Running for: Illinois House District #45
Political party affiliation: Republican
Political/civic background: Candidate for State Senate in 2016 and 2018. Former trustee of the Bartlett Fire Protection District. Bartlett Raiders Football Treasurer 2007-2011. Bartlett Little League Board Member 2007-2013, served as President 2012-2013.
Occupation: Small business owner (State Farm Agent)
Education: B.S. in Industrial Engineering at University of Iowa
Campaign website: https://votesethlewis.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 the state of Illinois and their districts. Seth Lewis submitted the following responses:
1. 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 State needs to leverage federal aid in the CARES Act and ensure those funds get funneled down to business owners, renters, and others in need due to layoffs and other restrictions placed upon them by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the State’s bond rating is so poor due to years of budgetary mismanagement by both political parties, and that limits the options available to the State.
2. 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?
B-minus. The Governor acted swiftly to combat the pandemic in our State. He used his 30-day emergency power to ensure our hospital capacity could meet demand and combat the pandemic. But the longer the pandemic has gone on, the more displeasure I have with some of the Governor’s actions. The Executive Orders and DCEO Guidance have, at times, been unclear; I feel that the big box stores were put in a better position than the small business community; and the Governor’s Department of Employment Security should’ve been equipped to process the increase in unemployment insurance claims. Governor Pritzker should, and still can, involve the Legislature since that is the branch of government entrusted to write the laws, in order to come to consensus on establishing rules and policies intended to keep the economy moving and people safe.
3. 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?
I am open to evaluating how resources are allocated within our public safety organizations, however, I oppose all calls to defund and eliminate the police. I believe we need our local law enforcement since they are critical to the safety of our communities. I believe we need to do more to ease race relations, and something that might help would be to expand more employment opportunities for disadvantaged groups. This could mean instituting better hiring practices which recruit from underserved communities, and enhance workforce development policies to get more black and brown Illinoisians connected with employers and job training centers.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
I support the use of body cameras along with cameras in police cars for our local law enforcement. In my discussions with Police Chiefs in the 45th District, many Departments are already implementing body cameras because they are an objective tool that can document a situation. They have the effect of identifying those officers who are not fit for the police force, but more importantly protect those officers who have been falsely accused of wrongdoing. Unfortunately, the equipment and cloud storage costs are extremely high, and Springfield’s tendency has traditionally been to impose an unfunded mandate on local agencies. Since the General Assembly has shown no indication of assisting local law enforcement with these costs, I believe it should be left up to the local jurisdictions.
5. 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 Speaker Madigan needs to resign from his leadership positions, and if indicted he should resign from the General Assembly. I will not vote for him for Speaker of the House. Madigan has been in the Illinois Legislature since 1971 and has been Speaker since 1983. I believe Speaker Madigan has lost the public trust since he’s been implicated in a bribery scandal, he has ignored sexual harassment in his office and policial operations, and my opponent has been silent on these issues. As for legislative ethics reform, I believe many proposals should be enacted in light of recent events. I will be introducing a Bill which prohibits candidates for office from using campaign contributions to pay for legal defense costs which arise out of the politicians’ own misconduct and corruption. People do not chip in $5 and $10 to candidates for the candidate to spend that money on legal defense. Legislators should not hold a dual role of elected official and lobbyist. Either be an elected official or a lobbyist, but not both. I will work to close the revolving door.
6. 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 continue to volunteer with my two son’s athletic and academic activities and focus on my family.
7. 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.
I have always maintained a good working relationship with the Mayors in our area. I understand local issues sometimes require State help, and these three issues are top of the list for our local communities.
- Infrastructure, public safety, and flooding. Stormwater mitigation efforts will help enhance the environmental quality of our community. Our representatives in Springfield should also be more vigilant in securing funding and support for roads and intersections that are in need of repair, both for the safety of motorists and pedestrians.
- Budget stability and restoring Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF). Our Mayors worked tirelessly during the last 5 years when our share of the LGDF was on the chopping block. It’s unfair because the LGDF is the tool by which the state distributes to local governments their portion of the income tax, since local governments are prohibited from collecting income tax directly. I don’t want our taxpayers subsidizing Chicago and other communities, and LGDF helps ensure our local governments can provide excellent services to our residents and small businesses.
- Support for responsible pandemic relief to combat COVID-19. The local municipalities need support to purchase PPE, help provide extra ambulatory and public safety services, and support for COVID-19 testing sites, especially for the poor and the elderly.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
Cleaning up corruption in Springfield is my number one priority. That starts with the first vote I will take - which is to elect a Speaker of the House. I will not support Michael Madigan for Speaker of the House. Some, like my opponent, might defer to the judicial branch to yield an opinion before taking any action. However, I believe it’s quite clear Speaker Madigan has lost the public’s trust. People are fed up with their tax dollars being used to support politicians that don’t act ethically. I believe we need stronger legislative ethics reform, term limits, and an end to gerrymandering.
Property taxes have been increasing year over year in the Collar County region for as long as I can remember. There are simply too many special units of local government - fire protection districts, park districts, library districts - and, as an engineer, I understand we need to streamline government to make it more efficient.
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I oppose the graduated tax amendment. I do not trust the Illinois General Assembly with an unregulated graduated tax structure because it does not protect against future tax hikes imposed by the General Assembly.
10. Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills. 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?
We need a legislature that will play it’s part in the budget process to ensure we get back on a sustainable path. For too long, those in both political parties have not prioritized sound fiscal policies. We also need to make Illinois a desirable place for residents and employers. Pension reform has been tried but the only realistic approach is to prioritize the payments now. Otherwise, the pension obligation will continue to grow and that will crowd out funding for core services.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
I am opposed to a tax on retirement income. The wealthiest residents are those who are most able to leave the State, and may look to better destination locations such as Arizona and Florida. One of our advantages as a State is that we don’t tax retirement income. I want to keep that policy in place, since it helps those in retirement ensure their quality of life.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
The legislature took up the monumental task of education funding reform a few years ago. It is certainly important to evaluate and reevaluate the funding formula to ensure fairness and to hold school districts harmless so nobody loses. A well-educated workforce is a huge benefit to employers looking to relocate to Illinois. Illinois should be investing in scholarships and grants for in-state college students, especially in STEM areas.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Chicago is an example of how one jurisdiction can have some of the toughest gun laws in the entire United States, yet also has some of the worst gun violence in the nation. There are certain policies that may alleviate some of the gun violence, such as increasing waiting periods for certain types of weapons. The State should also embrace cracking down on illegal gun purchases and gun traffickers.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I support term limits on all elected officials in the State legislature - not just for those in leadership. Term limits, fair maps, and stronger ethics reform is the recipe we need to clean up corruption in Springfield.
15. 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?
I was hopeful when I heard Governor Pritzker two years ago on the campaign trail argue in favor of an independent commission to redraw political boundaries. Voters should absolutely choose their representatives - not the other way around. I wholeheartedly support redistricting reform to ensure those in power do not have any input as to how legislative districts are drawn.
16. 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?
It was certainly a step in the right direction, but I know we need more to enhance legislative ethics. Public Act 101-595 (SB 1693) required the Secretary of State to create an online database that includes disclosures by lobbyists, contributions by those lobbyists, and Economic Interest Statements so that it’s readily available to the public. As mentioned before, I will introduce a Bill to prohibit candidates for elected office from using campaign contributions to pay for legal defense costs which arise out of the politicians’ own misconduct and corruption.
17. 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?
I am open to examining all options that will protect our identities.
18. 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?
My number one goal is to create an Illinois where people want to live, not leave. We have amazing colleges and universities right at home, so it’s unfortunate that more and more high school graduates look to out-of-state universities to satisfy their educational needs. I believe Illinois should be investing in scholarships and grants for in-state college students, especially in STEM areas, to help spur innovation.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
As an engineer, I understand the concept of cause and effect. When you add more than 7.5 billion human beings worldwide, who generate pollutants into our Earth’s atmosphere and environment, I believe there is an effect to be quantified. I value our clean water and environment, and I support efforts to reduce our output and our footprint. These efforts, however, can not come at the expense of job creation. One plan the legislature has been studying is the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). I am hopeful to make wise investments in order to make our State more attractive, and I am hopeful ratepayers will be protected from hikes.
20. 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.
Ronald Reagan. As President, Reagan worked hard to accomplish big policy initiatives, and he did so while working across the aisle with then-Speaker Tip O’Neill. The result was a rebound in the economy, people had good paying jobs, and everything seemed a lot less partisan, unlike in today’s political arena.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
While in college, I loved the show “Quantum Leap,” starring Scott Bakula. The main character, Dr. Sam Beckett, was a physicist who worked to help save his wife’s life, however the machine never really worked correctly as he traveled through time, but he would also help other people, even in small instances. I found it fascinating how one small event could have lifelong consequences. If everyone could go back in time, I think we would all do things differently. But we can’t go back in time, so make a positive impact at every crossroads, every day!