Running for: 82nd District House Seat
Political party affiliation: Republican
Political/civic background: Served in the Illinois House of Representatives from January 1995-January 2003, and January 2006-present
Education: Fenwick High School, Illinois State University, John Marshall Law School
Campaign website: www.jimdurkin.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. Jim Durkin 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.
Let’s start with what should NOT have happened: the Democrats and Governor Pritzker passed a partisan budget that was $5 billion out of balance. Balancing the state’s budget on hypothetical, hopeful revenues has proven to be a disaster year after year, and these irresponsible and negligent budgets have plunged our state further into debt. At no point were Republicans brought into the negotiations, and that is unfortunate for all of Illinois.
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?
Being Governor in Illinois is a tough job on the best of days, and I do not envy the choices a governor has to make. However, we have seen Governor Pritzker put over a million Illinois residents out of work with the stroke of a pen without having a functional unemployment system. To this day, the IDES system is a complete disaster and it’s at the expense of those who are desperate to put food on the table for their families.
We all understand that we are living in unprecedented times, but the General Assembly is a co-equal branch of government and should be doing its job. The Governor continues to run state government via executive order over and over again. Myself and my colleagues from both sides of the aisle did not abdicate our constitutional responsibilities during this pandemic. Our governor cannot rule with unilateral authority.
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?
I am a reasonable lawmaker and have a reputation as one who works together with all members and stakeholders (regardless of party affiliation) to come up with good solutions to problems in our state. Coming from a law enforcement background as a former prosecutor at Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, I would like to work together with my colleagues to come up with thoughtful, meaningful criminal justice reforms. People in Illinois should never live in fear of their government, and unfortunately that exists today. That is unacceptable and needs to be corrected. Many concepts announced after the murder of George Floyd are worth discussion, but the demands to defund the police and eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement are unacceptable.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
I believe that this issue unique for every municipality and county across our state. I believe this is a decision that should be made by each local government, not the legislature.
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?
The federal charges outlined in the ComEd prosecution highlight a scheme solely for the benefit of Speaker Madigan. These facts are a disgrace of the highest level to the citizens of Illinois and to the institution of which we serve, the Illinois House of Representatives. The House Rules for the 101st General Assembly provide great responsibilities and duties of the Speaker of the House. After reviewing the facts contained in the ComEd deferred prosecution agreement, it is abundantly clear that Michael J. Madigan is unable to execute his responsibilities as Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and as state representative for the 22nd House District. I have called for the immediate resignation of Speaker Madigan from the Illinois House of Representatives, and filed House Resolution 885 to have the House Chamber vote on a new Speaker immediately. The ethics reform package I introduced last year is necessary today in light of the massive, ongoing corruption scandals.
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.
In August of 2018, we found out that a gas sterilization company in my district, Sterigenics, was emitting ethylene oxide into the air and poisoning our communities for decades. Coming together as a community, we fought valiantly to permanently shut down Sterigenics. We succeeded on September 30, 2019 when Sterigenics announced they were shuttering their doors for good.
During the fight, I passed the Matt Haller Act which created the strongest restrictions on ethylene oxide in the nation. When the courts approved a consent decree on September 20 to allow Sterigenics to re-open, I introduced House Bill 3885 that would authorize any municipality in the state of Illinois to implement a local ban of the use of ethylene oxide within its boundaries. If a local municipality chooses to adopt this authority, any sterilizing companies would be prohibited from using ethylene oxide.
At the end of the day, it was a shining example of what our citizens can accomplish in conjunction with elected officials.
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.
- Property tax reform and relief
- Public safety funding
- K-12 and higher education funding
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
- Ethics reform in all of Illinois government
- Pension reform
- Redistricting reform
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
This “unfair tax” is a kick in the teeth to families and small businesses across Illinois. Earlier this year, I introduced a resolution to remove the graduated income tax amendment question from the November ballot. As we’ve seen in other states, the high-income earners leave and the middle class absorbs the graduated tax. We simply can’t do this to our state’s residents when we’re seeing historic unemployment and a depleted economy due to the pandemic.
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?
It’s very simple: Reduce spending, responsibly balance the budget and pass pension reform.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
No. This policy will be a failure and drive retirees out of Illinois to destinations with beaches, mountains and no retirement income tax.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
In 2017, I worked with the legislative leaders and Governor Rauner to pass the state’s first school funding formula based on equity and fairness regardless of income levels or location. I said it then and I’ll say it now – it was the most significant piece of legislation the General Assembly has passed in decades. In that historic legislation, we instituted a tuition tax credit program with a legislative sunset.
I am a strong proponent of school choice. Our society is built upon competition. Competition brings the best out of our citizens and in the work place, etc. The only area within our society that we fail to recognize this aspect of competition is with education. The tuition tax credit program should be made permanent.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
In 2017, Governor Rauner signed Senate Bill 1722 which cracks down on repeat gun offenders. With the support of former Chicago Police Chief Eddie Johnson and Illinois State Police Director Leo Schmitz, this bill enhances the penalties for those charged with repeat gun offenses and keeps them off the streets.
This issue is two-fold, and we must begin to address our state’s mental health crisis as well. We need to make sure that guns are not being obtained with those who are unstable and will do unjust harm to innocent victims.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I support term limits for all legislators and have introduced several constitutional amendments for term limits throughout my tenure. In the wake of the ComEd scandal, I also support term limits for legislative leaders.
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?
Another simple answer – pass the fair map amendment. My caucus has introduced several fair map amendments. In 2019, I filed HJRCA 10, a constitutional amendment for the independent drawing of legislative maps. The amendment would establish an independent commission, comprised of 11 members, charged with proposing a legislative map. The commission would be required to hold public hearings both before and after releasing a proposed plan.
Governor Pritzker has urged the legislature to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, so my caucus did just that. Not only did we answer the Governor’s call on this issue, but we were also prepared to provide the majority of the votes required to pass this out of the House and on to the Senate.
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?
During veto session last year, I introduced a sweeping ethics reform package to address unacceptable practices brought forth through the ongoing federal investigations. These ethics reform bills are common sense, and a direct response to the wrongdoings we have learned from the current federal investigations.
The ethics package includes:
- House Bill 3954 that will revise statement of economic interests to include more details similar to the information required for judicial statement of economic interest forms. This forces full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and provides greater transparency for members of the General Assembly.
- HJRCA 36 will require a special election to fill General Assembly vacancies through the same laws governing our party primaries. This will prevent political powerbrokers from picking their preferred candidates for the vacancies.
- House Resolution 588 will allow a Chief Co-Sponsor of any bill with five co-sponsors from each party to call it for an up or down vote in a substantive committee.
- House Bill 3947 would ban members of the General Assembly, their spouses, and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work with local government units. Currently, members of the Illinois General Assembly – state representatives and state senators – are prohibited from lobbying the State of Illinois, but are not prohibited from lobbying local government units, such as a counties or municipalities.
- House Bill 3955 will create mandatory and publicly available documentation of General Assembly communications with any state agency regarding contracts.
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?
This is a very complicated issue that has been debated over the past few years. I implore all stakeholders to negotiate a fair solution to this burgeoning issue. The resolution must strike a fair balance with individual privacy and honest business goals.
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 should consolidate all boards and agencies that oversee education into one entity with the directive of creating better and more educational opportunities for Illinois students from K-12 through higher education.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
Clean air is something we all agree upon. In August of 2018, we found out that a gas sterilization company in my district, Sterigenics, was emitting ethylene oxide into the air and poisoning our communities for decades. Coming together as a community, we fought valiantly to permanently shut down Sterigenics. We succeeded on September 30, 2019 when Sterigenics announced they were shuttering their doors for good.
Along the battle, I introduced the Matt Haller Act which created the strongest restrictions on ethylene oxide in the nation. When the courts approved a consent decree on September 20 to allow Sterigenics to re-open, I introduced House Bill 3885 that would authorize any municipality in the state of Illinois to implement a local ban of the use of ethylene oxide within its boundaries. If a local municipality chooses to adopt this authority, any sterilizing companies would be prohibited from using ethylene oxide.
At the end of the day, it was a shining example of what our citizens can accomplish in conjunction with elected officials.
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.
Governor Thompson was a friend, mentor and an exemplary statesman who loved Illinois. He was a hands-on Governor who loved the process of getting things done in Springfield, and his accomplishments still stand strong today. Our state was fortunate to have such a dedicated leader.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time? Why?
My favorite show is a thought-provoking, PBS docuseries called Frontline that digs deep into national and international issues.