Thumbnail profile: Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (B.A. 2002); University of Illinois, College of Law (J.D. summa cum laude, 2008). Professional Background: Jenner & Block, law firm (2008-present); Chief of Staff of the State Board of Education (2004-05); Aide in the Office of the Governor (2003-04); State of Illinois, Dunn Fellow (2002-03). Community Involvement: Voting Student Member of the University Illinois Board of Trustees; Illinois Finance Committee and Co-Chair of the Chicago Young Lawyers for Obama; Board member Illinois State Youth and Government YMCA.
Decisions being made in Springfield as to what to cut and what not even to discuss cutting during the budget crisis led to Eamon Kelly’s decision to enter the race. The legislature, in Mr. Kelly’s mind, was proposing cuts to social services while refusing to discuss items like the [the Governor] Blagojevich free-rides-for- seniors program and the general assembly scholarship fund. “What really got me mad was when they went to cut … preschool for all. … [I]t provides 100,000 kids with preschool. And when they went to kick those 100,000 kids out, I just got very angry,” he says. “My wife and I talked about it, and we decided we really had a duty to step forward and to serve.” He says he felt that he had a set of experiences that would allow him to advocate for meaningful reform in Springfield.
Distinguishing Factors: Mr. Kelly says he believes that a balance of youthful energy and experience at the state level distinguishes him from the rest of the field. “I am the one that balances everybody out,” he says. Mr. Keenan-Devlin has energy and progressive values, says Mr. Kelly, “but … he does not have the same set of experiences that I have. … I worked in state government for three years [most recently as the Chief of Staff for the State Board of Education] … Ms. Gabel, Mr. Smith and Mr. Moran have all served the community and been engaged, says Mr. Kelly, but, “I really feel like I’m the one that balances out the experience and the youth and energy and commitment to reform.”
“Roots growing up in Evanston” also distinguish Mr. Kelly from the field, he says. “I’ve lived here all my life. I was born in Evanston hospital; my child [due in February] will be born at Evanston Hospital … I played on ETHS football team; I have a deep connection to this community, a familiarity that comes from growing up here.”
Signature Issue: “Reforming the budget is the most important” issue in the campaign says Mr. Kelly. “In terms of my expertise, and where I would do a lot of work is education. Two areas where I would spend a lot of time would be health care and civil rights laws, particularly marriage equality and protecting a woman’s right to choose,” he adds.
State Budget: When it comes to the budget crisis, “You have to start by eliminating some of the programs that serve political but not policy purposes [like free rides and GA scholarship programs]. … There’s some exorbitant spending in the contracting area. But … with a $12 billion structural deficit and $30 billion operating fund, there’s no solution that involves [only] cutting, so I would support an income tax increase as the only responsible way to pay for the health care and education programs that I’m passionate about,” says Mr. Kelly. He supports the tax increase sought by House Bill 174. “[I]t doesn’t make sense to do a half measure solution,” he concludes.
Public Transit: “I am 120 percent supportive of public transportation,” says Mr. Kelly. “I have for most of my adult life not owned a car. … I have always felt deeply committed to public transportation.” He also says, “As a community we need to not only preserve, repair and maintain what we have but also look to expand.” He supports a Yellow Line stop in south Evanston. He “absolutely support[s] a requirement that we spend more on public transportation” to achieve a better balance between spending on roads and spending on transit.
Corruption: Mr. Kelly pointed to four things he would do to address corruption. First, he says he “will not take money from legislative leaders [or] the Illinois house campaign fund.” Next, he promises to “fight to close the legislative leader loophole which allows legislative leaders to spend unlimited amounts in elections.” Third, he would decrease the number of political appointees. “Anyone involved in hiring, and anyone involved in contract awarding as a main part of their job should be a civil servant and not a political appointee,” he says.
Finally, Mr. Kelly would institute mandatory reporting for all public officials who see or suspect corruption. Currently, teachers are required to report suspected abuse, attorneys are required to report certain illegal activity, Mr. Kelly says, and he would apply that same standard on public servants. “I think it will make a big difference,” he says.
Health-Care: Mr. Kelly supports a public option for health insurance. While at the State Board of Education, Mr. Kelly says he was involved in an effort to create a public option for all teachers that would allow school districts “to buy health insurance through the state at a more competitive rate than they were achieving buying it locally in relatively small districts.” The insurance brokerage industry, Mr. Kelly says, successfully lobbied against the bill. Citing studies that showed the public option would have saved school districts about $1 billion over four years, Mr. Kelly concludes, “A public option if designed well would be a big saver, not a big spender for the state.”
“The state does just about everything it does badly in education,” says Mr. Kelly. “It scores tests and takes too long; it does a bad job of certification. …” Mr. Kelly says he would try to change several things at the state level. “[W]e need to reform our testing system so that what we produce is useful data for teachers educating students. … Second, we have to create some opportunities for excellent teachers to move between school districts.” He would work to incentivize teachers to move into schools that need help. “Everything I’m talking about is part …of moving toward Race to the Top [President Obama’s education initiative] and away from the punitive No Child Left Behind system.”
Environment: On clean water, Mr. Kelly would focus on making sure the canal meets the highest water standards, noting resistance by the Reclamation District in complying. He says he would work within the region to “do what we can do as a region to preserve what is after our people our greatest resource, our water.” He also believes, he says, in supporting community efforts to help promote a clean environment. “So it’s at once being a leader and providing additional state resources and it’s also supporting local communities in individual decisions to be more responsible,” he concludes.
Pension Funding: “We need to honestly understand how the [pension] problem started, and the problem was just a failure of political leadership,” says Mr. Kelly. He supports protecting defined-benefit plans, calling them cheaper to administer and manage and more secure for retirees. As for the current liabilities, “I think there are some things we can look at at a state level in terms of asset transfers that would provide an infusion of cash into our pension systems and shore them up. We also have to make good on our obligation to pay them as we go.” He says he wants a long-term fix: “The worst thing we can do is have another short-term fix. … I would … put everyone at the table and come up with a fix.”