Metro-East News

Race to replace Luechtefeld has former lieutenant governor, retired marine

The race for the 58th Illinois Senate District features two candidates who ran for statewide office in 2014, but came up short.

Democratic nominee Sheila Simon, a former lieutenant governor under Pat Quinn, and Republican nominee Paul Schimpf, a retired Marine, are facing off to replace Republican Sen. David Leuchtefeld of Okawville, who is retiring.

Simon ran for comptroller and lost to Judy Barr Topinka; Schimpf ran for attorney general and lost to Lisa Madigan.

The race for the open seat has led to lots of money coming into the district for both candidates, with more than $1 million being reported in contributions to the candidates as of Sept. 30, according to the State Board of Elections.

Much of Simon’s campaign has been funded by the Democratic Senate Victory Fund. More than $528,000 of the more than $645,000 that has been contributed has been from the campaign fund run by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. Simon said however she isn’t in lockstep with Cullerton.

She said she supports term limits for legislative leaders.

“It definitely doesn’t make me popular with that crowd, but I think it’s the right thing to do because statewide voters don’t get to make that decision,” Simon said.

She is a supporter of redistricting reform and served on the board of the independent maps group, which had its effort thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

“I think we’ve organized enough popular support that it’s going to be an issue for some time to come, and the legislature will have to respond to it,” Simon added. “I’ve demonstrated that I’m independent, and still President Cullerton is interested in having my voice in the Senate.”

Schimpf has received $62,584 from the Illinois Republican Party, and $202,850 from the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee, according to reports filed through Sept. 30. In total, he has raised a little more than $423,000 for his campaign.

He said he disagrees with Gov. Bruce Rauner when it comes to collective bargaining rights, and Schimpf added he would be against Illinois becoming a right-to-work state.

“I come from a union family, both my parents were teachers and union members,” Schimpf said. “I’m not going to support any legislation that destroys unions.”

Even though the Republican State Senate Campaign committee is a large funder of his campaign, he says he will be independent. When he ran for attorney general in 2014, he ran as a political outsider and didn’t receive the party’s financial support.

“I’ve made it clear when I talk to people about me getting into the race, I was going to vote my conscience and vote for the district,” Schimpf said. “I think I’ve got a track record of independence.”

Balancing the budget

Simon said having a balanced budget would encourage businesses to be in Illinois.

“Having a balanced budget is incredibly important for people to be able to make business decision and say ‘OK, now I could see where the state is going. I could hire my next new employee rather than hold off because I can’t even figure what’s going on with the state,’” Simon said.

Simon added that in order to balance the state’s budget, there need to increased revenues, and she would start with higher taxes on wealthier residents, including those who make more than $1 million a year, as voters expressed an interest for in a 2014 advisory referendum.

“The next thing to be considered before any increase in the income tax, is a change from the flat-rate tax, to make it into a fairer tax — as your income goes up so does the percentage of tax that you would pay,” Simon said.

Simon said the first cut she would want to see is the interest rate the state pays for being behind on payments to service providers, as the 9 percent is higher than the market rate.

“The market rate is nowhere near that now. We’re paying way more than we need to in terms of interest on those services,” Simon said. “If we could cut that back to something pegged to the market rate with a cap on it, then we would be saving the state money, and not cutting any services at all.”

Simon would not name any specific programs she would like to see cut.

“There are so many programs in the state that have been dealing with budgets that keep shrinking and shrinking all the time,” Simon said. “There are no easy targets in terms of waste and abuse. Where there’s waste, I’ll be happy to cut it out. But I think a lot of places have eliminated any kind of frills a long time ago.”

She added, “The bottom line is it’s not going to be easy or happy for anyone. The cuts are going to be cuts that hurt. Any increases in revenue are not going to be appreciated, but having a state without a budget on a continuing basis is way worse.”

Schimpf said he is open to the possibility of new taxes.

“I don’t think we could cut our way out, I don’t think we could tax our way out of this, but I’m open to some new tax proposals, if it’s going to be accompanied by some new reforms,” Schimpf said.

He said he would want to see worker’s compensation changes including tightening up causation requirements. He would want to see more of a direct link with the injury suffered being job-related.

“I think that’s something, if we do some kind of common-sense stuff to bring us in line with Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana,” Schimpf said. “I think that would be something that would convince the job creators to stop leaving our state, or come back here.”

He wants to push for tort reform to eliminate venue shopping, and make sure lawsuits are filed in the county where the injury occurred, rather than it having a tangential relationship to the venue.

He said he wants to see term limits. He said he would push for a limit of three terms. He would allow an additional three terms if the person obtained a leadership position, or moved on to another elected office.

“I think term limits would actually have an economic impact because the job creators would know the political class that messed things up here hopelessly was going to be turning over,” Schimpf said.

He said he plans to serve only three terms unless he gains a leadership position such as senate president or minority leader.

Education funding

Simon, who is a law school professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said one of her main issues is finding a way to change the school funding formula.

Simon said she would support a plan being pushed by State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, which would change the school funding formula to a needs-based formula based on factors such as how many students are in a school, the number of students who are English Language Learners and how many are coming from poverty.

“If we could focus on making sure state funding focuses on student need, we’re going to be a lot better off than we are in the current formula, which winds up overfunding some places that have such a huge tax base that their students are not in need,” Simon said.

Schmipf, a lawyer who served in the Marines for 24 years, said he would like to see changes in how education is funded, but disagrees with the proposed Manar plan.

“It would pick winners and losers within the 58th Senate District,” Schimpf said. “You have certain school districts that do well, you have certain school district that have their funding absolutely gouged.”

He added, “I would like to see as much control given to the local school districts as possible. I also want to see results produced. We’re able to look at how much money is spent per student and what results there are in terms of being ready for college.”

He added a hold-harmless provision in the Manar plan would expire after three years.

“It’s a big budget cut that’s still three years coming, that’s still problematic to me,” Schimpf said.

Serving the public

Simon said being an elected official is not a career path for her.

However her father, the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, always expected her to be an active participant in politics, “whether it be running for office, or helping others run for office, and making sure friends get out to vote,” she said.

For Schimpf, he said running for office is part of his belief in serving the public that didn’t stop after he left the Marines in the summer of 2013.

“I think you have a duty to serve your country, your state and your community,” Schimpf said. “I think we desperately need people in Springfield that can work together, people that are open-minded and will listen to both sides. That’s something I think I have a track record of doing in the military.”

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat