Voters in the Belleville, Fairview Heights and Granite City areas will see two candidates vying to represent them in the state House of Representatives in November.
Ruocco, who’s been a village trustee in Swansea for three years, first participated in a state race during the 2014 election cycle against Democratic state Sen. James Clayborne Jr. in the 57th Senate District. She lost by 2,138 votes, or a margin of 3 percent. The 49-year-old elder-law attorney now is seeking a seat in the House.
Hoffman, 53, has been in and out of public office since 1991. In 2012 and again in 2014, Hoffman beat Republican Melinda Hult to represent District 113. Previously, Hoffman has served as a state representative in District 112. He narrowly lost that seat in 2010 to current state Rep. Dwight Kay. This election will be the third time Hoffman, of Swansea, has sought the two-year term in District 113. He currently serves as the chairman of House’s labor and commerce committee.
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Both Hoffman and Ruocco identified the state budget mess as a major issue this election season. They also discussed job creation, property taxes, the economy and public education.
Hoffman touts his history and voting record in Springfield and says he’s not done serving the metro-east. The Democratic incumbent said, putting politics aside, he’s willing to work with Gov. Bruce Rauner “to do what’s necessary to move Illinois forward.” The “No. 1 priority” is solving the budget problem, he said.
“When I got door-to-door, I hear frustration from people that I think is warranted,” Hoffman said. “Unfortunately, there’s been such partisan fighting and bickering. It’s not the same way that it was when I first started and it shouldn’t be that way. It should be us working together for not only the metro-east, but all of Illinois.”
Hoffman said he wants to continue “to be a voice” for the metro-east, and said economic opportunity also ranks high on his list of concerns.
“We face historic challenges. What’s going on at U.S. Steel in Granite City concerns me. We need to stop the dumping of foreign steel into the United States. It’s costing all of these families and workers their jobs and economic security,” Hoffman said.
As far as his voting record, Hoffman said he’s “repeatedly” voted to freeze property taxes. Earlier this year, records show Hoffman voted for House Bill 695, which would have frozen property taxes for all municipal governments and governmental entities, including schools. The bill, however, did not receive enough support. He later voted to pass a similar bill, House Bill 696, another property tax freeze that would “not include home-rule units” of government.
If re-elected, he said he also wants to continue working in the General Assembly to help provide more money to metro-east public schools.
“I think there’s no better economic stimulus than providing a good, quality public education for our children,” Hoffman said. “We need to continue to fight for funding for community colleges and our university, which is SIU-Edwardsville.”
So far in this election, Hoffman’s campaign committee has spent $79,225.51 in 2016 to go toward his re-election, according to quarterly reports provided by the Illinois State Board of Elections. According to FCC records, Canal Partners Media purchased $30,055 worth of TV advertising for Hoffman’s campaign through Charter Communications. The ads started airing on Sept. 19 and ran through Oct. 10.
Hoffman, who has served nearly two full terms in District 113, said he’s not ready to quit.
“I still enjoy it and I think we need a voice here that’s willing to fight for us. I want to continue to do that. I guess there will come a day that I’ll just decide that I don’t want to do it anymore, but I feel like I have fresh ideas, I work hard, I have the knowledge to be able to fight for our area and get things done,” Hoffman said. “It’s very easy to be critical, but it’s much more difficult to build a bridge, and I’ve done that, figuratively, in working in a very difficult political environment.”
Ruocco is looking to make the move from local to state government. According to her website, she has 27 years of experience in legal and financial industries. She was elected three years ago as a village trustee in Swansea, and her term is set to end by 2017.
Ruocco called Hoffman “a career politician,” and based on her performance in the 2014 election, she believes she has a shot at winning over voters of District 113.
According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, Ruocco has loaned herself money to support her campaign. Her campaign expenditures so far in 2016 have totaled $6,437.42.
“The reason for wanting to run this year is not all that dissimilar from the reason I ran last election. I’m running because I’m simply tired of career politicians, like Mike Madigan and Jay Hoffman, spending more money than we have and taxing people out of their jobs and their homes,” Ruocco said. “We need a balanced budget, we need term limits, we need good-paying jobs and we need property tax relief.”
“It’s our job as elected officials to inform, educate, but most of all, empower residents,” Ruocco continued. “We need to remember that government needs to be accountable to the people, so the people need to be empowered, they need to take charge and they need to tell us what to do.”
Ruocco said she would strongly support legislation proposed in August by Comptroller Leslie Munger, which would stop pay for lawmakers until a budget is passed.
She said other top issues facing the metro-east are similar to what the state is facing as a whole. Ruocco cited a “lack of economic opportunity due to massive job loss and high unemployment” and an “underfunded” pension system. She added that her plan would be to “create more economic opportunity by initiating real property tax reform.” Her fear is that Illinois will experience a “mass exodus,” with more residents fleeing the state.
“We need to create more jobs, we need to be fiscally responsible, we need to pass a budget on time every year that’s balanced, we need to showcase that we can be responsible,” Ruocco said. “Instead of being first on the charts for the worst-run state in the nation, highest in unemployment, worst credit rating, we need to turn that around, and we can.”
She added: “The people who are fleeing Illinois and the businesses who are fleeing Illinois have given up because they think things will never change, and they are right. Things will never change if the leadership doesn’t change.”
The Republican candidate explained that if she’s elected, she wants to work together with both parties, adding that she “would be blind to partisan politics.”
“As far as working with others, it’s my view that once you are elected and you’re in office, you really need to be blind to whether there’s a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after somebody else’s name,” Ruocco said. “If I’m elected, I’m not just representing the Republicans, I’m representing everyone.”
Follow the candidates
Here’s where you can follow the two candidates for District 113 online. The district covers all or parts of Belleville, Swansea, Fairview Heights and parts of Washington Park, Fairmont City, Caseyville, Madison and Granite City. The general election is Nov. 8.