Neither Dwight Kay nor Katie Stuart like what they see happening in Springfield.
But Kay, the Republican incumbent in the 112th House district race, and Stuart, his Democratic challenger, have different opinions on why the state of Illinois is in trouble.
Kay, 69, of Glen Carbon, says the problems lie with House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago. Seeking a fourth term in office, Kay says Madigan has helped lead the state “into a ditch.”
“Mike Madigan has managed to suck all of the life, energy and money out of this state, to the extent that we are now bankrupt,” Kay said. “We’re penniless. In my view, he needs to go, and we need to hit the restart button in Illinois. Mike Madigan is a roadblock to bipartisanship.”
Stuart, 45, of Edwardsville, said state leaders need to rethink their priorities. A math instructor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Stuart says the state isn’t funding education the way that it should.
“There are lot of vital services that have been thrown by the wayside,” Stuart said. “We need to get back to what’s of critical importance to our state, and I think it’s a matter of priorities. It’s a matter of rooting out waste.
“I would like a line-by-line audit (of the state budget). I’m not a trained accountant, but that is something that needs to be done. We need a lot of transparency. I find it very hard to navigate and really learn where do these dollars go. I find that very frustrating. I want to bring transparency.”
The 112th House District covers all or parts of Edwardsville, Maryville, Glen Carbon and Collinsville. Its western boundary has an arm that reaches toward Granite City.
The race between Kay and Stuart pits a man who is running his fifth campaign for office against a woman who is a political newcomer.
“I didn’t even run for high school student council,” Stuart said.
Yet, she was drawn to run for a statehouse seat after having what she termed “a light bulb moment.” She and her husband, Steve, an Edwardsville middle school principal, are both educators.
“My kids are getting to the stage where they’re starting to think about what will be after high school. Will they go to college, what will they study in college,” she said. “Would we want our kids to go into teaching? Yes, it would be terrific, but we had to be honest with ourselves and we would steer them out of Illinois because there is a lack of stability within our public education system.”
She added, “The students are adults when they are in my class at SIUE, but they’re someone else’s children that have entrusted us as a university to steer them into a career. I’m steering them into something that I would steer my own kids away from. That’s not OK. There is a need for change that needs to be affected at a much higher level than I can do in the classroom.”
Kay has vowed that if he is elected to a fourth term that his first vote — the decision for house speaker — would not be for Madigan. Madigan has been the house speaker for all but two years since 1983. He’s been a member of the House since 1971, a tenure that is too long in Kay’s opinion.
“The first thing we need to do to get the budget balanced is to see that Mike Madigan goes home,” Kay said. “That in itself will be tough, but I think there are enough members of his party and there certainly are enough members of my party that see him as this roadblock. They think as long as he’s there, we’re going to be in the ditch. We can’t stay in the ditch much longer or else we’ll be something less than the state of Illinois.”
During the recent budget impasse, Kay was critical of a proposed budget that would have had the state spending more than $7 billion more than the state had coming in during 2017. Video of an exchange Kay had with House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, during the budget talks went viral with more than 1 million people viewing it.
“I was very critical of the speaker on the house floor,” Kay said. “I was very critical of budgets that were out of balance by billions of dollars, not millions, but billions of dollars. Very few people are inclined to stand up and speak about the poor performance and the malfeasance that Mike Madigan represents.
“I understand what it takes to create a business, grow a business and to do it within budget and make a little money. And in Illinois, it is just a little money after the state takes their cut.”
Kay said his standing up to Madigan during the budget process may have made his seat a target by state Democrats. Stuart has received a lot of financial support from the state’s Democratic Party, which has put nearly $370,000 into her campaign. That total doesn’t include large contributions from Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, whose campaign gave $53,900 to Stuart, Rep. Deborha Conroy, D-Villa Park ($53,900), Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, ($38,900) and Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, ($25,000).
Kay has been critical of Stuart’s connections to Madigan and other state Democrats. That campaign funding, Kay said, will influence Stuart if she is elected.
“All of her money is coming from (Madigan) or those people from within the Democratic Party who are sending it pursuant to his request to send it,” Kay said. “She will vote for at least three, maybe four (tax increases). That will include a tax increase on pensions in the state.”
Stuart does not apologize for how her campaign is being funded.
“Part of his attack is money-based, and he is the one out-spending me and won’t stop,” Stuart said. “I have no tie to Mr. Madigan. I am running as a Democrat, and the Democratic Party supports my campaign just like Mr. Kay is running as a Republican and the Republican Party is supporting his campaign. The Republican Party has supported his campaign to a much higher dollar amount.”
State Republicans have contributed nearly $1.25 million to Kay’s campaign over the last six months.
If elected, Stuart said she will leave her job at SIUE, which she has taken a sabbatical from while campaigning, and be a full-time representative. She said she would not be part of the state’s pension program. Kay still works as a businessman while working in the legislature. He does not take a state pension.
“My job is always to represent my constituents and meet their needs,” he said. “State government was never set up to be a full-time job. It was meant to be a citizen legislature position, which means you don’t depend on your salary, your pension, your medical and anything else that’s a perk. It’s meant to be a part-time job.”
He added, “If you want to be a full-time legislator, that concerns me. That says you want to be part of the system. I’m not sure that’s the way we want to go any more.”