Juan Thomas, Illinois House 83rd District Democratic candidate profile
His top priorities include school funding, immigration and economic development in downtown Aurora.
Running for: Illinois State Representative, 83rd District
Political/civic background:Please visit www.juanthomas.com for my complete professional, political and civic background.
Occupation:Lawyer, Ordianed Minister
Education: Juan is a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. He later received his J.D. and a Master of Arts degree in Educational Policy from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Juan has completed course work to receive a Master of Arts degree in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago School of Divinity.
Campaign website: www.juanthomas.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. Juan Thomas 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 served as the 75th President of the National Bar Association (NBA) from 2017-18. The NBA is the nation’s oldest and largest network of nearly 65,000 African American lawyers, judges, and law students. While I was President, the NBA co-founded the National Commission for Voter Justice to address voter suppression across the country while advancing electoral reform and civic engagement. I was the first NBA President to lead a delegation of lawyers to Silicon Valley to support diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. Also, under my leadership the NBA established its first LGBTQ Lawyers Division to promote inclusion for all members regardless of their sexual orientation or identity.
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.
Public School Funding, Immigration, economic development in downtown Aurora
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Ethics Reform, Healthcare
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I generally support it, but I have serious concerns.
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?
Everything should be on the table for consideration, including the LaSalle Street Tax. Reforming our pension system must be balanced with not harming public school teachers and other state employees. Double dipping should stop.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
Again, everything should be on the table for consideration. The wealthiest residents should pay their fair share.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
When I served on the West Aurora School Board, I learned that good schools have three important elements: adequate resources, good teachers, and parents who are positively involved in the life of the school and their children. We have to improve all three of these elements.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Gun violence in urban areas is directly related to poverty, disinvestment, and the general neglect of these communities. Mass shootings are often tied to mental health issues that are ignored by members of the community. Poverty and mental health are often tied together. Until public policy addresses the root of these problems we will not adequately solve these serious issues.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
Our state’s political system is broken and too many people have lost confidence in our elected officials. I have been involved in Illinois politics long enough to see friends and colleagues become self-serving and only concerned about their own re-election. I generally have not been in favor of term limits, but when over 1/3 of IL state house members were first appointed to their seat and then they run with the protection of “unearned incumbency” something has to change.
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?
Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the gerrymandering is constitutional. Our system is fundamentally flawed when politicians pick their voters instead of voters picking their politicans. I would favor a process that truly created community boundary districts that are truly competitive for both political parties in general elections. Most district are only competitive during the primary. Also, the amount of money needed to run for office is outrageous and until this is fixed the system will not change.
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 not enough. Legislation should be introduced to ban state legislators from lobbying other public body while in office and once they leave office a 5 year ban on lobbying the IL General Assembly. There should be a 3 year ban on state staffers lobbying the IL General Assembly once they leave state government.
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 ought to be legislation that requires customers to give consent before their data is shared.
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?
The cost of college and the quality of higher education are the two factors that drive a high school graduate’s decision on where to matricualte. Ways to lower the cost of a higher education that provide tuition based scholarships is critically important.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I believe that the environment is an important civil rights issue that needs public policy solutions. Environmental racism impacts vulnerable communities of color and I will look for and sponsor legislation to address these issues. For example, curbing climate change while creating pathways to clean energy jobs and wealth creation is an opportunity for communities who suffer most from environmental degradation. Access to employment, economic investment, economic mobility, and training opportunities are unequal across Illinois, with minority, low-income, environmental justice, and rural communities having less access to these opportunities.
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.
Paul Simon. I interned for Sen. Simon while in college on Capitol Hill. He had the true character of a servant-leader.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
The West Wing. The writing and character/story development is a first class lesson of politics, leadership, human nature and public service. Any student of public service should be required to binge watch the West Wing multiple times.