ROCK FALLS – Sean Sanders exudes great confidence for a political candidate who has $405 in his Crowdpac fund.
Sanders, 30, in July, formally announced his intentions to run as a Democrat in the 71st Legislative District during a town hall gathering in his hometown of Rock Falls.
Sanders’ war chest paints a stark contrast to the 2016 race in the 71st District. In a year in which both parties scrambled for a majority in the General Assembly, nearly $4 million was poured into the race in which former Savanna Mayor Tony McCombie unseated incumbent Democrat Mike Smiddy.
Sanders worked for the Smiddy camp in 2016, and the amount of money thrown around in several races that year played a key role in his decision to run.
“You don’t want to see every race in Illinois turn into a money grab, and we’re getting closer to that all of the time,” Sanders said.
The role of big money in politics wasn’t a recent revelation for Sanders. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Luther College, and is working on his thesis, the last step in earning a master’s degree in government and political science.
“I’ve always been worried about money and politics, but mainly because candidates spend so much time fundraising and the people with the most money get the most influence,” Sanders said.
Campaign finance reform would be one of several overhauls Sanders would seek if he’s sent to Springfield – and he is confident he can do it without an obscene amount of money.
“Doing all of the hard work on the ground is priceless,” Sanders said. “You can have all of the money in the world, but without the right message and support it won’t matter.”
Historically, Sterling and Rock Falls have played a key role in delivering the 71st District to candidates. Sanders said he has the support of local Democratic leadership, and he hopes to catch the eye of party leaders at the state level.
“It’s early, so the Illinois Democratic Party is trying to do its due diligence, but I believe I’ll be able to earn their support too,” Sanders said. “In the meantime, the local party really has my back and they’ll be my rock.”
If elected, Sanders also wants to press for tax reform. He said a shortfall in income tax revenue has led to the state’s overreliance on property and sales taxes. He wants to see a tax referendum on the ballot in 2020.
“We need fair tax reform because the flat-tax system is hitting the middle class hardest and doesn’t generate enough revenue,” Sanders said.
Sanders said he is a staunch supporter of unions, and wants to see workers in any industry paid fairly. He says an increase in the minimum wage would help stimulate a stagnant economy.
“Too many people are struggling and working multiple jobs to make ends meet,” Sanders said. “That also means they have no time off to spend their money, and the stress leads to increased health care costs.”
Sanders said Springfield needs leaders who aren’t afraid to implement new ideas. He said politicians need to get back to the basics and find real compromise by discussing ideas and practicing empathy.
“People think political movements happen out of nowhere, but it takes a lot of groundwork by a lot of people,” Sanders said. “To bring change in Springfield, it’s going to be messy because it’s complex and everyone has their motivations, but you can’t go into it with a hammer.”
McCombie is expected to run for a second term, but has not made an official announcement.