Terra Costa Howard
Running for: State Representative, 48th District
Political party affiliation: Democrat
- One term, State Representative, 48th District
- Two terms, Glen Ellyn School Board of Education, District 41, including two years as Board President
- Member, Glen Ellyn Rotary Club
- Member, Glen Ellyn Plan Commission (2015-2018)
- Member, PTA, Benjamin Franklin Elementary School
- Volunteer, Glen Ellyn Junior Women’s Club
- Girl Scout Leader
Occupation: Attorney and small business owner
Education: JD, DePaul University College of Law;
BA, Political Science/Speech Communications, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
Campaign website: http://tchfor48.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. Terra Costa Howard 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.
I am hoping and praying that President Biden will lead a national effort to help every state recover financially from this disaster. We’re going to need help, and our need is going to extend beyond this fiscal year. At this point, it’s hard to say what our greatest needs will be, and how we will put our financial house back in order. But the bottom line is, this is a national disaster, and it will require a national solution.
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?
I would give Governor Pritzker a solid A-minus. I was very proud that Illinois took fast, effective action to stop the spread of the virus back in March, and I think the Governor was wise to build out emergency facilities to make sure we did not overwhelm our hospitals. I also thought he was absolutely right to stand up to Trump and call him out for his repeated failures to support the states and provide the help we needed as the virus hit Illinois.
Governor Pritzker also deserves respect for his unwavering focus on the scientific facts, despite the political heat he has received. I’m very disappointed that so many Republicans, including my opponent, are treating COVID-19 as though it is a partisan issue. I only hope that we can join together and avoid another deadly surge as we move into fall.
If I had one criticism, it would be that I think he could have increased the number of districts a bit earlier, to enable municipalities to start taking more ownership and leadership in this crisis. But as I look around the rest of the country, it seems very clear to me that Governor Pritzker’s leadership has saved thousands of lives. Basically, people need to understand that a true public health success is invisible. If you take aggressive action and then you don’t have people dying on the streets, it doesn’t mean that you overreacted. It means that you did the right thing, at the right time, and it worked.
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?
Clearly, the Illinois Legislature needs to take a closer look at law enforcement policies and practices throughout our state. That will require all parties to listen to each other without defensiveness or posturing. A few weeks ago, I invited law enforcement officials from my district to participate in in one of our series of community conversations on race. I thought it was important for officers to hear about the experiences of BIPOC residents who have been singled out, again and again, for baseless and unconstitutional stops and searches. I also thought it was important for community members to hear our law enforcement leaders talk about their efforts to address systemic racism in policing and criminal justice. While it’s clear that we have a long way to go, I was encouraged by the participants’ candor and their willingness to listen to each other. Together, I think we can find better ways to protect our communities and assure that everyone’s rights are respected.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Before I vote in favor of mandatory body cameras, I would want to see some hard data from communities where the cameras are required. I’d like to see whether mandatory body cameras really do result in reduced reports of police misconduct, and I’d also like to know how police departments deal with the issue of officer compliance. I know that body cameras are popular with the public, and I fully agree with the idea that officers should be held accountable for their actions. But, given their expense, I want to make sure that body cameras are truly increasing safety and reducing misconduct before I vote in favor of making then mandatory statewide and imposing a major expenditure on municipal budgets that are already stretched to their limits.
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?
As I have previously stated publicly, I was horrified to read the sworn statements in the U.S. Attorney’s agreement with Commonwealth Edison, which detailed a years long scheme of payoffs and bribery involving many of Speaker Madigan’s closest allies. Even if he was not directly involved in this scheme, these accusations clearly demonstrate that the Speaker’s leadership has failed. Speaker Madigan has a duty to recognize that these allegations have cast a deep shadow on the reputation of our House. He must take action now to avoid inflicting further damage on the members of the House and the Democratic Party.
Speaker Madigan has not been charged with any crime, and he — like all of us — is entitled to the presumption of innocence and due process. But the corruption and unethical behavior that have been revealed by this investigation make it impossible for Rep. Madigan to continue in his leadership roles. I hope he will do the honorable thing and step down.
As we move forward, I think we need to pass new ethics legislation. But keep in mind that the ComEd scandal involves crimes, not simply ethical breaches. We already have laws on the books to stop this type of activity. What we need are elected leaders who will follow the law, and who will make sure that the people closest to them are staying in line as well.
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.
As the representative for the 48th District, I led on bipartisan legislation that gives our local governments in DuPage County more flexibility in spending revenue from the hotel tax. This change enables them to make critical investments in roads, bridges, and other infrastructure improvements that create and support jobs.
I worked with the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association to pass a new law to help stop human trafficking. Almost 300 human trafficking cases were reported in Illinois 2018, but many more cases of exploitation go unreported every day. Thanks to this new legislation, hotel and motel employees in Illinois will be trained to identify warning signs of human trafficking and will learn the best practices for reporting suspicious activities.
I’ve been a champion for property tax fairness. After I read news reports about a legal loophole that allowed tenants of the DuPage Airport Authority to skip out on nearly $770,000 in overdue property tax payments, I worked to pass new bipartisan legislation that penalizes airport tenants that don’t pay their fair share.
I’ve also emphasized outreach to constituents. I’ve held multiple town halls in every village in the district, including special sessions focused on the new tax plan, opioid use, and environmental issues. I held evening office hours for working families, at my constituent office, and at sites around the district. I’ve held numerous constituent coffee hours, and I’ve also hosted Cones with Costa Howard, where constituents get free ice cream while sharing their ideas.
Since the pandemic began, I’ve been out working every day in my district – sponsoring food drives, handing out masks, volunteering at food pantries, and doing anything else I can think of to support the people of our communities.
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.
If I wanted to be flippant, I’d say that the first, second, and third top priorities in my district are all property tax relief. Our broken property tax system is far and away the biggest issue I hear about from my constituents. It is wrong, on so many levels, that the State of Illinois has shirked its responsibility to our public schools for so long, resulting in our unfair and unbalanced property tax system. We need to work on the revenue side, through the Fair Tax, to make sure we have funds available to make good on the financial promises the state has made to our public schools.
Right now, the other issue I hear about every day is the mess at the Illinois Department of Employment Services (IDES). It is absolutely unacceptable that people who have lost their jobs in this pandemic have been put through the wringer while they try to apply for the unemployment insurance they need and deserve. I will be advocating for legislative hearings on this mess when we get back to Springfield.
The third issue is the need to make good on the commitments made through our capital plan. The residents of the 48th District made a strong contribution to State revenues, and our communities are in need of thoughtful infrastructure investments to make sure they remain great places to live, raise families, and build businesses.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
My priorities have remained constant throughout my term in the Legislature. They are:
Public education is the cornerstone of our communities.
When we fund our schools, we’re making an investment in the future that helps everyone in Illinois, because those kids grow up to be our employees (or, sometimes, our bosses.) That early investment in education yields decades of enormous returns – in shared prosperity, in an expanded tax base, and in greater opportunities for everyone.
Everybody in Illinois deserves clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. I stand with our environmental community in the fight to protect our open lands and natural resources and to promote renewable energy sources that will help us battle climate change.
We need to work to create 21st century jobs in wind, solar and other renewable and clean energies, and we need to make sure our workers have the training they need to succeed in the new clean energy economy.
I am very proud to have won the endorsement of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. Together, we are fighting to launch a clean energy revolution and battle the shadowy special interests who threaten our environment, our health, our safety, and our lives.
· Women’s Rights and Reproductive Health
My opponent is dangerously extreme in his opposition to women’s rights, including our right to make our own decisions about our reproductive health. He wants to criminalize abortion, even for survivors of rape and incest. He also consistently voted against laws that would help Illinois women achieve fair treatment in the workplace.
We need leaders in Springfield who will listen to women and respect our voices – instead of turning their backs and trying to deny us a seat at the table.
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I support the graduated income tax. The State of Illinois’ structural deficit has been building over decades. Historically, we have had one of the lowest state income tax rates in the nation, which has forced overreliance on other revenue sources – most problematically, the property tax, which has been used to make up the gap between State education funding and the actual cost of providing excellent public schools. As a result, we have huge educational disparities between wealthy and impoverished communities.
The graduate income tax will increase state revenues by asking people in the highest income brackets to pay more while keeping taxes flat – or even reducing the income tax burden – for 97% of the people living in Illinois. As it stands, our tax structure is extremely regressive; the top 1% of Illinoisans pay approximately 7% of their income in state and local taxes. For middle and lower-income families, the tax bite is almost twice as high; on average, they wind up paying about around 13% of their income in state and local taxes.
Look – it is absolutely unfair to make fast food workers pay the same percentage of their wages in income tax that billionaires do. I understand that none of us want to pay more in taxes, but the Governor’s graduated tax plan will generate additional revenue to fund our schools and lower the property tax burden, and it will help us to address that structural budget deficit and put Illinois on a path toward real fiscal sustainability. And I think that’s something all of us should support.
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?
Our state’s pension mess was created over DECADES by legislators on both sides of the aisle. Moving forward, we need to make sure that pension payments are made on time and in full. We need to bring all parties together at the table and come up with a thoughtful, responsible, bipartisan plan to put our pension funds on a solid fiscal foundation. We need to make sure that the state fulfills its constitutional obligations to public employees who have counted on their modest pensions to fund their retirements – and we need to pass laws with real teeth in them to make sure that irresponsible legislators can never make a mess like this again.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
I do not think there is any political will to tax retirement income in Illinois, even if we limit it to the very wealthiest residents. I do not believe, as some have suggested, that imposing a tax on our wealthiest older residents would cause an exodus out of state. I think most people value their ties to family and community over their marginal income tax rates, especially if they are affluent to begin with. But whatever the arguments pro or con might be, I think it’s a nonstarter politically.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
It’s simple: We need to provide adequate state funding to ensure that every student has access to a good public education, regardless of zip code. The Illinois Constitution says very clearly: “The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.” But instead of meeting that responsibility, our legislators have piled the cost of public schools on the backs of homeowners. Funding schools primarily through property taxes is unfair to everyone.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
I was honored to receive the Moms Demand Action Gun Sense distinction when I first ran for office, and I have demonstrated my commitment to common-sense gun safety laws during my term as State Representative.
I have proven that I’m not afraid to stand up to the powerful gun lobby. In one of my first actions in Springfield, I filed House Bill 3553, to prohibit local governments from passing any ordinance restricting enforcement of any state gun law. My public opposition to these so-called “sanctuary counties” made me a target of gun extremists nationwide. There were videos on YouTube urging angry gun owners to “reach out and touch” me, and I had to contact the police because of the threats made against me and my family.
Despite their threats and bullying, I won’t back down. I was a proud co-sponsor of HB 96, the Fix the FOID Act, which would have tightened Illinois gun ownership laws and provided more resources to enforce existing laws that aim to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. That bill also would have required private gun sales and transfers to be conducted through a licensed firearms dealer, with the dealer holding on to the firearm until background checks are cleared.
I also support:
· A ban on high capacity magazines.
· Requiring statewide licensing of gun dealers.
· Closing the gun show loophole.
· Raising the age to purchase assault weapons.
· Prohibiting “bump stock” and other trigger modifications like the ones used in Las Vegas to turn firearms into fully automatic weapons.
Peter Breen’s 93% rating from the NRA says everything we need to know about him. I believe families want our leaders in Springfield to take action against gun violence.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I think term limits sound like a really good idea to voters who are frustrated with unresponsive governments and legislative deadlock.
Personally, I believe we already have term limits in place – the regular elections in which voters can elect new leaders to represent their districts. However, I will thoughtfully consider any proposed piece of legislation regarding term limits, and I will seek input from the people in my district before deciding how I will vote.
However, I think there’s a larger issue related to this question that we need to address. When I began knocking on doors back in 2018, I was surprised to meet so many people who don’t know the names of their State Representative or State Senator. That doesn’t mean those voters are lazy or uninterested in government. It means that – between their jobs and their family responsibilities – most people are doing the very best they can just to stay on top of things.
Most people don’t have a lot of free time to read political blogs or dig into newspaper questionnaires like this one. But they do know that too many of their leaders in government seem to have lost touch with the people who put them in office.
As candidates and as elected officials, we need to do a much better job of reaching out and listening to our constituents, instead of pursuing partisan squabbles at their expense. When voters know that their elected representatives are working for them and their communities, many of them don’t want to lose those representatives to term limits.
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?
In a democracy, voters are supposed to have the power to choose their elected officials. But here in Illinois, as in many other states, politicians have the power to draw legislative districts to their own liking – basically allowing them to hand-pick their voters by carving up districts with prefabricated Democratic or Republican majorities. As the primary House sponsor for the Fair Maps Amendment in Illinois, I advocated strongly for an end to gerrymandering in Illinois by empowering an independent commission to draw the legislative district maps throughout the state.
People need to understand that drawing fair districts isn’t as simple as slicing the state of Illinois into a bunch of equal-sized squares. Fair redistricting focuses on the people and communities in each district. So in addition to making sure that each district contains roughly the same number of people, we need to make sure that Illinois’ new districts have reasonable boundaries and ensure that minority communities have a fair voice in choosing their lawmakers.
Although the pandemic interrupted our session and made it impossible for us to put the Fair Maps Amendment on the November 3 ballot, we still have the chance to reform the way we draw our legislative maps.
As elected officials, we should trust the voters of Illinois to make wise, well-informed choices.
We need to take effective action to reform Illinois’ redistricting system and strengthen people’s faith in our state government.
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?
I strongly support any actions that will make our government more ethical and accountable. I was a sponsor of SB 1639, and I am very glad it passed. But as the investigations of these past months have shown, having strong ethics laws on the books is not enough. We have to elect ethical men and women who will abide by those laws, and who will insist that those around them behave ethically as well.
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?
A number of states have passed laws to protect residents’ data privacy. In California, for example, consumers have the right to ask a business what kinds of information they are collecting, and how that information is used or sold. Consumers also can ask businesses to delete any personal information they have collected.
I think laws like this are useful, and I think we should do more in Illinois to protect consumers from misuse or piracy of their personal information. But with that said, I think we need to acknowledge that these types of laws place a real burden on consumers who want to protect their information. I mean, I don’t know how many times today I’ve clicked the “accept cookies” box to access a news story or look at a retailer’s website. It’s hard to imagine trying to keep track of all of those sites or choosing to opt out rather than making a simple purchase from a well-regarded company.
What we really need is a national policy that will require all businesses to protect consumers’ data, and that will impose real sanctions on any company that abuses our personal information for their own gain.
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?
As a proud graduate of the University of Illinois, I was a bit disappointed that none of my three daughters chose to follow in my footsteps down to Champaign. I still believe that our state universities offer a terrific value proposition for our bright young people. But over the past few years, I have been terribly concerned by the state’s failure to provide reliable, sufficient funding to our university systems. We’re doing much better under the Pritzker Administration, but we need to commit to funding our state universities at a level that enables them to attract the best talent, both faculty and students. Students will not commit to spending four years at one of our state universities if they’re worried that our state government will fail to make good on its responsibilities, resulting in faculty cutbacks or soaring tuition. When the state invests in higher education, we are investing in the future of our state. We cannot prosper if our brightest young people feel that they have to leave Illinois to pursue educational opportunity.
It’s hard to forecast what the long-term impacts of the pandemic will be on higher education. But I am hopeful that the shift to online learning may provide our state universities and our community colleges with a chance to demonstrate their value to Illinois students and help us keep our best and our brightest right here at home.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I strongly support the updated Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). This new bill will seek restitution from ComEd, in addition to the $200 million fine the utility paid to the federal government. The bill also includes performance-based metrics for utilities and repeal of ComEd and Ameren Illinois’ recent rate hikes. In addition, the updated bill also will increase environmental equity for minority communities and provides additional economic support for underserved neighborhoods.
These updates build on CEJA’s previous provisions, which call for:
· 100% renewable energy by 2050;
· Cutting carbon from the power sector by 2030;
· Reducing gas and diesel vehicles from the transportation sector; and
· Creating jobs and economic opportunity.
CEJA will drive more than $30 billion in new private investment in Illinois and will expand access to clean energy careers and create community wealth as we build a new clean energy economy.
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.
I am deeply inspired by Ellen Martin, who was the first woman in Illinois to vote in a municipal election. She made history on April 6, 1891, when she walked into her local polling place in Lombard and demanded her right to vote.
Ellen Martin was a smart, savvy attorney, who had graduated from the University of Michigan law school in 1875 and was admitted to the Illinois bar the next year. As a woman working as a lawyer in the 19th century, Ellen Martin had spent much of her career advocating for women’s rights. She had noticed that the Lombard village charter had accidentally included gender-neutral language. It read, “All citizens of said state of Illinois, above the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been actual residents of said town of Lombard ninety days next preceding any election held under the provisions of this act, shall be entitled to vote at any such election.”
When Ellen Martin read the charter language, she saw her chance. She rounded up more than a dozen of her women friends, and they marched together to the village polling place. Together, she and her friends made history – even though the village leaders quickly rewrote the village charter after they realized their mistake.
The women of Lombard had to wait almost 30 more years before the 19th Amendment was passed, assuring women’s right to vote. But Ellen Martin’s intelligence and determination made history, and she set an important example for Illinois women that continues to inspire us today.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
I absolutely loved The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, because the show invited us into New York City in the 1950s, an unfamiliar world (at least to me) that they had recreated down to the last loving detail. I still remember the first time I saw Midge’s kitchen, which was wildly decorated in mint green and candy apple red. She even had a mint green telephone! And the costumes were breathtaking, with all those 1950s silhouettes and over-the-top accessories.
But the thing that really drew me into the show is that it’s not just a museum exhibit of stylish clothes and interiors in postwar New York. All those details simply work together to create the illusion that you’re watching a real story about a real, flawed, fascinating woman living and working in a specific time and place.
Midge Maisel is a character we’ve never seen before. She’s a smart, funny, independent, audacious woman, and she’s not afraid to speak her mind – even when she would be better off keeping her mouth shut. She’s not perfect, not by a long shot, and she makes some jaw-droppingly bad life choices. But I love her bravery, her ambition, and her willingness to step outside her comfort zone to achieve her dreams.
I have to mention that it’s disappointing that there are so few Black characters on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, given that it’s set in one of the most diverse cities in the world. I hope that the show’s writers will listen to the critics who have pointed out the overwhelming whiteness of the world that they have created. But with that said, I am really looking forward to seeing what’s next for Midge Maisel in the seasons to come.