Running for: State Representative
Political party affiliation: Democratic
Political/civic background: State Representative since January 2019. Outside of being a Precinct Committeeman for Addison Township, I was involved in preserving the environmental integrity of the Village of Itasca by being an active member of ICARE (Itasca Citizens Against Road Expansion). I am the former president of the Friends of the Itasca Community Library.
Occupation: Full-time legislator
Education: Michigan State University, B.A.; Yale Law School, J.D.
Campaign website: www.dianeforstaterep.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. Diane Pappas 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.
First of all, we have to recognize that what is happening across the world and here in Illinois is a once-in-a-lifetime “perfect storm” that has upended our sense of safety, the entire economy, and our healthcare system. Every single government, business, and family in Illinois is facing unprecedented financial challenges right now. I have worked with so many people who are facing unemployment and the loss of their financial security net; they never thought that their jobs would be at risk or that they would be relying on unemployment benefits or food pantries to feed their families. These are the people I keep in mind as we make these difficult decisions.
We have to take care of these families and provide services to ensure these families can stay afloat. It’s more important than ever before that our state reevaluates priorities, which must include investments in healthcare, measures to keep children and their teachers safe at school, resources for our healthcare workers and emergency responders, and assistance for those facing layoffs, evictions, foreclosures, and other extreme and unforeseen financial hardship. And, of course, we still have our pre-COVID priorities like funding for domestic violence shelters and home care services for seniors.
What all of this means is that we must have diligent oversight of state spending, both for state dollars and federal funds coming in to address COVID-related expenses (and I do remain hopeful that more federal assistance is forthcoming). I supported the creation of a task force to closely monitor and oversee state spending, and we will need to continue to monitor spending, pressure points, changing revenue estimates and additional opportunities to maximize federal dollars.
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 am grateful that our governor has chosen to listen to the advice of public health experts, scientists, doctors, and epidemiologists when making these very difficult decisions. I can appreciate that none of his decisions – whether I’ve agreed with them or not – have been easy, and that every possible solution and decision came with very real pros and cons. I think it’s clear when looking at Illinois’ data as compared to other states that didn’t rely on the science that we likely avoided an even greater crisis by focusing on medical science-based decision making rather than making the “easy” political decisions.
Unfortunately, what is in reality a very real public health crisis has been weaponized and used as a political tool across our nation. Rather than making decisions based on science and fact, our national response has been haphazard, confusing, and dismissive of the advice of the experts on the frontlines of this fight.
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 death of George Floyd and so many other people of color is unacceptable, wrong, immoral, and not a reflection of who we strive to be as a society. Like many Americans, over the last several months I have tried to do better by listening to the experiences of others and educating myself on our country’s and state’s history of racism, race relations, and discriminatory policies and practices. As a history buff, I thought I had a strong understanding of the civil rights movement and our country’s long struggle for equality, but I am learning so much in this process, including the heartbreaking past of Cairo and other communities right here in Illinois. Racism knows no borders, and our own state’s history and struggle is something we should all take the time to learn about so we can learn from our past mistakes.
I won’t pretend to have all of the solutions, but I do know that I am committed to working with all stakeholders, keeping an open mind and an open ear, and working with my colleagues to do better for all Illinoisans, because no one should feel unsafe in our state and no one should feel discriminated against or unfairly targeted because of the color of their skin. I am confident that meaningful and productive reform measures will arise from these discussions.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
I support the use of body cameras a part of a broader package on reform. Officers who serve the public with honesty and integrity will have no problem with this, and this is a step that could only help to improve relations with the community. Additionally, just wearing the camera is not enough; we need laws that require the camera to be activated, otherwise it’s a waste of taxpayers of dollars.
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 issue of ethics in government is much larger than one single person. We have seen ethics allegations at the local, state, and federal levels and focusing on one person distracts from and undermines the larger issues at hand. I’m focused on the very real issues at hand – increasing transparency in the lobbying field and cracking down on bad actors that use loopholes in the law to avoid disclosing who they are lobbying for. And of course – anyone found guilty of any crime should be punished to the fullest extent and any politician found guilty of a felony related to their job should have their pension taken away.
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 my first two years in office, I’ve focused my own legislation on issues directly impacting my community, including passing legislation to give local governments in DuPage County greater flexibility in how they use revenue generated from the hotel tax. I have been working with local chambers of commerce to address an issue they brought to me to make it easier to insure small business owners and their employees. And I introduced legislation expanding a pilot program to provide legal assistance to sexual assault survivors seeking justice against their abusers.
I have been very proud to work with my colleagues on a number of other important initiatives, including expanding insurance coverage for diagnostic mammograms, working to expand job training programs in our high schools, protecting a woman’s right to choose, and strengthening the state’s anti-harassment laws.
To engage with the community and gather feedback from my constituents, I have held monthly public community meetings and quarterly citizen advisory council meetings on a variety of topics including senior issues, small business issues, healthcare, youth issues and women’s issues to name a few. Additionally, prior to COVID, I held monthly seminars on topics of interest to my constituents to encourage civic engagement, such as environmental issues, small business support, and a how-to seminar to help citizens learn how to effectively engage with their state government.
Much of the last several months has been spent working with families, seniors and small businesses to connect them with any and all available resources during COVID-19. The constituent services aspect of this job is something I was grateful to be able to provide to so many people in my community facing new uncertainty during this pandemic.
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.
Economic development and creating and retaining jobs is even more important now as so many face unexpected economic insecurity. It’s clear that small businesses need support – they have to be able to access the financial assistance and low-interest loans that will help them weather this storm. They need governments that are responsive and supportive of their needs as we cope with this pandemic. And they need an educated, skilled workforce to meet the needs of the 21st Century. That’s why we need to invest in job training and retraining programs, and expand vocational training programs in high schools that will prepare workers for high-wage jobs.
Healthcare is an issue I hear about frequently. People are very concerned that their healthcare is at risk - especially seniors, individuals with pre-existing conditions, and the newly unemployed. The state must enact safeguards to protect patients no matter what happens in Washington. I’m proud that Illinois has protected coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and expanded insurance coverage for mammograms, women’s health services, and mental health. There is without a doubt much work to be done here, and the COVID-19 crisis highlights many of the shortcomings with our healthcare system.
I hear every day about the high property tax burden residents face. We need comprehensive reform that meaningfully reduces local property taxes. I’ve supported additional state funding for public schools, which represent the largest share of our property tax bills, and will continue to do so. I voted for pension system consolidation for our firefighter and police pensions to reduce the administrative costs and stabilize these systems. We have to do more and find creative solutions.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
COVID-19 relief efforts are high on the priority and urgency list. This means expanding relief efforts for families and small businesses in need, expanding access to telehealth care for all patients, protecting our healthcare workers and first responders by ensuring they have PPE and workplace protections, and working with local governments to ensure they have the resources they need to continue providing vital services like public safety.
Education is important to families with children in the school system as well as other residents who rely on quality schools to maintain their home values. As an immigrant child who benefited from the wonderful educators and schools in my DuPage community, I know firsthand that a good education gives every child the opportunity to succeed. It’s why I’ve fought to put additional state funding into local schools, and support continuing to increase the state’s share of education funding – both to help students to succeed and as a means of reducing the reliance on local property taxes to fund schools.
I am also working with a variety of stakeholders on the creation of more affordable independent senior housing to allow our seniors to age in the communities they’ve helped to build.
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
The families I speak to every day are desperate for relief and it’s clear that the current system isn’t working for the middle-class families I represent. I supported putting the constitutional amendment to the voters because I believe they deserve the opportunity to accept or reject a graduated tax structure, which is similar to the federal tax structure. To ease concerns I heard from families worried that a graduated tax plan could raise their taxes, I also supported a rate structure that guarantees that 97% of taxpayers see lower tax rates or no change at all.
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?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left the state of Illinois’ finances in question, the General Assembly committed more than $1 billion to paying down old bills. We had passed a bipartisan balanced budget and were on a path to making meaningful progress towards financial stability. While the state’s future revenue outlook remains in limbo as we still grasp the full picture of the severity of the COVID-19 impact, we have to continue to find ways to pay down the backlog, meet the pension obligation and fund vital services. We will need to honestly evaluate our spending priorities and determine what we as a state choose to make a priority – services like services for senior citizens and higher education and job training programs to put people back to work. We will need to make smart, but difficult, decisions about where to invest our limited resources to put Illinois on track in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
I do not support taxing retirement income.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
My community is fortunate to have strong schools. I’m proud that the state has continued to make increased investments in public education, with $350 million in additional funding as a result of line-by-line budgeting and tough decision making.
This year is unique and funding woes are far from the only challenge facing our schools. As students return to school, whether in person or virtually, there is understandable anxiety from all sides, and these challenges don’t come with easy answers or even a playbook. Making sure that every student has access to the resources they need to learn from home, including quality internet access and technology, is just one of the many new challenges in this school year. Investing in technology like broadband and e-learning infrastructure for schools and children takes on a new meaning this year.
We also must do everything we can to keep teachers, staff, and students and their families safe. Our educators are now frontline workers, and they deserve basic workplace protections to keep them safe on the job and ensure they get the care they need if they’re exposed at work. And our students shouldn’t have to risk their health to receive a quality education. These are unprecedented challenges that will require local, community and state support.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Most gun owners I talk to support commonsense safety measures that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals. I supported the Fix the FOID bill to strengthen the criminal background check process and require police to confiscate guns from criminals as soon as their privileges are revoked – two steps that could have prevented the tragedy in Aurora. I support universal background checks and banning military-style assault weapons. Furthermore, we have to do more to target the underlying causes of violence, from access to mental health services to strengthening domestic violence protections to anti-violence programs for youth. Simply passing gun safety laws alone won’t be enough to eradicate gun violence from our communities.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
While term limits sound great in theory, the reality in the states that do have term limits is that unelected staff members and lobbyists end up having undue influence on the process. While we may not always agree with our elected officials, the point is that we get to elect them and we can choose to vote against them if we decide we want someone else in that position.
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 support a more transparent process that further guarantees public input and ensures all voices are heard in the process. Any redistricting must take into account the state’s efforts in making sure minority voices and each of our diverse communities has a voice in our government. However, real redistricting reform is needed on the federal level to put every state on a level playing field.
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 co-sponsored both the Lobbyist Registration Act and the legislation that created the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform. While these are positive steps, there’s more that needs to be done. I support universal lobbyist registration, increased lobbyist transparency and additional restrictions on how lobbyists can seek to influence government.
I also know that bad actors will break the law no matter what, and so we need to make sure that politicians convicted of felonies are stripped of their taxpayer-funded pensions (actually, I support ending legislative pensions altogether, which is why I rejected mine and introduced legislation ending the General Assembly Retirement System).
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?
I am extremely concerned about data security and privacy. Corporations’ use of personal data needs to be regulated and at a minimum, consumers need to know how their information is being used by companies to profit off of the middle class.
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?
Funding for higher education was decimated during the 2-year budget impasse, causing long-term harm to our ability to attract students and keep Illinois students in-state. That’s especially disappointing when we have world-class colleges and universities right within our borders. We have to make adequate investments in higher education to support our universities and attract top talent. I’ve supported budgets that increase funding for MAP grants, a financial lifeline for middle-class families, and funding investments that will begin to repair the damaged caused by years of funding cuts.
In today’s world, funding for community college and career and technical education programs is more important than ever as on-campus activities shut down and students look to affordably and conveniently further their education. Our local community colleges were already top-notch, and the uncertainty of COVID-19 only reinforces their position as a critical education provider in our community.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
Supporting clean energy jobs and investing in a modern economy is long overdue. I am cosponsoring HB 3624 and look forward to continuing our work to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act with support from business, labor and environmental groups.
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.
There are many people I admire, but I have to say Jane Addams, a woman who dedicated her life and wealth to social work, helping the immigrants and the poor, and fighting for women’s suffrage and world peace, ultimately becoming the first American Female recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She recognized needs larger than herself and dedicated her life to serving those needs. It’s how each of us should strive to live our lives.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
My favorite show is probably Community. I love the ensemble of actors and the premise of a group of community college students from different walks of life and with different aspirations coming together to form strong and supportive bonds. It’s a microcosm of the United States and what makes our country so unique and strong. It’s also a great reminder that in the United States the doors to higher education never close. And on a very personal level, it doesn’t hurt that Danny Pudi, who portrayed Abed, one of my favorite characters on the show, was born in Chicago and speaks fluent Polish.