Running for: State Representative District 82
Political party affiliation: Democratic
Political/civic background: This is my first time running for office.
Education: University of Illinois at Chicago, B.S. in Finance
Campaign website: https://www.kassemmoukahal.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. Kassem Moukahal 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 unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged our state and country. As a state we must continue to provide the necessary resources to get the virus under control and to make sure that all Illinoisans have the necessary support that they need. This is a critical time in all of our lives and the state has great responsibility to provide for its citizens. That being said, Illinois’ elected officials also have a responsibility to ensure that taxpayer money is spent as efficiently as possible by eliminating redundancies, inefficiencies, bureaucracy, and wasteful, unnecessary government spending.
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 believe that Governor Pritzker has done a good job handling the coronavirus pandemic. Up to this point I would give him an “A” because he took swift action in the spring to limit the spread of the virus, has clearly communicated his ideas and plan with all Illinoisans, and has stood up to President Trump and the federal government. However, Governor Pritzker’s job and our job are far from finished. The virus is still not under control, many schools are still unable to safely welcome back students, and many guidelines are still being ignored. Guidelines need to be enforced better so that we regain control of the virus.
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?
Yes, I do believe that Illinois needs to address the issue of police reform. I will support and fight for legislation to increase police accountability. Greater independent oversight of police departments is necessary so that officers who have complaints of abuse and misconduct leveled against them are thoroughly investigated and are held accountable. For greater transparency, all police officers should be required to have their body camera on at all times while on the job and dealing with the public. In order to increase trust between the public and the police, a large percentage of police officers should be required to live in the communities in which they serve. Additionally, there also must be changes to the way police officers are trained. This could include further training on de-escalation tactics and the use of non-lethal force. I also believe that creating a forum in every community for open and honest dialogue between community members and the police that serve that community is one of the best ways to break down barriers, forge positive relationships, and come together to work towards a common goal of creating a safe community for everyone.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Yes, I believe that the Legislature should pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras. Wearing body cameras will lead to greater accountability and transparency in police departments.
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?
Illinois has long had a history of corruption. Corruption is at the root of many political issues and is a significant reason why our state is failing in many ways. I believe that ethics reform and more restrictive legislation regarding term limits and campaign donations are needed to prevent corruption. If it can be proven that Michael Madigan has engaged in any corrupt behavior, then he should resign. Ultimately though, if Madigan or any elected official that voters believe is corrupt remains in office, the voters must make their voices heard by voting them out of office.
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 have worked on a congressional campaign, attended numerous political events, and have actively sought out others to talk to and to hear their viewpoints. I have had the opportunity to speak with many young people about their frustrations and their visions for their future. I’ve also met with many people of my district who have shared their thoughts about everything from political reform to economic concerns. I think that it is extremely important to listen to my constituents to be able to represent them. I’m running for this office because I believe that I bring a fresh and independent perspective and voice different than the political insiders currently in office.
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.
Illinoisans pay the second highest property taxes in the United States. We must demand fair assessments and caps on property tax increases. Illinois currently has a flat state income tax rate of 4.95%. This means that Illinois’ richest households pay the same percentage tax rate on their income as Illinois’ poorest households. Illinoisans need a tax system that does not put the burden on the working class, but instead forces the rich to pay their fair share while lowering taxes for the overwhelming majority of Illinoisans. To this end I support the Fair Tax for Illinois proposal.
Many of Illinois’ elected officials have been in office for several decades and have not been representing the needs of the people; rather, these individuals have been using their immense political power to preserve the status quo and enact the agendas of large corporations and donors. Imposing term limits and implementing stricter campaign finance regulations will help to ensure that no politician gains too much power and will allow for everyday people to be better represented.
I will work tirelessly to ensure that small businesses have what they need to stay in business and to continue to offer the services and products that are so important to the community. I will also work to provide sufficient unemployment benefits for individuals who have lost their job or a significant portion of their income due to the pandemic for as long as reasonably necessary. Furthermore, I will support legislation to ensure that all Illinoisans have access to affordable and quality health care. Additionally, I will advocate for legislation to prevent affected families from losing their homes or being evicted during the pandemic and subsequent recovery, as well as legislation to provide relief for affected landlords.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
I will fight to increase pay for the lower and middle classes, while requiring the rich and large corporations to pay their fair share in taxes. I will also work to create more job training and educational opportunities, invest in and increase access to funding for local businesses, and incentivize corporations to create quality and high paying jobs in Illinois.
I will support legislation that decreases the cost of childcare, offers tax deductions and credits for childcare costs, and incentivizes employers to offer childcare programs for their employees.
I will support and sponsor legislation that puts students first. This includes any bills that decrease public university tuition, mandate a freeze on public university tuition, allow for greater tuition tax deductions and credits, and support loan forgiveness initiatives.
Seniors and Veterans:
I will fight to make sure that our seniors and veterans are heard and have access to the resources that they need and deserve.
Universal healthcare and Prescription Medication:
I will advocate for a universal healthcare system that puts the needs and well-being of all Illinoisans before profit. I will also work to enact legislation to regulate the cost of prescription medication.
As the son of a small business owner, I have firsthand knowledge of the impact many of our laws have on small businesses. During the pandemic small businesses need our help more than ever. We need legislation that empowers small businesses rather than stifling them. I will work with small business owners to hear their concerns and fight for legislation that will prioritize their needs.
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
I believe that Governor Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax is a step in the right direction. Our current flat state income tax system places too high a burden on the working and middle classes, while not requiring the wealthiest Illinoisans to 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?
Illinois is struggling financially and the pandemic has only made the state’s financial situation more dire. However, now is not a time to cut services or benefits, and we must continue to provide protections to those Illinoisans who need them. In order to help our state’s financial situation first we must look at every aspect of our state spending to see where we can spend more efficiently and more effectively. We must reduce bureaucracy and redundancies. We must root out corruption. We must also be realistic in our spending. We are financing pensions that just cannot realistically be funded. Going forward we need to address future pension obligations, honoring pensions currently being paid as well as those promised to current workers, but changing how our pension system will look in the future. This may not be popular, but it is necessary. Additionally, to increase revenue we could consider taxing retirement incomes of the wealthiest Illinoisans and collecting revenues from taxes on certain goods and services. This will not be an easy time, but by cutting out wasteful spending, rooting out corruption, realistically looking at our state finances, closing tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthiest Illinoisans, and passing the graduated income tax proposal, I believe that we will be able to regain control of Illinois’ financial situation without placing an undue burden on the poor, middle and upper-middle classes.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
Illinois should consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents. We are currently one of fewer than ten states in the country that does not do this. However, I would only support this tax if truly only the very wealthiest retirees were taxed and if the tax would not trickle down to the middle and upper-middle class retirees.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
Illinois can do a lot to improve its elementary and high schools. One way we can improve schools is to change the way that they are funded, making sure that all schools are on a financially level playing field. Additionally, we must do more in schools to prepare students for future careers, not just standardized tests. Creating additional job training programs and forging corporate partnerships with schools can help prepare students for and teach them about future careers. Schools should have a more holistic approach, developing the student as a whole, and teaching the students not only required academic material, but also applied life skills. Access to mental health resources and increased after-school involvement opportunities could also be greatly beneficial to many students.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
While I am a strong supporter of our constitution and the 2nd Amendment, we must do more to prevent senseless gun violence and mass shootings in our country. I will support tougher laws to crack down on illegal gun sales, ban silencers, close loopholes on background checks, require comprehensive training to obtain a gun license, and ban the purchase of assault weapons. However, it is also important that we focus on mental health and changing the culture of violence that has become so prevalent in the United States today. If we do this and institute stronger common-sense gun legislation, we can reduce gun violence.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I favor imposing term limits for all elected officials in Illinois. I believe that imposing term limits is necessary to ensure that no politician becomes too powerful and that we have an influx of innovative and forward thinking elected officials. Imposing term limits could play a significant role in rooting out corruption in Illinois politics.
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?
Gerrymandering is unethical and is another aspect of the corruption in Illinois and American politics. Democrats and Republicans must be held responsible for corruption. To end the practice of gerrymandering, independent redistricting commissions should be charged with fairly drawing district lines, which would be subsequently approved in a referendum.
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 this ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). I believe that this measure will help to increase accountability and transparency in government. Going forward, it is critical that we take further steps to root out corruption through passing legislation increasing transparency and restricting campaign contributions from special interest groups, corporations, and lobbyists.
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?
The Legislature needs to restrict the collection and use of consumer information and online data. As we become more digitally and technologically advanced as a society, we must enact up-to-date legislation to prevent the privacy of citizens from being invaded. I believe that the use of our personal information to invade our privacy is one of the greatest threats that we face today and is one that is often overlooked and underestimated by legislative bodies.
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?
As a recent college graduate, I can personally attest to the financial strain that college puts on students and their families. Illinois needs to enact legislation to decrease the cost of all public universities in the state for state residents. It is no surprise that students are leaving the state when it costs an arm and a leg just to attend college. I believe that making tuition free at all Illinois community colleges and significantly decreasing the cost of education at Illinois public universities for Illinois residents are two necessary steps that need to be taken to keep Illinois students in Illinois. It is to the advantage of the state to have educated residents, not to make higher education largely inaccessible and burdensome.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
It is clear that we must do much more to protect our environment. As state representative, I will support legislation that strengthens renewable and green energy initiatives, strict state-mandated environmental standards, and environmental education.
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 draw inspiration from former president Barack Obama. I believe him to be a man of principle and admire the way he carries himself. I feel that he has inspired and given a voice to many current and future leaders who will shape our country for years to come.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
My favorite TV show of all time is Shark Tank. I really enjoy the show because it showcases many unique and talented individuals from diverse backgrounds who work tirelessly to fulfill their dream of growing their business. This to me is a great representation of the American spirit of entrepreneurship and ingenuity.