On Jan. 25, Adrienne Irmer appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running for the Illinois House of Representatives in the 25th District:
Hey, Chicago! My name is Adrienne Irmer and I am a product of the 25th District. I have 15 years of experience in nonprofit and government work, and in my spare time — my passion work is what I call it — I serve on a number of different boards: The Liberty Project; Criminal Justice Reform Organization; the Better Boys Foundation on the West Side; South Side Central Community Services Inc., which provides mental and intergenerational, cross-generational support to children with developmental disorders and disabilities. And I also serve on the advisory board to the Chicago Ideas Week Youth Program. I’m a big believer, I was raised to give back to my community and I feel like the strongest way to do that is with youth outreach.
The 25th District is actually really diverse and the needs are subsequently, or the most pressing needs as related to me at doors when I’m door knocking are subsequently diverse. We have a Latinx population in the 10th and 7th wards, some of whom whose families are undocumented are fearful that the federal policies from high are going to harm and separate their families, and so insulating ourselves from these xenophobic and horrible federal immigration policies is a big deal for a segment of our population.
We also have deep disparity in access to affordable mass transit. The Southeast Side of the city is historically underserved from a mass transit standpoint. You either have, you take the bus because you can afford the bus and the Metra comes through our communities, picks up a handful of people at each stop and takes folks downtown into the good paying jobs downtown and in the suburbs. So, you know, we need to look at how we make Metra affordable because it’s the only train in that part of the community and part of the city, really. Another thing I want to look at is investing in the people of Illinois and the people of the 25th District, and we do that by creating revenue through progressive means.
So when I get down to Springfield I am ready to fight for a progressive income tax. Fight for an amendment to our Illinois constitution for a progressive income tax. I’m also ready to go and fight for legalized recreational use for adults of marijuana. That’s just too much money we are leaving on the table and not being on the forefront of an issue like that and our schools need the money, our infrastructure needs the money and our services critically need the money. We are not going to cut our way to a balanced budget. Not unless we are prepared to hurt people, and for me that’s not an option.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations 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. Adrienne Irmer submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
TOPIC: Top priorities
QUESTION: Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
ANSWER: When elected, I would like to immediately organize to help pass the following pieces of legislation: a progressive (graduated) income tax vis-à-vis a binding referendum to allow the change to the Illinois constitution, and legalizing marijuana for recreational usage. Each of these will create substantial revenues for the State of Illinois and allow us to start fully funding the things/programs that desperately need the funding: debt obligations, pension liabilities, our crumbling infrastructure, our public schools, and protecting our environment.
Running for: Illinois House of Representatives 25th district
Political/civic background: A proud native of Chicago’s South Side, Adrienne Irmer has been a passionate champion of social causes for over 16 years; her professional work has crossed all sectors, including electoral campaign work at all levels of government. Adrienne recently served on legislative staff to Cook County, within the Cook County Bureau of Asset Management.
Adrienne is a proud graduate of Kenwood Academy High School (2000) and received her bachelor’s in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; 2004). As a National Urban Fellow (2014), Adrienne received her Masters of Public Administration (MPA) and served as Special Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Beverly Hills, CA. Although a Biologist (by undergraduate degree), Adrienne has applied her highly-tuned critical thinking and analytical skills to the study of the dynamic and complex systems that are communities, in the arenas of public policy, community & economic development, advocacy/activism, and community & government affairs.
Adrienne is a 2018 Emerging Leader with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a 2017 Political Partner with the Truman National Security Project, 2017 Fellow of the Chicago Urban League IMPACT Leadership Development Program, and currently serves as the Chapter CoDirector for New Leaders Council, Chicago. Adrienne’s civic leadership includes: the Executive Board of The Liberty Project, the Junior Executive Board for South Central Community Services, Inc., the Advisory Board to the Chicago Ideas Week YOU(th) Program, and the Junior Executive Board for the Better Boys Foundation on Chicago’s West Side.
Occupation: Previously I served as the Legislative Coordinator to the Cook County Bureau of Asset Management and stepped down from this role to run a full-time campaign for State Representative in the 25th House District of Illinois.
Education: B.S. in Biology from M.I.T. and MPA from Bernard Baruch School of Public Affairs (CUNY)
Campaign website: allinforadrienne.com
TOPIC: Top district needs
QUESTION: Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.
ANSWER: For the 5th, 7th, and 10th Wards, access to affordable and efficient mass-transit is a BIG deal. I want to work with my state colleagues, Aldermen and County officials to ensure that our transit authorities do their very best to create increased access to mass transit, and not just those that can afford their increasing fares. We have a devastating jobs-housing gap in Chicago and Illinois, and it is critical that residents in the 25th District have an affordable way to get to good jobs in reasonable amounts of time. A recent study showed that low-income Black and Latinx folk spend 80-90 minutes more per week in transit to jobs, but on the South East side that is MUCH higher—we can do better.
Illinois also needs to reinvest in communities that have been ignored for too long. This means fully funding our public schools and investing in our crumbling infrastructure. This reinvestment also takes the form of environmental protections.
Protecting our environment is a big issue in IL HD-25, especially air and water quality. In the 10th Ward, we had battles that were won in reference to manganese and petcoke, but without proper monitoring of the air quality, it is increasingly difficult to hold these polluters accountable to our air quality standards. Unfortunately, the state will have to do more to fill in where the federal EPA won’t be helping us—so we will need to better-fund the IL EPA and IDNR in order to ensure our air, water, and other natural resources are safe.
As an aside, and into the next few years, with all of the recent focus on the 25th district because of the Obama Presidential Center and the potential redevelopment of our public golf courses, there will be an increased need for intentional and inclusive economic development in the areas surrounding these major attractions. These major projects necessitate major economic development initiatives in the surrounding commercial corridors.
TOPIC: Pension debt
QUESTION: In 2017, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability ballooned to at least $130 billion. Do you support re-amortizing this debt? Please explain your answer. And what is your position on a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability of the pension debt?
ANSWER: I do not agree with a constitutional amendment to change protections in place for public pensions—a 3rd tier option now exists and is being implemented (and perhaps discussions should take place about new employees automatically falling into this category once implementation is complete in 2018), so that is another conversation and one that I don’t think will be in opposition to constitutional provisions as currently set forth/defined as a new pension tier. I am still reading up on the case for re-amortizing this debt as a viable means towards solvency, but it appears to be an option worth considering. What the State of Illinois really needs is an injection of revenue that is created through progressive means. These sorts of revenues would make more funds available for substantial annual payments towards theses debts/obligations.
RELATED ARTICLES: Adrienne Irmer
TOPIC: Minimum wage
QUESTION: Cook County and Chicago are on their way to paying a $13 hourly minimum wage. Many suburbs in the county, however, have opted out of the wage increase. Should Illinois raise its minimum wage from $8.25 an hour? Please explain. And if you favor an increase in the state minimum wage, what should it be?
ANSWER: The State of Illinois needs an increase in the state minimum wage. Period. Right now the conversation is centered around a $15 minimum wage—by 2020. The only issue with this is that by 2020, with inflation on a fairly steady rise, $15/hour may not qualify as a living wage by 2020. Minimum wage should be connected with the CPI and increase according to inflation and cost of living.
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes; we have reached the point where Illinois won’t be considered on the vanguard of this issue—in fact according to national and local polls we are way behind the ball on this issue, and we are likely going to end up behind the ball on the revenues if Michigan were to approve legal, recreational marijuana first. As a strong, agro state, from seed to sale, Illinois (with double the population) could make over and beyond what the state of Colorado has realized since legalizing recreational marijuana. Not simply fees and sales taxes—the whole life-cycle of the supply chain warrants a niche expansion of the existing agro workforce (and related industries) and would realize a substantial increase in related income taxes.
This is not just a fiscally responsible thing to do, but there are existing models that have seen decreases in gun violence due to increased penalties for carrying an illegal gun while possessing marijuana and the models that only allow residents to have either a marijuana license or a conceal carry license—not both. This body of legislation can be designed to have associated benefits outside of purely fiscal ones, and the state of Illinois needs to get on the right side of history as it relates to marijuana legalization.
QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWER: Personally I have reservations about what casinos do to low-income and vulnerable communities, and as it relates to a casino in Chicago I defer to home-rule authority on what is best for the city/jurisdiction. I do know that we need to see an increase in jobs creation, but I am not convinced that this is the best way to achieve jobs growth. I would also work with subject matter experts on the cost-benefit analysis for more Casinos in Illinois, in general.
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TOPIC: Property tax freeze
QUESTION: A property tax freeze in Illinois has been proposed frequently since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office. What’s your position? If you favor a freeze, how many years should it last? Should the freeze exclude property tax increases to service the debt, make pension payments or cover the cost of public safety? Again, please explain.
ANSWER: If Illinois can manage to create progressive revenues through some of the ways I’ve previously mentioned, we can happily afford to freeze property taxes. Freezing property taxes without new revenues could hold us stagnant in this same fiscal crisis. I am not a fan of raising property taxes, but freezing them before creating new revenue sounds like a bad idea.
TOPIC: School funding
QUESTION: A revised school funding formula was approved this year by the Legislature and the governor, but a bipartisan commission has concluded that billions more dollars are needed to achieve sufficient and equitable funding. Should Illinois spend more on schools, and where would the money come from?
ANSWER: Fully funding our public schools should be a priority in Illinois. Period. The funding would come from each of the progressive revenue streams I’ve mentioned previously. For example, in Colorado, about 1/3 of the marijuana taxes go to education, so their public schools are fully funded.
QUESTION: How can the Legislature best address the problem of opioid abuse and addiction? Please cite specific laws you have supported or would support.
ANSWER: Investing in our people and our hardest-hit communities to create opportunity, hope and a strong economic fabric is the best way to address precursors to addiction. I have also read that the legalizing of marijuana for recreational use has been positively correlated with a decrease in opioid overdoses.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: I do not think an average resident needs a silencer for recreational purposes. The silencer implies some sort of illegal activity—flying under the radar if you will. I think it is a better idea to disallow them for private citizens. This being said, I also know it is fairly easy to make make-shift silencers at home and this sort of legislation might not adequately address this sort of thing.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, if we can create and pass legislation to further accountability around the sales of guns in Illinois, then we should do so.
QUESTION: Should family members be empowered to petition courts for the temporary removal of guns from emotionally or mentally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others? Please explain.
ANSWER: Yes, I believe that family members should have this legal avenue to create safer homes. I do, however, worry about the unintended consequences of pushing an unstable person to escalation with the threat of gun seizures. This would need further ideating in order to account for such circumstances so that it can be carried out in a safe way.
QUESTION: What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? Do you support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Should the state continue on a path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? Should everyone be permitted to buy into Medicaid?
ANSWER: The more that I read about the benefits of a public option, the more I am inclined to support this as a viable means to drive down the costs of medical care in Illinois (and potentially the Country). Furthermore, as a means to protect the healthcare coverage of Illinois residents, I think it is wise for the state to continue to ensure and fund Medicaid access, especially if trump is successful in repealing the ACA.
TOPIC: College student exodus
QUESTION: Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students in the country. What would you do to encourage the best and brightest young people in Illinois to attend college here at home? Does Illinois have too many state universities, as some have argued?
ANSWER: We need to fully fund the MAP grants—this was a major contributing factor to ensure students stay in Illinois for college/university. Additionally, state schools can partner with public high schools to identify academically strong juniors who would benefit from taking a college class or two while seniors in high school to encourage them to stay in Illinois and finish their degree in Illinois public colleges/universities. In order to do these things we need a balanced budget. We need our students to feel safe and secure in attending school in-state.
TOPIC: Gov. Rauner
QUESTION: Please list three of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you agree. Also please list three of the governor’s principles, or decisions he has made, with which you disagree.
ANSWER: Three principles or decisions I agree with:
He [finally] signed Automatic Voter Registration into law after the second time it hit his desk
He ultimately signed SB 0001, which, in principle, was a great step in the right direction
He ultimately signed HB 40 into law; in my humble opinion, it took WAY too much community organizing to get him to do the right thing, but at least he did the right thing… and I am happy to have been a part of that movement to get him to do the right thing.
Three principles or decisions I disagree with:
His amendments to SB 0001 were regressive and created a tax loop hole for wealthy residents.
I fundamentally disagree with his Right to Work legislation/efforts in Illinois.
Term limits for legislators and statewide officials—I think that if a legislator does a great job in upholding the will of the people and the integrity of the office, then term limits aren’t necessarily the best thing for democracy.