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Sean Matlis, Illinois House 18th District Independent candidate profile

His top priorities include property and income tax relief.

Sean Matlis, Illinois House 18th District Independent candidate, 2020 election questionnaire
Sean Matlis, Illinois House 18th District Independent candidate.
Provided photo

Candidate profile

Sean Matlis

Running for: State Representative, 18th House District of Illinois

Political party affiliation: Independent

Political/civic background: I am a scientist. My only background in politics has been to follow it, do research, vote, and be a citizen of the United States, which means that like all other citizens I am responsible for the proper governance of this country. Politician is not meant to be a career. We do not need a permanent aristocracy ruling over the peasants. It is time for We the People to have a hand in our governance. If we don’t we don’t have a right to complain about our situation.

Occupation: Computational Neuroscientist

Education: B.A. Mathematics - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; B.A. Biology Honors - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; M.S. Molecular Biology - Weizmann Institute of Science; M.S. Mechanical Engineering - University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; Ph.D. Computational Neuroscience - Boston University

Campaign website:


Twitter: @seanforstaterep


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. Sean Matlis 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.

Illinois’ budget crisis began long before COVID-19 due to financial mismanagement, but our current representatives are unwilling to admit any responsibility. They understand that if they accept this blame, then why do we keep electing them?

We have a pension fund crisis that is out of control, and Illinois already has one of the highest overall tax burdens of any state in the country. Yet during the height of the COVID-19 crisis while millions of Americans lost their livelihoods our representatives gave themselves a raise. Instead they should not take pay or receive pension benefits while not in session.

In private industry it is common for companies to face more costs than revenue. They all do the same thing: Decrease spending and increase revenue. We need to cut the budget and administration where possible. They are difficult decisions, but ones that business owners must make every day. For example, many unnecessary tax zones and townships may be eliminated.

Raising our already high taxes will exacerbate the Illinois Exodus and ultimately lose revenue. Our best strategy to increase revenue is to safely open Illinois business up, to make Illinois appealing to new businesses with lower taxes, and to make it easier to start businesses. This will increase jobs and tax revenue. A friend of mine wanted to open a taqueria, but after looking into it extensively he gave up because regulations were too onerous.

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?

Many in Illinois appreciate the work that Governor Pritzker has done. The job of a governor in the face of an unknown pandemic is not easy, and we must allow for mistakes, but considering everything I don’t think he deserves above a D.

Lockdown measures were originally intended to ‘flatten the curve’, and thankfully that was successful. But our economy is crashing and people’s lives are being destroyed as they lose their jobs and businesses. The policies on who is an ‘essential’ worker appear arbitrary and unfair. Big companies such as Walmart and Target were favored and allowed to stay open while small businesses were closed and decimated. Riots that destroy business are allowed, but going to church was not. Deaths from overdose and suicide have skyrocketed, and many consider the lockdown to have been worse than the virus.

Governor Pritzker’s refusal to work with the federal government at a time when we all have to put aside our differences for the greater good was poor leadership. He paid millions of dollars to China for masks and gloves that predictably failed standards. The IDES system did not run appropriately and in a timely manner for too long. Deaths of people with COVID are counted as due to the virus regardless of actual cause of death – that is not science!

Finally, Governor Pritzker violated his own Stay-at-Home order when he traveled to his farm in Wisconsin while barring travel for the rest of us. Even more, he sent Illinois construction workers over the border to his property while prohibiting other Illinoisans from being able to work and make a living. Such a double standard is the mark of a despot with special privileges, not a leader who is one of the people, and by itself almost earns a failing grade.

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?

Issues of racism in policing and elsewhere are very important, and I would not tolerate being discriminated against because I am Hispanic. Any instance of somebody being treated unequally by our state purely on the basis of their race is absolutely unacceptable and must be addressed. But defunding the police because of a few bad cops is wrong, and it will have an extremely negative effect on minority communities and all of us together. Even Reverend Al Sharpton is against it!

Instead we can improve police training, increase communication with the community, and add resources for tasks the police were never set up to handle. Many things can be done. I also think it is absurd for Democrats in power to criticize the police or Illinois in general for systemic racism when they are the ones who have set up this system and have been in control for the last 90 years.

4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?

Overall body cameras seem to be a good idea. They are very intrusive, and none of us would want to work all day with a camera watching us like Big Brother. But they give hard evidence when circumstances are unclear, which protects both civilians and the police. In the world we live in that is necessary, as several recent events have demonstrated.

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?

Michael Madigan and the Democrats have a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly (and Democrats have one in the Senate too). Democrats also have the governorship. Democrats have been in control of Illinois for past 90 years. They cannot lay the problems that we face at anybody else’s doorstep, they own them.

Not only have all the incumbent Democrat representatives consistently voted for Michael Madigan to be Speaker of the House, they also vote in lockstep with him. Many Democrat representatives besides Speaker Madigan have also received generous donations from ComEd. It is hard to believe that members of his party were not aware of anything that happened. Those who took any political contributions from Speaker Madigan and ComEd should be held responsible.

Speaker Madigan should resign for his poor stewardship of the General Assembly, as well as any corruption he may be guilty of. Also, as an Independent I want to see more cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. This balance of power is important to check corruption, and it cannot happen when only one party has all the power and unilaterally makes all the decisions.

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.

Although my field of expertise is computational neuroscience, which is completely outside of the field of civic engagement, I have seen my state, Chicago, and my town of Evanston consistently deteriorate over the past few decades. I have been participating in candidate forums and community engagement. Government corruption, our debt, our budget, our taxes, and our declining population have gotten so bad that I felt compelled to run for State Representative. We cannot afford to stand by as a community and wait for a permanent class of political elites to fix things any longer.

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.

We need to more jobs and more businesses, so that we can pay for the things we need in our lives. In Evanston downtown stores have closed due to COVID-19. Two libraries are closing in Evanston, which deprives children of a crucial resource in their education. We need lower property and income taxes, so we can afford to live in the state. People are leaving from all areas, including the towns in my district! Whether it is the rich who are fleeing, or poorer neighborhoods that are becoming gentrified, property taxes and high taxes overall are killing Illinois. We also need to safely and carefully open the state up to do business again and send our children to school in a way that does not endanger them, but allows our lives to continue.

8. What are your other top legislative priorities?

We need to oppose new taxes that drive out businesses and people. We need to hold the politicians accountable. We need to fight corruption in the government by encouraging two-party negotiations and term limits. We need to redistrict the election maps to properly represent communities. We need to include all of Evanston in one district, so the minority communities are fairly represented, and to end redlining.

9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.

I oppose the Constitutional amendment on the ballot this November, which allows for a graduated income tax, but more importantly allows the state to impose more than just one tax on income. The same people who want to amend the Constitution to give themselves more power are the ones who are under investigation for corruption and who have brought Illinois to the brink of financial ruin. Do you trust them? I don’t.

The graduated tax itself will serve to stifle growth just when we need it. Wealthy people and businesses will reach a breaking point and leave, and take their taxes and jobs with them to Indiana, Colorado, Texas, or Florida. Andrew Cuomo understood this and said, “God forbid the rich leave.” Comparisons to other states with graduated income taxes are misleading because they cover up the fact that overall people are paying MORE taxes in Illinois. In Chicago and my district the sales tax is 10%. Property taxes are crushing. Now Pritzker and the General Assembly want to give themselves the power to impose new taxes in the future.

Many look to Connecticut as a model for the effects of a graduated income tax, and it only went farther into debt, and punished the middle class more. While the tax will start at one rate, very soon it will change to raise rates for the middle class and beyond. Our politicians have broken every promise they have made on taxes.

Finally, Let’s not forget that while Michael Madigan created the taxes, but in his second job he owns a law firm that helps big companies avoid the same taxes! So, one of the main perpetrators of corporate loopholes is the person writing the taxes.

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?

Our representatives should be the first to lead by example during this pandemic and economic collapse. Unlike those currently in the General Assembly, I would not accept a $1,600 pay raise, and I would opt out of the pension, and so should all our politicians. State Representatives only are in session from January to May!

A long-term plan is needed to revitalize Illinois. We must make Illinois more attractive by lowering taxes and easing restrictions on making businesses. Budget cuts need to be considered. Pension reform is an ugly issue that nobody wants to talk about, but everybody knows we will have to deal with sooner or later. Pensions now account for 25% of the state budget, while in 2015 it was 15%. We need to make the changes necessary so that new state workers will get a similar retirement plan to what is common in the private sector, while we do everything we can to pay the promised pensions to those who have already worked – particularly at the mid to lower end.

11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?

This would be an excellent way to convince people to never move to Illinois. Those wealthy residents can also afford to move, and once we impose taxing the retirement income, they will be gone, and we will lose revenue from them in other taxes such as sales tax.

12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?

Excellent schooling is not measured just in how much money is spent. There are countless examples of schools in similar districts that spend the same amount per student but have vastly different outcomes. Moreover, in Illinois, school spending has increased by several times in the last few decades, accounting for inflation, while performance has not improved at all. The number of administrators has gone up while the number of students has fallen.

Competition is the driving factor for improvement. If we allow the money to follow the student so that parents have a choice of where to send their child, schools will have to improve in order to merit that commitment.

Personally, from my own experience growing up in this district, I think schools would benefit from an enforcement of polite behavior in school, discipline, and high standards, but I am not running for school board. I also think that communication between parents and teachers must increase. I have heard many complaints from parents who are aghast at what their children are being taught, and what is on the curriculum. We must remember that the schools have an obligation to education the children in accordance with the values of the parents, it is not the obligation of the parents to offer their children to the state to mold as they see fit.

13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?

The vast majority of gun crime is committed with illegally owned guns, so new gun control measures would not affect crime. We need to crack down on straw purchases. Right now this is not effectively being enforced even though they are illegal.

To fix the problem and save lives, we must also improve policing, which directly reduces crime and turned New York City around, and also increase punishments for crimes carried out with guns. In addition, greater community health, more jobs, stronger families, and better education all reduce gun violence, so efforts should be directed towards improving these issues. Mass shootings are usually more connected with mental illness, and more investment into proper mental health care should be undertaken.

14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.

I strongly support term limits for all elected officials in Illinois. I understand that in the best-case scenario the absence of term limits extends the work of an effective politician. However, the reality is that political officials have become a separate elite ruling class. I believe that when politicians feel that they are always going to be in office, no matter how nice they may be personally, they give themselves far more power than when they know they will be subject to those laws in a year or two. It is an appealing notion that people will always elect whomever is best for the job, but the reality is that such sums of money are accumulated and spent by incumbents and parties in power that they drown out any possibility of another voice being heard. This is what has led to the effective one-party state that is Illinois. Democrats profess to be against unlimited party leadership, but they themselves voted for Michael Madigan as Speaker of the House every time. If they really believed in term limits for leadership, why did they keep voting for the same person year after year? There is a reason that the President also has term limits, which was not always the case. The benefits of ensuring that our representatives do not amass undue power to themselves outweigh the negatives of limiting their term.

I also recommend term limits for State Representatives, and I pledge to serve a maximum of two terms. This position is not meant to create a permanent ruling elite class. Not only do you lose touch with what it is like to be a regular citizen, but you make laws very differently when you think you will always be the one to wield the power than when you think it will be somebody else in a year or two, and you don’t know who it will be.

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 an abuse of power by politicians which takes away control of the government from the citizen and gives it to the ruling elite class of politicians. It is the politicians choosing their voters rather than the voters choosing their representatives. It has been a common tactic by both Republicans and Democrats, though of course in Illinois it is mainly done by the Democrats. This issue has wide support from both parties, though somehow nothing ever gets done about it. In my district the city of Evanston has three different State Representatives. The villages of Wilmette, Glencoe, Northbrook, and Glenview all are split between two districts. It makes no sense at all. I have a map on my website which illustrates this unnatural division very clearly. Representatives should represent communities, not just arbitrarily divide them into bizarre shapes that best help them get elected. New maps should be drawn by a nonpolitical entity that maximize the unity of villages and towns, so that communities can be represented together.

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?

Democrats in power have been forced by the obvious corruption in our government to take a stance against it, but during their tenures they never have done anything about it. They voted for the same people every year. That means they either had no idea what was going on under their noses, they were complicit in it, or they had no power to go against party leadership and were therefore useless - a common symptom of a one-party system. This could also easily be the case if the single party were Republican. I support reform measures prohibiting legislators from acting as lobbyists. We need more transparency on the activities of lobbyists, and more oversight from objective non-partisan bodies.

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?

Privacy has always been linked to freedom, and today as technology and tech companies become more powerful, more surreptitious, and more invasive, this is truer than ever before. Working in the area of artificial intelligence I am very aware and concerned by this danger. I support strong measures to ensure citizens’ privacy.

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?

Illinois is facing a ‘brain drain’ that will have devastating consequences down the road as students choose to go to university in other states. Right now the in-state tuition is not low enough to make it a convincing choice over other states. Our state universities must be made more attractive to students by having lower tuition and stronger education. We can achieve that by focusing on teaching solid core curricula, cutting administrative bloat, and reducing nonessential perks which greatly add to the cost. Too many students are paying exorbitant sums for useless degrees that give them nothing but long-lasting debt.

In addition, many companies care less and less about degrees and more and more about performance, work experience, a portfolio of experience, and the ability to produce. If universities work more closely with private business to produce students who have work experience and real-world skills upon graduation their job prospects will skyrocket.

19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?

We must be good stewards of our natural resources. This also includes the rest of the planet, as well as Illinois. To that end I would focus attention on doing what we can to impose pressure and limit imports from the countries that pollute the most, such as China. 80% of the plastic deposited into our oceans come from just 20 countries, but we are indirectly complicit by buying products from these countries without any oversight. We should consider working to impose restrictions on trade with these countries, which also often use slave labor, in favor of domestic manufacturing. I would also support investigation of clean nuclear energy as an alternative renewable energy source.

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 have a new appreciation for Mayor Richard Daley. Many thought he was corrupt, but he obviously loved the city and got the job done, and he beautified Chicago. Our current administration is not doing what they need to do and they are destroying our state and Chicago. If we are going to have corrupt politicians, at least let them love and improve our state and cities.

21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?

I recently rewatched ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, which is about the life of a country veterinarian in England, and I highly recommend it.