Michelle Darbro, Illinois House 20th District Democratic nominee profile
Her top priorities include women’s reproductive rights, property tax relief and more accessible health care.
Running for: State Representative, District 20
Political party affiliation: Democrat
Political/civic background: None
Occupation: Firefighter, Paramedic
Education: BA in Environmental Studies from the University of Chicago
Campaign website: darbroforrep.com
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 Illinois and their districts. Michelle Darbro 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.
This is an unprecedented time in modern history. In Illinois, over 200,00 residents have contracted COVID-19, over a million have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and its financial impact, and small businesses have been harmed, many beyond repair.
To adequately respond to this crisis, we need to have a comprehensive response to address the needs of those hit hardest by the pandemic. Expanding COVID testing, securing more resources for those who have lost their jobs, and grant and loan options for small businesses are just a few ways we can begin recovering. We must also be sure to not neglect other vital services, such as additional resources to law enforcement to help process evidence that will put criminals behind bars, while we work to repair our economy.
Due to the lack of response from extreme Washington politicians, states have been forced to pick up much of the financial burden to provide support to residents. Now more than ever, we must make sure that every cent in the budget is being spent in the most efficient way possible. A comprehensive review of the budget to identify ways to cut unnecessary spending while allocating more resources to vital services will be key. Residents need relief now, and that will be my focus when going over the budget.
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 firefighter, I have seen the heroic efforts of essential workers on an almost daily basis. We must start by acknowledging those who have constantly put their own safety at risk to help others, regardless of politics.
Partisan gridlock and extreme politicians in Washington have completely derailed the nation’s COVID-19 response, which has led to additional suffering that was completely unnecessary. In comparison, Illinois has responded by listening to the experts and science, resulting in a much more comprehensive response. Unfortunately, no response has been perfect in handling this pandemic, and there is still much work that needs to be done to bring safety and relief to Illinoisans. We must continue to take on this virus by looking at the evidence and taking a measured response.
If elected, my focus will be bringing relief to those hit hardest by this pandemic. Middle-class families, small businesses, and seniors were already stretched thin before this pandemic and now need support more than ever. Going forward, the response to this pandemic must include prioritizing those who need relief the most.
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 first responder, I regularly see how important the police are to the communities that they serve. They put their lives on the line to protect the public and must be acknowledged for the essential work that they do.
Any talks of police reform must not hinder the ability of law enforcement to protect our communities and put criminals behind bars. In addition, making sure that the police are properly funded and have the resources they need to properly do their duties is imperative. Police reform must require consensus from all stakeholders, otherwise it may not only be dangerous for officers, but for the public as a whole.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Body cameras are one part of a larger discussion between the police and the communities that they serve. While oversight and accountability are important, it is potentially dangerous to have officers second guess their decisions due to the chance of undue scrutiny.
Consensus is a must when finding ways to better the relationship between the police and the community. I look forward to working with all stakeholders to find solutions that will be productive, promote safety for both officers and the public, and be fair to all sides.
Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme ofb ribery, 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?
The culture of corruption in Springfield is larger than any one person— in fact, it’s so engrained that even small town mayors see nothing wrong with pocketing massive campaign contributions in exchange for taxpayer-funded contracts. This must be dealt with by making major reforms to the system and rejecting the status quo. That is why I will fight to pass legislation that will end the red light camera schemes that politicians and insider lobbyists have used to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayer dollars, strip pensions from politicians convicted of felonies, and increase fines against corrupt politicians who betray the public.
Michelle Darbro 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.
During my time as a firefighter, I have worked with schools and other community groups to educate children on fire safety. I have led tours of the firehouse, and am active in community outreach for the department. Being a firefighter, I have worked tirelessly to serve those in our community. My days consist of putting my health and safety on the line to help and protect others. I look forward to bringing those much-needed values to Springfield and making sure our government puts the well-being of middle-class families and taxpayers first.
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.
The most important issues that I plan to tackle in Springfield are those that I hear every day from voters when I go door to door. The most important thing to me is accurately representing our community’s values in Springfield. To do so, I will fight to protect a woman’s right to choose and make decisions about her own body. I will work to lower property taxes on middle-class families and creating a fairer tax system that works for everyone, which is vital to supporting and growing our communities. I support increasing access to health care and prescription drugs, as well as securing funds for critical services such as breast cancer screenings.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
There are many issues that I hear from voters when I am out in the community. To bring our shared value of protecting our community to Springfield, I will work on finding commonsense ways to increase gun safety, like universal background checks, which is an important way for us to protect the well-being and safety of our community while also working with responsible gun owners to ensure their rights are being protected. I will also place an emphasis on supporting women’s health by protecting and increasing funding to Planned Parenthood.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
The current tax structure in Illinois is incredibly regressive and takes an unsustainable toll on middle-class families. Enabling voters to decide whether or not they want the Fair Tax is a positive, but there are still many issues that we need to address with our tax system, especially when it comes to property taxes. Property tax relief for middle-class families is long overdue, and I will work to lower property taxes and ease the burden that they cause on members of our community.
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?
For our state to work to the benefit of middle-class families, we must make sure that we have a sustainable, balanced budget. To do this, I intend to work with other lawmakers to analyze the budget and identify vital services that the state provides, such as breast cancer screenings and health care, and continue to fund those while eliminating unnecessary expenses to pay off the rest of our bills.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
No, I do not support a tax on retirement income.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Our children deserve an education that sets them up for success, which is why I am encouraged by the state’s new funding formula that will appropriately fund our public schools. Not only will this funding formula secure a great education for our students, it will also shift the responsibility of education funding from local property taxpayers to the state, which will give middle-class families a much-needed tax break. Proper funding will also afford schools the ability to decrease class sizes and increase student access to nurses and social workers in their schools, which will make sure that our children are given the support that they need to succeed.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
As a first responder, I understand the importance of safety in our community. To curb gun violence, we need to work together and find commonsense solutions, such as universal background checks, that will increase safety while respecting the rights of responsible gun owners. We also must address the role of mental health when it comes to gun safety laws, which is why I am committed to working with the medical community, my fellow first responders in law enforcement, and others to find solutions to the mental health crisis.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I support the idea of term limits. Any plan to introduce term limits, however, must place an emphasis on voter empowerment, and not allow lobbyists and special interests to increase their influence over the legislature in spite of the will of the voters. I am open to discussing the number of terms elected officials will be limited to.
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?
Regardless of who draws maps, the focus must be on keeping communities of interest together. Our district is home to many first responders, teachers, and working families, and as a result those families have an opportunity to make their voices heard in a way that may not be possible if our neighborhoods were split up. Empowering voters and restoring faith in government isn’t as simple as just drawing districts differently. We must look at the rules any mapmakers must follow, we need to expand opportunity to vote and participate, and we need to look at how campaigns are financed to ensure voters’ voices are always heard.
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 is a move in the right direction, but it is clear that much more needs to be done to crack down on corruption by state and local officials. I will support efforts to take influence away from powerful insiders who look to benefit themselves and their cronies at the expense of taxpayers. I will also fight to take away pensions from any official charged with a felony, and increase criminal penalties for politicians that engage in corrupt practices.
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?
Consumers must be afforded protections from corporations looking to profit off of their personal data. We must look at ways to control these practices and make sure that corporations that collect personal data are taking the proper steps to protect that information and hold those that don’t accountable.
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?
Keeping students in Illinois schools is important to the continued growth of the state. Research has shown that Illinois loses hundreds of millions of dollars in lifetime tax revenue due to college students leaving the state. In addition to that, the loss of educated young people and the ideas and businesses that come with them cost the state even more. It’s encouraging to see bipartisan efforts to restore support to higher education in Illinois through increased spending in higher education, which was severely decreased during the Rauner administration and contributed to the outmigration of our students. Additional efforts to secure MAP Grant funding and increased access to financial aid are other great steps taken to keep students in Illinois and keep the cost of college education affordable. Taking steps to prepare students for college, such as putting a priority on K-12 school funding, is also essential in the process of teaching our next generation. We must also make investments in college alternatives, like trade schools and vocational education, so that we can prepare all students for a bright future.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
Increasing investments in renewable energy is my top priority for environmental sustainability. Monitoring environmental issues as they come up, such as the issue of ethylene oxide emissions, is also critical in making sure that our environment is safe for our communities.
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 they rarely make history books, my fellow first responders who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe are my daily inspiration, my role models, and my heroes. Throughout Chicago’s history, more than 600 fire fighters and nearly 550 police officers have died in the line of duty. Countless more have suffered serious injuries, and all bear physical and emotional scars. But despite this toll, our first responders continue to put others first. I want to make sure they have the resources they need on the job and at home, and I want to bring their example of service to state government.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
My favorite TV show is Chicago P.D. As a first responder, I see the difficulties that our police officers face every single day on the job. Chicago P.D. shows the public the dangers our police officers and first responders face, and I plan to take the lessons I learn from my fellow first responders, such as courage and selflessness, and use them to tackle the tough issues that our state faces.