As the owner of a financial advisory firm and an active volunteer in Lake View, Republican Gene Witt believes that he can give residents of the Illinois 12th District a choice that will unseat incumbent Rep. Sara Feigenholtz ( D ), who has held the office for over two decades.
Witt talked with Windy City Times on why he believes that choice needs to be made given the state's financial woes alongside a devastating rate of gun violence homicides and why he would be the best option on Nov. 8.
Windy City Times: You've talked a lot about the Illinois budget impasse. Democrats say the problem is Rauner's insistence on a turnaround agenda. Rauner wants lawmakers to compromise. How do you bridge this division and get a budget balanced?
Gene Witt: I'm looking at this from a financial perspective and we have to prioritize and do a better job of evaluating where waste is going. Our deficit is staggering, and translates to about $45,000 per taxpayer. Because of that, the next generation is going to find themselves with unbearable debt. More people are leaving Illinois which reduces our tax base and forces both sides to have to increase the tax rate.
The governor presented a budget that I was not in agreement with because it was still $4 billion off balance. The Democrats presented budget that was $7.5 billion. This isn't a solution. We have to find ways of cutting expenses in order to be able to meet our obligations. With the tax base reduced, we're going to have a spiral because the tax rates are going to have to keep going up.
I think we have to prioritize some of the social services. Education is obviously important to be funded but we have to look at the way it is operated because there's a lot of waste and there's more efficiency that can be brought to the table to provide better education with not such high, wasteful spending.
We don't have proper services for people who struggle or suffer from mental illness. That's pretty sad. You walk almost anywhere in Chicago and you can find a homeless person. Our money is not being prioritized properly. At the end of the day, if we get into a standoff, we lose sight of our responsibility. I want to find a solution that is logical and makes sense.
WCT: The plight of the homeless is a massive concern. There's a campaign to end youth homelessness by 2020. But a lot of the advocacy organizations are suffering because of the budget and Democrats say Rauner is the problem.
GW: We have to step back a second. Where's the money going to come from? We have such a big obligation on pensions, Medicaid, on so many different areas. I don't have a relationship with the governor. I don't know much accuracy there is in the information I have access to but we have to look at the amount of money we're pulling in. If we're going to continue funding all these projects, we're going to have to raise taxes to a point that we're going to end up reducing our tax base.
We're not putting cuts in the places that can afford to have cuts and social services and schools are getting beaten up. We're more than 120 days behind in our bills. We have to do a better job of evaluating all of the different segments of the budget and make some serious cuts so that social services do get the funding that they need and that education is a priority. We have to find ways so that we can afford to do the right thing for the people who cannot take care of themselves.
Over the summer, we found a number of [prison] inmates who were collecting food stamps and it translated to 50 or 60 million dollars. There's a whole black market for people selling their Link Cards. Don't get me wrong, I want to help people who need to feed themselves but, when tens of millions of dollars are being given to people in prison, that's money that could be going to help people who are homeless.
WCT: You've called Rep. Feigenholtz one of Speaker Mike Madigan's "top lieutenants." She has said that she votes against the speaker on issues that affect her constituency. Can you name specific areas where you would be a better choice for reining in Madigan?
GW: I don't think Mike Madigan is doing a good job as speaker of the House. He controls the agenda and Sara has voted to keep him as Speaker for the last twenty-some years. I think we need a new speaker.
One of the challenges with the way our system is set up is that, in order to go and look at somebody's voting record, it's very opaque to find the details: to click on a House bill that refers to another House bill that's an amendment, it's very difficult for somebody like me without a staff to get accurate information on somebody's voting record. Sara's got 22 years in the House so I can't give you specifics, but the budget's a pretty big one. It was $7.5 billion out of balance. Where was that money going to come from? Mike Madigan pushed that for a reason that was probably to intimidate the governor. If the state is in the financial mess that it's in, you don't vote on something that is that far out of whack.
WCT: Where are you in terms of gun violence in Illinois and people who buy guns at a gun show in Indiana and sell it to someone in Chicago?
GW: If somebody is caught with a gun that is illegal or unregistered, the penalties have to be really severe. But our prison system is overcrowded and there are people who are in prison who really shouldn't be. The prisons have to be cleared out so that we can put real criminals in them. Regarding the secondary market, there's a problem with that. The law has to apply across the board. In a situation like that, the person who sold the gun also has to be held accountable for the crime that's involved. If they choose not to do a background check on someone, there's a consequence to that. But if you and I were friends and I wanted to buy you a gun for your birthday, to have to go through a background check in a situation like that adds to administrative work and we start increasing expenses that the state can't afford at the moment.
I would hope that we could create better communication with surrounding states. With all the technology we have, we need to be more efficient with being able to get information more quickly and more accurately.
WCT: The NRA want more 2nd Amendment freedoms. They don't want gun manufacturers held civilly accountable or gun sellers. Doesn't this bring you at odds with them?
GW: When the Constitution was written, we lived in a completely different world and our society has evolved and changed. We have a problem with gun violence, but if you take away the guns you would still have a problem with violence. You have to understand where it stems from. I don't have a problem with being at odds with the NRA or the Republican Party. When it comes to making laws, you have to be logical, fair and do what's in the best interests of society. I do not believe in taking away people's rights to own a gun but, at the same time, I don't know where you draw the line on the sale of semi-automatic weapons. It's a balancing act.
WCT: In terms of the LGBTQ community, were you for marriage equality?
GW: It's fair. It's the right thing to do. Two people who are in love and want to spend their lives together have the right to do that.
WCT: But you are not in favor of transgender people being able to change their birth certificates without surgical-confirmation procedures. These surgeries are unaffordable to most. Insurance companies won't cover them. So how are transgender people supposed to have their gender identities reflected on official documents?
GW: I don't understand a lot of the mean-spirited judgement on the community. It's a whole lot easier to get along with people than it is to fight and criticize them. We talk about America being a free country, but freedom isn't just my definition. If somebody is comfortable doing something that doesn't harm anybody physically or financially, what is the problem?
With respect to birth certificates, the law builds upon itself and, when you start allowing people to change birth certificates, it opens up a Pandora's box and more things will start being changed. Eventually, people can change everything on their birth certificates. I don't have a problem with somebody changing their gender on a driver's license of a passport, but going back and changing a document from way, way back, I have a problem with across the board. I don't believe in changing an official, legal document from the past.
WCT: The man at the top of your ticket has divided your party. Voters are going to the polls looking at who is or is not supporting Donald Trump. Where are you on him and his candidacy?
GW: Mr. Trump's popularity came about because he's an outsider from Washington and I think that a lot of America is upset with Washington, as I think a lot of people from Illinois are upset with Springfield. Honestly, I thought Donald Trump's entrance into the race was a publicity stunt. I never took it seriously. I was really surprised that he resonated with so many people.
A lot of the comments he made that were offensive, especially towards the Latin[o] community, scare me that they resonated with as many as they did. The Latin[o] community is not all full of criminals and drug dealers. I think that the Latino[o] is the most family-oriented community I have ever engaged with. We should have a president that has more class and I'm not in agreement with a lot of his comments and views, although I will tell you I am equally concerned about Hillary.
For more information on the Gene Witt campaign, visit WittForIllinois.org .