students and families, making Illinois less competitive with other states. Increasing MAP grants would allow students to weigh the benefits and cost of out of state universities with Illinois universities. Another practical measure would be to build in specialized degrees and programs that are exclusive only to Illinois universities, to give our universities another competitive edge.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
Illinois is on the right track with FEJA—The Future Energy Jobs Act which balances the need for job creation and lower rates, with renewable and efficient energy sources that help the environment. Encouraging both public and private sectors to become more energy efficient is a benefit to our state, and I look to continue this initiative.
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.
I have always been intrigued by the Jesuit priest Fr. Marquette and his companion Louis Joliet, who explored the Midwest and pioneered this local area for others to then come and settle. Even though they are not originally from Illinois, they are historical figures who made a way for others with their courage and bravery.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
My kids have me interested in Stranger Things and I can’t wait for season 4 to be released. On a more serious note, I do like watching TED Talks about leadership, education and brain health.