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Keith R. Wheeler, Illinois House 50th District Republican nominee profile

His top priorities include improving traffic intersections in the district, building a Metra station in Kendall County and installing a sound barrier on Orchard Road.

Keith R. Wheeler, Illinois House 50th District Republican nominee and incumbent, 2020 election candidate
Keith R. Wheeler, Illinois House 50th District Republican nominee and incumbent.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Candidate profile

Keith R. Wheeler

Running for: State Representative for the 50th District

Political party affiliation: Republican

Political/civic background:

  • Former Chairman of the National Federation of Independent Business Fox Valley Area Action Council for Small Business
  • Former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Kendall County Food Pantry from 2008 to 2014
  • Former Board Chairman for the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • Former NFIB Illinois Leadership Council Chairman
  • Former Treasurer of the Oswego Bears Youth Football and Cheer Pop Warner program
  • Former Bristol Township Trustee

Occupation: Manager & Founder of Responsive Network Services, LLC / State Representative for the 50th District

Education: BA from the University of Illinois

Campaign website: keithwheeler.net/

Facebook: facebook.com/electkeith

Twitter: keithwheeler


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. Keith R. Wheeler 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 budget issue in Springfield was anything but a collaborative approach this year. The majority party chose a path based on federal funds coming to the rescue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t prepare an alternative that didn’t count on those federal dollars. Our state doesn’t have reserves in place to fall back on due to placing spending priorities over sound fiscal management. Illinois has missed out on economic growth that should have driven higher tax revenues in the years since the Great Recession. The loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs due to uncompetitive state policies has hurt our economy and tax revenues, but more importantly, that job loss has taken a devastating toll on local families. My focus since I got elected is to foster an environment that creates, “Illinois Jobs for Illinois Families”. What that means is we need to reduce the cost of doing business in Illinois. Over the last five years Illinois has become an outmigration state. More people are moving out than moving in. That problem is 100% a result of bad government policies. Extraordinarily high property taxes is the number 1 reason I hear from people leaving the 50th district. They are going to Texas, Florida, Tennessee and other states in huge numbers. When I see the low amount of property taxes that people are paying in Tennessee for massive homes, it really concerns me that Illinois can’t implement the policies that are working so well in those destination states. We need people to stop moving out of Illinois. We need people to start moving to Illinois so we can grow our economy and our tax base. Our budget process has to be more inclusive to achieve a sustainable balance that grows us out of the hole that we face.

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 B+ for effort and a C- for results. I think that the daily updates early on were helpful for the most part. I believe that the Governor and Dr. Ezike has done an admirable job communicating the risks and preventative measures that need to be taken. I also commend the Governor for implementing the testing facilities across Illinois. Our state has certainly been one of the leaders in that area. However, I would have liked to have seen much more collaboration with the General Assembly during this process. I believe that legislators could have provided valuable input which would have helped in the pandemic response. The biggest problem from our district office perspective is that the Governor has failed too many families who are struggling with their unemployment benefits. Recent reports state that less than 1% of the calls made to IDES have been answered. Too many families across our state have been waiting since March to resolve issues with their claims. It is way past time for the Governor to reopen the unemployment offices across the state. If the Secretary of State’s office can be open, the unemployment offices can open as well. My office has had to direct far too many people to food pantries because they can’t feed their families as a result of the lack of responsiveness from IDES. I understand that this is not easy task. However, five months is too long to wait for your benefits when you have a family to feed.

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 wholeheartedly support a balanced approach to police reform. During the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, I spoke with local officials, police officers, fellow legislators on both sides of the aisle, community activists, and especially my friends in the Black Caucus. I believe that we should evaluate our current approach to law enforcement training and mental health assessment both at the hiring stage as well as throughout a police officer’s career in order to make sure that the right people are in place along with the most appropriate and effective resources to support our law enforcement personnel. With that basis in mind, additional efforts toward community engagement are a top priority to rebuild the relationship and trust between community members and law enforcement personnel. It is my understanding that licensure and other legislative efforts will be discussed in veto session and I plan to be a an active participant in those discussions.

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

I support the concept in general, but I want to understand from where the funding will come. I would not support another unfunded mandate to pass on to county sheriffs and municipal police departments without a funding source. I fear that this would just create another increase on the property tax burden of Illinois citizens. The cameras themselves are expensive pieces of technology, but that is not the only cost that would come with this proposal. The issue of storing the videos once they are recorded and managing those recordings is important to consider as well. Data storage is not free and we would have to work out a system with which these recordings are stored safely. Our goal should absolutely be to have a body cam on every officer eventually. I support it. I think the body cams protect not only the citizens who interact with the police officer but they protect the police officer as well. I don’t think it’s something that we will be able to do all at once, but I believe it is an attainable goal.

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?

From what I have read in the indictment there are multiple parties at fault. ComEd is certainly culpable for their role in the scandal. They’ve admitted as much in their deferred prosecution agreement. Certainly, the Speaker’s inner circle who appear to have orchestrated the arrangement have to share blame. If Speaker Madigan was aware of any wrongdoing by his closest aides and didn’t stop the activities when he learned of them, then he is also to blame. If he had a role in orchestrating the scheme, then I would expect that he will be prosecuted. We should all be concerned about the culture which invited this situation to exist in the first place. If ComEd didn’t think that these bribes were the only way to achieve their legislative intentions, then they surely wouldn’t have taken the course they chose. There needs to be a substantial, bipartisan ethics reform package passed and I support a special session to be called by Governor Pritzker to do so. Speaker Madigan is the longest serving Speaker of the House in our nation’s history. Since I was sworn in as a Representative in 2015, we have seen too many instances of his failure of leadership. He has overseen a hostile workplace for multiple women with insufficient follow up by his office. In some instances, there was even intimidation by members of his team. I joined every member of the Republican caucus in calling for his Speaker Madigan’s resignation. I do not believe that he will be sworn in as Speaker of the House next January, nor should he be.

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.

Legislatively, one of the bills I am most proud of is HB2135 which was signed into law in 2019. This legislation removes the statute of limitations for criminal sexual assault in Illinois. This bill was brought to me by the mother of a constituent whose daughter was brutally gang raped. There were problems with the investigation of this incident, and she was concerned that by the time the issues were addressed the clock would run out on prosecuting the perpetrators. Additionally, advances in DNA technology has been improved drastically in the past decade. In the last two years, I have also managed to get bills passed and signed that improve technology opportunities (HB3575) and allow prosecution of crimes that occur in the cloud (HB2133). I have sponsored many bills including support for veterans, protections for workers regarding sexual assault, prevention of human trafficking and improvements in women’s breast health.

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.

There are some traffic intersections that need attention as soon as possible. The intersection of Route 30 and Orchard Road needs to be reprioritized by IDOT to be expanded and improved. I have made the request of IDOT officials to reevaluate the situation and make it a top priority going forward. Another example is the Village of Elburn has an intersection on IL Route 38 and Anderson Road which has a high number of traffic accidents. I have been working with the mayor, police department, and the Illinois Department of Transportation to bring a traffic light to that intersection. In fact, I have directed funding from member initiative money to fund that project.

In the FY2020 budget, the State of Illinois allocated $100 million to fund project to bring a Metra station to Kendall County. This station will bring economic development to the community which in turns eases the burden on residential property taxpayers. The Metra station will also ease the morning commute to Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Another added benefit will be that people will be able to come to Kendall County to experience the many outstanding restaurants, shopping opportunities, and music venues.

Orchard Road is one of the main traffic corridors in the 50th district. It stretches from North Aurora and head south into Oswego. The road has seen its usage increase enormously in recent years. The number semi-trucks that travel to and from Route 88 has created a noise disturbance for people who live along the road. There is currently a wooden fence that protects many of the homes, but it is totally insufficient to block out the noise. I have dedicated $250,000 from the member initiative fund to begin the process of building a sound barrier along that route.

8. What are your other top legislative priorities?

My promise to the voters of the 50th district when I was first elected is to foster an environment that creates Illinois Jobs for Illinois Families. For many families, their job opportunities seem to be more attractive in neighboring states. The reason for the lack of Illinois job availability is totally self-inflicted by our political leaders. The cost of doing business is too high in Illinois. The property tax burden on Illinois families and businesses is too high and it has taken a steep toll on families and job creators. The number of jobs moving out of Illinois is too high.

My number one goal is to reduce the property tax burden on Illinois families. That issue is by far the number one issue that I hear about from my neighbors. We need to reduce the unfunded mandates that the Illinois legislature passes on to municipal governments, county government, and our public schools. We also need to look at reforming the way TIF districts are used in our state.

On the positive side, I filed the Blue Collar Jobs Act to incentivize tax credits based on work done by Illinois’ incredible construction workforce. The bill became a part of the FY2020 budget deal and will take effect on January 1, 2020. There is definitely more work to do to create jobs and drive down property taxes, but this is a helpful start.

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

I voted against adding this question to the ballot when this bill was in the Illinois House. The solution to every problem according to the majority party always seems to be a tax increase. Voters should take into account that the ballot question opens the door to higher taxes for the middle class, not just the rich. Once there is no restriction on how to tax individuals as a single group, the legislature can pass tax increases with a simple majority of each chamber along with a willing governor. The constitutional changes don’t even require the tax rate to be higher on higher incomes. It’s pretty hard to convince people that our fiscal discipline in Springfield has earned their trust on a more flexible way to take their family’s hard-earned money.

Companies with good paying jobs and families are leaving this state because the tax burden is too high. Increasing that burden on our highest income residents will only motivate more of them to leave our state. We need to attract more high-income individuals to our state, not give them a reason to leave. Illinois has been a net outmigration state for the last five years - the only state in the country to have that happen. Illinois is on the verge of losing at least one, possible two Congressional seats next year. This is a direct result of misguided policies of the majority party.

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?

The state needs to do two things right off the bat. The first is to keep our residents from fleeing to other states. The next is to attract new business with high-paying jobs to relocate to Illinois. We are losing jobs, companies, and residents to other states which have a much more competitive tax and regulation environment. Again, the first step in the process is pension reform. Our bond ratings are hovering above junk which costs the state more money on interest payments. Corporations are not coming here in large enough numbers, they’re leaving. College students are not choosing to attend Illinois universities because they are not competitive with neighboring states. When in-state tuition is more expensive in Illinois than out-of-state tuition, there is a serious problem and students have figured that out. Taxpayers invest in twelve years of public schooling for our children. When they attend colleges and universities outside of Illinois and don’t return to our state, then we, as a state, lose the investment we’ve made in them. We hope to get a return on investment that these children will put down roots in Illinois and become high income producers.

Every single aspect of state spending needs to be reviewed. We need to look at the procurement process for state spending. We need to root out the corruption that is so rampant in this state.

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

Absolutely not! We cannot tax our way out of this problem. The more we increase taxes, the more that people will be forced to leave our state. The higher our taxes the fewer people will want to relocate here. Illinois residents are already among the highest taxed in the country. At some point we must look at alternatives. We must reduce spending. There are very few financial advantages to living in Illinois. One of the few that we have in Illinois is not taxing retirement income. If we remove that incentive to stay in Illinois it will trigger a mass exodus of retirees. We’ve seen statistics of state employees who retired to other states. Unfortunately, those dollars are not being spent in Illinois due to a host of problems self-inflicted by the legislature.

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

Our schools are doing the best they can with the hand that the state has dealt them. After years of pro-rating state funding based on what Springfield had left over (mostly due to pension constraints) instead of what schools actually needed, the General Assembly passed a new funding formula which is sending substantially more money to local school districts. If the state can manage to keep its promise to steadily increase those funds, school districts will find themselves on better financial footing. I have and will continue to support less unfunded mandates on local school districts as I have heard from administrators and school board members that they shouldn’t have to do more with less because the state can’t find a way to pay for the mandates. In the aftermath of COVID-19, state government is going to have to collaborate with school officials to find real answers to help students and teachers in a new environment that may not look as much like the traditional approach with which we are all familiar.

13. 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 make sure that people who commit gun crimes in Illinois are being prosecuted and sentenced more appropriately. There has been a push to reduce incarceration in our state which I generally support. However, when police officers arrest offenders for committing gun crimes, the offenders are sometimes released back onto the street before the police even finish with the paperwork for the arrest. We need to increase resources to address the gun violence epidemic taking place in our state, specifically in the city of Chicago. I think that Mayor Lightfoot needs to work collaboratively with the federal government and the Governor to get this violence under control. The bickering between the President and the Mayor needs to stop. Lives are being lost and this should not be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, that is what it appears to have devolved into. I have participated in many discussions about gun violence and I serve as the spokesperson on the House Firearm Public Awareness Task Force with Chairman LaShawn Ford to work toward a better understanding of what needs to occur.

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

I have supported term limits in Illinois. No one needs to serve in one office for decades. Public service should really be about service. I’ve also supported legislation which would put term limits on legislative leaders in the General Assembly. I think it has become fairly obvious what can happen when one individual consolidates power over multiple decades. If term limits were in place than it would motivate people to vote for what is best for their constituents, not what is best for their re-election. I want to look closer to how term limits have impacted states where they are in place. There needs to be a balance that checks the influence of unelected legislative staff and lobbyists with the actual officeholder.

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?

Gerrymandering is a very real concern. Governor Pritzker campaigned on this issue and I am very disappointed to see that he did not follow through on his promise. Of course, I’m not surprised because redistricting reform would likely expand the number of Republican seats in the legislature. I believe that the redistricting process needs to be taken out of the hands of politicians. We need to an independent group to oversee this process. My background is in IT. I know that there are computer algorithms that can be designed that would do a much fairer job of drawing district lines that the current system.

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?

SB1639 is a bill that I supported. I believe it is a good first step but doesn’t go nearly far enough. This bill was pushed through quickly by the majority party after the third member of the legislature was indicted. Unfortunately, it was rushed, watered down, and will not be effective enough in reducing the corruption that has been unfortunately too rampant in Springfield and across Illinois.

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?

People really deserve to have more control of their own data. There are a number of legislative approaches that are already on the table to address this issue. I have been deeply involved in some of these conversations and I expect to see a vote on legislation this fall. Naturally, a federal approach would offer companies a more cohesive path to comply with a data protection initiative along these. Since that hasn’t yet occurred and other states have begun to roll out legislation that affords users more protections, Illinois should follow suit. My goal will be to work with privacy advocates and tech companies to help strike the right balance that gives users protections they deserve while not driving companies and opportunities out of Illinois due to over-reaching regulations that make compliance too burdensome.

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?

Illinois universities have a cost structure that is having a really adverse impact on our in-state tuition levels. According to some measures, Illinois has the highest in-state tuition in the country despite the fact that our state provides almost double the national average in support for in-state universities. College-bound students and their families can do math and they aren’t having much trouble finding better values in neighboring states. In fact, those neighboring states are competing for our students. It makes sense for those states to recruit Illinois students because once a student attends a university in their state, they are more likely to stay in their state. Now, they have a highly-educated worker in their state that they didn’t spend one penny providing a K-12 education for. Instead, Illinois taxpayers paid the bill and got zero return on investment. A complete review of how our universities costs are incurred is in order. The procurement process is broken which governs how the universities spend their money. They need to be allowed more flexibility in spending which would allow them to cut costs.

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

I have been appointed to be the House Republican lead representative on the governor’s clean energy working group that had been meeting earlier this summer. I am committed to work with all sides to help craft a practical clean energy initiative that moves Illinois toward a goal of clean energy while still protecting those that pay for energy in Illinois from substantial rate increases. That includes commercial and industrial ratepayers who provide some of our most important manufacturing jobs throughout Illinois.

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.

Besides my family, from whom I will always draw the most inspiration, there are three inspiring portraits on the wall of my office in the Stratton Building in the Capitol Complex in Springfield: Abraham Lincoln, A. K. Wheeler, and Ronald Reagan. Lincoln is off-limits in this question. A. K. Wheeler is family with a great story in Illinois politics from the 19th century. That leaves Ronald Reagan who served as president from the time is was 13 until my early 20’s. Whether or not you agreed with Reagan on policy or tactics, that doesn’t matter. He was optimistic. He had a vision for our country and he smiled when he described it. He could work with the other side of aisle and accomplish big things. He was likeable and had a sense of humor. So much of what we see and hear today in politics is the opposite of that approach. I appreciate his optimistic approach more than anything else about him. That turns out to be important and useful when you find yourself serving in the super-minority in the Illinois House.

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

The Wire from HBO. After watching The Wire season by season, I felt like I had not only been entertained by amazing characters on all sides of the law, but gotten a better glimpse into the urban issues that America’s cities like Baltimore and Chicago are facing and how real people are impacted. The Wire doesn’t leave you with a fairytale ending or even a path to improvement. Instead, you get a sense of reality and the opportunity for some empathy for struggling characters and their difficult plights while realizing that, in the chessboard of our society, all the pieces matter.