Rae Yawer, Illinois Senate 22nd District Democratic candidate profile
Her top priorities include lowering property taxes, improving infrastructure and making higher education more accessible.
Running for:State Senate -District 22
Political/civic background:I was elected to serve as a Commissioner of the Streamwood Park District Board in 2017. Within one year, I was recognized for my exemplary service and leadership and elected to be Vice President of the Board. I’m also on the Leadership Council of the Voice of Indian American Voters and served on the Board of Illinois Civic Leaders Coalition. President of the St George’s Association for over 19 years.
Occupation:20 years of experience in Finance and Mortgage Lending. My finance and accounting background enable me to effectively manage the Park District Budget and help the residents save money. I use my expertise in finance in my elected position. As a veteran Loan Officer, I have gone above and beyond for people looked over by other lenders, to be able to secure the loans that they could afford, in order to give them the means to pursue their dreams
Education: B.S. in Biology and Chemistry. Studied Business Law and Accounting at Northeastern Illinois University. High School Diploma from the University of Cambridge, England.
Campaign website: raeyawer.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates 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. Rae Yawer 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.
Since becoming Commissioner, I have helped implement a five-year strategic plan to improve, renovate, and update the Park District with better programs and resources that benefit our diverse community. I Researched and helped streamline Park District spending while maintaining the quality of services our constituents deserve. When first elected, I saved residents $40,000 by steering my colleagues towards a less expensive playground renovation project. I also helped Streamwood Park District receive a $450,000 Grant to renovate parks. I’m a social creature and one of my favorite things about this job is the opportunity to meet with residents face-to-face, especially seniors and vulnerable groups.
As a passionate champion for affordable healthcare and destigmatizing mental illness, I have been closely involved with fundraising for the Compassionate Care Network.
I also help residents, especially seniors, appeal for property tax reductions, tax exemptions, and refunds they are entitled to but afraid to claim because of bureaucratic hurdles.
I’ve organized GOTV campaigns to help the community with voter registration and bring about civic awareness. Participated and helped organize many Community Development Workshops.
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.
Reforming and decreasing property taxes. Illinois property taxes are some of the highest in the country.
Going door to door and asking constituents what matters most to them, the burden of ever increasing property tax was one of their top three concerns. Property taxes paid in Illinois grew more than 6 times faster than household incomes from 2008-2015.
Secondly, much of Illinois’ infrastructure is in dire shape. Improving our transportation system so that it is as equitable and reliable as possible should be a top priority for the General Assembly. The Illinois Department of Transportation is planning to repair some of the roads and bridges, including Rte. 19, Rte. 58 and US Rte.20. I support these badly needed repairs in the name of safety and improved interconnectivity.
I’ll also bring my fiscal skills and experience as a Park Commissioner to the Illinois Senate, and plan to take a close look at our state’s budget to see where we can achieve savings that maintain the quality of our programs and services. As part of this, I’ll also be championing ethics reforms to keep our elected officials accountable and freezes on pay raises for members of the General Assembly.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
The cornerstones of my political platform include: affordable and accessible higher education; mental health awareness; and smarter, more effective spending.
I will diligently work with lawmakers in the Illinois Legislature and our Governor to implement a range of programs aimed at easing the loan burden that threatens to financially cripple the next generation of students in Illinois.
I will lead on legislation that increases access to services, programs, and treatments that help remove the stigma of disability and mental illness. I will make sure these individuals are not treated as lesser human beings. Together, we can bring everyone through the door!
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I am looking forward to closely reviewing Pritzker’s tax proposal. More generally speaking, as a progressive, I’m in favor of tax burdens that gradually and reasonably increase as an individual becomes more prosperous. America and Illinois should be places where everyone can be successful. If you’re extremely successful, good for you! But don’t forget that nobody wins on their own – there were workers and others below you who contributed their blood, sweat, and tears to that process. I believe strongly that we have a moral and democratic duty to pay our material successes forward so all can share in this country’s prosperity.
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?
To press my previous point further, I believe that a graduated income tax system is a key step in establishing long-term fiscal responsibility in Illinois. Under Quinn, Illinois’s debt was actually decreasing, but then Rauner allowed the income tax hike to expire and debt in Illinois immediately ballooned to $6 billion. Now that the income tax hike was reapproved by the General Assembly, the debt should begin to stabilize and shrink again. The graduated income tax will help in this regard and streamlining state agencies and stimulating economic development will increase tax receipts.
The pension consolidation program will save an estimated $160 million a year and will not reduce the individual pension amounts.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
There is an easy answer to this: NO. As a progressive, I refuse to even consider taxing the retirement income of anyone in Illinois. Let’s focus on the real culprit: low taxes on the earned and unearned income of the wealthy that they earn before they retire, and that helps them retire with much more than the rest of us.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Maintaining equal priority for both STEM and humanities/arts programs will be important to prevent any skill set from outpacing the other and ensuring Illinois students are well rounded, critical, and creative thinkers. We need more students who can solve the interdisciplinary and multifaceted challenges we face in this day and age. To aid this goal, we also need to move away from superficial measurements of scholarship such as standardized tests and standardized curriculum. Finally, we need to give greater focus to reducing the stark differences in quality between schools. I believe that the student from an under-resourced community should have the same educational experience as the student from an affluent community, and that standard will guide my policies on elementary and secondary education.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
I will use my office to more closely research the potential link between mental health and violence. Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines should be banned and they have no place in civilian society. Illinois has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, but it’s obviously impossible to close our borders with neighboring states that have lax gun laws and where the majority of illegal firearms are coming from. We do need to use our resources in the General Assembly to lobby for federal changes that make universal background checks and waiting periods the law of the land in each and every state. I was happy to see that Congress’s 2020 federal spending deal provides funds for federal agencies to finally explore the potential causes of gun violence. I want to build on that momentum at the General Assembly level. After the last few mass shootings, I participated in the Unity and peace events organized by our Congressman, where constituents of different faith are invited. I have given speeches of unity, encouraging compassion and tolerance.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I oppose unlimited terms for any elected official. The research strongly suggests that unlimited terms slowly shifts the incentives for incumbents away from constituents and towards the powerful groups that help incumbents get reelected.
Serving for as long as you want just because you have learned to manipulate the system to your advantage election after election is about as undemocratic as it gets, stifling competition from opposing candidates who can check such unbridled power. I look forward to working with constituents and my colleagues in the General Assembly to arrive at a maximum number of terms that still allows lawmakers to gain experience while providing an opening for new political voices.
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?
In principle, gerrymandering, or redistricting, is a corrosive force that has undermined democracy and the power of the individual voter. We should move to computer model drawn maps with human oversight independent of party interests. Nothing will be done unless both parties agree it is a problem everywhere and is fixed everywhere at once. In practice, however, the issue, is largely a federal problem that needs to be lobbied for at the federal level.
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 look forward to working with both parties in the General Assembly to build on reforms like the Lobbyist Registration Act. When you sign an oath of office, you commit to serving in the public interest and only the public interest. This abiding belief will shape my efforts to implement additional ethics reforms and hold our elected body to full account before those who voted them into office in the first place. The machinery in both parties has contributed to some of the worst abuses of power in Illinois. That is why, as a progressive, I will align my platform with the interests of individual voters and not wealthy companies, special interest groups, or party cronyism. We need to work as hard as we can to end the ability of powerful groups to lobby our elected officials and hold sway over their decision making. We also need to do more to combat sexual harassment by elected officials.
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?
Illinois just passed a law saying DNA sites like 23andMe cannot sell your data to health insurance companies. This is the type of regulation that we need more of in Illinois: targeted solutions to real problems. Privacy issues in the digital era aren’t going to go away. As the internet provides more of our services and goods, the need to protect people’s constitutional right to privacy is only going to get greater. We’re seeing this more and more through efforts at the federal level to protect Americans’ privacy. The General Assembly needs to ensure that companies doing business in Illinois put those rights first in everything they do.
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?
This question is at the heart of my political platform. The General Assembly should ensure that public universities are fully funded and that tuition is reduced and capped for in-state residents. We also need to increase financial assistance for high school graduates who stay in Illinois and enroll in an Illinois university. In addition, I plan to spearhead legislation that reduces or eliminates student loan debt for graduates of Illinois public universities who choose to work in Illinois’ public sector or who take a job that serves communities and the public interest in Illinois.
We must also further specialize our public universities to make them world class in their field. We already do this to some degree. The University of of Illinois has a famous engineering program and law school. ISU has world-class teaching and nursing programs. We need to make every university in Illinois the world hub of several disciplines so students will flock to them and talent will stay in the state. As just one example, I applaud the recent law allowing any high school student in Illinois graduating in the top 10% of their class to be automatically admitted into an Illinois public university.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
To me this is a no-brainer: Illinois should lead the way in reducing the harmful effects of climate change and transitioning to a green economy. As climate change becomes more mainstream, I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the General Assembly to incentivize that transition. I will support legislation that provides grants, tax breaks, and other incentives for energy efficient and environmentally sustainable alternatives.
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.
President Barak Obama. His background and start as a progressive community organizer and rise through the Illinois State Senate to the White House, inspired me and a whole generation of marginalized women. Because of his innate sense of optimism, I see America as the only place on Earth where so many of our stories could even be possible. It was an honor to finally meet such a source of inspiration at the Democratic Rally in Chicago in 2017.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
The Big Bang Theory. When I feel exhausted at the end of the day, I find comfort and strength in the fact that even geniuses are human. That they have the same struggles, fears, and desire to be loved. In the end, the show demonstrates that people are people. I feel the same way when I meet with my constituents.