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John Connor, Illinois Senate 43rd District Democratic nominee profile

His top priorities include education, infrastructure and the environment.

John Connor, Illinois Senate 43rd District Democratic nominee, 2020 election questionnaire
John Connor, Illinois Senate 43rd District Democratic nominee.
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Candidate profile

John R. Connor

Running for: State Senate, 43rd District

Political party affiliation: Democrat

Political/civic background: Major Crimes Chief at the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office and career prosecutor with a specialty in the handling of digital forensic evidence. Convened the special grand jury that investigated and indicted Bolingbrook Sergeant Drew Peterson, member of the trial team that convicted him in 2012. Appointed to replace Emily McCasey (resigned) as 85th District State Representative in June of 2017. First elected in November 2018.

Occupation: Attorney.

Education: Joliet Catholic High School (1984-1988); University of Notre Dame, BA in History (1988-1992); University of Illinois College of Law, JD (1992-1995)

Campaign website: connorforillinois.com

Facebook: facebook.com/ConnorforIllinois/

Twitter: twitter.com/connorforIL

Instagram: instagram.com/connorforillinois/


The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Illinois Senate a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. John R. Connor 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 COVID-19 pandemic has worsened many of Illinois’ financial problems. The path to fiscal recovery from the pandemic is not dissimilar from the path to recovery that we followed when I joined the legislature at the end of the Rauner administration. After two years without a budget, the top priority has been stabilizing our state’s finances by paying our bills on time. During the budget impasse, the state ran up millions in interest and late payment fees alone. The $6.2 billion budget shortfall, while daunting, should not stun our leaders into inaction; paying our bills in full and on time will shrink the budget shortfall and improve our state’s credit rating.

Many of Illinois’ most persistent fiscal challenges have roots in our outdated income tax structure. I support the Fair Tax Ballot Initiative to reform Illinois’ income tax structure so that those who earn a higher income pay higher taxes. Instituting a graduated income tax should not be seen as a solution to the COVID budget shortfall, but it will fix the structural budgetary problems that underlie the shortfall. A large, populous, complex state like Illinois cannot be supported by an outmoded income tax structure.

While Illinois can follow these practices to curtail the fiscal consequences of COVID, the federal government must take action as well. The federal response to this pandemic has been disorganized and inadequate, often owing to the incompetence of the Trump Administration. We need better leaders in government, beginning with a new president. If elected to the State Senate, I look forward to working with my colleagues at the federal level to bring more funding to the district to help people who are out of work and stabilize local economies.

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 think the Governor confronted an untenable situation here in Illinois. Despite the existence of a pandemic plan and personnel with expertise in the area in the White House at the beginning of the current administration, the 67 page playbook and the people who knew exactly how to implement it left the administration after the Bolton restructure in 2018. There was no national plan, and individual governors were left not only to fend for their states in a disjointed, often competitive environment, but forced to do so with no centralized mechanism to prioritize getting resources to the states that needed them most during the height of the initial wave of the pandemic.

Could some more extreme measures have been taken at Illinois long term care facilities in March to insure the safety of residents early on? Possibly, but Illinois was not the only state to have issues with nursing homes and other facilities with large vulnerable populations at the very early stages of this pandemic. I think Governor Pritzker did the best job possible under circumstances that have not presented themselves in the last 100 years, and he certainly outperformed the national leader in taking action instead of foisting responsibility elsewhere. As I urged in a letter to the Governor along with other Will County legislators, I think the initial districts were too broad, but the Governor corrected that, so my grade would be a B+ in light of those two issues.

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 look forward to working with my colleagues, especially legislators in the Black Caucus, on police reform in Illinois. The Legislature should review use of force standards and body camera legislation to make necessary reforms. Some specific legislation may include a statewide restriction on law enforcement officers using “horizontal restraints” like the one used to kill George Floyd.

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

As long as the Legislature provides additional funding to assist local police departments in obtaining, maintaining, redacting and storing body camera equipment and footage, I support body camera legislation because it does two things: (1) it provides the best evidence of interaction between police and the public, eliminating conflicting versions of events; and (2) it helps the public understand the daunting situations that law enforcement and first responders face on a daily basis. In the Illinois House, I have supported legislation to streamline Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for body cam footage, making footage more accessible to the public.

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 a legislature, we can certainly implement measures that address situations which form too cozy of a relationship between legislators, their staff and associates, and companies which stand to benefit from legislation which directly impacts their profits in Illinois. Ultimately, it will still be up to the US Attorney’s Office of Illinois’ Northern District to investigate and indict legislators and their associates who subvert their constituents for personal gain and commit crimes related to their office like bribery.

As a former prosecutor, the language I understand is the language of indictment. Illinois is no stranger to indictments and trials of state politicians - former Governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich come to mind. Many friends and associates of our current President are under indictment or convicted, with a number of inspectors general fired in the last six months who were in the process of investigating his cabinet officials, so we’re certainly getting an example of what an American kleptocracy looks like in practice, where the President simply ignores any inconvenient ethical or conflict of interest laws and follows whatever impulse crosses his mind. With this leadership at the top in this country, let’s work on improving the Illinois ethics rules to impede any further corruption on the part of legislative leaders, their staff, and their associates, as outlined in the allegations in the ComEd deferred prosecution agreement. But I’d like to know the specifics of who exactly did what when, preferably through testimony and cross examination, before I start recommending actions based on allegations.

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.

One of my proudest accomplishments since taking office was working with the unincorporated community of Fairmont to stop the sale of their water system to a private company currently being sued by the state and Will County for lead contamination. Under current state law, private water companies can buy a local system and raise rates with very little recourse for residents. If elected to the Senate, I will continue to fight against the “taxation without representation” system of water privatization by passing legislation requiring a local referendum before a water system can be privatized. Additionally, I have sponsored legislative measures to encourage Illinois to invest in tech companies, disclose individuals making money off of Illinois’ borrowing, and push the use of machine-readable government financial reporting to increase transparency and lower borrowing costs moving forward.

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.

Education, infrastructure, and the environment are particularly important in the 43rd district. The evidence based education funding reform model that I supported in the Illinois House sends millions of additional state funding to local schools, some of the largest increases of any districts in the state. Our schools getting their fair share of state-level funding depends on the Legislature making an additional $350 million investment in education every fiscal year.

Infrastructure has always been important in Will County. The growth of the logistics industry in the 43rd district means that local, state, and federal governments must make greater investment in roads, bridges, rail, and waterways in the coming years. In the most recent state capital bill, I pushed to bring over $1 billion into the 43rd district for infrastructure projects, but I know that the work is far from done and will continue to secure state funds for local projects.

To update Illinois’ power system, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and prepare the state to address the challenges that accompany climate change, I support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). While I have helped make progress on local environmental issues including coal ash disposal and clean water availability during my time in the House, there is more work to be done, especially on environmental issues that have a disparate impact through the lens of race and class.

8. What are your other top legislative priorities?

I’m on the Governor’s Broadband Advisory Council to promote and expand true high speed Internet access statewide. To compete with the large coastal cities and other states that have already made great strides in broadband infrastructure and Internet entrepreneurship, we need to prepare for the tech economy with more fiber optic infrastructure throughout the state.

As our educational and research institutions work on next-generation quantum computing and quantum networking, we need to position ourselves to be a state welcoming of a tech industry that looks to 21st century innovations as a path forward.

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

I support reforming Illinois’ tax code to institute a graduated income tax. The current flat tax rate requires every taxpayer to pay the same percentage of their income, leading to a regressive system that benefits our state’s highest earners without giving relief to middle and low-income Illinoisans. In addition to being regressive, the flat tax simply does not bring in sufficient revenue to run a large, complex, populous state like Illinois. A graduated income tax will generate the additional revenue that we need to get Illinois on better financial footing.

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?

While there is still work to be done, the state is in a better place fiscally than it was when I took office in late 2017. At that time, Illinois was running up millions of dollars in late fees every day as the state went without a budget for over two years. Our state is still dealing with the effects of pension holidays that began decades before the budget impasse. If elected to the Senate, I will vote for budgets that pay our bills down instead of skipping bill payments with accounting tricks. With gaming expansion, adult recreational use of cannabis, and potentially the graduated income tax creating new revenue streams, we need to ensure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of past legislatures and Governors by balancing our budget through shorting our pension fund payments.

I would also like to see a quantified analysis of why, when Illinois taxpayers send their income tax money to Washington, only about 75 cents of every dollar returns to our state in Federal programs. There needs to be an accounting of why Illinois taxpayers have to donate 25% of their hard-earned dollars to prop up other states instead of receiving the benefits of their own dollars here in Illinois, where it could be funding our pensions and balancing our budget. It seems incongruous that Illinois Republicans can’t request from their US Senate counterparts that the Federal pocket-picking of Illinois residents come to an end.

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

Taxing retirement income is not a method of balancing our budget that I can support.

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

The evidence-based school funding reform that I supported when it passed the Illinois House gave Illinois the most progressive K-12 school funding system in the country. Prior to this reform, the quality of education in Illinois depended largely on how much a school district could extract in property taxes. Under the new formula, the state contributes a much larger share of funding, however the Legislature must appropriate at least $350 million in additional funding each year to stay on track to reach funding adequacy targets. I support integrating teacher pensions into the funding formula because a school district’s pension liability is a factor affecting education quality. We cannot undo past practices that have caused our schools to comprise over 60% of our property taxes, but we need to ensure moving forward that we are structurally addressing this issue instead of dodging it.

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

The majority of Americans are in favor of common sense gun violence prevention measures. During my time in the House of Representatives, I supported legislation like the Firearm Restraining Order Act and the Gun Dealer Licensing Act. I voted for the Block Illegal Gun Ownership Act, which would require point of sale background checks and improve laws concerning the Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) card.

As a former prosecutor, it is my opinion that fingerprint-based criminal history checks are indisputably the best method to curtail illegal gun ownership, and video evidence of gun dealer transactions are the best way to ensure straw purchasers are held accountable.

Creating opportunity and removing background impediments in the communities plagued with gun violence to change the economic realities is a greater overarching goal to help reduce gun violence.

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

I support term limits for legislative leaders in Illinois. I would support legally codifying measures including the ten-year term limit on the leader of the Senate that has been voted into that chamber’s rules. Serving as the head of a legislative caucus should be seen as an opportunity to lead and get things done, not a long-term career. Changing legislative leaders at least every ten years should allow for new ideas, generations, and ways of thinking to emerge more quickly.

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?

Because of its political implications, the legislative map making process is inherently partisan. We can take certain steps to remove politics from legislative map making by, for example, using computer simulations and data to draw districts without large discrepancies between voters in one party and another. However, Illinois is likely to lose a congressional seat in the upcoming remapping process, and retaining a congressional delegation that reflects the diversity of the state is crucial. We should fix what is wrong with the legislative map making process, but we must be careful to avoid any unintended consequences that dilute the representation for particular communities. I think that Federal reforms on gerrymandering should be leading the effort to insure that voters are fairly represented in a uniform manner nation wide..

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 voted in favor of SB 1639 when it passed through the Illinois House of Representatives. No legislator should be lobbying the chamber in which they serve for any private entity. It’s past time to re-examine our state’s efforts to prevent “revolving door lobbying.” Illinois needs to make a decision on outside employment for legislators generally, perhaps we should simply eliminate that as a possibility, but that will require a more in-depth analysis of all outside employment for members of the General Assembly.

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?

Illinois has some of the most comprehensive personal information privacy legislation in the country. I was a sponsor of the Illinois Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). Currently, PIPA requires data collectors to notify victims of a breach of 500 or more Illinoisans. PIPA could be strengthened by lowering the number of victims needed to trigger a breach report from 500 to 100. I also support strengthening the Biometric Information Protection Act (BIPA), which requires written consent before an entity can collect and share biometric information like facial recognition data. In my position as Vice Chair of the Cybersecurity, Data Analytics and IT committee, I have also pushed for more stringent restrictions on the use of student information gathered statewide.

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 should continue to support initiatives like Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago, which brings together the University of Illinois System, local private universities, and business leaders to offer unique, hands-on education opportunities while incubating businesses and technologies. The state university system would benefit immensely by offering a program that combines Illinois’ higher education institutions and Chicagoland’s connections to the global economy.

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

Ensuring reasonably priced, clean water for all has been a top legislative priority since I took office, and it will continue to be if I am elected to the Illinois Senate. When the unincorporated community of Fairmont was confronted with the possibility of a private water company buying its system and raising rates on residents, I worked with local leaders and elected officials to instead add Fairmont to the Joliet water system. If elected to the Senate, I will push legislation to require a referendum before a public water system can be privatized. In the long term, we need to update public water systems in Will County. To make sure that we have a dependable supply of clean water decades in the future, it is time to modernize our local water systems.

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.

Near the middle of my district is Jane Addams Middle School, which I visited last year, and I had done some research beyond what I was aware of, largely the founding of Hull House, before my visit. Jane Addams did some amazing work in her life to help the most vulnerable Illinoisans. Even though she was physically infirm, she never let that slow her down in her efforts toward world peace, enhancing culture and education, and helping the less fortunate. She took a public stance against America’s entry into World War I, and paid a price for that position. We certainly can use that inspiration to serve others in today’s divisive political times.

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

My wife and I binged on “Breaking Bad” when the series came to a close. I thought the dialogue and complexity of the characters made for great entertainment, and I attended a digital forensics training not long after we watched it with a prosecutor from New Mexico. Discussing the series with him and his insight into the quirks of law enforcement in Albuquerque, particularly organized crime along the border, gave the series an added dimension that I greatly enjoyed.