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Michelle Mussman, Illinois House 56th District Democratic nominee profile

Her top priorities include more affordable housing and transportation options in the district.

Michelle Mussman, Illinois House 56th District Democratic nominee and incumbent, 2020 election, candidate
Michelle Mussman, Illinois House 56th District Democratic nominee and incumbent.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Candidate profile

Michelle Mussman

Running for: State Representative 56th District

Political party affiliation: Democrat

Political/civic background: I have been proud to serve as the Representative in this district for 10 years.

Occupation: Full time State Representative

Education: Bachelor of Science in Design from the University of Cincinnati

Campaign website: votemichelle.org

Facebook: MichelleMussman56


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. Michelle Mussman 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?

These are unprecedented times that have shown a light on how there has not been equal or adequate investment in many areas of the state for a long time, more greatly exposing those without access to healthcare, food, housing, jobs, etc. and making it disproportionately more likely for some to contract the disease, be more sick, or more likely to die, or suffer greater economic impact than others. Our residents are relying on the state for support now, more than ever before, at the same time the state, already struggling to right its finances, has also seen it’s financial resources diminished by the results of the pandemic.We will need to use data to strategically target support and investment. I was pleased to support the creation of a new task force, with oversight powers to ensure the state is not spending money it doesn’t have and exacerbating our debt load. Failure to invest in healthcare, education, small businesses, and displaced workers now, will only prolong our economic recovery and harm our most vulnerable residents.

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 hindsight, there will always be things all bodies of government will wish they had done differently. This was an extremely challenging situation as the healthcare experts struggled to learn about this new disease and directions from the experts changed almost daily, undermining the ability of anyone in decision making positions to be perceived as credible, The Governor and state prioritized saving the lives of its residents above all else. They relied on science and made daily public updates to try to be as transparent as possible. He attempted to put out guidelines early, so residents and businesses could plan, and stand by his team’s decisions. The pandemic is still with us, and there are still serious decisions to be made, based on the guidance of science and not-partisanship, to preserve the greatest well-being of our residents, businesses and finances.

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?

First and foremost, we elected officials and citizens of Illinois need to acknowledge that the killings of black men and women and other discriminatory policies and practices across our country are happening and are unacceptable. People base their understanding and reactions on their personal experiences and many communities are impacted dramatically differently, making it hard for some to honestly appreciate the depth and breadth of these long simmering problems. This is a historic opportunity for us to step outside of our personal comfort zone to intentionally consider the perspectives of others. Our legislature has long been discussing many of these ideas, including body cameras, training, public recording, and accountability. Now is the time to listen with a more open mind to those directly impacted, to empower them to have ownership over crafting informed policies and best practices for the benefit of all residents and those who serve them.

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

Body cameras should be a part of the conversation, but do not replace the trust and respect needed between residents and the police that are meant to serve and protect them. They do not make up for a lack of sound and affordable housing, access to healthcare and affordable nutritious food, quality education, jobs, mental health resources and all those things that are part of a healthy, stable community, things people are calling out for when they talk about better using public funding.

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?

Springfield should always be looking to examine and reform their ethics policy, to be on a constant path of improvement, intent on protecting our citizens from those who do not have their best interest at heart. There should be tough fines on politicians that force them to pay back money they’ve received inappropriately from taxpayers, pensions stripped from politicians convicted of felonies, and an end to the corrupt red light camera schemes that have enriched politicians and lobbyists. We should allow the Ethics Reform Commission to continue the work that was interrupted by the crisis and swiftly implement their suggestions.

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.

Most recently I hosted a Blood Drive with Vitalaent to help them shore up critically low blood supplies. My family and I have been assisting the Village of Schaumburg Senior Center to package and distribute food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository to area seniors. Habitat for Humanity DuPage to support Tanglwood in Hanover Park. My office is a host site for Cell Phones for Soldiers. I am on the Board of WINGS and the Children’s Advocacy Center. I am former chair and current member of the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence. Member of the Schaumburg Business Association. My office actively participates on the following committees: Alliance to End Homelessness, Community Network, Committee for Positive Youth Development, Age-Friendly Communities Collaborative, Hanover Park Cultural Inclusion and Diversity Advisory, Higgins Education Center, North/Northwest Workgroup on Disability Care, Northwest Suburban Autism Consortium, North Suburban Community Network (NSCN) - Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth, Harper College Transportation Advisory Committee

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.

My district needs more affordable housing. I have many individuals with disabilities that want to live independently in the community but there are not enough options. More affordable and supportive options would help them, but also help seniors on limited income who want to downsize from their single family home but stay here near their friends, families, churches and doctors, local veterans, women escaping domestic violence, students attending Harper college, and many more. We also need more transportation options. Area seniors, people with disabilities, college students, workers without cars, are all struggling to get to the store, to the doctor, to school, to work, on time, safely, and affordably. It is a concern I hear from my businesses and across all community networks. Employers and employees connecting. Our community has numerous non-traditional employees; people with disabilities, older workers, people with a record, eager to find work and employers looking for employees, but they have trouble connecting. Sometimes there are biases, limited application or interviewing techniques, language barriers, transportation barriers, that get in the way of good people and employers connecting.

What are your other top legislative priorities?

Improving how the state supports and cares for people with disabilities to help them lead their best lives, continue to move the state forward in education and social service policy.

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

I have heard consistently all my years in office that the Illinois tax system places too heavy a burden on low and middle income earners. This proposal allows the public to have a say in changing our Constitution to give the GA more flexibility for setting policy in a way that can more equitably distribute the cost among residents, based on their ability to pay. It is a policy used by the Federal government and most other states.

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?

I have supported budgets in previous years that flat funded or cut funding for numerous programs, even in the face of growing need, going line by line through the budget, and committing to setting money aside to pay down old bills. We are even more constrained this year due to the crisis and I think once again, we need to critically examine the return on investment of any line item before committing to funding.

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

I do not support a tax on retirement and believe we need to focus on the question of the Graduated tax.

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

We need to fulfill the promise of the Evidence Based Funding Formula as quickly as possible and beyond. We need to invest in professional development and mentoring programs that lift up and retain teachers and principals in recognition of the statewide teacher shortage, and creatively attract young people into the field of education. We also need to invest in Early Childhood development, birth thru five, because the healthier and better nurtured students are at this critical stage of development, the better and less costly will be their education during their elementary and high school years.

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

I was pleased to support the recent Fix the FOID legislation to create further protections to ensure guns are only going to the people approved to have them. The GA should also work to address the stigma, lack of access to community providers, and insurance policy limitations that prohibit people struggling with mental illness from getting timely and appropriate medical attention. We also need to address the underlying stigmas and prejudices that lead to hate crimes.

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

I know in talking with my residents on this issue that many feel strongly that an election is the appropriate way for residents to declare if they are satisfied with the work of the incumbent in office, and that term limits may solve some problems, but also create an environment that can instead empower internal staff or lobbyists that are not accountable to the public. I am open to the conversation, but would be thoughtful about the timeline being considered.

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 have supported proposals in the 99th and 101st assemblies to support an independent redistricting plan. I would want to be certain that any proposal would ensure that minority voices are protected. I am also concerned that this is part of a larger national discussion. I am concerned that President Trump restricting the Census count may leave us working with inaccurate numbers for an entire decade. Also, that Republican-led states that are largely guilty of gerrymandering are not taking steps to address their own maps, creating a federal government that may not be reflective of America as a whole.

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 think it is a good step, but the work should continue. The Commission should continue to draw suggestions from a wide variety of stakeholders and their suggestions be implemented. But I also think that people intent on defrauding the government in some way will always exist and that elected officials, journalists, and the public should continue to be vigilant about seeking out wrongdoers and changing policy to address new information.

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 think it is incumbent upon the legislature to enact consumer protection actions as technology introduces new risks. We will need to work with industry experts in an attempt to weigh and evaluate changes to technology that can benefit the consumer with these new downsides.

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?

I think the instability and funding cuts seen during the Rauner years made Illinois universities not feel like a safe choice for many families about something that is such a huge investment. I also felt Governor Rauner using his platform as our highest officer to speak badly about our state and talk up other ones seriously damaged the morale of our citizens. I think having a Governor proudly sing our praises and stabilizing funding will go a long way toward making Illinois universities seem like an appealing choice again. I have been proud to support increased funding for MAP Grants, changes to allow students to access MAP grants all four years instead of one, and the creation of a new AIM HIGH merit-based grant for students.

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

The most important thing we can do right now is pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act!

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.

I dearly admire Barbara Flynn Currie and was grateful for the opportunity to serve with her. It was very inspirational to draw parallels to how she got started in her early days with my own start. It was good for me to see her in serious debate. She has a calm, resolve. She knew her material and remained unruffled, persistent, with little hints of humor to help alleviate the tension at times.

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

I have actually quite enjoyed the Great British Baking Show during the pandemic. The contestants were put in highly stressful situations, but they and the judges did not curse, or belittle, or embarrass anyone. I felt we could all learn a little something about treating others well and weathering our own disappointments. My family and I even tried out a few of the recipes!