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Illinois House District 26, Democratic Primary

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The questions

All candidates were invited to respond to questionnaires, although not all chose to participate. Click on a candidate's name to see the unedited response to each question.

Biographical information & experience
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson
Birthdate: 7/30/1970
Occupation: Advertising Executive/ Merge Consumer Marketing
Marital status: Married
Spouse: Yolandra Johnson

Education:

I received a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in African-American Studies from the University of Virginia.

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

Board Member: Jobs for Youth, KLEO Community Family Life Center

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

I was employed as a special assistant to Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. in his district office from 1996-1999.

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

none

Mitchell
Birthdate: 10/3/1986
Occupation: Consultant/Conlon Public Strategies
Marital status: Single
Spouse: n/a

Education:

Graduated with a B.A. in public policy from the University of Chicago.

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

IVI-IPO

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

I served as Director of Outreach and External Affairs for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in 2011.

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

None.

Campaign information
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

Campaign headquarters: 1011 E 43rd St, Chicago 60653
Website: www.electkennyjohnson.com
Campaign manager: Rudi Patitucci
Campaign budget: $250,000-$280,000 for the March 20 primary
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
as of January 4

Myself: $25,000+
YBK Inc: $7175.44
Steve Thomas, Owner, 5T Management: $2000
Urban Vibe Entertainment Inc: $1000
D & M Properties: $700

Mitchell

Campaign headquarters: 443 E. 35th Street, Chicago, IL 60616
Website: www.friendsofchristianmitchell.com
Campaign manager: John Keller
Campaign budget: $300,000
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
Preckwinkle for President: $25,000
Friends of Will Burns: $25,000
UFCW Local 881 PAC: $2,500
Wilbur Milhouse: $2,500
Helen Dunlap: $2,500

What are your top priorities for your district?
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    ALL
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

My top priorities for the 26th District are:
-Saving and creating jobs in the district
-Strengthening our local public schools by ensuring that they are adequately staffed and equipped with proper resources
-Advocating for seniors by ensuring that the elderly receive the care and assistance that they deserve
-Protecting our Neighborhoods by fighting to strengthen laws against violent criminals and organized criminal activity

Mitchell

My top priorities for my district are to:
1. Ensure that every child, regardless of zip code, has access to a high-quality neighborhood school.
2. Deal with our structural deficit and backlog of bills by finding efficiencies in government, cutting waste, and committing to a long-term financial plan.
3. Create a better business climate in Illinois through strategic investment and coordinated workforce development.
4. Get guns off of our streets to improve our neighborhoods.

What is your top priority for the state?
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

My top priority for the state is to implement more fiscally responsible state budgets and support business-friendly policies that help employers create and retain jobs in Illinois while ensuring ensure that local schools receive state funding they need to meet children's academic and extracurricular needs. Illinois needs to be able to accomplish these prioritized goals without breaking our promises to working men and women throughout the state, and should also implement more significant and meaningful ethics reform legislation.

Mitchell

My top priorities for the state are the same as those for my district. To achieve these goals, I want to implement performance management systems to ensure every dollar is spent effectively and efficiently. We must create a transparent budgeting process that tracks spending and asks two questions: 1. What is this spending supposed to accomplish? and 2. Is it working? We then need to use that data to more effectively allocate state resources. With the resulting savings, we will be able to pay down our debt while continuing to invest in education, infrastructure and human services.

For incumbents, please list your accomplishments. For challengers, what unique strengths would you bring to the job of state lawmaker?
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    ALL
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

As a non-incumbent in an open seat, I would be a consensus builder in the State Legislature due to my experience as a progressive small business owner in an urban district who understands how to create jobs by working together with both the public and private sectors.

Mitchell

I began my career as a faith-based community organizer in the south suburbs and south side of Chicago. I worked with people in their communities to fight for living-wage jobs, adequate housing, improved transportation and high-quality schools. I've used that perspective and experience to pass legislation responsive to the needs of the people I've worked with. As a community organizer, I developed an ability to learn what a community needs by listening to its residents. Working with both residents and public servants taught me how to build the relationships needed to turn what the people want into effective legislation and then pass it. I've done this twice so far in my career. I identified a need to create jobs and improve homes on the south side, and secured passage of the Urban Weatherization Initiative. It provides $425 million for weatherization of homes to help residents lower their electricity and heating bills, and includes a requirement that labor come from the communities where the work is being done. I also identified a need to simplify the public transit fare system and reduce commute times in my district, and successfully passed legislation to create a universal fare card for transit systems in Chicagoland. It will allow for transfers among Metra, CTA and Pace by 2015. I am unique among the candidates in my race in that I have experience writing legislation to improve the lives of residents in the district.

I most recently served as part of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's senior staff, helping advise on many issues and connecting members of the community to services the county provides. I also worked with President Preckwinkle to prepare a balanced county budget. We implemented performance management initiatives and studied best practices in similarly-sized counties, looked at the budget line by line and saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, something I believe we need to do at the state level. My extensive experience with distinguished public servants has given me a unique perspective that will help me hit the ground running as a State Representative.

The state public employee pension system is severely underfunded and paying down the debt threatens to crowd out spending on core state services. Do you support reducing pension benefits not yet earned through a bill like SB512, which offers state workers three options for earning future pension benefits. Should police officers and firefighters be included in a reduced pension system?
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

Rank and file police officers and firefighters should not be included in a reduced pension system. Furthermore, SB512, while attempting to achieve the admirable goal of reducing the state's pension liability, is an imperfect bill in that it affects working class state workers who have been planning their retirement based on future pension benefits promised to them.

Mitchell

Public employees have faithfully contributed to their pension plans, and deserve the money they have earned and placed in trust with the state until retirement. Springfield has been irresponsible with that money and made promises that cannot be kept. The only way to fix the system is to bring all stakeholders to the table and examine all possible solutions. Everyone can agree that the status quo is unsustainable. I do not support SB512 in its current iteration, because it was not developed with input from all interested parties. Additionally, current benefits are constitutionally and statutorily protected.

One of the paths toward pension fund stability is to spend existing revenues more effectively. We must fulfill our pension obligations as required by the constitution and by statue, but we should examine the 2045/90 percent ramp to alleviate some of the immediate financial pressure. While doing this, we must make sure current annuants and retirees are paid on schedule. After we create a new plan, we must stick with it. We must all work together to create a stable, long-term plan that works for everyone.

If you don't support a bill like SB512, how would you deal with the state's unfunded pension liability?
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    ALL
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

The pension overhaul bill recently signed by Governor Quinn is a good first step in dealing with pension abuses by high ranking public employees. Continuing to curb these abuses will go a long way in reducing future unfunded pension liability. Illinois also needs to figure out how to lure more foreign and out of state companies into the state, in order to increase overall revenue which will help to fund state pensions.

Mitchell

As mentioned above, the first step is to examine the 2045/90 percent ramp to alleviate some of the immediate financial pressure while making sure current annuants and retirees are paid on schedule. We must strike a balance with a long-term plan that fulfills the state's obligations and allows the pension fund to achieve financial security, but does not decimate our current spending on education and other services. Once we develop a plan for long-term stability, we must add a mechanism that makes it very difficult for Springfield to change the plan, or we will find this crisis repeating itself regularly.

I would bring all stakeholders together to negotiate in good faith. Legislators should not act unilaterally, and any solution would have to be fair to both current retirees who count on benefits and future retirees who count on the system not going bankrupt. Additionally, I would look elsewhere in the state budget to identify wasteful spending that could be transferred to pension liabilities.

Do you want the 2 percent point income tax increase to expire in 2014, as planned, or would you like to see the tax increase extended beyond 2014?
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

This will depend on the specific fiscal situation Illinois is in come 2014. I would be open to extending the tax increase beyond 2014 if Illinois is still facing fiscal deficits.

Mitchell

I would like to implement performance management programs to create a more efficient state government. I would also increase transparency to help restore faith in the state's budget. To increase credibility with taxpayers and develop an accurate actuarial projection of revenues and liabilities, the state needs to conduct a line-by-line evaluation of programs and expenses and show a real commitment to modernization of government. I would also support increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit from the soon-to-be 10 percent rate to 15 percent to provide tax relief for working families, if our flat tax remains.

Only after reassessing the budget and reassuring the people of Illinois that their government is spending their tax dollars responsibly would I ask them to continue to pay a higher income tax rate. Once the state is not paying for ineffective or inefficient programs, we can determine if the income tax increase needs to be extended.

However, I do not see a way to balance the state's budget without allowing the tax increase to remain in place for now.

Do you support any changes to the corporate income tax rate? Do you support any other changes to the state's business tax structure?
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    ALL
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

The state receives a relatively small amount of revenue from the corporate income tax, compared to individual income taxes. It may be worth worth exploring restructuring the way corporate income tax rates are determined, by taking a more progressive approach. Any corporate income tax rate change should be a part of a comprehensive examination of the tax code for all businesses, as opposed to a piecemeal approach.

Mitchell

Many companies in Illinois pay no corporate income tax, while others shoulder a disproportionate burden. This exemplifies the need for wholesale corporate tax reform. We need to figure out a way to simplify the code and broaden the base. We must make sure that we receive the revenue the state needs for critical investments in infrastructure, education, human services, and other core needs, without unfairly overburdening the state's corporations.

What should the state government do to create a more favorable business climate and to promote job growth?
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    ALL
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

First, Illinois needs to pass pension reform and reduce the pension liability to improve its bond rating. We need to do a better job at capturing revenues and lowering state expenditures.
Moreover, businesses like to be in states that have strong school districts and educated work forces. Therefore, Illinois needs to prioritize funding of K-12, and promote incentives for community colleges and universities to properly train our work force for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Illinois needs to attract high industries that will be self-sustaining over time
Illinois should actively seek to have a bigger role in the global economy, and attract more foreign investment and trade. The federal government has the EB5 program for wealty foreigners to create jobs. Illinois should explore a comparable state-specific program.

Mitchell

We must create a more fair and transparent tax structure to establish a climate of certainty and stability. We should also commit to long-term financial planning, because businesses will be less likely to expand if they continue to operate in an uncertain economic environment with looming budget and pension crises. If we create a clearly-defined, fair, long-term corporate income tax plan, more companies will start up and expand in Illinois.

We must also invest in education, align workforce development with business needs by engaging employers on the front end, and invest in infrastructure, so that businesses will have access to a skilled, educated labor pool that can get to work easily. In conjunction with our long-term economic plan, we should consider tax incentives for companies bringing new growth industries to Illinois, such as green energy, health care and information technology. The state should also partner with universities to invest in basic research and development so that we take a leadership role in creating the jobs of the future.

Lay out your plan for paying the billions the state owes schools, universities, human service providers and others. Would you support borrowing to pay down those bills?
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

These essential and important state education and human service providers need to be provided the funding they are owed by the state in order to function properly. I would consider supporting limited borrowing measures to pay down bills in these two sectors so that students and the elderly and special-needs residents of this state are not continually compromised.

Mitchell

Short-term borrowing at low interest rates makes sense – the larger our principal balance of unpaid debt grows, the more we pay for debt service. The interest rate for short-term borrowing is significantly lower than that paid by the state under the Prompt Payment Act. What makes Illinois' debts so dangerous is the high interest rate paid on outstanding bills to vendors and businesses with unpaid refunds.

This problem is illustrative of our need for long-term financial planning. We should reallocate money from wasteful spending and redundant bureaucracy to debt reduction. We must also put the pension system on a fiscally sustainable long-term path. Budget surpluses should go toward investing in the future instead of paying for the mistakes of the past.

State legislative leaders are trying to give the General Assembly a role in negotiating contracts with state labor unions. What is your opinion of that?
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

I support the idea of giving the General Assembly a role in negotiating contracts with state labor unions. As a proud proponent of organized labor, I feel that I would be an asset to the State of Illinois in fairly negotiating with these state labor unions.

Mitchell

I would want to see a specific piece of legislation before committing to it. I do believe that the General Assembly, given its role in appropriating money, should have more say in the process, but I am wary of legislation that might “jam” the system, or create an opportunity for political brinksmanship to paralyze state operations.

The legislature has tried repeatedly to expand gambling in Illinois. Do you support expanded gambling in Illinois? In what form? Do you support a Chicago casino?
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    ALL
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

I do support expanded gambling in Illinois, including a Chicago casino. A Chicago casino would be an asset to the state that would generate much needed revenue and create thousands of jobs for Illinois residents. Our tourism revenue would increase greatly as well. Expanded gambling in Illinois should be implemented in a limited and strategic fashion, with an eye on how it affects Illinois residents.

Mitchell

I would support, but not sponsor, an expansion of gambling here in Illinois, including a Chicago casino. I think it is unfortunate that we have to rely on gaming as a source of revenue, especially given its disproportionate impact on the poor. However, gambling dollars are flowing across state lines, and I would rather see that money stay in Illinois and be used to pay down pension obligations and other one-off costs. I will be supportive of a gaming expansion if it operates under strict, independent oversight.

Would you seek any changes to the state ethics and campaign finance laws? Would you support capping what state party leaders can donate during a general election?
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

Yes, I would seek more stringent state ethics and campaign finance laws, and would support capping what state party leaders can donate during a general election.

Mitchell

Yes. I would support a shift toward public financing of elections. I support the Lincoln Act, which modifies campaign finance rules in Illinois. I also support a more open and transparent fundraising process and additional restrictions on lobbyists and recently retired lawmakers receiving state grants or contracts. I support changes that would protect our legislature from outsized influence by individuals.

Would you back a constitutional amendment to shift from a flat income tax to a progressive income tax system?
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    ALL
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

Yes, as I believe that Illinois should have a progressive income tax.

Mitchell

Yes. Everyone should pay their fair share to keep Illinois working. However, as I noted above, we must restore faith that tax dollars are being spent wisely before we ask for more of them.

Do you have a plan to adequately fund schools and reform the property tax system that results in inequities?
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

I have always been in favor of HB750 to increase the income tax and shift the burden from property taxes, but the recent increase in income tax has had little impact on education funding. It is my opinion that we are restrained by constitutional requirement of that fiat tax. The legislature pass the constitutional amendment for a progressive income tax to capture more revenue and fund education.

Mitchell

The state should fund public education at at least a 50 percent level, as is required by the constitution and to match what most other states provide. However, that goal is more aspirational than immediate due to current budget issues. All long-term planning should be done with an eye toward the goal of shifting a larger percentage of education funding from property taxes toward alternative sources. Illinois must fund education equitably across the state and in such a way that both the costs and the benefits of the public education system are shared equally. As we eliminate wasteful spending and reduce redundant bureaucracy, we will be able to approach that goal.

What is your view on gay marriage?
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    Johnson
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    Mitchell
Johnson

I unequivocally support gay marriage and would support any legislation legalizing gay marriage in Illinois.

Mitchell

I fully support gay marriage. I see gay rights as one of the most serious civil rights challenges of our time. I believe members of the LGBT community should enjoy the same rights as everyone else.

The race
The candidates
Kenny Johnson
Christian L. Mitchell
The district
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