Education: Beloit College (B.A.,1975); University of Illinois, Chicago (M.S. in public health, 1979), Loyola University Chicago Law School (M.J. in health law, 1996). Professional Background: Executive Director, Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition for last 20 years; previously an educator, training coordinator and co-director of various health centers; legislative assistant to then Alderman Luis Gutierrez.
Community Involvement: Served on the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty, the Maternal and Child Health Advisory Committee for the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Immunization Advisory Committee for the Illinois Department of Public Health, and other statewide boards and commissions.
“I have been working in Springfield doing policy work for the last 20 years and what I’ve realized is that when you’re the state rep you just get a little more push than you do as an advocate,” says Robyn Gabel, explaining her decision to enter the race. Given that the seat was open, and “I’ve been working on health care and other issues for many years… it’s something that to me, it’s like a career trajectory that will allow me to do even greater good for the people.” It just felt, she says, “like the logical step.”
Distinguishing Factors: Ms. Gabel’s 20 years of experience in Springfield distinguishes her from her primary opponents, she believes. “[E]very year I learn something new. Springfield is pretty complicated, and it’s not something you can learn in a year, year and a half.” Ms. Gabel also believes that she can bring people together to form coalitions to get things accomplished. She cites her experience with Luis Gutierrez bringing the Black-Latino caucus together. “In order to make change in Springfield we need to bring together a similar progressive alliance… and I have worked with…the Latino caucus, the black caucus, the downstate caucus, as well as… the progressive suburban caucus and the progressive Chicago caucus. I feel like through that experience and the contacts that I have and the relationships that I have – I am the one person that can probably bring together all those diverse groups.”
Signature Issue: “Health care is my signature issue,” says Ms. Gabel. “It’s my passion … my goal is to have accessible, affordable, quality, health care for everyone. We’ve made progress. We have it for kids. My goal is to have it for everybody. … And in the general health care field, preventive health care is important to me.
“We probably bargained away too much [in the federal health care bill] before we started. We should have asked for single payer and then moved from there rather than start at a compromise, and then compromise the compromise,” says Ms. Gabel. She says she was “shocked” by the Stupak amendment [requiring that no funds from the bill may be used to fund abortions or pay for health insurance plan that covers abortions] and “horrified” that anything like that may get through. “Reproductive choice is really paramount to women being able to control their own lives,” she adds.
“I’ve also been a strong supporter of women’s issues so I believe that you need to maintain and make sure women get equal pay for equal work,” Ms. Gabel adds. She says she would fight to keep women’s right to choose available in the state. “Over the years we’ve been fighting more restrictive bills and we need to continue fighting those,” she says. Bills “that will probably be coming up will be civil unions and possibly marriage. I believe that the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender] population deserves human rights and civil rights.”
State Budget: With a $12 billion deficit and only a $27 billion general operating fund, “there’s no way to simply cut our way out of this budget,” says Ms. Gabel. “I think that everything has to be on the table, that we honestly have to look at everything.” She says she would start by collecting outstanding fines, fees and taxes; closing corporate tax loopholes; and considering a sales tax on certain services. But she says she does not believe the budget problem can be solved without an income tax increase “because that’s clearly the main way we can bring more money into the budget and have it be sustainable.”
Illinois has a low tax rate compared to surrounding states, but it is a flat tax, she says.
“I think it has to be a progressive tax. I think we have to put in tax credits for lower income families – working families – so it doesn’t hurt them disproportionately. And actually for poorer folks even give them a tax refund,” Ms. Gabel adds.
She says she supports a constitutional amendment allowing for a graduated tax and linking any tax increase to property tax relief. She would also consider making a tax increase temporary, and revisiting it “when the economy starts to bounce back again.”
Public Transit: Ms. Gabel says she is “a big supporter of public transportation.” The system could be improved, she says, saying, “It’s a lot better in a lot of other places.” Climate change is one reason to invest heavily in public transit, she says. Part of the problem, she says, is that CTA funding was tied to the real estate transfer tax, and real estate transactions have ground to a halt. She would thus look for a more sustainable funding solution. “I think this is a great opportunity because with the stimulus bill coming from the feds and the new capital bill coming from the state. … [We need] to make sure that we get our fair share of the dollars,” she says.
Corruption: Money is the key to corruption in politics, says Ms. Gabel, and work is needed to get rid of its influence. “No matter what limits we have, no matter what rules we put in, no matter what you do, if money is still involved, people are going to figure out ways to get around it. For me, publicly financed campaigns would be a priority. …” she says. She would also strengthen and add penalties to laws that prevent state employees from leaving government to work for contractors, particularly contractors to whom they awarded contracts.
Education: Foundation-level education funding is set by the legislature, “and it’s usually based on what they can afford and not what they think the students need to be able to learn and pass standardized tests,” says Ms. Gabel. “It’s predicted we need another $3 billion statewide” just to fund education sufficiently such that two-thirds of students pass standardized tests. Even then, one third of our kids are left out to dry, and kids in disadvantaged areas are getting an inferior education because they don’t have the property tax base to support quality education.” To help, she would work to universal preschool and fully fund special education. After-school programs and teacher mentoring programs also need to be pursued, she adds.
Environment: Clean water requires the enforcement of laws that already exist, Ms. Gabel says. She would “advocate for there to be able to be some enforcement” of the law and “hold the department accountable.” Citing the lake as one of Evanston’s greatest resources, she adds, “And of course, I want to protect our beautiful lake; that’s why I moved here.”
Pension Funding: There is no choice but to pay existing pension liabilities, says Ms. Gabel. “For me any pension change would have to come with the unions being at the table and figuring out how to do it. Hopefully the economy will improve. … I mean, we can’t go bankrupt,” she concludes.