In every election recently held Illinois, it seems there is always one race that involves a record amount of campaign spending.
Ironically, this year it is the face-off for comptroller between Chicago City Clerk and former Illinois House District 1 Rep. Susana Mendoza ( D ) and Leslie Munger ( R ) who was appointed to the office by Governor Bruce Rauner in 2015 following the death of Judy Baar Topinka.
The Munger campaign has nearly four times the budget of Mendoza's, but Mendoza says she is a woman who has been fighting all her life.
The comptroller's office is therefore one she intends to wina victory she believes is essential for a number of reasons she discussed with Windy City Times.
Windy City Times: Take us behind your decision to run for comptroller.
Susana Mendoza: The office is in fiscal disarray and our state is going through the worst fiscal crisis in its history. I feel like I have the level of executive management experience along with the relationships I built over ten years in the legislature that are great on both sides of the aisle.
I could really bring some value to Illinoisans at a time when they need an independent voice down there who knows how to get things done. Running the second largest office in the City of Chicago has been a great training ground for me in terms of being able to create efficiencies. To take an office that was once seen as an office that shouldn't even exist and turn it into today what is widely seen as a model in government efficiency wasn't easy to do and I did it in less than five years when we'd had over 100 years of men running the show, basically showing up, turning on the lights and that's it.
Under my tenure, I have eliminated the long lines that used to exist at City Hall for, primarily, poor people. Not only were they paying for the most expensive [city] sticker in the country, but they had to take time off work to pay the tax. I vowed to change that when I ran for City Clerk and, if you go by the clerk's office today, you'll see that the lines are gone. I did it with 10 percent less payroll than when I started. I've come in under budget every single year that I've been Clerk. I cut my overtime expenditures by over 70 percent and we've actually generated over $50 million in new revenue for the City of Chicago without asking tax payers to pay more for their sticker. We don't charge outrageous administrative fees that I think is nickel and diming people. We run a better operation now and it is fair to give those savings back to the taxpayers.
People deserve an independent, fiscal watchdog who will be a truth-teller as to what's going on in state government. In my opinion, they do not have that degree of that independence at all coming out of the comptroller's office. It might as well be Comptroller Rauner whose name is on that office.
WCT: Munger has said that you are tied to Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and special interests and so not an independent voice. How do you answer those accusations?
SM: What else do you expect her to say, right? I know my opponent certainly isn't interested in the facts. If she were, she wouldn't have omitted the fact that I got to the legislature by taking on Speaker Madigan's endorsed candidate who was, at the time, an incumbent. I lost by 55 votes but I didn't give up and I came back. [Madigan] doubled down against me the second time but I won with 55 percent of the vote.
I didn't get there by being appointed by the speaker, so it's interesting that [Munger] would say that coming from someone who was literally appointed by the governor and who lost her State Rep. race before that. I've never been appointed to anything ever in my life. I've had to work hard for everything.
It's an easy narrative to create that I just belong to the speaker which is what they say about anybody who serves in the Democratic Party. They even say that about Republicans who oppose the governor. Sam McCann is a perfect example. He opposed the governor on an issue regarding labor and then all of these commercials, the millions that they spent against this poor guy, all tied him to Speaker Madigan. It's the same script that they use in every election.
I am a Democrat, so clearly the speaker is going to be supportive of me but also because he's seen over the years how much of a fighter I am for causes I believe in. I've opposed the speaker on many policy issues in the House of Representatives. I've always been virulently pro-choice and the speaker is not. I voted against every single pay raise for legislators but that doesn't fit [Munger's] narrative.
WCT: Munger has suggested a No Budget, No Pay policy. Where do you stand on that?
SM: People are genuinely frustrated and apathetic towards politicians for good reason but I can tell you that the comptroller's office already has the power to put legislators at the end of the pay line and that's exactly what I'm going to do when I'm comptroller. I absolutely agree that legislators should not be prioritized, especially when you see the pain and suffering that's being experienced by social services in this state.
Comptroller Munger has had this power from the day she was sworn in. But she did not bother to use it or even talk about it until it was campaign season. She should have done this 10 months earlier at least, when the legislature went through the entire year which ended without a budget. What took her so long? She made a choice to continue paying legislators instead of paying folks who are the most vulnerable in our state. You pick your social service provider and they had to wait before the legislators.
I have a hard time believing that [Munger] had no choice but to wait until 10 months after she could have taken action. I'm going to continue the policy of keeping legislators at the back of the line but the concept of a law that is No Budget, No Pay is not even necessary because she has the power to do that now. It's a perfect little gimmick that she's going to use as a campaign tool from now until election time.
WCT: But if you prevail, would you make No Budget, No Pay a policy?
SM: What I would do is make sure that legislators have to wait in line until the very end. They're not getting paid right now because, like everyone else, they have to wait their turn and they're not at the front of the line. [Munger] knows that No Budget, No Pay will be dead on arrival. It's something Gov. Quinn tried to do and it was found to be unconstitutional but it plays very well in the press and with people.
WCT: She's also criticized you for voting in favor of tax increases. Would you still be for that or, instead, see where we can trim some excesses?
SM: You hear the concept that we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. The reality is that we have both. I have a strong responsibility to protect the taxpayer's dollar. So how much money can I save? Where can I cut costs? Where can we trim the fat? That's how I'm going to approach this office.
My opponent and the governor are on the record acknowledging that we're going to need to increase revenues in this state and that means increasing taxes. But I truly believe that a responsible budget should include cuts to programs that are bloated or not essential. The budget is just a list of priorities for both parties. You've got to be able to come to the table and negotiate out what's going to stay and what's going to go.
Having said that, my opponent and the governor are both in favor of a flat tax. I am not. I am 100 percent in favor and a vocal proponent of a progressive income tax. When I was in the legislature, there was very little political will to get that done. But I believe it's a different time right now. The majority of states that surround us have progressive income taxes. Gov. Rauner talks all the time about how his political mentor was [Wisconsin] Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin has a progressive income tax that's working very well for them. [Illinois] Rep. Lou Lang had introduced a great piece of legislation that basically provided a tax cut for 99 percent of the population and a significant increase for those making millions of dollars every year.
Obviously, my opponent and the governor are adamantly against that. They happen to fall within the one percent so it makes sense that they would look out for their self-interests, but my job isn't to look out for them. It's to look out for the other 99 percent who really have been carrying a disproportionate amount of the tax burden.
For more information on Susana Mendoza's campaign, visit: susanamendoza.com .
Windy City Times reached out to Leslie Munger's campaign but, as of press time, there has been no response.