Running for: IL House District 62
Political party affiliation: Republican
Political/civic background: Warden and Vestry Member for Saint Andrew Episcopal Church 2014-2017.
Occupation: Medical Physicist
Education: Master’s in Medical Physics from Purdue University and a Bachelor’s in Physics from McMurry University in Abilene, TX
Campaign website: walsh62.com
Facebook: Jim Walsh for State Representative 62
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. Jim Walsh 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.
I would like to say that we should cut spending. Unfortunately, so much of our spending is driven by legal and constitutional commitments that it wouldn’t help much. However, given the fact that so many of our private sector citizens have been devastated financially by the governor’s response to COVID-19 it isn’t unreasonable to ask legislators and government workers to find places where they can cut so that those funds can be used to address the shortfall. Also, in the short term we can sell assets that aren’t expected to generate revenue or aren’t historical landmarks that could be lost if sold. In the long term, the state need to do a study to identify what commodities and services can be taxed to maximize revenue while addressing the inequity in the current system and make the tax system as friendly as possible to businesses while still paying the bills.
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 would give Governor Pritzker a C. His initial response to the virus was spot on. The shutdown of the state was indeed necessary. However, as it continued past the two weeks, the orders seemed to become increasingly arbitrary. For example, Keeping small businesses closed past that point was a mistake. Stating 50% capacity or whatever number the CDC recommended for the Big Box stores was a mistake. It should have been the number the CDC recommended or based on square footage to make maintaining the 6ft distance practical. I think his two biggest mistakes were using a one-size-fits-all policy for as long as he did and his complete lack of transparency for so long. I would have been far more transparent about what data I was using to make decisions. At the 14-day mark I would have reconvened the General Assembly and tasked them with charting a path forward and with doing their due diligence in charting that path. Finally, even if the GA refused to chart a path, I would have used a regional approach from May 1 on.
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?
Unfortunately, I don’t know a lot about the state’s role in reforming local and county police and sheriff departments. What I do know is that we have far too many laws. Examples of laws that put both the public and police at risk are the “no knock” warrants and red line laws which lead to confrontations and tense situations that are almost guaranteed to escalate quickly. We also have developed a “see something, say something” attitude from the governor to local governments. Both the amount of laws and the attitude lead to more confrontations between law enforcement and citizens. If we reduce the laws and change the governments’ attitude, I think that will go a long way to solve the problem.
Now, I know that doesn’t answer the question asked even if it does answer the reason behind the question. Here is my answer to police reform. If the state has no-knock warrant laws in place or red line laws in place, they need to disappear. If the state has qualified immunity laws that are so overarching that they allow police to murder or maim for no reason, then they need to be changed. Also, we need to ensure that deescalation training is not only available to all law enforcement officers in the state but also encouraged. Also, if entire departments have been militarized, then that has to change as well.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
I am willing to leave that up to the individual departments. I do think that cameras protect both police and civilians. However, the state is broke. I am not sure it can afford to pay for the cameras, so mandating them would be irresponsible.
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?
I can’t say who is to blame. I have no more information on the matter than the average person. From what I have read it is unclear whether ComEd offered bribes and jobs for Madigan’s services or if Madigan offered his services for the bribes, etc. Once the investigators prove who initiated the corruption, that person is to blame. However, both parties are responsible for their actions and, if true, both actions are illegal. Another factor that plays heavily in corruption in IL is that power is concentrated at the top to include making local governments responsible to the state government and not the people and members of the state government responsible to themselves and not the local governments or the people. So, my idea of ethics reform would be to make it so that local governments can call for AG investigations of state government officials as well as other members of the state government calling for investigation. We should make it so the people can recall anyone in government who has been proven to be guilty of sacrificing the good of the people for personal gain. Another necessary reform is limiting the number of terms a person can serve in leadership in the House and Senate. I would make it a total of 8 years for both chambers. That would be applicable to each leadership role. Finally, yes, I think Speaker Madigan should resign.
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 civic work the last two years has been related to the schools my children attend and volunteering at my church. I am active in the Lake Villa CCSD 41 PTO and volunteer as often as I can in the classroom. I was also a coach for their Science Olympiad team. For the church, I was on the search committee for our new rector and help when I can with clean up and finances. I was also assisting with the service before COVID-19 forced us to have it be priest only on the altar.
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.
These are 3 concerns I see for my district.
1. We have a township supervisor who is running roughshod over the electors because there are no teeth in the Township Code. The electors need to be allowed to enforce the decisions they make at the town hall meeting. This can only be changed by the state.
2. All of the local taxing bodies in my district are handcuffed by the state’s making unfunded mandates. We need to eliminate pretty much every state mandate, funded or no.
3. Traffic throughout my district is tangled. They are finally making a plan to work on Route 83, but there are many areas of congestion that need to be relieved.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
I know this will be a shock, but I want to see our property taxes come down. The state needs to fund at least 50% of K-12 education. This can be done by offering school districts that have a high property tax rate a $1 from the state for every dollar the district gives up by dropping its rate to a level that is sustainable for property tax owners. This will mean increasing the income tax.
To continue with the education theme, the state government has done a lot of good work in putting together a framework for getting money to the districts in a way that fosters an equal chance for all students. However, the state wants to tell districts how to spend that money. This can’t happen. While it makes sense for the state to use a generic district to decide how to fund schools, there are far too many variables in each district’s situation for the state to use that same generic district to tell local districts how to use that funding. What can and should be done is the ISBE should monitor districts to foster mentoring between districts as districts monitor schools to foster mentoring.
Also, the state should report the status of both schools and districts so that parents know when they are performing poorly or well. Then, parents should be allowed to petition to send their children to schools that are performing well in the district so long as the parent provides transportation. If the district cannot grant the request or is underperforming itself, then the parent should be able to petition the state for a grant to seek education either in another district, a private school or a homeschool.
These are the only policies I am currently passionate about that aren’t covered by your other questions.
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I think it is a bad idea. As the Tax Foundation points out the flat tax as implemented in IL is progressive. It is the property tax and, especially, the sales tax that make our overall system regressive. As I stated before, I want to have the state meet its obligation to K-12 education. If it does this, the income tax and property tax burdens will roughly equalize which will do a number of things. First, it makes the overall tax system more equitable. Second, it significantly drops property taxes without handcuffing any local taxing body. This makes all of IL more attractive to businesses and allows municipalities to compete with municipalities in other states without having to offer tax breaks that break the backs of their citizens. Once that is done, we need to address the inequity in the sales tax not induce a reverse inequity in the income tax.
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?
In the short term, the state needs to sell assets to pay down its debts. The state needs to find a way to eliminate the pension backlog even if that means selling bonds or raising the flat tax with the funds legally dedicated to eliminating the backlog. In the long term, taxing products and services that will bring in the most revenue and building the tax base by making the tax code even between the three major taxes and decreasing tax rates as more businesses come into the state to encourage even more businesses to immigrate will increasingly knock down the backlog and get the state government back to its real job, taking care of its citizens.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
Since the wealthiest retirees still pay property taxes and since property taxes are 53% of the average IL taxpayer’s burden, until we get property taxes under control, I don’t see a reason to burden any retiree with the burden of income taxes. Also, the state’s wealthiest citizens are paying sales taxes. If we make that type of tax equitable, there will be no need to require retirees to pay income tax on their fixed incomes.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
I didn’t see this question before you asked about my personal legislative priorities. I detailed my thoughts on this there. Here I will be brief.
1. Eliminate mandates.
2. Eliminate all laws that disenfranchise parents.
3. Make policies and enable school districts to make policies that get parents involved in the education of their children.
4. Set up a mentoring program between districts that are performing well and districts that are not when the districts have similar demographics.
5. Implement school choice so that low income parents and parents who are people of color have the same opportunity to help their children as privileged parents do.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
The problem of mass shootings and, especially, gun violence have complex causes. However, there is one that the state legislature can address. Both come from a feeling of helplessness. A feeling that one isn’t in control and can’t change that fact. There are several causes of this feeling that are due to actions of the state government. One is that the politicians are picking the voters instead of the other way around. Nearly all legislative districts in IL are gerrymandered in a way to favor the Democratic Party. This isn’t necessarily a knock on the Dems specifically, we see the reverse in many states across the country. However, in all cases this is a factor in the feeling of helplessness in the citizens of the state. We need a truly neutral panel to decide exactly how the districts should be drawn so that the structure of the legislature represents the state, not the whims of the current representatives. Another problem is that we only have our vote as a way to check the government. Since this has been corrupted by that government, we have no way to check that government. So, we need different avenues to do that. One way would be to give the electors of a township the ability to enforce their edicts to the township board and supervisor. Also, making the state government more responsible to local governments will help to filter more control to the people. Both of these measures will start to give people more power. This will lead to citizens having more control of their lives. Finally, this will lead to less mass shootings and gun violence.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. I absolutely favor term limits for leadership in any legislative body especially our General Assembly. The question of term limits for individual representatives is trickier. On the one hand, one consequence of implementing term limits is to further silence the voice of the electorate in that district. However, gerrymandering has done a great job of that as well. So, if the gerrymandering is not stopped, then yes I am all for term limits for individual representatives and senators as well.
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?
As you can see from my previous answer, I agree. That said, I think the legislature should take the power out of its hands. First, they can set up a politically, demographically and geographically neutral committee to decide what factors should be used to determine what shape and size the districts should be. Then, a separate committee made up of one county board member from each county in the state should be made to develop the boundaries. Finally, those boundaries should be put to the voters to decide whether to approve them or not at the next available election. Yes, there are a lot of steps, but it divides the power between the state government, county governments and the people. This should minimize the gerrymandering as much as possible.
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 think it is the smallest of baby steps. It should be pretty obvious whether someone is lobbying or currying favor. However, it may be useful to be able to see the person coming. The biggest problem is power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If we dilute the power, lobbyists will have to work much harder to get results they are paid to get. So, one rule that can have an immediate impact is to say that the head of any political party in the state cannot hold any office in that state.
Also, in my opinion the best way to eliminate corruption is to make the General Assembly and local governments places where corruption can’t grow by diluting the power. The recommendations detailed by Republicans in November 2019 and expanded on by Democrats recently are a much better start. I like the idea of forcing retired politicians to wait a set time before becoming lobbyists. Even more, I love the idea of term limits for leadership. Also we need to make the state government accountable in some way to local governments, possibly by allowing local governments to censure the state government if it is in dereliction of its duty to govern or act to repeal unfunded mandates if 60% of local governments vote to repeal the mandate. Finally, we need to make local governments more accountable to the people using similar measures.
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?
That is going to be a hard thing to investigate. However, I think ensuring transparency in the agreement possibly by having the customer go to a notary who can ensure understanding before signing the contract can be a first step. Then, the state can monitor transfer of information and alert customers when their personal data is being sold. Then, if not allowed by the contract, the person can sue the company. Finally, if a threshold of such events occur, the company can be held criminally responsible as well.
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?
To put it simply, Illinois universities are not a good value for Illinois students. In-state tuition in IL is on the same level as out-of-state tuition in other states. If we want to keep students here, we need to make the cost less. That means either the state has to find more money, the universities need to cut costs, the universities need to increase the quality of the overall education system relative to other states or the universities need to charge out-of-state students more. Currently, I can’t see where the state will find the money, so for now it is up to the universities to make the necessary changes.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I haven’t thought about the environment all that much. I have been too busy with schools and corruption.
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.
Robin Williams is a person I admire and draw inspiration from. He had an amazing talent for finding the absurd in any situation and exploiting it for maximum comedic value. He also spent his career exploring what it means to be human. From the moment my brother was taken from us by a drunk driver, I have taken every opportunity to explore why things are the way they are. Much as Mr. Williams in his movies, I have found that the human condition is relational. It is how we treat each other, not how we are treated or what we accomplish that defines us. We can each make the world a better place with a smile, encouraging word or simple kindness. This seems to be lost on us in 2020. Maybe we should all watch a Robin Williams marathon this weekend.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
I am partial to Supernatural. It is a series about two brothers whose lives have been nothing but pain. They have lost their father, mother, and significant others. Through it all, their only constants are their love for each other and their battles against the monsters. They spend their lives protecting each other and beating impossible odds to take out the monsters and make the world a better place. It is both cathartic and an inspiration watching their love for each other lead them to do what is right even as they make mistakes.