Thumbnail Profile: Education: Northwestern University (B.A. 2006); Professional Background: Legislative Director of Citizen Action/Illinois (2007 to 2009); before that, Health Policy Advocate at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; Community Involvement: President of NU Student Body; board member of United Way of Evanston; participant in League of Women Voters of Evanston; Advisory Board Sheil Catholic Center; board member of Democratic Party of Evanston and New Trier Democratic Organization.
Distinguishing Factors: Patrick Keenan-Devlin, the youngest in the field of five Democratic candidates in the race, says he believes his youthful energy is one of his advantages and an attribute that distinguishes him from his opponents. “I entered the race because I believe in state government. I believe that government can be part of the solution and that it doesn’t have to be the problem. Springfield right now is the problem. … It’s time for change, and I think I am the one who can help deliver it,” says Mr. Keenan-Devlin.
The other candidates, Mr. Keenan-Devlin says, do not have the same combination of advocacy experience and ambition for change that he brings to the race. “Some of my opponents have community roots and are real community advocates. Some of my competitors have a lot of Springfield experience. I’m the only candidate that has both. Last but not least – and I think it’s important – I have fire in my belly and the passion, energy and commitment to get things done,” he says.
Signature Issue: Asked to identify his signature issue, Mr. Keenan-Devlin begins with the state budget then transitions another issue he champions: “The primary issue for any legislator or candidate for the legislature has to be our state’s finances. Having said that, one of my passions has been … and will continue to be bringing regulation to the payday loan industry.” He describes the “legalized loan-sharking” in which he says such establishments engage. He says he does not expect an interest rate cap, soon, though, citing the power of the payday loan lobby, but hopes to at least get some consumer protections passed.
State Budget: Turning to the budget, Mr. Keenan-Devlin says, “We have a structural deficit where we have more programming and services than we can afford … [but] at the end of the day, Illinois has sustained some really heavy cuts that have really impacted communities all across the state, so I want to move away from cuts and I really do want to shift the conversation to ‘What are we going to do about our revenue stream?’” He says he supports House Bill 174, which he says seeks to bump the state income tax rate to 5 percent for corporations and individuals, triple the earned-income tax credit and provide property-tax relief for low- and middle-income families. Only through increasing revenue, and a tax hike is the way to do so, can the state pay for the services progressives believe in, he says. Eventually, Mr. Keenan-Devlin says he would like to see a constitutional amendment that would move away from a flat tax to a graduated income tax.
Public Transit: Saying he would like to be “a true champion of public transit,” Mr. Keenan-Devlin supports legislation mandating that the state spend a dollar on public transit for every state dollar spent on roads and bridges. Right now, he says, the ratio is about two road dollars for every public-transit dollar. “I also think we have a real opportunity in the state to implement a high-speed rail corridor,” he adds.
Corruption: As for corruption at the state level, Mr. Keenan-Devlin jokes, “There is none.” More seriously, he says he has both short-term and long-term goals for combating corruption. In the short term, he says the $5,000 contribution level in the newly signed campaign finance law is too high and should be brought down at least to mirror the federal limit of $2,300. Further, he says he believes same-day voter registration on Election Day would help fight corruption. “As progressives, the fewer barriers between the voter and the ballot box, the better we are as a society,” he says, adding that “hopefully that will help root out corruption.”
Mr. Keenan-Devlin also says the way to address corruption is to vote out corrupt officials: “We need to marry the policy to the politics and insure that Illinoisans are committed to changing state government and changing the players in state government, and replacing the players with men and women who are committed to state government’s role, which is providing health care, education, and public safety to the residents of the state.”
Like the other candidates, Mr. Keenan-Devlin believes that money in politics is the cause of corruption at a state level. Mr. Keenan-Devlin adds that when he worked for Citizen Action, he wrote the Lincoln Act, which seeks public financing of all state elections, a goal he still supports.
Health Care: On health care, Mr. Keenan-Devlin “would really like to see a public option” at the federal level, which in his estimation would operate to “drive down costs and provide greater access” to the system. He wants to make sure the state pays Medicaid providers on time and regulate the nursing-home industry. “I also believe that non-profit hospitals that get a property-tax kickback for having that status should do more for the indigent in our state,” he adds. “They get the property tax exemption for a reason – providing care to the poor.” He says he supports efforts to mandate threshold level care for the indigent.
Education: Mr. Keenan-Devlin would funnel more money into education. Citing the tax increase and additional revenue that would result from the passage of House Bill 174, he says that “within 2 years [of passage] it will help us meet our constitutional mandate to provide 50 percent of funding for every pupil, an important mandate.”
Environment: The environment is “a social justice issue to me. I look and environment questions through a social justice lens,” says Mr. Keenan-Devlin. The Lake [Michigan], and water issues, “require national leadership and federal leadership.” But “one of my passions has always been the impact specifically of diesel exhaust on low-income families in this state. Ultimately, I would like to see the state adopt a clean construction bill,” he says. He also would like to see cleaner busses, as he sees diesel fumes as a critical environmental, public health, and a social justice issue.
Pension Funding: Mr. Keenan-Devlin says the pension liability problem as relatively simple: “We have this debt. It’s not rocket science – we have to pay it off.” Employees should not be castigated in the debate, he believes. “My father has been a state employee for the state of New York for the past 35 years. … Nine times out of ten, state employees … have taken the job in the public sector at the expense of higher salaries in the private sector in order to satisfy a societal need. … The benefits that state/county/city employees receive as employees and as retirees are not gold-plated.” The key is increasing revenue and sticking to a payment timetable, Mr. Keenan-Devlin says.