DeKALB – The 70th District of the Illinois House of Representatives politically has run red for the past 15 years because of the service of Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley.
Although insurance agent Jeff Keicher runs unopposed to fill Pritchard’s seat as a Republican, two area officials think they can change the district’s perception.
DeKalb School District 428 Board Secretary Howard Solomon, who is running in Tuesday’s primary election as a Democrat, said the 70th District has been recognized more as a “Pritchard district,” in which Republicans have enjoyed the privilege of riding on the back of Pritchard’s good character for the past eight elections.
“I know that there are many people living here who will call themselves lifelong Republicans, but I think that many of these will, on further thought, regard their loyalty to the Republican Party as being derived from the service that they have received,” Solomon said. “But they face an uncomfortable fact in that the man of good character is retiring and is no longer an option.”
His primary opponent, DeKalb County Board member Paul Stoddard, meanwhile, said he is running to fix the way things are run down in Springfield, and he said running for and winning the district as a Democrat will lend more credence to his platform of change.
“It think it’s easier to change the situation from within,” Stoddard said. “Presumably, as a member of the majority party, it would be easier to change than [as] part of the minority party.”
During his budget address last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed a four-year phase-in shift of pension obligations from the state level to the local level. He also assured that schools and local units of government would have the tools to offset the added expense, including increased education funding, the power to dissolve or consolidate units of government and more flexibility in contracting and bidding services.
Solomon said that as a member of the District 428 board, he knows the district puts every penny it has into providing the greatest educational experience for students. So if pension costs are to fall on the school district, additional revenue streams will have to be considered.
With residents maxed out by property taxes, Solomon proposed the idea of a public bank within the state, which would not be judged by the same business standards of profitability and stockholder dividends. Instead, as a bank owned by the state, it would be judged by its activities that improve the quality of life in Illinois, Solomon said.
He also proposed that the state set up its own insurance company, similar to what J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, Berkshire-Hathaway and Amazon are combining to do to provide coverage for their employees.
Stoddard said there is a little bit of merit to the proposal, but shared Solomon’s concerns about funding.
“If there were a way to guarantee the state would give the entity sufficient funds, it would certainly help ease the transition,” Stoddard said. “I think we need to revisit the entire revenue structure for the state of Illinois and really reduce the property tax burden imposed on schools by funding alternative state funding.”
He said that the pension issue should be looked at as a whole, and the state should not be looking at Band-Aid fixes.
“Then we’ll end up with a really complex or convoluted system, even more so than what we have now,” Stoddard said.
Several pieces of legislation are making their way through the Illinois General Assembly, including a bill to ban bump-stock devices, a bill to raise the purchase age of guns to 21 and a bill that would have required gun dealers in Illinois to obtain a license through the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which Rauner has vetoed.
Stoddard said he supports the gun-control packages being presented, and the legislation would be the first step in addressing the gun violence issue. However, these bills are not going to solve the problem of gun violence by themselves, Stoddard said.
“There has been a lot of talk about mental health issues, and if we’re going to see that mental health is a serious issue here, we need to put more resources into it,” he said.
He said that traditionally, the government had a role in supporting smaller communities that did not have the economy for a private institution. Therefore, it is up to the government to step up and make sure these communities have access to vital services so local residents aren’t forced to travel to Rockford or Chicago for these services.
Solomon said he supports “absolute” gun licensing. He said that weapons such as AR-15s seem to have no other purpose than to kill people.
“It’s not a matter of defense, unless someone perhaps thinks an army is approaching them,” Solomon said. “I don’t believe that human beings ought to be the targets under any circumstances.”
Stoddard said as a democracy, actions should be taken on what people prefer and so long as the public is informed on the pros and cons of an issue, he is in favor of letting them have their own say.
Solomon said he is in favor of legalized recreational marijuana use and it should come after the state’s prisons are cleared of those with possession of cannabis charges.
He also said he used marijuana recreationally in the 1970s and since that time, completed two master’s degrees and a doctorate.
“The notion that it destroys brain cells I take to be complete garbage,” Solomon said. “I hold my academic success as evidence thereof.”