Running for: State Representative, 52nd District
Political party affiliation:Democrat
Political/civic background: N/A
Occupation:Senior Manager - Law Firm Segment, CT Corporation
Education:Trinity International University—M.A., magna cum laude, Mental Health Counseling; DePaul University College of Law—Juris Doctorate; University of Mary Washington, B.A.
Campaign website: https://VoteForMarci.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. Marci Suelzer 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.
Recovering from the economic, social, and emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be the greatest challenge my community has faced in decades.
I am proud of how our governor and state legislators have worked together to provide Illinois residents with needed resources and services: A task made far more difficult by the incompetent and chaotic response from the Trump administration.
The state has faced increased needs for emergency spending, while seeing revenue decline or evaporate. This led to the staggering budget shortfall. The enormity of the budget shortfall cannot be ignored. But it must not be addressed at the expense of the middle-class, small businesses, and underserved residents and communities.
As an experienced business executive, I know there are only two ways to balance a budget: increase revenue and/or decrease spending. It will be a test of the character and values of Illinois to ensure that trimming spending and increasing revenue does no harm and provides the greatest benefit.
When decreasing spending, we cannot neglect our on-going priorities: ensuring the police have the necessary resources they require; funding domestic violence shelters and community health programs; overseeing long-term care facilities; and, providing relief and incentives to rebuild the main streets of Illinois.
Immediately upon election, I shall carefully review the current Illinois budget to understand how Springfield allocated taxpayer money. I will contact stakeholders for input on how to safely reduce spending. I will also peer closely into the lobbyist’s agendas. And I guarantee that I will regularly bring information to my constituents for their input.
I will also support legislation to aid small business and create jobs. This is a longer-term strategy, but absolutely essential for our future prosperity. Finally, I will work to guarantee that there is strong, ongoing oversight to protect families, seniors, and small businesses.
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?
First and foremost, I want to thank all the essential workers who continue to do their jobs day-in and day-out.During this unsettling time, the sacrifices these workers make to keep our society functioning at the risk to their own health provide hope by embodying the best of humanity.
Second, I am proud of the manner in which our state government—Governor and state legislators from both sides of the aisle—stepped up to provide emergency relief for Illinoisans feeling the physical, financial, and emotional impact of this pandemic. They have acted wisely, using the best-available scientific information to guide their decisions.
Their actions were made exponentially more difficult by the appalling failure of federal leadership, from the early days of the pandemic to the present. The Trump administration, from his horrifyingly unqualified and destructive cabinet to his kowtowing to extremists touting unscientific dogmas, left the states to fend for themselves. There has been no credible guidance on safely reopening, formerly trust-worthy sources of information have been muzzled, and any attempt of oversight of appropriated funds has been gutted.
Despite the incompetence at the federal level, Illinoisans working together, have provided expanded telehealth services, emergency funds for housing payments, grants for small businesses—to name just a few. None of this is to say that our response has been perfect. Indeed, there is significant room for improvement in oversight and allocation of funds.
If elected, my focus will be on making smart decisions to ensure local families, seniors, underserved areas, and small businesses have the appropriate resources they need to face the difficult days ahead.
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 murder of George Floyd and countless other attacks on people of color and minorities across our country is absolutely unacceptable.To make effective changes, you must first understand the situation.
That is why my first goal is to listen carefully, both to the words and the message under the words. Careful listening will surface ideas strengthen relations between law enforcement and the community, particularly people of color and other minority groups. I will support initiatives that will best protect people of color and minorities in my district and throughout Illinois.
I want to make it clear: The vast majority of police officers are committed to protecting their communities and serving their residents with integrity. They make wise decisions when faced with dangerous and intense situations—situations that would paralyze most of us.
That said, any institution has room for improvement. Every organization has individuals that must be held accountable for violating their ethical obligations. If you reflect on your own work experience, you know that is true. Reform is not a condemnation, but an opportunity to boost the good that the police do.
One specific idea that I will validate with all the stakeholders is increasing the number of social workers/licensed counselors on every police force. First-responders are under tremendous stress, stress that they often cannot share with “civilians.” Mental health professionals can provide support for the officers. Plus, mental health professionals can help defuse situations safely for all concerned. I also support Crisis Intervention Training for all officers, as well as culturally sensitivity training for those who serve diverse populations.
4.Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Body cameras are one component of ensuring that the police do not overstep their authority or engage in discriminatory actions. And they also protect the officers from false claims.
However, body cameras alone will not fix the problems of lack of trust between the police and people of color and other minorities. The vast majority of police officers serve our community with integrity, we must acknowledge that, even as we work to improve relations between police and the communities they serve.
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?
Holding elected office is an honor that carries the responsibility to behave in a trust-worthy, transparent, and accountable manner to serve your constituents. Any politician who is found to have violated that trust must be held accountable without regard to their office, their length of service or their party affiliation.
However, as an attorney and a strong believer in the rule of law, I refuse to rush to judgment or buy into “trial by media.” I do not have all the facts necessary to reach a conclusion and will not take an irresponsible position by acting in advance of knowledge.
“Who is to blame” is a counterproductive question: they will be decided by the legal process. The essential question is: “What ethics reforms are needed?” Let me be brutally honest—corruption charges have dogged Illinois government for decades and involve politicians from both sides!
And it needs to be addressed in a strong, bi-partisan manner. We must enact real change in how Springfield operates.
I will work tirelessly to pass legislation that imposes strict fines and penalties on politicians who abuse the public trust, forcing them to pay back the money they misappropriated from taxpayers. I will seek legislation to strip pensions from any politicians who are convicted of felonies. I will also seek to an end out to corruption schemes, such as red-light cameras, that enrich politicians and lobbyists while doing nothing to keep our communities safe.
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 was an active volunteer at my local food pantry until COVID-19 forced operating changes. Our local foods pantries are essential in providing families with access to food and hygiene supplies. I served as my church’s PADS site coordinator. PADS provides emergency overnight shelter to homeless individuals 7 days a week from October to April.I have spoken to civic groups and nonprofits on Suicide Prevention and other mental health topics.
As a business and tax attorney, I have always advocated for and helped small businesses. My extensive experience in this area will enable me to be a strong advocate in Springfield for the district’s small and local businesses. As a mental health professional, I will use my training and expertise to champion fresh ideas to better serve our vulnerable residents during these incredibly difficult times.
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.
As a political newcomer, my priorities are the issues that I have heard over the past couple months from residents of my district. I am firmly committed to continue seeking input from all district residents.
The issue raised most repeatedly across the district is outrageous property taxes. As a Lake County homeowner, I assure you, I feel that pain! The property tax system is fundamentally broken. It has been for a long time, but the current economic reality makes those bills even more painful. We need to stop the madness of upward spiraling tax bills. Avenues that I will aggressively explore and champion include: a stop-gap solution, such as an tax increase freeze; ongoing relief for middle-class taxpayers and small businesses; anda long-term drive to remove school funding from property taxes, while ensuring education funding is a top priority in Illinois and the state pays its fair share.
I also heard concerns about access to quality health care. We must protect individuals with pre-exiting conditions and ensure that prescription medications are affordable. We need to provide access to services by those without employer-provided health insurance such as small business owners and their employees. Mental health care funding is a passion of mine. I will also stand up for women’s heath by protecting funding for women’s health services, such as Planned Parenthood, and defending the liberty of a woman’s right to choose.
Many people expressed their dismay over the current economic situation in Illinois—from the heavy tax burden on small business to the ongoing crisis over pension funding. Solutions to these problems start with acknowledging they exist and bringing all the stakeholders to the table to thrash out solutions to the issues created over the decades by politicians. There are solutions. We must have the strength of will to undercover them and pursue them.
8.What are your other top legislative priorities?
Other top legislative priorities include:
·Ethics reforms to make sure that government works for the people and not for the politicians
·Leveling the playing field for small business to provide them with tax incentives and relief that is too often reserved for major corporations
·Strengthening our local schools to provide a world-class education for all residents by increasing access to vocational training, advanced placement classes, a post-secondary financial aid.
·Fighting for environmental protection and clean-energy jobs, especially considering the hostility of the federal government to protecting the environment, the health of workers and residents, and gutting access to natural areas.
9.What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
Since entering this race, I have heard from many middle-class families who make it clear that current tax system is not working. Illinois taxpayers need and deserve tax relief.The proposed graduated income tax amendment is now in the hands of the voters—which is exactly where it should be.
In the weeks to come, I will be continuing to listen to the people of the district about their concerns regarding the tax system. Regardless of the outcome of the vote on the Fair Tax amendment, tax relief needs to happen to reduce the overall tax burden on Illinois taxpayers. I will use my tax background and my experience to drive tax reform legislation forward in Springfield.
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?
First, we must understand the full impact COVID-19 will have on our state finances as we continue to address the needs of displaced workers, seniors, and students. There are no easy solutions. Each proposal will require difficult choices.
We must carefully go through the state budget, line-by-line, to prioritize services and resources that provide critical services to vulnerable groups, such as long-term care residents. The reality is that Illinois has limited resources. We must make smart decisions to meet the state’s most urgent needs as new challenges emerge in the coming months and years as fallout of the global virus.
I categorically reject the cowardly and short-sighed rhetoric of the Trump administration and extreme Washington politicians in the Senate who pit states against each other and suggest bankruptcy as an option. Illinois needs to take decisive action to revitalize and re-invigorate our economy, but there is a path forward that is economically sound and morally defensible.
11.Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
Absolutist thinking leads to unproductive polarization and contributes to the economic quagmire we are in. While I do not support a tax on retirement income, I believe that all stakeholders have a right to be heard and the merits of each proposal carefully debated.
12.What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Our schools are currently facing unprecedented challenges because of the global virus. While some of today’s challenges are out of our control, we must continue to work on ways we could ensure our children receive the best education possible. The current pandemic has forced us to re-consider ways of delivering education and there are lessons to be learned from this—particularly at the high school level.
We need to make hard choices about how we fund education, moving away from property tax to other income sources. We need to eliminate wasteful spending—based on the consensus of the stakeholders. We must increase funding for mental health and suicide prevention programs to reach at-risk students. We need to enhance educational options to provide options for college-bound and vocational students. We need to focus on vocations for the coming decades so that students will be able to readily enter the job market.
13.Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Legislation—to be effective—must address the underlying causes of gun violence, as well as provide common-sense gun safety laws. Gun violence is often intricately linked to domestic violence and the need to impose one’s will on another. Intervening in the cycle of abuse and domestic violence will help address this. Other gun crimes have their roots in poverty and denial of access to the “American dream.” Programs to address these issues will lower violence.
However, those are long-term strategies. To make an immediate difference, we need to continue our work enacting common-sense gun safety laws. These laws need to focus on the misuse of guns, not responsible use for hunting and personal protection. Such laws include requiring universal background checks, closing the “gun show” loophole, and banning military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines to keep weapons of war off our streets.
14.Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
There are already term limits for elected officials—recurring elections. Term limits won’t solve the problem of entrenched politicians. What will solve the problem is election funding reform so that incumbents do not have a significant advantage over challengers.
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 believe we should strive to ensure that the diversity of our state is recognized and that minority voices are not diminished. While many focus on redistricting, our effort to empower voters is larger than any one measure. Redistricting needs to be part of a larger discussion on expanding voter participation and restructuring how campaigns are funded.
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?
While this is a positive step in the right direction to regain the public’s trust, we need a thorough, bipartisan package of reforms that will:
·increase fines and penalties on politicians who abuse the public’s trust, forcing them to pay back the money they received from taxpayers
·strip pensions from politicians convicted of felonies
·end low-visibility corruption such as red-light camera schemes
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?
We need to enact pro-consumer protections that will put consumers and families first. We should look for ways to bring stakeholders to the table and discuss how to best regulate how corporations use our personal information for profit and how we can hold businesses accountable for reckless data breaches.
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?
It’s no secret that outmigration of college students cost Illinois more than $700 million in lifetime tax revenue, as well as the loss of other economic opportunities provided by ambitious, young, and educated individuals.
It’s no coincidence that the peak of student out-migration came when former Governor, Bruce Rauner, damaged our state universities and colleges by his incredibly short-sighted blocking of billions of dollars and vetoing the state’s MAP grant funding. We must build up our community colleges to reach diverse learners in a cost-effective manner. And we must continue our efforts to make college education affordable by increasing access to critical in-state college financial aid. And, to prepare for the future, we must expand on trade schools and vocational education.
19.What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
As an environmentalist myself, I view protecting the environment as one of the most important challenges we currently face. It is disheartening to watch the daily assault on the environment waged by Trump and his cabal of advisors. They have gutted the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, protections for national parks and forests; not to mention turning their back on the rest of the world by withdrawing from the Paris Accord. This is reprehensible, irresponsible, and shameful.
Illinois must boldly step in where the federal government has failed and continues to fail. We must expand and increase funding for renewable energy resources. We must aggressively regulate and enforce the regulation of ethylene oxide emissions, which have affected several suburban communities.
We must pivot our educational and vocational training resources to equip our residents for clean energy and green jobs, while continuing to drive legislation to invest in clean, sustainable energy. The future is coming—it will come whether we are prepared to play a lead role or whether we will be the laggards pushed from the stage.
Illinois has the resources, people, and capability to lead transforms in environmental policy and clean, sustainable energy. We just must get the right people in Springfield to have the determination to “make it so.”
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.
This is a tough question because Illinois can claim so much significant historical figures, from Hemingway to Michelle Obama. But, given my passion for equality and social justice, I chose Jane Addams.
Jane Addams is one of the most important social reformers and activists during the so-called “Gilded Age.” After graduating from college, she founded Hull House which provided the neighborhood residents with classes, playgrounds, bathing facilities, and all manner of social services. The original building exists as a museum today.
She is credited with founding the profession of “social worker,” which gives me a personal connection to her. My maternal grandmother was one of the first social workers employed by Roosevelt’s Farm Security Administration and my older daughter received her Master of Social Work from UIC’s Jane Addams School of Social Work.Addams focused on the rights of women and children, particularly those newly arrived in America.
She was active in the Women’s Suffrage movement and co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union. Long before we had a president who likes to deride strong women with the term “nasty,” Jane Addams’ efforts for peace, justice, and humanitarian relief caused her to labeled the “most dangerous woman in America” by J. Edgar Hoover. I feel certain she was amused and not the least bit troubled by that.While Hoover viewed her as “dangerous,” the world community felt otherwise. In 1935 she was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
I’ll close with a quote from Ms. Addams: “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.
21.What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time? Why?
My favorite series of all time was the Chicago Cubs World Series in 2016. The seventh game was one of the most exciting games ever played.