Education: Northwestern University (B.A. 1977); Harvard Law School (J.D. 1982).
Professional Background: Attorney for 27 years, currently with law offices in Evanston; previously, attorney with the City of Chicago, and later director of the Medicare Project at the Loyola University Community Law Center.
Community Involvement: Leadership roles in Sen. George McGovern’s presidential campaign, Paul Simon’s U.S. Senate campaign, and Mayor Harold Washington’s reelection campaign; Democratic Committeeman for the 9th Congressional District (1986- four years); past Board member of the Democratic Party of Evanston, the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization, SANE/Freeze, and the Sierra Club Chicago Group; advocate on many Evanston issues.
Jeff Smith says entered the race because he believes he brings the leadership skills necessary to truly change and fix the problems in Springfield. “We’ve got unprecedented calamities cascading down upon the state. …” he says. “We’ve got big problems, and we need leadership to help fix them. … We need a more visionary government, but you can’t be visionary unless you’ve already seen a lot. … At this point in my life I see the big picture but from the ground level.”
Distinguishing Factors: Mr. Smith believes that a “more complete toolkit” distinguishes him from the rest to the field. He cites “experience, knowledge, engagement, representativeness, and a track record of fighting for reform” as those tools. “It’s one thing to have the ambition to become part of the political process; it’s another to have demonstrated courage to try to change the political process. A lot of people want a seat on the bus, but not enough want to turn the bus around. There’s a political bubble, you can try and grab onto it and float away in it, or you can try and pop it,” he says.
Signature Issue: As his signature issue, Mr. Smith first cites change and a realistic approach to problems, and then the environment. “Change is the overarching issue, because without change in the way we do business, we can’t get the progress we need on any substantive issue. My signature substantive issue is the environment; a greener Illinois,” he says. But efforts to change must be rooted in reality, he says, adding, “There’s the politics of reality versus the politics of denial, and I think I’ve staked out the reality corner of the field pretty well.”
State Budget: The solution to the state’s budget crisis: “More revenue and less spending. It’s not rocket science,” Mr. Smith says. Adhering to the formula requires “experience” and “realizing that any change you make affects the economy and so can affect what you’re trying to achieve.” … “Poor decisions” by the government contributed to the “economic meltdown,” Mr. Smith says.
“That’s one area where I differ from Patrick Keenan-Devlin. He wants to point the finger at predatory lending. That’s only a small part of the picture. It has a lot more to do with what the fed was doing for political reasons than it does with a handful of convenient villains,” he adds.
As for how to address the state’s structural budget deficit, Mr. Smith calls an income tax increase “inevitable” but says that it will not be enough. “The best projection is that the tax increase is only a $5.5 to $6 billion of additional revenue [based upon a rate increase from 3.5 percent to 5 percent] for a budget that’s got a $9 to $12 billion shortfall, depending on how you measure it. I call it a $5.5 billion patch for a $9 billion hole. So you have to cut [as well],” he explains. Directing voters to his website, Mr. Smith says, “I’ve come up with the most comprehensive and realistic set of ideas for how and where to cut expenses.” Realistic and difficult choices need to be made, he says. “You can’t say ‘yes’ to everything and close the gap,” he concludes.
Public Transit: In discussing public transportation issues, Mr. Smith says, “I’m a transit-oriented candidate for a transit-oriented district,” He continues, “I’m pretty confident that I’ve put more time into studying transit issues than any other candidate in this race and maybe all candidates combined. It’s been a passion of mine for over 20 years.” Noting that he wrote in favor of the concept before he entered the race, Mr. Smith says that he supports a one-for-one road and public transportation mandate, but adds that “it might not be realistic unless you have a modest gasoline tax increase to fund it.” He concludes: “I know the importance of public transit to this district and to this region’s future. You won’t find a stronger advocate.”
Corruption: “The big key [to corruption in Springfield] is money,” says Mr. Smith. The key to fixing corruption, therefore, is “extricating the influence and carrot of big money from the process.” But Mr. Smith notes other aspects to corruption as well, saying, “Money by itself will act as a natural anti-democratic agent, but, on top of that, the political establishment has erected a series of barriers to meaningful participation by and for the people. These include gerrymandering, the ridiculously early primary, unfair and irrational and confusing ballot access rules, an opaque legislative process.” Mr. Smith says that he has published “an entire plan for reclaiming democracy” on his website.
Health-Care: Mr. Smith favors a single-payer health insurance system “as the most economic and efficient way to deliver universal health care,” adding, “I fear that what we’ll be presented with on a federal level will be similar to the final campaign reform bill in that we’ll be asked to accept it as being better than nothing. It will still leave a lot of people in Illinois without coverage.” Mr. Smith says the “bruising” federal fight, and the budget crisis limit what can be done at the state level. Prevention is one area he seeks to improve. “There are often instances where spending a little more money at the state level can save you money down the road. Funding wellness is more cost-effective than treating illness,” he concludes.
Education: Education reform, says Mr. Smith, is tied to more and more efficient state funding. “The number-one thing that jumps out is to make the state carry its primary share of the burden of educational funding so we don’t have the inequities and local pressure politics associated with reliance on the property tax,” he says. Yet education dollars need to be spent by experienced, service-minded individuals with students’ welfare in mind.
“Too many decisions on schools are made for the political needs of adults rather than the educational needs of the children,” says Mr. Smith.
Environment: Citing his expertise on water and environmental issues, Mr. Smith urges a need to take a long-term view on lakefront and water management issues. “I’ve litigated lakefront protection issues, participated in lakefront planning and studies, and have close relationships with our most vigilant stewards of this resource [the environmental community]. I’m also looking at 10, 20, 30 years down the road. There are looming watershed issues for this region and this district and this state: watershed and water resource. The time is now to start planning,” he says.
Pension Funding: “Short of governments going bankrupt” the pension liability “has to be paid,” says Mr. Smith. “The existing shortfall has to be made up over time … [but] on a going-forward basis, what we’ve done doesn’t seem to be sustainable. We have to make changes, but the state can’t dictate those changes. We have to negotiate in good faith between the government and its workforce. I’m counting on the representatives of the workforce to recognize that a change to something sustainable is in everybody’s greater interest,” he concludes.