Running for: State Senate, 31st District
Political party affiliation: Democrat
Political/civic background: Former Grayslake Village Trustee, former president of the Lake County Federation of Teachers paraprofessional’s union, former member of the Lake County Board and Forest Preserve Commissioner. Founder of the group Lake County Democratic Women and longtime local community activist. Second-term sitting state senator.
Occupation: State senator
Education: Grayslake High School graduate; attended College of Lake County
Campaign website: melindaforsenate.com
Facebook: Friends of Melinda Bush (@Melinda4Senate)
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. Melinda Bush 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.
Firstly, our finances are up in the air now not only because of the pandemic but because of the federal government’s lack of fiscal leadership since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We know that we can’t cut our way out of this fiscal hole, but there are cuts to non-essential, non-human services that will have to be implemented by the state.
As far as meeting our obligations, we need to designate a percentage of state revenues to pay off pensions, and we may want to look into the reamortization of our pension debt. In these dire circumstances, we should be looking into our tax structure and ensuring that those who make more pay more, and looking into other ways to bring in revenue from high-income earners who can afford to pay it.
We also need to modernize how we bring in revenue in Illinois. Our tax system is based on an antiquated, product-based 20th-century structure when in truth our economy has evolved to be much more service-based. Our tax system needs to evolve with the changing economy in ways that economic experts believe will be more effective.
Finally, Illinois must always be looking for ways to improve its economy and expand its tax base. I helped reform and modernize the way Illinois retains and attracts business, and continue to work with our local economic development partners to make Lake County a more attractive place for businesses to call home. The State of Illinois must continue to be aggressive in their efforts to attract business and creative opening up new sectors of our economy.
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’d give Governor Pritzker an “A.” He took a big risk by being one of the first Governors during the pandemic to put science ahead of political considerations at the risk of his own popularity. He was one of the first Governors to issue a stay-at-home order that allowed Illinois to flatten the curve faster than almost any other state in the country. The governor made it clear from the beginning that he would follow public health experts and the CDC’s recommendations on how to deal with the public health crisis we now face. We are in a better position than most other states due to Governor Pritzker’s steadfast leadership and commitment to doing what is right, especially when it was hard.
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?
Firstly, let me state unequivocally that black lives matter, and systemic racism must be eliminated in this state, this country and the world at large. As a legislator who is also a white woman, I have a responsibility to be an ally to my colleagues who live with systemic racism every day - and that allyship includes doing less talking and more listening to what they know must be done. I stand in solidarity with my colleagues in the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to ensure we can pass a package of bills that would not only address police reform, but systemic racism broadly in this state.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Yes. This will provide transparency in all police-civilian interactions. I also believe that any law requiring police officers to wear body cameras must also require all officers to keep those cameras on at all times. Further, we also need to work to find dedicated revenue streams to ensure law enforcement has the means to purchase body cameras.
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?
Despite having many well-intentioned reformers in our legislature, our state ranks dead last in trust in our state government. We need aggressive ethics reforms now, to not only change the culture of corruption but to restore trust in our state government.
I have consistently pushed for ethics reform throughout my time in the Illinois Senate, and most recently I have joined with a group of 15 other legislators to propose a package of nine reforms that would help change a culture of corruption that exists in Springfield. Those reforms are:
- Prohibiting legislator-lobbyists
- Stopping the legislator-lobbyist revolving-door
- Better defining who is a lobbyist
- Fuller disclosure of outside income
- Initiating an official censure
- Strengthening the Legislative IG
- Ending the legislative staff exemption from the Human Rights Act
- Term-limits for leaders
- Removal of leaders and committee chairs if indicted
If these ethics reforms are enacted, a set of rules are already in place when any issues arise related to someone’s indictment or potential criminal conduct to ensure that the issue is dealt with swiftly and the public is assured that their government continues to function effectively.
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.
I currently serve on the board of Lake County’s domestic violence shelter - A Safe Place. My district office has sponsored two job fairs every year since I was first elected. I speak to numerous organizations and student groups every year about civic engagement. I have served as a member of the Lake County Opioid Initiative since I was first elected. More recently, I organized a walkout of the Illinois General Assembly in support of gun violence prevention after the school shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, as well as facilitating walkouts of high schools across my district with school superintendents, principals, and students. I also worked with the Lake County Democratic Women to organize an anti-racism seminar.
I am proud of my extensive work during the 101st General Assembly to protect human rights, pass historic ethics reforms, combat the opioid epidemic and defend our environment. You can view my entire legislative body of work during the 101st General Assembly here: https://ilga.gov/senate/SenatorBills.asp?MemberID=2611
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.
Environmental issues are hugely important to my district. Specifically, we need to ensure that we have safe nuclear waste storage that is placed far away from residential areas; we need to fight the erosion of the Lake Michigan shoreline; and finally, as the events of the last few years have drawn attention to the severe flooding problems in our communities we must work to ensure efficient and effective stormwater management systems and procedures across Lake County. I’m heartened by the investment the State of Illinois made in stormwater management across Lake County during the most recent Rebuild Illinois capital initiative.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
Ethics is the number one issue that I’m interested in working on right now (see above response). I’m also interested in continuing my work to ensure justice for the survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse, as well as working with my colleagues in the Black Caucus to fight systemic racism. I am also leading the charge to end gerrymandering in Illinois.
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I support the Fair Tax amendment completely. At a time when our state is facing massive financial shortages, it is more important than ever that the wealthy pay their fair share.
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?
As previously mentioned, we need to designate a specific percentage of our state revenue towards paying off our obligations. Each budget we pass must continue to chip away at Illinois’ unpaid bills. We must consider reamortizing our pension debt, and modernizing our system of revenue as mentioned above. And as always, we must continue to aggressively pursue bringing new businesses to Illinois and supporting new sectors of our economy - from green energy to high-tech manufacturing and beyond.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
I believe we are in an extraordinary time in our state given the pandemic and do not believe that now is the time we should be looking at taxing any level of retirement income.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
I helped lead the passage of a new school funding formula that is the most equitable of any state in the country, and I believe over the next several years this evidence-based system will dramatically improve outcomes in under-funded schools. But we can still do better. Currently, not all the money we budget for education in Illinois flows through that formula - the “equity funnel,” so to speak. We can continue to push necessary resources towards underfunded schools but funneling all our education funding through that formula.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
First, I believe we need to get military-style weapons off the street. I was proud to champion the assault weapons ban and red-flag legislation, and I believe there is more work to be done to remove weapons of war from our communities. Further, we need to continually improve our system of background checks and give law enforcement the tools they need to enforce existing law.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I do not believe that rank and file members should be term-limited, but I do believe that there needs to be term limits on leadership posts and chairmanships. Illinois history has proven that leaders who hold their leadership positions for decades accumulate too much power and influence, and that is one of the first steps to ensuring we change the most problematic parts of our culture in Springfield.
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?
I have been a staunch supporter of and am leading the fight for the Fair Maps Amendment, which would create an independent commission to draw legislative districts in this state - instead of giving the party in power the opportunity to choose their voters in a way that favors them. I will continue to support ending gerrymandering in Illinois until we get it done.
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 the amendment to the Lobbyist Registration Act. I believe a lot more reforms need to be enacted by the General Assembly. They are listed in the answer to question five.
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?
I was proud to vote in favor of the Biometric Information Privacy Act, which is the strictest biometric privacy law in the country. Facebook has been sued for violating the legal regulations as put forth in the BIPA. We need to go after companies that violate our privacy regulations by strengthening enforcement mechanisms of existing privacy laws.
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?
The fiscal instability of Illinois during the Rauner administration made many parents hesitant to send their children to state institutions because of the uncertainty of revenue streams for our higher education institutions. Creating a stable environment and ensuring higher education is funding is critical to making Illinois colleges a destination for Illinois students. Furthermore we must work with our congressional representatives to make more federal grant funding available to students who want to attend public colleges and universities in Illinois.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I helped lead the passage of Illinois’ Ethylene Oxide regulations which are currently the strictest in the United States (if not the world). We need to continue to work towards keeping our air clean and safe to breathe. In addition to clean air, I am championing the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) - which is a top priority of mine in Veto Session and the next regular Session of the General Assembly.
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.
Dawn Clark Netsch. She was the first woman to run for governor, she championed education reform and was as straight a shooter as they come. I have so much respect for her and continue to think about her example when I legislate today.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
Ally McBeal. The show had all sorts of crazy and quirky characters and was incredibly funny.