Illinois House 53rd District Democratic nominee: Mark L. Walker
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Democrat Mark Walker is opposing Republican Eddie Corrigan in the 53rd district Illinois House race.
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the 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.
Walker submitted the following responses, and watch the video above to learn why he’s running for office.
Please explain what cause or causes you will make priorities.
Walker: I want to focus on making people proud of Illinois and our government.
Illinois is a great state; it’s our state government that isn’t working. It is fixable.
We need to build an economic environment where individuals and businesses can succeed. That will require balancing the budget and solving fiscal problems over the long term. We will focus on small and medium businesses, which are the real “job creators.” With a background in business, finance and budgeting, I have the skills to get state government to work for all of us.
All Illinoisans – no matter where they live – deserve to feel safe in their communities, schools and homes. I’ll work to enact common sense gun regulations, including gun dealer licensing, a ban on military assault rifles and devices such as bump stocks, and require background checks at the time of sale for all sales.
Ensuring that pre-existing conditions continue to be covered by insurance and that health care is affordable and accessible to Illinoisans, is critical. More than 25% of non-disabled adults in the greater Chicago area have a pre-existing condition. We must not permit insurance companies to exclude from coverage a quarter of the population. We cannot go back to personal bankruptcies being driven by healthcare costs.
I’ll fight for women’s economic, social and civil rights, including adequate funding for domestic violence services, pay equity, access to childcare and a woman’s right to choose.
Please list three concerns that are highly specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to some local issue that must be changed.
Walker: The issues facing our state both transcend and reflect local concerns. High priorities include:
- Reducing our property tax burdens while ensuring necessary funding for education.
- Improving safety, which includes reducing the threat of gun violence.
- Providing better services for people in need, including those experiencing homelessness, developmental challenges, mental illness, and poverty. The needs of these populations are often overlooked or hidden in the suburbs.
Who is Mark L. Walker?
He’s running for: House District #53
His political/civic background: Illinois House Representative 2009-2011. Various community service roles, including Board Member and Treasurer of Journeys, a homeless services organization, veterans’ advocate, and Arlington Heights Park Foundation Board.
His occupation: Retired after thirty-five years of various business and entrepreneurial experience. I have been chief operating officer of a worldwide division of a major corporation, founded a small company, consulted on operating excellence and quality at the board level, and worked in community development. I have been working since I was 16, served in the US Army, and put myself through college partly via the GI Bill.
His education: BA and MA in Anthropology (cultural change), Brown University, Providence, RI.
Campaign website: MarkWalker4Illinois.com
Twitter handle: @MarkWalker4IL
What are the most important differences between you and your opponent?
Walker: Experience. I have more than 35 years of experience in business, finance, budgeting and management. I’ve been extensively involved in community redevelopment in my career and have served on non-profit boards. I also served our country in the military and also have leadership experience in the business world. And as a former State Representative from 2009-2011 for this district, I have proven my ability to work across the aisle to move legislation forward. On political policy stances, I am pro-Choice, for commonsense gun regulation, and will defend the ACA elements requiring coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Illinois is now the sixth-most populated state, down from No. 5, after 33,703 people moved out between July 2016 and July 2017. What must the Legislature do to make Illinois a more desirable place to live?
Walker: When I talk to people at their front doors who are considering leaving the state, they all mention property taxes. These are way too high. The solution is to restructure our overall tax system in Illinois. With a graduated state income tax we can properly fund education, and local school districts won’t have to continue raising property taxes. We can also pay off old debt, and fund social services. This can all be done without raising income taxes on 90% of our taxpayers.
We also have to rebuild people’s pride in Illinois. I am tired of politicians bad-mouthing Illinois to get ahead. Yes, we have problems, as does every state. But Illinois has many qualities that make it a desirable place to live, work and play. We need to build on our strengths while confronting our difficulties so that people come to Illinois and stay here.
We must invest in higher education so we can provide business an educated workforce and opportunities for our children; invest in startups and small companies, which are the true job creators; and ensure that the state works for all Illinoisans to restore the trust of our citizens.
In 2017, our state’s unfunded pension liability ballooned to more than $130 billion. What’s to be done about that?
Walker: The reality is our pension problem took more than 30 years to create and will take more than 20 years to correct. There are no silver bullets. We have to pay the long-term debt we created by not properly funding pensions years ago. While the state constitution dictates this, more importantly, we owe this commitment to workers.
We took an important step to address this problem in 2010 by establishing the Tier 2 pension system, which created a manageable system for anyone coming in after that time.
I support smoothing out pension debt payments by restructuring them over time. We must be vigilant about the pension obligations and payments and not create additional problems.
From 2000 to 2016, the number of Illinois residents who enrolled as college freshmen outside the state increased by 73% (20,507 to 35,445). Why are so many more Illinois residents going to college elsewhere? What should be done to encourage more of them to go to school here?
Walker: College is too expensive. Cost is a top – if not the top – consideration when choosing a school. No one should have to take on enormous debt to attend a public university or community college.
The state of Illinois has not helped this situation. The recent budget impasse froze state funding for public higher education. Students couldn’t be certain they’d receive funds awarded through the Monetary Award Program (MAP) when they needed it. Even before then, state funding for public universities and community colleges dropped from 2002 to 2015. Funding for the University of Illinois system in 2018 was down 10% from 2015.
The state needs to increase funding for higher education. Increased support would enable public universities to provide more financial incentives to students. Investing in higher education creates opportunities for our children and supports business with skilled labor. And while some college students may leave the state to attend school, Illinois is a great importer of highly-trained college graduates who come here for jobs after they graduate.
What laws, if any, should the Legislature pass to address the problem of gun violence?
Walker: My service in Vietnam gave me first-hand experience with military-style assault weapons. I firmly believe assault weapons should be banned except for trained military and police, as they were designed to serve one purpose: to efficiently kill people. They are not especially useful for defending our homes, and there are better alternatives for hunting. These weapons have no place in our society for the average citizen.
There are many things we can do to begin to address the problem of gun violence. We need to push for gun dealer licensing, enforce waiting periods, address lack of accountability for private sellers, mandate reporting for lost or stolen firearms and require background checks for every sale. Guns should not be available to those legally determined to be dangerous to themselves to or to others around them. These are commonsense solutions, and all can be done while respecting our 2d Amendment, and the court findings related to it.
Also important are the training and development programs to provide young students alternatives to a violent or gang lifestyle.
On-demand scheduling software now helps large retail companies determine how many staff members they will need on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. The downside is that employees may not receive their work schedules until the last minute. Oregon and a number of cities have responded by adopting “fair scheduling” laws. Would it be appropriate for the Illinois Legislature to pass a “fair scheduling” law? Please explain. What would such a law look like?
Walker: I would seriously consider a fair scheduling law similar to those adopted in other states and municipalities. This benefits individuals who often struggle the most to get by, are working multiple jobs or juggling other responsibilities, like childcare and college classes.
Canceling or rescheduling a shift at the last minute can impose a significant burden on a worker. Laws like this provide greater employee input in scheduling, pay if they report to work to find their shift was cancelled at the last minute, split shift differentials, and advance notice of schedules.
Employers should understand and appreciate their employees’ other obligations and treat employees with the respect that all deserve. Employers who do so are usually rewarded with employee loyalty, productivity and better service for their customers.
Should recreational marijuana be legalized in Illinois? Please explain.
Walker: Yes, we should legalize marijuana and tax it like any other product. Not only do studies show it’s significantly safer than alcohol in many ways, but our country should have learned by now that prohibition creates more problems than it solves. The result has been a criminal justice nightmare for thousands of people who’ve been arrested and prosecuted for possession. This has not only contributed to overcrowding in our prisons and jails, but minorities are incarcerated for marijuana infractions at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.
Opioid overdoses and fatalities continue to rise in number. In Illinois in 2017, there were 13,395 opioid overdoses, including 2,110 deaths. What should the Legislature do, if anything, about this?
Walker: Opioid overdoses and fatalities present a significant public health issue. Since passing the Drug Overdose Prevention Program in 2010, Illinois lawmakers have continued to improve the statutory and regulatory framework related to opioid overdoses.
Both education programs and naloxone save lives. We must continue to boost education and awareness, particularly in at-risk communities. And we must continue to expand access to naloxone, along with proper training for the use of it. We also must increase access to alternative courts promoting treatment over incarceration.
A proposed Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 contains significant proposed changes but has not yet been passed. Federal, state and local authorities should work together to address this national crisis.
The Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2016, is generating job growth in renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. Do you agree or disagree with the objectives and substance of the Act? What more — or less — should be done?
Walker: While the current Federal administration is decimating environmental protection and undermining the move to renewable energy, Illinois and other states are stepping up. The Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) is creating thousands of new jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy and innovation. The clean energy industry is creating more jobs than many other sectors of industry and most of that job creation is being driven in small businesses.
The goals of FEJA are laudable. We should continue to encourage utility companies to make the electricity system clean and reliable, as well as affordable, position Illinois as a leader in clean energy, and provide jobs in this growing sector.
What would you do to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? What is your view on managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries?
Walker: The Illinois Medicaid program is complex, and covers more than 3 Million people through a myriad of medical and ancillary programs. The challenge is not so much “fraud, waste, and abuse” as is often claimed, but breakdowns in management and technical processes. A recent audit found that Healthcare and Family Services was unable to provide claims service, denials, up-to-date record keeping, and marketing and other services, up to reasonable standards. A first step would be for the HFS to adopt the recommendations of the State Auditor General.
Managed Care could provide a lot of opportunities for improvements in terms of increased access, and lower costs, but these have not yet been realized. The MCO model might be viable, but we have to achieve it, except in limited scope.
Underfunding at the Department of Corrections has led to troubling findings by the auditor general that many inmates don’t receive services or opportunities for work while incarcerated. Is this a legitimate concern? What should the Legislature do?
Walker: After we resolve our budget and fiscal issues in Illinois, and impact economic development, the next highest state priority is criminal justice reform. The treatment of inmates is a very real concern for several reasons. Imposing harsh prison conditions does not lead to good outcomes; they, in fact, correlate with an increased likelihood of post-release arrest.
All persons are entitled to adequate treatment, including health and mental health care. The department has had to defend itself in several lawsuits in recent years for failure to provide minimally adequate care. These lawsuits have not only cost the state millions of dollars but have shed light on overcrowding, lack of staffing, excessive isolation and abuse in Illinois prisons.
The state must reform its prison operations, including reducing the prison population and relying less on privatization, which ultimately costs more and delivers worse service. We must have alternatives to incarceration.
Should the state restore the practice of parole for people sentenced to long terms? Why or why not?
Walker: Yes. Illinois, and several other states, abolished parole in 1978. Now, Illinois is one of only 16 states that does not provide the opportunity for inmates to earn parole. Yet a study by the Pew Charitable Trust found that inmates on parole were less likely to commit new crimes and return to prison than those who finished their terms in prison and were released outright.
Despite falling crime rates, Illinois currently confines more than 43,000 people in its prisons at a cost of about $22,000 per year. Other states are reducing their prison populations by paroling prisoners sentenced to long terms and providing supervised release for prisoners as they complete their sentences. Illinois should follow suit.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.