Running for: IL State Rep District 42
Political party affiliation: Democratic
Political/civic background: Chair of Government Affairs Democratic Party of DuPage County, Advisory Panel Equality Illinois, Vernita Gray Council Howard Brown Health, NAACP Climate Justice Chair ,
Education: Bachelor of Science in Industrial- Organizational Psychology
Campaign website: Kmbfor42.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. Ken Mejia-Beal submitted the following responses:
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.
We need to grow revenue (without raising property taxes), demand the very best from the contractors we choose (see: IDES system meltdown March 2020), and refinance our state’s pension obligations (https://kmbfor42.com/issues/property-tax-pension/).
As a professional what concerns me most is the lack of accountability in the current budget: the budget approved is based on money that doesn’t exist yet. As a legislative body we need to hold ourselves accountable to make some tough decisions and then use a surplus to shore up the rest of our budget. In hindsight, we needed that more than ever thanks to coronavirus.
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?
From the outset, Governor Pritzker listened to the healthcare community’s recommendations instead of bending to political pressures and special interests, which I applaud. The state’s strategy was primarily focused on treating the infected and preventing spread of the virus, but a comprehensive strategy to address the massive secondary effects seemed to be missing. That is where I believe Governor Pritzker missed the mark. During the shelter in place order there were heightened levels of anxiety and depression, people slipped back into opioid addiction and other health conditions unrelated to the virus worsened. Our intense focus on the virus alone prevented a more comprehensive plan for supporting these secondary effects. There was also very little focus on the survival of our small businesses. There is no perfect response to the kind of large- scale pandemic that we are currently facing, but I will continue to focus on protecting the lives of families, children and seniors. I will also focus on making sure our local economy recovers.
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?
Since the murder of George Floyd, I’ve been communicating regularly with members of our law enforcement about how calls for police reform will affect DuPage County and the 42nd District. We’ve discussed the need to improve relations between the police force and the black community, in particular. One strategy I’ve seen implemented is Albuquerque’s ‘community safety department’ which is deployed in non-emergency situations. Strategies for Albuquerque are not necessarily applicable in DuPage Co., but I do respect their innovative approach to reimagining how and when the police are called upon. Our police force is asked to respond and remedy social situations for which they are untrained. I look forward to bridging the gap when elected.
Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Yes , the use of body cameras is beneficial to both law enforcement and the public. Footage from body cameras can be highly beneficial in training officers, and as a way of providing increased transparency to the people, they serve as a tool of accountability
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?
We need an ethical revolution in Springfield. It’s incredibly sad that our state politics is keeping the FBI so busy. My personal values and moral principles are strong enough to tell me that anyone who defiles a public office should be removed. I support stronger ethical reforms to clean up Springfield including tougher fines on politicians who are convicted of crimes and banning red light cameras that do nothing to protect the public, but have allowed corrupt politicians and lobbyist to profit off of taxpayers.
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.
I don’t just talk about changing my community, I help create it. I am a Council Member with Howard Brown Health, a local non-profit healthcare advocacy group. Last year, I worked closely with Representative Robinson to pass HB 2665, which expanded the availability of HIV prevention medication in Illinois. Now I’m looking ahead to my next challenge: as the Climate Chair for the NAACP I am working to get the Clean Energy Jobs Act passed into law in Illinois.
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.
Property Taxes – we must figure out a way to uphold our public schools as exceptional and lower property taxes. They are the reason many folks are leaving the state.
Healthcare – during the pandemic many people were told “If you do not have underlying conditions you will be ok “ the problem is, if you can’t afford a primary physician how would you know if you have underlying conditions.
Education – Our education system has the potential to be the best in the country. We need to educate our youth on tools that they will utilize in everyday life. Stronger education about civics and science are badly needed.
More important than these issues is the fact that I know the realities of people in the district, that are not currently being represented. Folks are pinching pennies and holding their wallets tight due to our states’ taxation.
What are your other top legislative priorities?
Responding to the COVID pandemic and providing necessary relief to families and businesses will need to be a top priority. This includes expanded testing and contract tracing, providing additional loans and grants to small businesses.
We need to position our state as a leader in producing clean energy and I have a six-point plan to do so (https://kmbfor42.com/issues/climate-policy/). Paving the way for this sector to thrive in Illinois has the potential to completely turn around our state’s appeal to outside investors who will in turn employ Illinois residents.
Increasing job training and vocational education to better prepare our future workforce. There is a serious shortage of well paying jobs. If we invest in more trade schools and career training for high school and college students, we can help them be more prepared to enter the workforce.
What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
As I talk to voters in the community, many share the belief that millionaires and billionaires should pay their fair share. Middle-class families need a fairer system. Illinois voters will have the final say in November and I support that approach. No matter the outcome, there is more work to be done to address our broken property tax system and provide more relief to middle class families.
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?
The number one fiscal priority facing the state of Illinois is the state’s under-funded pension program. We cannot continue to “pass the buck” to future generations of Illinoisans. We need an immediate solution that prioritizes responsibility to taxpayers and pension claims.
Thus far, the pension crisis has been exacerbated by “pension holidays” and general fiscal mismanagement. Required pension payments, paid annually by the state, are increasing quickly. But before they are projected to DOUBLE by 2045, we need to increase our upfront payments NOW and refinance our way out of a growing deficit.
Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
No, retirement income should be off limits. Folks work hard to be able to retire comfortably, and we want them to be able to retire here and spread some of their wealth here in Illinois.
What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
We aren’t formally teaching enough relevant skills within the current curricula at either level. We just presume students will learn them at home or trust our great teachers will be able to instill them in each of their students informally. For example, in elementary schools, we need to teach less long division and more social-emotional skills. In our high schools we should be pushing the trades just as much as we push 4-year college.
And as a professional, I pledge to improve the existing consumer education curriculum in high school while in office. Especially in light of COVID-19, we need to make sure teachers have the support and resources they need to provide quality education in this new learning climate. I will work with educators, families, and all stakeholders to learn more about the current challenges and find practical solutions to improve education moving forward whether in the classroom or online.
Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
Illinois must crack down on straw buyers. A great majority of the guns used in illegal activities in Illinois are purchased legally from other states. Legislation closing this loop hole would be a meaningful step in curbing access. I say this as someone whose close friend was murdered directly after his birthday party. This issue for me isn’t partisan- it is personal.
Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
I favor term limits set by the voter: when voters no longer feel their representative is serving in their best interest, vote them out. Otherwise, term limits ‘limit’ the institutional knowledge of the statehouse which, as any legislator will tell you, is vital to governing even if they support ‘term limits.’ For example: can you imagine where Illinois would be without Jesse White’s leadership?
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 do not believe in gerrymandering because it’s at odds with democracy. Fair maps would improve voter turnout and civic participation. Third party committees should draw our maps based on objective standards like population and geographic boundaries.
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 am glad the US Attorney’s Office is investigating. We need to earn back the trust of Illinois. A start would be to monitor lobbyist activity even further by mirroring the lobbyist reporting systems in Chicago and Cook County, which require more transparency about individual meetings with legislators.
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?
This is a new frontier of consumer protection and we need a Consumer Privacy Act like California has. Without a doubt, consumers should be able to opt out of the sale of their personal information. The Legislature needs to seriously consider this issue, companies should not be able to track citizen movements or data without consent.
However, legislation can’t replace personal awareness: residents need to stay vigilant when asked to “allow access.” Most of the time consumers have no idea that information is being gathered, let alone being profited from.
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?
The cost of college is skyrocketing, so we need to advertise these schools and recruit our top students to attend these schools. By reducing tuition and providing more grants for in-state students, we can keep bright, young minds closer to their home communities.
What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
I have a six-point plan in respect to climate change statewide (https://kmbfor42.com/issues/climate-policy/). On a local level, though, our public transportation needs to be more reliable and more visible. In DuPage we have over 350k folks that take a Metra Monday-Friday to work. Outside their commute, people are in their cars. If presented with a greener option, I think many of my neighbors would take advantage.
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.
Betty White, Illinois’ own ‘Golden Girl.’ Betty’s longevity and her positivity is an inspiration. Through it all, she has stayed true to herself. I’m a believer in staying true to your values.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
This is Us is BY FAR my favorite, it touches on so many real life challenges that families go through every day. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out.