Dagmara “Dee” Avelar
Running for: Illinois House of Representatives - 85th District
Political party affiliation: Democratic Party
Political/civic background: Community Organizer and Human Services administrator. Member of the DuPage Township Democrats, the Will County Democrats and the Illinois Democratic Women of Will. Board member for the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project.
Occupation: Director of Programs at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
- BA in Justice Studies with minor in Political Science, Northeastern Illinois University.
- Master’s in Urban Planning and Policy Candidate at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Campaign website: votedee85th.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. Dagmara “Dee” Avelar 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.
The pandemic has exposed the many inequities and lack of social infrastructure to respond adequately to the needs of Illinoisans. If elected, I will be dedicated to ensure we make great progress towards addressing the state’s fiscal challenges by ensuring that we generate a foundation of revenue that will not only address the shortfall, but also build our state’s capacity to provide everyone with the ability to thrive and not just survive. The time is long overdue for the wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. They can easily do more to lift everyone up collectively while still continuing to live luxurious lifestyles. Today, the wealthy are able to pay top dollar to exploit the many loopholes in the tax code, while the rest of us pick up the tab as we live pay-check to pay-check. It’s not fair, and it’s not economically sound as the pandemic has revealed how vulnerable this flawed system leaves us all.
One important step that all voters can take to reform our unfair tax system is to vote to pass the FAIR TAX to help balance the budget. Our low and middle class families and individuals can no longer bear the brunt of our unfair tax burden.
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?
I would grade Governor Pritzker with an “A” for his leadership and making it clear that the state of Illinois believes in science. Illinois leadership has allowed health experts, such as Dr. Ezeke, to lead and provide daily press conferences and move the state from a full quarantine to Phase IV of the reopening plan. I commend the administration on its ability to prioritize the health of our communities by listening to local counties to divide regions and make decision making local to keep coronavirus cases down. We must remain vigilant and continue to promote the use of masks, hand washing and free and accessible testing and treatment to all. The state plays a key role in promoting these critical practices, and the Pritzker administration has shown an unwavering commitment to doing so.
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?
Yes. We need to restore trust in law enforcement and in order to do so we need to talk about police reform and put laws in place that will make sure that ALL Illinoisians are able to walk freely in our communities without the fear of being killed because of the color of our skin. Police reform should include mandatory training on implicit bias and the elimination of no-knock warrants, so that tragic incidents like the death of Breonna Taylor never happen in Illinois. Furthermore, I will support legislation that requires law enforcement officials to intervene when another officer is breaking the law or acting in bad faith. But we cannot stop there. We must also recognize that police are overburdened. We must re-imagine what it means to serve and protect all our residents by ensuring that we are investing in solutions that address root causes of poverty and crime. Therefore, we must critically examine our budget to ensure that we are making equitable investments in our district and state’s schools, mental health programs, addiction treatment centers, jobs programs and other community resources that will create the long-term conditions that result in safe communities for all.
I want to make it clear that police reform legislation is not to be confused with being anti-police. It is about increasing trust in our public servants and protecting one another while we reimagine the potential that we have as a state to move forward with justice as our beacon.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Yes. It is impossible to negate the need for legislation that tackles accountability and transparency in law enforcement. Requiring body cameras for all law enforcement officers is a step in the right direction toward building trust among our communities.
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?
This series of unacceptable behavior has made one thing clear: we need campaign finance reform. As public servants, we need to do everything in our power to limit the influence of corporate money in politics. The cards are often stacked against everyday people like myself, discouraging us from running for office largely due to money in politics.
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.
For over a decade, I have dedicated my life to advocating for working families particularly focusing on projects addressing the barriers of low-income, limited English proficient Illinois residents. A community organizer at heart, I have been involved in civic engagement efforts to get out the vote of low-propensity voters in the southwest suburbs since I was in college. I have also advocated for efforts to increase the minimum wage and have been a fierce fighter in Springfield fighting for a fair budget that puts working families first.
I am currently the Director of Programs at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and work directly with 59 community-based organizations across the state of Illinois to address barriers to citizenship as well as language access primarily for immigrants and refugees. Prior to my current role at ICIRR, I worked at Instituto Del Progreso Latino as an accredited representative with a focus on citizenship and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and was able to assist over 400 people in their immigration journey. I, myself, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 2016.
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.
As a representative, I commit to be a champion for working families. As I’ve shared with residents in the 85th district, there are several issues that I would like to take on. Three priorities in our district are:
Property Tax Relief- Our state has faced difficult times, especially during our budget impasse crises. High property taxes is a growing concern to residents of our community. We need to work on decreasing our dependence on property taxes as the primary source of funding for our education system. We can do this by reforming Illinois’ tax system by implementing a graduated income tax. Working families cannot and should not bear the majority of our tax burden at the state level and it is imperative that we find solutions that allow for our state to function efficiently while providing needed services, which include human services, quality infrastructure, public safety, and education.
Healthcare Access - Healthcare is a human right and a matter of life or death for many. We cannot live in a society where families are going bankrupt or have to choose between basic needs or paying their healthcare bills. My own family has gone through those hardships and I am committed to being a strong advocate for affordable healthcare. My commitment to our communities includes assuring that our families have access to quality medical care, affordable medication and the continuing fight for reproductive rights.
Investment in education - A key priority in our district is education. Investments in education means that our state continues to make concerted efforts in supporting our public school system, community colleges, universities, vocational and trade schools. Demand for skilled workers in Illinois is strong yet the number of people who have completed vocational or trade school training has decreased. This is a significant issue as a diverse workforce will make our state stronger.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Water systems and overall infrastructure- Water is an invaluable resource. Currently, Illinois has made it easier for private companies to buy municipal water systems which tend to result in an increase of water rates to residents. This has had an impact on multiple communities in the 85th district. During COVID-19, many residents have found it hard to pay their increasing bills. If elected to office, I commit to find solutions that improve our water service infrastructure by investing in projects that will provide us an opportunity to create jobs that will employ our communities and will help with our economic development and deter the privatization of these systems.
Protecting our environment - We are facing an environmental crisis worldwide and it is our responsibility to act. At the state level we can work on policies to invest in clean infrastructure and expand energy efficiency efforts. We need to build a sustainable future for our district and our families.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I support a graduated income tax. Illinois has one of the highest property tax burdens in the nation primarily due to our overall regressive tax structure. Income inequality has continued to grow and we can no longer continue to have our working and middle class families carry the burden of our current tax system. We need a fair tax where higher rates apply to higher incomes and lower rates are applied to lower income levels. It is time for Illinois to join the thirty-four of the fifty states in our nation that have a graduated income tax.
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?
Fixing our state’s budget problems require long term solutions. We need to work on pension reform legislation, taxing of high-end services as well as closing corporate loopholes. What we cannot afford to do is have our much needed human services and education budgets to bear the brunt of spending cuts as they are essential.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
Yes, however I strongly oppose any tax increases on low and middle class retirees who are on a fixed income. We need to consider taxing the retirement of our very wealthiest simply because they can afford to pay it while a working senior that can not afford to retire, for example, would still be getting taxed on their earnings. Illinois is one of the few states that does not tax the retirement income of high earners and this is our state’s most expensive exemption.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Improving our elementary and high schools need to have a multi-pronged approach. It is a mix of adequate funding, proper staffing and parental support. We need to continue to support Evidence Based Funding (EBF). The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability has conducted studies that show that EBF has begun to reverse inequality in public education funding.
We need to invest in our teachers by increasing the opportunities for professional development, this will enhance their skills and increase teacher retention. We also need to rethink our discipline policies and encourage children to stay in school. This means ending zero-tolerance policies that result in suspensions and expulsion as students are more likely to drop out.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Gun violence does not have a simple solution. We need to advocate for common-sense gun safety measures that will help keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them while fostering responsible gun ownership. Measures including background checks for all gun sales, background checks for gun license renewal, keeping guns aways from domestic abusers, funding research into the gun violence crisis and treating it as a public health issue are all part of the solution. We must also fund violence prevention measures such as mental health and trauma informed services along with jobs programs and other resources to provide support for people who need assistance long before they turn to violence out of desperation.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I believe that term limits are already in place through our electoral process. The voters should decide who they want in office to represent them. However, leadership positions in the General Assembly should have specific term limits as the voters do not choose those specific positions.
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?
Voters should pick who represents them, rather than politicians picking their voters. Districts should be drawn in a way that promotes equal representation. It is imperative that transparency and an equity centered approach is used in the process. If elected, I would work hard to collaborate with my colleagues in the Black, Latino and Asian caucuses to try to unite all of us around a principle that representation matters, and that redistricting should benefit everyone equitably.
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 am in support of laws that continue to increase transparency and public trust in government. Furthermore, I believe that we need to work on legislation that restricts state legislators from lobbying other governments on behalf of private clients. I am in support of laws that prohibit members of the General Assembly to work as lobbyists for a specific amount of time after serving their terms.
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?
No one’s data should be shared unless there is explicit and clear consent by the person. Consumer protections need to be further strengthened and we cannot allow companies to use jargon that confuses consumers into signing agreements that they do not understand or that compromises their right to privacy.
Companies who breach the public’s trust by selling data that a person has not explicitly authorized need to be held accountable by imposing penalties for when a data breach happens.
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?
Quality education is one of my priorities and when I’ve talked to constituents, the affordability of higher education is always a topic of conversation. We need to make our state universities more attractive to Illinois high schools students by adequately funding our higher education system and increasing MAP grants. As a current graduate school student who waited 8 years to be able to go back to school and whose main deterrent was affordability, I understand that higher education needs to be accessible for all.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
Working towards a path that sets Illinois on track towards 100% renewable energy by 2050. This includes working on legislation that promotes clean energy jobs, a divestment on fossil fuels, a ban of fracking on public lands and clean and efficient transportation 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.
Jane Addams. I first learned of Jane Addams in my high school history class. I continued to learn about her through my work, particularly in the immigrant rights movement. I remember going to the Jane Addams Hull House for an event to launch the first ever deportation defense hotline - a project I participated in and helped build from the ground up. I felt a sense of humbleness as well as responsibility to continue the work of great female leaders like her. Her teachings and commitment to improving the quality of life of our communities continue to guide my work. I can credit her as an inspiration to have made the choice to pursue a Master’s in Urban Planning and Policy.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
Game of Thrones! I did not watch the show until it was on its 5th season. My sister encouraged me to give it a chance. I was hooked the moment Daenerys said “I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.” Many sleepless nights later I had caught up to the Season 5 finale and watched the subsequent seasons religiously. I think in retrospect as I thought about this question, I could not help but think about how this show had many of us questioning our assumptions about who should lead, and what leadership should look like. Running for office has definitely made me look at GOT in a different perspective.