On Jan. 24, incumbent Iris Martinez appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s running again for the Democratic seat in the Illinois State Senate 20th district in the March 2018 primary:
My name is Iris Martinez I’m the state senator for the 20th district and I’ve been in service for 30 years, public service for 30 years, but I’ve been a senator for 15 years. A lot of my priority has been basically the district, the district’s needs and the district’s concerns and more importantly supporting a community where I was born and raised and where I raised my daughter.
My main cause is taking all these adversities that I think single moms have and take it down to Springfield. As a single mom the challenges were affordable daycare, after school programs, affordable housing and that really motivated me to really go out there and do what I could down in Springfield to make sure that we could address those issues. Those issues continue in my community, we are still having the same issues with the affordability to live, especially in the city of Chicago that I represent, but more important is to make sure people stay in the community so that we can continue to grow our communities.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Illinois State Senate a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Iris Martinez submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: Please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
ANSWER: The biggest issues that I see facing our community are related to immigration and the fears in our neighborhoods of ICE agents tearing families apart; challenges for seniors who rely on government aid and services and navigating the increasingly complex health care markets; accessing affordable health care; affordable housing and solutions for our homeless community; and the constant improvement of our public schools.
One specific cause that I will continue to be passionate about is home birth safety. I worked last year on the Home Birth Safety Act to make sure that Illinois offered safe and fair licensing standards for people to be able practice their chosen profession as a midwife. Home births are becoming increasingly common in Illinois and around the country, yet our state does not allow midwives to safely operate within the medical community. I will continue to speak out for the women who are silenced for their health care choices.
Running for: Illinois State Senate 20th district
Political/civic background: Served in the Illinois Senate since 2003; served as Majority Caucus Whip since 2013.
Occupation: Illinois State Senator
Education: Northeastern Illinois University and University of Illinois at Chicago
Campaign website: N/A
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: Enforcement of the Trust Act – One of the biggest fears in my district, and specifically in the Albany Park neighborhood, is roaming ICE agents looking for undocumented immigrants to detain. These concerns are affecting all aspects of our community. When people are afraid to leave their homes, our businesses suffer. I am committed to relieving the fears in the community and ensuring that the Illinois Trust Act that Governor Rauner signed is enforced so that everyone feels comfortable to enjoy their lives without fear. No one should be afraid to walk in his or her neighborhood or take their children to school or seek medical care. At the same time, our immigrant community must maintain trust with the law enforcement community in order to ensure our public safety.
Affordable Housing- Addressing rising housing costs and the increased homeless population have become priorities for my district. Especially during the coldest months of winter, it is essential that our homeless community have access to government services and safe shelters. The lack of affordable housing in my district has increasingly become an issue with the gentrification of many neighborhoods. More diversity in our communities is a great thing, as long as our most vulnerable populations are not left behind.
Social Services – I saw firsthand the devastation caused in my district by the lack of a state budget for over two years. Many people in my district rely on government for essential services, like my annual health fair where I provide important services for seniors and children who need immunizations before going back to school. I have always prioritized ensuring that all children have the proper supplies for school and that no one goes without essential medical care because of their economic status.
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: We need to pursue bipartisan legislation that addresses our pension costs and looks at a model where new state workers are put into a plan where they can choose their benefits. However, we cannot reduce the benefits of our current and retired workers who rely on their pensions as their sole source of retirement income. This problem should not be solved at the expense of hard working people who made their life decisions based on those promises from our government. We should always be working in a bipartisan way to come up with new solutions for tackling our pension debt. When considering a constitutional amendment to reduce our pension liability, I am opposed to any solutions that would hurt the benefits of those who are retired and rely on their benefits they have earned over their careers in public service.
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: I believe Illinois should raise the minimum wage. Many Illinoisans haven’t had a raise in over seven years. Too many people in our state work to provide vital services like health and childcare, and yet they can’t afford to raise families on their incomes. If workers are able to earn more money, then they will have the ability to spend more money, which will help local economies. I would support a graduated increase in the minimum wage up to $15 an hour.
QUESTION: Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
ANSWER: I believe we should look at the example of other states that have legalized marijuana and the profits they are earning from those revenues. I believe we should look at legalizing the use of recreational marijuana and using the taxes toward our pension debt. This solution can also help solve criminal justice goals of reducing our incarcerated population and the costs of caring for non-violent offenders. This solution would especially benefit minority communities that are disproportionately affected by our current marijuana laws.
QUESTION: Would you support more casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago. What about racinos? Please explain.
ANSWERS: Yes, I am supportive of new casinos in Illinois, especially focused in Chicago and the waterfront. I believe that casinos would bring in a new source of revenue for the city and that money should be geared towards education. I have supported new casinos in the past and I believe that if we built new casinos, for the first five years that tax revenue should be earmarked for public education and pensions.
I also support more racinos in specific communities of our state and city. I believe this new revenue should also go towards our pension debt. However, these types of betting need to be focused on higher income communities. I do not want to see poor communities hurt by this or exploited because of their vulnerable financial situations.
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: I supported a bipartisan two-year property tax freeze last year and I believe that a temporary property tax freeze, of two or three years, would help many families. A property tax freeze will be an important component to a balanced budget. If we want to keep people from fleeing the city of Chicago, or the state of Illinois, we need to address the property tax burden to make sure we can stabilize our communities. After a few years, we should examine if we need to continue it and address other property tax assessment issues that affect the city.
When considering whether a property tax freeze should exclude covering certain services, I never want to endanger our resources for public safety, and I realize the importance of tackling our debt. However, these services are important to look at when implementing a property tax freeze and looking at other areas of revenue that can address our debt and pension payments.
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: I believe we should always be investing in our public schools. This is a constant need we have to address year after year. When we look at where the money will come from, it’s a matter of sitting down with leaders, looking at our revenue sources and asking what can we do to properly fund our schools without burdening people with more taxes. I firmly believe we have to work together with input from both sides of the aisle to find a solution for increased revenue along with cutting where we find waste. I believe new revenue sources should include a progressive income tax, a new casino for the city of Chicago, and the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana.
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: This is a public health crisis. The Legislature must work together with the medical community in order to solve the issue of overprescribing opioids, which is partially responsible for this crisis. Doctors and those in the medical community need to take responsibility for overprescribing and enabling people to get addicted to certain pain medications. I worked to pass a law to enable nurse practitioners to be able to prescribe medication, and I believe this responsibility is on the prescribers to make sure they know how much they are prescribing. I have also worked to pass a law requiring combination lock caps be placed on all prescription opioid bottles in order to prevent individuals from using dangerous drugs without a doctor’s supervision. I also worked on a law to prevent doctor shopping by requiring prescribers to have a license and register with the state. Especially troubling is the effect this crisis is having on our communities when these pills are ending up bought and sold by our children. We have to do a better job of tracking and regulating what doctors are prescribing in order to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place.
QUESTION: Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Please explain.
ANSWER: We must do all we can to prevent more firearms with any add-ons from being used on our streets.
QUESTION: Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Please explain.
ANSWER: We need to do everything we can to ensure that a transaction involving anything as powerful as a firearm is done legally by responsible citizens.
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: I believe there is no one who knows someone better than a family member and who knows when they should not have access to a gun. Until we can secure comprehensive background checks on all gun purchases, family members could be the last line of defense against a preventable tragedy.
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: I am firmly committed to the success of Medicaid expansion in Illinois. There has been too much confusion out there around what people are entitled to under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare and managed care. I believe everyone has a right to quality health care. People should be able to access the right care for themselves, regardless of their economic status.
Republicans in Congress and President Trump have failed our communities with their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act without any real solutions to replace it with affordable care for our vulnerable communities who rely on programs like Medicaid expansion or CHIP. There are many families in my district who rely on the CHIP program and Congress’ refusal to renew this funding is inexcusable. We must work together to continue to offer the best health care for all our communities.
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: I do not believe that Illinois has too many state universities. However, I understand why young people choose to go elsewhere when our schools continue to raise tuition. I would encourage our state universities to come up with a serious plan to look at their budgets and make cuts in order to reduce the costs of tuition for our students across the state. I applaud those state universities that are freezing their tuitions. Part of this problem also falls on the Governor and his refusal to work towards a budget for over two years, forcing many schools to go without resources.
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: There are not many of Governor Rauner’s principles that I agree with, however there are three bills that I am pleased he signed into law: HB40, to ensure all women’s access to reproductive health care regardless of income; SB1947, to provide adequate school funding for all students across Illinois; and HB4360 to provide restorative justice for former felons seeking healthcare licenses in Illinois.
It is much easier for me to list Governor Rauner’s principles and decisions that I disagree with. One of the biggest principles I disagreed with was the Governor’s refusal to work to approve a state budget for over two years. His lack of compromise affected real people in my district who rely on government service, including a daycare that was forced to close due to the budget crisis. I don’t believe he ever fully realized that his actions had real consequences for millions of people in Illinois.
I was also disappointed that Governor Rauner vetoed the minimum wage increase because that would have a real positive impact on our communities. It’s wrong that people who work full time are unable to care for their families on our current minimum wage.
Again, I disagreed with the Governor’s veto on our original school funding reform bill. I was pleased that he eventually signed the compromise package to finally provide relief for our public schools across the state. His repeated refusal to work together with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature is something I do not understand.