Mary Rita Luecke, who is a candidate to represent the 17th District in the State House of Representatives, says she is the most progressive of the candidates currently running to fill the post.
Ms. Luecke, an attorney practicing real estate law who lives in Skokie, said she was inspired to run largely because of a reaction to the myriad problems befalling Springfield.
“As I have watched the State during the last three years, it has been a disaster,” she explained. “I have been active in the Evanston and Skokie communities for 30 years. We moved here in 1985 and I was on the school board for eight of those years. … Through that work, and my legal work, I feel like I have the skills to be the representative.”
Ms. Luecke served on the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education for two terms, and was president for two years.
Current State Rep. Laura Fine, who is running to fill the State Senate seat that was vacated by State Sen. Daniel Biss for his gubernatorial bid, invited Ms. Luecke to run, as did 18th House District state Rep. Robyn Gabel.
“That triggered this,” recalled Ms. Luecke, who added that Rep. Gabel “is an old friend and colleague, and I think she and I would be able to go to Springfield and make a really good change. She would be an incredible mentor for me, so I think I would be able to hit the ground running and have some kinds of advantage over the others who might not have as much elected-office experience, or experience in Springfield.”
Candace Chow and Alexandra Eidenberg are running against Ms. Luecke as the Democratic candidate in the March 20 primary election.
Ms. Luecke represented people in federal civil rights litigation for the first seven years of her law practice, then worked for several years representing people dealing with the Social Security Administration.
“I represented people who were either harmed or denied benefits,” she said, noting that her efforts were largely inspired by having two siblings and a good friend with spinal cord injuries.
“I’ve always been a supporter of whatever we can do as a society to make life easier for people who are ability-challenged,” she added.
Ms. Luecke became involved with the District 65 when her children entered school. “I was active in the PTAs at both Walker and Chute, and through that, I got involved in the referendum that we did in 1999 that raised the money to build the new administration and early childhood building. From there, I ran for school board.”
After Ms. Luecke was elected, two charter proposals arose. “One was brought about by parents and community activists who wanted to start a Two-Way Immersion program and the second was a for-profit, call-and-response business model,” she recalled. “I persuaded the Board to bring the Two-Way Immersion program in-house, and it’s become one of the most popular programs in the District. It’s available for both English- and Spanish-dominant children, and that’s the idea – having those children together. I also persuaded the Board to reject the call-and-response [proposal].”
She learned to understand budgeting issues acting as chairperson of the Board’s finance committee, and likewise worked on revising the District’s policy manual chairing its policy committee.
“When I came on the Board, the policies had been written quite some time ago,” Ms. Luecke said. “There had been a lot of changes in the law, so we did a yearlong process, essentially updating the manual. It made us more up-to-date with current thinking on the issues. … I always looked at our work on the Board as making our decisions based on what’s in the best interest of the child. I would take that sensitivity with me to Springfield.”
Ms. Luecke thinks General Assembly members and others in the State government need to focus on solutions for stabilizing Illinois’ revenue.
“Whatever problems we have, whether it’s less-than-fully funded pensions, a huge backlog of unpaid bills, the need for the State to take greater responsibility for the funding of our schools, infrastructure needs, everything goes back to the revenue,” she said.
Ms. Luecke noted that Illinois has the fifth-largest economy in the nation but the lowest number of per-capita State employees, which she maintains is an illustration that “we’re not doing what we need to do” and ultimately contributes to service cuts for children and other Illinoisans in need.
“My first priority is to stabilize the revenues through a graduated income tax,” she said. “I also think we need to tax some additional things, potentially some services or internet purchases. The Sierra Club calls for a coal-severance tax, for example. That tax could raise money for the retraining for people in the coal industry.”
Ms. Luecke also said she is in favor of legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana, adding, “I believe that would be another important revenue for us.”
She admitted that the State’s options for stabilizing property taxes are limited given the connections between those taxes and local school funding requirements.
“Most of those taxes are because we support our schools,” she explained. “…That affects not just the quality of the education our children receive, but it affects our property values as well. I’m not a big fan of tax caps and I think that kind of hamstrings local communities in ways that are not appropriate. If residents of a particular tax authority don’t like what they see and think they’re being taxed too much, they have to raise that at the ballot box.”
But State officials and legislators can “make sure that we have sufficient revenues and pick up the cost of education to the greatest extent that it can,” she added. “Hopefully that would lead to some kind of property tax relief.”
Ms. Luecke also is motivated by a commitment to environmental issues. “I think global warming is a clear and present danger, and I agree with the Sierra Club’s call for the state to have 100% clean energy by 2050. I am going to help them work with that, whether I get elected or not.
“In one sense, the coal severance tax is a step in that direction. We have to look at all our policies – it’s not just fossil fuels contributing to global warming. Illinois’ farming practices contribute in that regard, for example, and I think that our extension programs should be a resource for farmers to help them manage and change practices. Also, we have to protect our Great Lakes – it’s this incredible resource, and it’s right here at our fingertips.”