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Joyce Mason, Illinois House 61st District Democratic nominee profile

Her top priorities include more high-wage jobs, lower health care costs and the elimination of ethylene oxide pollution.

Joyce Mason, Illinois House 61st District Democratic nominee and incumbent, 2020 election, candidate questionnaire
Joyce Mason, Illinois House 61st District Democratic nominee and incumbent.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Candidate profile

Joyce Mason

Running for: State Representative in Illinois’ 61st District

Political party affiliation: Democratic

Political/civic background: Before assuming office as a state legislator, I served as the Woodland School District 50 Vice President. I also served on the board of A Safe Place, a local domestic violence shelter, and El Puente Latino, a Waukegan-based non-profit that serves families in need.

Occupation: State Representative and Human Resources Professional

Education: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.

Campaign website:


Twitter: @VoteJoyceMason

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. Joyce Mason 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.

We’re currently living through one of the most unprecedented moments of our lifetime. In a span of just six months, thousands of Illinoisans have died and hundreds of thousands have fallen ill due to COVID-19, and more than 1 million residents of our state have lost their jobs.

While we don’t yet understand the entire impact this outbreak will have on our state’s finances, I strongly believe we must prioritize fiscal responsibility while also looking out for the needs of middle and working-class families who have been hit hardest by this crisis. The programs we have created to help residents make it through this time are critical, but we must make sure these initiatives are administered appropriately. That’s why I am proud to have voted to create a new task force that oversees these programs and ensures we aren’t spending any money we don’t have.

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?

In Illinois, more than 8,000 Illinoisans have died from COVID-19, some of whom were doctors, nurses, first responders or other essential workers. We can never repay them for their sacrifices, but we can honor their lifesaving work by doing everything in our power to slow the spread of this virus. From the start of this pandemic, I have watched Gov. Pritzker do exactly that.

With the lives of so many Illinoisans on the line, our response has to be carefully calculated and founded in science. Throughout this crisis, Gov. Pritzker has set politics aside and led our state through an unprecedented time to the best of his ability.

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?

The murder of George Floyd is not an isolated incident. It’s representative of a larger, systemic problem that has plagued our country from its founding. It’s past time we address the issues in our criminal justice system that too often result in the needless killings of people of color. I am committed to confronting racism in every form, and I pledge to listen to the voices of the people it impacts the most so we can swiftly implement meaningful solutions that will make our state a more equal and fair for everyone in it.

Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?

I support passing a law that requires all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras. While the majority of law enforcement officers serve with honesty and integrity, we must take precautions to ensure our communities are not harmed by those officers who don’t.

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 ran for office to give the people of our communities a voice in Springfield after their needs went unrecognized and unmet for so long. The trust people placed in me means so much, which is why I’ve worked hard to be true to that promise. From the beginning, I’ve backed efforts to change the system; I’m working across the aisle to prohibit legislators from working as lobbyists on the side, I’ve voted to crackdown on red light camera schemes that enrich insiders at our expense, and I co-sponsored legislation that created an Ethics Reform Task Force to lead the effort for significant change.

We know Springfield needs to change, and that change has to be bigger than the petty partisan games that have failed our families again and again. This has to be about changing the way the system works for our families. That’s why I am asking the Ethics Reform Task Force to draw from the best suggestions legislators, newspaper editorials, and citizens from across the state are sharing, and provide us a package of real reforms that will get things done.

If at any time anyone in our government is proven guilty of abusing the public trust, they must held accountable – without exception. And I am calling on all my fellow legislators to stand with me to enact the strongest ethical reforms so we can all get back to fully focusing on the important work that we have been entrusted with by our constituents.

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.

One of the most meaningful actions I have taken to improve my community is passing the strictest ethylene oxide legislation in the nation into law. Our community is home to two facilities that emit ethylene oxide into our air. These facilities are near our schools, parks and playgrounds. When families in our community voiced their outrage after learning this news, I took swift legislative action.

I volunteer regularly with several local community groups to help families in need. I help at food banks, school supplies giveaways and fundraisers for local student organizations. I have read books to children at several schools in our community and shared with them about the importance of reading. I have hosted a free service animal awareness workshop, which taught residents about service animals and how to respectfully interact with people with disabilities who use service animals in public settings.

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 top three concerns I hear from residents in my community are the need for more high-wage jobs, lower health care costs and eliminating harmful ethylene oxide pollution.

What are your other top legislative priorities?

My top legislative priority is addressing the needs of our community. During my first term in office, I have achieved that in several ways. I have introduced or sponsored several measures to create more vocational and technical training courses to prepare our next generation for high-paying jobs; I have voted to cap the cost of prescription drugs and to place more oversight on pharmaceutical companies, and I have championed legislation that has made our state the nation’s leader in restricting the use of ethylene oxide.

Another area of concern for my district is that we’re located on the Wisconsin border. I have spent the past two years regularly meeting with small business owners throughout my community to make sure I’m voting for legislation that supports them and helps them thrive. That’s why I’m proud to have voted against raising the gas tax and to be a co-sponsor of the Keep Illinois Business Act. I have also helped create more than half a billion dollars in small business COVID-19 relief grants and worked with several local business owners to assist them through the grant application process.

In addition to those concerns, I am also committed to getting our community through this pandemic as swiftly and safely as possible. I have helped expand COVID-19 testing and treatment, enacted more on-the-job protections for essential workers, and made hundreds of millions in COVID-19 relief funds available to hardworking residents, families and small business owners.

I have also heard from residents about the need to improve services for veterans and survivors of domestic abuse, which is why I have introduced several measures to address those issues. My Veterans Bill of Rights Act improves veterans’ health care, mental health resources, job training opportunities and takes steps to end veterans’ homelessness. I have also introduced a bill to create mandatory minimum fines for individuals who violate orders of protection, as well as a measure to allow survivors of domestic violence to file for orders of protection online. I also passed a resolution making October Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Illinois.

What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.

Middle and working-class families in my community are struggling. They know our current system is broken and places too much burden on them. The graduated income tax proposals I supported would result in lower income taxes for 97% of residents. I voted to put the graduated income tax proposal on the ballot because I believe our residents have the right to choose a new, fairer tax system that will reduce the financial burden on the vast majority of Illinoisans.

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?

Right now, we have to address the impact of the rapidly-changing COVID-19 pandemic on our state’s finances while also responding to the needs of those who have lost their livelihoods or fallen seriously ill due to this virus.

Prior to this crisis, I voted to responsibly pay down more than $1 billion in unpaid state bills. We did that by carefully examining our state spending and shifting our expenditures in a way that didn’t require cuts to critical social services. I am committed to continuing to enact commonsense reforms that rein in our spending while continuing to provide lifesaving programs to our most vulnerable residents.

Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?

I do not support any tax on retirement income.

What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?

Our schools are currently facing a once in a lifetime challenge of providing quality education to our young people in the midst of a global pandemic. We have taken action to make this time easier for our students and educators, but our schools will still be facing serious hardships during the coming school year. Last year, I voted to provide $350 million in additional funding to our K-12 schools. This year, in the face of an unprecedented economic downturn, we had to make incredibly difficult decisions on spending, but I am proud to have voted to give full funding to our elementary and high schools in the midst of this crisis.

Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?

We need to enact commonsense reforms to address gun violence, such as reforming how we do background checks, quickly taking guns away from convicted domestic abusers and other criminals and closing loopholes that allow guns to get into the hands of dangerous individuals. During my first year in office, I introduced a measure to lower the cost of firearm safety equipment, and I am committed to supporting more legislation that protects our residents from senseless gun violence while also upholding our right to bear arms. I am also proud to receive the endorsement of Moms Demand Action for working towards common sense gun control.

Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.

I support some form of term limits, but they must be carefully enacted as to not take away power from voters. If implemented incorrectly, term limits can empower bad actors who are not accountable to voters to gain undue influence over legislators. Term limits must be put into place in a way that makes elected officials more accountable to the residents they serve while also protecting the integrity of our democratic processes.

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 strongly support non-partisan mapmaking. I sponsored HJRCA 41, which calls for an independent commission to oversee the redistricting process. When we draw our maps, it’s also it’s critical to do it in a way that protects the voices of historically marginalized communities.

While passing HJRCA 41 into law is an important first step in eliminating gerrymandering, we need action at the federal level to fully address the issue of unfair mapmaking.

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 proud to have sponsored SB 1639, which took substantial action to address the critical need for ethics reform in Springfield. While the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform created by SB 1639 was a vital first step, we still have much more work to do to bring integrity and commonsense back to our State Capitol. As a legislature, we must come together to enact proposals that crackdown on bad actors and bring more transparency to the legislative process. This includes taking away benefits from elected officials who have been convicted of a crime, doing away with unethical red light camera schemes and creating a statewide database of lobbyists and their financial disclosures.

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?

We should take action to protect the personal data of our residents online. I’m committed to supporting any legislation that implements more commonsense protections for consumers’ online privacy.

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?

We know that Illinois students leaving our state means we lose the invaluable talent of countless bright young people as well as hundreds of millions in lifetime tax revenue. Former Gov. Rauner’s budget crisis only exacerbated this problem, and now we’re working to reverse four years of significant damage he caused to our state universities and colleges. If we’re to fix Illinois’ student outmigration problem, we need responsible, bipartisan solutions. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 fiscal crisis, we came together and voted to keep funding for our higher-education institutions level. I pledge to continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enact more proposals that will strengthen our state’s colleges and universities in a way that makes them more attractive to Illinois students and more competitive on the national and global stage.

What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?

My top environmental priority is eliminating ethylene oxide emissions from our community. I’m proud to have passed the toughest ethylene oxide legislation in the nation into law, but there is still much more work to be done. There is no amount of ethylene oxide that is safe for human exposure, but corporate polluters continue to emit this cancer-causing substance into the air around our parks, playgrounds and schools. I sponsored legislation that would ban the use of this harmful chemical in our community, and I pledge to continue fighting until we completely eliminate ethylene oxide emissions near our residential areas.

Another top environmental priority for me is passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act. I’m a co-sponsor of this measure, and it’s critical that we enact this legislation as soon as possible. The Clean Energy Jobs Act will put Illinois on the path to a stronger, greener economy by creating more jobs in renewable energy, lowering our utility bills and reducing pollution.

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 has inspired me since I was an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago and had the opportunity to spend time at the Hull-House learning about her. Addams was a suffragette, social worker, author, reformer, and peace activist. She co-founded the Hull-House settlement and was a driving force behind the first Illinois legislation protecting women and children, establishing child labor laws, and introducing immigrant protections. She was also a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Much of the work that she did was focused around women and mothers. She wrote and lectured about the similarities between our government and the workings of a household, and asserted that because of this, women were well suited to positively contribute by participating in elections and in government. In her settlement work, she encouraged the concepts of cooperation, lifting each other up, and democracy. She really established the foundation of much of the work that is important to me now in terms of equality, education, healthcare, social services, community, democracy, and children’s protections.

What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?

I’m a fan of Law and Order - the original one, not the spinoffs. It’s interesting to watch the progression from the police investigation to the courtroom. The main characters are imperfect, everyday hard-working people who grapple with real-life issues and who care deeply about truth and justice. The topics are timely - often “ripped from the headlines” and thought provoking.