Running for: State Representative 48th District
Political party affiliation: Republican
Political/civic background: Served as Trustee/Acting Village President, Village of Lombard. Served 2 terms in the Illinois General Assembly, including as GOP Floor Leader.
Occupation: Constitutional Attorney, specializing in First Amendment cases in federal and state courts across the country.
Education: Top 10, Naperville North HS; B.E., Electrical Eng., Vanderbilt University (earned in 3 years); J.D., University of Notre Dame (ND Law Scholarship)
Campaign website: http://www.votebreen.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. Peter Breen 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 pandemic highlighted the historical short-sightedness of the General Assembly. We went into this horrific situation with absolutely NO money in a “rainy day fund.” Further, for over a decade, the General Assembly knowingly passed underfunded budgets using every accounting scheme imaginable. Even when we had higher than anticipated tax receipts in the state, as the result of a very positive economy, we didn’t save but spent every dime and more. Then the virus came and devastated business, personal income, taxes and user fees, etc. While the economy is beginning to rebound, Illinois must become far more proactive in helping grow small and midsize businesses, instead of again hiking crippling taxes to meet the voracious appetite for out-of-control spending in Springfield.
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?
The grade has to be “Incomplete,” since we are still midway through the pandemic. We won’t know the impact of the governor’s lockdown and pandemic orders until at least next year: then, we can see the full results of these policies on the physical, mental, and economic health of our residents versus those of neighboring states.
Before the pandemic, Illinois imposed the worst tax burden on its residents of any state in the country, along with being known as a notoriously bad place to start, build, or bring a business. Gov. Pritzker then imposed one of the most severe lockdowns in the country. Predictably, Illinois residents have not recovered their jobs and businesses as quickly as folks in other states. Even with the lockdown, Illinoisans experienced worse physical health impacts from COVID than neighboring states.
We need a full post-COVID review of why we suffered such high infections and deaths in long-term-care facilities. Without that review, we won’t know whether this was due to the governor’s actions or inactions, or some other cause.
From the beginning, I’ve advocated against including my county of DuPage in a “zone” with Cook County in terms of phasing openings and policies. That penalized and handicapped our ability to move more quickly to recovery.
And it was wrong to ban small family retailers from in-person sales of their products, while large retailers could sell those same products.
Finally, the Pritzker Administration entirely botched unemployment insurance, leaving the jobless with no one to answer the phone, trying to navigate a broken website, and suffering the indignity of their personal identification details put on the internet. With tens of thousands of government employees across Illinois at home, there were plenty of people who could have manned unemployment phone lines during this unprecedented crisis.
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?
Everyone was horrified by the tragic circumstances surrounding the needless death of George Floyd. It was inexcusable on every level. There are clearly agencies and departments that require more and better training of officers and a clear set of policies to prevent such a tragic result ever again. That officer in Minneapolis was acting outside of guidelines and deserves to be punished for his crimes. Our agencies are better than this, particularly in DuPage County.
In Illinois, I backed the bipartisan Police and Community Relations Improvement Act, which banned chokeholds, put standards in place for officer-involved deaths, and improved training requirements, among other reforms. While due to this Act, Illinois already has in place many of the reforms other states are now reviewing, we should always be looking at any and every helpful reform that protects the public and gives our agencies the ability to perform professionally in maintaining the law. As a Village Trustee, I was also a strong supporter of body cameras to protect both the public and police officers in altercations. This was at a time when there was significant resistance to these devices.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Absolutely. It protects both citizens and law enforcement. It can and does act as a deterrent for both parties. I would immediately sponsor or co-sponsor such a bill.
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?
Terra Costa Howard, and enablers like her, are to blame. During the 2018 elections, Costa Howard promised the residents of the 48th District that she would be independent of Mike Madigan, but then she turned around and took $1.5 million in campaign contributions from him (more than any other state legislative candidate) and voted for him for Illinois House Speaker. Terra Costa Howard handed our vote—and our voice—to a crook and a thief.
Even today, Costa Howard still refuses to return one dime of all the dirty money she’s taken—and she is still raking in money from Madigan-controlled campaign committees.
Madigan has run state government as a pay-to-play scheme for decades. The monied interest groups pay into his campaign committees and hire his preferred lobbyists, guaranteeing them a seat at the legislative table. If you don’t have money or the right lobbyist, you lose.
And he’s done this in plain sight, with increasing numbers of Illinoisans watching in horror, but unable to stop it. When reform-minded candidates like me step forward to run in competitive districts, they get hit with multi-million-dollar smear campaigns, executed by the Madigan machine’s sophisticated political operation. Even post-Madigan, this won’t change unless we elect new leaders clean of the taint of Madigan and his machine.
On Madigan, I called for his resignation last year. While in the House, I opposed Madigan for Speaker twice.
On reforms, we need term limits. We have a part-time citizen legislature, and term limits will strengthen the temporary nature of legislative service. There are a raft of additional reforms in this vein: bans on lobbying after legislating, strengthening lobbyist disclosure requirements, limits on legislative leaders, taking power away from legislative leaders and returning it to members, and putting teeth into laws prohibiting conflicts of interest by legislators, among others. Reform should be an “all-of-the-above” approach.
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.
My wife and I were blessed to be able to adopt our second son two years ago, literally a week before the last election. We’re very committed to our community and blessed to raise a family here.
During COVID, I’ve been active running food drives that collected thousands of pounds of food and thousands of dollars for our local St. Vincent De Paul Societies. I’ve also been handling requests from local residents who weren’t able to get help from the Costa Howard district office. And I’ve been putting out informational Facebook Live videos that have received tens of thousands of views, on a variety of topics of interest to our district.
At the end of last year, after our community suffered a spate of over-valuations on local properties, I put on multiple emergency property tax seminars, along with working directly with residents, to help folks get their assessments and taxes lowered. Ms. Costa Howard was not responsive to the needs of these residents, who are literally being taxed out of their homes.
In my professional capacity, I’ve worked hard to assist churches to be able to open safely, with precautions, to enjoy the status that other “essential places” have had. My wife and I also participate with both time and treasure to many of the civic organizations in my community.
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.
The people and businesses of our district are burdened the most by out-of-control spending and taxes, onerous mandates on businesses and local governments, and rampant corruption. We can’t recover quickly and fully from COVID while suffering under these burdens.
Yet all of them have been made worse by Terra Costa Howard: she supported unbalanced budgets, new mandates on local businesses, and voted for Madigan for House Speaker. Costa Howard told voters during her 2018 campaign that she’d be for “fiscal responsibility” and “small business,” but once she got to Springfield, her voting record was the exact opposite.
Costa Howard even voted against a proposal to stop the conflicts of interest in General Assembly members, like Mike Madigan, writing the property tax laws and then raking in millions doing property tax appeals. The Chicago City Council banned that practice, in response to the Ed Burke prosecution, but Costa Howard rejected reform and stood with Madigan.
For our district, I’ve succeeded in securing relief when state action was required. Whether it was securing IDOT approval for the new Mariano’s on Roosevelt Rd in Lombard; helping a local nonprofit, SCARCE, with a law allowing it to collect cooking grease and oil; or changing state law to allow Noon Whistle Brewing to use innovative “360-lid” technology (allowing removal of nearly all the top of a beverage can, making it more like a cup), I got the job done.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
Too many Illinoisans feel they must uproot and leave the state they call home. We are now at six straight years of losing residents to other states, losing over 100,000 people net in just the past two years. Every person who leaves takes their hopes and dreams and contributions with them, pulling vitality and energy away from Illinois.
And the latest data shows we’re not just losing seniors—it’s prime working-age residents who are leading the exodus. Residents are taxed out of their homes, or are just tired of supporting a state government they see as disconnected and corrupt. Students are heading to college out of state, never to return. Families are packing up for places with more and better paying jobs.
The solutions are not easy, but they are simple. Lower the tax burden on our residents and businesses—both income taxes and property taxes have to come down. Stop out-of-control spending at the state level, which is driving tax and fee increases. Embrace reform measures like Fair Maps and Term Limits, to ensure we have citizen legislators representing whole communities, not sliced up narrow groups of partisans. Our broken state government is the primary obstacle standing in the way of turning our state around.
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I stand firmly against the graduated income tax. My greatest reason comes from my experience in the General Assembly, where I saw first-hand the amount of wasteful spending and poor fiscal policy being implemented in the state. The budgets passed always exceeded our anticipated income, and even those income numbers were artificially inflated as part of an obscene effort to call these budgets “balanced.” They never were. In a state with an insatiable appetite for spending, feeding more hard-earned taxpayer money into that corrupt process is not the solution.
Our entire budgeting process should be overhauled, a zero-based budget starting with a clean slate. There are numerous programs which are simply routinely re-appropriated, without careful assessment of effectiveness or necessity. They often become silos of money for discretionary spending, and they are rife for corruption. Before anyone asks an Illinois taxpayer for a single penny more, there should be an absolutely full accounting of all of the money this state already raises through every tax and fee we already levy. We’re in recovery mode. Consumers will be a huge part of that. Taking away more money isn’t the way to encourage growth.
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 stated before, this state needs to re-examine every dollar we are spending now. Illinois should do what any entity should do when they are spending more than they take in: reform, and spend less.
Illinois government needs to innovate with a view to 2030, not 1830. Advancements in technology should lead to lower expense, not greater, but there’s never a solution proposed in this state that doesn’t include a tax hike. That’s the first and only solution ever considered.
There also needs to be a very serious and fair discussion with relation to pension funds. These have become an eternal issue with no solvent funding solution in place. I lose sleep over the fact that these funds won’t be there for people who have been made promises that are fiscally impossible to keep. I believe that before we can solve this problem, we have to stop the bleeding first. There are some measures with the tier system that have helped a little bit, but are still inadequate. For everyone’s sake, including pensioners who deserve security and certainty, a fair, equitable set of agreements to tackle this dire issue over a reasonable period of time is the only realistic solution.
As for “core services”, we need to narrowly define them and fund them properly. This area of funding suffers more than any other as they don’t enjoy the auto-reappropriation so many other elements of the state budget do. The whole budget needs to be re-imagined and re-examined starting with a fresh balance sheet.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
There aren’t many incentives to remaining an Illinoisan. The policy of not taxing retirement income is among the few incentives any resident of Illinois has to stay here. If we were to selectively consider taxing retirement income, who would decide who is wealthy? Who would decide the rates? Who would decide when those rates should change, because Illinois still continues to spend more than it takes in? We know who. The same General Assembly that put us in the fiscal morass we’re stuck in. Who would trust them to make those decisions? To make my answer clear: No, Illinois should not consider this.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Illinois schools spend double the national average on administration—we have to move that money back to the classroom. And the state imposes numerous unfunded mandates that hike costs for local school districts.
I put forward a bill to cap administrative spending at the national average, which would free up hundreds of millions of dollars for classroom needs and property tax relief. Whether this efficiency is achieved by consolidating districts or sharing administrative costs, this is a huge sum of money being wasted in our state.
When I review our standards, I believe they’re high enough, but we’re not meeting them. There needs to be more accountability for doing so. We are in a financial crisis in this state that affects everyone, including school districts. It very much affects the families sending these students to schools. The funding of schools has experienced years of band-aid approaches, special legislation and a completely non-comprehensive approach.
At present, we’re not even sure if schools are going to open this school year or how. I’m a public high school graduate. I was fortunate to get an outstanding education and go on to very strong universities with that foundation. I don’t believe that is the case for many of our students today.
The only way to truly improve schools is by actively reforming our education policy, cognizant of the needs of the various regions of the state, and with the full participation of all of the stakeholders in the process. That simply hasn’t been done. There are too many golden calves, resulting in winners and losers with every partial-reform effort enacted. Too often the losers were a set of students in one part or the state or the other, or worse, everywhere. Educators are smart people by nature and experience. This is a solvable problem.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
We’ve had selected success and failure with this issue in Illinois. It’s both heart-breaking and frustrating to see our state on the national news every night reporting the most recent tally of shootings and killings in Chicago. The city has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and despite that, there are no shortage of guns or tragic carnage there. The General Assembly has also already tightened gun regulations to be some of the toughest in the country.
The other side of the equation is policing and prosecuting those misusing firearms. For instance, I have worked closely with our DuPage State’s Attorney, Bob Berlin, on a variety of legislative measures, including enhancing penalties for those who commit crimes and then jump bail. Historically, DuPage has seen as much as 50% of felonies committed by individuals from outside the county, so laws like this one would give our prosecutors the tools they need to discourage crime locally.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I am in favor of term limits. Legislators do need enough time to become effective and not let the permanent establishment of staff operate the government. In the State of Illinois, with the way legislative maps are gerrymandered, elections do not serve the function as term limits as it was intended. I believe strongly in a Citizen Legislature for a carefully prescribed period of service.
There’s no reason a statewide official should serve more than 2 terms (8 years). And 8-10 years for Legislators in the State Senate or General Assembly is plenty. Controlled, centralized power for too long of a period is a recipe for corruption: we are watching this play out on our television screens as more and more long-serving members of the Illinois General Assembly are charged with various federal crimes.
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?
You have it right. It is bad. Fortunately, more and more, the people of Illinois view gerrymandering to be unconstitutional and wrong. I drafted and championed a Fair Maps Amendment, presented as a citizen initiative, because of the block put on Fair Maps by the Democratic Party of Illinois. (We had over 10,000 signatures gathered, before being abruptly halted by the coronavirus.)
Every few years, you see cynical attempts by electorally vulnerable Democrats to file fair maps amendments, knowing full well these efforts will never see the light of day. We saw it in 2016 when then-Rep. Jack Franks was allowed to bring his amendment to the House Floor (where it garnered 105 votes), with the understanding that the Senate would not take it up. And we saw Ms. Costa Howard do the same thing this year, filing another dead-on-arrival amendment just two months before the deadline.
What should be done? The media, private industry, and good-government groups should coalesce behind a citizen initiative that meets the requirements of the Illinois Constitution. My Fair Maps Amendment is one legally rock-solid way to meet those stringent requirements. Any system would be better than the current one.
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?
As I noted previously, we need an all-of-the-above approach to ethics reform, starting with term limits. There are plenty of ideas out there, and if we need more, we can look to the many other states that are known for clean government, like Iowa and Wisconsin.
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 currently has some of the toughest laws in the country around information privacy. Even so, we can always be open to addressing the privacy challenges presented by tech advancements. For instance, the issues relating to Tik Tok and its undisclosed scraping of user data may present areas for us to legislate in Illinois, if the federal government does not act.
The General Assembly is severely lacking in the experience necessary to meet the challenges presented by emerging technology: I bring unique training and experience in computer science and telecommunications to bear on these issues. Voices like mine are missing from the General Assembly.
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?
Every Illinoisan deserves the opportunity to attend college or a trade school, and to graduate without debt. A big reason people leave Illinois for out of state institutions is the cost of education here. We are not as competitive as other state university systems. In my district, many students choose universities in Indiana, Iowa, or Missouri, instead of staying here. With few financial incentives available, U of I is also difficult for many of our best students to attend. Other states have aggressively recruited in Illinois and provided financing, to cherry pick our best students.
Parents also have a role in how students make these choices. They want what’s best for their children, and because of the problems afflicting Illinois, many parents urge their kids to go elsewhere. Illinois needs to live up to the standard that “anything is possible” to pursue and prosper here. This is another area where our state’s horrible fiscal condition is negatively affecting us. All this adds up to students choosing less expensive, top-flight schools in other states, with better fiscal management and opportunity.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I’m a husband and father of 2 little boys. Clean air and clean water are our most important environmental considerations. I am proud to have been one of the few Republicans regularly rated 100% by the Illinois Environmental Council.
As well, being the only person with an Electrical Engineering background in the General Assembly, I repeatedly worked with environmental groups to responsibly move Illinois to low- and zero-emissions energy. Illinois is recognized as a national leader in the field today, due to our efforts on that front.
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’d choose the “Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan, since I can’t pick Abraham Lincoln. Growing up, we knew President Reagan as a calm, upbeat presence for our country. He fought hard for his principles, but he united folks across partisan lines and was focused on getting things done. We could use more leaders like him today.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
All-time would probably be Doctor Who. Some seasons are better than others, but the fact that the whole main cast changes every few years keeps up the variety of the show. You get something to latch onto with each crew. The show is wickedly funny and creative, and often bends your brain.