Diana Burdette, Illinois House 60th District Democratic candidate profile
Her top priorities include the Clean Energy Jobs Act, labor rights and ending the rent control ban.
Running for: General Assembly in the Illinois House of Representatives District 60
Political/civic background: Environmental Activist/Organizer
Education: University of Wisconsin, B.A. in Liberal Studies, Concentration: Organizational Studies
Campaign website: electburdette.com
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 Illinois and their districts. Diana Burdette 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.
I have been a leader in bringing the concerns of the community to the larger public regarding ethylene oxide (EtO) exposure. I have been speaking about this at every juncture possible for almost a year, my colleagues and I were responsible for pushing the city of Waukegan, Village of Gurnee and Lake County Board of health to conduct air testing for EtO in our area. Since then I have worked very closely with the committed individuals at the county board of health on this issue. I have testified before the US EPA on the subject, and have organized multiple community meetings to inform the local public about the dangers faced by cumulative impacts and multiple exposures faced by residents in our environmental justice community. I was also the co-author with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in article regarding EtO exposure in our community that was a part of the larger report “Abandoned science, Broken Promises”. I was instrumental in having a representative from our district present and speak on that report to both the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate environmental justice caucuses. I have worked with IL house representatives and senators to help shape legislation on exposure to environmental toxins, and have organized rallies to educate and raise awareness about environmental justice in my 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.
Our district has multiple environmental impacts and we must begin to look at policy that addresses cumulative impact, that includes moving the Clean Energy Jobs Act to the top of the list. This community is a working class community, and as such we need to create a policy that focuses on protections for our most burdened citizenry, the working class. Currently there is a proliferation of temporary agencies in our district, that have been allowed to spread without unregulation and standardization. When this industry is allowed free reign as it has, it competes with itself to bring down wages for all, not just temporary workers. We need to refocus on modernizing labor rights, and regulating and standardizing temporary and contract work. Lastly, our community is not offered many securities, and housing insecurities are a human rights violation. All humans must have the right to a secure, healthy, and accessible home. When 3% of our public school students are homeless, it is 3% too much. We must lift the ban on rent control and give our community a chance to a life worth living.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
The foundation of our future lies in the health of our community. Our district is classified as an environmental justice community, and if our children are not provided a safe healthy start, then we are not competing on the same playing field as our neighboring communities. Toxic environments lead to cognitive developmental delays, muscular and skeletal disorders and much more. All of the legislation up until now has been reactive. We need to be proactive about legislation addressing our environment, or we are left chasing the symptoms and not correcting the disease. Communities that experience cumulative impacts must be prioritized. Article XI in the illinois constitution states that “...each person has a right to a healthful environment” and it is long past time to enforce it.
Our school state funding is not working for all communities, we need to modernize the funding formula and create an equitable rubric that emphasizes the prioritization of the most vulnerable communities. If we want to move forward as a state, we must invest equitably in our children, and create a platform in which all children can have a chance to compete equally.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I fully support it. Illinois is one of three states that has a fixed income tax, and while that may have worked in the 70’s when our economy was more balanced, today the disparity is too wide. It is not ok for our low income families to pay the same rate as billionaires in the state. This income tax will benefit 97% or our residents, and the tax gathered from the remaining 3% will be enough to cover our negative balance. The argument that this is just the first step to raising all taxes falls flat. That already can and has been done yesterday and today. It isn’t working, let’s try something new. Extra tax on every dollar above $250,000, leaving the previous $250,000 prior to that dollar alone, seems like a reasonable tax on those who can shoulder more.
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?
The Clean Energy Jobs Act lays a solid foundation for an equitable transition to cleaner energy sources. We need to capitalize and become the clean energy hub. It will bring research, tech hubs, and green initiatives into Illinois and become the leading green state the nation needs.
Township consolidation needs to be a large part of the conversation as well. Cutting down on redundant administrative costs, and the gross misuse of government funds must be addressed, with taxpayers needs taking precedence.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
The human race collectively must take action to bring forth more equity. Our wealthiest residents, who can carry comfortably carry a higher tax burden should. If we look at the massive disparities between the classes, as well as the failing middle class, it is clear that the top earners are not willing to take the step on their own, or the gap would not exist.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
The current model is more education for the children, which pushes younger children into more rigorous programs at an early age. That model contradicts scientific findings in which children learn through play during early development. A more equitable plan for school funding where vulnerable communities are prioritized is urgently needed. Allowing for a more holistic approach to education, the focus is not just educating the children, but those who work with the children as well. We must provide resources for administration, staff, and teacher, continued education.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
The fact is that we desperately need gun reform to address the crisis that is occuring in our nation. Sadly there is not enough data and research to show how to best counter gun related deaths, and not one blanket reformation will work on all communities. The first step Illinois must take is a full examination and analysis on in-state effective gun policy. The diversity of our communities require a comprehensive approach. Our children deserve an approach that will put their safety first. Our children do not deserve the burden that they are currently shouldering. Even the psychological effect that active shooter drills will have on them is not understood, or even being considered and that is a failure.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I am absolutely in favor of term limits. The current system is rife with corruption, wasteful government spending, a lack of diversity in representation, and tends to favor incumbent representation. Complacency develops over time and a disconnect with the needs of the community forms. We must allow space for the generations who are most burdened, an opportunity to be part of the change in order to encourage a civically active and democratically involved citizenry.
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?
You do not have it wrong. Gerrymandering is bad, and allowing legislators to pick and choose who they want to represent destabilizes democracy, reduces civic engagement, and is unrepresentative of the true demographics of regions. Stop letting legislators pick their constituents, and open up civic engagement by letting the people select their representative.
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?
This is a good first step, but more needs to be done. Throughout the country, Illinois (and chicago) politics are, unfortunately, a reference for corruption. We cannot stand for this. The best way to increase civic engagement is to show our citizens that the system works. Tackling corruption, and the entrenched power structures that accompany it, must be a top priority.
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 legislature needs to move to protect the people of illinois first and foremost. We do not deserve to live in a for-profit surveillance state. We must also move to hold companies accountable when they are careless with personal data.
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?
Make community college free, and create a system in which the student repays back the community by becoming a working resident. These community colleges must partner with industries currently present to ensure the student has a starting point. If we cannot offer our youth a future, then they seek it elsewhere. Let’s help give our youth a future by helping provide avenues for growth in-state.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
Begin to address the multiple environmental injustices by creating proactive cumulative impact policy centered on environmental justice principles. We must bring in community voices to help shape the future of our environment.
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.
Illinois was home to a brilliant communicator, organizer, social equity worker name Fred Hampton. History is written by the victor and the narrative is biased to glorify the winner and demonize the other. Those in power tend to legalize and normalize the immoral. In this case Fred Hampton was written as a villain, one to fear in order to stifle the admiration that he so rightfully deserved. His communication skills were strong enough to bring to fruition class-conscious among the people, unifying and organizing those who did not see the power of the many. His fight is our fight, and his light, his clarity was smothered out of fear that people would realize that the real power was in a unified organized citizenry. He was a visionary, who was able to see an obstacle and see the path over and around it.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
You leave the hardest for last. I am a homeschooling mother of a 4 and a 6 year old. Our days are jam packed with physical, mental, and emotional work. When we do have free time, we get a show or two, and right now the favorite is Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. So guess what I get to watch. That said, in 2018 the last show I was really able to enjoy, was The Expanse. I enjoy science fiction, but this show has the best use of modern technology when it comes to visual effects. The details are carefully planned with intricate complex storylines and inquiring minds have to know.