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Martha Paschke, Illinois House 65th District Democratic nominee profile

Her top priorities include mental health care, economic development and equitable school funding.

Martha Paschke, Illinois House 65th District Democratic nominee, 2020 election candidate questionnaire
Martha Paschke, Illinois House 65th District Democratic nominee.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Candidate profile

Martha Paschke

Running for: Representative for IL House District 65

Political/civic background: I’m a first-time candidate, but I’ve been actively engaged in my community for many years. I currently serve as secretary for the Geneva Library Foundation. After the 2016 election, I organized a local chapter of Action for a Better Tomorrow for people wanting to engage in positive action for change. I was also a founding member and co-leader of Kane and Kendall County Moms Demand Action. I’ve served as a volunteer with World Relief, as a Girl Scout troop leader, and as an elder and volunteer of 18 years through my church, Fox Valley Presbyterian Church.

Occupation: Like many people, especially mothers who adapt their careers around having and raising children, my career has had many twists and turns. I currently work as a patient intake coordinator at a local psychology practice. I am also certified as a middle school social studies teacher, and I worked for over 14 years as a childbirth educator and labor doula.

Education: I hold a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Family Studies from Concordia University in St. Paul, MN (summa cum laude) and a master’s degree in teaching with certification and endorsement in middle school social studies from Aurora University, Aurora, IL.

Campaign website: martha4il65.com

Facebook: Martha Paschke for IL 65th

Twitter: @Martha4IL65

Instagram: martha4il65


The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees 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. Martha Paschke 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.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused unprecedented budget challenges for every unit of government, every family, and every business. There’s no getting around the fact that these challenges will require difficult decisions and a very honest reevaluation of our spending priorities. Priority must be given to spending that covers essential services, programs, and organizations and I think we all have a sharper understanding of what “essential” means following the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. Our healthcare system and first responders are essential to our family’s safety and health. We have to support them, otherwise we will never overcome these challenges. Our nonprofits and social service organizations have proven to be a lifeline for so many – including many in our community who never thought they’d be relying on a social safety net but have found themselves facing impossible circumstances. Programs like Meals on Wheels and food pantries have seen drastic increases in demand. We need to support small businesses and displaced workers who are simply trying to get by day-to-day and need a lifeline. And keeping our children safe and healthy has become even more of a priority as our schools are grappling with educating our children in new and creative ways in a less-than-ideal scenario. None of this is easy work, and will require all members of the legislature working together to identify priorities and review line-by-line spending to invest in these priorities.

Finally, aid from the Federal government should be used where applicable for existing budgetary items that fall within the guidelines for distributing those funds as well as to support our new needs, such as testing and treatment, support for displaced workers, and obtaining PPE. Unfortunately, support and leadership from the federal government has been inconsistent at best. While Illinois is doing the best it can to provide this support to our residents, the federal government needs to step up to provide much needed relief and leadership.

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?

As a former teacher, giving a letter grade is a familiar task, though I think in this case it does not provide enough nuance to account for the complexity of the situation, the rapidity of the response needed, nor the lack of precedent on which to base any action. Given all of those factors, I would highly rate Governor Pritzker’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially as the federal government has failed to adequately support the states’ efforts to combat the virus. He acted swiftly to protect the greatest number possible of Illinoisans from contracting or spreading the disease, and as a result Illinois consistently ranked among the states with the lowest rates of infection. Simultaneously, Gov. Pritzker fought for the people of Illinois at the national level, even as the President threw up roadblocks at every step of the way. Republican lawmakers called upon the Governor to reconvene the legislature in order to provide their input on the handling of the crisis. While I think they were pushing for that at a time where it was still unsafe to do so, I agree that representatives know their constituencies best, and should have a voice in the decisions being made which will affect them.

I think the Governor’s eventual Restore Illinois framework struck the right balance between ensuring the safety of the largest number of people, while also allowing different areas of our large state to respond with different measures as necessitated by the realities of their communities. There is no doubt that the pandemic has caused significant economic hardship to families and businesses in our community.

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?

Among the many heartbreaking and troubling details of George Floyd’s last moments on Earth, the one that haunts me the most is that, in his pain and fear, he called out for his mother. Although she had died two years prior, I have no doubt she lived much of her life in fear of that very fate befalling her Black son in America.

As a mother myself, it breaks my heart to know that too many mothers in America live each day in fear of losing their precious children, and I am committed to changing that. I will use my voice and my actions, both personally and especially if elected, to challenge the systems that allow for the murders of Black Americans by those who are paid to serve and protect all people in our country. Specifically, through means that have been researched and proven to stop police violence: ensuring that bad actors are held accountable, more restrictive use of force policies, prioritization of de-escalation, and demilitarization of police forces. No mother should fear for her children’s lives because of the color of their skin.

I held a community conversation via Facebook live with Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain and community advocate Marcus Banner. During our conversation we talked about what police reform might look like locally. Mo Iqbal of the Kane County Board has drafted a resolution in conjunction with Sheriff Hain and Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, which calls for more police accountability, minimization of force, and use of body cameras. This shows that there is consensus among the various stakeholders, from citizens to law enforcement to elected officials, that change is not only needed, but possible.

Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?

As stated in the previous answer, there is a clear call from within our communities to reform the problematic actions of law enforcement. Body cameras not only provide a means of accountability to the citizens— whose tax dollars ultimately fund the various arms of law enforcement— but may also provide peace of mind to those members of our community who feel that their interactions with law enforcement, no matter how benign the cause, present a risk.

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?

I think asking what rather than who is to blame is the more accurate question, and the answer to that is greed. For too long in Illinois the actions of greedy individuals have compromised the fairness of our business dealings, the integrity of our government, and the faith that regular people have in our elected officials. This story is not new, only the current players.

I consider myself an ethical person, and I am heartened to know that I have earned the trust of people within my community. That will not change when I am elected as Representative. I believe that we need to more closely examine the ties between money and politics, and specifically how people move between roles as elected officials and lobbyists. I also fully support stripping politicians convicted of crimes of their taxpayer-funded pensions.

Martha Paschke 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.

In early 2017, I organized a group comprised of 1,000+ local members who wanted to get involved in positive political action. I connected members with volunteer opportunities supporting numerous service agencies and nonprofits in our area. Our group collected all the items needed to set up a home for a refugee family of 14 being welcomed by World Relief. We collected items and donated time and money to local homeless and women’s shelters. We formed the Kane and Kendall County Moms Demand Action group, which has been active in educating about safe gun ownership and both advocating for sensible safety legislation while respecting Constitutional rights. We engaged with candidates at the local, state, and federal level, inviting them to speak at our meetings and encouraging our members to get involved with their campaigns. I was personally involved in several local campaigns, particularly with Lauren Underwood’s successful campaign for Illinois’s 14th District.

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.

Access to mental healthcare needs to be improved and the state’s funding of mental health services needs to be a priority. A study by the Mental Health Treatment and Research Institute found that people are five times more likely to go out of network in order to access mental healthcare, costing them more and making it less likely that they will follow through with treatment. Those who are on Medicaid or are without insurance have fewer options and face much longer wait times. The shortages of both psychiatrists and school psychologists need to be addressed as well in order to provide the care needed to address the mental health needs of people in our community.

With continuing population growth in the 65th district, economic development is crucial to expanding tax bases and providing jobs. Pingree Grove, Hampshire, Huntley, and South Elgin have all seen rapid population growth in recent years that needs to be met with growth in business and industry in order to support community development.

Tying into economic development is the need to grow and improve vocational and technical training in our high schools to prepare our students for the workforce and to meet the employment needs of businesses and industry.

What are your other top legislative priorities?

Ensuring equitable funding for Illinois’ schools; protecting our environment through continued growth of alternative energies, reduction of harmful waste and emissions, improving mass transit, and preserving and developing natural areas; and decreasing the maternal mortality rate, especially of black women, through legislation that would improve access to quality care for all mothers in Illinois.

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

Illinois is one of just eight states that impose the same flat rate on the income of all earners. The bi-partisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability published a report in 2018 that recommended Illinois move toward a graduated tax model in order to cut taxes to the bottom 98% of earners while simultaneously shrinking the budget deficit. I believe that the Fair Tax will decrease the burden on middle-class taxpayers in Illinois while providing much-needed revenue to help fund outstanding, current, and future obligations.

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 described in the previous question, I believe that a graduated income tax will make a significant impact on our state budget. Our first priority should be addressing outstanding debt and funding core services. We also need bipartisan collaboration to analyze and prepare for our obligations moving forward.

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

A graduated income tax would decrease the tax burden on 98% of earners in Illinois, and those in the wealthiest 2% of our population would see a moderate increase in their contributions. Presuming the success of this plan at the ballot in November 2020, I would take a wait-and-see approach before considering additional adjustments to the tax structure.

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

I think that all discussions of school performance, middle schools included, should begin with key stakeholders, namely students, parents, and teachers. As a Representative I would listen to those groups and work with my colleagues to support their needs. Illinois has a great number of successful schools, but we can always do more to support students and improve performance. Keeping class sizes small and ensuring appropriate ratios of support staff for students with special needs, IEPs, and 504 plans should be a priority to benefit all students. With a growing need for skilled workers, we should be expanding and improving technical training at the high school level. We should also look to the state to provide equitable funding for schools so that districts are not so reliant on property taxes.

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

We need to work with our colleagues at the federal level to get legislation passed that will improve safety nationally. About 60% of guns used in crimes in Illinois come from outside the state (https://www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/mayor/Press%20Room/Press%20Releases/2017/October/GTR2017.pdf), so it will never be enough to tackle the problem solely in our state. That said, there is some legislation that can make Illinois safer—in particular the legislation passed by the House at the end of the last session aimed at ensuring funding for police to retrieve weapons from people who have legally forfeited the right to have them.

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

I hesitate to favor any measure that would take power away from voters. As long as elections are free and fair, I think the will of the people should be honored. Additionally, I think the job of governance is complicated and the wisdom of experience benefits the entire system. At the same time, I believe that new ideas, new voices, and greater diversity should be represented. Creating and supporting a more economically, racially, and gender-diverse group of candidates would help to ensure that all people are well represented.

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?

With the Census occurring in 2020, redistricting is a timely and critical issue. Governor Pritzker campaigned on the idea of creating an independent commission to redraw legislative maps, as 14 other states have done in recent years. I support these efforts toward distributing legislative districts equally over the state.

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?

I commend the members of the General Assembly for taking swift action to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act. It is clear that this was a logical first step to modernize outdated disclosure standards while working to eliminate loopholes to prevent further wrongdoing. My position is that public trust can only begin to be restored once there is greater transparency and accountability from within state government—and the recently enacted reforms move the needle closer to that goal. However, I believe that more remains to be done, and I’m hopeful that there is greater bipartisan cooperation and collaboration to address this moving forward.

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?

The Illinois legislature has sought to address this issue by enacting bills pertaining to specific elements of consumer protection, such as the Genetic Information Privacy Act, as well as considering more comprehensive bills. In 2018 several key pieces of consumer protection legislation were passed internationally and nationally, including Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s Consumer Privacy Act, that could inform new legislation in Illinois. As a legislator I would continue to work on legislation that protects consumers’ data from predatory businesses by increasing transparency and accountability from service providers and other ancillary businesses.

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?

We need to focus on the affordability of our universities relative to out-of-state tuition in neighboring states. Ensuring stable and significant funding for our universities is critical to making tuition affordable and attracting our Illinois high school graduates back to in-state schools. Programs like the University of Illinois’s Illinois Commitment, which offers four years tuition-free to qualifying Illinois high school graduates, are a positive step in that direction. I would like to see the expansion of programs such as this one among our state universities.

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

Funding for research and development of clean energy technology and incentives to encourage sustainability in existing industries and businesses in Illinois. I’d also like to see the solar energy tax credits renew after 2021 rather than have them go away completely.

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.

Although she wasn’t born in Illinois, I have to pick Ida B. Wells-Barnett, whose mark on Chicago is indelible. She was a teacher, journalist, and tireless activist who fought constantly to improve the lives of women and people of color. Her ability to do so much for so many in spite of everything she was up against inspires me to do all that I can with whatever I have for as long as I can.

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

It is difficult to choose an all-time favorite, but my current favorite is The Good Place. I enjoy both its lighthearted silliness, as well as the deeper philosophical questions it poses. The show’s main premise is that when people know better, they can change and become better, which really resonates with me as an educator.