Running for: State Representative, 20th District
Political party affiliation: Republican
Political/civic background: State Representative (2019); Mayor of Rosemont; Legacy Board Member, Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation
Occupation: Mayor and CEO, Rosemont, IL
Education: East Leyden High School (1981), Rosemont Elementary School
Campaign website: RepBradStephens.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. Brad Stephens 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.
We must ensure businesses have the tools they need to reopen and can grow and recover from this pandemic so they can re-employ workers and pay higher wages so our residents can support their families. I am one of the few legislators who have a track record of directly bringing jobs and businesses to a community. This experience will be more vital now than ever.
Further, the state must look hard at areas where our budget can find efficiencies and remove waste while still maintaining essential services to the taxpayers. We also need a legitimate and legal solution to help future generations with our massive unfunded pension liability and tragic fiscal situation.
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?
C. I was initially very supportive of the Governor’s response to Covid-19 and applauded him for moving decisively in an incredibly uncertain and unprecedented time. That said, as time went on I was frustrated with some inconsistencies in the reopening plan which created confusion and uncertainty over our path forward. Additionally the lack of organization and responsiveness from IDES has been unacceptable. Our district has been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic due to the high number of restaurant, hospitality, and gig economy workers. In late March I held a teletownhall for our residents with staff from IDES to help provide information on unemployment assistance and other services. Five months later my offices still receive calls and emails daily from constituents who are unable to get their deserved benefits or even a response from IDES - the State of Illinois must do better.
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?
The death of George Floyd was tragic and the few bad actors need to be held responsible. All governmental bodies should constantly be evaluating how they can improve. That said, our men and women in law enforcement need to know they have our support. Our police are facing enormous strain and morale is at an all time low - we should be focusing on providing law enforcement all the tools they need to keep our neighborhoods safe and criminals off our streets. This includes police training, education, and mental health support. We need to ensure that violent criminals are actually prosecuted and face consequences for their actions.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Over two years ago, after discussions with our officers, I required that our Rosemont public safety personnel wear body cameras and utilize dash cameras in their vehicles. When used properly they can be a strong tool for community policing and prosecution. I would support a statewide measure requiring the same.
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?
Yes, Speaker Madigan should resign. In fact when news of this story broke, I was one of the first legislators to contact our caucus leadership to take action and call for the Speaker’s resignation. I also am a co-sponsor of HR0885 which calls for the removal of Speaker Madigan. I believe we need to go much further with ethics reform, starting with stopping the revolving door of former legislators and senior staff lobbying after leaving their position. Additionally we must consider the impact these allegations regarding ComEd have on the ratepayer. We must take action during this time of economic pain to help seniors and working families who have been forced to pay artificially high rates so ComEd could curry favor with the Speaker.
Who is to blame? It starts with Speaker Madigan, but also extends to those legislators who have supported and continue to support him, despite derailing and diluting ethics reform over the years. My opponent, who counts Speaker Madigan’s political organization as her top donor, is another bought and paid for rubber stamp for the Speaker - her silence on these allegations is deafening.
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.
On the legislative front, I was proud to co-sponsor a bill which became law that no longer requires seniors to apply for a property tax exemption every year.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I knew we had to be proactive in getting our constituents as much information as possible and helping with the related challenges. We held several teletownhalls - with doctors from local hospitals; with staff from IDES to help navigate unemployment assistance; and with staff from the SBA and other business groups to help small business owners get information on the various state and federal programs available to help mitigate the damage of business closures. We ran a social media program called “Highlight A Hero” where district residents could nominate those in our community going above and beyond to help their neighbors during the pandemic. We recognized 100 heroes over the course of the program and awarded them gift cards to area businesses. We also had a team of volunteers making wellness check calls on our district seniors.
Lastly I was taught you have to give back to your community, which I have done my whole life. I have been a proud supporter of Misericordia, New Horizons, as well as autism and children’s cancer organizations.
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.
In light of spikes in crime and scenes of looting across the city, public safety and protecting our neighborhoods is priority one. We must ensure our law enforcement have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.
The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated our economy, impacting everyone in every industry. We need to help businesses put people back to work. The state should also further invest in workforce training to ensure we can come out of this pandemic stronger than before.
Additionally, our working families and seniors need real property tax relief now more than ever.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
Healthcare. Mental health and the opioid epidemic must be adequately addressed and funded. We need to be sure our residents have affordable and accessible access to mental health care, particularly for our first responders. The opioid epidemic impacts people from all ages and walks of life, and also is one of the top drivers of gun violence.
Proper, comprehensive ethics reform has been needed for years and after the allegations of bribery regarding Speaker Madigan and ComEd, the legislature must act. We must begin the process of restoring trust in Illinois government.
Lastly, we must seriously address the massive backlog of unpaid bills and unfunded pension liability. If the state continues to ignore the realities of our fiscal situation, our children and grandchildren will suffer a future of untenable tax burdens and inadequate state services.
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
If the proposal is passed by the voters this November, I will fight vigorously against any attempts to raise taxes on the middle class or our seniors. I am disappointed that proposed safeguards to ensure these groups would not be subject to higher taxes by future General Assemblies were rejected.
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?
We need to get people back to work in order to restore state funding streams. We must also look at making government more efficient and streamlined while still providing services. Unfortunately, Illinois financial woes pre-date the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts. Speaker Madigan has continually kicked the can on important state funding issues for years. If we want a comprehensive plan to restore Illinois fiscal condition, we must start with removing the constant over the years - Speaker Madigan.
We need real leadership in Springfield to see us through this mess. In Rosemont we have our pensions funded at 92%, a plan for job growth and revenue - that’s the type of leadership Illinois needs and what I bring to Springfield.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
I will not raise taxes on our seniors. If the state implemented such a plan, those who have the means would no longer remain Illinois residents and the burden would shift to the middle class. And I will not support raising taxes on our already over taxed middle class.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
We must continually look at ways we can improve our schools and help our children succeed. The 20th District has some of the best schools in the area, who can provide great examples of successes that we can implement around the state. In this new reality of Covid-19, we need to ensure that all students have the resources they need in regards to technology and a comprehensive approach to e-learning. We also need to invest more in vocational training to provide our children with a variety of paths forward to success. Additionally we need to do everything we can to promote parental involvement in their child’s schooling experience.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Gun violence in America and particularly Chicago are at crisis levels. There are two key tracks that must be addressed to combat this issue. The first is that we need tougher prosecution and stiffened penalties for those arrested on weapons charges and gang related activities.
The second is that we need a true and comprehensive investment in mental health resources and opioid addiction treatment which drive both gun violence and mass shootings.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
See response to next question.
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?
Legislators and party bosses should not be choosing their own districts and dividing communities for political gain. I would be supportive of any measure that reforms our current system and removes the legislature from the mapping process. Fair map reform that will provide competitive districts and that is the best method of term limits and ensuring politicians are responsive to their communities. Unfortunately Speaker Madigan and his allies have continually thwarted efforts towards reform and my opponent if elected would be a rubber stamp for the continued consolidation of political power by corrupt insiders.
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 support strong, comprehensive ethics reform. We must end the revolving door of state office holders and senior staff from lobbying as well as provide tougher penalties for violations. Unfortunately ethics reform has constantly stalled or been diluted and then paraded as achievement by Speaker Madigan.
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?
As a member of the Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, and IT House committee I am incredibly concerned about the risks of identity theft and illicit data collection. We must constantly monitor, evaluate, and address new technologies that may attempt to circumvent current law and jeopardize our personal information. The recent data breach at IDES is a reminder of how vigilant we must be in order to stay ahead of those bad actors who will try and access our personal information. The privacy and protection of our citizens data and privacy is vital to our democracy.
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?
We need to ensure that our state universities and community colleges are of top quality and are affordable and attractive to Illinois students. Illinois must be at the forefront of higher education and we must fund it accordingly in order to make sure our kids have in-state universities that give kids the tools they need for a prosperous future. We also must work to make Illinois a prosperous and safe place with a functional government where these students can see a future for themselves after they graduate.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
Every industry can and should work towards a greener future. Our planet should be viewed as a jewel to be protected for future generations. We should ensure our industries maintain the highest standards in regard to pollution, and monitor and hold accountable those who violate those standards. One concern in the 20th District has been and continues to be airport noise - we must continue efforts of noise mitigation and encourage the implementation of new technologies that will improve the quality of life for those living near the airport.
Additionally in light of the recent federal investigations surrounding Mike Madigan and ComEd, our utility companies must be open, honest, and transparent to protect ratepayers.
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.
My father. He was a visionary and was an honest man who got results.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
I enjoy watching home improvement shows. It all started with Bob Vila and This Old House. I like seeing things in a state of disrepair be transformed back to their original beauty.