Running for: Representative House District 97
Political party affiliation: Democrat
Political/civic background: Trustee in the Village of Plainfield; Labor Caucus Director, Young Democrats of Illinois; Veteran’s Outreach of Illinois Board of Directors; Political Director, Young Democrats of Will County.
Occupation: Union Ironworker (Local 444)
Campaign website: harrybenton.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent nominees for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois and their districts. Harry Benton submitted the following responses:
1. The COVID-19 pandemic has hammered the finances of Illinois. The state is staring at a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in this fiscal year. What should be done? Please be specific.
This is an unprecedented moment in not only Illinois, but the nation as a whole. We have done so much as a state to fight against the pandemic, but as we go forward, we have many different challenges that we need to meet head on. Our main fiscal concern needs to be ensuring that we are spending where it is needed and cutting where it is not. Testing, schools, those who lost their jobs, and small businesses need to be at the forefront of our priorities, working to offset the massive losses they have all been dealt to ensure that as we safely reopen everyone is taken care of. The budget needs to be pulled apart word by word to ensure that the priorities of our constituents are being met. While we reorganize our priorities, the federal government needs to step up and support frontline states to ensure that the COVID-19 response is fully covered. President Trump and the Republicans have decided not to do that, choosing partisanship over relief.
2. What grade — “A” to “F” — would you give Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Please explain. What, if anything, should he have done differently?
I think Gov. Pritzker has played the best hand with what he has been dealt. The way that the Republicans in the State and Federal government have decided that partisanship is more important than science makes Gov. Pritzker’s response all the much more impressive. We need to not forget while “grading” performance that we have lost more than 8,000 members of our community and the threat is still there to continue to lose more. I want to prioritize resources for all those affected by the pandemic, whether that be ensuring our front line workers are never worried about when they will get a new mask, or the small business owner in Plainfield that is working so hard to ensure that they are being safe, while still taking care of their workers. Gov. Pritzker has done well in a situation that no one had a blueprint for, and when I am elected, I will ensure that we are following the experts in all fields to make sure that Illinois comes away from this stronger.
3. In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, legislatures in some states have taken up the issue of police reform. Should Illinois do the same? If so, what would that look like?
The senseless murder of George Floyd has brought to light how so many people in our communities feel under the thumb of the system. The first step we must take is listening to those affected and ensure that their needs are being heard. Developing change that is best for all members of our community comes by bringing everyone to the table and ensuring true change is being made.
4. Should the Legislature pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras? Why or why not?
Yes, I voted for body cameras in the Village of Plainfield to ensure not only the safety of our public, but also the safety of our officers that put their lives on the line every day.
5. Federal prosecutors have revealed a comprehensive scheme of bribery, ghost jobs and favoritism in subcontracting by ComEd to influence the actions of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Who’s to blame? What ethics reforms should follow? Should Madigan resign?
Comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reform are necessary to ensure that we don’t have the corruption in Springfield. We need to stop the rotating doors between the State House and lobbying, a moratorium between being a legislator and a lobbyist is a good start to that change. Politicians that are convicted of wrongdoing while in office need to pay back every dime they have received from taxpayer’s for violating their trust and support. The red-light camera schemes that have been rampant in our state need to end by the definitive banning of red-light camera’s in the state of Illinois.
6. Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.
When the pandemic first hit, I handed out more than 1000 surgical and cloth masks to small businesses and restaurants in the Village to make sure that they had the proper PPE to run successfully and not have any job loss. I’ve spent the past 12 years working with Dads Day (Dollars Against Diabetes) raising funds to combat juvenile diabetes. Within the last two years as the Vice President of our homeowner’s association, I have taken on ComEd to move a manual switch that would affect more than 40 homes by storms in our community. As a board member of Veteran’s Outreach of Illinois, I have worked diligently to help create a tiny home transitional community for homeless and transitioning Veterans.
7. Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.
a. First, we need to focus on representing the District to bring back our fair share of funds for infrastructure and programs that would bring further economic development to the area, and relief to middle class families.
b. Second, we need to shift focus for some students to Trade and Vocational programs. As a Union Ironworker I know how important the trades are, and there are so many students that would benefit from a trade or vocational program rather than a four-year institution.
c. We need to ensure that the seniors in our communities are taken care of. There are too many that want to strip our seniors of resources after they have worked their entire lives. I will oppose any attempt to tax retirement savings. I will fight to get property tax exemptions for seniors and ensure that medical costs and prescription drugs are affordable for all seniors.
8. What are your other top legislative priorities?
a. Ethics reform should be at the forefront of all legislators. Corruption, as stated above, needs to be addressed with a heavy hand. The communities in our state need to trust the government and rooting out and getting rid of corrupt politicians needs to be a top priority for everyone.
b. Lowering healthcare and prescription costs for all members of the community, but especially the seniors, needs to be addressed. No one should have to ration medicine, especially during a global pandemic, so lowering the costs needs to happen.
c. Property taxes need to be reduced for families in our community. My opponent voted against freezing property taxes 13 times during his time in the Legislature, and I want to make sure that I can bring relief by giving seniors exemptions and supporting the Property Tax Relief Fund to provide relief to homeowners.
9. What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.
While I’ve been out talking to families in our community, I hear time and time again outcry for tax relief from the State. The Fair Tax being on the ballot in November places the power in the hands of the citizens of Illinois, not politicians. When I’m elected, I will continue to work to ensure middle-class families see the relief they so desperately deserve.
10. Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?
COVID-19 has thrown a curve ball to all state and local municipalities. As a Trustee in the Village I have brought up concerns for the budget and the impacts of COVID not only for our municipality, but for our small businesses and residents as well. The financial concerns are going to have long term effects on personal budgets, so our government budget needs to be looked at with the same rigor as our household budgets. We need to reassess and audit government waste in our state. We need to prioritize healthcare costs, Seniors, and our children’s safety in our schools to ensure we bounce back from these trying times.
11. Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?
No, I do not support taxing retirement incomes. Our residents have been taxed their entire life, and as they enter a fixed income situation, we should not be attacking our vulnerable populations.
12. What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?
During these unprecedented times, we need to ensure that we are giving our Students proper education while keeping them safe, as well as focusing on their emotional needs. Social workers and counselors need to be available to all children to ensure their needs are being met in regard to socialization (especially in early childhood ages). We need to expand high speed internet access to all homes, especially in these times when so many students are working remotely.
13. Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?
I am a responsible gun owner, and I fully support for commonsense gun reforms across the state. Where I want to focus is hands on educational programs for gun owners, which Illinois does not have. Education could save the gun owner, family, and anyone in the community through training and proper handling of firearms. Universal background checks, and proper vetting of anyone wanting to buy a gun should be adopted ASAP.
14. Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.
While I’m open to the debate, we must look at responsible government to ensure that it stays out of the hands of lobbyist and insider control. There are too many questions without an actual proposal to say definitively whether I support of defend term limits.
15. Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?
Truly fair maps need to happen at the federal level, all states need to be held to the same standard across the board. We cannot have a fair map anywhere when the Census is woefully underfunded and cut, and Republican controlled states can continue to cut Black and Latino voters out of the process. Redistricting needs to be transparent, and part of overall expansion of participation in our elections. My opponent states he is for fair redistricting, but voted against expansion for Vote by Mail, actively trying to keep people from voting in the 2020 election.
16. The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?
The Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform has put forth steps that I think are a good start. Politicians that are convicted of abusing their office should be required to pay every dime they have received from taxpayers back. Lobbyist registration and ending the revolving door need to be priorities going forward.
17. When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything?
I support banning the sale of our data to third party entities, this would ensure that our data remained safe and out of the hands of bad actors. Companies need to be held financially accountable when they have data breaches that put our personal information at risk.
18. The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?
I want to bring back trade and vocational programs into our High Schools to help transition our youth into good paying jobs instead of six-figure student loans. We must also be more competitive with in-state tuition to further our economic development and job placement programs to diversify our tax base to get our budgets back on track. Tuition assistance must be diversified through internships, job placement, and other unique programs to offer services to communities that are lacking in critical infrastructure. Lastly, we need to invest in community colleges to ensure all Students can continue their education even if their universities are not opening during these uncertain times.
19. What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?
Expansion of green energy projects across the state need to be emphases. Creating Green Energy work not only to protect the environment but creates good paying jobs across IL. We must also protect our green spaces (parks, forest preserves, wetlands) to create free opportunities for our families to destress and enjoy the outdoors while not taking on a financial burden. I want to create grant funding for phosphorous removal in the DuPage River to protect the ecosystem contained within it. I also want to integrate hydroelectric energy projects on the DuPage River to lower our dependance on fossil fuels.
20. What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
While not a historical figure, the person that has influenced and shaped me the most was my Father. He was a man who was selfless and would give anything to anybody. He pulled me out of school to work in soup kitchens to learn life lessons. He brought homeless people off the street to eat with us. He took technology courses so he could volunteer at my school to teach. He was a man of faith, family, community and a man that is a historical figure.
21. What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time? Why?
While we used to watch The Office and Seinfeld, now that we have a two year old girl and 3 week old boy, most of my time is spent watching cartoons and Disney Classics.