Second-term Republican State Rep. Tony McCombie and Democratic candidate Joan Padilla, who ran against and lost to McCombie in 2018, met virtually with members of the Shaw Media Editorial Board this week.
The incumbent representative and her incumbent challenger shared their largely divergent visions for the 71st District, differing in their evaluations of the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, routes to economic stability and top legislative priorities.
The candidates did find common ground, however, in their condemnation of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is the subject of a legislative probe into whether he "engaged in conduct which is unbecoming to a legislator or which constitutes a breach of public trust."
Both McCombie and Padilla said they think Madigan should resign his speakership, citing a bribery scheme with utility giant Commonwealth Edison he was implicated in this summer involving no-work jobs and lobbying contracts that were awarded over eight years to his close associates in exchange for legislation that benefited the company.
"Speaker Madigan does need to understand what's in the best interest of Illinois," Padilla said, noting that Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing. "If his being part of this investigation is being a distraction, then by all means he should step down."
Padilla was less critical in her evaluation of another Democratic leader – Gov. JB Pritzker – and offered praise for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying he "did what he needed to do."
"He worked very hard getting the [personal protective equipment] available for the state, for those on-site health care workers," Padilla said. "He was able to get ventilators to Illinois. He put together a team of medical experts and professionals. That is what leadership is."
But if she were Pritzker, Padilla said she would have implemented a single system of messaging, testing and data reporting for every county health department to follow.
McCombie disagreed, saying the coronavirus-related decisions made by Pritzker and his administration since March should have been made in consultation with the Legislature.
"We in the House and Senate are a co-equal branch to the executive branch, and the lack of conversation with the governor's administration has not been good," McCombie said. "I don't believe running a state or a nation through executive orders is the way to do it."
And because she knows her "district better than [Pritzker] does," McCombie said she would prefer if the state's pandemic response delegated responsibility and authority to local officials, rather than to a single branch of government or to state agencies.
McCombie also questioned the transparency and accuracy surrounding state-collected data on the spread of the virus, and suggested there would be less variation between the resources of county health departments in her district if they didn't have to rely on emergency state funding.
Proposed Graduated Income Tax Amendment
McCombie, a longtime business owner and realtor, dismissed the proposed graduated income tax amendment, characterizing it as a distraction from other reforms like state property tax, education funding and pension restructuring.
She also said there is "no guarantee of how the money is going to be spent," and warned that the graduated rates already passed by the Legislature would be raised if the amendment passes in November.
Padilla, who supports the proposed amendment, labeled McCombie's response as an example of "anxiety and fear" brought on by the opposition.
The Legislature can already raise tax rates, Padilla said, but it mostly chooses not to. The graduated income tax amendment instead adjusts the tax structure, and still leaves rates up to the Legislature to decide, she said.
"People need to understand that 97% of Illinoisans will see their tax rate either stay the same or go down," Padilla said. "Whereas 3% of Illinoisans will just be asked to pay a little bit more, and I think that's fair."
Keeping and Increasing Jobs
Padilla and McCombie further differed on their methods to retain and add jobs in the 71st District.
Padilla promoted a model that would feature partnerships between college students and businesses, in which training exchanged for temporary employment might eventually lead to full-time jobs and community investment.
McCombie stressed the need to stop passing policy that limits businesses and corporations from operating in Illinois, and that forces companies to open in neighboring states, where regulations are more relaxed.
Reforming workers compensation, property tax and tort policies would incentivize businesses to stay in Illinois, which would in turn "grow our population and attract people," McCombie said.
Policy surrounding agriculture should also be reformed, McCombie said, especially as it relates to the state's estate tax, property rights and environmental regulations.
"It's getting very hard in Illinois for the small family farmer," McCombie said, adding that the mental health of farmers needs to be considered a serious issue.
"One thing that has started to come to light ... is the suicide rate with farmers," McCombie said. "We have to start talking about mental health in our industries."
Padilla pointed to the emerging trend of hemp production as an agricultural investment that would "grow the district."
As a legislator, Padilla said she would work with the Illinois Farm Bureau and other stakeholders to secure training and funding for farmers to incorporate hemp as a third or fourth crop in their seasonal rotation.
And once it's grown and harvested, industrial hemp could also be an opportunity to bring new manufacturing or production into the district, Padilla said.
"As an agricultural district, this just seems to me like we should be exploring that," Padilla said.
If elected to represent the district in Springfield, Padilla said she would focus on maintaining the state's evidence-based education funding formula and on directing more education resources to teachers and students.
Padilla would also attempt to boost the district's economy by repurposing empty spaces and buildings in its towns and villages, which would give entrepreneurs opportunities to invest locally, to "bring the community together and make us stronger."
If re-elected, McCombie said she'll work to pass ethics reform measures like doing away with legislators' ability to lobby on behalf of municipalities, the "revolving door" of former legislators serving as lobbyists and ambiguous economic interest disclosures.
McCombie would also work to maintain "fiscal sanity" through property tax reform and a balanced budget that "puts people to work" and "grows our businesses."
"I'm a fierce advocate for my district," McCombie said. "I have a record showing that I want financial reforms ... that I'm willing to fund education ... that I support labor ... that I support families. My record speaks for itself."