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State House: Newcomer takes on longtime rep in 27th

Illinois Rep. Monique Davis has served 27th District for 25 years is running for re-election.

Illinois Rep. Monique Davis has served the 27th District for 25 years and is running for re-election.

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Historically, the battle to represent the 27th District in the Illinois State House of Representatives hasn’t been much of a battle at all.

Democrat Monique Davis, who has served the 27th since 1987, is a fixture in her district, which includes the Chicago suburbs Blue Island and Palos Heights and stretches to the city’s south and southwest sides. Davis will face off in the March primary against fellow Democrat and political novice Preston Brown Jr. There is no GOP challenger.

Unsurprisingly, Davis, who is serving her 13th term in the House, is not a fan of term limits — unlike her opponent, who strongly supports them.

Davis, a former Chicago Public School teacher and administrator, has been in office for 25 years, during which time she has been implicated in a number of embarrassing mini-scandals, allegedly holding on to a statue that was on loan from Chicago State University and failing to pay rent on an office in a CPS-owned building on West 95th Street. In 2011, the Chicago Board of Education sued Davis for more than $617,000 in back rent, utilities and penalties; the Cook County treasurer’s office is also suing Davis for more than $400,000 in unpaid property taxes. Both cases are pending; the latter has been referred to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. Davis maintains that she has done nothing wrong.

Despite these legal tensions with CPS, Davis remains a fierce advocate for public education and for teachers. “Education needs to be fully funded,” she said in a phone interview. “We need to close the achievement gap — and we know money is tight. But we need to make sure our children are reading at level.”

Outspoken and occasionally brash, Davis is well-liked in her district, and she won re-election in 2010 with about 80 percent of the vote. She has been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and the AFL-CIO. She serves as vice chair of the state House Financial Services committee and chair of the Insurance committee. Davis did not return the Chicago Sun-Times’ candidate questionnaire.

Asked about her challenger, Davis pointed to Brown’s lack of work experience. “I see a great deal of education,” she said, “but not much work experience. And you have to bring experience to the General Assembly.”

“Anybody can run for office,” Davis said. “And I commend those who want to serve. But when people want this to be their first job, well, that scares me.”

In fact, according to Brown, Davis’ first challenger since 2008, he does have work experience in real estate and as an investment adviser. Brown is mounting an old-fashioned campaign against the popular incumbent, walking the streets of the district and talking to voters. Brown is fortunate to have found a way to connect with voters offline, given that his website is little more than a colorful shell, its contents limited to a biographical sketch. And while that biography is very impressive academically — he received a master’s in educational administration and an MBA, and he’ll earn his law degree from Northern Illinois University in May — it does not make up for the glaring lack of information about the candidate’s views. In a phone interview, Brown said the website will be updated by Feb. 28 to include “all the pertinent information voters need to make an informed decision.”

Brown’s responses to the Sun-Times candidate questionnaire were brief. He “strongly opposes” SB512 because it might result in reduced pension benefits for current state workers, and he advocates allowing the temporary income tax increase to expire in 2014. Among his top priorities for the 27th District and for the state, Brown lists the creation of new job opportunities and job training, improved education for district children and increasing non tax-based revenue sources. All admirable goals, but Brown has not provided details about how he would make any of these changes.

Brown told the Sun-Times he is running against Davis because “. . . she’s been in office for 24 years. If you look at the district, she hasn’t done much for the district. If you walk the district, and talk to people, as I have, you’ll find her constituents feel the same way.”

He thinks he can do a better job than Davis; his challenge is articulating his message in a district where voters have repeatedly demonstrated they are very comfortable with the status quo.

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